Category Archives: History

An Environmentalist Before Her Time

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Rachel Carson was born on May 27th, 1907 in Springdale, Pennsylvania. Surprisingly, Carson was not born near an ocean! And why might we say that? Well, Carson would go on to become one of the foremost nature writers and ocean conservationists of the 20th century. However, before her foray into the ecological world, Carson spent her childhood exploring her family’s rural farm. She graduated high school in the neighboring Parnassus, Pennsylvania, at the top of her class.

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Carson attended the Pennsylvania College for Women (today known as Chatham University). Though she first declared as an English major (having been an avid reader her whole life), she quickly switched her major to biology. After graduating magna cum laude, Carson began her graduate studies in zoology and genetics at John Hopkins University. In June, 1932, Carson earned her master’s degree in zoology. Though she had planned to continue her education and eventually receive her PhD, the world had other plans. The Great Depression hit her family hard, and Carson was forced to leave school and begin a full-time teaching position to help support them. A couple years later her father died suddenly, putting even more stress on Carson to be the sole caretaker of her mother.

carson1Carson eventually got a temporary position with the United States Bureau of Fisheries, a job which she had been on the fence about but was persuaded to take by one of her college mentors. She spent her time there writing radio copy for “weekly educational broadcasts entitled Romance Under the Waters.” With 52 programs in the series, Carson had her work cut out for her. The episodes focused on aquatic life and was meant to prompt interest in biology of fish and the work the Bureau did. During this time, Carson’s interest in marine life grew, and soon she was submitting articles on aquatic life in the Chesapeake Bay to local newspapers and magazines. She impressed her superiors with her dedication and knowledge to the point where they offered her the first full-time position that became available, as a junior aquatic biologist.

Carson continued to write, articles and journals, essays and copy – detailing marine life. Her writing career would be changed forever after the publishers at Simon & Schuster saw an article by Carson entitled “Undersea” that had been published in Atlantic Monthly. This journey along the sea floor impressed the publishers so much so that they contacted Carson and implored her to turn the essay into a book… one that they would publish. Carson not only wrote the book, but continued publishing in journals and magazines all over the country at this time.

carson2Over ten years at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (as it was by then called) were good to Carson – she had become the chief editor of publications. Years after the first interest shown by publishers, Carson was once again on the book-publishing path. This time, Oxford University Press expressed interest in a life history of the ocean. Her completed work would eventually become The Sea Around Us. Several chapters were published serially in the Yale Review, Science Digest and The New Yorker, until it was finally published as a book in July 1951. It was an immediate bestseller, remaining at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List for 86 weeks straight. This success gave Carson the ability to give up her job at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and focus on her writing full time.

carson6Her books on the ocean life continuing to be popular, best selling works across the country, Carson began focusing much of her research on pesticide use in the United States, something she had been interested in for over a decade, but finally had the time and space to work on it. By 1957, the USDA was proposing widespread pesticide spraying – to eradicate fire ants and other pests. Carson was suspicious of some of the toxic chemicals they were proposing using, including DDT – a now known carcinogen. She worried what kind of effect the runoff from this activity would have on coastal life, and for good reason. Carson would spend the rest of her life focusing her efforts on conservation, with a great emphasis on “the dangers of pesticide overuse.” In September 1962, Houghton Mifflin published what would become Carson’s best-known book, Silent Spring. This work described in detail the harmful effects of pesticides on the environment, and is credited worldwide with helping begin the modern environmental movement.  “Carson was not the first, or the only person to raise concerns about DDT, but her combination of “scientific knowledge and poetic writing” reached a broad audience and helped to focus opposition to DDT use.” She also poetically noted the dangers of human nature on the environment, a verifiable fact . Carson was, truly, ahead of her time. Unfortunately taken from us much too soon (passing away at the age of only 56 after a battle with breast cancer), Rachel Carson will live on with every moment that we choose to put the good of the planet above ease of our lives.

