Category Archives: 18th-Century Literature

Randolph Caldecott, Legend of Children’s Literature

Randolph_CaldecottYesterday the winners of this year’s Newbery and Caldecott Awards were announced. The latter was named for Randolph Caldecott, an accomplished painter and sculptor whose various attainments are often eclipsed by his brilliant carer as an illustrator. Along with figures like Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott was truly one of the most gifted illustrators of the Victorian era.

Caldecott was born in Chester on March 22, 1846. He was third child by his father’s second wife and would eventually be one of thirteen children. From the time he was young, Caldecott frequently spent his free time sketching and modeling his surroundings. But when Caldecott left school at fifteen years old, it wasn’t to pursue a career in art. He took a position at the Whitchurch branch of the Whitchurch & Ellesmere Bank. Caldecott settled in a nearby village, and he often took time to capture the country scenes that stretched out before him as he traveled to visit clients.

A lover of riding, Caldecott naturally took up hunting. His collected works include, therefore, a huge number of hunting scenes, along with myriad sketches of animals. Caldecott’s first published drawing was of neither; it was of a disastrous fire at the Queen Railway Hotel. Caldecott wrote an account of the blaze for the Illustrated London News. When Caldecott moved to Manchester six years later to work at the Manchester & Salford Bank, he took the opportunity to take night classes at the Manchester School of Art. Soon after, his drawings began appearing in local and London periodicals.

Randolph_Caldecott_MilkmaidThen in 1870, Caldecott’s friend Thomas Armstrong, a painter in London, introduced Caldecott to Henry Blackburn of London Society. Blackburn and Caldecott got along famously, eventually traveling together. For a time, Caldecott even lived in a cottage at Blackburn’s estate. Blackburn published a number of Caldecott’s illustrations in the magazine, and in 1872 Caldecott decided to move to London and pursue illustration full time. He was 26 years old.

Within two years, Caldecott found himself a prominent magazine illustrator working on commission. His opus is varied, ranging from children’s books to travel illustrations and caricatures. His illustrations for Washington Irving’s Old Christmas and Bracebridge Hall (1875) had made his name in the illustration world. Caldecott also illustrated works by Oliver Goldsmith, notably Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog. Caldecott’s illustration of the poem would be used in a World War I parody, in which the head in his original illustration was replaced by the head of the Kaiser of Germany.

Caldecott_Farmer_BoyCaldecott settled in the heart of Bloomsbury. He was surrounded by artists and literati, regularly encountering figures like Dante Rosetti, George du Maurier, and Frederic Leighton. Lord Leighton would go on to hire Caldecott to design four peacock capitals for the Asia room of Leighton House in Kensington; Walter Crane would design a peacock frieze for the same room.

In 1877, accomplished engraver Edmund Evans ended his relationship with illustrator Walter Crane. Evans found Caldecott’s illustrations “racy and spontaneous,” so he invited Caldecott to replace Crane. The first project: two Christmas books. Caldecott took on the work, illustrating The House that Jack Built and the William Cowper poem The Diverting History of John Gilpin. These books were so successful that Caldecott produced two more each Christmas for the rest of his life. Caldecott chose all the stories and rhymes, sometimes even composing them himself.

Caldecott_Song_SixpenceCombined sales of the Christmas books hit 867,000 during Caldecott’s lifetime. The artist was internationally famous. Caldecott’s publisher, George Routledge & Sons, took Caldecott’s works quite seriously. They took great pains to reproduce the colors exactly as Caldecott had intended. When the books were reissued by Frederick Warner & Co after Caldcott died, they brightened the colors but lost much of the subtlety imbued by Caldecott.

Not all Caldecott’s works, however, were commercially successful. In 1883, he undertook an edition of Aesop’s fables. He invited his brother Alfred to translate the tales from the original Greek, but later overruled Alfred’s accuracy. Caldecott’s goal was to make Aesop’s fables, which were often used for instruction, more accessible to children. He illustrated each of the tales he selected with Victorian human behavior. Usually comical, the illustrations illuminated the veracity of Aesop’s teachings. But the book was still too complicated for children, and it did not sell well.

Caldecott’s 1885 edition of The Great Panjandrum Himself fared much better. The nonsense poem by Samuel Foote had become quite the rage among university students, who would try to memorize the lines and recite them to one another. (Generations later, students would take up Winnie-the-Pooh, by AA Milne, with the same fervor; the story was even translated into Latin by one undergraduate.)

Meanwhile, Caldecott’s health was ever precarious. He frequently traveled to warmer climates. It was on one of these trips, in 1886, that he passed away. Caldecott and his wife had arrived in St. Augustine, Florida during a particularly cold February. Caldecott succumbed to the cold, and his memorial still stands in St. Augustine.

Related Posts:
AA Milne: Legendary Children’s Author and Ambivalent Pacifist
Kate Greenaway: Legendary Illustrator of Children’s Books
Maurice Moutet de Monvel and His Ingenious ‘Jeanne d’Arc’

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Chapbooks: Short Books with Long History

Scholars debate over the etymology of the term “chapbook.” Some argue that “chap” is derived from “cheap,” surely an accurate description of chapbooks, since they were indeed cheap little publications. But the more widely accepted explanation is that “chap” comes from the Old English “céap,” meaning “barter” or “deal.” Peddlers came to be known as chaps, and they were the primary purveyors of chapbooks. Whatever the origin of their name, chapbooks became a vital tool for dissemination of information and promotion of literacy. As publishing and readers’ tastes evolved, chapbooks also provided an ideal means of addressing an increased demand for children’s literature.

