Because it’s December, it’s time to dredge up the most complete version of an old favorite:

One of the most popular poems in American culture is/was/possibly always will be “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Its popularity began when it was first penned by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822: a relative/a friend of the family liked it so well that she or he made a copy. That copy (or a copy of that copy) was sent to the editor of the Troy Sentinel, who published it in 1823. And then it spread: at least 135 reprintings between 1823 and the end of 1872. During the Civil War, it appeared in newspapers north and south.

Reprinters were … creative. Proofreading was spotty—or non-existent. Some editors/typesetters seem to have copied the poem from faulty memory. Some appear to have tried to improve the poem.

My favorite huh? version comes from Historic Tales of Olden Time, Concerning the Early Settlement and Progress of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, by John F. Watson (1833)—a version which probably should be titled “Highlights from ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ ”:

It was the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
When what in the air, to my eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer;
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment, it must be Saint Nick!
Soon, on to the house top, his coursers, they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys and Saint Nicholas too;
As I roll’d on my bed and was turning around,
Down the chimney Saint Nicholas came with a bound!
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
The stump of a pipe he held fast in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl-full of jelly.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work:
Soon filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk;
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle;
And I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

Moore provided three versions: the anonymous 1823 Sentinel version; an 1837 version when his name was first attached to the poem; and the version in his 1844 collection of poetry. The variations in text lie chiefly in the names of the reindeer and seem to indicate to some readers that Moore didn’t write the poem, since he apparently didn’t know what he’d originally written, but kept changing it. The logic of that argument is tenuous, and the argument that someone else wrote the poem is unconvincing. It may be that Moore simply reworked a poem he’d dashed off so many years earlier.

How did the poem originally read? Good question. The 1822 manuscript appears not to exist. Neither does the copy made by the visitor. Or the copy of the copy made by the visitor; even the 1823 Sentinel version is two or three steps removed from what Moore originally wrote. It may be that one of the later versions is the 1822 version.

When you see the variations glued together in a strange Frankenpoem, it’s easy to understand that this was never a staid and stuffy set of words to be printed only in a certain order, but a living bit of culture that from the beginning existed in sometimes-accidental variations. What seems to have mattered to 19th-century readers wasn’t the wording, but the story and the mental images: the cosy sleeping family, the jolly gift-bringer, the lyrically named reindeer.

Below, I’ve glued together most of the variations. I started with the 1823 version, adding the changed words/lines. Almost all the variations appear in more than one reprint, as a change or mistake in one reprint was repeated by other editors. I’ve ignored variations in punctuation (except for the sugar plums and bowls full of jelly). Some lines are struck through because they vanish in a few versions.

And the blob of a title at the top? Editors/printers seem to have taken titling the poem as a personal challenge. The 18 titles below represent most variations I’ve found so far.

So, because someone plotting on a spreadsheet the variations in 135 copies of one poem must find amusement where she can, I present “The Really Complete First Fifty Years of ‘The Night Before Christmas’ ”:
“Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas/Christmas Times: Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas or Sante Claus/Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas or Sante Claus/Christmas Eve: A Visit from St. Nicholas/Christmas: Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas or Sante Claus/A Visit from St. Nicholas/Visit from Santa Claus/Christmas Eve: Santa Claus on his Holiday Visit to his Children/Christmas Times/The Night Before Christmas: A Visit from Saint Nicholas/St. Nicholas’ Visit to All Good Little Girls and Boys/Annual Visit of St. Nicholas/Santa Claus/Visit of St. Nicholas, On the Night Before Christmas/The Visit of St. Nicholas or Santa Claus/Santa Claus’ Annual Visit/Santa Claus’ Visit/The Coming of Santa Claus”

