Friday, May 27, 2011

For Memorial Day, a tale of two wars

On this Memorial Day weekend we pause to consider two volumes about different wars, both of which affected Florida’s history. The first is a remembrance of the Civil War in Florida written by the wife of a Confederate cavalry officer. The second is an infantry drill manual in use several decades earlier during the Second Seminole War.

J.J. Dickison was a celebrated militia officer, whose exploits during the Civil War in protecting interior Florida west of the St. Johns River became the stuff of legend. His forces engaged in raids, battles, forced marches and scouting expeditions throughout the war. He is even said to have captured a Union general. His second wife, Mary Elizabeth, published a book called Dickison and His Men in 1890. A copy of it is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

The detailed accounts in the book led to some speculation that Dickison himself actually wrote the book and put his wife’s name on it to keep from seeming immodest. Such ideas didn’t deter the Ocala Banner from calling her “a gifted lady.” Publication of Dickison's book, Military History of Florida, nine years later seemed to give some credence to the notion that Dickison simply dictated the earlier book. Regardless, both volumes remain sought-after references for students of Florida’s Civil War history.

Dickison’s fame seems to have risen from his knack for successful tactics against the invading Union troops. Indeed, Southern newspapers dubbed him the Southern Swamp Fox after the Revolutionary War hero, Francis Marion, because of his effective use of surprise attacks and swift action. Dickison’s forces galloped quickly up and down the western shore of the St. Johns River striking and repelling Union troop advances at will.

Perhaps his most famous exploit was the capture and burning of the Federal gunboat Columbine in the Battle at Horse Landing on May 23, 1864. It is said to be the only known incident in which a cavalry unit sank an enemy gunboat. Dickison’s troops waited hidden in the trees at a narrow bend in the river. With the gunboat less than 60 yards from shore, his forces, supported by artillery, fired barrage after barrage until the Union forces finally surrendered. The Federals had been devastated. Dickinson took 60 soldiers prisoner and captured weapons, large artillery pieces and food supplies.

Dickison was known for having few casualties among his men during the war. That record, however, did not keep his oldest son, Charles, from being killed by a captured Union soldier who had concealed a weapon.

Officers for a war less than 30 years earlier might have benefited from Dickison’s tactics, not that they would have listened. In 1830, Major General Winfield Scott headed an all-star officers’ board commissioned with the task of creating a training manual for infantry troops. The manual was in use when the Second Seminole War started in 1835, and gives with great detail directions on marching, loading, and advancing in line and close ranks, a style of fighting that had been popular in Europe for eons. A copy of Abstract of Infantry Tactics, Including Exercises and Maneuvers of Light-Infantry and Riflemen, for the Use of the Militia of the United States (whew!) is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

Given the Army's record in Florida against the Seminoles, Scott’s tactics might not have been anything to brag about. The Seminole War became the most expensive Indian war in history, and the Seminoles were never defeated. Nevertheless, Scott did go on to become a national hero, distinguishing himself in the Mexican-American War. Scott held the record of serving on active duty as a general longer than any other man in American history. He was known as “Old Fuss and Feathers,” and he once ran for president, although he wasn’t elected.

Also on Scott’s manual board was another stellar military man, General Zachary Taylor, who really didn’t do any better than Scott in the Florida wars, but also became a hero of the Mexican-American war. Taylor, too, ran for president and was elected. He was known as “Old Rough and Ready.” Maybe voters liked his nickname better.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

America's Gibson Girl: the Good Years

Charles Dana Gibson
The period from 1900 to the First World War (what historian Walter Lord called “the good years” in America) was a rare time after plumbing and before the federal income tax was reintroduced, when Americans lived with confidence.

Perhaps the epitome of that era was the Gibson Girl, an ideal of American feminism created by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. She was beautiful, intelligent, sturdy and unruffled. She was created before the turn of the century and held sway for more than two decades.

