Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Actor, playwright, theater owner, author


Henry Siddons, National Portrait Gallery
Henry Siddons was the oldest son of the celebrated late-18th century/early-19th century British stage actress Sarah Siddons. He was an actor, theater owner, playwright and author.

His mother had wanted him to become a clergyman instead of following her in the theater but she allowed him to act in her plays and to accompany her on tour. In 1782, at the age of eight, Henry appeared with is mother in the popular drama Isabella or The Fatal Marriage, with Sarah in the title role and Henry as The Child.

Perhaps it was inevitable that Henry would pursue a career in theater. In addition to his mother's well-known stage presence, Henry's uncle, John Philip Kemble, was also prominent in British theater. Henry's grandfather ran a theater company and his father, though separated from Sarah while Henry was young, was also an actor.

In 1801, Henry made his adult debut in a play called Integrity at the Covent Garden Theatre. The cast also included a young actress, Harriet Murray. That same month Henry appeared as Hamlet, receiving generally favorable reviews.

Henry and Sarah in Isabella
Henry married Harriet in 1802 and performed with her in numerous productions, many of which he wrote. He also produced a book on acting, Practical Illustration of Rhetorical Gesture and Action which was published in 1807. A copy of the first edition is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA. It is based on a similar book by J.J. Engel, the director of the National Theatre in Berlin.

Henry undertook to make the project his own, though some say he lifted liberally from Engle's work in the translation. Henry believed that the images in Engel's original were too small and too German. Many of the images in Henry's own version depict his mother and uncle, and some historians say the project was undertaken largely to promote their acting styles, perhaps with good reason. Sarah and her brother were well-known in Great Britain and the United States. To this day, a Sarah Siddons Award is presented in Chicago to a prominent actress.

In 1809, largely through the influence of his mother and Sir Walter Scott, a family friend, Henry and Harriet obtained the patent to the Edinburgh Theatre. He was said to be a capable and efficient theater manager. He and his wife performed there and three of his plays were introduced in Edinburgh. Henry regularly took his company on tour to Dundee and Perth.

Henry died of tuberculosis in 1815 at the age of 40.

Monday, April 25, 2011

On eve of a Royal wedding ...


As the world anticipates the Royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton at the end of the week, we pause to consider the biography of another royal, Queen Elizabeth I, who was the last monach of the House of Tudor. William is of the House of Windsor.

William Camden's The History of the Most Renowned and Victorious Princess Elizabeth, Late Queen of England was published in 1675. A copy of the third edition is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

William Camden, historian
Camden was already well known throughout the United Kingdom as an authority on British antiquity when Lord William Cecil, the treasurer of England, suggested that Camden write a definitive history of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Camden had already published Britannia, an exhaustive survey of Great Britain and Ireland, in 1856. Cecil, who was known as Lord Burghley, had an abiding interest in a history of Elizabeth. He had been a close adviser to the queen, and would figure prominently in the story of her rule.

The book is a collection of separate entries of the events of each year of Elizabeth’s 44-year reign. It is considered an important work that has had great influence on how the Elizabethan age is perceived today.

Camden writes in The Author to the Reader section of the volume that he had access to “great Piles and Heaps of Papers and Writings of all sorts …” that seemed to a bit daunting at the beginning. Nevertheless, his desire to preserve the memory of the queen, to keep from disappointing Lord Burghley, and to seek “the real Truth of Passages lodged, as it were, in so many Repositories” spurred him to undertake the project.

The volume contains four books, the first three originally published in 1615. Camden finished the fourth book in 1617 but asked that it be published after his death. He died in 1623. The final book was pubished two years later.

Camden was headmaster of Westminster School and was later an officer of arms at the College of Arms in London, a center for genealogical and antiquarian study. The position allowed him freedom to pursue his antiquarian research.

Queen Elizabeth I
Among his students was Sir Robert Bruce Cotton, who became Camden’s close friend. Cotton amassed possibly the most important private collection of antiquarian manuscripts in Britain and it apparently fell to Cotton to publish the final book of Camden’s history of Queen Elizabeth I.

