If you plan on heading to the movie theater to see the new Hobbit, stop in at Special Collections first and spend some time with the original:

2012-12-11 10.06.30



One of the best things about handling the first edition of a favorite book is that you get a chance to see it as it was originally introduced to the world. The dust jacket text is usually one of the best parts:2012-12-11 10.06.16


In this case, it allows you to cast yourself back to a time when “Professor Tolkien … remains to be convinced that anybody will want to read his most delightful history of a Hobbit’s journey.”
2012-12-11 10.06.55No need to worry, Professor.

Special Collections is open this week from 1-5 on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday for anyone who wants a closer look.




The Updike Autograph Collection Is Now Open For Use

(The following post is contributed by Ramon Cartwright, a RISD graduate and one of our fantastic volunteers. Ramon recently finished processing a collection of over 800 important and wide-ranging manuscript items. Items from the collection have been mentioned on this blog before (here, here, here and here, for instance) but this is the first time the collection has been fully listed online. Upcoming posts will highlight other items from the collection and conservation efforts to preserve it.)

The processing of the Daniel Berkeley Updike Autograph Collection has been completed. Although there is evidence that the collection was initially comprised of New England names, the collection has now grown to reflect a more diverse grouping. A selection of the material, much of which had been culled from the correspondence and papers of Wilkins Updike, includes the names of men involved in politics. Eleven presidential signatures are included in the collection. Also included within the miscellany is a letter from Edgar Rice Burroughs, a poetic excerpt from Sarah Helen Whitman, and a series of fervid letters from a Union soldier to his parents.

During the processing of the Daniel Berkeley Updike Autograph Collection I encountered a 12 page manuscript by Agnes Repplier (1855-1950), titled “What Pessimism Is.” Repplier was a Philadelphia born essayist, biographer and occasional poet published regularly within the pages of The Atlantic Monthly. Her numerous essays were also published in Life, Harper’s, Monthly Magazine, The New Republic, McClure’s, and The Yale Review. “What Pessimism Is” expands upon and clarifies Repplier’s criticism of the poetry of Robert Browning. In an earlier analysis, also published in The Atlantic Monthly, Repplier had classified Browning’s poetry as “of the pessimistic order.” A controversy ensued. Browning enthusiasts found fault with the criticism and surmised that Repplier had failed to grasp Browning’s meaning. “What Pessimism Is,” offers her defense of the initial appraisal using examples of the poet’s works. The essay was published in The Atlantic Monthly Vol. LXII, 1888. Below the reader will find the first four pages of the manuscript. The pages illuminate the background to the article’s origin. Her wit and erudition, for which she had been known, are evinced in these first few pages.

Also included in the Updike Autograph Collection is a leaf from Henry David Thoreau’s essay “October, or Autumnal Tints.”  Originally published in the October 1862 Atlantic Monthly, the essay offers Thoreau’s extended meditation on the changing color of New England autumnal foliage. Among the tints that Thoreau focuses upon, the reader will find poetic descriptions of Sarsaparilla, Pokeweed, Red Maple, the Elm, Scarlet Oak, and more. The brief explication on each tint is presented in the order in which the brightest colors are displayed. The manuscript focuses on ripeness, as it is evinced in the brighter hue flowers assume prior to falling. The extract includes passages that were later revised prior to publication.  The leaf is float mounted on an 8 3/4 x 10 1/4 sheet of paper.

Special Collections on the Road

In addition to the fascinating items we have on exhibition here at our 150 Empire St. location, you can now see PPL Special Collections material at three other locations across the city:

At the RISD Fleet Library (through March 30, 2012), check out Dard Hunter & the Roycroft Print Shop, curated by Robert Garzillo. The exhibition is staged in the downstairs library and upstairs outside of Special Collections. Look for Roycrofters material from our Updike Collection.

Tomorrow at the Providence Athenaeum, the “Wilde at Heart” celebration begins (a limited number of tickets are available), and it will include an exhibition of Wilde materials. Among them you’ll find volumes like the first edition of The Ballad of Reading Gaol from PPL Special Collections.

And through May, the John Carter Brown’s exhibition hall will be filled with items illustrating Lawrence Wroth’s classic The Colonial Printer (which is to say many great examples of early American printing). The first edition of The Colonial Printer was itself printed by Daniel Berkeley Updike’s Merrymount Press, and punches, matrices and type designed for Updike will be on display in the exhibition.

That’s a busy schedule of excellent exhibitions. You should probably get started right away.

Fogeyfied, respectable, fond of literature…

This is a big year for famous 200th birthdays: Harriet Beecher Stowe’s just passed, and William Makepeace Thackeray’s is coming up soon (July 18th). As a Victorian author, Thackeray was rivaled only by Charles Dickens in popularity, and like Dickens he crossed the Atlantic to travel through America on a well-attended (and profitable) national tour. Providence was among his stops, and this is his assessment of the city, offered in a letter to a friend in December of 1855:

“Providence is as jolly a place as Boston almost. There is always a knot of pleasant folks, fogeyfied, respectable, fond of literature with whom it is jolly to consort, and I shall remember Lawyer Ames and a nice old University Library and a half-dozen fellows with kindness always.”*

Thackeray’s birthday is being celebrated with an exhibition of his life and works at Harvard’s Houghton Library (opening July 18th), accompanied by a symposium in October.

* The Letters and Private Papers of William Makepeace Thackeray, edited by Gordon Ray, (Cambridge: Harvard UP,1945-6), p. 530 (letter # 1192).