In 1886, Gibson sold his first illustration to Life magazine for $4, a drawing of a dog chained to his doghouse, howling at the moon.  It was a far cry from the illustrations that were to bring him fame and fortune, but it was a start, and over time Gibson built a following for his work. He earned enough money for a trip to France and England to study art. In England, he met George du Mauier, whose satiric drawings for Puck and drawings of fashionable women were the rage in London. Du Mauier’s work inspired Gibson.

Soon Gibson was drawing aristocratic American women with a hint of spunk. Gibson’s work appeared in Harper’s, Collier’s and Life. Gibson’s woman captured the national imagination. She was tall and slender with a long, thin neck and upswept hair with cascading curls. She had an impossible hourglass figure that has led some social critics to compare her with Barbie of a more recent era. Probably what attracted readers most, though, was that mischievous look in her eye. She was a bit of a tease and an equal companion to men. She reflected the confidence of the era.

Gibson’s wife posed for his illustrations, as did seductive chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit, who would later gain fame for her involvement in the murder of her ex-lover, the well-known architect Stanford White. Actress Camille Clifford was also among the more famous Gibson girl models. Many other women Gibson and, in later years, several would claim to be the original “Gibson Girl.”

For his part, Gibson claimed that she represented the beauty of American women.
"I'll tell you how I got what you have called the 'Gibson Girl.' I saw her on the streets, I saw her at the theatres, I saw her in the churches. I saw her everywhere and doing everything. I saw her idling on Fifth Avenue and at work behind the counters of the stores …”
Before the turn of the century, the Gibson Girl came to dominate popular American culture. She appeared on products from pillowcases to tablecloths and umbrella stands to ashtrays. Like Star Wars figures of a later era, the Gibson Girl was everywhere.

As might be expected, Gibson’s illustrations, which had appeared in many magazines, also were compiled into books. A copy of Sketches and Cartoons By Charles Dana Gibson, published in 1898, is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA. It was the third compilation of Gibson’s work.

Robert Bridges, the literary critic for Life magazine, in the November 15, 1894 issue, jokingly lamented the proliferation of Gibson Girls.

“There has been no subject upon which the present writer has attempted to shed light that the Gibson Girl has not intruded some part of her anatomy or finery into it. She has done it very gracefully and with a ravishing smile.”
Later, in the same column, Bridges commented on the phenomenon created by his colleague.
"Mr. Gibson has a great responsibility on his shoulders, and if he once fully realizes it, it will keep him awake nights. I wonder if he knows that there are thousands of American girls, from Oshkosh to Key West, who are trying to live up to the standard of his girls."

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sidewalk Sale Saturday -- Books 50 cents

Don't miss our Sidewalk Sale on Saturday. Books on display in front of the store will be 50 cents each. This sale happens only once a year. Don't miss it. Also, all books, prints and maps inside the store are still on sale at a 20% discount all week.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wintering in the Bahamas for health

Frank R. Stockton
In the 1870s, if you suffered from a respiratory malady it is likely that your doctor would prescribe some rest and recreation in a warm climate. If you were wealthy and so inclined, you might decide to take a trip to the Bahamas, for its restorative powers, of course.

In those days, and for a long time before, people with the means, and the malady that made it necessary, often went to Italy or to the south of France to improve their health. However, many physicians, who were, of course, wealthy enough to be exploring such health measures first-hand, were discovering the health benefits of the Bahamas and Florida.

To get to the Bahamas, you boarded a steamship in New York or Savannah and settled in to enjoy the trip. The ship from New York went directly to Nassau. The one from Savannah made a stop in Jacksonville to take on passengers and to deliver or receive mail.

If you were an agent for the steamship lines, like Murray, Ferris & Co., you were interested in promoting the virtues of the Bahamas, so you published a travel brochure. A copy of one such brochure from 1877 or 1878 is in the collection of rare and unusual items at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

Although photography was in its infancy then, engravings were the preferred method of illustration. The cover image is labeled Royal Victoria Hotel Nassau, but really seems to be a view from the hotel of lush tropical growth and ships and boats in the harbor. The Royal Victoria was the first luxury hotel built in the Bahamas.