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“There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.” -Robert Frank

This week at Tavistock Books, we’d like to highlight one of our favorite genres currently in our inventory… photographs and photograph albums! We have had several amazing items on our shelves over the years, as we find these personal and first hand accounts of history absolutely fascinating. What makes a photograph, scrapbook or photo album worth collecting, you may ask? Stay tuned for the 411 on the Tavistock team’s thoughts!

This cache of nine large photographs dates back to the lumbering community of the Pacific Northwest in the early 1900s. Check it out here.

This cache of nine large photographs date back to the lumbering community of the Pacific Northwest in the early 1900s. Check it out here.

Q: So, antiquarian photo/scrapbook albums… first things first! What makes you decide whether or not to invest in one for inventory?

Vic: What I primarily look for is a story being told.  That said, most albums are unidentified faces, with few places.  If an album is not captioned by the compiler, it makes it difficult to supply context to a potential buyer.  

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Q: Is subject matter, provenance or condition the first thing checked by the Tavistock team, followed, I’m sure, quite quickly by the others?

Vic: All of those are important, though, imo, condition of the album itself not as important as condition of the images.  That said, subject matter of primary importance, with provenance coming in immediately behind.  Regarding this latter attribute, I’d consider purchasing an album with no captions if it came from a known & documented provenance, especially if said provenance was someone of import, such as, say, a Rochester neighbor of Charles Dickens.

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Q: What are the benefits of buying a photograph album, or other piece or personalized ephemera from an antiquarian seller, rather than off eBay or another such site?

Vic: We’ll, I probably buy more from general eBay sellers rather than established antiquarian professionals, for the former category will often go for the quick sale, rather than take the time necessary to properly research the material at hand.  An example recently was the acquisition on an archive of family letters & manuscripts from an individual involved in the Texas Convention of 1845 [and subsequent aspects of Texas history].  Let’s just say I anticipate a generous profit margin in this acquisition once fully researched & catalogued.

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This family travel photo album dates back to the turn of the century... the 20th century, that is, and focuses on California, New Mexico, Arizona, Kansas, Alabama and Texas. Check it out here.

This family travel photo album dates back to the turn of the century… the 20th century, that is, and focuses on California, New Mexico, Arizona, Kansas, Alabama and Texas. Check it out here.

Q: In looking at the descriptions of these albums on the Tavistock Books website, it is clear a TON of research has gone into describing these albums! Without giving away any secrets of the trade, can you give us a basic overview of how you go about researching a person who put the scrapbook together? It must take a lot of precious time!

Vic: Therein does lie the rub…  much time is involved, and that time needs to be a generous block without interruption.  And, of course, one needs the availability of appropriate reference sources.  I do subscribe to ancestry.comnewspapers.com & JSTOR [though SFPL].  Google, of course, has been a vast help in this arena as well.  It’s amazing what information can be noodled out when searching the web.

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Q: In your opinion, what is the most interesting item you have of this nature on the Tavistock shelves at this time, and what about in the past? Feel free to also tell us about something you might not have sold but perhaps have seen at antiquarian book fairs, etc.!

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A happy Samm, knee deep in the R15 acquisitions!

Vic: I’ll defer to Samm on this one, for she recently went through R-15, where all our uncatalogued albums had been stored, “pending cataloguing”.  

Samm: I spent days going thru this shelf of archives – some catalogued, some not.  It was really difficult to sort through it all. But one item I thought was really cool was a photo archive of the New York Railroad and Interurban railways.  Its HUGE! As we state in the description “A massive photo album brimming with over 1100 images of street cars, trolleys, motor cars, locomotives, service trains, interurban railway lines, and railroads across New York from the 1890s up to WWII. With neatly handwritten captions, photographer’s notes often on verso, and even some typed text.”  The old photos of New York alone are incredible. Definitely worth looking at, linked here.

