Banned and in the Rare Book Collection

One way that a book can become rare is to be banned. Banned books – the Rare Book Collection, it has them! A week ago, Tuesday evening, as part of the University-wide First Amendment Day, the Rare Book Collection sponsored an evening where members of the University community read from banned and censored books in the original editions held by RBC. There was also a small one-night display of banned books including Baudelaire’s Fleurs du mal (1857), the Olympia Press edition of Lolita (1955), and the Shakespeare and Company first edition of Ulysses (1922).

The earliest work read from was Voragine’s Golden Legend. RBC’s 1503 edition has the biography of Thomas Becket crossed through and the Pope’s name blotted out. As recently as a 2006 BBC poll, Becket was voted the second-most hated Briton – just behind Jack the Ripper! The censorship of the RBC copy probably took place in the 1530s.

Anne Steinberg, a graduate student in Romance Languages, read “Oppression” from Diderot and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie – first in her wonderful velvet-voiced native French, and then in English translation. University Librarian Sarah Michalak read the dramatic scene of Eliza’s crossing the ice from Uncle Tom’s Cabin (the book was burned in Atlanta). Poet Michael McFee read from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in the 1855 edition. And Juan Carlos González Espitia, associate professor of Romance Languages, gave us a passage on suicide, in the original Spanish as well as an English translation, from José María Vargas Vila’s Ibis.

First Amendment attorney Hugh Stevens (also chair of the Friends of the Library) read from Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in Joyce’s Ulysses, as well as from Judge Woolsey’s landmark ruling that the book was not obscene. Although the RBC’s copy of the first edition – gift of James Patton (UNC A.B. 1948) and Mary Patton – was on display for the evening, Stevens read instead from the Egoist Press edition, printed eight months later. The copy had belonged to attorney Mangum Weeks (UNC A.B., 1915) and had an apt inscription referring to the inability of the book to travel through the U.S. mail.

Undergraduate English major Margaret Grady howled Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. And Kirill Tolpygo, Interim Librarian for Slavic & East European Resources & Curator of the André Savine Collection, ended the program with a brilliant passage from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s First Circle. He read it from the first Russian edition, and then in English translation from a paperback that had belonged to American writer Walker Percy.

It was an enthusiastic audience, with many undergraduate students being exposed to writers previously unknown to them. Indeed. Libraries exist to collect the historical record. We value the First Amendment!

Original Sin Reprinted

Sometimes a book is so rare and so important, it gets to be reprinted. Last year the Rare Book Collection was thrilled to receive a copy of Un mejicano: el pecado de Adan (A Mexican: Adam’s Sin), printed in 1838 in the city of Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. The gift of George and Melinda Stuart, it joined the wealth of rare Yucatan imprints in our Stuart Collection. Our copy is one of only five listed in the WorldCat database.

We knew the book was important, being so early for a work of literature published in the Yucatan. But we didn’t know that just months before receiving it, the Instituto de Cultura de Yucatán had reprinted the volume because of its literary and historical significance.

The introduction to the new edition by Rubén Reyes Ramírez describes the work as the first “novel” of the Yucatan, inspired in form by Dante’s Inferno. The work was controversial because of its treatment of religious themes and Mexican and Yucatan independence. The author, Pedro Almeira, destroyed most copies after publication, hence its scarcity.

Our original has a bookseller’s label on its front pastedown: “Establecimiento de M. T. Almeida y de J. C. Caseres. Merida de Yucatan” – the former, perhaps a relative of the author. It also has the upside-down ownership stamp of one “G. Molina” on the title-page, that surname belonging to one of the prominent families of the Yucatan.

The physical attributes of the original speak to its moment in history in a way that the 2010 reprint cannot. Ironically enough, however, as rare as the 1838 printing is, the reprint is even scarcer among U.S. libraries. At this writing, UNC Chapel Hill is the only institution listed in WorldCat as holding it! Institute publications are notoriously difficult to obtain. We were lucky that UNC Mayan literature expert Prof. Emilio Del Valle Escalante obtained a copy for the Library while visiting Merida.

We’re holding fast to our original – and glad to have the reprint accessible in Davis Library. Perhaps this post will encourage other U.S. libraries to acquire copies of the new edition of Un mejicano: el pecado de Adan.




Physiologie du musicien – Wick Collection of French Romantic Literature

The Physiologies of a variety of subjects—including the physiology of physiologies—were all the vogue in France between 1840 and 1850. A new one in the Rare Book Collection is the Physiologie du musicien, acquired as part of Peter Wick’s incredibly rich collection. Written by Albert Cler and illustrated with wood-engraved vignettes by Daumier, Gavarni, Janet-Lange, and Valentin, this tongue-in-cheek analysis of the musician is broken down into chapters dealing with topics such as …

Comparing musicians of before and today, the latter among whom is featured the famous pianist and composer Franz Liszt:

Franz Liszt

As well as a hilarious jab at musical amateurs, connoisseurs, and dilettantes,

among whom we might find those who, at the Opera, insist very seriously that they simply cannot hear and understand the music without a lorgnette:

We’ve Been Busy, But Now We’re Back!

We’ve been busy since we launched our Blog. The Print Council of America made its first visit ever to North Carolina at the end of May, and Wilson Library was the venue for the annual meeting. The Rare Book Collection mounted displays of its diverse graphic holdings. Caricature is back in vogue, as a presentation at the meeting indicated, and our Cruikshank, Grandville, and Leech materials were much appreciated. Our copy of Grandville’s Types modernes, from the famous Donaueschingen Library—and with original drawings—was a particular standout.

Also on view for the Print Council was the new exhibition Meaningful Marks: Image and Text and the History of the Book. Up through September 28, the show explores why authors, artists, editors, and publishers often join image with text, creating more complex composite texts. It features some of the Rare Book Collection’s most provocative illustrated books.

Image of the Emperor, in Archbishop Rabanus Maurus of Mainz, De laudibus Sancte Crucis opus (Pforzheim, 1503)
Vivien and Merlin, in Julia Margaret Cameron, Illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, and Other Poems (London, 1875)
Handmade colophon with 1763 print of the Virgin of Guadalupe, for Molina, Vocabulario en lengua castellana y mexicana (Mexico City, 1571)
Wampum Snake and Red Lily, in Mark Catesby, The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (London, 1731–1743)
Aubrey Beardsley, illustrator, Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, proof for Oscar Wilde’s Salome (1893)
Eugène Delacroix, illustrator, Gretchen in Church, in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust: tragédie de M. de Goethe (Paris, 1828)