Tag Archives: Illustrations

Anxious Apparitions

As part of a larger project I’m working on, I have spent the past few weeks reading stories about seventeenth-century apparitions. In general, they are not a very scary bunch, but they are anxious, because they’ve definitely got a role to play, in quite a theatrical sense. Ghosts either have a message for those they appear before–generally a warning–or they themselves have suffered a violent death and thus their appearance is a “wonderful token of their disquiet”. The English Civil War is a golden age for ghosts: fourteenth-century rebels Wat Tyler and Jack Straw appear to warn the rebellious Parlementarians along with the more recently-deceased King James. Only the slain (by either the Royalists OR his former commander Oliver Cromwell’s agents) Colonel Rainsborough has personal reasons for being so anxious. At the end of the interregnum, Cromwell himself appears, just after his own fateful death. All of these revolutionary ghosts are easily-recognizable in their top-knotted shrouds or “winding sheets” (so this is great material evidence for burial customs, yes?), and they have a lot to say.

ghost-anon-the_iust_reward_of_rebels_or_the-wing-j1241-24_e_136_1_-p1

ghost-anon-strange_apparitions_or_the_ghost-wing-s5880-22_e_123_23_-p1

ghost-anon-colonell_rainsborowes_ghost-wing-c5412-246_669_f_13_46_-p1-1643p

ghost-anon-the_vvorld_in_a_maize_or_olivers-wing-w3587-146_e_983_23_-p1

There are some non-political, non-celebratory ghost appearances too, wonders, signs and portents to those that who see them as well as the larger community. Sometimes their appearance is very personal, but it always seems to be a public concern. In Strange and True News from Long-Alley in More-Fields, Southwark (1661) we read about the wonderful and miraculous appearance of the Ghost of Griffin Davis at the house of Mr. Watkins in Long-Alley; to see his Daughter Susan Davis, taking her by the hand at Noon-day and in the Night uttering such terrigle groans and hideous cries, that many neighbors have been too frightened, they are daily forced to remove their lodgings, with the several speeches between them, and how she and the maid were both flung down stairs by him….lots of details but we never really get WHY the ghost of Mr. Davis is so very agitated. His story is combined with that of the very popular Powel ghost as well as that of Jane Morris, a Wakefield widow who was alive but ghostlike in her behavior. The ghosts of the later seventeenth century don’t seem to have the same missions as their counterparts from earlier eras (and they have lost their shrouds) but they are still anxious. By the end of the century, if not before, ghosts turn up in ballads, rendering them slightly less serious but still not the satirical characters they will become a century later.

ghost

ghost-anon-sad_and_wonderful_newes_from_the-wing-s248a-2132_21-p1-1661

ghost-anon-an_answer_to_the_the_sic_unfortunate-wing-a3451-a3_1_28_-p11684

Seventeenth-century ghosts:

 The just reward of Rebels, or the life and death of Jack Straw, and Wat Tyler … whereunto is added the Ghost of Jack Straw. London: printed for F. Couls, I. Wright, T. Banks, and T. Bates, 1642.

Strange Apparitions, or The Ghost of King James, : with a Late Conference between the Ghost of That Good King, the Marquesse Hameltons, and George Eglishams, Doctor of Physick, unto Which Appeared the Ghost of the Late Duke of Buckingham Concerning the Death and Poisoning of King James and the Rest. London: Printed for J. Aston, 1642.
 Colonell Rainsborowes ghost or, a true relation of the manner of his death, who was murthered in his bed-chamber at Doncaster, by three of Pontefract souldiers who pretended that they had letters from Leiutenant Generall Cromwell, to deliver unto him. To the tune of, My bleeding heart with griefe and care. London, 1648.
The World in a Maize, or, Olivers Ghost. London, Printed in the year, 1659.
Strange and True Newes from Long-Alley in More-Fields, Southwark, and Wakefield in York-Shires.  London: Printed for John Johnson, 1661
Sad and Wonderful Newes from the Faucon at the Bank-Side. London: printed for George Horton, 1661.
An answer to the unfortunate lady who hanged herself in dispair. London: Printed for P. Brooksby, J. Deacon, J. Blare and J. Black, 1684.
All accessed via Early English Books Online

