Carolyn Vega's blog

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.

Theodore Roosevelt on his presidency: "In the end the boldness of the action fully justified itself."

Theodore Roosevelt was the second president of United States to write a book-length autobiography, but he was the first to give a lengthy account of his presidency or to give details about the private life of an American head of state.

Abraham Lincoln had written a few brief sketches of his life, and Ulysses S. Grant was the first to compose a full autobiography. But, written while the penniless Grant was dying of throat cancer in an attempt to ensure that his family would have a means of support after his death, his Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (published posthumously by Mark Twain) deals primarily with his military career.

"Clarissa" explains it all

Over 250 years after its publication, Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa still has the honor of being the longest novel in the English language. This melodramatic epistolary novel clocks in at over 950,000 words, and was initially published in seven volumes. It follows the beautiful and virtuous Clarissa as she resists her family’s attempts to arrange a "suitable" (i.e., well-connected) marriage. She is then tricked into running away with the villain Lovelace, who, in his attempts to force Clarissa to marry him, imprisons and finally rapes her. She continues to resist his proposals, and finally escapes -- but she becomes very ill and eventually dies. Clarissa’s family, realizing the misery they caused, is devastated at the news of her death.

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.

Ralph Waldo Emerson praises abolitionist John Brown

During the trial for his involvement in the raid on Harpers Ferry, abolitionist John Brown declared: "If it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice and mingle my blood with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I say let it be done." The October 16th raid had been a failure -- no slaves were freed and fully half of his men died -- and, after only forty-five minutes of deliberation, John Brown was sentenced to die by the gallows on December 2, 1859.

Napoleon congratulates Josephine on her (bogus?) pregnancy

Napoleon and Josephine were married in March, 1796, just days before he departed to take charge of the French army in Italy. In love with his new wife, Napoleon sent her passionate letters and begged her to join him. Josephine, however, preferred to continue her fashionable life in Paris, and to this end she confided to Murat, Napoleon's confidante, that she was pregnant.

"What female heart can gold despise? What cat's averse to fish?"

Horace Walpole once asked his friend Thomas Gray to write an epitaph for his cat Selima, who had recently drowned in a large Goldfish Tub. Gray responded by composing a Horatian ode, noting in a letter that it was "rather too long for an epitaph."

This autograph fair copy of his "Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes" dates to ca. 1757, the same year that Gray was offered (but declined) the Poet Laureateship. The poem tells the story of "the hapless nymph" who "stretched in vain to reach the prize" of two goldfishes, and drowned as a consequence. The poem first appeared anonymously, and is one of only 14 poems that Gray published during his lifetime.