As might be expected, the booklet is full of glowing articles and letters (many from physicians) extolling the virtues of Nassau in particular and the Bahamas in general. At the back are several pages of advertisements from hotels (including the Royal Victoria), railroad lines and steamship lines. Students of Florida history will find interesting the ads for Florida House in St. Augustine, Carleton House in Jacksonville, and Brock House at Enterprise on the St. Johns River.

The brochure contains a reprint of an article by Frank R. Stockton that appeared in Scribner’s Monthly in November 1877, titled An Isle of June. The article recounts a trip Stockton and his wife took to Nassau. The title refers to Stockton’s impression that the weather in the Bahamas made it seem like it was perpetually June even though he arrived in February and stayed on into March.

Stockton discusses at some length the "negroes" he encountered in the Bahamas with observations that seem decidedly stereotypical today. His tone is not mean-spirited as much as it is simply condescending. Still, Stockton goes on to tell of meeting an African queen living in the Bahamas after being displaced aboard a slave ship. He learns enough of her West African dialect to speak a few words to her but doesn’t understand the reply. The exchange prompts an attendant to ask if he has visited her country, which, of course, he hadn’t. His account seems to indicate he was genuinely fascinated with the encounter.

Stockton was a successful writer who later gained attention for his children’s stories that had a Lewis Carroll feel to them. Among his best known: “The Griffin and the Minor Canon” (1885) and “The Bee-Man of Orn,” (1887) which was republished in 1964 with illustrations by Maurice Sendak.

Perhaps his most famous tale is “The Lady, or the Tiger?” (1882), which ends with a cliffhanger (There is a copy of the book in the collection of rare and unusual items at Lighthouse Books, ABAA).  A man being punished for having a romance with the king’s daughter is sentenced to a difficult choice. In a public arena, he must choose between two doors. Behind one is a tiger that will eat him. Behind the other is a woman that he must marry instead of the princess. He catches the eye of the princess in the crowd. She indicates which door to choose. And there the story ends. Does the princess direct her lover to his death or to a lifetime of unhappiness? It was the subject of much debate in Stockton’s lifetime and ever since.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Free land in Florida! Get it now!

It’s a Florida clichĂ©. Unbelievable real estate deals at unheard of prices. If it sounded too good to be true it probably was. Surely the best land deal anybody in Florida ever made was Hamilton Disston, the Philadelphia saw heir, who paid the state of Florida about $1 million for four million acres in 1881.

The deal actually didn’t work out that well for Disston, who later had to sell large chunks of his land at a fraction of its value. Nevertheless, the Disston deal, plus his unsuccessful efforts to drain the Everglades, spurred a land boom in Florida.

The two Henrys, Flagler and Plant, got into a friendly rivalry building railroads and hotels, and tourism and agriculture became major economic engines in Florida. In the Panhandle, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad extended a subsidiary line from Pensacola to Chattahoochee, spurring interest in the Panhandle region. Naturally, land speculation followed.

In 1885, a Cincinnati-based outfit, St. Andrews Bay Railroad & Land Company, offered free land and free orange groves to people who wanted to move to Florida. The offer appears in a flier that evidently was mailed to Ohio residents. The single-sheet flier is in the collection of rare and unusual items at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

How could a company offer such an unbelievable deal? Evidently, the flier's publishers thought people might wonder the same thing. The explanation given is that the company had acquired 300,000 acres in the vicinity of St. Andrews Bay and that it sought to give some of it away in order to make what was left more valuable.

“Florida homes and orange groves FREE without money and without price!” proclaims the flier, with details following on the company's plans to give away 20,000 acres in 2½- to 40-acre tracts.

The company also offers to provide house plans for houses costing $300 to $1,500 each to build. The listed cost for a sheet of nine different styles of houses? Twenty-five cents. “The plans are worth $5 to any one who will ever desire to build a house.”

