Secrets From The Vault

Death or Castration?: The Pains of Circus Management

What do you do when an angry elephant is terrorizing your menagerie? That was the problem facing legendary circus manager P. T. Barnum in this 1883 inquiry in which he seeks advice from an unidentified Professor about a “ferocious” male elephant that he “must kill or castrate.” Although the letter calls to mind the world-famous Jumbo, he was unlikely to have been the unfortunate subject of castration. By this time, he was already quite tame, having carried children on his back for years at the London Zoo before coming to Barnum's circus in 1882.

Dickens and his Shower-Bath: "I don't care for the possibility of a Tepid Shower"

On July 14, 1851, Charles Dickens expressed his interest in Tavistock House to his brother-in-Law Henry Austin. A mere 11 days later, he put down £1,542 for a 45-year lease of the grand 18-room mansion in the Bloomsbury section of London.

With Austin’s help, Dickens oversaw the remodeling of Tavistock, concerning himself with the most minute of details, down to the picture rods and pantry shelving. By early September he had "estimated every new thing in the way of furniture and fitting that will be wanted" and found that "the figures are rather stunning."

Dr. Rabbit Will See You Now

This playful image from a French 15th-century manuscript depicts a topsy-turvy world in which canine patients seek treatment from a rabbit physician wearing eyeglasses. Some years ago, The Morgan was approached by a firm that wished to use the image in an advertisement for imported burgundy. The red liquid in the beaker the rabbit physician is scrutinizing would, it was hoped, illustrate the wine’s superlative body and flavor.

Enough with the Anemones: A Letter by Amy Benecke

Every summer since 2015, a paid undergraduate intern from the University of Pennsylvania’s RealArts@Penn program program has joined the Literary and Historical Manuscripts Department staff at the Morgan. Two summers ago, Delaney Keenan (who graduated this June with a B.A. in Art History from Penn) spent part of her internship working on a project to survey and study the department’s holdings of the letters of women artists.

Ever moved your sheeprack on Sunday morning?

Ever moved your sheeprack on Sunday morning?

Now, it might not be a big deal. But if you were caught doing this in the 1500s, you could end up in an English church court.

The Morgan’s collection of 16th-century penances records the sentences imposed by such a court. From these documents, we learn that Henrie Barker was

Father Ripa's Engravings of the Mountain Estate

In 2010 the Morgan presented an exhibition on the cultural history of gardens in Europe and America, Romantic Gardens: Nature, Art, and Landscape Design, curated by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers and others. The catalogue touches briefly on a question still debated by garden historians: what are the origins of the English style of landscape design?

For all the math nerds out there...

Leonhard Euler was perhaps the foremost mathematician of the 18th century. He made major contributions to the fields of calculus, mechanics, fluid dynamics, optics, and astronomy. Born in Switzerland, he spent much of his life in Berlin and St. Petersburg. The Morgan holds a series of 99 letters he wrote to his colleague, the French mathematician Pierre Maupertuis, while they were both part of the Berlin Academy under Frederick the Great. In this letter, dated July 4, 1744, Euler is working on a problem in spherical geometry.

From Subiaco to Salzburg: St. Augustine in Austria

One of the first books printed in Italy is St. Augustine’s De civitate dei. It was printed at the Benedictine monastery of Subiaco on 12 June 1467 by Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz. A recent reference request took me to our copy of the Subiaco De civitate dei. As was traditional, the printers left space in the type-set page for the addition of hand decoration and painted letters. The style of painting often tells you were the book ended up after it left the printing press and hopefully who its first owner was. The Morgan’s De civitate dei left Subiaco and crossed the Alps to Salzburg, where the artist Ulrich Schreier decorated the book for Bernhard von Kraiburg (1412–1477), Bishop of Chiemsee (Bavaria).