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)
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.
The March release of The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes speeches delivered in a Massachusetts church exalting the nation, in the Tennessee House of Representatives describing a conspiracy that divided the country, and in the U.S. Senate asking a fundamental question of the country’s citizenry.
De Profundis Clamavi: The Cause, the Crime, and the Cure of our National Suicide (1861)
By Daniel Steele
On September 26, 1861, five months after the Civil War began, Pastor Daniel Steele (1824-1914) gave a sermon celebrating nationalism.
Nationality magnifies and exalts the insignificant individual, crowns him with dignity and honor, throws an arm of protecting power about him, and holds a broad shield over his defenseless head.
Steele then presents the first of several comparisons he uses to illustrate American superiority.
The February release of Territorial Papers of the United States, 1765-1953, includes a Civil War-era warning of an impending invasion from Texas, a petition to allow black suffrage under the Colorado constitution, and reports of murder and robbery on the Mexican border.
Address of Legislature to Citizens, on Invasion from Texas, January 29, 1862
In 1862 Confederate General Henry Hopkins Sibley led a brigade of volunteer cavalry to invade the Territory of New Mexico. By advancing north along the Rio Grande from Fort Bliss, he hoped to eventually seize the gold and silver mines in Colorado. In the days leading up to the attack, the Territorial Legislature of New Mexico issued an address to the citizenry, warning them of the coming incursion and alerting them to the dangers they faced.
The February release of The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes three congressional speeches from 1862 in support of legislation that would allow the confiscation of rebel property and the emancipation of their slaves.
The Constitutionality and Expediency of Confiscation Vindicated
Speech of Hon. Lyman Trumbull of Illinois
Lyman Trumbull (1813-1896) served as the Illinois Secretary of State, sat on the bench of the Illinois Supreme Court, was elected to the U.S. Senate, and co-wrote the Thirteenth Amendment.
On April 7, 1862, Trumbull offered two minor amendments to a “bill to confiscate the property and free the slaves of rebels” before directing his attention to the opposition’s attacks on the bill.
Think about this word: melodrama. What image comes to mind?
Brooklyn College theater historian Amy E. Hughes began her presentation at the 2019 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting with that short thought experiment, asking attendees to picture melodrama.
Did you “see” what they did?
Many in the audience had envisioned something akin to the “Railroad Rescue,” a scene that originated in Augustin Daily’s Under the Gaslight, a popular play which premiered in New York City in 1867. But as Hughes would reveal, the “Railroad Sensation”—as it was called then—has a “surprisingly complicated and convoluted history.” View the full presentation.
Throughout her talk, titled “Dramatic Effects: The Impact of Theater on 19th-Century U.S. Culture and Society,” Prof. Hughes provided a fascinating overview of the 19th-century theater industry. She shared some of the discoveries her recent research has revealed, and she unpacked the little-known history of that “Railroad Rescue,” pointing out its significant political and social factors.
The January release of The American Civil Collection, 1860-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes a trove of reflections on the Civil War and its aftermath. Also found in this release is the influential ten-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln co-written by his two personal secretaries during the Civil War.
Memoirs of General William T. Sherman (1875)
Whether celebrated for his role in the Vicksburg and Chattanooga Campaigns or criticized for his scorched-earth policy through Georgia and South Carolina, William Tecumseh Sherman (1821-1891) offers essential, firsthand perspective on the American Civil War.
Sherman disputes the conventional wisdom on the Battle of Shiloh, writing:
General Grant did not make an official report of the battle of Shiloh, but all its incidents and events were covered by the reports of division commanders and subordinates. Probably no single battle of the war gave rise to such wild and damaging reports. It was publicly asserted at the North that our army was taken completely by surprise; that the rebels caught us in our tents; bayoneted the men in their beds; that General Grant was drunk; that Buell’s opportune arrival save the Army of the Tennessee from utter annihilation, etc.
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
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.
The appearance of the terms “licentious” and “licentiousness” in American periodicals rose dramatically in the early 1840s in tandem with the rise of the unruly urban newspapers collectively called the Flash Press. Now a unique collection of this short-lived form of journalism, created from the exceptional holdings of the American Antiquarian Society, is available in digital form.
Learn more about the Flash Press in this new 1-Minute Video:
Discussing this collection, the scholar Robert Wilhelm, author of The Bloody Century: True Tales of Murder in 19th Century America, writes:
These 19th-century papers provide a missing link—a sympathetic view of the demimonde, appealing to a literate, urban and mostly male audience to balance the moralistic tone taken by mainstream publications of the time. While I was aware these papers existed, I had no idea how many different titles had been published and how many issues have survived. To have them all available in one place, carefully digitized and easily searchable, is invaluable. I was especially impressed by the quality of the illustrations which were often as important as the text in these publications and are as pleasing to contemporary readers as they were to rakes and sporting men. American Underworld: The Flash Press offers a unique perspective for scholars of American vice and crime as well as researchers in other scholarly areas such as urban life and women’s studies.
The December release of Territorial Papers of the United States, 1765-1953, includes a letter to President Van Buren from the secretary of the Iowa Territory containing his most recent contentious exchange with the territory’s governor; a follow-up petition by several territorial legislators seeking removal of the governor; and finally a memorial by the territory’s legislative assembly asking the president to remove the governor for his “total want of abilities.”
Dispute between the Secretary and Governor, January 8, 1839
Writing to President Martin Van Buren, the secretary of the Iowa Territory (William Bernard Conway) describes the breakdown of his relationship with the territory’s governor (Robert Lucas).
The papers, which accompany this communication, will convey, to your Excellency, the unwelcome intelligence, that relations, between the governor and the Secretary of this Territory, have ceased to be friendly. This information will doubtless occasion regret, and, indeed, the necessity of communicating it, has been, and is, much regretted by the Secretary; but as mere regret can never settle principles, the attention of the President is respectfully, and very earnestly, invited to the facts connected with this misunderstanding, a fair and impartial examination of which, must lead an honest mind to an equitable decision.
The December release of The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes an array of primary source material. These valuable items range from shorter imprints, such as sermons delivered during the war, to lengthier political histories and biographies published years later.
Our Duty Under Reverse: A Sermon (1861)
By John Fothergill Waterhouse Ware
One week after the First Battle of Bull Run, Unitarian clergyman John Fothergill Waterhouse Ware (1818-1881) delivered this sermon in the Boston church of “Cambridgeport Parish.” He begins by acknowledging the favor Providence has shown the country, and then addresses the nation’s failure to live up to the duties accompanying that blessing. He identifies the fault that led to the country’s current conflict.