On the Road: Armenian Exercises

Spitakavor Monastery, Armenia

Spitakavor Monastery, Armenia

A month ago, this blogger found herself in the spectacular landscape of Armenia, deep in the Trans-Caucasus, skirting the borders of Georgia, Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan.

Armenia is well known for being the first country to establish Christianity as its official religion, having certainly done so before 314 AD. Unsurprisingly, the nation has a rich architectural heritage of ancient Christian churches and monasteries, such as Spitakavor (left). It also has a remarkable scribal tradition, which produced tens of thousands of manuscript books.

In 405 AD, a unique alphabet was invented for the Armenian language, which constitutes its own distinctive branch of the Indo-European language family. The alphabet consisted of thirty-six letters, and it is still in use today, with the addition of three more letters for a total of thirty-nine. The monk Mesrop Mashtots is credited with the invention, which was promptly employed to write Armenian translations of the holy scriptures.

Located at the end of Mesrop Mashtots Avenue in Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia, is the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts and the Matenadaran, or “manuscripts repository.” This public building houses over 17,300 manuscripts, 450,000 archival documents, and 3,000 printed books. Most of the manuscripts are in Armenian, although there are also examples written in Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Old Slavonic, and other languages.

An impressive selection of that large collection is on display. Many are beautifully illuminated and illustrated, including a number of medicinal manuscripts. The one below, a veterinary text, was particularly arresting, even though–or perhaps, because–I could not read a single word of it.

Horse medicine manuscript, Matenadaran, Yerevan, Armenia

Horse medicine manuscript, Matenadaran, Yerevan, Armenia

When seeing books while traveling, I always think about the Rare Book Collection. Regrettably, we have no ancient Armenian manuscripts. But Armenian-language texts do lurk in RBC, among its fine Byron Collection, one of our British Romantic author collections (along with Keats and Wordsworth).

Page from Byron, ???

Beauties of English poets = Tsaghkakʻagh kʻyrtʻoghatsʻ Angilyatsʻwotsʻ (S. Lazzaro, Venice, 1852). / Byron PR1179 .A7 B43 1852 / William A. Whitaker Fund

While resident in Venice, Lord Byron sought out the company of the Mekhitarist fathers on the island of San Lazzaro.  The Mekhitarists were a Roman Catholic order founded in the early 18th century by an Armenian monk who had left the Armenian Apostolic Church. Byron was fascinated by Armenian culture and boated across the Venetian lagoon to learn the language at the monastery.

Note the reproduction at left of Byron’s English and Armenian signatures in a bilingual book, Beauties of English Poets = Tsaghkakʻagh kʻyrtʻoghatsʻ Angilyatsʻwotsʻ, published by the press on the island after the author’s death. This volume features mainly Byron’s own poetry, but also his translations of Alexander Pope, John Milton, and Thomas Gray. See below the latter’s “Elegy in a Country Church-Yard.”

Beauties / Byron PR1179 A7 B43 1852

Beauties of English Poets, p.150-151 / Byron PR1179 A7 B43 1852


The San Lazzaro connection led to Byron becoming one of the most widely read English poets among Armenians. The island monastery published other Byron writings in the 19th century, including Armenian Exercises, which contains his English translations of Armenian historical and biblical writings, as well as anonymous Armenian translations of Byron’s letters and poetry, accompanied by their original English texts. The RBC holds the 1870 edition of this work.

Armenian travels, Armenian exercises. On the road, all roads lead home–even the Silk Road–to the Rare Book Collection.

Moonrise at the Selim Pass Caravanserai along the Silk Road, Armenia

Moonrise at the Selim Pass Caravanserai along the Silk Road, Armenia

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Hispanic Heritage Month Lecture

Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 2.44.49 PM

Rafael Muñoz López, Sor Juana Inés de la Poesía, acrylic on board, 1978. Private Collection

The Rare Book Collection teamed with its friends at UNC’s Institute for the Study of the Americas to present a wonderful lecture last night in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.  Over 130 people turned out to hear Prof. Rosa Perelmuter speak about the Mexican Sister (Sor) Juana Inés de la Cruz, who became famous in Europe following the publication of her writings in Madrid at the end of the 17th century.

On display for the evening was Sor Juana’s first book in its first edition, Inundación castálida (1689), a relatively recent addition to the RBC and subject of an earlier blog post. It was purchased on the Leslie Weil Memorial Fund, and members of the Weil family, David and Emily Weil, were in attendance, making it a particularly joyous occasion.

