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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.

"He ought to do better."

Before publishing The Ambassadors serially in The North American Review, Henry James submitted a summary of the novel to Harper & Brothers. This typed outline of The Ambassadors is the only surviving outline of any of James's novels (James burned many of his papers). In 90 typed pages James discusses how he got the idea for the novel, describes his characters, and lays out the novel's plot and themes. The first page and the last page of the outline are shown below – both are signed by James, and the final page is dated Sept. 1, 1900.

The Owl and the Pussey cat went to sea

Edward Lear, British landscape painter and writer, wrote many limericks and "nonsenses" (as he called them) for children. One of his most famous nonsense poems is "The Owl and the Pussy-Cat," shown here in his hand.

Lear ends this copy of his humorous poem with a note that he "meant to have illustrated it, but there ain't time."

Although The Morgan does not have Lear's illustration of his poem, we do have a sketch of the poem by Beatrix Potter. In an 1897 letter to a young boy named Noel Moore, Potter draws him a "picture of the owl and the pussy cat after they were married."

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.

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

Why nurses think the air of Kensington Gardens so wholesome

Imagine having a father who was friends with Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and other famous authors of the 19th century. Henry Bradbury, the son of William Bradbury (of the Victorian publisher Bradbury and Evans), used his father's connections to compile a scrapbook of letters, sketches, drawings, prints, photographs, and printed ephemera. Much of the material is related to Punch, the Victorian periodical printed and later purchased by Bradbury and Evans.

My chest of books divide among my friends

John Keats died with £800 in chancery, due to him from an inheritance. He knew nothing of this though, and was effectively penniless while he was dying of consumption. In a final attempt to recover his health, he set sail for Italy in the fall of 1820 with his close friend Joseph Severn. A month before his departure, he acknowledged the futility of this journey in a short letter to his publisher and friend John Taylor and noted that the upcoming trip "wakes me at daylight every morning and haunts me horribly."

Dürer and the Woodcut

The woodcut, one of the earliest printmaking techniques, became popular in Europe around 1400. Woodcuts are produced by carving an image into a block of wood, usually a hard fruitwood, cut parallel to its grain. Only the lines and shapes of the drawn design are left standing in relief; all other areas of the wood are carefully excised with sharp woodworking tools, such as gouges, chisels, and knives.

Jane Austen's Writing: A Technical Perspective

While it is conjectured that Jane Austen wrote over 3,000 letters, only 160 have survived. Of these, the Morgan owns fifty-one—more than any other institution in the world. After examining this extensive resource, the conservators of the Morgan's Thaw Conservation Center were able to make several general observations regarding the materials used to produce handwritten manuscripts and letters in early nineteenth-century England.