A Breech-less Brute

The students in my Elizabethan class had quite a lot to say about Marcus Gheerhaerts’ 1594 portrait of Captain Thomas Lee yesterday: it is indeed a provocative portrait and he was indeed a provocative man. A poor relation of Sir Henry Lee, the Queen’s Champion and Master of the Armouries, Thomas’s career is characterized by his long “service” in Ireland, from the mid 1570s until the late 1590s, after which he was implicated in the Essex Rebellion of 1601 and executed for treason. In his pursuit of the conquest of Ireland and his own personal gain, Captain Lee murdered, blinded, stole, and conspired. When he was not “serving”, he engaged in highway robbery and was imprisoned for debt. He was not a happy outlaw, however, and the Gheerhaerts portrait, along with his two essays, A brief declaration of the government of Ireland  (1594) and The discovery and recovery of Ireland with the author’s apology (1599), are attempts to repair his reputation. Too little too late–though his arrest and execution at Tyburn in February of 1601 were consequences of his involvement in the Essex plot rather than any of his actions in Ireland, which were supposedly on behalf of the Queen.

Captain_Thomas_Lee_by_Marcus_Gheeraerts Portrait of Captain Thomas Lee by Marcus Gheeraerts II, 1594, Tate Britain.

Well of course this personal history does not explain why Captain Lee is not wearing pants (or breeches, or hose). Clearly that is the defining feature of this portrait, commonly known as “the man with the bare legs”. There’s something vaguely classical about the painting, with its pastoral background and Latin inscription on the right: Facere et pati Fortia, “To act and suffer bravely”, a quotation from Livy’s history of the Roman commander Caius Mucius Scaevola, who defeated Etruscan rebels by penetrating their camp and living among them, so he could know the enemy. He was recognized for his bravery and rewarded handsomely by the Roman government for his efforts and thus represented a useful example for Lee, who perhaps saw himself as performing a similar service for the Queen among the “wild” Irish. Despite its fanciful fabric, Lee’s outfit is actually a bit more pragmatic: he is fully-armed and wears some semblance of the “uniform” of an Irish foot-soldier, or “wood-kerne”, bare-legged to better accommodate the boggy terrain of the Emerald Isle. So Lee is presenting himself as Irish: he has “gone native” in the (sacrificial) service of the Queen. The true measure of his claimed “sacrifice” can only be grasped through a realization of just how “wilde”, barbaric, and brutal the English perceived and presented the Irish to be: John Derrick’s Image of Irelande (1581) is a good source for this, as is a book by another man who was constantly currying favor with the Queen, Edmund Spenser’s thoroughly racist View of the Present State of Ireland (c. 1596).

Lee Discovery Folger

1024px-The_Image_of_Irelande_-_plate01

Lee’s discoverye and recoverye of Ireland with the authors apologie, ca. 1600. Folger Shakespeare Library: John Derrick, The Image of Irelande, with a Discoverie of Woodkarne, 1581, Edinburgh University Library.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save


Illustrations of the Improv’d Garden

I discovered the prolific British illustrator Clare Melinsky just recently, and apparently too late to obtain the examples of her work that I covet the most: illustrations based on several eighteenth-century gardening manuals by clergyman John Laurence, including: The Clergy-Man’s Recreation: Shewing the Pleasure and Profit of the Art of Gardening, The Gentleman’s Recreation: Or the Second Part of the Art of Gardening Improved, and (an apparent pseudonym) Charles Evelyn, The Lady’s Recreation: Or, the Art of Gardening Farther Improv’d (bound together in variant editions, 1717-1719, along with The Fruit-Garden Kalendar: Or, a Summary of the Art of Managing the Fruit-Garden). These are wonderful little practical books, and Melinsky’s clean linocut prints look like they are culled from the texts: they are period perfection and absolutely charming. Melinsky’s portfolio includes everything from The Witches of Salem: A Documentary Narrative (London: Folio Society, 1982) to the covers of the Bloomsbury boxed set of hardback “signature editions” of Harry Potter, and lots of flora and folktales and Shakespeare in between. Everything looks lovely, and I look forward to enjoying more of her work as time goes by but right now I’m pretty fixated on the unattainable “improv’d garden”  images–though her similar Robert Burns postcards might just suffice.

