Tag Archives: Marginalia

Found in the Vault: An inscription from Henry Dearborn

Here’s a name that should be familiar to American history buffs and Michigan residents alike: Henry Dearborn, Revolutionary War Colonel, U.S. Secretary of War under Thomas Jefferson, Major General during the War of 1812, and the namesake of Dearborn, Michigan (the hometown of Henry Ford).

Title page

Title page of MSU’s copy of A Discourse, Delivered at Easton (XX AC901.H3 1779)

In  the summer of 1779, at the height of the Revolutionary War, Dearborn played a vital role in General John Sullivan’s campaign against the Iroquois Confederacy, an alliance of Native American tribes largely allied with the British army.  His journal of the so-called Sullivan Expedition is crucial for our understanding of what transpired during the campaign (credit for that PDF goes to the Lane Memorial Library of Hampton, NH).

It is appropriate, then, that Dearborn would have owned a copy of Rev. Israel Evans’ 1779 Discourse, a celebratory address delivered to Sullivan’s regiment at Easton, PA, the launching point for the campaign against the Iroquois (Full title: A Discourse, Delivered at Easton, on the 17th of October, 1779, to the Officers and Soldiers of the Western Army, After their Return from an Expedition against the Five Nations of hostile Indians).

And indeed, it is likely that Dearborn was the original owner of the copy now held by MSU Special Collections.  This fact is not given in our catalog record, but a note of unknown origin penciled on the verso of the title page seems to make the connection:

dsdf

Annotation on the back of the title page.

Of course, we cannot rely on anonymous pencil notes as reliable records of provenance.  Fortunately, there are some marginal inscriptions that provide us with a primary source for this claim of ownership.

Moreover, these marginalia seem to suggest that not only did our copy of the Discourse pass through Henry Dearborn’s hands, but that Dearborn gifted the copy to a close family member.  Here is a close-up of one such inscription, at the top of the title page:

dfs

Inscription in the top margin of the title page.

The condition of the paper makes the full inscription a little difficult to read, but with close study and a few contextual clues we can make out:

Mr. Eliphalit Dearborn
                            from H. D.

And, at the top of the following page, there is another marginal note:

df

Inscription in the top margin, Page 1.

The two inscriptions seem to be in two different, but similar hands.  What can we say about them?  The first is clearly very old, predating most of the wear on the page, and as far as I can tell the handwriting (including the initials) is consistent with Henry Dearborn’s.

Examples of his hand can be found online, and seem to support this theory.  The formation of the in his signature, especially, is identical across all examples I have been able to find.  The D is more distinct, but not inconsistent.

d

Initials from our Discourse.

Example courtesy of Wikimedia

Exa

Example taken from scripophily.net

But what of this Eliphalet (Eliphalit, Eliphelet) Dearborn?  A little digging reveals that there were two members of Henry Dearborn’s somewhat-immediate family to bear that name: his older brother, who died in 1784, and his grand-nephew (his nephew’s son), who would have been 48 years old at the time of Henry’s death in 1829.  Either Eliphalet could have very well been the recipient of this book, although perhaps the elder brother is the more likely candidate.  It is likely that one of these Eliphalets was the source of this this second note, a straightforward ownership inscription (___ his book), with Henry’s name added (perhaps to document the transmission of the text from one Dearborn to another).

Are there any Henry Dearborn experts out there who can corroborate (or disprove) my analysis?  Based on what I’ve seen, I’m inclined to agree with our mysterious pencil-bearing annotator, and assign our copy of Evans’ 1779 Discourse a Dearborn provenance.

And again, the failure of our catalog to document the existence of these inscriptions demonstrates the importance of provenance research in special collections libraries like ours.

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As an aside, during my genealogical research I discovered that the younger Elipahlet Dearborn, Henry’s grandnephew, married a Jemima Whittier — a third cousin, once removed of poet John Greenleaf Whittier.  Delving into historical family trees is a good way to find oneself frittering away an entire afternoon.

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Found in the Vault: Dryden’s Poems with Manuscript Additions

Happy belated New Year to our readers!