What’s more, the flier insists, the company will build the house for you on your new free property and will give you five years to pay for the house at five per cent interest. But, regardless of whether you decided to build a house or not, you would still receive the land free. For each sheet of house plans “a numbered free land warrant in a sealed envelope” would be sent.

Plus, if you wanted to start a Colony Club in your neighborhood, you could send for five sets of house plans and five land warrants for just one dollar. You could also get 10 for $2, 15 for $3, 20 for $4 or 25 for $5. Twenty-five was the limit for one person acting as an agent for a club.

By the following year, the deal had changed. St. Andrews Bay Railroad & Land Company was still giving away land but in a decidedly different form. Now you could obtain, in one order, 100 lots of various sizes, including a 2½-acre orange grove tract. The caveat: you must pay $40 notary public fees to properly notarize the land warranty.

This was a huge mail-order land scheme and historians say that various offers were made that attracted people from all over the country. At one point 25-foot by 82-foot lots were being sold for $1.25. Then you could buy a lot for $3 with an additional lot for $2. Participants could pay a dollar down and then mail in payments of fifty cents a week. Some accounts suggest that as many as 350,000 people participated in the St. Andrews Bay Railroad & Land Company schemes.

It’s not clear how successful the whole affair was toward building a community, but evidence suggests that it must have been a bust. There were other small settlements, like Millville and Harrison, near St. Andrews and none of them amounted to much more than tiny villages for a very long time. It wasn’t until 1906 that the whole region was renamed Panama City, for the capital of the country where the Panama Canal was being built at the time.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Cartoonist Raemaekers' work drew blood

Cartoonist Louis Raemaekers
At the beginning of the Great War, after a young Bosnian assassin killed Archduke Ferdinand and put Europe’s colonial powers in a tizzy, Germany invaded neutral Belgium on its way to a confrontation with France, and by extension, with England.

Officially, the neighboring Dutch government remained neutral to these developments, the conventional wisdom being that when you’re situated between two warring giants the best policy is not to get involved. Some Dutch citizens took a dim view of that policy. Among them was J.C. Schroeder, editor of the Amsterdam Telegraaf, who wrote scathing editorials condemning the brutality of the Germans and criticizing the passive Dutch government.

Schroeder encouraged the work of a firebrand editorial cartoonist, Louis Raemaekers, whose vitriolic illustrations so incensed the German government that they put a price on his head, offering to pay 12,000 marks for Raemaekers’ capture, dead or alive.

Raemaekers’ anti-German sentiment didn’t come easy. After all, his mother was ethnically German, though he was born in the Netherlands. After the invasion, Raemaekers along with many other Dutch citizens, didn’t believe the reports of atrocities coming from Belgium. He decided to see for himself. Reaemaekers ventured across the border into Belgium and was appalled at what he saw.

Raemaekers’ work appeared in the Telegraaf, and later was picked up by British authorities, who published inexpensive paperback books of his cartoons to help with the propaganda effort to mobilize the citizens of Great Britain. Fearing for his life in the Netherlands, Raemaekers’ fled to England, where he continued to work.

His illustrations gained renown throughout western Europe and in the United States. Upon seeing them, the French sculptor Auguste Rodin exclaimed, “But these are not cartoons! Each one is a picture.”

In April 1917, The Century Company published a special limited edition of Raemaekers’ work in the United States. Each copy of the 1,050 edition was printed with the number in red ink. Volumes I and II of this edition printed specially for Mrs. William Larimer Jones is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA. William Larimer Jones was a steel industry executive.

The edition contains 126 plates of Raemaekers’ wartime illustrations in charcoal, pen and ink, and with watercolor tinting on some. It contains a foreword by former President Theodore Roosevelt and an introduction by H. Perry Robinson, an acclaimed war correspondent for The Times of London.

Monday, May 9, 2011

See you in South Carolina this weekend

We're taking a vanload of great volumes to South Carolina.
We’re off to the South Carolina Book Festival in Columbia, S.C., at the end of the week.  It is a great show and we enjoy going each year. This is the fifteenth year of the festival, which started fifteen years after our own Florida Antiquarian Book Fair in St. Petersburg.