As for things we sold in the past, hard to answer we sell stuff regularly, hard to pick out one that struck a cord.  But this New York album, I know I will miss when gone!

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Check out Samm’s recommendation – the fabulous New York rail album here!

And that’s that! Also, don’t miss out on the upcoming ABAA Virtual Book Fair from June 4th to the 7th – where yours truly will be exhibiting! We’ll unveil some newly catalogued archival material… and maybe even a photo album or two. Join the count down and find out more information here

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Repeat After Me… “There’s No Place Like Home”

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“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” Everyone, repeat it with me. “There’s no place like home.” I know we’re all feeling a bit of the cabin-fever felt by Jack Nicholson in The Shining (although, you know, hopefully to a significantly lesser extent), but let’s risk sounding like a broken record… we are lucky if we have the ability to stay home! We know money must be tight, but without the ability to put a price tag on our or our loved one’s lives we are extremely fortunate to have this ability. So in our opinion, “There’s no place like home” is possibly a great mantra to repeat to ourselves every morning. And every evening. And every afternoon. You know, just until it sinks in.

This extremely famous quote (mantra), brings us to today’s blog, however. On this day in 1919, 101 years ago, L. Frank Baum passed away. While we don’t mean to celebrate his death, we would like to bring attention to this world-famous author today with a few facts about his life! Keep on reading…

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1. The “L” in L. Frank Baum stands for Lyman, where he was born Lyman Frank Baum on May 15th, 1856 in Chittenango, New York. The seventh born (out of eventually nine kids) always hated his first name and preferred to be called “Frank”.

 

2. Baum was a somewhat sickly child, educated at home (with exception to two very uncomfortable years he spent at a military academy between the ages 10-12). Hi father indulged several of his whims and encouraged his eccentricities. Baum was gifted a small printing press as a child and began making a home journal with his younger brother that he would distribute to family and friends for free. He began a Stamp Collectors journal as a teenager, and eventually another on Hamburg chickens. Another eccentricity… as a young man Baum raised fancy chickens! Who knew?

 

3. I don’t mean to keep going on about these chickens but let’s get back to them for a second – as they were the subject of Baum’s very first published book! At the age of 30, Baum published The Book of the Hamburgs: A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing, and Management of the Different Varieties of Hamburgs. Okay, I promise to stop harping on about the chickens.

 

4. Baum had a lifelong love affair with the theater, and dreamed of being on the stage. He did have a short career in it, after his father actually built him his own stage in Richburg, New York. As he was touring with one of his creations – The Maid of Arran (a prototypical musical, for all intents and purposes, based on the novel A Princess of Thule by William Black), the theater back home in Richburg burned down, and in it most copies of Baum’s plays.

 

5. In 1882, while touring with The Maid of Arran, Baum married one Maud Gage – the intelligent daughter of Matilda Joslyn Gage, a famous feminist and women’s suffrage activist. Baum would be a proponent of women’s rights for the rest of his life, standing strong alongside his wife.

 

6. As wonderful as it is to hear of a man standing up for women, Baum was not faultless. As tough as this might be to hear, when Baum was living in Abderdeen, South Dakota his emotional response to the death of Sitting Bull prompted him to call for the extermination of all indigenous peoples! After the Wounded Knee Massacre (where the US army killed hundreds of the Lakota tribe, including women and children), Baum reiterated once more, “The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extirmination [sic] of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.” Yikes! Some do argue that Baum was actually attempting to generate sympathy for the native tribes by coming out with such a ludicrous statement, but it sure is shocking either way.

 

7. After having children with his wife Maud, Baum found he had a talent for telling them stories at bedtime. After overhearing one of these stories one night, Baum’s mother-in-law Matilda encouraged him to write one of them down. Baum had a wonderful relationship with Matilda and respected her greatly – if she thought his stories deserved to be published, perhaps she was right! This encouragement would become the impetus for his writing The Wizard of Oz.

