William Stearns


About Author: 

William is Senior Editor, Readex Digital Collections. He has been Editor of the Readex edition of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set since its early days. Previously, he was Editor of NewsBank Global Products and Assistant Vocabulary Editor. For the past ten years, he has also trained numerous NewsBank and Readex indexers.

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“He saw the folly of it, and died”: Highlights from Nineteenth-Century American Drama

There are over 200 scripts whose authorship is credited to Anonymous in Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Popular Culture and Entertainment, 1820-1900. An examination of these titles suggests several categories into which many of these can be sorted. Thirty of these are “Ethiopian” or other less cautious euphemisms. Others are meant for school exercises or home entertainment, while still others are the scripts of unique college or club, church, and charity productions. Some of the dramas seem to have been commissioned for specific celebrations, usually political or historical. There are also scripts that deal with sensitive or social issues that were controversial in their time. These are among the most interesting plays attributed to Anonymous.


The Lost Spade; or, The Grave Digger’s Revenge (1864)

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This political drama was published when the American Civil War still raged. The title page offers a further subtitle: “A great political, martial, serio-comic legendary, romantic and farcial [sic] drama.” It also notes that it was “Written by the Happy Democratic Family, expressly for the Peace Democracy.” The Peace Democracy refers to the Copperheads who were also called Peace Democrats. These Democrats were opposed to the war and favored appeasing the Confederacy. In 1864 prominent Copperheads were put on trial for treason.

Because this script focuses on this dissident bloc of northern Democrats, some of whom were prone to violence, the author may well have had sufficient reason to write anonymously. He provides staging directions and a cast list.

“He saw the folly of it, and died”: Highlights from Nineteenth-Century American Drama

'Great Suds and Seeds!' Three Full-Length Plays by American Writers

 

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Previous monthly release announcements of Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Popular Culture and Entertainment, 1820-1900, have primarily highlighted one-act plays. This has not been by design. Although there are hundreds of short works in this digital collection—including farces, comediettas, black sketches, and plays intended for home or private performances—many multi-act plays may also be found. Three longer scripts are highlighted below.


The County Fair: A Comedy in Four Acts

By Charles Barnard and Neil Burgess

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Substantial biographical information about Charles Barnard is not readily found. Bartleby.com provides the following: “Barnard, Charles. An American journalist and author; born in Boston, Feb. 13, 1838; died in 1920. His most popular play is ‘The County Fair’ (1888). Author of ‘The Tone-Masters’ (New York, 1871); ‘Knights of Today’ (1881); ‘The Whistling Buoy’ (1887); dramas, and books on gardening and electricity.” The Library of Congress does not reference his playwriting but credits him with a book entitled Mozart and Mendelssohn.

'Great Suds and Seeds!' Three Full-Length Plays by American Writers

Female Playwrights in Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Works by Clara Harriet Sherwood, Nellie H. Bradley, and More Than 100 Other Women Dramatists

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Among the playwrights in Nineteenth-Century American Drama there are scores of women. The genres of their plays are as varied as those of their male counterparts, although more of the works for children and classrooms are by women. Many of the temperance plays are by women which is not surprising given the prominent role of women in the temperance movement. Some of the women were prolific. Still, it is more difficult to find biographical information about many of the female playwrights.


Little seems to be recorded about the life of Clara Harriet Sherwood, author of three plays included in this digital collection. These three plays all signal an acute social awareness and a ready wit. As with many other women dramatists, Sherwood is concerned with the social nuances of courtship.

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Female Playwrights in Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Works by Clara Harriet Sherwood, Nellie H. Bradley, and More Than 100 Other Women Dramatists

“Those who are only comfortably sick…”: Highlights from the Newest Supplement to Early American Imprints, Series II

The November release of Early American Imprints, Series II: Supplement 3 from the American Antiquity Society includes an olio of rare imprints which are representative of the overall collection. Highlighted here are an advertisement for a mineral springs resort, a broadside promoting an evening’s theatrical entertainment, and another broadside reporting on the meeting of the Republican Party in New York City and county.