’Twas/It was the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes/In hope/In the hope that St. Nicholas/St. Nichols/St. Nickolas soon would be there;
The children were nestled/nested/posted all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums/sugar-plums/sugar-plumbs danc’d in/through/round/o’er their heads,
And Mama/Mamma/Ma’ in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap—
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprung from/roll’d on the bed/from my bed/from bed to see what was the matter,/I sprang to the window to see what was the matter,
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash./To open the shutters and throw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen/hard crusted snow,
Gave the lustre of mid-day/of day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering/wandering eyes should appear,/When what in the air, to my eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled/whisper’d, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
“Now! Dasher/Danter, now! Dancer/Lancer/Pancer, now! Prancer/Dunner, and Vixen/Nixen,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder/Donder/Dander and Blixem/Blixen/Blitzen/Blizen;
“To the top of the porch/stoop! to the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves/the leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys—and St. Nicholas/St. Nichols/St. Nickolas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing/The neighing and prancing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas/St. Nichols/St. Nickolas came with a bound:
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,/He was dressed in fur from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack:
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry,
His cheeks/lips were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll/queer little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round/round little belly/He had a broad face and a little bright eye,
That/They shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full/bowlful of jelly:/That shone on his cheek like a star in the sky.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing/naught to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill’d all the stockings/his stockings; then turn’d with a jirk/jerk,
And laying his finger/his fingers aside/astride of his nose
And giving a nod/And flying around, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of/off a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere/as he drove out of sight—
“Happy Christmas/Merry Christmas/Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night.”

(And an annotation: Why does St. Nick put his finger aside of his nose before disappearing up the chimney? Apparently it’s a traditional gesture expressing that what is happening is a secret [see Desmond Morris, Peoplewatching]; by 1915, the gesture implied that the secret is between friends [see Acting in Opera, by George E. Shea; at google books].)

One of the most popular poems in American culture is/was/possibly always will be “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Its popularity began when it was first penned by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822: a relative/a friend of the family liked it so well that she or he made a copy. That copy (or a copy of that copy) was sent to the editor of the Troy Sentinel, who published it in 1823. And then it spread: at least 135 reprintings between 1823 and the end of 1872. During the Civil War, it appeared in newspapers north and south.

Reprinters were … creative. Proofreading was spotty—or non-existent. Some editors/typesetters seem to have copied the poem from faulty memory. Some appear to have tried to improve the poem.

My favorite huh? version comes from Historic Tales of Olden Time, Concerning the Early Settlement and Progress of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, by John F. Watson (1833)—a version which probably should be titled “Highlights from ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ ”:

It was the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
When what in the air, to my eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer;
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment, it must be Saint Nick!
Soon, on to the house top, his coursers, they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys and Saint Nicholas too;
As I roll’d on my bed and was turning around,
Down the chimney Saint Nicholas came with a bound!
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
The stump of a pipe he held fast in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl-full of jelly.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work:
Soon filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk;
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle;
And I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

Moore provided three versions: the anonymous 1823 Sentinel version; an 1837 version when his name was first attached to the poem; and the version in his 1844 collection of poetry. The variations in text lie chiefly in the names of the reindeer and seem to indicate to some readers that Moore didn’t write the poem, since he apparently didn’t know what he’d originally written, but kept changing it. The logic of that argument is tenuous, and the argument that someone else wrote the poem is unconvincing. It may be that Moore simply reworked a poem he’d dashed off so many years earlier.

How did the poem originally read? Good question. The 1822 manuscript appears not to exist. Neither does the copy made by the visitor. Or the copy of the copy made by the visitor; even the 1823 Sentinel version is two or three steps removed from what Moore originally wrote. It may be that one of the later versions is the 1822 version.

When you see the variations glued together in a strange Frankenpoem, it’s easy to understand that this was never a staid and stuffy set of words to be printed only in a certain order, but a living bit of culture that from the beginning existed in sometimes-accidental variations. What seems to have mattered to 19th-century readers wasn’t the wording, but the story and the mental images: the cosy sleeping family, the jolly gift-bringer, the lyrically named reindeer.

Below, I’ve glued together most of the variations. I started with the 1823 version, adding the changed words/lines. Almost all the variations appear in more than one reprint, as a change or mistake in one reprint was repeated by other editors. I’ve ignored variations in punctuation (except for the sugar plums and bowls full of jelly). Some lines are struck through because they vanish in a few versions.

And the blob of a title at the top? Editors/printers seem to have taken titling the poem as a personal challenge. The 18 titles below represent most variations I’ve found so far.