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8. The idea for The Wizard of Oz apparently came to Baum very suddenly, and he wrote it all down in pencil. Once he had a working manuscript, he wanted to call it The Emerald City. Unfortunately, his editors did not want to use the name of a jewel in the title (bad luck, apparently – who knew), and as Baum sat in his office he looked over at a file cabinet labeled O – Z. Hence, the land of Oz was created!

 

9. The first release of The Wizard of Oz, published in 1900, sold out in two weeks. It became an instant classic, and received full critical and literary acclaim. Some consider it America’s first true fairy tale! The book remained a bestseller for two years, and Baum went on to write thirteen more Oz books for a bestselling series.

 

10. Baum did not only write a book on raising fancy chickens and the Oz series, oh no! He was quite a prolific writer up until his end, and actually published 50 novels, 80 short stories, hundreds of poems, and at least a dozen plays. He wrote under pseudonyms, he wrote articles for journals. And he was a family man. The all around package! (Except for his views on native peoples.)

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Our 1905 1st edition of The Woggle-Bug Book by Baum, inscribed by him on the copyright page! Check it out here.

Fun fact: The line is NOT “There’s no place like home” in the book! It is actually “I’m so glad to be at home again!” But that doesn’t really have the same ring to it for the opening of this blog so…

Also, Dorothy’s slippers were silver, not red. Bursting all kinds of childhood bubbles over here!

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“There’s no place like home!”

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What Actually is “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”?

Milan Kundera was born on April 1st, 1929. He is a writer that has lived most of his life in the shadows, preferring anonymity to public life. He is a naturalized French citizen, his Czech citizenship being revoked in 1979 and only recently (as in last year) restored. On his 91st birthday, we’d like to ask ourselves “what actually is the unbearable lightness of being?”

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Kundera’s most famous work is only one of many titles by the author, and its philosophical nature sparks eternal debating in his readers. The novel centers around three young people trying to navigate their lives in Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring of 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union. Political commentary aside (as that itself deserves its own blog), the story is quite simple. The novel follows Tomáš, Tereza, Sabina and Franz as they fall in and out of love and ponder the eternal meaning of life. Easy, right?

The idea of the “unbearable lightness of being” is the question of whether life is, at its core, light or heavy. Kundera uses Nietzsche’s idea of eternal recurrence to ponder this question. Eternal recurrence, or a lack thereof can mean one of two things. If every part of life were to eternally recur, over and over again, life might feel unbearably heavy to us. If it were to never recur, then perhaps it would feel too light – too fleeting – and nothing we do would have any meaning or significance. However, you cannot put one idea above the other, for as Kundera states, “the heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But … the heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden causes a man to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.” So… which is best?

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The difficulty in this question is that these two options give us end-of-spectrum outcomes of either too much weight or pure meaninglessness. Most of Kundera’s characters eventually learn to live for beauty, pleasure and love. They find that the lighter life is, the more enjoyment they feel; and despite beauty, pleasure and love’s transitory natures, they are able to sustain Tomáš, Tereza and Sabina. However, there is still the ability, and probability, of finding the insignificance of living for such ephemeral things alone unbearable… hence, “the unbearable lightness of being.” As Dr. John Messerly states in his well written article “Perhaps the best we can do is to consider life significant, but not too significant; light but not too light.” I could not have said it better myself! To take life seriously, but not so serious that it becomes heavy or miserable… that is the line we need to find (each ourselves, as it will look different for us all) and tiptoe along. Happy Birthday to Milan Kundera! (And thank you for giving us a philosophical debate to ponder from our own homes. And we are all home, right? Just checking!)

