In his second lecture in Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, William James offers a claim that seems susceptible to testing with corpus of Google’s N-Gram viewer. According to James, C. S. Peirce introduced the term pragmatism in “How to Make Our Ideas Clear,” which he published in the January 1878 issue of the Popular Science Monthly. James claims, however, that it is he who made the term “pragmatism” fashionable.

This is the principle of Peirce, the principle of pragmatism. It lay entirely unnoticed by any one for twenty years, until I, in an address before Professor Howison’s philosophical union at the university of California, brought it forward again and made a special application of it to religion. By that date (1898) the times seemed ripe for its reception. The word ‘pragmatism’ spread, and at present it fairly spots the pages of the philosophic journals. (47)

James’s is a pretty straightforward claim: In 1878, Peirce published “How to Make Our Ideas Clear,” and no one noticed. In 1898, James in Philosophical Conceptions and Practical Results drew attention to Peirce’s claim, the general mood was “ripe for its reception,” and by 1907 the word is prevalent in philosophic journals. OK, let’s test this on Google Ngram Viewer

Occurrences of "Pragmatism" (case-insensitive) between 1868-1917

Occurrences of “Pragmatism” (case-insensitive) between 1868-1917

Seems like a sensible claim, except that the Google corpus is not restricted to philosophical journals. James does not say that the word “pragmatism” becomes prevalent in the public discourse at large, only that its appearance is now prevalent in philosophical journals. To test that claim, JSTOR has a tool that is better suited, its Data for Research site at http://dfr.jstor.org. Here, one can limit the search to philosophical journals. I performed the search for “pragmatism” with the following parameters:

  • Search for “pragmatism” that appears “Anywhere in Document”
  • Year of Publication = 1868-1917 (from 10 years before Peirce’s article to 10 years after James’ 1907 book)
  • Discipline = Philosophy

There are 1409 results (searched June 14, 2014), and the chart of occurrences appears to affirm the Google Ngram results. Screen Shot 2014-06-14 at 10.35.41 PM Unfortunately, the scale is not terribly revealing, but the DFR has also the option to export the data. I chose CSV and imported the data into a Google Sheet.

Between failure and where I continue below were about an hour of frustration. I tried Excel, but it destroyed the years because it does not recognize 19th century dates. Eventually, I switched to Google spreadsheet, and after an hour of struggling with worthless 3D bar charts realized that what I wanted was a Scatter chart. Also, when Exporting, DFR excluded all years with “0″ results (after Peirce published but before James breathed life into his term). Therefore, I added each year with zero results back manually. Oh, and I can’t figure out how to chart data with a header above the data: it’s easier just to take the header out and designate the chart axes in the chart wizard.

The resulting data, exported, can generate the following Scatter chart in Google Sheets.

Data Source is http://dfr.jstor.org

Data Source is http://dfr.jstor.org

I have to say that William James’s claim seems to me pretty unimpeachable. While Peirce introduced the term, James popularized it in philosophical journals. And by the time James wrote, it had become quite popular.  This brief experiment in text mining was intended to see if a reasonably straightforward claim could be proved with contemporary tools. If you’d like to review the raw data exported from JSTOR (but with empty years added) and the settings for the chart, see https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1IKIwJDEHiFlhdVtjmNVz8a9Xq8rR1uQlS-G3hP1TBFM/edit?usp=sharing. Although this is not a rigorous experiment-and one of my first efforts in this area-it seems to me that the parameters are tight enough that DFR offers a strong support for James’ claim.

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Restoring Fragile Remains: Two Louisa Van Velsor Whitman Letters

“Half sunk a shattered visage lies”[1]

To illustrate the tools and expertise that conservation demands, Duke University has highlighted the work of its Conservation Services Department on fragile materials. The letters of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, poet Walt Whitman’s mother, which were treated for preservation by Beth Doyle, Erin Hammeke, Rachel Penniman, and Grace White,[2] have emerged as a favorite example. Conservation is a background for editorial scholarship, and this conservation work is in the background to my own encounter with the same documents, as an editor. My edition of the letters, “walter dear”: The Letters of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Her Son Walt, may be conceived as a continuation or expansion of their conservation efforts, though it is other work as well. This short story concerns preservation, loss, and an editor’s reliance on the work of others, for two purposes: to preserve what promises to crumble away, to restore a part of what has been lost. I will close with a brief cloak-and-dagger note that in part explains my sometimes fraught relationship to previous scholarship.

