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.

Revolutionary Warrior of the Week #1: Nathanael Greene

In honor of today’s celebration of American Independence Day, here’s a Revolutionary-themed weekly portrait bonanza: Not one, but three portraits of Rhode Island’s Nathanael Greene. As a recent post at the Providence Daily Dose notes,

Greene basically became the second-in-command of the Continental Army. He’s a big deal…

A big deal indeed, and here are three portraits of the man himself, followed by a special holiday bonus item:

Click the images for a better view.

The bonus item is a letter from Greene to none other than George Washington. In the letter, addressed on the verso to Washington at his Cambridge headquarters, Greene reports “thirty or forty Boats” of the enemy “drawn into the Mill Pond opposite to the point” and signs as the Brigadier-General of the Day. Although undated, a penciled note indicates an estimated date of 1775 for the letter, and more research could likely place the letter in better context.

This is just one of a number of Nathanael Greene items in our Updike Autograph Collection, an amazing group of materials that has recently been processed by one of our skilled volunteers, Ramon Cartwright, and will soon be receiving some preservation attention. More on that in a future post.

How big can a small mark be?

No two books are identical. It may seem like an unusual thing to say — wasn’t the point of the printing press to make identical copies? — but whether through the realities of production or byproducts of use, every book ends up at least slightly different than it’s siblings.

A book like this copy of Jeremy Belknap’s The History of New Hampshire (published in three volumes between 1784 and 1792) can be found in libraries around the world, for instance.

But you may have noticed that this particular volume carries an inscription on the title page:

So this copy of a then recently-published history of state of Vermont was likely on the shelf of then-President George Washington. That makes this copy already quite different from other copies out there in the world, but what we’d really love to have would be Washington’s marginal notes, commenting on a state in the new country whose independence he played such a large role in winning.

Unfortunately, the pages are bare, as if this was one of those books purchased or received as a gift and then placed on a bookshelf and never opened.

Or so I thought, until recently, when I came across this page:

A single pen stroke, seemingly the most inconsequential bit of marginalia imaginable. You have to look closely to see it’s even there, and the passage it highlights is unremarkable, a description of shrubs and undergrowth:

But if we turn back a page and find the context of the passage:

It suddenly takes on a new resonance:

We can only imagine the President, taking a break from the business of governing a brand new nation, perhaps, or making a conscious effort to study its history and geography. Did he read the book in its entirety or skip right to the passages describing impressive natural features only recently named for him? What was it about this particular description of scrub brush and difficult, steep ascents that captured his attention? Was he remembering a visit of his own?

Whatever the answer, books like this provide a reminder of the eloquence of even the smallest marks and the endless variety of the books in which they’re found. Perhaps best of all, there may well be other such marks awaiting discovery by the next visitor who wants to take a closer look.

George Washington, Brewer Patriot

Apparently Sam Adams doesn’t have a lock on the “Brewer Patriot” title. George Washington has been in the news recently, thanks to a joint effort between the Schmalz Brewing Co. and the New York Public Library to recreate a beer brewed and consumed by the first president himself. The recipe is preserved in a 1757 notebook kept by the future founding father and now held by the NYPL (you can view the recipe online and try brewing some of your own).

Lest Washington’s beverage preferences be too hastily assigned, here’s an item from our Daniel Berkeley Updike Autographs collection that shows the commander in chief was as fond of the grape as he was of the grain:

The manuscript is a receipt for a pipe of wine (that’s 2 hogsheads, or 126 gallons) received at Fishkill Landing near West Point on the 8th of September, 1779. The wine was intended “for his Excellency General Washington,” and according to the notation at the bottom of the manuscript, it was delivered to Washington’s headquarters the next day and signed for by Col. Caleb Gibbs. Gibbs, a Newport native, was the captain of the Commander in Chief’s Guards (essentially, Washington’s bodyguards, a sort of proto-Secret Service plus housekeeping staff). Gibbs and Washington seem to have  had a significant disagreement at about this time. Hopefully it didn’t involve the wine.