Melinsky Cards Collage

Melinsky Cards Collage Garden

Melinsky Collage

Melinsky Kew Gardens

Laurence Gardening Improvd Front

Melinsky Witch Linocut

Clare Melinsky’s Linocut “Gardening Improv’d” cards, along with a more “modern” illustration of Kew Gardens and a witch (just because) from here and here; Frontispiece ilustrations to Laurence’s Gardening Improv’d parts II and III, 1719.

Save

Save


Shakespeare Simplified

The Shakespeare400 happenings were in full swing yesterday, in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death: April 23 is always a big Shakespeare day because it is the accepted date of his birth and the actual date of his death, and in this particular year yesterday was even BIGGER in Shakespeare world, on both sides of the Atlantic, perhaps even around the Anglophone world. I was thinking about Shakespeare and how I wanted to mark this moment with a post, and there were just too many possibilities: too many historical and cultural sources, too many interesting words and characters, too many deifying moments in centuries past. So I decided to get more personal and focus on my own introduction to Shakespeare, in the form of a classic text titled Tales from Shakespeare first published in 1807 and never out of print thereafter. The Tales was the work of a pair of London siblings, Charles and Mary Lamb, who managed to produce abridged and modernized tales of Shakespeare’s plays despite family tragedy and between bouts of the latter’s insanity (Mary had actually injured her father and murdered her mother a decade earlier while Charles was out of the house; she was released to his care but he kept a straitjacket within easy reach). Charles abridged the tragedies into plain modern prose, and Mary the comedies (!!!); they collaborated on the preface. The first edition, with illustrations taken from copper-plate engravings by William Blake, appeared in 1807 under only his name.

Tales from Shakespeare 1807

Tales Cover 2p

Tales from Shakespeare 1960s AYLI cropped

William (and Mary) Lamb, Tales from Shakespeare for the Use of Young Persons, with illustrations based on the copper-plate engravings of William Blake (1807), Folger Shakespeare Library; My edition of Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, with illustrations by Karel Svolinsky.  Middlesex: Paul Hamlyn (1968).

I use Shakespeare quite a bit in class to illustrate certain aspects of Elizabethan and Jacobean life, and while I will quote his words directly to my students I must admit that I still consult my childhood version of the Tales to figure out exactly what I want to quote from.  Or to remind myself: this book gave me a frame of reference to which I can tap into pretty easily, and which I have “filled in” over the years by reading the source plays. I’m sure this is what the Lambs intended, and I’m grateful to them. I also enjoyed learning about the publishing history of their book over a few hours yesterday: obviously I could have spent many more. Following Blake’s example, a succession of illustrated editions issued over the period from about 1860 to 1940 seem to have ensured the continued popularity of the Tales, which eventually became Lamb’s Tales (like my 1960s edition, above). The most accomplished illustrators of their eras embellished glorious editions: Sir John Gilbert in 1866, Arthur Rackham in 1899 and 1909, Louis Monziès in 1908, Walter Paget and Norman Price in 1910, Louis Rhead in 1918, Elizabeth Shippen Green Elliott in 1922, D. C. Eyles in 1934. And then of course there were also mountains of not-so-glorious (in imagery) editions produced “for use in school”: how can we possibly measure the impact of this essential epitome of Shakespeare?

Tales Cover Collage

Tales Rackham Collage

Tales from Shakespeare Paget Collage

Tales from Shakespeare Rhead 1918

Tales from Shakespeare Green 1922

Tales from Shakespeare Puffin

A very poorly proofread Gilbert edition from 1882 and the Boydell Gallery edition from 1900; Title page and illustration from a 1909 Rackham edition; Illustration and front and back matter from 1910 Paget edition; Louis Rhead illustration, 1918; Elizabeth Shippen Green Elliott frontispiece, 1922; variant Puffin Classics editions (with an introduction by Judi Dench).