We’ll look forward to seeing some of our friends from the St. Petersburg show who also exhibit in Columbia.

The show draws from neighboring states. It’s a reasonable drive from Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah, Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh-Durham and even Knoxville and Chattanooga, so there’s a great mix of visitors. About 6,000 attend each year.

Festivalgoers there tend to like history, especially Southern history, so we always take along plenty of choices, including Civil War books. We also pack plenty of the works of  Southern writers, mostly dead ones. Literature by the likes of Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe and Robert Penn Warren still draw plenty of devotees. We’ll also have our collection of prints and maps and some of our rare and unusual books.

Of course, this is the land where such living and breathing luminaries as Pat Conroy and Sue Monk Kidd are spoken of in reverential tones, and though it's unlikely that they'll show up, the show always features what must be a legion or so of living authors.

Among our favorites appearing this year is Roy Blount, Jr., the humorist and panelist on the NPR quiz show, Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me! Many still consider him a southern writer (raised in Decatur, Ga.) even though he was born in Indianapolis and now lives in Massachusetts. Must be that Southern sensibility hewn in his formative years.

If you’re going to be in Columbia on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May 13-15, stop by and see us. The show is in the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. You’ll find us in Booth 408.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fresh air and sunshine in Florida's wilds

Dr. James A. Henshall
In the fall of 1878, a Kentucky physician took five patients on a camping and cruising trip along southeast coast of Florida, a desolate place at the time, sparsely populated and full of game and fish.

In the party were, as Dr. James A. Henshall put it, “two dyspeptics, one incipient consumptive, one bad liver, one nasal catarrh, myself and my setter puppy Gipsy Queen.” Henshall’s idea was that fresh air, sunshine, exercise and a plain diet would do wonders for the health of these young men. He planned to find a suitable sailboat in Titusville, at the head of the Indian River, and sail down the coast to Biscayne Bay and the Florida Keys. Then, if there was time, they’d sail down the St. Johns River to Jacksonville and take a steamer.

Before they left, Henshall searched high and low for information about southeast Florida; finding a paucity of information, he decided to write his own book when he got back. The result was Camping and Cruising in Florida, published in 1884, a copy of which is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

The first half of the book, called "Cruise of the Blue Wing," tells of the adventures and misadventures of Dr. Henshall and his motley crew of ailing young men on that first journey from Titusville.  It is full of tales of near-misses with alligators, sharks and rattlesnakes, and of antics involving one crew member’s fear of Seminole Indians, whose war with the United States had been over for a good 20 years.

The good doctor was an avid outdoorsman. He loved hunting and fishing and camping, and apparently set out on adventures whenever he could. He was an authority on black bass and the author of what at the time was the definitive book on the species. His publisher, Robert Clarke & Co. of Cincinnati, also published Camping and Cruising.

In those days, fish and game were plentiful in Florida. Indeed, Henshall’s description of thick schools of mullet, coveys of quail, and flocks of wild turkey, paint a picture of a state very different from what we know today.

What is striking to today’s sensibilities, though, is the apparent disregard for wildlife of the intrepid trekkers, and, especially, Dr. Henshall. He describes one incident in which he had steered the boat toward a school of dolphin in the Indian River so that his passengers could get a better look. One of the party was so frightened of the gentle mammals that he started shooting at them. Dr. Henshall recounts numerous incidents of shooting at wildlife for sport with no intention of eating the creatures. Alligators were a favorite target.

Still, it is a glimpse into a Florida of days gone by, not only of the critters that inhabited the place but also of the various and sundry characters who dwelled here as well.  Old Cuba, one such character, was a former Cuban freedom fighter whose palmetto hut at the mouth of the St. Lucie River was a welcome stop for the travelers. He was the only settler the party met between Fort Pierce and Jupiter Inlet.

The second half of the book, titled "Cruise of the Rambler," contains Henshall’s account of a second trip, taken three years later, in which he followed the advice of a fellow physician and ventured through the Keys, around the tip of Florida and up the west coast as far as the Cedar Keys.

