Meteors weren’t entirely understood in the early 1800s, when they were considered some sort of atmospheric phenomenon or maybe rocks shot out of volcanoes on the moon. Fireballs wowed viewers then just as they do now; young Samuel Griswold Goodrich, up before dawn on December 14, 1807, to build up the fires in his family’s house, was startled when “[s]uddenly the room was filled with light, and looking up, I saw through the windows a ball of fire, nearly the size of the moon, passing across the heavens from northwest to southeast. It was at an immense height, and of intense brilliancy. Having passed the zenith, it swiftly descended toward the earth: while still at a great elevation it burst, with three successive explosions, into fiery fragments. The report was like three claps of rattling thunder in quick succession.”

So a fireball lighting the skies over New York and Pennsylvania on April 11, 1842, inspired a certain amount of printed ink. The brightness of the fireball would have been even more impressive in a time of little light pollution. The description in The New World is vivid and— Okay: there’s a lot here that just doesn’t sound plausible. Fluid falls onto the observer, who feels heat and smells sulphur and arrives at his destination with a scorched face. His faintness and difficulty breathing can be ascribed to panic; the heat and sulphur could be the product of a startled imagination; and the fluid is so hazily described that it might be a product of the aftereffect of looking at a bright object. But scorching? Was it a sunburn that developed during the night?

Still, the piece is detailed enough to provide a vivid mental picture of a memorable event—almost as good as a dash cam video.

“Splendid Meteor” (from The New World, 23 April 1842; p. 274)

A most extraordinary display of meteoric fire was observed in the town of Westfield, in this State, on the morning of the eleventh instant. It was accompanied by a loud noise—first an explosion, then a snapping and grating sound. It appeared a large and long-extended mass of fire. The light which it emitted was as bright as noon-day. Its disappearance was singular. The long tail seemed to separate from the nucleus, or head, and the latter rushed on, emitting a dark blue flame; but there was no division of its body into fragments, or any thing else to indicate a fracture, unless indeed the very separation of the fiery and blue portions was the result of the explosion. A Mr. Palmer, who was on his way from Dunkirk to Westfield, stated to the editor of the Chautauque County Messenger, that, when two or three miles from Dunkirk, he was suddenly enveloped in a painfully-bright shower of light, proceeding from a mass of fluid or jelly-like substance, which fell around and upon him, producing a sulphurous smell, a great difficulty of breathing, and a feeling of faintness, with a strong sensation of heat. As soon as he could recover from his astonishment, he perceived the body of the meteor passing above him, seeming to be about a mile high. It then appeared to be in diameter about the size of a large steamboat pipe, near a mile in length! Its dimensions varied soon; becoming first much broader, and then waning away in diameter and length until the former was reduced to about eight inches, and the latter a fourth of a mile, when it separated into pieces which fell to the earth, and almost immediately he heard the explosion. On arriving at Westfield, in the morning, his face had every appearance of having been severely scorched; his eyes were much affected, and he did not recover from the shock it gave his system for two or three days.

The same phenomenon was observed in several other towns adjacent, in New York and Pennsylvania. In copying the above account, the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser says—“At Erie and Rochester, places about one hundred and fifty miles apart in a straight line, the light was nearly as vivid as that of day. This shows the immense magnitude and great height of the meteor.”

What will Professor Olmsted say to all this? Will he not be indignant that a meteor should appear in any place beside New Haven?

[Note: “Professor Olmsted” was Denison Olmsted, who pioneered the study of meteors; the New Haven meteor no doubt was the one witnessed by Samuel Goodrich in 1807, a piece of which is in the mineralogy and meteoritics collection at Yale (in, of course, New Haven, Connecticut).]


As I was assured by the young men moving my belongings a couple years ago, I have a lot of books. (“Too many books” was their phrase, but I think we can agree that “too many” is … relative.)

I thought several years ago that I’d be able to jettison a copy of What to Do and How to Do It, one of Samuel Griswold Goodrich’s books on conduct of life. It was published in 1844 and stereotyped. I have a pristine copy of the 1844 edition, a toddler-colored copy of the 1856 edition, and a— Okay, it’s difficult to describe what happened to my other 1844 copy. It’s been stomped on, dunked in water, and extremely, extremely well read.

So I thought I had my copy for transcribing. Copies that have been transcribed aren’t always the same at the end of the process, so I prefer ones that won’t win beauty pageants to begin with. (My favorite is Ruth Hall, which was complete, but which was already broken down into its component parts. Boy, does it lie flat.) This copy was missing a few pages, but surely it wouldn’t be missed if it went to a landfill after transcription. It already had led a rich life.

