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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

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Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

Gossip and Literary Celebrity, Circa 1871

March 21st, 2013

Though public figures in late nineteenth-century England might not have had to contend with paparazzi or gossip bloggers, their lives and personal writings were nonetheless a subject of interest and speculation.  What might begin innocently as a jovial private communication between friends could one day find itself before a much wider circle of readers, or so Pre-Raphaelite artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) warned his friend and fellow poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909).

Photogravure of Dante Gabriel Rossetty by G. F. Watts.        Image of black and white reproduction of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's portrait of Algernon Charles Swinburne

Left: Dante Gabriel Rossetti from photogravure by G. F. Watts;  Right: Black and white photograph of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s portrait of Algernon Charles Swinburne, both reproduced in H. C. Marillier’s Dante Gabriel Rossetti: An Illustrated Memorial of his Art and Life. London: George Bell and Sons, 1899. Call Number: E1470.

In a letter likely dating from November 1871, Rossetti cautioned Swinburne,

[…] You seem to think that such things are likely to be restricted to the circle of their recipients. Why, my dear fellow, every line you have ever written will one day be religiously raked up by greedy & often doubtless malevolent exploiteurs, and it is very hard for those who receive these wonderfully funny things of yours to resolve on taking the only safe course with them for your sake — that is, to destroy them after they have been abundantly laughed over by a circle of friends who know what mere fun they are. (Call Number: MS 23D:3.2)

Though we can only hope that Rossetti wouldn’t have considered the staff at the Spencer Research Library to be greedy and malevolent “exploiteurs”–he had in mind perhaps critics of the day, publishers, or members of the periodical press–time has proven the validity of his concern.  For example, a number of Rossetti’s own private communications now reside in Spencer’s collection of Rossetti Family Correspondence (MS 23).  This collection includes letters by his father, Gabriele Rossetti, his sister, the poet Christina Georgina Rossetti, his brother, critic William Michael Rossetti, and his sister-in-law, painter and biographer Lucy Madox (nee Brown) Rossetti.  These letters are a boon to scholars, students, and the general public, even if their creators might not have wished for all of them to reach our prying eyes.

To read Rossetti’s letter to Swinburne, click on the thumbnails below to enlarge:

Image of Rossetti to Swinburne [circa Nov. 1871p.1]  Image of page 2 of Letter from Rossetti to Swinburne.  Image of page 3 of letter from Rossetti to Swinburne  Image of page four of letter from Rossetti to Swinburne

Letter from Dante Gabriel Rossetti to Algernon Charles Swinburne. [Shortly after 6 Nov. 1871?]. Rossetti Family Correspondence. Call Number: MS 23D:3.2. Click images to enlarge.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

Thanksgiving in Kansas (1889, 1896, 1904, and 1953)

November 21st, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving from the Kenneth Spencer Research Library! As you eat your turkey (or tofurky) and pumpkin pie this holiday, enjoy a taste of Thanksgivings past from the Kansas Collection.

Image of Thanksgiving Proclamation, Kansas 1889
Above: Humphrey, Lyman Underwood (Kansas Governor 1889-1893). Thanksgiving Proclamation.
Topeka, KS: [State Printer?], 1889. Call Number: RH P872. Click image to enlarge.

Image of Football Team Thanksgiving Day, Fort Riley.  1896.
Above: Pennell, Joseph Judd (photographer). Football Team Thanksgiving Day, Fort Riley.  1896.
Pennell Photography Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell: print 64.2: box 3: Pennell number 9401.
Click image to enlarge.

Image: Men Gathered in 20th Battery Dining Hall, Fort Riley, for Thanksgiving Dinner.  1904.
Above:  Pennell, Joseph Judd (photographer). Men Gathered in 20th Battery Dining Hall, Fort Riley, for Thanksgiving
Dinner.  1904. Pennell Photography Collection. Call Number: RH PH Pennell: print 64.2: box 3: Pennell number 9401.
Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of Graves-Williams-Dandridge family at Thanksgiving.  Wichita, Kansas. 1953.
Above:  Hughes, Leon K. (photographer). Graves-Williams-Dandridge Family at Thanksgiving.  Wichita, Kansas. 1953.
L. K. Hughes Photography Collection.  Call Number: RH PH506, box 12, folder 8. Click image to enlarge.

Want to see more?  Visit the newly launched Leon K. Hughes: African American Life in Wichita Kansas online exhibition (and contribute identifications and additional information through its interactive comment feature).  Browse photographs from the Kenneth Spencer Research Library in the University of Kansas Luna Insight Image Collections.

Going Cross-Eyed: We Dare You to Read This!

