Secrets From The Vault

A Nine-Year-Old Cartographer and Historian

Education was something else in the 18th century. W. B. Sandys was just nine years old when he penned a volume titled Ancient Maps and Universal History. Measuring only a little over four inches high, this little book has the feel of being a very well-executed assignment. Throughout the volume, Sandys demonstrates his aptitude in history, geography, pen-and-ink drawing, and calligraphy.

A Novel for Halloween: Mary Shelley’s annotated copy of Frankenstein

What would Halloween be without monsters, and what would monsters be without Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818)? The work has been cited as the most widely published English novel of all time—a book, written by a 19-year-old, that launched a thousand translations, imitations, and adaptations on stage and screen.

A Record of Friends: Abolitionist Jacob Heaton's Scrapbook

Quaker abolitionist Jacob Heaton was an important figure in the anti-slavery movement. He lived in Salem, Ohio, and his home served both as a stop on the Underground Railway and as a meeting-place for fellow abolitionists and reformers. As Susan B. Anthony, Salmon P. Chase, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, George Thompson, and others passed through his "Quaker Tavern," Heaton invited them to sign his "Record of Friends" -- a scrapbook that he compiled and which contains over 100 entries, letters, poems, photographs, engravings, clippings and ephemera related primarily to the American abolitionist movement.

A strange photograph in Mary Millais's scrapbook

Mary Millais was the daughter of the famous Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir John Everett Millais and his wife Effie Gray (who had been previously married to the critic John Ruskin). This scrapbook, which was presented to Mary when she was 15, is a typical Victorian compilation of letters, photographs, and clipped signatures -- and just about everyone represented in it is (or was at the time) a famous public figure. She has pasted in letters to her father from Anthony Trollope, Robert Browning and Wilkie Collins, and the clipped signatures include a few of King George IV and novelist Henry James.

All But Forgotten: Frederic Hastings Smyth (1888–1960)

The Herbert Cahoon papers (MA 4733) contain a series of letters dating from 1941 to 1959 from Frederic Hastings Smyth (1888–-1960) to Herbert Cahoon, Curator of the Literary and Historical Manuscripts Department at the Pierpont Morgan Library from 1954 to 1989. Smyth was an Anglo-Catholic priest and Marxist revolutionary who was simultaneously engaged in Christian theological debate and extremist politics.

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.

Beautiful Youths: Portraits from a Persian Album

In 1911, Pierpont Morgan purchased fifty-seven leaves of Persian and Mughal miniatures and calligraphy. Orchestrated largely through the efforts of Belle Da Costa Greene, Morgan’s librarian, the acquisition marked a turning point in the history of the Islamic collections at the Morgan. A core set of these leaves once formed part of a magnificent album compiled for Husain Khan Shamlu (r. 1598–1618), governor of Herat (Afghanistan) and one of the most powerful rulers in Persia in the early seventeenth century.

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.