Since the Middle Ages, traveling peddlers provided many necessary wares to rural communities–and that included the news. They would often regale their customers with the latest in politics, entertainment, and gossip. Then in 1693, England repealed the Act of 1662, which had limited the number of Master Printers allowed in the country. The number of printers exploded. Meanwhile, charity schools emerged, making education and literacy more accessible to the poor. The demand for cheaply printed reading materials drastically increased as a result, and all the new printers were happy to supply their needs.

By 1700, chapmen regularly carried small books–usually about the size of a waistcoat pocket–on virtually every topic imaginable. The books were generally coverless, and their illustrations were made of recycled (and irrelevant) woodcuts from other publications. In the absence of copyright laws, printers would steal illustrations or even large chunks of text from other chapbooks and reproduce them in their own editions. Early chapbooks weren’t even cut; the purchaser would cut apart the pages and either pin or stitch the book together to read.

Dr Watts-Divine SongsChapbooks grew into an incredibly powerful tool for disseminating new ideas. When Thomas Paine published The Rights of Man, he suggested that the second edition be made available in chapbook form. The book went on to sell over two million copies, an incredible feat in those days, when the average publishing run might be only a few hundred or thousand copies. Religious organizations used the form to publish religious tracts, nicknamed “godlinesses” or “Sunday schools.” There were even chapbooks for the chapmen themselves, containing information about different towns, dates for local fairs, and road maps.

The Industrial Revolution, however, brought a revolution in the printed word as well. People flocked to the cities, reducing chapbooks’ role in news delivery. Newspapers had also become cheaper to produce, so they were no longer relegated to the upper class. And chapbooks’ days seemed numbered when public solicitation was outlawed and peddlers could no longer distribute them. Meanwhile people’s tastes were changing. As the decades of the 1800′s passed, the novel was emerging as a new, preferred form, and in terms of “cheap” literature, chapbooks eventually gave way to “penny dreadfuls,” the dime novel, and other such low-brow forms.

But changing reading habits and higher literacy rates also meant an increased demand for children’s literature. From around 1780, most booksellers offered a variety of children’s chapbooks, which included ABC’s, jokes, riddles, stories, and religious materials like prayers and catechism. Thanks to improved printing techniques, this generation of chapbooks was printed with relevant illustrations and attached colored paper or card wrappers.

Juvenile-Pastimes-Baseball-Chapbook

Though we think of chapbooks as a distinctly British form, they emerged in various forms around the world. Harry B. Weiss writes in A Book about Chapbooks, “The contents of chapbooks, the world over, fall readily into certain classes and many were the borrowings, with of course, adaptations and changes to suit particular countries.” And despite their variant forms and culturally specific content, chapbooks consistently served as a democratizing force in the dissemination of ideas.

Collectors may build entire collections around chapbooks, or they may find that certain chapbooks fit in well with their collections. For example, the 1849 edition of Juvenile Pastimes includes a rare early pictorial depiction of baseball, making it an ideal addition to a collection of baseball books. Collectors of erotica may enjoy Dumb Dora: Rod Gets Taken Again, an adult chapbook with suggestive, but not pornographic, illustrations. The variety of chapbooks means there’s a little book for everyone!

This month’s select acquisitions are a short list of delightful chapbooks. Please peruse them and contact us if you have any inquiries. As cataloguing chapbooks is quite the endeavor, we’ve also put together an article about the resources used to catalogue the items on the list, which includes our bibliographic sources at the end.

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Samuel Johnson: Both Author and Subject of Innovative Biography

Life of Johnson-James Boswell

September 18 marks the birthday of Samuel Johnson, legendary author, essayist, and lexicographer. Johnson is perhaps best known as the subject of James Boswell’s seminal Life of Johnson, the biography that ushered in a new era for the genre. But before Johnson merited his own biography (indeed, multiple biographies), he got his start by writing a biography himself. Johnson began a strange and relatively short-lived friendship with minor poet Richard Savage, and gained attention by writing Savage’s biography.

An Unlikely Friendship

Grub Street Journal

From The Grub Street Journal (Oct 30, 1732), this cartoon depicts the “literatory,” a sort of publishing factory driven by beasts without artistic inspiration. Such was the perception of Grub Street writers like Johnson and Savage, who did indeed scrape together a living from commissioned writing.  

Samuel Johnson came to London in 1737, when he was 28 years old. By 1739, he was already separated from his wife (already in her late forties) and scraping by as an impoverished writer in Grub Street. It was during this period of poverty that Johnson befriended Richard Savage. Savage was at least twelve years older than Johnson, and he, too was struggling to make a living with his pen. Savage claimed to be the illegitimate son of the Countess of Macclesfield and the Earl Rivers. Thanks to a sensational public divorce, Savage’s repeated insistence on his ancestry, and the fact that he did in fact receive financial support from the countess, his assertions are rather well corroborated.

Savage found even further notoriety when he killed a man and was sentenced to death. He says that his own mother encouraged a speedy dispatch of her illegitimate son, but Queen Caroline interceded on his behalf. Savage was released, and soon stories of his origins and exploits had taken on a life of their own. Savage’s most famous poem was, appropriately enough, The Bastard.

Richard Savage-Old Bailey

Etching of proceedings inside the Old Bailey (c 1725)

It’s not clear how or when Johnson and Savage first met. There’s no actual documentation of their meeting in the form of letters, journal entries, or eyewitness accounts. But in Johnson’s later years, the myth developed that Johnson and Savage encountered each other on the street at night. Neither could afford food or lodging, so they passed the nights by wandering through London. Their friendship, however, lasted less than two years. And while Johnson writes of Savage’s nightly walks, he never mentions himself as a companion–he never alludes to the pair’s first meeting at all.