This week we’re going to look at one of the most heavily annotated books we’ve come across so far during the course of the Provenance Project here at MSU Special Collections: a collection of poems by 17th century English Poet Laureate John Dryden.  This 1688 anthology, entitled Dryden’s Poems, is a collection of eight individual pamphlets of Dryden’s poetry (ranging in date from 1681 to 1688), bound together in contemporary calfskin.  What’s particularly interesting about this volume is that bound into the work are over 100 additional leaves of late 17th century paper, approximately 30 of which contain manuscript notes, poems, and letters identified as being “by Dryden and others” (see the MSU online catalog entry for this item).

Dryden Manuscript Page 1The manuscript additions begin on the earliest pages of the volume, before any printed material.  The first few pages are devoted to a poetic quotation, attributed to Milton, by an unknown annotator.  The first page of this quote is included here.

Directly following this is a manuscript copy of “A Pathetic Farewell” from Richard Glover’s 1737 epic poem Leonidas, seemingly in the same handwriting.  It should be noted that Dryden died in 1700, ruling out the possibility that these annotations are his.

Dryden Manuscript Page 2

Excerpt from Glover’s Leonidas. In MSU’s copy of Dryden’s Poems (XX PR3412.D7).

Throughout the collection of poetry are a number of other provenance markers, including many more inserted manuscript pages.  Also of interest are the notes written in the margins of Dryden’s allegorical “Absalom and Achitophel,” a poem couching references to political events in contemporary England in language ostensibly about a biblical story.

Dryden Manuscript Page 3These marginal notes reveal the true identities behind most of the allegorical names in the poem.  David is revealed to symbolize King Charles (Charles II), Absalom to be James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, Israel to be England, Jerusalem or Sion [Zion] to be London, and so on.  It is not clear who is responsible for these illuminating marginalia, but they seem to more or less reflect scholarly consensus on the poem’s allegories.  The notes appear to be more or less contemporary with the printing of the volume.

Dryden Manuscript Page 4

Descriptive marginalia accompanying “Absalom and Achitophel” in Dryden’s Poems.  Only the first few pages are reproduced here.

Dryden Manuscript Page 5Directly following the Absalom marginalia is another inserted manuscript sheet, this one a series of excerpts from a published series of sermons (originally given by Samuel Clarke in 1704-1705) awkwardly titled A Discourse Concerning the Being and Attributes of God, the Obligations of Natural Religion, and the Truth and Certainty of the Christian Revelation.  The abridged quotation begins:  “Atheism arises from stupid ignorance, gross corruption of manners or false philosophy…”  The recto page is shown here.

Do you see any similarities between the handwriting on this page and that on the previous manuscript pages?  It’s difficult to tell whether a majority of the passages were written by the same hand, but that remains a distinct possibility.  As with the excerpt from Leonidas above, the date of the quoted material excludes Dryden as the possible annotator.

The next major addition to the printed book comes in the section containing Dryden’s poem The Hind and the Panther.  It appears that the first four printed pages of this particular copy of the poem were lost, and someone has replaced the missing pages with meticulous handwritten text.  The unnamed annotator even went as far as replicating the appearance of the page numbers and title.  Compare the handwritten title page of Part I of the poem (on the left) to the printed title page of Part II (on the right):

Dryden Manuscript Page 6

The final twelve printed pages of this poem were also apparently damaged or lost, and manuscript substitutions for those pages were also bound into the volume in their proper place.  Below you can see where the manuscript copy picks up again, as well as the final (handwritten) page of the poem.  Note that aside from the faux print look of the manuscript title page, the handwriting on these pages is again similar to the earlier annotations in this book.  Perhaps they all belong to the same author?

Dryden Manuscript Page 7

Transition from printed page to manuscript page in “The Hind and the Panther,” Dryden’s Poems.

Dryden Manuscript Page 8

Final page of “The Hind and the Panther,” in manuscript. Also note the large ink blot on the following printed page.  The characteristics of the paper also change — this is the beginning of a new pamphlet bound into this volume.

The final few manuscript pages are where things start to get really interesting.  In the nearly 100 pages added to the back of the volume, there are a number of excerpted poems, transcribed letters, and other annotations, in what appear to be at least four different hands.  The first of these is a passage from Lucretius, signed J. Dryden.  Could it actually be from the Poet Laureate?  The handwriting does appear to differ from that in the beginning of the book, in those annotations we have already shown cannot be from Dryden.  Does the handwriting look similar to that in the marginal notes on “Absalom and Achitophel” or in “The Hind and the Panther”?

