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.

Posts by this Author

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’

“The illigant position of a man-shaver”: A Look at Three 19th-Century American Farces

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The third release of Nineteenth-Century American Drama includes plays that are self-identified as farces or comedietta, a more abstruse variation.

 


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A Little More Cider: A Farce was published in 1870 by George M. Baker. Here are the characters of this work, which is also identified as a temperance play:

Erastus Applejack, the cider-maker.

Zeb Applejack, his son.

Deacon Peachblossom.

Isaac Peachblossom, his son.

Hans Drinker.

Miss Patience Applejack.

Polly Applejack.

Hetty Mason.

Like many such productions, this one is written in a dialect. Unlike many, it is not so easy to identify it. An excerpt:

Zeb. Gosh all hemlock! Polly, what air yeou a thinkin’ on? Thinkin’ ‘bout some feller, I bet.

Polly. Wa’n’t doin’ nothin’ of the sort. I was thinkin’ ‘bout my new Sunday bunnet.

Zeb. Well, fashion or fellers, they’re all alike. When a gal gits thinkin’ ‘bout either on ‘em, she ain’t good for nothin’.

Polly. Precious little you know ‘bout either on ‘em. I heerd Sally Higgins say that your go-to-meetin’ coat looked as though it had been made in the Revolution.

“The illigant position of a man-shaver”: A Look at Three 19th-Century American Farces

Lucretia, Tommy Playlove and the Good Boy: Rare Early American Juvenile Literature

One of the delights of the Early American Imprints, Series II: Supplement 3 from the American Antiquarian Society is the large number of rare, illustrated children’s books. The current release has many lovely examples.


Lucretia; or The Triumph of Virtue (1808)

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Clarissa and Lucretia Bellegrove were the daughters of a gentleman of large property. Nature had lavished on Clarissa a person so lovely, that the most refined judges of beauty could not discover any fault in her form or face; while Lucretia was very deformed and ugly, having a great hump upon her back, and a very disagreeable face. When the sisters were first introduced to strangers, Clarissa was surveyed with admiration, while poor Lucretia’s person excited nothing but disgust.

However, Clarissa “was so proud and haughty, that no one, when she was known to them, could love or admire her.”

Lucretia, on the contrary, had such a mild and amiable disposition, was so sweet-tempered, gentle, modest, and sensible, that her friends forgot the deformities of her person in contemplation of her mind.

As our tale begins, Mr. Bellegrove is anticipating a visit from his wealthy relative and “he resolved to leave no means untried to prevail on her [Clarissa] to disguise her temper before her uncle, whom he well knew had a great aversion to pride and petulance.” Clarissa laughed at his advice convinced her beauty would always win the day. As for Lucretia her father had other plans.

Lucretia, Tommy Playlove and the Good Boy: Rare Early American Juvenile Literature

Union POWs in Confederate Prisons: Highlights from The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922

 

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The latest release of imprints from The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes several accounts by Union soldiers who were prisoners of war in Confederate prisons.


Prison-life in the Tobacco Warehouse at Richmond by a Ball's Bluff Prisoner, Lieut. Wm. C. Harris, of Col. Baker's California Regiment (1862)

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In an earlier release from this collection we featured a walking tour of Richmond, Virginia, during which the narrator observes the prison that had been converted from a tobacco warehouse. This imprint describes life inside that prison. Prisoner Harris gives us his personal recollections and dedicates his reflections:

To my Brother-Prisoners in Richmond these sketches are affectionately inscribed by the author

In his preface the author states his intention:

These sketches were written to lessen the tedium of my lengthy imprisonment; and if they serve to recall to my prison-companions the scenes enacted in the old Warehouse, and enlist the interest and sympathies of the reader, they will have accomplished all that is desired by the publication of them.

Union POWs in Confederate Prisons: Highlights from The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922

Why de dickens?: The Lampooning of African Americans as an American Form of Entertainment

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Included in the second release of Nineteenth-Century American Drama: Popular Culture and Entertainment, 1820-1900, are several minstrel plays. Developed in the United States beginning in the 1830s, minstrel shows mocked the appearances and language of black characters, reinforcing white views on race for more than a century.  This first example, An Elephant on Ice, is subtitled "An Ethiopian Interlude, in One Scene":

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Costumes

Sam Johnson.—Well worn grey pants and vest, a black patch covering entire seat of pants, with patches on knees; dark back, with huge red patch between the shoulders on vest; fancy striped shirt; large shoes; and battered white hat, high crowned.

Sol Squash.—Dandy dress, wig parted in the middle, silk hat, cane; kid gloves and eye glass.

An example of the dialogue as the play opens:

Scene.—A street in second or third grooves.

Enter Sam Johnson R., carrying a buck and saw on his shoulder.

Why de dickens?: The Lampooning of African Americans as an American Form of Entertainment

Illustrated Comic or Satirical Publications in Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

The current release of Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia includes several illustrated comic or satirical works published in the 19th century.


Life and Adventures of Jeff. Davis (1865)

By McArone

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This satirical account of Jefferson Davis includes illustrations which are derisive in their treatment of the only president of the Confederate States of America.

On the 18th of February, ’61, Jeff. Was formally inaugurated to his new position, with Aleck Stephens as his Vice-President. It was said at the time that a president, with so few virtues, could hardly need a vice.

Both of these gentlemen are reported to have been very much tickled.

On the 4th of March ensuing, Mr. Lincoln was inaugurated, and took the place of the poor, paltry, pattering, puny old public functionary, Buchanan, who had earned some reputation by being caricatured in the funny papers, but had no other claims to be considered otherwise than in the light of a poor shoat.

After the Battle of Bull Run—"the first battle of the war that could be considered much more than a skirmish"—Davis “was on the ground in person and modified Peter Beauregard’s plans just enough to spoil them entirely.” Davis arrived in Richmond and “accepted the entire credit of the victory, in a most gracious manner.”

Illustrated Comic or Satirical Publications in Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

“Dip not thy meat in the sauce”: Highlights from the American Antiquarian Society’s Supplement to Early American Imprints, Series II

February’s release of Early American Imprints, Series II: Supplement 3 from the American Antiquarian Society includes rare books for children which are intended to inform and instruct them. They include behavioral and etiquette instruction and, in one case, graphic as well as moral illustrations.


Jacky Dandy’s Delight: Or, The History of Birds and Beasts; in Verse and Prose. Adorned with Cuts (1805)

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No author of this imprint is identified, but the publisher, Ashbel Stoddard, proves to be an interesting person. The citation provides this “Publication Information: Hudson (N.Y.): Printed by Ashbel Stoddard at the White House, corner of Warren and Third Streets, 1805.” Stoddard was one of the first printers in the early days of white settlements in the Hudson Valley. He owned a bookstore and published a newspaper. The relief prints are charmingly primitive and the book is intended to instruct children about natural history and good behavior.

Jack Dandy was an active fellow,

Merry as any Punchinello,

And did the Part of Harlequin;

Here do but look, he’s just come in.

 

Good Mr. Har. Instruct me pray,

How I may be a pretty boy.

Says Harlequin, I’ll grant your suit,

Learn to be good, and that will do’t.

The author weaves moral lessons with illustrations and descriptions of the birds and beasts. As an instance, we meet Billy Froward who “went a bird catching with Tommy Telltruth, and they agreed at their first setting out, to be partners in their success.” But Billy is a treacherous lad who attempts to hide the linnet he has bagged from Tommy.

“Dip not thy meat in the sauce”: Highlights from the American Antiquarian Society’s Supplement to Early American Imprints, Series II

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