To acquire a sense of the Duke conservators’ efforts, you can browse images of their labor on two of Louisa Van Velsor Whitman’s fragile letters in Aaron Kirschenfeld’s “Campus Observer: Loan Renewal” in Duke Magazine (Tip: Read the article on their work, of course, but to see the images, click “Show Full Article”). More images, also of her letters, are on the library’s flickr account (with higher resolution) at “Louisa Whitman letter, before treatment” and again (same title) and (though some repeated) in the online catalog for the exhibit Louisa Whitman Letters. The two most important ones for my subsequent discussion are reproduced below, at a lower resolution:

Louisa Whitman letter, before treatment

Figure 1: “Louisa Whitman letter, before treatment”
(Source: Trent Collection, Duke University)

Louisa Whitman letter, before treatment

Figure 2: “Louisa Whitman letter, before treatment”
(Source: Trent Collection, Duke University)

In the introduction to my edition, the conservators receive only faint and indirect mention, classed generally among the group “of collectors and archivists, and of scholars and funding bodies” and again, anonymously, as part of the collective known as “David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.” The mostly invisible efforts of library and archive personnel—who did the work and when they did so is no doubt recorded in work logs and project documents but invisible in catalog records—are effaced often in published literary and historical scholarship. I first encountered the handiwork of the conservators after their ministrations to these fragile documents were complete: only later would I notice and seek to reconstruct some of what had been lost. My editorial work has been complicit in silencing the conservators’ labor: only after the letters were published would I seek out their names.

Work on Mother Whitman’s letters was proposed by the Walt Whitman Archive and funded in part by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission as an editorial project, and for me it became work to be done after it was funded. Many removes occur between the letters as material objects and my editorial labor upon them, which can be summarized briefly as follows. Duke selected the Mother Whitman letters for digitization and provided the entire collection of images to the Whitman Archive, and the decision to digitize probably set the work of conservators in motion: they sought to reduce the risk of further damage. When the Whitman Archive received the images from Duke, Liz Lorang, senior associate editor and program manager at the archive (located at the University of Nebraska), patiently assembled digital images into letter units: each letter is assigned a Walt Whitman Archive ID and categorized as on “object” in the tracking database, though one letter may be represented by multiple image surfaces. The letters arrived to me (located at Kent State) through the tracking database interface, as a digital image of their material form, the reconstituted traces on the basis of which I and others would labor. About a third of the letters I transcribed myself from the tracking database interface, and assistant editor Felicia L. Wetzig completed the initial transcription and annotation for the remainder. Within the application Oxygen, we transcribed the text of the letters into an XML file that complied with the Whitman Archive schema. After two rounds of proofreading (one with assistance of Cathy Tisch or a student) and several rounds of annotation were complete, Ms. Tisch or I transformed the XML version of Duke letters into an HTML version and printed them. This previous summer, I headed to Durham, North Carolina, where I spent most of five days proofreading our transcriptions against the original documents.

Below (Figure 3) is a letter that you may recognize, from the Duke conservators’ work above (see Figure 1).

Cropped Section from Image 1, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [9–14] March 1863

Figure 3: Cropped Section from Image 1, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [9–14] March 1863
(Source: Trent Collection, Duke University, via Whitman Archive)

If you examine the words and the tear on the bottom of the image, the phrases “about 11 Oclock” and “[w?]ith his key” and the general outline of the tear confirm that this is an alternate perspective on the same letter. But because of the large triangle-shaped tear, a probable word that appeared between “came” and “in” has been lost and is irrecoverable, except through speculation. I declined to speculate in my editorial transcription, but we may conjecture that “on” completed the phrase “came on in.”

Louisa wrote on the opposite surface of the same page, and it is also photographed.

Cropped Section from Image 2, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [9–14] March 1863

Figure 4: Cropped Section from Image 2, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman to Walt Whitman, [9–14] March 1863
(Source: Trent Collection, Duke University, via Whitman Archive)

Notice the phrase “buckwheat cakes”—apparently also one of Walt’s favorite breakfasts—which appears also in part, as “buckwhea[t?]” mid-way up in the Duke conservation image (Figure 2). Because the phrase “as if” is below the word “buckwheat,” it’s the same letter. And you can also see that the two pairs of triangular tears in Figure 3 and 4 are mirror images of one another. But if you look closely at the Duke image, it includes characteristics of the letter as a material document that are invisible in the version of the images posted on the Whitman Archive. The paper of the letter separates along a line that runs vertically through the middle of the image: that is where the letter was mounted into the letter book along its margin. The adhesive that once held the letter in place has contributed to the deterioration of the paper. At the bottom of Figure 2 one may discern a sharp angle, a strip of cotton-rag paper like that used in scrap books. That is the paper on which Louisa’s letters were mounted alongside the type transcription.