This second trip, in 1881, took Henshall to a Seminole camp in the Everglades, along the coast of the desolate Ten Thousand Island (then called the Thousand Islands), into Charlotte Harbor and Sarasota Bay, up Tampa Bay to Fort Brooke.  Henshall describes Fort Brooke as an orderly installation, though he decries the lack of game in the vicinity of Tampa, which, while still tiny in comparison to Jacksonville, was too populated to play host to many wild animals.

He camped briefly on the shores of Papys Bayou, where he found two-foot diameter horseshoe crabs and stingrays. He anchored in Big Bayou and hunted quail in the open pine woods. The only settler he mentions in Point Pinellas is W.P. Neild, who had a fine orange grove there.

The trip included cruising through Boca Keg Bay and going through John’s Pass, along with stops in Clearwater Bay and Dunedin, by then a thriving little community. The trip ends in Cedar Key, where the doctor boarded a train that took him back to Jacksonville.

Dr. Henshall credits George W. Potter of Lake Worth with the original pen and ink drawings that appear throughout the text.

Oh, and the patients who made the first trip? They returned to Kentucky in the best health they’d enjoyed in years.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

In search of the secrets of Africa

Mapmaker Sebastian Munster, on the 100 Deutschmark note.
If you were in Europe in the mid-16th century and you were interested in the rest of the known world, Sebastian Munster was the man you wanted to see -- Or, at least his maps. Munster was one of the best cartographers of the century, and he published great atlases that were the culmination of the best knowledge anyone had about what lay beyond Europe.

Consider this example of Munster’s handiwork, a map of Africa believed to have been published in 1554. It appeared in Munster’s Geographia, an atlas based on the earlier work of ancient mathematician and geographer Claudius Ptolemy. Ptolemy was an ancient Roman citizen who lived in Egypt and wrote in Greek several centuries before Munster, and compiled a book of the same name that depicted the known world of the Roman Empire. Needless to say, Munster expanded on it.

Munster did the best he could with what he had to work with. It appears that details of his map were also drawn from Portuguese and Arabic sources. Still, as with most maps of the period, he didn’t get everything right. For instance, the source of the Nile River is shown as two fictitious lakes.
This map is particularly famous for its Medieval depiction of a cyclops, the one-eyed, mythical Greek character probably best known from Homer’s Odyssey, though such characters show up in  the works of several ancient Greek and Roman writers.

Perhaps one of the best features of this map is that it depicts the location of the kingdom of Prester John, the benevolent Christian ruler. There it is, Hamarich, the capital, a little off to the right nestled there between forks of the mighty Nile River.

Trouble is, Prester John is the stuff of legends, not history. You can’t really blame Munster, though, since the Prester John legend persisted in Europe for about 500 years. It was a tale that was almost as hard to squelch as an Internet chain letter. In fact, something very much like a Medieval version of an Internet chain letter helped perpetuate the tale.

Scholars think the idea of a kingdom ruled by a wealthy and powerful Christian king lost among the Muslims and pagans probably got its start after the evangelistic travels of St. Thomas the Apostle in subcontinent India. Over time, the story took on added detail. The Kingdom of Prester John was said to contain the Fountain of Youth and the Gates of Alexander. Prester John was amazingly wealthy. He was depicted with a sepulcher encrusted with emeralds. He was virtuous and generous. He was descended from one of the Three Magi.

A bogus letter purportedly from Prester John was circulated in Europe for centuries. In fact, as with the fantastic chain letters distributed on the Web today, there were several different versions of the Prester John missive, more than a hundred.

Location of the kingdom was originally thought to be in India or in China or elsewhere in the Far East. Eventually, the supposed location changed to Ethiopia in Africa. In fact, the Portuguese rulers sent emissaries to Africa to contact Prester John. It took until the 17th century for people to stop believing such nonsense. At least the Prester John story got Europeans out and about, discovering new parts of the world as they searched for the elusive empire. 

