Tag Archives: Victorians

Streets of North Adams

I found myself in the western Massachusetts city of North Adams on this past Saturday morning, having driven across the state to sit on a panel for an honors thesis defense at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts the day before. I love the Berkshires, but I must admit that if I’m driving out on Route 2 I generally drive right through North Adams to reach more pastoral destinations except for a few visits to Mass MoCA, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, splendidly housed in an old textile/electrical factory in the city center. But as I woke up in North Adams (in a beautiful bedroom at Porches, quite literally in the shadow of Mass MoCA), I was determined to stay there and explore for a bit. So I set off on foot, armed only with my phone, which was loaded with a walking-tour app provided by Historic North Adams, a collaboration between MCLA’s History Department, the North Adams Public Library, and the North Adams Historical Society. After I got the downtown down, I headed up one of the city’s several hills to discover its houses.

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Judging from the simple house plaques that adorn many of North Adams’ eclectic Victorians, North Adams became a boomtown in the last three decades of the nineteenth century, with the Arnold Print Works (1862-1942) turning out textiles for a global market from its complex of mill buildings along the Hoosac River—later the home of Sprague Electric, and now Mass MoCa. The Hoosac Tunnel was completed in 1875 (at great cost of treasure and lives—its workers named it the “Bloody Pit”) making North Adams a railway gateway to the west. Walking the streets of the city, you can feel and see the expansion of that era through the architecture: every single structure seems to date from the 1870s and 1880s with nary a Colonial in sight. The sound of hammers must have been constant in this period, along with the smell of smoke. There were several larger Victorians in divided and dilapidated states, but it was also clear that preservation was at work in North Adams, and as our entire region was plunged into a prolonged period of gloomy rain last week, it was nice to be among more colorful houses. This is just a small sampling: I’ll need to go back!

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20190504_090957Some of the larger Victorians on Church Street (just above) need some help, but just up the hill is a lovely neighborhood of mostly-restored structures. Below: the Arnold Print Works produced a full line of textiles over their long history, but one of their popular products in the 1890s were these stuffed animal templates (examples below from the collections of the Rhode Island School of Design Museum & Cooper Hewitt): the finished products are very collectible and you can buy reproductions too (here are some Etsy examples). 

North Adams RISD North Adams 1892

North Adams Arnold Print Work Owl Cooper Hewitt

North Adams Cat


To Lop or Not

Happy Easter weekend to everyone, and Patriots’ Day to those of us in Massachusetts: I’m traveling next week, so will leave you with some rabbits, for Easter and just because. Not the common variety, mind you, but the “fancy”, lop-eared kind. These charming illustrations are from William Clark’s The Boy’s Own Book: A Complete Encyclopedia of all the Diversions, Athletic, Scientific, and Recreative, of Boyhood and Youth, first published in 1828 in London and then updated every couple of years through the end of the century. Rabbit-keeping was perceived as a beneficial “diversion” for boys, and detailed instructions for hutch construction are included in every edition I looked at, but the attitude towards which rabbits to keep evolves: the first editions emphasize the floppy lop-eared rabbits, a novelty of selective breeding, but later in the century these bunnies are viewed with more disdain: according to the fanciers, when one ear grows up straight and the the lops over the shoulder, it is a great thing, and when the two ears grow over the nose, so that the poor creature cannot see (as in the horn-lop, or when both ears stick out of each side horizontally (as in the oar-lop), or when the hollows of the ears are turned out so completely that the covered part appears in front (as in the perfect-lop), these peculiarities are considered as marks of varied degrees of perfection, but to unsophisticated minds they present nothing but monstrosities; we can see no beauty in such enormities, and shall no further describe or allude to them. 

Lop

Lop perfect

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Lop 3 up eared rabbit A variety of lop-eared rabbits, and one preferable “up-eared” rabbit, from The Boy’s Own Book (1843-62).

So lop-eared rabbits are for the fanciers, but not for boys. The standard-bearers of the rabbit industry in America don’t have much to say about lops either, sparing only a page or so for fancy English lops in their manuals, as opposed to pages and pages on the Flemish Giant and Belgian Hare. The most Victorian of rabbits was not for everyone.

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Herring I, John Frederick, 1795-1865; A Happy Family American standards for English lops in the Standard of perfection for rabbits, cavies, mice, rats & skunksNational Pet Stock Association, 1915; John Frederick Herring, A Happy Family, ©Leeds Museums and Galleries.

 


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.

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Tales Cover 2p

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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).


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