The letters are mounted in a bound scrap book. The two images below are the title page to the scrap book, though the bottom half of the page has been cropped…

Title Page, Louisa Whitman Letters, Duke University

Figure 5: Louisa Whitman letters, t.p., before treatment
(Source: Trent Collection, Duke University)

…and the letter book’s binding. I snapped a photo of this 2nd-volume binding when it was retrieved for me at Duke.

Louisa Whitman Letter Book, Duke University

Figure 6: Louisa Whitman Letter Book
(Source: Trent Collection, Duke University)

To a significant extent, all these material forms in which the letters are preserved are defined as irrelevant for the editorial work. And that is why I include the following statement in the introduction:

Other items, such as two notes by Waldron that are placed loose in An Extensive Collection (Trent Collection, Duke), are referenced when applicable but not reproduced. The other paratextual materials in An Extensive Collection and in A Series of Thirteen Letters (Walt Whitman Collection, Ransom Center)—title pages, bindings, mounted catalog clippings in the end papers or the inside front cover, mounting pages for the letters, and type transcriptions—are not reproduced.

If truth be told, I was ill-prepared to deal with the letters as original documents when I first arrived at Duke, though I had already proofread a smaller set at the Harry Ransom Center. And I spent the first two or three hours in special collections floundering. You can see what I encountered by browsing the finding aid named Guide to the Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, 1841-1992, bulk 1845-1849, 1854-1857, and 1864-1892. If you wanted all the Louisa Whitman letters, what would you request first, Box III-5E, Box III-5F, Box II-9B, Box II-9D, or Box III-5D? You can request multiple items to be available for you, but you can only have one item at a time at a table. So for first hour or two I browsed through albums that looked like they were prepared by a befuddled scrapbooker who had lost his or her nerve and was just cramming what had fallen out into sleeves, and I was getting nervous. In fact, the letter books were kept in a vault, and it was only when I had begun to reach a state of nervousness somewhere short of consternation that curator Will Hansen explained the letter books’ recent move and promised to have them out shortly. But after I had my hands on and had oriented myself to the proper letter albums, those qualities that were defined as secondary began to fall away. I needed to get into a zone because I was trying over 4.5 days to proofread all 148 letters. And at the same time I wanted to move slowly and deliberately to ensure that I would not fold or damage any of the fragile documents.

Only two of the letters are extraordinarily fragile, and the poor quality of the paper Louisa Van Velsor Whitman herself noticed. In her March 19, 1863 letter to Walt, she wrote: “this 12 sheets of writing paper for 4 cents is awful stuf to write on.” The same paper is used for her March 9-14, 1863 letter. I had read that line when transcribing the letter, but it did not really hit home until I saw the small envelope of fragmentary remains.

Clear Plastic Sleeve with Letter Fragments

Figure 7: Clear Plastic Sleeve of Preserved Letter Fragments in An Extensive Collection
(Source: Trent Collection, Duke University)

These fragments are pregnant with meanings. During the Civil War, Louisa scrimped on food for herself and for her sons Edward and Jesse, and she scrimped on writing paper. The paper that she chose is one of the remains of her genuine fear of poverty and the thriftiness that she practiced in the wake of that fear. These are the first two letters of her war-era correspondence, shortly after Walt’s departure for Washington, D.C., in search of his injured brother George, who had been wounded at Fredericksburg. One senses in her choice of paper no suspicion that writing letters to Walt will be the activity of the next decade, because her son was expected to return to Brooklyn. After writing Walt became a regular habit, he kept her in supply with higher quality paper and stamped envelopes. These letters are the fragile beginnings of a war-era correspondence that would continue through Reconstruction and unto her death in May 1873. That a conservator at Duke University kept them and tweezed each individual fragment into a transparent sleeve conveys both a surrender to the inevitable corruption of material things and an almost insane optimism. To save them as fragments must on some level be an admission that one no longer has the time, energy, or inclination to devote any more effort to them. I for one could pardon a sharp sneeze that scattered these fragments on the floor, where a janitor’s vacuum might whisk them away. But their conservation is also an expression of hope in a better future for the letter, that at some point someone may wish to painstakingly reconstruct its shattered visage. When I encountered them, I surrendered a sentimental tear for their presence but resolved myself to a hard-headed recognition that decay and dissolution are inevitable, the fate of material things. I had no inclination to sit there and try to reconstruct a letter out of 7 or 10 or 15 millimeter-wide fragments. Not only did I realize that I had neither the necessary time nor expertise, to even try seemed hopeless.