For his part, mapmaker Sebastian Munster’s reputation remained intact. (He was just the messenger, right?) In fact, Munster is still pretty well regarded in modern day Germany. For about three decades, his face appeared on the 100 Deutschmark note.

Monday, May 2, 2011

For Mother’s Day, a tribute …

Felicia Hemans
Felicia Hemans was a single working mother who raised five children by herself. What’s more, she supported her family writing poetry -- in the early 19th century.

That she would write poetry throughout her life was probably inevitable. She was a precocious child, homeschooled by her mother, and became fluent in Latin, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and French, as well as English, by the time she was a teenager. Later, she taught herself German. She wrote poetry from an early age.

Family was very important to her, and though her father abandoned the family, she remained close to her mother and her brothers. She was the fifth of seven children. Her father was a successful merchant but lost his fortune in an economic downturn. The family moved from her birthplace in Liverpool to a naturally beautiful region of northern Wales. Shortly after their move, her father went to Canada to try to regain his fortune, but he failed to do so and died in Quebec, without ever seeing his family again.

 The natural countryside in Wales was the perfect setting to inspire young Felicia. She was at home there.

She memorized long passages from the Bible and the work of contemporary poets, and entertained her family with recitations. She also wrote poetry, and when she was 15, her family published her first book,  a slim volume called Poems.

She was a beautiful young teenager, and this, along with her poetical talent, drew the attention of young Percy Bysshe Shelley, who started writing her letters. Felicia's mother didn’t approve of Shelley and discouraged the relationship.

When she was about 14, Felicia became enamored with a handsome army officer who was as friend of her older brother. Her brother served with the young man in the Peninsula War against Napoleon III. Within a year or so, Felicia and Capt. Alfred Hemans were engaged, but as Felicia's mother disapproved of this relationship as well, Felicia delayed a wedding. Finally, when Felicia was 19, her mother relented and the couple was married.

Felicia’s third book, Domestic Affections and Other Poems, was published shortly before the wedding. It examined the woman’s place in the home and some say it idealized domestic bliss. In any case, it was perfect for the Victorian era in which she lived.

For the next six years, Felicia had babies and wrote poetry. She published three more books. Capt. Heman was discharged from the army and only received half the pay he had received on active duty. To make ends meet, the family moved in with Felicia’s mother.

Felicia was pregnant with their fifth son when Alfred abandoned the family and moved to Italy, ostensibly to recover from an illness. Scholars think the couple just separated. Felicia never visited her husband and they rarely exchanged letters. In any case, she never saw him again.

For the next nine years, Felicia raised her boys and focused on her writing when she could, though it was a struggle finding the peace and quiet necessary for concentration in a household of rambunctious youngsters. She wrote to her sister “When you talk of tranaquility and a quiet home, I stare about in wonder, having almost lost the recollection of such things.”

Felicia did find a place of refuge, however. She wrote her favorite poem, The Forest Sanctuary, in the laundry room.

She wrote relentlessly and of necessity, pursuing anything that would bring in income, including songs, translations and magazine articles. She also tried her hand at writing plays. Her first, The Vespers of Palermo, was produced in Edinburgh and Covent Garden in London. She was paid 200 guineas. But the play failed to find a following and closed. She tried twice more but those efforts failed too, and she gave up playwriting.

Still, her poetry was very popular both in Great Britain and the United States. She grew in prominence and was acknowledged as a serious poet during her lifetime. In all, 19 books of her work were published during her lifetime. One of the most popular was Records of Woman: With Other Poems. A copy of the American edition published in 1828 is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

Felicia Hemans died in 1835 at the age of 41.

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Michael Slicker was the founding president of the Florida Antiquarian Booksellers Association and has served as chairman of its annual Florida Antiquarian Book Fair since its inception.

The 36th annual book fair is set for April 21-23, 2017 at The Coliseum in St. Petersburg.

The fair is the oldest and largest antiquarian book fair in the Southeast. Learn more about the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair and the Florida Antiquarian Booksellers Association.

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