Accession 128964 / Leslie Weil Memorial Fund

PQ7296 .J6 A6 1689 superv’d / Leslie Weil Memorial Fund

The title-page of the book refers to Sor Juana as the Tenth Muse, an astonishing epithet for a Spanish colonial woman writer who was up until then unpublished. The concept of fama—fame, reputation, rumor, renown—and Sor Juana’s reaction to it were the principal topics of Prof. Perelmuter’s address.

The author of two books on Sor Juana, Prof. Perelmuter identified three classes of response to fama from the cloistered nun, all of them characterized by rejection. Prof. Perelmuter went on to term Sor Juana a feminist with a small “f”. Although Sor Juana believed a woman should have access to education, she did not seek to lead others in intellectual pursuits at her monastery.

Celebrated in her own lifetime and right after her death, Sor Juana fell from popularity in the 18th century. Her poetry was revived in the 20th century and is now taught as part of the Baroque literary canon at universities across the United States, including UNC-Chapel Hill. Fama, Sor Juana has, whether she wanted it or not.

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Henrietta, the Woman Behind Bowdlerism

Almost a year ago, University Librarian Sarah Michalak, read from the 1818 second edition of The Family Shakespeare at the event “Banned and in the Rare Book Collection.” The Family Shakespeare exemplifies the nineteenth-century editorial phenomenon of expurgating literature on moral grounds. This came to be known eponymously as “bowdlerism,” after the Bowdler family, who proudly claimed three generations of Shakespeare expurgators.

Title page of the 1807 edition

Title page of the 1807 edition / PR2752 .B7 1807 / Whitaker Fund

Sometime after the event, the RBC acquired the first edition of The Family Shakespeare, which was issued with no named editor by a small provincial printing house in Bath, England in 1807. The first edition has been attributed historically to Dr. Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825). But in his book, Dr. Bowdler’s Legacy: A History of Expurgated Books in England and America, Noel Perrin convincingly argues that the 1807 edition was actually edited by Thomas’s sister, Henrietta Bowdler (1750-1830), whose name was omitted from the title page.  By the time the first edition of The Family Shakespeare appeared, Henrietta was already a published author and a well-known bluestocking. Perrin estimates that Henrietta excised about ten percent of Shakespeare’s words, taking special care to eliminate any hint of religious irreverence.

We can see Henrietta Bowdler’s editorial influence at work in her expurgation of Macbeth. In Act II, Scene 3, Henrietta cut the Porter’s entire opening speech and comedic exchange with Macduff, relegating the Porter to a non-speaking part in Shakespeare’s drama. The photograph below shows the beginning of Scene 2 in The Family Shakespeare, as morally conscientious readers might have encountered it.

Bowdlerized text of Macbeth

Bowdlerized text of Macbeth

Later editions of The Family Shakespeare were edited by Thomas Bowdler, who modified and in some cases reinstated many of Henrietta’s cuts. Perhaps feeling that his sister went too far in her moral zealotry, Thomas Bowdler reinstated the drunken Porter’s speech in his 1818 edition, but in a dramatically truncated form that rendered it almost unintelligible. His unintentionally comedic expurgation was brought to life by Sarah Michalak’s reading at the Banned Books Event.

UNC is one of the first libraries to acknowledge Henrietta Bowdler’s contributions in the library catalog record. How information is organized and presented to the public is far from value neutral.  When catalogers suggest changes to the authority records, they draw on documentary evidence and scholarly research to support their claims. The Rare Book Collection is grateful for the hard work and advanced research skills of our technical services staff, and we are excited that our library records reflect the contributions of previously overlooked and marginalized authors and editors, like Henrietta Bowdler.

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In Memoriam: Seamus Heaney (April 13, 1939−August 30, 2013)

Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney passed away this morning in Dublin after an extended illness. The RBC and UNC mourn the loss of this great poet, who delivered the University commencement address at Chapel Hill on May 12, 1996.

While the man Heaney has left this world, his remarkable literary achievement lives on at the Rare Book Collection, where the Henry C. Pearson Collection of Seamus Heaney resides. North Carolina native Pearson (UNC B.A., 1935) sought to form as complete a collection of Heaney’s printed works as possible. This rich trove today includes more than 1,200 cataloged items, reflecting the poet’s extraordinary productivity.