September 28th, 2012

[…] I really must, in justice to Jane, apologise for her writing so short a letter—only two pages you see—hardly two—and in general she fills the whole paper and crosses half. My mother often wonders that I can make it out so well. She often says, when the letter is first opened, ‘Well, Hetty, now I think you will be put to it to make out all that chequer-work’ […]

-Miss Bates to Emma in Jane Austen’s Emma (1815)

In an earlier post about the visit of the NEH Seminar “Jane Austen and Her Contemporaries” to the Spencer Research Library, I mentioned a manuscript format that would have been familiar to early 19th-century eyes, but which is likely quite alien to modern readers:  the crossed letter.  It is this type of letter that Jane Austen is alluding to in the above passage from Emma (1815).  A crossed letter is a letter in which the correspondent saved both stationary and postage by writing not only in one direction, but by turning the letter 90 degrees and then writing across the page perpendicularly.  The result is a letter that can be quite a challenge to read.  Just take a look at the letter below from Robert Ker Porter, a painter and diplomat, to his sister, the novelist Anna Maria Porter (click images to enlarge):

Image of the first page of a crossed letter (from Robert Ker Porter to Anna Maria Porter)  Image of a Crossed Letter from Robert Ker Porter to Anna Maria Porter, p. 2

The uncrossed portion of a letter from Robert Ker Porter to Anna Maria Porter
Read if you dare:  A crossed letter from Robert Ker Porter to Anna Maria Porter.
4 April 1806. Porter Family Collection. MS 28, Box 1, Folder 27.  Click images to enlarge.

Crossed letters began to decline in use after 1840 when the “Uniform Penny Post” was established in England, allowing letter-writers to send domestic mail at a rate of a penny per 1/2 once (thus the name “penny post”), regardless of distance, payable in advance by the sender.

An English etiquette book from 1901 warned sternly against the habit of crossing one’s letters, but recognized that in the past (as in the example from Jane Austen above), a crossed letter could be a sign of friendship and intimacy:

Crossing a letter is quite unpardonable. Stationery is cheap, postage is cheap; there is no reason for crossing lines.  There was a time when both postage and stationery were very expensive, and in those old days a crossed letter was actually regarded as a mark of friendship.

Some of them were crossed and recrossed! Dear friends filled every corner of the paper, and resented it if the replies were not equally indicative of regard.  But nowadays a crossed letter is by no means a mark of friendship. Very much the reverse!

-from Manners for Girls by Mrs. Humphry. London: T.F. Unwin, 1901, p. 61.

The anonymous author of Hints on Letter-Writing (1841), which came out roughly a year after the launch of the Uniform Penny Post,  advises readers,  “Should you ever be compelled thus to disfigure a letter [by crossing it], in mercy to your correspondent vary the colour of the ink.”

Below is the first page of a letter from Robert Ker Porter to his sister and mother. It is interesting to see that, in this case, he uses the black ink to write to his sister, the novelist Jane Porter, and red ink to write (on the same sheet) to his mother.

Image of the first page of a crossed Letter from Robert Ker Porter to his sister Jane and his Mother, June 1821  Image of the first page of a crossed Letter from Robert Ker Porter to his sister Jane and his Mother, June 14, 15, 26, 1821. Rotated 90 degrees to facilitate reading the portion of the letter in red ink.

First page of a crossed letter from Robert Ker Porter to his sister Jane Porter (in black) and his mother, Jane Blenkinsop Porter, (in red).  June 14, 15, 26th, 1821. Porter Family Collection. MS 28, Box 2, Folder 2.  The second image is rotated 90 degrees to enable reading the portion of the letter written in red ink. Click images to enlarge.

Click on the images above to enlarge them and see whether you think the contrast in the color of the inks makes the letter easier to read.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

An Easter Pizza in Umbria, Italy in 1842

May 24th, 2012

Easter Sunday …  after dinner they brought us an enormous sort of cake to look at – it is made of flour, lard, cheese, & quantities of eggs – the name is Pizza – or Torta – one of these we saw must have been 4 feet in circumference – it is made at Easter – only in this part of the country not in Rome – it is rather good – very light – but too strong of the cheese – they eat this cake – sausages – eggs which have been blessed (so has the cake) and wash it down with the best wine which is stored up for the occasion – such is their Easter feast. …

Entered by Pauline Trevelyan in her diary,  Spoleto, Italy, 27 March 1842 , call number: MS C133

Traditional pizza recipes vary greatly in different regions of Italy. In her journal entry for Easter Sunday 1842 Pauline Trevelyan describes her first taste of Umbrian Easter pizza, a tall round loaf of cheese-flavored bread traditionally served with sliced Italian sausage and hard-boiled eggs. The photograph featured below shows the tasty recreation of that meal submitted to the recent University of Kansas Libraries edible book competition.

Umbrian Easter pizza entry at the Edible Book Festival, 2012
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