So, because someone plotting on a spreadsheet the variations in 135 copies of one poem must find amusement where she can, I present “The Really Complete First Fifty Years of ‘The Night Before Christmas’ ”:
“Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas/Christmas Times: Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas or Sante Claus/Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas or Sante Claus/Christmas Eve: A Visit from St. Nicholas/Christmas: Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas or Sante Claus/A Visit from St. Nicholas/Visit from Santa Claus/Christmas Eve: Santa Claus on his Holiday Visit to his Children/Christmas Times/The Night Before Christmas: A Visit from Saint Nicholas/St. Nicholas’ Visit to All Good Little Girls and Boys/Annual Visit of St. Nicholas/Santa Claus/Visit of St. Nicholas, On the Night Before Christmas/The Visit of St. Nicholas or Santa Claus/Santa Claus’ Annual Visit/Santa Claus’ Visit/The Coming of Santa Claus”

’Twas/It was the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes/In hope/In the hope that St. Nicholas/St. Nichols/St. Nickolas soon would be there;
The children were nestled/nested/posted all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums/sugar-plums/sugar-plumbs danc’d in/through/round/o’er their heads,
And Mama/Mamma/Ma’ in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap—
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprung from/roll’d on the bed/from my bed/from bed to see what was the matter,/I sprang to the window to see what was the matter,
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash./To open the shutters and throw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen/hard crusted snow,
Gave the lustre of mid-day/of day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering/wandering eyes should appear,/When what in the air, to my eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled/whisper’d, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
“Now! Dasher/Danter, now! Dancer/Lancer/Pancer, now! Prancer/Dunner, and Vixen/Nixen,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder/Donder/Dander and Blixem/Blixen/Blitzen/Blizen;
“To the top of the porch/stoop! to the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves/the leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys—and St. Nicholas/St. Nichols/St. Nickolas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing/The neighing and prancing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas/St. Nichols/St. Nickolas came with a bound:
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,/He was dressed in fur from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack:
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry,
His cheeks/lips were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll/queer little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round/round little belly/He had a broad face and a little bright eye,
That/They shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full/bowlful of jelly:/That shone on his cheek like a star in the sky.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing/naught to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill’d all the stockings/his stockings; then turn’d with a jirk/jerk,
And laying his finger/his fingers aside/astride of his nose
And giving a nod/And flying around, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of/off a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere/as he drove out of sight—
“Happy Christmas/Merry Christmas/Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night.”

(And an annotation: Why does St. Nick put his finger aside of his nose before disappearing up the chimney? Apparently it’s a traditional gesture expressing that what is happening is a secret [see Desmond Morris, Peoplewatching]; by 1915, the gesture implied that the secret is between friends [see Acting in Opera, by George E. Shea; at google books].)

Firsts and lasts

October 17, 2014

One of the most frustrating things about studying early American children’s periodicals is just listing them. We rely on earlier references (Betty Longenecker Lyon’s 1942 dissertation, “A History of Children’s Secular Magazines” is a classic) or articles by collectors and earlier scholars. R. Gordon Kelly tried to pull together as much info as possible in 1984, in Children’s Periodicals of the United States.

Because it can be so difficult to even find the periodicals we want to study, a lot of us look at these lists and at the info in library catalogs like the one for the American Antiquarian Society and run with the info. Unfortunately, it’s not always accurate, because—well, okay, because it can be so difficult to even find the periodicals we want to study.

So, that’s where the research comes in. You work with what you can find; you look at eBay; you scroll through pdfs of city directories or county histories or general surveys of local publications; you search newspaper and magazine databases on general terms like “children’s magazine”; you look at the notices and advertisements in other periodicals. This, by the way, is just to get a list of what was published. I’m up to 388 titles published before 1873 (and counting: right now I’m trying to find more info on what appears to be the only Spanish-language children’s periodical published during the period).

And sometimes it turns out that we have the wrong dates for some periodicals we’ve been studying for decades. First issues and last issues seem to be the most difficult to establish. If all you have is a bound volume of the 1841 issues of Robert Merry’s Museum, you won’t know that the first issue wasn’t January 1841, but February 1841.  (October 1841 was a double issue.)

It’s more difficult when we’ve had the wrong year the whole time. Which is what I realized once I looked at advertisements for The Slave’s Friend.  Standard reference works list the first year as 1836. However, according to advertisements, the first issue was April 1835.

And we really should have known this. The Friend was published as the result of a meeting in January 1835 (at least one other magazine was published a month after it was proposed). Copies of issue number 3 were famously burned in South Carolina in July 1835.

Why have we had the wrong date all this time? Partly because the issues themselves don’t have dates on them. (Thanks a lot, American Anti-Slavery Society! And editor of The Sunday-Scholar’s Mirror, for that matter.) Since the Friend seems to have been thought of mostly as a religious tract to be “scattered unsparingly through the land” rather than subscribed to, dates were unimportant. And we’ve had the wrong date partly because— Okay, who really wants to wade through periodical after periodical, looking for teeny advertisements and one-line notices? Well, yeah, I do; but it’s really not as much fun as it sounds.

