Nelson Mandela (1918-2013): The Zulu Beadwork Letter, South Africa, and North Carolina

The world mourns the loss of Nelson Mandela, who passed away on December 5 at the age of 95. We pay special tribute to him here by examining a unique object in the Rare Book Collection: a beadwork Zulu love letter from South Africa.

Zulu beadwork letter

Zulu beadwork letter

In 1937, Daniel M. Malcolm, Chief Inspector of Native Education in Natal, South Africa, brought the letter to UNC-Chapel Hill as a visual aid for a lecture he gave at that year’s “Conference on Education of American Negroes and African Natives.” Malcolm explained that the letter was written by a girl to her beloved. The white beads indicate the purity of her heart, and the red beads show that her heart is broken and bleeding for her beloved. The four black squares represent four questions about their relationship that he must answer. Malcolm gave the love letter to UNC and its Hanes Foundation for the Study of the Origin and Development of the Book. It subsequently became part of the RBC’s “Curiosities Cabinet,” which houses many other non-codex objects of significance for the history of the book, such as cuneiform tablets and papyrus fragments.

Dr. Malcolm’s visit to Carolina was before the implementation of apartheid segregation in South Africa in 1948, although black South Africans had been severely restricted by the 1913 Natives Land Act, which reserved the majority of the country’s land for whites. In fact, Nelson Mandela had studied at South Africa’s prestigious University of Witwatersrand in the 1940s, after attending Fort Hare University, the South African Native College. Witwatersrand, along with the University of Cape Town, followed a policy of academic non-segregation, which began because of inadequate training facilities for black natives to study medicine. The University of Witwatersrand remained an “open” university until 1959, when the government passed the Extension of University Education Act, also known as the Separate Universities Act. Witwatersrand, although “open” until then, was not a particularly hospitable environment for blacks, as the research of B.K. Murray indicates. Mandela failed to gain his law degree, going on to become Witwatersrand’s “most famous non-graduate.”

The first African-American students at Carolina arrived in 1951, four law students and one medical student, because there were no equal facilities for them in the state, according to a federal court ruling. In 1954, the Supreme Court abolished segregated public schools, and Carolina admitted its first undergraduate black men the next year. Fifty years ago, in 1963, Karen Parker became UNC-Chapel Hill’s first African-American female undergraduate. And the following year, the Civil Rights Act ended public segregation in Chapel Hill and the United States. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela was tried for sabotage in 1963 and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964. International pressure led to his release in 1990, and in 1994 he became the first black president of a democratic South Africa.

The Zulu beadwork letter is a tangible artifact of the parallel and divergent histories of segregation and education in South Africa and North Carolina. In the 2004 motion picture Zulu Love Letter, an adolescent girl makes a letter for her mother, who is haunted by the horrors of her past under apartheid. Its images of solitude, loss, hope, and love are intended to encourage the mother not to give up the fight. In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death, we turn to our own Zulu love letter and remember a great man, a man who did not give up the fight.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

N7740-R5_1625_hospitalita_0001

“Hospitality,” Cesare Ripa, Della novissime iconologie (Padua: Pietro Paolo Tozzi, 1625) / N7740 .R5 1625

The Rare Book Collection sends you Thanksgiving greetings with this personification of hospitality emptying her cornucopia and a pilgrim—albeit one wearing the shell of a wayfarer to Santiago de Compostela—by her side. No matter about the seventeenth-century Continental European context. May this image from Baroque Italy bring warmth, generosity, and abundance for all U.S. “pilgrims” on the day!

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Ghostly Days

Halloween has passed. At the Rare Book Collection, however, ghostly apparitions continue to haunt our days.

DSCN1693

Among the spectral appearances is this P. T. Barnum show bill from exactly 150 years ago today, announcing “The Ghost,” a performance at the famous American impresario’s museum. The ephemeral printing for November 16, 1863, was in Wilson Library’s Conservation Lab receiving treatment for display in the upcoming Rooms of Wonder exhibition. While most materials in that show will come from the collection of alumna/curator Florence Fearrington, the RBC will supply a few choice items such as this one, which testifies to the commercialization of the cabinet of curiosities concept in the mid-1800s. (A giant boy and giant girl are among the museum’s other attractions for the day.)