There is much deep wisdom to be found in Heaney’s writings. But let us end with just one example, from his Chapel Hill address. Here, Heaney uses his memory of an altered fact in a childhood story—an imagined spade substituting for the real, humble, wooden spoon—to emphasize the necessity of personal truth in living a life.

Typescript of Heaney's commencement address

From the typescript of Heaney’s commencement address

“I want to avoid preaching at you but I do want to convince you that the true and durable path into and through experience involves being true to the actual givens of your own lives. True to your own solitude, your own secret knowledge. Because oddly enough, it is that intimate, deeply personal knowledge that links us most vitally to reality and keeps us most reliably connected to one another. Calling a spade a spade may be a bit reductive at times but calling a wooden spoon a wooden spoon is the beginning of wisdom, and you will be sure to keep going in life on a far steadier psychic keel and with far more radiant individuality if you navigate by that principle.”

It was a great honor for UNC to hear Seamus Heaney in person in 1996, as it is a great honor for Wilson Library to preserve his words in our special collections in perpetuity.

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Julia Margaret Cameron in NYC and UNC

A small but choice exhibition of 35 photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–1879) has recently opened at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to fine reviews.

Julia Margaret Cameron, Illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, and Other Poems (London, 1875)

Julia Margaret Cameron, Illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, and Other Poems (London, 1875) / Folio-2 PR5558 .A2 C3 1875  / William A. Whitaker Fund

Which reminds us that here at RBC, one of our most magnificent photographic books is the Cameron masterpiece Illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, and Other Poems (London, 1875). The splendid volume contains a dozen large albumen prints, created by the British photographer.

The great Victorian poet Tennyson invited Cameron, his friend and neighbor on the Isle of Wight, to illustrate his poems on the Arthurian legends for a popular edition. After considerable work, costuming and staging models, she produced twelve images. However, the “Cabinet” edition used only two, reproduced as small wood-engraved frontispieces.

At Tennyson’s prompting, Cameron set to work on a deluxe edition that would juxtapose the full-size albumen prints with text excerpts, handwritten by her and reproduced lithographically, along with Tennyson’s signature at the end of each. The result was the book Illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, and Other Poems.

In the decade preceding it, photography had been championed as a creative medium to rival painting by the likes of Henry Peach Robinson. In the magical image shown above, Cameron demonstrates photography’s representational and artistic power, posing her husband as Merlin—his natural beard lengthened by an extension—and one Agnes Mangles as Vivien, to recreate a scene from Tennyson’s text.

It is assumed that Cameron’s work pleased Tennyson, who had been dissatisfied with other illustrations of his poetry. His brother Charles Tennyson Turner wrote a sonnet “To Mrs. Cameron,” which appears at the beginning of the book. Its first lines extoll the contemporary medium’s storytelling strength:

Lo! Modern Beauty lends her lips and eyes

To tell an Ancient Story! Thou has brought

Into thy picture, all our fancy sought

In that old time, with skilful art and wise.

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Wordsworth Bibliography in Print

Mauchline fern ware binding on The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth (Edinburgh: William P. Nimmo ..., [between 1863 and 1873?] ) / Wordsworth PR5850 .E63 1863d c. 21

Mauchline fern ware binding on The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth (Edinburgh: William P. Nimmo …, [between 1863 and 1873?] ) / Wordsworth PR5850 .E63 1863d c. 21

At the end of 2010, Professor Emeritus Mark L. Reed, III, made a bountiful gift to the UNC Rare Book Collection, his extensive William Wordsworth collection. An exceptional scholar and collector, Professor Reed amassed a remarkable group of Wordsworth printings, dating from the end of the eighteenth century through the early twentieth century and including volumes with notable provenance, as well as examples from large  stereotype editions in variant bindings. For a full discussion of the gift, see “Worthy of Wordsworth” in Windows, vol. 20, no. 1 (Spring 2011), pages 10-11.

This in-depth collecting became the basis for a project to record the editions and special physical attributes of Wordsworth publications. And so, Professor Reed also  examined numerous other copies at institutions in the U.S. and abroad. His concentrated research and collecting has culminated in the recent two-volume work, A Bibliography of William Wordsworth 1787-1930, published by Cambridge University Press in Spring 2013.