The friendship is unlikely in every sense. Johnson was a devout Christian, hardly a likely companion to a murderer and profligate. It was likely a friendship of proximity, promulgated by shared circumstances. But Life of Savage propelled Johnson to fame, and he remained successful thanks to subsequent works like his momentous Dictionary of the English Language (1755), The History of Rasselas (1759), and The Rambler (1750-1752). Savage, on the other hand, continued to languish as a minor poet. He relentlessly and shamelessly sought the patronage of Robert Walpole and an appointment to the position of poet laureate, but to no avail.

An Empathetic Biographer

Johnson starts his biography with a sort of meditation on Savage’s nightly perambulations around London. He places these excursions in the context of Savage’s poem “Of Public Spirit,” which considers the state’s responsibility to care for the poor and indigent and questions the Whig policy of expatriating the underprivileged to North America and Africa. Savage goes so far as to attack colonialism, countering the popular rationalization that “while they enslave, they civilize.” It’s quite fitting that “Of Public Spirit” sold only 72 copies, underlining Savage’s status as a nonentity. Savage himself was disenfranchised, and Johnson saw him as a spokesman for the downtrodden. Johnson’s latent empathy for Savage betrays his own familiarity with such destitution.

Yet while Johnson writes of Savage’s nightly walks, he never mentions himself as a companion–he never alludes to the pair’s first meeting at all. By the time he set about writing Savage’s biography, he had already realized the need to distance himself from Savage. Johnson wrote, “it was always dangerous to trust him, because he considered himself discharged, by the first Quarrel, from all Ties of Honour or Gratitude.”

Richard Savage-Samuel Johnson

Thus, while Johnson saw Savage as a Romantic figure, a starving-poet archetype, he never got taken by him. A great appeal of Life of Savage was that tension between Johnson as biographer and Johnson as friend; he constantly walked a line between judgement and empathy. This approach was certainly uncommon; biographies tended to aggrandize their subjects, glossing over shortcomings. Johnson also departed from the classic form of biography, drawing influences instead from distinctively English sources: elements of Newgate confessions, scandal romances, and courtroom dramas all crop up in Life of Savage. Johnson’s innovation resulted in a biography that was as readable as a novel.

A Role Reversal

Fast forward almost twenty years, to May 16, 1763. Johnson was 53 years old. He entered Tom Davies’ bookshop and encountered the 22-year-old James Boswell. The Scottish Boswell had entreated Davies to keep his heritage a secret; he knew that Johnson disliked Scots. But Davies laughed off the request and made a very casual introduction. The meeting affected Boswell deeply, just as Johnson’s first interaction with Savage had likely affected Johnson profoundly. Boswell wrote of the experience later, noting that Johnson was “a Man of most dreadful appearance. He is very slovenly in his dress and speaks with a most uncouth voice. Yet his great knowledge, and strength of expression command vast respect and render him excellent company.”

Boswell resolved to record further details of his interactions with Johnson, an endeavor that would later result in eighteen volumes of documentation over their long friendship. It’s important to note that Boswell only spent approximately 250 days with Johnson, which illustrates how truly fastidious he was in recording the details of Johnson’s life. When Boswell undertook Johnson’s biography, he overcame the challenge of having met Johnson later in life by conducting extensive research. Despite apparently possessing all the “truth” of Johnson’s life, Boswell still took liberties with Johnson’s life. He censured some of Johnson’s less politically correct comments and omitted some events altogether.

Samuel Johnson-James Boswell-Oliver Goldsmith

In “The Mitre Tavern” (1880), Samuel Johnson (far right) converses with James Boswell (center) and author Goldsmith.

Yet Boswell wasn’t the first to attempt a biography of Samuel Johnson. Other much more illustrious authors, namely Horace Walpole, Elizabeth Montagu, and Frances Burney, were all working on biographies. And Sir Richard Hawkins had already beaten Boswell to the punch. The two, it turns out, didn’t agree on much–except that Johnson’s relationship with Savage was completely inexplicable. Though they presented disparate accounts of Johnson’s first meeting with Savage (and Johnson himself did nothing to elucidate the matter), their estimation of Savage is perhaps best distilled by Boswell: he called Savage “a man of whom it is difficult to speak impartially, without wondering that he was for some time the intimate companion of Johnson; for his character was marked by profligacy, insolence, and ingratitude.”

When Boswell finally published Life of Johnson in 1791, the work was truly exhaustive. Boswell set a new standard for biography, insisting upon the importance of details, of acknowledging that the minutiae are ultimately part of the big picture of someone’s character and personhood. His work now stands as the greatest biography in the English language, perhaps, as some think, eclipsing even the work of Johnson himself.

 

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Eliza Haywood, Overlooked Authorial Pioneer

Called both the “Great Arbitress of Passion” and insulted as “Juno of majestic size,” Eliza Haywood occupied a complicated place among her contemporaries. The incredibly prolific author wrote novels, plays, and pamphlets, and her writing incited controversy among her peers. Today scholars appreciate Haywood’s role as a feminist writer, and collectors can build an expansive and diverting personal library around her many works.

A Start on the Stage

Eliza-Haywood

Eliza Haywood

Haywood’s origins are obscure, mainly because she gave conflicting accounts of her own life. But experts agree that she was born in or around 1693. Born Elizabeth Fowler, she first appears on the public record in 1715 as “Mrs. Haywood” in Thomas Shadwell’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens; Or, The Man-Hater at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre. She shared the stage with bookseller William Hatchett, who would be her companion and lover for over 20 years; the two never married, but Hatchett was the father of Haywood’s second child.