Some editorial projects are heroic, but mine is not. I really needed to finish the project during summer 2013 to shore up my case for tenure and promotion. At Duke, I was trying to keep up a pace of proofreading around one letter every 15 or 20 minutes, so I could proofread every letter before my plane left on Friday. And yet, because I’ve spent far more time on Louisa Van Velsor Whitman’s letters than any capitalist accounting of the value of labor could justify, I can still recognize the letter that appears alongside the fragments. You can too, now: all you need to do is transcribe a few words and search on the Whitman Archive. As you could find, similar holes in the paper are visible on Figure 8 (though you’re looking at the opposite side of page below):

Figure 8: Cropped, from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, March 9–14, 1863 Letter (click for letter on Whitman Archive)

Figure 8: Cropped, from Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, March 9–14, 1863 Letter
(Source: Duke University, via Whitman Archive)

Though it’s humorously ironic that the dollar amounts that have fallen victim to decay, I failed to appreciate the humor at the time—cause the lost words are a real problem for an editor. But then, because I was sitting face to face with the documents, I realized that the type transcriptions that could retain information that had been lost as the original letters decayed (also see Figure 1, which shows small section of the letter book type transcription). Lo and behold, there one could find transcribed alphanumeric characters from the lost fragments (Figure 9):

Figure 9: Type Transcription, An Extensive Collection, March 9–14, 1863 Letter (Trent Collection, Duke)

Figure 9: Type Transcription, An Extensive Collection, March 9–14, 1863 Letter
(Source: Trent Collection, Duke)

There’s no grand lesson here. After all, that’s what an editor is supposed to do, but what one ought to do is sometimes not as easy as it could be. I have a troubled relationship to type transcriptions of Mother Whitman’s letters. And for a while I had been hesitant to use them, which requires a bit of a back-story, though names of the innocent have been changed to protect them. Near the beginning of this project, a Whitman scholar informed me that he had worked briefly with someone else (I’ll call him or her the “other LVVW editor”) who had put considerable effort toward a possible edition of Mother Whitman’s letters. An attempt at collaboration between the Whitman scholar and the other LVVW editor did not work out. At the time the Louisa Whitman letters project was suggested to me by Professor Ken Price, enough time had passed that the work of the other LVVW editor had begun to enter the status of folklore. The Whitman scholar had in his or her possession manuscript typescript photocopies with draft annotations that had belonged to the other LVVW editor, photocopies that were made by the Whitman scholar when attempting a collaboration. But in order to head off future concerns that I had benefited from the other LVVW editor’s work—I did not have his or her permission to use the work—I decided it was best that I not refer to the photocopies, at all. So I prepared a memo—that I forwarded to the Whitman scholar to be kept as a record—in which I explained that I had seen the documents but had decided I was ethically obligated to not use them in my own project without the other LVVW editor’s permission, that I had returned the documents to the Whitman scholar, and that I from that moment forward would never again consult them. The whole episode seemed a bit cloak and dagger and a bit 19th-century fiction in installments, with the fictional future narrative climax to be when I as the rightful heir and editor of the Mother Whitman’s letters pulled out the letter and presented it as evidence to have a legal suit dismissed. I felt both sincere and perfectly ridiculous.