The Technical Services staff of Wilson Special Collections Library are making good use of Professor Reed’s masterful bibliography as they catalog the over one thousand titles of his magnificent gift. Records are appearing daily in the University Library’s online catalog, enabling access to the volumes in Wilson Library’s second floor North Carolina Collection / Rare Book Collection Reading Room. The RBC is grateful to Eileen Dewitya, Sandi Honnold, and Page Life, emerita cataloger, for their single-minded perseverance in providing the proper cataloging.

We expect the RBC Wordsworth Collection to be a rich resource for present and future generations of Romantic literature scholars, as well as for all those interested in the history of the book in the nineteenth century. And so our loudest lauds and appreciation go to Professor Reed for his scholarly dedication, collecting talent and tenacity, and overwhelming generosity to UNC-Chapel Hill. Thank you Professor Reed!

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Sensational Songs

Here in the Rare Book Collection, our materials often tell stories, both through their contents and what we can infer about their former owners. The other day I explored our catalog to see whether we have any broadside ballads—a printing genre related to the oral tradition of storytelling through song.

According to The Ballads Project at the Bodleian Library, “Broadside ballads were popular songs, sold for a penny or half-penny in the streets of towns and villages around Britain between the sixteenth and early twentieth centuries.” The Bodleian also describes them as “one of the cheapest forms of print available” at that time.

Ballad singers would peddle broadsides in busy streets and markets, advertising their wares by singing their contents. Ballads spread news, gossip, and legends and often told tales of romantic tragedy and terror.


Miscellaneous poems. / PR1181 .M5

In the RBC there is a slim volume of twelve eighteenth- and nineteenth-century broadside ballads bound together. The majority are murder ballads, an especially popular form that divulged the details of crimes both real and imagined. The murder ballads here include “The Wittham-Miller, or the Berkshire Tragedy,” “The Unhappy Lady of Hackney,” and “The London Damsel.” It is appropriate that this collection should find its way to UNC, as North Carolina ballad singers to this day sing murder ballads like “Omie Wise,” “Bolamkin,” and “Rose Connolly.”

What is most delightful about this little volume is that it also includes a manuscript ballad. Pasted at the front is a hand-written version of “The Merry Haymakers” (number 153 in the Roud Broadside Index), which tells a simple story of lads and lasses making hay. Upon the arrival of a piper, they throw down their rakes and begin making merry!

It is fascinating to read this pastoral ballad alongside grisly tales such as “The Wittham-Miller” above. In the late eighteenth century, collectors as well as Romantic poets like Robert Burns were beginning to pay attention to the oral tradition of ballad singing, which was related to the broadside tradition. Indeed, “The Merry Haymakers” exists in both. But ballads that survived in the oral tradition tended to be more lyrical and less news-driven. Perhaps this is an example of some of that early fieldwork and the cultural shift toward Romanticism.

Below is an image of “The Merry Haymakers” followed by a transcription.


Miscellaneous poems. / PR1181 .M5


Miscellaneous poems. / PR1181 .M5

In ye Month of July ye prime time of ye yeare
down in yondor Meadow thare runs A Riuer Cleare
& many a little fish dos in that riuer play
many a lad and many a Lass was abroad making hay

Then came in the seythe men to mow this meadow down
with budget & with bottle of Ale ye is so Brown
all Labouring men of Courage bould came there [say] to fiye
Lets whet & blow & stoutly for ye grass Cuts uery dry

Thare is Tib & Tommy with pitchfork & with Rake
with Molly Nel & Susan Came thare their hay to Make
Sweet Yug Yug Yug Yug Sweet the nightingale dosth Sing
from Morning till ye Euening as thay weare a hay making

but when brite phebus the Sun was going down
a mery disposed piper Aproaching from the Town
Puld out his pipe & Taber Resoluing for to play
which made em all lay down thare Rakes
& to Leave off Making hay

Then Jouning in a dance wee Trip it one a green
Though tired wth out Labour no wearyness is Seen
Each triping like to faires our dance we do pursue
with Leading up & fasting of till ye Morning its in vein

Then Each Lad he Takes his Lass the Morning being come
& layes down on thare hay focks till ye rising of the Sun
& Sporting all ye while ye harmless birds do Sing
& arise Each Lad & take ye Lass & away to hay making

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The Magic Mushrooms of Chapel Hill

Descourtilz, Des champignons comestibles, suspects et vénéneux (Paris, 1827) / Folio-2 QK617 .D47 atlas

Descourtilz, Des champignons comestibles, suspects et vénéneux (Paris, 1827) / Folio-2 QK617 .D47 atlas

This past summer, Chapel Hill has experienced extremely heavy rainfall. Every day, it seems, the clouds shower down, making it even greener than usual. But other vivid colors are also present, the moisture having nourished an amazing array of fungi.