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The proprietor of the beautiful and interesting situation above represented, and of the mineral springs connected with it, informs his friends and the public at large, that he has in the course of the last season, greatly extended his establishment. (1815)

This imprint is adorned with a handsome intaglio print which presents a restful view of the Connecticut resort. The proprietor, Samuel Willard, has made what may be extravagant claims about the efficacy of his mineral springs.

For nearly fifty years past, the Mineral Waters of Stafford have been held in high estimation as a remedy in various complaints, affecting the human body. They are a rich and powerful chalybeate.

Willard details the curative power of the waters.

“Those who are only comfortably sick…”: Highlights from the Newest Supplement to Early American Imprints, Series II

Prime Bang Up: Three of the Rarest American Broadsides Published Two Centuries Ago

Shaw Supp 3 Nov 2018 3_Page_2 Image only.jpgThis most recent release of Early American Imprints, Series II: Supplement 3 from the American Antiquarian Society includes a number of the rarest American broadsides from 200 years ago. These range from the pathos of an honorable man’s petition to the court for protection from his creditors to a peculiar promotion for an evening of entertainment in Augusta, Georgia.


To the Honorable Superior Court to be held at Hartford....The Petition of George Robinson, of Marlborough, in the County of Hartford, humbly sheweth— (1817)

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In the early 19th century it was not unusual for an indebted person to publish a broadside acknowledging his debts and his creditors. George Robinson of Connecticut did exactly that in 1817. Of interest is his specificity and the striking contrasts in the amounts he owed to contemporary creditor. The largest debts were “Orlando Raymond two thousand five hundred dollars” and several for one or two hundred dollars. Many of his obligations were for a few dollars and sometimes for ten and twenty dollars. Robinson appears to support his claim to integrity in the details he provides.

Prime Bang Up: Three of the Rarest American Broadsides Published Two Centuries Ago

The Short Plays of Neglected Female Author Frances Aymar Mathews, a Contemporary of William Dean Howells and Edith Wharton

51e3GlaHyjL__SX338_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThe most recent release of Nineteenth-Century American Drama includes most of the short plays, or comediettas in one act, by the prolific Frances Aymar Mathews. This understudied author was born in New York City in the middle of the 19th-century. She began publishing in the 1880s. In addition to plays, her written output included feature articles, short stories and such novels as My Lady Peggy Goes to Town and Allee Same.

Eighteen of Mathews’ shorter plays are included in this release. When reading her works, Edith Wharton comes to mind. They were contemporaries, shared a Manhattan upbringing during the Gilded Age, and were sensitive to class distinctions and social niceties. It may be something of a stretch to compare Mathews to Jane Austen, but both women are close observers of the foibles of the prosperous and employ a satirical view of them. There is one more comparison to make, to wit, William Dean Howells. Again, this may be a stretch, but the famous Howells and the obscure Mathews wrote short plays which, as previously noted here, featured wealthy people with ample time to expand upon largely trivial events.

The Short Plays of Neglected Female Author Frances Aymar Mathews, a Contemporary of William Dean Howells and Edith Wharton

The Theatrical Amuse-Bouches of William Dean Howells, the “Dean of American Letters”

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William Dean Howells, author, playwright, critic, was born in Martinsville, Ohio in 1837. During his childhood, Howells moved often around the state as his restless father took a series of jobs as newspaper editor and printer. Young Howells, who would come to be known as “The Dean of American Letters,” assisted his father from an early age acting as the printer’s devil.

He rose rapidly in political and literary circles. Having been elected to the position of clerk in the Ohio House of Representatives, he soon became a major contributor to the “Ohio State Journal” writing short stories, poems, and learning to translate articles from several European languages. His ambition led him to Boston at the age of twenty-three where he met with most of the literary aristocracy of the era. In 1871 he became editor of the “Atlantic Monthly.”