Then I looked again at the title page, mostly because I’d have to clean it up for the web site. Because it looks like this:

A little research later, and, yeah: the copy apparently belonged to Ernest Hemingway’s grandfather. At least, according to the handwritten note:

For Hemingway Hines.
Grandson of Anson Tyler Hemingway
born 1844
Terryville Conn.
up the long hill from

Given to
born 1867
when a little girl
by her
Grand Mother
Harriet Lynsay [sic]
Tyler Hemingway
her oldest

This H. L. Tyler was
of the same
Scotch clan
as The Bag Pipe
Singer “Harry
Louder” of
Scotland who

The publication date on the title page—1844—is underlined three times in blue pencil, with “ATH” written beneath it; beside this are the words

When young,
Blue penciled
by Anson Tyler

So what we have here seems to be a copy owned by Anson Tyler Hemingway and given to Ernest Hemingway’s aunt, Anginette Blanche Hemingway Hines, who passed it down to her son, Hemingway Hines. Anson Tyler Hemingway was born in 1844—the same year as this copy—and appears to have underlined the date of publication and left his initials on the page. (And, Hemingway and bagpipes? Hmm.)

So, yes, I still have three copies of one book. Sorry, movers. At least you won’t be called on to move my books again. (Long and ugly story involving a moving company I used to admire.)

And, btw, did Ernest Hemingway ever read this book? Surely not. But it colored the environment in which he was reared, not just because his grandfather and father probably read it, but because Samuel Goodrich’s generic advice on conduct of life was in keeping with that permeating American culture at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. Amusingly, Goodrich’s dictum to “Do not be too positive” was flipped by Hemingway, one of whose writing tips is “Be positive.” Goodrich meant that readers shouldn’t insist that they’re right on a subject they’re not actually certain about; Hemingway meant that writers should say what something is, instead of what it isn’t. Goodrich would have agreed with him: it’s good advice for someone writing for children.

One of the fun aspects of researching American children’s periodicals and books before 1873 is seeing how they deal with prehistory. It’s interesting to see how writers dealt with the increasing disconnect between religious tradition and scientific explanation. But it’s especially entertaining to watch dinosaurs change with decades.

Okay, mostly one dinosaur: the iguanodon. The first American work for children to show dinosaur illustrations appears to be the frontispiece of Peter Parley’s Wonders of the Earth, Sea, and Sky, reworked by Samuel Griswold Goodrich from one in a British book as Goodrich asserted ownership of his creation: “Peter Parley.”

EarthfrHere are the pterosaur, the plesiosaur, and the ichthyosaur, which in the nineteenth century belly-crawled on land because it hadn’t yet been established as a water-dweller.

Goodrich appears also to have published the first illustration of an iguanodon for children in Robert Merry’s Museum in 1842. It’s … unfamiliar:

Iguanodon, from Robert Merry's Museum, 1842The mighty (and mighty low-slung) iguanodon roars to the sky, while a duckish plesiosaur glides serenely through a prehistoric pool. It will look familiar to anyone who’s seen the first volume of The Wonders of Geology, by Gideon Mantell; the frontispiece is John Martin’s “The Country of the Iguanodon,” with an iguanodon which is lunching on one reptile roaring in pain as it is attacked by another reptile. The iguanodon in the Museum is the middle dinosaur in Martin’s picture.

It looks fairly sleek by comparison with one appearing in The Children’s Friend thirty years later:

1872ChFrPAIt’s … Hmm.

illustration of a short-legged dinosaurIt’s sturdy, low-browed, no-necked—almost stereotypically Neanderthalish. At least it’s off the ground.

And it’s accompanied by some old friends:

ichthy1872It’s our old pal, the ichthyosaur, still scrambling about on the land! And is that the plesiosaur beside it? (The stocky little critter in the foreground looks almost un-reptilian.)

The later iguanodon shows up in the work of Waterhouse Hawkins, who made life-size recreations of dinosaurs for a London park. We’ve changed it again: the horn that 19th-century naturalists put on its nose is now believed to be the thumb.

I like the 21st-century iguanodon, but I rather miss the seal-like version from 1842.

(Oddly enough, while the word “dinosaur” was first used in England in 1841, it hasn’t yet shown up in any pre-1873 works for children that I’ve seen. Stay tuned.)

Two little gardeners

November 21, 2014

PeterWhen I saw the lumpy little boy on the left at an antique show, I had to buy him.  (Along with his sister; I didn’t want to break up the family.)

Why?  Because I recognized him.  I already had his … ah … twin.

“The Little Gardiner” (proofreading is so important) is the frontispiece for Peter Parley’s Story of the Little Gardener, a little paperback book published in 1833.  It’s a sentimental little story about an Irish orphan who makes good.  The orphan’s name is Peter.Gardener

“Peter the Little Gardener” advertises W. N. Stevens Variety Store, at “S. E. corner of Third and Arch Streets,” in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The ad probably is late 1830s; the store was at this address from 1837 to 1839. (It’s advertised in Philadelphia newspapers until at least 1845.)  An early owner named Simon laid claim to a picture he clearly liked. (His name is also on the back.)