A Tale of Two Salem Patriots

Timothy Pickering (1745-1829), who rose to serve successively as Colonel of the Essex County Militia to Washington’s Adjutant General, Quartermaster General, and Secretary of War and President Adams’ Secretary of State is probably Salem’s best-known “Patriot”, but during the Battles of Lexington and Concord (commemorated in Massachusetts and Maine as Patriots’ Day on the third Monday of April) he was, shall we say unengaged, while another Salem man died in the bloodiest skirmish of the day. This was Benjamin Peirce, a baker by profession, 37 years old, who fought alongside men from Danvers, Beverly, Lynn and several other communities in their effort to halt (or at least hinder) the British retreat back to Boston. As far as I can tell, he died in the violent “Battle of Menotomy”(Arlington) in and around the still bullet-riddled Jason Russell House with Pickering yet to arrive on the scene (having stopped at not one but two taverns for refreshments). And when the Colonel with his 300+ Essex County militiamen finally arrived in the area, another decision was made to disengage, enabling the British to reach Boston. I know Pickering’s actions (or lack thereof) on April 19, 1775 have been debated almost from that very date, but from a parochial perspective he clearly pales in comparison with Peirce, the only Salem militiaman to die on that fateful day. Peirce’s heroism was recognized at the time by the entrepreneurial Salem printer Ezekiel Russell, who published Bloody Butchery, by the British Troops; of the Runaway Fight of the Regulars just a few days later.

Bloody Butcheryp

Russell House Whitefield

BLOODY BUTCHERY, BY THE BRITISH TROOPS; OR THE RUNAWAY FIGHT OF THE REGULARS, with Peirce’s identified coffin in the second row, second from right, published in The Salem Gazette, from E. RUSSELL’S Salem Gazette, or Newbury and Marblehead Advertiser, Friday, April 21, 1775; the Russell House–where Peirce died–from Edwin Whitefields’s
Homes of our Forefathers (1879).

There was also an individual elegy for Peirce penned by Russell:  We sore regret poor Peirce’s death,  A stroke to Salem known, Where tears did flow from every brow, When the sad tidings come. There was, however, no coffin: Peirce was buried in a mass grave in Arlington along with some of his compatriots, excepting the Danvers martyrs who were returned to that town. No one from Salem came for Benjamin, so he is still there, in the Old Burying Ground behind the First Parish Unitarian Church on Massachusetts Avenue. I cannot find any reference (or sign) of a monument to this native son in Salem until the erection of a bicentennial plaque (under a liberty tree which appears to have not survived) by Historic Salem, Inc., in a rather odd spot–adjacent to a parking lot on Church Street.

Peirce 6

Peirce 2

Peirce 8

Peirce 10

Peirce 7

Three plaques for Peirce in Arlington–one in Salem, below,  adjacent to parking lot: while fictional Samantha gets an entire (very visible) square to herself!