And, probably, we’ve had the wrong date because it just didn’t occur to anyone to pay attention to the fact that issues of the Friend were around to be burned in 1835. (Yes, I knew about the incident, but … Okay, I didn’t actually know the date of the incident. That’s my story, and I will be sticking to it.) The 1836 date may come from a library’s bound volume of the first year, which was available in July 1836 and may have that date on the title page. (My bound volume is missing any page before page one of issue one and may have been created from individual issues, so, no title page for me to check.)

End dates can be just as iffy. Apparently, the Friend had 38 issues. (And where are we getting that? I’m really not sure.) The usual date of last issue is 1838. (And where are we getting that? Hmm.) But a May 1839 issue of Youth’s Cabinet has a notice of an issue (not enough details, of course, to figure out which one).  More confusingly, an ad for the Cabinet in April 1839 mentions that the Friend has been discontinued. Sounds like more wading through periodicals is in order.

It was easier to find the date of the last issue of The Little Pilgrim, which reference works have ending in December 1868. Because the date of last issue right on the front cover. Of the April 1869 issue. And inside that cover is an announcement that it is, indeed, the last issue.

LC70And, suddenly, a major problem is solved: that it apparently took six months for the Pilgrim to merge with The Little Corporal.  Oh, you didn’t know about that? (Neither do the reference works.) The merger shows up on the early 1870 covers of the Corporal, which is why I spent a month or two feeling like a confused researcher: why hadn’t anybody else noticed?

Because nobody was looking at both magazines. Because they didn’t see the covers. Because they couldn’t find all the issues. Because it’s tough to find all the issues in covers.  Because other researchers spend brainpower remembering the names of their friends and family and their own phone numbers, when they could be using it wondering just why the Little Pilgrim is creeping up on the Little Corporal on the cover.

So, research. Luckily, a lot of stuff formerly available only on difficult-to-find microfilm or even-more-difficult-to-find paper (oh, long, juicy argument over Youth’s Gazette, where art thou?) is now digitized. And winter’s coming, when I won’t be pining quite so much to be out somewhere.

Okay, still pining.  But not pining as much as I could be.

Mr. Peale’s mastodon

June 14, 2010

a mastodon skeleton on display

I’ve been working recently on updates for the online exhibit of works on fossils published for American children before 1873.  (Seven months.  It’s been seven months since I scanned the first illustrations.)  Mostly it was so I could put up an illustration from 1831 of the mastodon skeleton on exhibit in Charles Willson Peale’s museum.

Charles Willson Peale founded his museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1786. It contained an eclectic collection of natural history specimens, portraits of admirable historical figures, and human artifacts from various countries–all intended to edify visitors and to show the place of human beings as part of the animal kingdom.

His most famous display, however, was the mastodon skeleton he obtained in 1801. Eleven feet high at the shoulder and fifteen feet from chin to rump, it was huge and strange and confusing: was it carnivorous? Was it an elephant? If so, what were elephants doing in North America? There were a lot of questions to be answered about the “Great American Incognitum.”

Samuel Griswold Goodrich is the focus of a lot of my research.  He tried to mix education with entertainment in his books on geography, history, natural science–just about anything he thought children might need to know about.  And he knew that if you were going to introduce something as new-to-readers as the mastodon, it helped to have a picture of the thing.  So he provided one.

Well, sort of.  No one seems to have figured out what the living animal must have looked like, but there were illustrations of the skeleton put together by Peale.  So in his discussion of Peale’s museum in The Child’s First Book of History, Goodrich included a picture of the mastodon on display in the museum.

The image is tiny (two inches wide and 1.5 inches tall) and the skeleton is almost lost in the background.   It’s tuskless, and, to us, the head is oddly misshapen.   But the illustration certainly gets across its point:   the skeleton is huge–the human visitors barely reach the first leg joint–and it’s evidently part of a wide-ranging collection.  What appears to be a stuffed alligator (or crocodile) is suspended in the background, with two statues (a message-bearing Hermes and what appears to be a “Dying Gaul”) nearby.  Was the illustration wholly accurate? in other words, were there classic statues on display nearby? Probably not.  But it’s a charming visualization of the major themes of Peale’s museum:  education and variety.