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Howells began publishing novels in 1872, but did not achieve fame until ten years later with the release of A Modern Instance. Subsequently, in 1885, his most widely known novel, The Rise and Fall of Silas Lapham, was published. Beginning in 1888, Howells produced a series of novels that came to be known as his “economic novels” and which mirrored his transition to a philosophy of socialism.

The Theatrical Amuse-Bouches of William Dean Howells, the “Dean of American Letters”

‘Too Much Johnson’ and Other Plays by William Gillette, Eminent American Actor, Playwright and Director

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It is likely that people remember William Gillette best for the whimsical castle he built in his retirement on the banks of the Connecticut River in East Haddam. The estate devolved to the state of Connecticut and today is a state park named for Gillette. The castle has been preserved, but its three-mile-long gauge railroad and complicated infrastructure is gone.

 

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Before building his castle, Gillette had a long and productive theater career as an actor, stage manager, director, producer, and playwright. He was born in 1853 into a family and community of wealth, privilege, and creativity in Hartford, Connecticut, one of the wealthiest cities in the United States for several decades following the Civil War. Gillette’s neighbors included Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Charles Dudley Warner.

 

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‘Too Much Johnson’ and Other Plays by William Gillette, Eminent American Actor, Playwright and Director

“Children naturally love truth”: Rare Illustrated Works of Juvenile Literature

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This month’s release of Early American Imprints, Series II: Supplement 3 from the American Antiquarian Society highlights three of the rarest early 19th-century books for children—all of which are distinguished by their illustrations.


 

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Juvenile Miscellany, Including Some Natural History, for the Use of Children. Ornamented with Eighteen Engravings (1803)

The intaglio prints which adorn this imprint are as varied as the text. The author declares his serious intent:

“Children naturally love truth, and when they read a story, enquire whether it is true? If they find it true, they are pleased with it; if not, they value it but little; and soon it becomes insipid.”

Admitting this sentiment as sound doctrine, the editor of the present little volume has been careful to select such matter for his young friends, as cannot fail to interest them, and at the same time, leave on their minds some useful impression.

The text is an admixture of moral tales and axioms:

When you are lawfully engaged in the business of life, take heed that your heart and affections cleave not to the dust.

Our principles only become pleasing and delightful, when by the influence of them we learn to calm and govern our passions; and are formed by them into such a temper, as renders us capable of cheerfully enjoying the blessings of the present world, and the higher happiness of a better.

“Children naturally love truth”: Rare Illustrated Works of Juvenile Literature

"Using the Weed" and Other 19th-Century Plays for ‘Female Characters Only’

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This month’s release of Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Popular Culture and Entertainment, 1820-1900, adds several plays with all-female casts. Three such works are highlighted here.


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Written by George Melville Baker and first published in 1865, “Using the ‘Weed’” takes place in a small boarding school for young ladies. There are seven characters including Miss Betty Bookworm who is the principal of the school, her assistant Mrs. Starch, three young ladies, and the twin sister aunts of student Clarissa Harlowe Smithers.

Clarissa is a playful girl who takes pleasure in rattling her spinster guardians. To the distress of her classmates, she is dedicated to her sewing machine:

Mary. I declare, Clari, you will wear yourself out at the sewing machine.

Fanny. Your devoted attachment to that useful but tiresome instrument is really surprising.

Clarissa. Law, girls, I shall never tire of it. You know it is a novelty to me.

Fanny. Novelty! Why, I imagined there was not a family in the world without one.

Mary. Mother has had one ever since I can recollect.

Fanny. The idea that a young lady, with such a romantic name as Clarissa Harlowe Smithers, should become such a devoted slave to the needle and treadle is very surprising.

"Using the Weed" and Other 19th-Century Plays for ‘Female Characters Only’

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