It is almost conventional wisdom to assert that the many, many thousands of private citizens’ petitions and memorials submitted to Congress and printed in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set give us in almost each case a window into the mind of the common man. These men, and often also women, were exercising their right granted by the First Amendment “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” which often meant redress of damages, for claims of one kind or another—pensions in thousands of cases, and sometimes on behalf of a concern for more general issues beyond the needs of their particular cases, such as a plea for social justice. An example of that latter class is the brief memorial from a man named Sherlock Gregory, a citizen of Sand Lake in Rensselaer County, New York State, in 1838.
Students and scholars of Peace Studies and related fields will be interested to learn that Mahatma Gandhi’s Indian Opinion is one of the titles in the World Newspaper Archive: African Newspapers, 1800-1922. Founded by Gandhi in 1903 when as a young attorney he worked in South Africa, this newspaper chronicles the genesis of the concept of “non-violent resistance,” which would become the foundation of the Indian independence movement.
In the mid-19th century, the British government in South Africa began importing workers from India to work as indentured servants. However, under the authority of General Jan Smuts, severe restrictions were imposed on all Indian immigrants, including a mandatory identity card, warrantless search, seizure and arrests. Gandhi, at that time working as a lawyer in the Natal province of South Africa, launched the newspaper with the aim of educating the European community in South Africa about the plight of Indian immigrants.
Most librarians must shudder at the thought of marginalia, since writing in books must be near the top of their taboo list. But many instances of marginalia have been hugely important (the scribblings of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Pierre de Fermat come to mind), and the other day I thought I might have tripped across some very interesting ones penned by Samuel Johnson. Granted, this was not the good Doctor himself, but the respected American philosopher who became the first president of King’s College (now Columbia University).
Perusing Johnson’s Elementa Philosophica (1752) in Early American Imprints, Series 1: Evans, I noted the marginalia immediately, and also saw that it appeared to be signed by the author in the same hand. How very exciting! (The copy of this work that Readex digitized for this database came from the American Antiquarian Society, whose holdings contain many works donated by their authors, so this made sense.) Here is what I was looking at:
Citing James Constantine Pilling’s bibliography of Algonquian language publications, the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) catalog entry in the digital edition of Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans, 1639-1800 notes the separately printed dedication sheet to Robert Boyle, the famous British scientist, who supported the production of John Eliot’s translation of the Bible into the Algonquian language.
The separately printed sheet, an American printing, was loosely inserted into copies of the 1685 edition of that famous Bible which were sent to England. That dedication sheet is not in the AAS copy digitized by Readex. Incidentally, Eliot’s dedicatory pages to Boyle are bound into his 1666 “The Indian grammar begun: or, An essay to bring the Indian language into rules, for the help of such as desire to learn the same, for the furtherance of the Gospel among them.”
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