But when Duke sent the images, they forwarded a set of original manuscript images AND a set of type transcriptions. Could I use the latter? Well, I had no idea. I was pretty sure they were not the the documents that I had browsed from the Whitman scholar two or so years earlier, because though typescripts they lacked substantial annotation, but I didn’t know who had prepared the typescripts. And I didn’t know whom to ask, or whether to do so. I had already downloaded the electronic copies to my hard drive. Was it time to write a letter swearing that I had destroyed all digital file copies also? If I did that and under cross-examination anybody asked whether I had read Matthew Kirschenbaum’s Mechanisms, would I lie? No, my life has really not heretofore seemed anything like an episode out of CSI or Monk. So I asked Ms. Tisch to transcribe the typescripts with reasonable confidence they were not from the other LVVW editor. Ms. Wetzig transcribed from the manuscript facsimiles, and it seemed like comparing our transcription from the manuscripts against the typescripts from Duke would be a good way to check our work: two transcriptions digitally compared can produce more accurate copy of a printed work than proofreading can. I knew I had all my files with time and date stamps. Even had I to admit under oath that I had read Mechanisms and so knew that deleted files were never really gone because their material trace remained on the hard drive and were recoverable and I had as part of the project had the typescripts transcribed, my crack legal team could bring in its digital forensics expert to compare file access dates to job logs and show that Ms. Wetzig or I had the XML files open when accessing the Whitman Archive tracking database and so must have transcribed from the manuscript facsimiles. Reality was a lot more mundane than my imaginary court drama. We tried collating our transcriptions against those from the Duke letter book. But it didn’t help much. The transcriptions on a few occasions helped early on, but as I became more familiar with Mother Whitman’s hand I began to realize that I could only trust a transcription that I had proofread multiple times against the manuscript image and against the original manuscript.

Three or so years later, when I finished proofreading on Friday morning at Duke, I asked Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections and factotum for all things Whitman in the Rubenstein, if we could talk for a while. During that conversation, I explained my dilemma. I wanted to use the type transcriptions to restore the text from the lost fragments, but I did not want to violate in spirit or in fact the promise that I had made about not touching the other LVVW editor’s work. So I asked if he knew who had made the transcriptions in the letter books. He answered that the person who prepared the type transcriptions was not included in the provenance description. After Whitman’s death, his documentary remains were split up among his executors, one of whom was Richard Maurice Bucke. I with Professor Price’s assistance had identified the hand in red ink on the letters, often a date, as Bucke’s. The collection that belonged to Bucke had been dispersed at auction. A collector apparently bought the Mother Whitman letters, and that unknown collector had hired a typist to transcribe them. Therefore, these transcriptions were prepared before they had been placed in the Trent Collection: I was relieved. That same collector subsequently had the manuscript letters and typescripts bound into the letter book, and both letters and transcripts were in the letter book when they were acquired by Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans and Dr. Josiah Trent, who had donated them to the library in the mid-20th century.[3]

That is where my story ends, with a handful of numbers and alphabetic characters that are lost in the manuscript fragments but now restored to my edition on the authority of the type transcript. The one who prepared the typescripts for the letter book, on whom I relied for the characters that may or may not lie as fragmentary ruins in the conservator’s plastic sleeve, is also lost to time and memory. When I began this post, I thought that at close I would with the Thunder declare, “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.”[4] But that is not the case: publishing the letters has brought mostly relief, that the work feels completed. For I have settled into that second calm that Billy Collins is said to have invoked, the one that belongs to poets after they publish. I know a similar calm belongs to editors, and I trust it belongs to conservators as well. Our job is to save and to restore what we can, from the fragile remains.

[1] Shelley, Percy Bysshe, “Ozymandias.” Poetry Foundation. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/guide/238972#poem.

[2] Hansen, Will. RE: Conservators for Mother Whitman Letters. Email to the Author. March 26, 2014.

[3] Bonner, Paul. Duke Houses One of the Nation’s Top Whitman Collections. Herald-Sun, February 8, 2006. Rpt. Whitman Archive, http://www.whitmanarchive.org/about/articles/anc.00010.html

[4] Eliot, T. S., “The Waste Land.” Poetry Foundation. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/176735.

[5] Collins, Billy. Poetry Reading, McDaniel College, May 4, 2011, Rpt. Adam Robinson, “Billy Collins at McDaniel College (Westminster, MD) 05/04/2011.” Publishing Genius. Blog. http://pickle.publishinggenius.com/billy-collins-at-mcdaniel-college-westminster-md-05042011/.

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Civil War or War of the Rebellion

Now that that New York Times Civil War blog Disunion is discussing terms “Civil War” and “War of the Rebellion,” I thought perhaps I could be timely for once and drag out this old, unpublished post on the transition of name from “War of the Rebellion” to “Civil War,” which I suggest has at least something to do with the early 20th century scholarly consensus that the Civil War was not fought over slavery.