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Grateful the Road was Taken

We know that things have been looking grim over the past month… businesses shutting their doors, schools closing, unemployment rising. It is a scary world to be living in – for there is the fact that we have no set plan for how long this will all last. Call us old fashioned, but we find that in times of crisis a little bit of stability goes a long way, so we are planning on keeping up with our blog posts, our newsletters… and Samm has even upped our lists to biweekly so that we can entertain you at home with interesting items from all over the world! Is there something in particular you’d like to see a blog on? Shoot us an email and we’ll see if we can fit it into our schedule. In the meantime, we’d like to do a 10 Fact birthday blog on a born San Franciscan who has spent over the last hundred years keeping us sane and calm. Mr. Robert Frost, ladies and gentlemen!

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1. Happy Birthday to Robert Frost! Frost was born on March 26th, 1874 in San Francisco to William Frost, a journalist and Isabelle Moodie, a Scottish immigrant. After his father’s death, his mother moved him across the country to Massachusetts to live off the charity of his paternal grandfather.
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2. Frost was named after General Robert E. Lee, the famous General of the Confederate Army. As a youngster, Frost’s father ran away from home to join the Confederate troops. Though he was returned safely to his parents he never forgot his obsession with the Confederate army.
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3. Frost published his first poem in his high school’s magazine. Lawrence High School was a fine institution in its day and Frost graduated as valedictorian. His fellow valedictorian? One Elinor White… a young lady who would eventually become his wife!
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4. Frost attended Dartmouth College for two months, before leaving to pursue jobs and earn an income. The various jobs he undertook, however, brought him no joy – and he still dreamed of being a poet. He then attended Harvard University for two years later on, but once again dropped out to earn money for his wife and child. Harvard bestowed an honorary degree on Frost in 1937.
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5. Frost and Elinor had six children – four daughters and two sons. Unfortunately, Frost himself would outlive 4 of his six. The many tragedies that Frost knew throughout his life caused him bouts of anxiety and depression, and often influenced his poetry.
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6. Frost attributed much of his early success to fellow poet Ezra Pound. After a brief misunderstanding where Frost was given Pound’s card but did not feel a warm invitation, Frost and Pound got on quite well. Pound wrote a wonderful review for Frost’s first book of poetry, entitled A Boy’s Will and Frost immediately became known in the literary world.
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7. Frost won the Pulitzer Prize in 1924 for his book of poetry: New Hampshire: A Poem with Notes and Grace Notes. He didn’t stop there, however! Frost would go on to win three more Pulitzer Prizes in 1931, 1937 and 1943. To this day he remains the only poet to have ever won so many Pulitzers, and one of only four people worldwide to win so many in any category.
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8. In 1960 Frost was awarded the highest honor a civilian can have – a United States Congressional Gold Medal “in recognition of his poetry, which has enriched the culture of the United States and the philosophy of the world”.
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9. In 1961 Frost became the first poet to read at a Presidential inauguration. At the age of 86, Frost was asked by John F. Kennedy to recite a new poem at the inauguration. Frost composed the poem “Dedication” for the event, but due to the brightness of the sun and his failing eyesight Frost could not make out the words on the page. Confidently, Frost put the poem aside and instead recited his previously written poem “The Gift Outright” from memory.
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10. Frost felt that his most popular and beloved poem “The Road Not Taken” was severely misunderstood by the American public. This poem, recited worldwide but especially in the United States as a coming of age transition poem touting determination, was actually written in humor to Frost’s friend Edward Thomas. The two frequently went on walks together in the woods, and Thomas was an indecisive chooser of paths. Frost never meant for the poem to be taken so metaphorically! Nevertheless, we appreciate it even today.
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Happy Birthday, Robert Frost!
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Not Just Elizabeth

Todays blog celebrates one of the many authors that we know the name of but few facts about. Despite a family wealth in the slave trade she was an abolitionist, she was a major supporter of child labor rights… and the first in her English-descended family to be born in the United Kingdom in over 200 years. Today’s blog honors one Elizabeth Barrett (later Elizabeth Barrett Browning)… poet, lover and worldwide literary influencer. 

