Secrets From The Vault

Anonymous Scott

Sir Walter Scott, arguably the most successful writer of his day, was the first English-language novelist to be represented by a literary agent. In the last twenty years of his life, he published 23 works of fiction -- all anonymously -- and James Ballantyne, who was also Scott's business partner, sometimes-printer, and former schoolfellow, acted as a liaison or agent to help to obscure Scott's identity.

Before Chickamauga

The first shots of the American Civil War were fired 150 years ago today from Fort Sumter, South Carolina, and the two-day bombardment ended in the surrender of the fort to Confederate General Beauregard. There were no casualties in this initial engagement, but in the following four years at least 618,000 died. It remains the bloodiest war in United States history.

Celebrating Banned Books Week with a look at Walt Whitman

Leaves of Grass has been described as "shocking," "too sensual," and "trashy, profane and obscene." Yale University President Noah Porter compared it to "walking naked through the streets," and an early British reviewer suggested that one "throw it immediately behind the fire." First published in 1855, it was effectively banned in Boston nearly 30 years later, when district attorney Oliver Stevens demanded that some poems (such as "Song of Myself," "I Sing the Body Electric," and "To a Common Prostitute") be removed because of their pornographic nature. Whitman refused to alter his work and was forced to find a new publisher. When he did, the first printing of the new edition sold out in a single day.

Charlotte Brontë's Teenage "Catalogue of Books"

Charlotte Brontë was only ten years old when she penned her earliest known work, and she was barely a tween when she began writing in earnest -- at her own count she had written over twenty complete works by the time she was fourteen.

One list, which she has headed Catalogue of my Books with the periods of their completion up to August 3, 1830, gives twenty-two titles, including A Book of Rhymes, which, now lost, apparently contained 10 poems.

Coleridge reworks several poems in his 1796 notebook

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1796 notebook contains eight of his poems.

The opening lines of Coleridge’s “Lines on a Friend Who Died of a Frenzy Fever Induced by Calumnious Reports.” This is one of four extant manuscripts of the poem.

Extensive revisions and corrections throughout show that this was a working notebook, and Ernest Hartley Coleridge, the poet’s grandson, refers to it as the “MS quarto copy-book” in his 1912 The Complete Poetical Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The first portion of the copy-book contains two fragments and six complete poems, including “Songs of the Pixies,” “Lines to a Beautiful Spring in a Village,” and “Lines on a Friend Who Died of a Frenzy Fever Induced by Calumnious Reports.”

Coleridge Varies his "Inscription on a Time-piece"

Sometime probably in the late 1890s, and unknown dealer or private collector assembled about 200 letters that were bound into volumes and titled "Sir Walter Scott: Letters of his Friends and Contemporaries." The letters aren't to, from, or even necessarily about Scott, but they provide an artifactual record of both his personal circles and the leading public figures of the day.

Collecting Hawthorne: (Not) Only A Woman's Hair

"Only A Woman's Hair:" it can't really be called a lock, and we aren't even sure whose hair it is. Mounted, almost as an afterthought, on the last page of a volume, it is possibly Elizabeth Hawthorne's. These rich brown curls were teased out and preserved by Stephen H. Wakeman in his collection of Nathaniel Hawthorne related material.

Cricket on the Hearth

Published 165 years ago today, Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home was the third of Charles Dickens' Christmas books. It was immediately successful, quickly running through two editions and outselling his Christmas books from the previous two years (Christmas Carol, 1843 and The Chimes, 1844). The story is about John and Dot Peerybingle, a carrier and his wife, who are having marriage difficulties. John suspects Dot of having an affair, and consults the ever-chirping cricket on the hearth. The cricket reassures John that his fears are unfounded, and the story ends happily.

Dante Rossetti requires a suitable owner for his supersize masterpiece

Dante’s Dream (1871) has resided at the Walker Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool, since 1881, when the institution purchased the painting directly from Dante Gabriel Rossetti for £1575. The museum was not the first owner of this massive, stunning example of Pre-Raphaelite work, however. A single item from the Morgan’s collection of Rossetti letters figures into its interesting (read: frustrating) exchange of hands and underlines the turbulent nature of the art business...