Camden also gave a copy of his manuscript to author and statesman Sir Francis Bacon. Some scholars suggest that Bacon’s ideas and suggestions for revision are incorporated into later versions of Camden’s work.

In this edition, before Camden’s note to the reader, there is a section titled To the Reader written in first person. It is not clear who the writer is but it is clearly not Camden because it refers to him: “I Shall not trouble thee with any large Account of the Author of this History, whose Learned Writings sufficiently set forth his singular Worth …” The note goes on to say that this edition has been greatly revised from the orginal to correct errors, put historical periods in their proper order and rewrite or edit the text to be “more consonant of the mind of the Author.”

This revised edition cleaned up and modernized the phrasing in order to make it more appealing to a newer audience, some 80 to 90 years after it had first appeared.  English is an ever evolving language. The phrasing likely to be used by Prince William and his new bride is a far cry from the language used even in this revision, published in 1675!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Baseball memories and diamond dreams



W.P. Kinsella seems obsessed with baseball. The Canadian writer’s work frequently highlights the game.

One of his short stories, Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa, is the foundation of his most well-known novel, Shoeless Joe.  A copy of the first edition of the 1982 novel is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

Jim Murray, the sportswriter, loved it. “Any book that has Shoeless Joe Jackson, J.D. Salinger, Fenway Park and Moonlight Graham in it almost before you can pause to catch your breath has got to be more fun than Reggie Jackson under a high fly,” he wrote.

Indeed, Kinsella’s book is much more than a baseball book, though for many devotees of the game that would be enough. It is a story of redemption and lost dreams and second chances.

On the surface, newbie farmer Ray Kinsella hears a voice telling him to plow his cornfield and build a baseball stadium, which he does, and it begins a fantasy adventure that brings him face-to-face with the ghost of disgraced baseball player Shoeless Joe and sends him on a quest to find reclusive author J.D. Salinger and baseball footnote Moonlight Graham.

In the book, Kinsella (the farmer) kidnaps Salinger and takes him on the odyssey to find Graham. In fact, Kinsella (the author) and Salinger were friends and Salinger went with him to Chisolm, Minn., in 1975 to search for Graham. They discovered that the baseball player had died 10 years earlier.

There are more Salinger connections as well. The main character, Ray Kinsella, was the name of a character in Salinger’s short story A Young Girl in 1941 With No Waist at All. Ray has a twin brother named Richard. Richard Kinsella is a classmate of Holden Caulfield in Salinger’s most famous novel, The Catcher in the Rye.

In the book, Kinsella and Salinger stop off at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. They encounter a bored ticket taker at the museum who perks up when Kinsella introduces his companion. "You worked for Kennedy," the ticket taker exclaims. Salinger hides his amusement at being mistaken for Pierre Salinger, who was White House Press Secretary to John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Of course, moviegoers know the book was adapted for the 1989 Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams. The Salinger character was changed to 1960s writer Terence Mann, played by James Earl Jones. Amy Madigan played Kinsella’s wife Annie and Ray Liotta played Shoeless Joe.

Most of the movie was filmed in and around Dyersville, Iowa. The owners of the land kept the baseball diamond and it is still an attraction today. Baseball and film lovers from around the country visit the site.

Originally, the title for the movie was the same as the book, Shoeless Joe, but after test audiences said they thought it sounded like a movie about a bum, the studio changed the name to Field of Dreams. W.P. Kinsella was fine with the change. The publishing company had changed the title of his book to Shoeless Joe. Originally, he had called it Dream Field.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Defender of Florida's environment



John Kunkel Small
John K. Small was livid when he realized what was happening to Florida’s unblemished wilderness under the relentless onslaught of development; so, he wrote a book about it.