Peirce 3

Peirce 5


Hawthorne’s Homes and Haunts

In the later nineteenth century there emerged a particular genre of topical nonfiction writing which focused on literary “shrines”, and Nathaniel Hawthorne received lots of attention from its practitioners. There were several periodical articles and books published with variant titles in the “Homes and Haunts of Hawthorne” realm, exploring the role of environment on his works with varying degrees of depth. As he was a native son, obviously Salem plays a central role in these analyses, generally as an urban and conversely puritanical place from which he wanted to escape to Concord and pastoral points west. No doubt all these authors were inspired by Hawthorne himself, not just his works but also his (quite self-conscious) words, written in 1840 about a garret room in his uncle’s house on Herbert Street where he spent quite a bit of time: Here I sit in my old accustomed chamber, where I used to sit in days gone by….Here I have written many tales–many that have been burned to ashes, many, doubtless, that deserved the same fate….If ever I should have a biographer, he ought to make mention of this chamber in my memoirs, because so much of my lonely youth was wasted here, and here my mind and character were formed.  All of the Hawthorne biographers did indeed make their way to the stark Herbert Street house (which Hawthorne later described as “Castle Dismal”) and it is interesting to see its comparative depictions. Winfield S. Nevins calls it a “severely plain”, common, though tidy, tenement house in his 1894 article in The New England Magazine, while Helen Archibald Clarke goes much more negative in her 1926 book, Hawthorne’s Country: It is now a tenement house, into which one does not care to intrude farther than the yard, so untidy that no amount of enthusiasm for shrines can blind one to it. When asking the way to the house, one is apt to be met by the reply: ‘I cannot speak English’. It is a comfort to remember that in Hawthorne’s day the district was not so closely built up [YES IT WAS],and was at least quiet and clean, and that however unlovely the lines of the house, the beach and boundless ocean were not far off.  Well, you can tell that she is going to prefer Concord to Salem!

Hawthorne Collage

Sepia drawings of Hawthorne’s birthplace, then on Union Street, now on the campus of the House of the Seven Gables, and the adjacent rear window of 10 Herbert Street from  W.B. Closson’s Homes and Haunts of the Poets, a series of etchings issued by Prang in 1886, and a photograph of the same buildings from Winfield S. Nevins’ “Homes and Haunts of Hawthorne” from New England Magazine (15) 1894.

Both authors include lots of illustrations in their works, including drawings, prints and photographs, but Nevins wants to portray a past Salem for the most part, devoid of people, while Clarke lets us see some 1926 inhabitants in the Witch City: children are prominently placed on Gallows Hill, even though it is not exactly clear what this site has to do with Hawthorne. The time span between the two texts affords us to see the restoration (or creation) of the House of the Seven Gables, never the home of Hawthorne but perpetually his most conspicuous Salem “haunt”.

Homes and Haunts Dearborn

Hawthorne Homes and Haunts Chestnut

Hawthorne Houses Mall Street

Hawthorne Homes and Haunts Custom House Clarke

Hawthorne Homes and Haunts Main

hawthornescountr00claruoft_0133p

Gables collage

Hawthorne Homes and Haunts Gables2

Photographs of Hawthorne’s Dearborn and Chestnut Street residences, along with the Turner-Ingersoll House before its transformation into the House of the Seven Gables (on the left above) from Winfield S. Nevins’ 1894 article, “The Homes and Haunts of Hawthorne”; photographs of the Mall Street house, the Customs House, a view towards Washington Square, the “Sockets” of Gallows Hill, and the House of the Seven Gables from Helen Archibald Clarke’s Hawthorne’s Country (1926).


Hard-Pressed Hearts

The heart assumed its modern form by the Renaissance but its symbolic meaning was still more sacred than secular: it represented faith more than mere mortal love. And much more so than love, faith must be schooled and tested in order to strengthen: consequently hearts in emblem books from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries feature hearts that are not only broken but chained, beaten, scourged, wounded, pierced, and set on fire, mimicking and memorializing the suffering of Christ and his love. The heart is hardly the only featured symbol in emblem books, which were incredibly popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when print accommodated a semi-literate population, but it was certainly a prominent one. Emblems were made up of three components: a title or motto (inscriptio), an image (pictura) and an explanatory text in either prose or verse (subscriptio), and the combination of words and pictures could appeal to a wider audience.Some titles become standardized, included The school of the heart, or, The heart of it self gone away from God, brought back again to him, and instructed by him = in 47 emblems, a very popular English emblem title. My alternative Valentine’s Day hearts are from an Italian variant of the School of the Heart: Francesco Pona’s Cardiomorphoseos Sive Ex Corde Desvmpta Emblemata Sacra (1645). Pona’s illustrations are just a bit more….charming than those in the other books of this genre, if you can call an image of cupid carving up a heart charming! So here you see the origins of today’s cute Cupid with his bow: tough love, indeed.

garlandp Pona 1p Pona 2p Pona 3p Pona 4p Pona 5p Pona 6p Pona 7p Pona 8p Pona 9p Pona 10p Pona 11p garlandp

The Heart emerges whole and strengthened from its Trials and Travails, preparing one to ACT COURAGEOUSLY. Mottoes and images from Francesco Pona’s Cardiomorphoseos.