Chapel Hill and the Piedmont are indeed an excellent area for mushroom foraging. To aid one in this potentially dangerous activity, the Rare Book Collection has an outstanding collection of rare mycological books, many donated by late UNC Professor William C. Coker, and still others by R. Philip Hanes in honor of John N. Couch.

Among the most visually spectacular of the RBC’s mushroom books is Michel Etienne Descourtilz’s Des champignons comestibles, suspects et vénéneux— On Mushrooms, Edible, Suspicious, and Poisonous—(Paris, 1827). It is actually one of the over 10,000 books of the Dialectic and Philanthropic Societiesthe oldest UNC student organization (founded in 1795)which helped to establish the University Library.

The hand-colored lithograph shown above is from the Descourtilz atlas volume and one of four plates devoted to suspicious mushrooms. However, the edible and poisonous are no less fantastic and scarey looking! And so we invoke these words of caution as we wish you happy hunting: “There are bold mushroom hunters. And there are old mushroom hunters. But there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.”

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Frank Borden Hanes, Sr., (January 21, 1920−July 17, 2013)

Frank B. Hanes, Sr., 2008

Frank B. Hanes, Sr., 2008 (photo by Bill Richards)

The University Library and the Rare Book Collection mourn the passing of a great benefactor and a wonderful, warm friend, Frank Hanes.

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Minneapolis Center Stage

A number of us have just returned from Minneapolis. There we attended the Preconference of the Rare Books & Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association.

The preconference theme was performance in special collections, broadly interpreted—from the refectory use of the earliest printed books to medical texts and the operating theater, to hip-hop archives, to “bibliography in action.”

It was an appropriately lively gathering, and we pay tribute to it here by an eclectic selection of Minneapolis-centric works from the Rare Book Collection: the city as setting for poetic expression, criminal doings, and collective action—all being varieties of performance. We begin with a nice segway from our last blog post, “Sisters Outsider.”


Beats Folio PS615 .W67 no. 28, cover art by Alex Katz

Beats Folio PS615 .W67 no. 28, p. 20

Beats Folio PS615 .W67 no. 28, p. 20

Diane di Prima, “Waikiki Room, Minneapolis” in  World, no. 28 (May 1973), mimeographed publication of the famous Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church In-the-Bowery, New York. The Waikiki Room was a drinking/dining establishment located in a succession of Minneapolis hotels. Apparently, it made poet di Prima feel more at home in the Midwest; doesn’t everyone feel more at home in a Tiki room lounge?  St. Mark’s Church was, of course, the ultimate New York poetry performance venue of its era.

Mystery-Detective H921

Mystery-Detective H921

Ellen Hart, Death on a Silver Platter: (A Culinary Mystery) (New York : Fawcett Books, 2003), one in the series of mysteries featuring restaurant reviewer-sleuth Sophie Greenway, set in Minneapolis. The food in the fair city is a real draw: lots of farm to table, no scary servings as pictured on this paperback’s cover. In particular, French Meadow Café represented an outstanding dining act for some of us. And we didn’t feel threatened for one moment. Perhaps these Minneapolis mysteries are in the tradition of Scandinavian crime novels: safe societies longing for the drama of surprising violence.

William F. Dunne and Morris Childs, Permanent Counter-Revolution. The Role of the Trotzkyites in the Minneapolis Strikes (New York: Workers Library, [1934]), no. [8] in a vol. with binder’s title: Communist and Socialist Pamphlets. We all felt the power and plight of workers on Tuesday evening, taking in the exhibitions and film at the Mill City Museum, located in what was once the nation’s largest flour mill. This pamphlet on Depression-era strikes in Minneapolis pits the Communist Party of America against Minnesota’s Farmer-Labor Party and Trotzkyite leaders. Its card-carrying Communist authors are William F. Dunne, who grew up in Minnesota, and Morris Childs, who later would be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for Intelligence—in 1987—for his decades of work as an anti-Soviet secret agent. Although Childs was not working for the F.B.I. in 1934, the title of this writing—Permanent Counter-Revolution—ends our Minneapolis production with unexpected retrospective irony. As we’ve come to learn, however, rare books always bring us the unexpected.

HX40 .C6 no. 8

HX40 .C6 no. 8


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