Small was a botanist at the New York Botanical Garden for 40 years. For decades, he came to Florida on vacation and explored the wilderness for plant species. He was a taxonomist and was responsible for identifying and cataloging numerous tropical and subtropical plants. He collected more than 60,000 specimens for the New York Botanical Garden.

By the time he was moved to publish From Eden to Sahara–Florida’s Tragedy in 1929, he had been coming to Florida for nearly 30 years. He was often accompanied by his wife and their four children.

A copy of the first edition of Small’s scathing assessment of the miserable state of Florida’s botanical resources is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

Much of the research and many of the photographs in the book were from a month-long expedition down the east coast of Florida from about Daytona Beach to the Everglades and the Keys in 1922. Small used before and after photos showing the changes wrought by development.

The intervening years between his trip and the publication of the book were a period of rampant growth during the Florida land boom. Communities were popping up everywhere. In many cases,  little effort was made to preserve the natural beauty of the land.

Small was a friend of Charles Torrey Simpson, the botanist and writer we featured last week. Small accompanied Simpson on his forays into the wilderness, bringing along his camera to capture shots of the Florida flora. Small was a prolific writer himself, producing some 450 published articles. There were numerous unpublished typescripts in his collection as well.

Charles Deering, the chairman of International Harvester and a philanthropist, supported the New York Botanical Garden and Small’s efforts at cataloging plants in Florida. One of Deering’s winter homes in Miami included 25 acres on which the Botanical Garden grew various cactus varieties.

Small also knew many of the botanical luminaries of the era, including David Fairchild, who introduced more than 200,000 exotic plants into the United States; Liberty Hyde Bailey, who cofounded the American Society for Horticultural Science; and Thomas Edison, who in addition to inventing the electric light bulb, experimented in vain to develop a domestic source of natural rubber.

The John Kunkel Small Photo Collection at the Florida State Archives contains numerous photographs of botanical specimens but also has shots of Seminole Indians, sugar cane processing operations, a coontie mill, lighthouses and kitchen middens.

In his book, Small decries the destruction of many ancient mounds with little or no research into them and emphasizes their importance in understanding the aboriginal people who populated Florida before the arrival of the Seminoles and Europeans.

This copy of Small’s book was given to the Chester County Historical Society in Pennsylvania by Clement S. Brinton, who was a scientist hired by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Brinton apparently was a fan of the work of his fellow Pennsylvanian. Small was born in Harrisburg, PA.

About the time his book was published, Small wrote to Minnie Moore-Willson, a fellow nature lover who contributed to wildlife magazines. If further amplification was needed, his comment shows clearly where he stood on the question of preserving Florida’s wilderness. "There is much activity now to get parts, at least, of the Everglades rescued from the vandals."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Charles Torrey Simpson unheeded warning


Charles Torrey Simpson
There’s a green space amid the concrete that is downtown Miami named for Charles Torrey Simpson, a man who late in life fell in love with natural South Florida and the Everglades and warned in four books and extensive writings about the need to preserve them.

Not much else remains in South Florida of Simpson’s legacy. He consulted with James Deering on the gardens for his Vizcaya estate on Biscayne Bay but his homestead in Lemon City just north of downtown Miami is gone. A towering condo, complete with tennis courts, swimming pools and a marina rests there now. All signs of the 9.5-acre plot with pine woods, a hardwood hammock and the three-story stilt house he called The Sentinels are gone.

In his second book, In Lower Florida Wilds, Simpson relates that he was astonished at the viewpoint of a distinguished scientist who called talk of the beauty of nature “pure bosh.”

"I do not want to investigate nature as though I were solving a problem in mathematics,” wrote Simpson. “I want none of the elements of business to enter into any of my relations with it. I am not and cannot be a scientific attorney.”

“In my attempts to unravel its mysteries I have a sense of reverence and devotion, I feel as though I were on enchanted ground. And whenever any of its mysteries are revealed to me I have a feeling of elation–I was about to say exaltation, just as though the birds or the trees had told me their secrets and I had understood their language–and nature herself had made me a confidant.”

