Mary Lamb's not so gentle madness

The Romantic essayist William Hazlitt described Mary Lamb as the most “reasonable woman” he ever knew. This choice of adjective -- reasonable -- is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Mary Lamb. Interesting, perhaps, or articulate, or even brilliant, but reasonable seems an odd choice to describe a woman who, in a “fit of mania,” killed her mother with a kitchen knife.

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.

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...

Happy Birthday, William Wordsworth!

Today marks the 241st anniversary of William Wordsworth’s birth. He was a founder of the so-called Lake School of poetry, and I have a mental image of Wordsworth wandering “lonely as a cloud” through the mountainous Lake District, penning his lines in the very settings he describes. He has been called “our greatest nature poet,” and was a master of the walking tour – Thomas de Quincey estimated that he “must have traversed a distance of 175 to 180,000 English miles.”

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.

To the National Razor!: Collecting Heads of the French Revolution

19th century dramatist and collector Victorien Sardou demonstrates a keen understanding of the varying nature of excess during the French Revolution via his meticulous assemblage of manuscripts, letters and engravings. Shortly after Sardou’s death, a manuscript by Maximilien Robespierre, two pamphlets, three letters, an original pencil sketch and an astonishing fifty-three engravings were mounted in a lavish volume of heavily gold-tooled red morocco by Zaehnsdorf, perhaps as a tribute to the avid investigator of all things revolutionary. The spine, shown here, and the upper and lower boards bear striking symbols of the Revolution, including a guillotine, a Phrygian or “liberty” cap, a triangle with plumb-line to represent perfect balance, and a spider’s web...