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Elizabeth Barrett was born on March 6th, 1806 in Durham, England. As the first Barrett to be born outside of Jamaica since 1655, her birth was the cause for much celebration. Her family’s wealth had come from sugar plantations in the island country, meaning that her family did benefit from slave labour in running their grand plantations. Elizabeth was the eldest of twelve children, all but one of which would live to adulthood. Elizabeth’s childhood was fairly sweet and standard – full of family picnics, home theatricals and pony rides. However, unlike some other children (and definitely little girls) of the time, Elizabeth fixated on books and began writing, even as a four year old child. She was intensely studious, learning the Greek language by the age of ten and writing her own Homeric epic poem by eleven. Since both of her parents encouraged, published and saved her work, Elizabeth Barrett has one of the largest collections of juvenilia of any English-speaking writer.

barrett4A young illness affecting her spine and movement led to Elizabeth being given (and then continuously taking) laudanum, morphine and opium as a child for pain. Being addicted to these somewhat serious drugs and taking them throughout her lifetime is generally acknowledged to both have helped and hindered her in life. Her constant frail health was negatively affected by these chemicals, but they also may have contributed to her originality and imagination when writing her poetry.

Barretts late teens and twenties were fraught with trauma and tragedy. Her mother passed away in 1828, and her grandmother just a few years later. After moving to the Devonshire coast to aid her frail health (by this time she had possibly contracted tuberculosis), Elizabeth endured the loss of two of her brothers. One caught a sickness visiting the family plantations in Jamaica, and the other, her favorite brother, sadly drowned in a sailing accident while visiting her in Torquay. The guilt of this tragedy stayed with Elizabeth for the rest of her life.

barrett5In 1841 Elizabeth’s life seemed to begin to turn itself around. She was struck with a few years of intense creativity, which led to the publication of several of her greatest works. Her 1842 poem “The Cry of the Children” published in a Blackwoods magazine helped bring about child labor law reform. In 1844 she published not one but two volumes of poetry, which were immediate successes. She was suddenly a household name. It was her poetry that inspired one Robert Browning to write to her and tell her of his love for her writing. They met and instantly became ardent devotees of the other. Both Browning and Barrett’s works improved (despite their work already being popular with the public). After meeting Browning, Barrett published her most famous works Aurora Leigh and Sonnets from the Portuguese. The marriage between Browning and Barrett was carried out in secrecy, and once found out Barretts father disinherited her (as he funnily enough did to all his children who married). They made their permanent residence in Italy, where they raised their son, Pen, and befriended many influential writers and artists of the day.

On this what would be her 214th birthday, we honor this timeless writer – one who inspired Edgar Allen Poe and Virginia Woolf alike. And we give you a parting few lines…

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Brothers to All

Quick! Think about the most famous pair of brothers you know of. What names came to mind? I bet for at least 50% (after all, we are all bibliophiles here, are we not?!) of us, the names that popped into our heads are most commonly associated with folk tales, fairy tales… or just “tales”, if some of them are a bit too… grim… for your taste!

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Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm and Wilhelm Carl Grimm were born just a year apart in Hanau – part of the Holy Roman Empire at the time and present day Germany. After Wilhelm was born in 1786, they would have three more surviving siblings (with one older). The family moved in 1791 to the countryside – a move which the two young boys were exceedingly fond of, loving everything about country life. Unfortunately the family was plunged into despair in 1796, when the family Patriarch, Philipp Grimm, died suddenly of pneumonia leaving the large family poverty stricken and struggling to make ends meet. The family was supported by their mother’s father and sister, and their grandfather made quite an influence on the boys’ lives. He constantly reminded them to be industrious and hard working. The boys were able to go away to school as teens, paid for by their aunt, where despite being looked upon as lower class by the rest of the students, they were able to graduate at the top of their classes. The two brothers remained very close throughout their schooling, despite having different temperaments – Jacob being more introverted and Wilhelm more playful and outgoing, though oftentimes ill. 