By 1717, Haywood had made her way to Lincoln Inn Fields, where she worked for John Rich. Rich had Haywood write an adaptation of The Fair Captive, but the play ran for only three nights. Rich staged the play for a fourth night, giving the proceeds to Haywood. Haywood’s own first play, A Wife to be Lett was staged six years later in 1723. She would go on to join Henry Fielding at Haymarket Theatre, staging opposition plays. In 1729, Haywood wrote Frederick, Duke of Brunswick-Lunenburgh to honor George II, the head of Tory opposition to Robert Walpole’s ministry.

More successful, however, was an opera based on of Fielding’s The Tragedy of Tragedies. Called The Opera of Operas (1733), Haywood’s adaptation included an important difference: it includes a reconciliation scene. By this time, George I and George II had reconciled, thanks to Caroline of Ansbach, and Haywood includes this development–along with symbols borrowed from Caroline’s grotto. These hints weren’t lost on Haywood’s audience, and they signaled her shift in politics to support the Tories. Fielding, however, kept up his oppositional activities, and Robert Walpole responded with the Licensing Act of 1737. The legislation effectively stopped all new plays from being produced, leaving Haywood, Fielding, and their contemporaries to pursue other authorial genres.

Amatory Fiction and Parallel Histories

By this time, however, Haywood had already exhibited talent in a variety of genres. Throughout the 1720′s, she wrote the kinds of novels that would today be called “bodice rippers.” Haywood made her debut with Love in Excess; Or, the Fatal Enquiry (1719-1720), which offered a surprisingly positive view of a fallen woman. The novel was published in two separate volumes thanks to the economy of the time; authors were paid flat fees for their work, rather than royalties, so it behooved Haywood and her contemporaries to publish their works in multiple volumes.

Watch an Oxford University lecture on Haywood’s Love in Excess and Defoe’s novels>>

Had she gotten royalties for Love in Excess, she’d have been well off, indeed. The book was reprinted six times over the next decade. To advertise subsequent editions, Haywood’s colleagues wrote in praise of Haywood’s seductive writing. Richard Savage exclaimed that her “soul-thrilling accents all our senses wound” to promote the second printing of the novel’s first edition, and James Sterling wrote in 1725 that Haywood was the “Great Arbitress of Passion.”

Haywood continued penning novels for the next three decades. She, Aphra Behn, and Delarivier Manley came to be known as “the fair triumvirate of wit,” and Haywood contributed fully to the literary life of her era. Her Adventures of Eovaii: A Pre-Adamitical History (1736) mocks the idea that a woman should barter her virginity to obtain a place in society, later popularized by Samuel Richardson in Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740). Henry Fielding would also satirize Richardson’s novel with An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews (1741).

Haywood’s writing evolved considerably over time, as did her evaluations of marriage and relationships between women and men. The History of Betsy Thoughtless (1751) is considered the first novel of female development written in English, and it’s also unusual for its focus on marriage, rather than courtship, which became popular and reached a peak in the nineteenth century with authors like Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë.

Pamphlets and Periodicals

Duncan-Campbell

Duncan Campbell

Along with her thrilling novels of the 1720′s, Haywood also published a number of titillating pamphlets about the life and supposed talents of the deaf and mute Duncan Campbell. Campbell allegedly had a gift of prophecy, which was attributed to numerous supernatural sources. Haywood published A Spy Upon the Conjurer (1724) and The Dumb Projector (1725). It’s also conjectured that Haywood wrote, along with Daniel Defoe and William Bond, The History of the Life and Adventures of Mr. Duncan Campbell (1720).

In 1744, Haywood undertook a new and impressive task. She began issuing The Female Spectator, the first periodical written by women, for women. It was Haywood’s response to The Spectator, an incredibly popular periodical issued by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, and she followed the example of John Dunton’s Ladies’ Mercury. In The Female Spectator, Haywood wrote using four personas, rather than her own name. She issued four volumes of the periodical between 1744 and 1746. When Haywood published her conduct book The Wife a decade later, she originally published under the “Mira” persona she’d used in The Female Spectator. But The Wife’s companion piece, The Husband was published shortly thereafter under Haywood’s own name.

Haywood again ran into trouble for expressing her political views with The Parrot (1746) and A Letter from H__ G__g, Esq (1750). She created fictional accounts of the exploits of Bonnie Prince Charlie, which proved an ill advised topic to address on the heels of the Jacobite uprising. A stack of the pamphlets was found in her home, and Haywood was arrested and charged with seditious libel–as was Hatchett.. Haywood argued that she hadn’t written or printed the pamphlets, but that someone had left them at her home. Neither Haywood nor Hatchett ever went to trial.

Haywood’s Appearance in Pope’s Dunciad

Eliza-Haywood-Memoirs-Island-Kingdom-Utopia

The first volume of ‘Memoirs of a Certain Island Adjacent to the Kingdom of Utopia’ (1725)

Ever interested in politics, Haywood published a series of parallel histories, notably Memoirs of a Certain Island, Adjacent to Utopia (1724) and The Secret History of the Present Intrigues of the Court of Caramania (1727). In the former, Haywood not only picks a fight with her contemporary Martha Fowkes, but she also not so subtly alludes to her one-time affair with Richard Savage–and to Savage’s lack of proper pedigree. Savage claimed that he was the illegitimate heir of a wealthy family, and many details of his claims have been corroborated. He also murdered a man but managed to dodge the death penalty.

Savage’s purported lowly origins only served to heighten his notoriety. A poet (and the father of Haywood’s first child), Savage became a famous figure, so much so that Samuel Johnson deemed him worthy of biography. The success of Johnson’s Life of Savage (1744) pushed both Johnson and Savage to even greater prominence. Savage’s celebrity would soon present a challenge for Haywood. Intimately familiar with the hacks of Grub Street whom Alexander Pope so openly despised, Savage fed Pope plenty of details for the Dunciad Variorum (1729). Savage undoubtedly aided Pope in excoriating Haywood, who unabashedly wrote to feed her two children. Pope found Haywood absolutely “vacuous.” He refers to her as the “phantom priestess,” an allusion to Fantomina and calls her “Juno of majestic size, with cow-like udders, and ox-like eyes.”

Richard-Savage

Richard Savage

Savage’s sycophancy paid off with years patronage from Pope, and he enjoyed several years of prosperity. But one by one, his patrons dropped away until Pope was the last remaining. In 1743, even Pope wrote to cut off ties, and Savage soon found himself penniless. He died in debtor’s prison. Though at the time Savage enjoyed a strong reputation as a poet, today his works are mostly overlooked in favor of his more illustrious contemporaries.

Unfortunately for Haywood’s legacy, for centuries she was remembered primarily for her appearance in the Dunciad. It’s only in the last several decades that scholars have begun to recognize Haywood’s varied contributions–and more remain to be discovered, since Haywood so frequently published anonymously. Today, experts see Haywood’s novels as a pivotal transition between lurid novels like those of Aphra Behn and the more plain spoken works epitomized by Frances Burney.

For collectors, Eliza Haywood offers limitless opportunities to build a rich collection. A truly prolific author, Haywood could keep the dedicated completist busy for a lifetime! And her fascinating relationships with other authors offer numerous directions to extend a collection.

Further Reading

Williams, Kate. ‘The Force of Language, and the Sweets of Love’: Eliza Haywood and the Erotics of Reading Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa. Lumen: Selected Proceedings from the Canadian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies/ Lumen:travaux choisis de la Société canadienne d’étude du dix-huitième siècle, vol. 23, 2004, p. 309-323

Wilmouth, Traci. A Savage Spy: The Role of Richard Savage in Composing Pope’s Dunciad. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. 2007.

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A Brief History of True Crime Literature

True crime literature is unique because, in the words of Joyce Carol Oates, the genre has “always been enormously popular among readers…[and] appeals to the highly educated as well as the barely educated, to women and men equally.” The popularity of true crime literature extends to the rare book world.

Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe

The literature of true crime dates all the way back to the Elizabethan era, but the genre didn’t enter the mainstream until the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. It its earliest form, true crime literature included biographies of prisoners before and after executions. In some cases, these accounts were factual, but they were just as often completely fictionalized–and almost always sensationalized. These gave rise to fictional criminal autobiographies, notably The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders (1721) by Daniel Defoe. Domestic dramas such as George Lillo’s The London Merchant; or, The History of George Barnard (1731).

William Makepeace Thackeray

William Makepeace Thackeray

The second half of the eighteenth century saw a sharp decline in crime literature, but the genre reasserted itself in the nineteenth century. Factual reporting, in the style of Francis Kirkman’s The Counterfeit Lady Revealed (1673), again came into vogue. The Newgate Calendar published criminal biographies starting in 1773, and it was periodically published before finally being compiled in 1841. In the United States, the National Police Gazette was launched in 1845 and remains in publication today. Meanwhile leading literary figures also began to address issues of crime and punishment. Charles Dickens included studies of Newgate and the Old Bailey in his Sketches by Boz, and William Makepeace Thackeray wrote “Going to See a Man Hanged” (1840).

Perhaps the most influential was “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts,” two essays Thomas de Quincey published in Blackwood’s Magazine (1827 and 1839). De Quincey explored the Radcliffe murders of 1811, which were presumably committed by mariner John Williams. He delved into the psychology of the murderer, victims, and witnesses in a way that no other author had attempted before. Oscar Wilde followed suit in “Pen, Pencil, and Poison” in 1889, when he argued that Thomas Griffith’s creativity improved when he began taking out life insurance policies on relatives, whom he then poisoned with strychnine. These seminal works paved the way for modern works like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (1966).

Crime in fiction had taken a turn for the low brow; starting in the 1820′s the so-called “Newgate novel” romanticized the lives of criminals, depicting highwaymen as heroes–even when their exploits ended at the gallows. Thackeray would parody Newgate novels in several of his works and publicly attach their authors, but the works still flourished. GWM Reynolds, for example, published Mysteries of London from 1845 to 1848, with sequels to 1856. The books, which sold for one cent, came to be known as “penny dreadfuls.”

Sherlock Holmes

The iconic Sherlock Holmes

The 1830′s saw the development of the modern police force–with detectives to investigate crime and constables to enforce order–in both England and the United States. For this we can thank, among others, author and magistrate Henry Fielding. Soon these men of the law popped up as characters in fiction: Inspector Bucket in Dickens’ Bleak House (1853) and Sergeant Cuff in Collins’ The Moonstone (1868), respectively based on real-life Scotland Yard detectives Charles Field and Jack Whicher. Poe invented a more complex detective in his C. Auguste Dupin character, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle debuted Sherlock Holmes in 1887. Four years later the detective began making regular appearances in Doyle’s Strand Magazine.

In the last century there has been a markedly decreased overlap of true crime and literature. But the genre of true crime writing remains quite popular, and many rare book collectors build entire collections around the genre. There are plenty of interesting items for collectors of true crime literature and ephemera.

The Confessions of Jesse Strang

Originally from Putnam County, New York, Jesse Strang deserted his wife when he suspected that she’d been unfaithful. After a stint in Ohio, Strang made his way to western New York–where he faked his own death in the spring of 1826. Strang ended up in Albany, where he used the alias of “Joseph Orton.” He saw Elsie Whipple in an Albany bar and was immediately interested in the spirited young woman. Elsie was the daughter of a wealthy family in Albany, and Strang managed to get hired as a handyman at the family’s estate, Cherry Hill–where Elsie lived with her husband, John. But that didn’t stop Strang from pursuing Elsie, and the two were soon exchanging love letters with the assistance of other members of the household.

Cherry Hill-Jesse Strang

Cherry Hill as it looked at the time of the murder

Elsie, known for being moody and tempestuous, decided that the lovers should kill John and run away together. Strang was reluctant, but ultimately supplied Elsie with arsenic to poison John. But she didn’t administer enough poison, and John merely suffered an upset stomach. The lovers clearly needed a more foolproof plan, and Elsie urged Strang to shoot John. Eventually he acquiesced, climbing onto the roof and shooting John through a window into the couple’s quarters. Elsie had removed the curtain to give Strang a clear shot. Strang rushed to a local store to give himself an alibi, then returned and even helped the doctor remove the bullet from John’s body. But the police ruled that Strang had enough time to commit the murder and make it to the store, so he was arrested. He immediately confessed and implicated Elsie.

Strang desperately asked his lawyer to plant papers at Cherry Hill implicating Elsie as the mastermind of the plot, arguing that Elsie would receive a lighter sentence because she was a woman. His lawyer refused, but Strang was correct. While he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by hanging, Elsie was found not guilty on all charges. Between 30,000 and 40,000 people came to watch Strang’s execution on August 24, 1827. Among the crowd were peddlers hawking pamphlets containing Strang’s confession. Strang himself promoted the pamphlet from the scaffold, saying, “This contains a confession of the great transaction for which I am about to die, and every single word that it contains, tot he best of my knowledge, is true; if there is a single word in i t that is not true, it has been inserted by mistake, not by design.” Strang’s hanging was botched, and his neck did not break. He hung for half an hour before suffocating. It was the last hanging in Albany.

Official Report of the Trial of Laura D Fair

On November 3, 1870, Laura D Fair followed Alexander Parker Crittendon onto a ferry, where he was meeting his family. Fair shot Crittendon in the chest with a pepperbox pistol and fled to the ship’s saloon, where she immediately confessed to her crime. Fair believed that she was defending her own name; Crittendon had represented himself as single when he began courting Fair, and when she discovered that he was married, Crittendon promised to divorce his wife. When he failed to follow through, Fair decided to exact revenge.

Laura D Fair

Laura Fair

The ensuing trial was a national sensation. Fair’s defense argued that Fair had experienced delayed menstruation (in part because she assumed a masculine role by running her own business), which resulted in temporary insanity. Suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony took up the cause, noting that “female hysteria” had long been used to subjugate women to men. Prosecutors also focused on gender, portraying Fair as a man-hungry murderess whose temporary insanity could also have been caused by sexual excess. Fair was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, but the trial was overturned because evidence had been incorrectly admitted. After a second trial, Fair was acquitted.

The case remained in the headlines intermittently from June 1871 to January 1873. Mark Twain and his collaborator Charles Dudley Warner would incorporate the case into Twain’s first novel, The Gilded Age: A Tale of To-Day, published in December 1873: Laura Hawkins bears a striking similarity to Laura Fair. Twain also incorporated another famous trial; the Senate investigation of Senator Dilworthy for vote buying parallels the real trial of Kansas Senator Samuel C Pomeroy. Both critics and historians agree that these sensational elements greatly contributed to the novel’s success.

Ruth Snyder’s Own True Story

Ruth Snyder

Snyder and Judd Gray conferring during a break in the trial

In 1925, housewife Ruth Brown Snyder began an affair with married corset salesman Henry Judd Gray. She soon began planning her husband, Albert’s murder, with only reluctant support from Judd Gray. Snyder reportedly made seven attempts to kill her husband. Finally, she and Judd Gray garrotted Albert, shoved chloroform soaked rags up his nose, and staged a burglary. Their ploy fell apart under only the slightest scrutiny, and they were both convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Ruth would be the first woman executed at Sing Sing since 1899, and the first ever to be executed by electrocution.

The murder trial was covered by a number of prominent journalists, but only one was granted an interview: Jack Lait, who would provide Ruth the typewriter she used to record her memoir. Ruth Snyder’s Own True Story (1927) proved a poignant and candid account of Ruth’s experience–and a useful bit of propaganda for Lait. In the preface, he writes that Ruth “bristles with courage, she has poise, assurance, no end of intelligence…she loves like fire and hates like TNT.” (With such a portrayal, it’s perhaps no wonder that Ruth received 107 marriage proposals before her execution!) At Ruth’s execution, Chicago Tribune photographer Tom Howard captured her final moment with a miniature camera strapped to his ankle. The image, now famous, was emblazoned on the front page of the New York Daily News the next day.

Our interest in rare books about true crime shows no evidence of fading, especially since the genre so frequently intersects with the worlds of history and literature. How has true crime crept into your book collection?