Witch Houses

Central to Salem’s evolution as the Witch City was the Witch House, a first-period structure that was the residence of one of the Trials’ judges, Jonathan Corwin. It was referred to as the Witch House back in the nineteenth century, when it housed a number of businesses–a longstanding drug store, later an antiques shop–and looked quite different than it does today, but it really became the Witch House when its evolving image was published on variant postcards from around 1900 on. The Corwin House acquired its seventeenth-century look in the middle of the twentieth century through a “restoration” under the direction of Boston architect Gordon Robb, and was opened to the public as the official “Witch House” by the city of Salem in 1948. As I’ve written about this House and its history before, I want to widen its context today by featuring some other Witch Houses, near and far, past and present, material and immaterial. There are at least two other houses in Essex County which were identified as such on postcards from a century ago, a time when there was a limited effort to turn the entire region into “Broomstick Country”. This was historically correct–the “Salem Witch Trials” were indeed a regional phenomenon–but commercially tricky, so Salem eventually claimed its exclusive title as the one and only “Witch City” with the Witch House.

The Old Witch House--Scene of Examinations at Salem. Illustration from Columbus and Columbia (Manufacturers' Book Co, c 1893).

Witch House Salem 1905

Witch House Danvers

Witch House Rockport 1910

Salem’s “Witch House” in 1893 (Columbus and Columbia Manufacturers’ Book Co, c 1893) and 1905: the George Jacobs “Witch House” in Danvers in 1907 (located in what was then Salem in the seventeenth century) and Rockport’s “Witch House”, also known as the “Old Garrison House” and still standing, in 1910. Supposedly two brothers from Salem built this house as a refuge for their accused sister or mother (depending on the source).

Farther afield, Witch Houses don’t have anything to do with witch trials: they just look like the sort of gothic structure that a romanticized witch might inhabit, like the Spadena “Witch’s” House in Beverly Hills, California, a storybook-style house built in 1921, or the famous Carl Van Vechten photograph of a long-lost “Witch House” in rural Maine during the Depression. The fairy-tale witches of the nineteenth century had created a more whimsical images of their houses in the twentieth, and clearly gables were seen as integral architectural details, so it is quite suitable that Salem’s Witch House would soon be enhanced with several.

witchshouse1

Witch House Van Vechten

Witch House Pyle 1887

Witch House Key Nielsen 1921

The California “Witch’s House’ in its original Culver City location, courtesy Beverly Hills Heritage; Carl Van Vechten, “Witch House”, 1936, Library of Congress; the Prince visits the Witch’s House in Howard and Katharine Pyle’s The Wonder Clock: or, Four & Twenty Marvelous Tales, Beind One for Each Hour of the Day (1887); The Witch’s confectionary cottage from Hansel and Gretel, by Kay Nielsen (1921).

Even farther afield in terms of both space and time is the woodcut print of a Witch House from the later sixteenth century by an anonymous English artist. This image, quite unusual as witches were generally depicted outside, in the wild, at this time, is often cited as appearing in the Swiss theologian Thomas Lieber (Erastus)’s Two Dialogues Concerning the Power of Witches (1579), but as Charles Zika points out in The Appearance of Witchcraft. Print and Visual Culture in Sixteenth-century Europe, the image appears to have been simply inserted into a 1579 English edition. Another fantasy house, although in this case it’s more about the exit than the architecture!