grimm1The two attended the University of Marburg together, where they tried to study law. I say “tried”, because here the brothers once again met adversity due to their reduced social status. Treated as outcasts, without the benefit of receiving financial aid or stipends as some of the wealthier students received (explain THAT one, if you can), the brothers once again turned to each other for comfort and worked hard in their studies. It was at the University of Marburg that the pair first became interested in medieval German literature and more simplistic, romantic ways of writing that the modern day seemed to have forgotten. This interest in folklore and poetry and traditional “German” culture influenced the brothers for the rest of their lives. They wished to see the unification of the over 200 principalities into a single, unified state, and spent much of their time with their inspiring law professor Friedrich von Savigny and his friends. It was through these romantics that the Grimm brothers were introduced to the literary beliefs of Johann Gottfried Herder – a German philosopher who felt that literature of the area should revert back to simplicity, and focus more on nature, humanity and beauty. The boys credited their devotion to their studies in Germanic literature and culture as a saving grace in a dark time – outcasts amongst their peers. Wilhelm himself wrote, “the ardor with which we studied Old German helped us overcome the spiritual depression of those days.”

grimm2The brothers did not immediately turn to transcribing Germanic folklore for the masses. As they were solely responsible, as the oldest boys (primarily Jacob) of the family, for their sibling and mother’s livelihood (because that’s what they needed… more stress), Jacob accepted a job in Paris as assistant to his once-professor (von Savigny). On his return to Marburg he gave this post up to take a job with the Hessian War Commission. Their circumstances remained dire – as it seemed almost impossible for Jacob to support them all on his own. Food was often scarce and the brothers suffered emotionally. In 1808, Jacob found a more appropriate (to his interests) job as the librarian to the King of Westphalia, and soon after went on to become the librarian in Kassel, where the two boys had attended their gymnasium (high school, for all intents and purposes). Jacob supported his siblings once their mother passed away, and he even paid for Wilhelm to receive medical attention that year to seek treatment for respiratory problems. After Wilhelm’s recovery, he joined his brother as a librarian in Kassel. 

The original title page and frontispiece of the first set of Grimm's folk tales. This frontispiece was illustrated by the brothers' younger brother, Emil.

The original title page and frontispiece of the first set of Grimm’s folk tales. This frontispiece was illustrated by the brothers’ younger brother, Emil.

It was around this time that the men began to collect folk tales from others. Initially they collected them in a haphazard manner – not realizing the great wonder they began to lay their hands on. They used their positions as librarians to accomplish their research, and began to publish in 1812. Their first volume of 86 folk tales, called Kinder- und Hausmärchen, was published when the brothers were merely 26 and 27 years old. They published several books and collections until 1830 – not only on Germanic folklore but of Danish and Irish folk tales, Norse mythology, and began work on a Dictionary. The brothers stayed quite busy and enjoyed their positions – their work becoming so well-known that they received honorary doctorates from the Universities of Marburg (along with their original diplomas), Berlin and Breslau. 

grimm4After being slighted for a job promotion, the brothers eventually moved to Göttingen where they became professors of German studies at the University (Jacob also as head librarian), and continued to write and publish works on Germanic folklore, mythology and country tales for a few years. The brothers moved to Berlin in their later years, working at the University of Berlin and also editing their German Dictionary, which would become one of their most prominent works. 

Because of the brothers Grimm, we have several tales written down today that might not have been, otherwise. To the brothers we can attribute (at least in transcribing) versions of Snow White, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty and Rumplestiltskin. One of the best qualities of their writing is that the brothers found a way to make the tales accessible and readable by adults (at first the stories contained their original graphic violence and sexual implications, which were slowly and painstakingly edited in a way to make the stories accessible to children), while retaining their folkloric qualities and symbolism. Though the brothers did not author the stories – but rather listened, read and researched them all until they were able to grow a collection of over 211 tales – they provided arguably the most extensive fount of Germanic folklore to date… and to them we are eternally grateful. 

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