Dryden Manuscript Page 9

Dryden Manuscript Page 10Following this passage from Lucretius is a manuscript copy of a poem addressed to Dryden by Wentworth Dillon, the 4th Earl of Roscomon, on the former’s “Religio Laici” (a poem also included in this collection).  The handwriting is nearly identical to that in the Lucretius excerpt, making it possible that this poetic commentary on Dryden’s work could have been written into the back of this volume by Dryden himself.  The first page of this poem is shown on the right.  Can you see the similarity in the handwriting between this page and the previous two?

This has only been a sample of the many manuscript pages bound into this collection of Dryden’s poems.  Most of the images included in this post only represent the first page or two of their respective manuscript sections, and there are additional essays, letters, and other handwritten pages bound into this volume – too many to realistically include in this singular content update.  The selection given above, however, is representative of the general form taken by these manuscript additions, and also includes the most unique or interesting instances.

Quite a few of the rare books here in MSU Special Collections have at least some markers of provenance, but only a handful have such a depth of supplementary material that it takes nearly an entire day or more to read and catalog it all.  Understanding the origin of many of the annotations in Dryden’s Poems is an ongoing process, and the provenance of these passages is still being investigated.  At times it can seem like the work of a provenance detective is never done!  We’ll post an update if we uncover anything else interesting in the manuscript additions to MSU’s copy of Dryden’s Poems.

Until next time, contemplate the double meaning of this lovely quote we stumbled upon the other day:  In a good book the best is between the lines.”  

Hope to see you back soon!

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The Marginal Note That Sparked One of Math’s Greatest Mysteries

First things first, I want to apologize for the significant gap in time between the last post and this one.  Things have been a bit hectic, but now that everything is back on track the blog will be updated with regularity.  With the introductory posts out of the way, content will be more frequent and less lengthy.

This week I want to focus on a particular type of provenance evidence, marginalia.  People write in books for a number of different reasons, but these marginal notes are most often textual commentary or study aides.  Occasionally, when reading through the notes someone left in an old text, it feels almost as if that person is speaking to you, personally, through the veil of ages.  Marginal note-takers often word their annotations in a particular voice that addresses either the author of the text, or the reader directly.   Notes in the latter case are likely intended to serve as reminders to the annotator himself, but when the notes outlive the note-taker they can seem to speak directly to any future reader.

This particular quality of voice lends some marginal notes a tantalizing air of mystery, when they seem to be speaking directly to us, but (since they were usually written for the writer himself) are cryptic and reference persons or events unknown to us.  Let’s look at a somewhat well-known example that shows just how important and frustrating marginalia can be: the story of Fermat’s Last Theorem.

Pierre de Fermat was a seventeenth century French lawyer and an amateur mathematician.  He made a number of contributions to several fields of mathematics, and like many scholars of his time, would frequently scrawl copious amounts of notes in the margins of the various books and manuscripts in his personal mathematical library.

Fermat would often annotate books in his collection claiming to have worked out proofs to mathematical problems posed therein.  After his death, his son published special editions of many of these books, editions which included the text of Fermat’s marginal annotations.  The notes outlived their creator, and allowed the mathematician to speak to future scholars long after he was gone.

Readers of these annotations were often curious about the bold claims Fermat made, that he had worked out proofs of a number of mathematical conjectures.  As people read through his work, however, or attempted to solve the problems themselves, they realized that Fermat’s claims were seemingly based in reality.  Eventually, every problem that Fermat claimed was solvable was proven by future mathematicians – every problem but one.

In his copy of Diophantus’s Arithmetica, Fermat wrote a particularly vague and vexing annotation next to the explanation of one problem.  Addressing the problem posed by Diophantus of how to split a given square number into two other squares (as in Pythagoras’s famous equation a2+b2=c2), Fermat made the bold claim that “it is impossible to separate a cube into two cubes, or a fourth power into two fourth powers, or in general, any power higher than the second, into two like powers.  I have discovered a truly marvelous proof of this, which this margin is too narrow to contain.

No proof of this conjecture was ever found in Fermat’s other notes or surviving writings, and unlike the mathematician’s other striking claims, this supposed lost proof of Fermat’s theorem would elude mathematicians for centuries.  A solution was not found for this conjecture until Andrew Wiles finally cracked the case in 1995.

Science and math journalist Simon Singh wrote a book on the history of Fermat’s problem, and in the video below he weaves the tale of the 358-year hunt for a proof sparked by this infamous marginal note.

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