Witch House 1590


Wakefield the Watcher

There’s definitely a dark side to Nathaniel Hawthorne, manifest in many of his works. After browsing through a recent bilingual edition of his short story “Wakefield”, included in the first edition of Twice-Told Tales in 1837, I think that would be my candidate for most haunted Hawthorne tale. It’s not just that the story–about a London husband who walks away from his wife and home only to take a flat one street over from which he can stalk (or “haunt” in Hawthorne’s words) her for twenty years–is a bit eerie, the illustrations in this particular edition are extremely evocative. They are the work of Spanish illustrator and artist Ana Juan, whose award-winning work has graced books for both juvenile and adult audiences as well as more than twenty covers of The New Yorker.

wakefi1

Wakefield

Juan’s images accentuate the creepiness of the story but you can only grasp Wakefield’s self-imposed alienation–Hawthorne calls him the “Outcast of the Universe” –by reading the text, which is very short, more of a sketch than a story. It would be nice if we could “see” things from Wakefield’s perspective (outside the home, just as Juan gives us a view of his impact inside the home), but Hawthorne won’t go there: the outcast is just wandering around, apparently unmotivated, except when he spies on his “widowed” wife. Consequently he emerges as a soul-less Peeping Tom, “spell-bound” in Hawthorne’s estimation, essentially a ghost as “the dead have nearly as much chance or revisiting their earthly homes as the self-banished Wakefield”. But in a completely “unpremeditated moment” Wakefield does decide to return home (probably because he’s standing outside in the rain and it looks warm inside) and we are robbed of his reception: I wish that either the author or the illustrator had show us that, but Hawthorne proclaims that “we shall not follow our friend across the threshold”.

Wakefield Streets Ana Juan

Wakefield Ana Juan illustration

Wakefield Ghost Ana Juan

Wakefield Watches

Wakefield Juan


A “Scribbling Woman” from Salem

Two Salem-born authors competed for best-seller status in the 1850s, but it wasn’t really much of a competition: Miss Maria Cummins’s Dickensian novel The Lamplighter: or An Orphan Girl’s Struggles and Triumphs (1854) far outpaced Mr. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851) in this decade, and after. Hawthorne’s classics did well in their first year of publication–selling over 6000 copies each–but 73,000 copies of the more ephemeral Lamplighter were purchased in the first year of its appearance, second only to a book penned by another female author from the same publishing house, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. These successes prompted the penning of a famous letter to his own publisher, William Ticknor, by a petulant Hawthorne in 1855 in which he complained that “America is now wholly given over to a d——d mob of scribbling women” and “I should have not chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash–and should be ashamed of myself if I did succeed. What is the mystery of these innumerable editions of the Lamplighter, and other books neither better nor worse–worse they could not be, and better they need not be, when they sell by the 100,000.” I don’t think Hawthorne is merely venting to his publisher, but also prodding him to be a bit more marketing-minded, as Cummins’s and Stowe’s more enterprising publisher, John P. Jewett of Boston, issued their works in multiple editions and formats for diverse audiences. All the editions of The Lamplighter that I have seen are rather lavishly illustrated, and there were also “tie-in” products like musical compositions and picture books. The protagonist of The Lamplighter, the orphan Gerty Flint, consequently becomes rather famous while her creator remains quite literally anonymous: Cummins published three more books (by “the author of The Lamplighter”) before her premature death at the age of 39 in 1866: only in later editions does her name appear on the title page. I’m not really a fan of this sort of sentimental fiction, but I’ve tried to read The Lamplighter a few times without much success: the prose stopped me once, and then I found out what would eventually happen to little Gerty’s kitten and I just didn’t want to go there………….

Cummins Curwen House Salem Essex Street

Lamplighter broadside LOC

Lamplighter Music

Lamplighter Sales 1854

Lamplighter

Lamplighter 1914

Cummins Obituary NYT

Frank Cousins photograph of the Samuel Curwen House, the birthplace of Maria Susanna Cousins, formerly at 312 Essex Street and moved to North Street in 1944 (it is now home to Historic Salem, Inc.); broadside advertising The Lamplighter from the John P. Jewett Company of Boston, 1854, and two musical tie-ins from the same year, Library of Congress; Sales figures for 1854 from The New York Times, December 20, 1854; 1884 and 1914 editions from 1884 and 1914, La Maiden en Noire; Miss Cummins’s obituary from the New York Times, 1866.


%d bloggers like this: