America's Historical Imprints


"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 Prospect of Anarchy and Dissolution Is Upon Us’: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

The May release of Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia contains a 1767 address against slavery by an American physician, diplomat and politician; a memoir of travels through Africa by the self-described discoverer of the source of the Blue Nile; and Civil War-era campaign literature by the author of “Negro-mania.”

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Extract From an Address, in the Virginia Gazette, of March 19, 1767 (1767)

By Arthur Lee

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Arthur Lee (1740-1792) served as an American diplomat to Britain and France during the Revolutionary War. Prior to the war he was educated in both law and medicine. He practiced the former in London and upon returning to Virginia served as a delegate to the Continental Congress. In this early work, Lee speaks against slavery, arguing:

Permit me in your Paper, to address the Members of our Assembly, on two points, in which the public interest is very nearly concerned.

The abolition of slavery, and the retrieval of a specie in this colony, are the subjects, on which I would bespeak their attention.

‘The Prospect of Anarchy and Dissolution Is Upon Us’: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

‘The Accursed Incubus’: Highlights from The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922

The April release of The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes a book about the war’s causes by “A Southerner,” a sermon on the “national troubles” by a New Englander, and the autobiography of a prisoner of war by a self-described opium addict.


Fanaticism, and Its Results: or, Facts Versus Fancies (1860)

By A Southerner

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Under the subtitle “Facts versus Fancies,” the author begins his work.

In offering to the public the few imperfect and hastily written thoughts which are herein contained, we have been influenced by no party zeal, or sectional motives. The only feelings which have influenced us, have been truth and justice. A desire to do justice to both parties—North and South.

He continues, writing in a section titled “The Demon of Abolitionism”:

We would not do injustice to any one or any party, and we trust that we will be able to show that our assertion is true, and that the only traitors in the land are those who are known as the Abolition and Republican parties.

Continuing his characterization of Republicans and abolitionists as traitors, the author proclaims his support for a unified nation before writing: 

The South has now an opportunity offered her, which, in our humble judgment, she ought not to neglect. The State of South Carolina proposes to her sister Southern States, that they shall each appoint delegates to a Convention, to be held in Atlanta, Georgia.

‘The Accursed Incubus’: Highlights from The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922

‘Sneaking Stewart, Fool Myer, and Drunken Hartly’: Highlights from Early American Imprints, Series II

The April release of Early American Imprints, Series II: Supplement 3 from the American Antiquarian Society, 1801-1819, includes these three rare items: a strident political broadside, a treatise on logic by a popular hymn writer, and a piece of juvenile literature describing the season of rebirth.


To the Independent Electors of York and Adams Counties (1803)

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This broadside, supporting Frederick Eichelberger’s election to the Pennsylvania Senate, begins by attacking his political opponents.

Contrived and written by Sneaking Stewart, Fool Myer, and Drunken Hartley, have been published for the express purpose of abusing Frederick Eichelberger, and destroying the public confidence in a man, whom they lately recommended to the Republicans, as well qualified for a Republican Legislator, and whose election they supported, as zealously as they now oppose him. They ought, at least, to inform us what he has done since they voted him into the Assembly, that makes him so unfit for a Senator; but they cannot give a reason.

The advertisement continues its scathing review:

It would become Charles Hartley, to pay more attention to the duties of his Office, and to SWIG it less, rather than to be eternally babbling about Elections.

Stewart ought to be satisfied with receiving SIX DOLLARS per day, from the Public, for his fine Speeches in Congress --- It is pitiful in an HONORABLE Member of the National Legislature, to be writing and publishing personal slander, in anonymous hands-bills.

‘Sneaking Stewart, Fool Myer, and Drunken Hartly’: Highlights from Early American Imprints, Series II

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

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

A Video Preview of the Digital Edition of the Territorial Papers of the United States

Since the early 1940s, Readex has been the leading innovator in the publication of historical American resources. We started our work with massive projects, including Early American Imprints, based on the Evans and Shaw-Shoemaker bibliographies, and Early American Newspapers.

Back then, the medium was microprint and then microform, and it often took ten…or twenty…or thirty years to complete a single product. Many source institutions had to be visited; many documents had to be filmed; and many license agreements had to be drawn up. New technologies had to be developed, too, to ensure that the original images were captured as effectively as possible. These early major collections later became online digital offerings, of course. The ones mentioned above proved to be absolutely foundational back in the early days of digitization.

Today, Readex is extremely proud to be the developer of one more foundational product: Territorial Papers of the United States. This new collection—which we are releasing in four series beginning in June 2018—captures the essential history of more than half of the states of the United States when they were still territories. From Florida to California to Alaska and just about everywhere else in between, Territorial Papers is the crucial—and until now, undigitized—record of a growing, expanding America.

A Video Preview of the Digital Edition of the Territorial Papers of the United States

‘A Complication of Evils’: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

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The March release of Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia includes an essay by English abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, a multi-volume work on the physical history of mankind by British physician and ethnologist James Cowles Pritchard, and the 20th-anniversary proceedings of the American Anti-Slavery Society with remarks by its president, William Lloyd Garrison.


An Essay on the Comparative Efficiency of Regulation or Abolition, as Applied to the Slave Trade (1789)

By Thomas Clarkson

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Thomas Clarkson (1760-1846) was a British founder of The Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Additionally he worked to pass the Slave Trade Act of 1807, which ended the British slave trade. In this 1789 essay, Clarkson writes:

That the Slave-trade contains unavoidably in its own nature, (and still more so according to the present mode of conducting it,) a complication of evils, is a position, which, I trust, that none but slave-merchants will deny.

Clarkson goes on to describe the most often held perspectives on the slave-trade by “persons, according as they are better or less informed.”

‘A Complication of Evils’: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

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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