A copy of the first edition of Simpson’s book is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

Some consider Simpson the father of the conservation movement in South Florida. He was a respected friend of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, David Fairchild, John K. Small (about whom we will write soon), James Deering, and other luminaries in horticulture and botany.

Will Simpson's warnings about the need to preserve and protect the beauty of our natural surroundings be nothing more than a cry in the wilderness?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Fuller Warren's political primer


Shortly after he was sworn in as governor of Florida in 1949, Fuller Warren published a book titled How To Win In Politics, a subject about which he was well qualified to write. The governorship was the culmination of a lifetime career in public service.

A copy of that book, signed by the author, is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

Fuller Warren was first elected to public office when he was still a senior at the University of Florida. He won a seat in the Florida House in 1927. He was 21 years old. As a student he had served as a page in the Florida House. Later, he served on the Jacksonville City Council, again in the state legislature, and finally as governor.

The book might have been a slim volume had it not been for the contribution of Allen Morris, venerable clerk of the Florida House. Morris produced an appendix that is really a practical guide for running for public office in Florida–or at least, it was when it came out.

So much has changed in public life since 1949.  Still, for the student of Florida history, particularly Florida political history, this volume offers an amazing glimpse at the politics of the era. Its chapters feature titles like "Talking Your Way Into Office," "It Takes Teamwork to Win," "You Can’t Kid the People–For Very Long," and, "Getting Out the Right Vote."

Warren discusses the need for stamina in seeking a statewide office, noting that such efforts take a physical toll on the candidate. He shares his own concerns over an injury he sustained in a car accident; he feared that the resulting weakness to his right arm and shoulder would affect his ability to meet handshaking requirements.

His fears proved unfounded. In fact, he discovered that constant handshaking provided exercise his arm and shoulder needed. He did, however, develop callouses on his palms that were nearly as tough as the ones he had developed earlier in his life while working for a lumbermill in his native Blountstown.

Office seekers have to be flexible, he cautions. Campaigns often turn on the oddest events. In a chapter called The Strangest Things Happen, Morris shares how Fred P. Cone’s 1936 campaign acquired Suwannee River as its theme song.

The campaign had not planned to use that song or any other as a theme song. They did play music before Cone’s speeches, however. This was done using records and a record player attached to the sound system.

Before one campaign appearance in South Florida, campaign workers discovered a minor catastrophe. All of the records had become warped beyond use–except one: Suwannee River. The sound system operator, probably out of desperation, played the song again and again. Campaign workers discovered an amazing thing. The audience, mostly Yankee transplants, loved it. After that the campaign played the song frequently at campaign rallies all over the state–and Cone became known as Old Suwannee.

Candidates always want to control their message in public media. One way to do that in Fuller Warren’s era was to produce matted human interest stories, complete with photographs, on the theory that harried editors would choose to drop them into their papers if they didn’t editorialize too much. The beauty was that the stories couldn't be cut easily, so often the entire story (and the whole message) was published. The plan often worked in those days.

There’s an example of such a story in the book.  The feature, about Fuller Warren’s sister, Alma, describes her excitement at occupying the Governor’s Mansion as the state’s First Lady, after an election she was certain he would win. It paints a lovely picture of Warren, the candidate, sharing his home with his sister after the recent death of their mother. The article omits the fact that she would enjoy the  position of First Lady only since, at the time, Warren was twice divorced -- not a topic the candidate wanted voters dwelling upon.

Warren advises the aspiring candidate to keep his name before the public in any way he can, but especially through frequent letter writing to the state’s newspapers. One can image that Fuller Warren would have had a great time with Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A great find

Book appraisal work does sometimes brings surprises; a book appraiser in Utah was recently surprised with a very unusual work indeed. The volume, called Nurenberg Chronicle, was published in 1494, and is an illustrated world history. It was one of the first books to successfully use illustrations with text in a pleasing and efficient design. It acquired the quite appropriate name Nuremberg Chronicle because of the city in which it was published, although it is known among scholars as the Book of Chronicles. In Germany, it's called Schedel's World History, after the author, Hermann Schedel.