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Elias Samuel Cooper: Renowned and Controversial Surgeon

Elias-Samuel-CooperThe nineteenth century was a time of exploration and discovery in the field of medicine. One man who made significant contributions to the field in America was Elias Samuel Cooper, a surgeon whose aspirations stretched beyond building a successful private practice. Dr. Cooper founded the first medical college in San Francisco, where his techniques drew both controversy and respect from the medical community.

Self-Education and Training

Cooper was raised on a Quaker farm in Ohio, where his abolitionist family settled after relocating from slavery-friendly South Carolina in 1807. His sister lived on a neighboring farm, so Cooper grew up with his nephew, Levi Cooper Lane. Cooper left no personal account of his life, so what we know is gleaned from his brother’s journal and a few other historical sources. From that document, we learn that Cooper’s birthday was November 25, 1820. It’s presumed that Cooper attended a country school in Butler County. His brother Jacob’s journal also refers to Cooper’s apprenticeship to a Dr. Waugh in 1838. Cooper’s older brother Elaias also entered the medical profession, and it appears that Cooper either apprenticed or partnered with him in Greenville, Indiana from 1840 to 1843.

In 1851, Cooper was awarded a medical degree from St. Louis University. At that time, a candidate who got credit for “four years of reputable practice” could obtain a degree after only one lecture cycle, which lasted four-and-a-half months. That seems like little training for such an important profession, but most medical practitioners at the time had no formal training, or little more than an apprenticeship. Cooper had actually “self-awarded” himself an MD at least two years earlier; he published “Remarks on Congestive Fever” in the Jan/Feb 1849 edition of St. Louis Medical and Surgical Journal. He signed it “ES Cooper, MD.” Such a practice was relatively common, and it was not until later that more rigorous standards were implemented to prevent self-credentialing and practicing without proper instruction.

By all accounts, Cooper was an incredibly industrious physician, spending many hours in self-study. He was particularly interested in surgery. In 1843, Cooper set up his private practice in Danville, Indiana. Soon he was making almost $800 a month, a tidy sum at the time. At only 23 years old, Cooper performed an impressive surgery, successfully removing a large portion of the patient’s jaw. The procedure required sophisticated knowledge of anatomy, including deep knowledge of the vascular system. Cooper’s success sealed his local reputation in the medical community.

Greater Aspirations

Cooper moved to Peoria, Illinois in 1844, and within a year he’d opened up a dissecting room and begun offering lectures on anatomy and surgery. Less interested in growing his private practice, Cooper focused more heavily on surgery. His first operation was on a case of strabismus (when the eyes are not aligned properly). Soon Cooper had established himself as the preeminent surgeon for the eyes and face, and for orthopedics. Patients would travel from neighboring states to see the young physician.

Cooper’s reputation raised the ire of his colleagues, who decided to attack Cooper for his dissections. At the time, it was legal for surgeons to dissect the bodies of convicts, provided that the relatives had no objections. Thus when convicted murderers Thomas Brown and George Williams were executed, Cooper received their bodies. He removed them under cover of darkness, because the executions had been quite a public spectacle (and had almost taken place at the hands of an angry mob instead of at the hands of sanctioned officials). Cooper had anticipated receiving the bodies, and he’d advertised an anatomy lecture to take place shortly after the execution. Thus, everyone knew where these bodies came from.

But there were no criminals available for Cooper’s next lecture, which raised suspicion of grave robbery. Cooper’s detractors published a handbill called “Rally to the Rescue of the Graves of Your Friends,” drawing attention to the fact that Cooper must be digging up bodies to supply himself with dissection subjects for his numerous anatomy lectures. The handbill called for a public indignation meeting. Cooper attended the meeting himself, along with some of his friends, who were labeled “Cooperites.” One of his companions, who happened to be drunk, offered to preside over the proceedings. When it was suggested that he was unfit for the task, he retorted, “A drunken man may get sober, but a nature-born fool will never have any sense, by God!” The crowd roared with laughter and soon dispersed. This was Cooper’s first brush with controversy, but it wouldn’t be his last.

Cooper’s practice continued to grow, and he had to purchase a second building to house his Infirmary for the Eye and Ear. He also specialized in the removal and correction of deformities from the lower extremities, especially club foot. But his goal was to establish a medical school, so in 1854 Cooper went to Europe to observe the medical institutions there and to meet with leading medical practitioners. When he returned to the United States, he settled in San Francisco.

The First Medical School in San Francisco

Elias-Samuel-CooperAfter relocating to San Francisco, Cooper established the Cooper Eye, Ear, and Orthopedic Infirmary in a prominent location. He immediately began advertising for free lectures and demonstrations of his surgical techniques, a strategy that didn’t earn him any friends in the local medical community. Cooper also published reports of his various surgical endeavors. One of these was “Report of an Operation to Remove a Foreign Body from Beneath the Heart.” Published by the San Francisco County Midico Chirugical Association in 1857, the report details how Cooper removed an iron slug lodged in the patient, BT Beal, for 74 days before Cooper endeavored to remove it. The patient’s health improved so dramatically after the procedure that he was “not to be recognized by the medical men present at the operation.”

Clearly Cooper had developed an incredible talent for the art of surgery, but he also made notable advancements to the field. He helped to introduce the use of chloroform during surgery, an indispensable tool in the days before general anesthesia. Cooper also used alcoholic dressings to prevent infection to incisions and wounds, significantly reducing mortality rates. He was a pioneer in the use of animals to test surgical techniques. In 1858, Cooper used his connections and knowledge to establish the Medical department of the University of the Pacific. The school has existed under several names almost without interruption ever since.

