Carolyn Vega's blog

When Did Sir Philip Sidney Write this Letter?

Letter-writers are not always consistent about dating their correspondence, especially quick casual notes. In order to determine when something was written, we often have to consult postmarks or notes made by the recipient. But, much to the chagrin of researchers and librarians everywhere, sometimes the only clues lie in the actual contents of the letter.

Percy Bysshe Shelley "On Life"

Life, & the world, or whatever we call that which we are & feel, is an astonishing thing. The mist of familiarity obscures from us the wonder of our being ... Life, the great miracle, we admire not, because it is so miraculous. It is well that we are thus shielded by the familiarity of what is at once so certain and so unfathomable, from an astonishment which would otherwise absorb and overawe the function of that which is its object.

A Christmas Gift for Pierpont Morgan

What do you get for the dad who has everything? Something more personal than a sweater or tie, for sure. Books tend to be a good choice, but if he has already built a stunning three-tiered library and study to house his growing collection of books and manuscripts, the latest bestseller just won't do. One year, J.P. Morgan, Jr. (known as Jack) found a perfect little gift for his father. In 1906 and 1907, Pierpont Morgan had acquired some manuscripts of the American writer Bret Harte. Largely forgotten today, Harte was one of America's most popular (and well-paid) writers of the late 19th century. Jack built on this interest of his father's by giving him, for Christmas in 1909, the manuscript of Harte's short story How Santa Claus came to Simpson's Bar.

"Punchification" Keeps Richard Doyle From his "Christmas Things"

Just a week before Christmas in 1843, the 19-year-old artist Richard Doyle wrote this illustrated letter to his father, playfully, but apologetically, putting off work that he had promised to finish before Christmas. He is in the midst of preparing his first contributions to the magazine Punch and wants to let his father know that "the nearer it becomes to Christmas the more awful does my situation, with regard to certain annual productions called "Christmas things" appear." Punch is seen here, somewhat maniacally bursting through the page.

John Ruskin's Puppet Show

John Ruskin was just ten years old when he wrote and illustrated The Puppet Show: Or, Amusing Characters for Children. The little book is filled with twenty-nine short poems, each of which is accompanied by two pen-and-ink drawings. The poems, as far as I can determine, are Ruskin's own, although some of the illustrations are copied from George Cruikshank's vignettes in Grimm's German Popular Stories, which was first published in London in 1823.

Quicksilver Bob Invents the "highest blessing of the water"

Robert Fulton's steamboat first chugged up the Hudson River in August, 1807. The flat-bottomed boat, which was only 12 feet wide, was fitted with side wheels and powered by a coal-fired steam engine. It clocked an impressive 4 to 5 miles per hour against the current and made the 150-mile trip from New York to Albany in about 32 hours.

King John's 1205 Charter

King John, oh King John. Best remembered for signing the Magna Carta (after being forced by his barons to do so), losing most of England's territory on the continent (in a war triggered partially by his marriage to Isabelle of Angoulâme), and trying to seize the crown from his elder brother Richard the Lionheart (while Richard was being held captive by Duke Leopold of Austria), John's life and sixteen-year reign was violent and unpopular. The 13th-century chronicler Matthew Paris went so far as to declare "Hell is too good for a horrible person like him," although this general view has been somewhat tempered in the intervening 800 years.

The ABC's of an Unknown Duchemin

This little book is something of a mystery. The fifty-eight pages of the booklet are sewn in a single gathering and bound with a sheet of old vellum, which is now partially discolored from use. From this first opening (shown below), we know that it was completed by the priest Aegidius (or Gilles) Duchemin in 1740.