 The volume was published by Anton Koberger, once the most successful publisher in Germany. Koberger owned 24 printing presses and had offices not only in Germany, but all over Europe. He was the godfather of Albrecht Durer, the painter, printmaker and engraver.

The appraiser, Ken Sanders, owns an antiquarian bookshop in Salt Lake City.

Friday, April 1, 2011

George Anson’s astounding world voyage


Commodore George Anson
It is the stuff of novels and epic films. A Voyage Round the World is a true account, but it is a sea story as action-packed as the popular Master and Commander historical fiction series by Patrick O’Brian, though Voyage happened more than half a century before the time in which O'Brian's novels are set.

In 1740, a British expedition set sail under the command of Commodore George Anson, a skilled naval commander and wealthy aristocrat. The mission: attack Spanish ports and vessels in the Pacific Ocean. England was at war with Spain and anything that disrupted Spain’s commerce, especially in the New World, was considered a top priority. While the voyage mostly failed in its primary mission, Anson returned a hero, mainly due to a serendipitous turn of events after much disaster.

The four-year expedition is chronicled in A Voyage Round the World, published in 1748. The massive volume was compiled by the flagship’s chaplain from the papers of the commodore. A copy of a first edition is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA. It includes 42 copper plates illustrating the various ports of call and some of what was seen along the way.

That the expedition even got under way at all was an astounding event, considering that it was ill-equipped, undermanned, and got a late start. Six warships and two store ships set sail from Great Britain with 1,854 men and boys aboard, many of whom were patients in military hospitals and too ill to serve in battle. The expedition was part of the conflict between Great Britain and Spain known as the War of Jenkins’ Ear.

HMS Centurion, the flagship, was the only one to return to Britain, after circumnavigating the globe. Warships Gloucester, Wager and the sloop Tryal were lost through damage, storms or misfortune. Severn and Pearl were separated from the rest, eventually turned back, and arrived in England amid speculation that they deserted, though there were never any charges The supply ships, Anna and Industry, suffered ignoble ends in an episode that could have been a novel unto itself.

In all, only about 500 survived, including 188 original crew members and officers who returned on the Centurion. The expedition was beset with disaster after disaster, including severe storms that damaged and separated the ships, leaky vessels, mutiny, marooned crews, and illness. Anson encountered hostile ports, including a run-in with Chinese officials in Canton and Macau, who demanded a port tax that Anson refused to pay on the ground that his was a warship, not a merchant vessel. Storms plagued the expedition because it had started late, putting in at the southern tip of South America at the worst possible time of the year.

The expedition did succeed in capturing merchant vessels bound for Spanish ports in South America, and relieving them of their cash, but the real prize came near the end of the expedition.

For centuries, the Spanish had made annual or semi-annual runs across the Pacific Ocean from Manila to Acapulco and back. Part of the plan had been to capture the Spanish galleon as it left Acapulco carrying silver for trade in the Philippines. Anson lay in wait off the coast but it soon became clear that the Spanish had spotted his ships and wouldn’t be sending any galleons.

Manila Galleon by Samuel Scott, painted before 1772.
Anson headed to China, where he endured much difficulty and months of delay. When, finally, he got his remaining ship fully repaired, he decided to try once more for the Spanish galleon, which was by now, he expected, nearing the Philippines in the western Pacific.

Anson got lucky. He encountered the Neustra Señora de Covadonga, laden with 1.3 million pieces of eight and 2,230 pounds of silver. Anson took the vessel, and after a brief visit back in Canton, where Chinese officials and British merchants both took a dim view of his arrival (believing he wanted to make Canton a base for his pirating activities), he made a swift return to Great Britain.

The arrival of the Centurion in England was cause for great celebration and Anson was accorded the status of a hero. His share of the proceeds of this four-year adventure left his family financially secure and Anson subsequently enjoyed a distinguished naval and political career.

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