They’re an interesting pair.  The original is a wood engraving, overseen by Samuel Griswold Goodrich, who was particular about the illustrations in his works.  The lines are delicate, and Peter’s face has a 19th-century glassy-eyed sweetness.  (Though that hat is not going to stay on his head for long.)  The copy is evidently a wood cut, with thicker lines.  The artist apparently needed some more lessons.  (And that hat isn’t staying on long, either.)  It’s a mirror image because the artist was copying without taking into consideration what was going to happen when the wood block was printed.

Illustrations often were copied, reworked, and edited.  Though this one is a puzzler.  Why put the character’s name on the illustration?  Could there have been a pirated copy of the little chapbook?  (Goodrich’s creations were copied more than once.)  Did it have the wood cut as a frontispiece?  And what on earth kind of plant is that?  How do you keep it from toppling right over?

When Samuel Griswold Goodrich decided to improve himself by improving his education, he turned to “Mr. Value,” who taught French, fencing, and dancing in Hartford, Connecticut, from around 1805 to at least 1825.  Lydia Sigourney (poet and author of—among other works—Scenes in My Native Land) found Value “courteous,” “patient,” and “exacting” as he attempted to give her French the proper “Parisian pronunciation.”

She also calls him “formally ceremonious.”  This may be why his advertisements in the Connecticut Mirror are such a delightful part of my ongoing research on Goodrich: Value’s courtly diffidence as he advertises himself, the explosion of italics, and those long, winding sentences have a bizarre charm.  It’s like P. T. Barnum chanelling Uriah Heep, by way of Mr. Micawber.

Here’s one of my favorites—with an unusual title—from the June 3, 1816 issue of the Connecticut Mirror (p. 3, col 5):

The last intrusion, pardon it—the last opportunity improve it.

Reluctantly does Mr. Value present himself again, but a virtuous and refined education, being the Summum Bonum of this life, and as a few short months, will probably terminate his séjour in this city, he once more respectfully offers his services, as a teacher, to its inhabitants.

Among the branches he is capable of teaching, he would particularly recommend to their attention, the French Language; a correct knowledge of which, being of such vast importance to its possessours, that he cannot forbear soliciting Gentlemen to obtain, what they will find so useful and agreeable through all the walks of life.—Do they wish to learn any of the other modern languages? after they have acquired it, they can make themselves masters of any of them, with ease and facility.

Do they pursue the sciences? all are written in that tongue.  Is wealth their object? let them know the French Language perfectly, and they can collect the golden treasures from all parts of the globe.  Let gentlemen consult their own interest, and improve the last opportunity of acquiring it easily, accurately and expeditiously.  Could the volume of futurity be opened, many would probably be surprised, to see how small a number of the active and enterprising youth, who now inhabit this city, destined to pass their lives within its limits.—How important, then, that parents should well prepare their sons for that momentous voyage which all must make on life’s tempestuous ocean.

He would also say something of Music, but who does not feel its enchanting powers? what is there so soft, so smooth, so captivating? who that is human, can withstand its inpsiring charms? listen but a moment to its melodious strains, and every noisy passion is hushed in calm repose.  Then let your daughters obtain that, which graces the highest and dignifies the lowest station, let them learn this sweetest of all the sciences, this ornament of society and charm of solitude.

Nor can he forget Dancing, how indispensably necessary are ease, propriety and elegance of manners in social life, and where are these graces to be acquired but in a well regulated dancing school?  The instruction received there corrects every disagreeable and awkward habit, banishes rude and indelicate actions, keeps at a distance every worthless intruder, unites a pleasing dignity of address with gracefulness of manners, and receives from taste and discernment the homage of esteem and admiration.  There are other branches, but he can no longer particularize.

How excellent is a good education! how agreeable has he found it in the land that gave him birth! and better than gold, has it been to him in the burning climes of Africa and the frozen regions of Europe, and now, what would become of the stranger, “to all the stranger’s ills a prey” without it?  To Heaven he can never be sufficiently grateful, for giving him parents, sensible of its importance; never can he forget these prophetic words of his venerable father, “My children must have an education, for when all is gone, that will remain.[“]

And now, he would talk of the favours received, from an enlightened & generous public:  he would mention the attentions of friends esteemed and beloved, but here time and language fail him, and he must bid adieu to all, by assuring them, that so long as memory remains, he shall retain the most grateful sense, of their hospitality and kindness.

Agreeable to former notification, Mr. Value will be at Bulkley’s Hall at 2 o’clock, P. M. on Wednesday, the 5th of June inst. when he will commence his Dancing School for young Ladies, and at 7 o’clock in the evening of the same day, and in the same place, for Gentlemen.  Terms $7 per quarter, and two lessons per week, the half to be paid in advance, and the remainder at the beginning of the second half quarter.  None admitted for a less sum than $7, whether they take all their lessons or not—be particular and remember this.

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.