Though Cooper still drew some criticism for his dissections, he worked to clarify regulations and ensure proper practices in California. But that didn’t mean that he received universal approbation. In 1857, Cooper performed San Francisco’s first caesarean section. The mother, Mary Hoges, survived but her child did not. Thanks to the encouragement of Dr. David Wooster, who had been the assisting physician, Hoges sued Cooper for malpractice. She argued that the procedure had been unnecessary. The trial resulted in a hung jury, but Wooster continued to publicly attack Cooper, whom he considered a rival. Cooper finally responded in The San Francisco Medical Press, which he founded himself.

Cooper’s career was cut short in 1862, when he succumbed to nephritis after a prolonged illness. But his contributions to medical literature offer fascinating insights into the evolution of the field.

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Rare Books in History: The Revolutionary War

Independence Day commemorates the American colonies’ declaring their intention to gain independence from British rule. These items from our inventory illuminate critical moments in history, both before and after the Revolution.

An Account of the European Settlements in America

Account-European-Settlements-America-BurkePublished in six parts and two volumes, An Account of the European Settlements in America was written by Edmund Burke and William Burke. The work is most often attributed to Edmund, who was considered a friend of the Americans during the Revolutionary War. That interpretation is an oversimplification, however; though Burke sympathized with the Americans’ dissatisfaction with British rule, he also hoped they’d strive to avoid war. In 1769, Burke published a pamphlet criticizing the British for stirring up conflict with their policies. Five years later, he spoke out against American taxation. Edmund and William were questionably related but referred to one another as “cousins.” The two published their Account in 1757, and Howes lauds it as the “best contemporary account” of the colonies. Details>>

The Pennsylvania Evening Post, Vol I No 1 (Tuesday, January 24, 1775)

Pennsylvania-Evening-PostPublished by Benjamin Towne, The Pennsylvania Evening Post initially came out tri-weekly through 1784 with hiatuses during the Revolutionary War. In 1783, Towne modified the paper’s name to The Pennsylvania Evening Post, and Daily Advertiser”–the first daily paper in the United States. On July 6, 1776, the paper was also the first to publish the print the Declaration of Independence. Bingham notes 11 institutional holdings of this first appearance, making it uncommon in the trade. Details>>

The Naval Atalantis, Parts I & II

Joseph Harris used the pseudonym Nauticus Junior when he published The Naval Atalantis, which makes sense given the critical commentary he offers therein. Harris offers character sketches of Naval-Atalantis91 British officers, many of whom played a role in the American Revolution. Howes notes than many of the officers “are unmercifully criticised or lampooned by Harris, notably Viscount Wililam Howe, Lord of the Admiralty.” This is a fair assessment; Harris says of Howe “his Lordship’s conduct on the coast of North America, rather served to throw a shade over the laurels he had acquired in his youth.” Harris was reportedly the secretary to Admiral Milbanke, whom Harris features in Part I. Harris’ tone is often quite caustic toward his fellow soldiers. No copies of this edition have been at auction for over thirty years, making it relatively rare in the trade. Details>>

 Independence Day Orations of Josiah Quincy III

Josiah_Quincy_OrationJosiah Quincy was a soldier in the Revolutionary War, and his namesake would earn the nickname “the Patriot” as principal spokesman for the Sons of Liberty. Thus Josiah Quincy III inherited a legacy of patriotism. He served as a member of the US House of Representatives and as Mayor of Boston before becoming president of Harvard University. Quincy III delivered multiple Independence Day orations to the city of Boston, including one on July 4, 1789 and another on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1826.  Details>>

Monody on Major Andre

Seward_Monody_Major_AndreAnna Seward was a prominent woman of letters in her day, having, for example, the admiration of Wordsworth and Scott, and whose disapproval of Dr. Johnson is as well chronicled as her support of young writers of the era is, perhaps, under appreciated. This title, her second published, by the ‘Swan of Lichfield’ [as this poet is known] is a tribute to the suitor of her friend, Honoria Sneyd (stepmother to Maria Edgeworth); the suitor had been executed, as a courier of information from Benedict Arnold to General Clinton, during the Revolutionary War by the Americans. The work’s publication reportedly “brought her an apology from General Washington.”  Details>>

Campagnes Militaires de Lieutenant General Sir William Howe en Amerique

Howe_Campagnes_MilitairesWilliam Howe was the British Commanding General during the Revolutionary War, and here he offers his account. It’s an interesting and scarce edition, with no copies at auction in the last 25 years; OCLC lists only three institutions with this edition. It has a preface not present in the English edition: “‘Twenty times,” exclaims the translator (in this preface dated Amst. 25 Nov. 1780), “have the English encouraged the idea and flattered themselves with it of putting a speedy termination to the war, yet after six years they are no farther advanced in the conquest or reconciliation than they were on the first day.’ [Sabin]. Details>>

The Adventures of Christopher Hawkins

Christopher_Hawkins_AdventuresDuring the American Revolution, prisoners of war were treated and managed very differently than they are today; in the eighteenth century, each army was expected to provide supplies and provisions for their own POW’s. Meanwhile, King George III had declared all American soldiers to be traitors, which negated their status as POW’s. Initially, captured American soldiers were simply hanged for treason. However, once the Continental Army caught a large number of British soldiers at the Battle of Saratoga, this practice seemed risky; the British feared reciprocal treatment for their own soldiers. The British resorted to holding their prisoners in dilapidated war ships and prisons. Conditions were deplorable, and many POW’s died as a result. One soldier, Christopher Hawkins was captured and imprisoned on the HMS Jersey off the shore of New York. Hawkins managed to escape, and the details of his captivity were published much later, in a privately printed account. Details>>

 

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