The skeleton pictured here greatly resembles one drawn by Titian Ramsay Peale II, which appeared in American Natural History, by John D. Godman (1826-1828).  Strange as the skeleton looks, the illustration is fairly accurate. The head is flat on the top because the top of the skull hadn’t yet been discovered.  And where are the tusks? Tusks seem to have confused naturalists of the time; there were arguments that the tusks curved up, like those on elephants, and there were arguments that the tusks curved down, so the mastodon could dig for mussels (and a wood engraving by Alexander Anderson appears to have the tusks inserted in the eye sockets). Leaving off the tusks may have seemed the safest option.

What’s puzzled me is why this illustration hasn’t been mentioned in the secondary works I’ve been looking at, and that’s made me notice (yet again) how often researchers seem to copy from each other.  Paul Semonin’s American Monster:  How the Nation’s First Prehistoric Creature Became a Symbol of National Identity has been invaluable to my research into how the mastodon was perceived in early America.  And he does mention The Child’s First Book of History.  He doesn’t mention the illustration, but he does say that “In 1831, he [Goodrich] reproduced Charles Willson Peale’s broadside advertising the exhibition of the ‘mammoth’ … introducing his young readers to the American monster as the ‘uncontrouled Monarch of the Wilderness’ and the ‘largest of all Terrestrial Beings!'” (p. 378).

Now, I have three copies of various early editions of that book; and I’ve seen the copy of the first edition at the Internet Archive, and that broadside isn’t anywhere in any of the copies.  And reproducing an entire broadside isn’t the kind of thing Goodrich tended to do.  But from what I can see on google books of Charles Coleman Sellers’ Mr. Peale’s Museum, the broadside is reproduced in that book, with the caption to the illustration I’ve put at the top of this piece, and the words “from Child’s First Book of History“.

Was there a misprint?  No idea–I haven’t seen a copy of Sellers.  But presumably Semonin did; and he copied the info from that into his profoundly confident sentence.  Looking at his bibliography I don’t find that he managed to track down the First Book of History.

And this is why I manage to produce so little:  I’m always redoing other people’s research before I use it.  Good habit–when you have a really good research library at your disposal.  Lousy habit, though, if you want to actually finish anything.

How I love this illustration.  Those tiny human figures pointing out various parts of the skeleton; the skeleton itself, looming so huge in the dark gallery, that sprightly little eye-catching statue of Mercury/Hermes; the slightly chubby dying Gaul (or is it an odalisque?); the mysterious shape in the upper left-hand corner–so much in such a tiny rectangle.  Goodrich liked it too:  he used it at at least twice more that I can find.

It’s just a shame Peale’s museum didn’t put it on their broadside.

For Memorial Day:

This one is too good not to share, and far too good to let be forgotten.

Several years ago, I bought a few issues of Youth’s Companion from 1865 and became enamored of pieces by “Uncle James.”  They’re gritty, sometimes-intense vignettes and anecdotes about slavery and the American Civil War.  I found copies of almost all the pieces and put transcriptions up at the site.  Who “Uncle James” actually was was anybody’s guess, since that name isn’t in any of the reference books I consult.

A few years later, Judy Albergotti Hines — a researcher in South Carolina — wrote to me. She’d been researching the history of Decoration Day — the early Memorial Day.  And she suggested a bit diffidently that “Uncle James” might have been James Redpath, an abolitionist and journalist who admired John Brown.  Surely, she wrote, this had been noticed by many people.  To which my response was, Well, if it had, they’d certainly kept that information to themselves!

When I wrote to historian John R. McKivigan, he agreed that — yes — given the biographical info Ms. Hines had noticed in the pieces, Redpath probably did write them.

This is what I love about the Internet:  I’d never heard of Redpath; Dr. McKivigan had (probably) never looked at the Companion; Ms. Hines — who knew about both — put them together.  And not only have there been additions to the list of Redpath’s works, but another writer for the Companion has been identified.  (And I’ve been handed a hmmm…, because these pieces and some others appearing in the Companion at that time are very different from other works on the War being written for children; and just why is that?)

Since the identification, I’ve gone through some later volumes of the Companion and realized that Redpath wrote quite a lot about the War — well into the late 1860s.  (He also wrote a short story not about the War.  I think he should have stayed with nonfiction.)  I like his writing about the War:  it’s much less sentimental than other pieces on the subject appearing in periodicals for children at the time.  Perhaps the pieces were read mostly by older readers (early American periodicals weren’t compartmentalized the way we expect), but Redpath wasn’t writing for children as if they were frail panes of glass; he was presenting the truth as he understood it — never a bad thing in writing for children.