Rebecca Filner's blog

Some terrible investment advice from Alexander Pope -- "Buy of South Sea Stock"

The South Sea Bubble of 1720 is one of the most memorable economic bubbles in Britain. Founded in 1711, the South Sea Company was a British joint-stock company that had exclusive trading rights in Spanish South America. Rumors about the potential value of its South American trade stoked rampant speculation, with shares in the company -- offered at just over £100 in January 1720 -- rising to more than £1000 by August. However by the end of September the bubble had popped. Shares fell to £150 and thousands of people were ruined.

"The wreck of talent, the ruin of promise..."

In 1848-49, three of the four famous Brontë siblings died within an eight month period. Branwell, the only brother, was the first to die, succumbing to chronic bronchitis on Sept. 24, 1848 at the age of 31. Branwell’s health was also depleted by years of alcohol and opiate abuse. Emily and Anne both died of pulmonary tuberculosis (in December 1848 and May 1849, respectively).

In this letter, dated Oct. 2, 1848, Charlotte Brontë writes to her London publisher, W.S. Williams, about her brother's death. She is more upset about the "emptiness" of Branwell’s life than about his untimely death, which she refers to as a "mercy [rather] than a chastisement."

"... Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew / And I was unaware."

British poet and novelist Thomas Hardy stopped writing novels after Jude the Obscure (1895) and focused his attention on poetry. Shown below is a draft of one of his more famous poems, here entitled "By the Century's Deathbed" but better known as "The Darkling Thrush." In this draft, probably written ca. 1899-1900, Hardy's choice of words differs considerably from the final published version of the poem, especially in the first and third stanzas. For the text of the published poem, see this version from the Academy of American Poets.

"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.

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.