The nineteenth century was an era of scientific progress. It was also one that had a strong fascination with the supernatural.  A recent donation to the RBC from Dr. Charles T. White, a volume of spiritualist writings, underscores this interest in the uncanny and suggests how spiritual doings were viewed as phenomena open to scientific inquiry. Inside this book, which has the spine title “Celestial Gems,” are a selection of texts and a detailed manuscript index.

Manuscript content list for "Celestial Gems" / accession 130623

Manuscript content list for “Celestial Gems” / BF1283 .H3 K3913 1845

The “General Index” begins with an alphabetical listing of the subjects and events in The Seeress of Prevorst, Being Revelations Concerning the Inner-life of Man, and the Inter-Diffusion of a World of Spirits in the One We Inhabit (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1845). This first work in the volume is an English translation of Justinus Kerner’s famous account of Friederike Hauffe, a sleepwalking clairovyant in a small town in Baden-Württenburg, Germany. Kerner was a poet and physician who came to know the woman.

Following Kerner’s classic work is Elements of Spiritual Philosophy; Being an Exposition of Interior Principles. Written by Spirits of the Sixth Circle. R.P. Ambler, Medium. The author of this rare 1852 Springfield, Massachusetts, imprint was a Universalist minister who claimed the power to speak for spirits, hence his self-identification as a “medium” on the title page. He briefly published a journal, The Spirit Messenger, issues of which are also present in “Celestial Gems.” For Ambler, communication with spirits was a new stage in religion and represented a release from traditional superstition, contrary to what we might think today.

Celestial_Gems_photo

Celestial_Gems_admit1-696x1024The pages of this book have evidence of past owners and readers beyond the index. Most evocative are the items laid in.  The unsettling albumen print above suggests a woman in a trance state, although lengthy photographic exposure times could necessitate an eerily frozen countenance. The “ADMIT BEARER” ticket found at another page might have permitted entrance to a staged mediumship séance, such as were not uncommon in the period.

Celestial_Gems_bookplateOne Elisha Thayer’s book label appears twice in the volume, although we can make no claims for his leaving these relics behind.

“Celestial Gems” is a particularly compelling and ironic example of the book as material object–a physical manifestation of an earlier era’s encounter with the immaterial world.

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The Half-Time Show: Books & Beasts of the RBC

Book-loving sports fans were pleasantly surprised last night watching the UNC-Miami football game on the ESPN network. Although Chapel Hill was not victorious in the competition, its Rare Book Collection scored big, with a break segment featuring footage of the curator and a splendid folio in Wilson Library’s Grand Reading Room.

Crocodile

Folio 2 QH41 .S4 v.1, plate 106

The book in question was the first volume of four constituting Albertus Seba’s Locupletissimi Rerum Naturalium Thesauri Accurata Descriptio, et Iconibus Artificiosissimis Expressio (Amsterdam, 1734-1765). A marvelous compendium illustrating the Dutch pharmacist’s collection of natural history specimens, it includes this print of a crocodile, which was used as the signature image of the Grolier Club exhibition Rooms of Wonder. We blogged about the exhibition in January, and now we’re delighted to announce that a version of it will be coming to Chapel Hill in February 2014, courtesy of collector/alumna Florence Fearrington.

The RBC copy of Seba had been out for an instructional session with Prof. Beth Grabowski’s printmaking students, who were seeking inspiration to execute linocuts for a bestiary. Just after that class, an ESPN cameraman–on campus for the big game–visited Wilson, eager to film. Although the videographer now works in sports, he told us he began his career in public broadcasting and was fond of shooting ” historical” segments to air during breaks and half-time. He had firm fantasies about a librarian pushing a book truck and turning pages of a rare tome. We were able to accommodate.

So you weren’t hallucinating while tuned in to the tube last night. Books and beasts in the middle of a sporting event, it was real, if also somewhat surreal.

Wilson Library’s Grand Reading Room is truly its own Room of Wonder.

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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

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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.

reed_wordsworth_cover1reed_wordsworth_cover2

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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