During Reconstruction, the accepted name from the federal government’s perspective was the “War of the Rebellion.” Two massive federal government publications put their imprimatur on this phrasing. The Congressional series usually shortened to the Official Record is actually entitled The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Issued from 1880 to 1901 in four series, the War of the Rebellion‘s 69 volumes (excluding indexes and counting volumes issued in multiple parts as single volumes) feature the words “WAR OF THE REBELLION” and the descriptors trailing the colon in the largest type on the title page (at least in the 30 or so copies I’ve checked). Likewise, the two-volume, 6-part official medical history of the war, published from 1870-1880, is entitled The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion (1861-1865). From a book perspective, the designation “two-volume” is a misnomer. Each of the six parts exceeds a thousand pages. But again, the expense of print was not wasted–until the victor’s ideological efforts demanded revision. When historians today in their citation remove phrase War of the Rebellion and shorten the title to Medical and Surgical History, they accept the 20th century revision that changed the predominant federal designation War of the Rebellion into the Civil War.

As these mountains of paper began to molder (most are printed on acidic paper), the term Civil War was rising in prominence, as New York Times notes about well-known Century series. But the government branches took a while longer to come around. The Senate appears to have settled the issue in January of 1907, at least according to two reports about a debate on the term according to a Pension Bill. On the Chronicling America site from the Library of Congress, see Pension Bill on this page and Capitol Gossip: “It was the ‘Civil War’ “ in the Washington Herald.

The group hug on Capitol Hill did not settle the issue for the executive branch. According to Michael P. Musick, the War Department developed an official policy only in 1912, after a school superintendent in Kingsbury County, South Dakota inquired. The bureaucrats issued a sensible policy: “An official memorandum of December 5, 1912, distributed to the clerks of the department, stipulated that when any choice was allowed, ‘Civil War’ would be used in preference to ‘War of the Rebellion.’ ” In some situations “any choice” may not be appropriate. See “Civil War Records: A War by Any Other Name,” Prologue 27: 2 (1995), which is posted at the National Archives.

Two decades after the bureaucrats reached consensus, scholars in learned journals began sniping at each other with viciousness. Robert Hughes in ” ‘Civil War’ and/or ‘War Between the States’ ” (The William and Mary Quarterly 15 [1935], 41-44, JSTOR link) sets up as his straw woman, an un-named Virginia historian from the United Daughters of the Confederacy. She—and her gender is treated as important—argues that “Civil War” is a misnomer because the states were separate legal entities at the start of the war. Hughes responds to her objections against “Civil War”: “Now let us see how far feminine fancies comport with the fact” (41). Ouch. According to Hughes, the UDC historian mis-quotes an opinion of Supreme Justice Robert Grier by omitting the word “civil” before the word “war.” Hughes, who claims that he is not dogmatic, asserts that individual’s “primary allegiance” was to the state before the passage of the 14th amendment.

That is, Hughes (according to Robert Winston) accepts the claim of Southern apologist Alexander M. Stephens’s A Constitutional View of the Late War between the States; its Causes, Character, Conduct and Results (1868-1870). See “Was the American Conflict a War between States?” Social Forces 13 (1935) at JSTOR link, 379-82. According to Winston, “until Stephens’s discovery all southerners called the war a civil conflict” (382). Because war-making power in the Constitutional system devolved to the federal government and because “No state, as a state, declared war on any other state”–it is a Civil War. Winston objects to the term “War Between the States” as post-facto assertion that derives from Stephens’s emphasis on states’ rights. Winston notes the use of “Civil War” in Poole’s Abridged Index to Periodical Literature and the National Biographical Dictionary to bolster his case.

“War of the Rebellion” is now more or less forgotten except among historians and Civil War afficionados, but I do think it’s worth considering that Hughes and Winston are silent on the revival of state prerogatives. All three (Stephens, Winston, Hughes) participate in the early 20th century’s scholarly ideological fixation that the Civil War was fought not over slavery but over states’ rights.

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On Making Wood Pulp from Billy Collins’s Author-Annotated Copy of “Sonnet” (in Poetry)

On April 18, 2013 I attended former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins’s 7:30 reading at the Kent State University Ballroom. He read for a little over an hour. In preparation for his visit, I altered my syllabus for “U.S. Literature, 1865 to Present” so that we could include a sampling of Collins’s poems before his visit. I’m teaching from second volume of Bedford Anthology of American Literature (1st ed.), in which Collins has not yet been added, but I have no doubt he’ll show up in the revision. So I chose three poems from Sailing Alone Around the Room to read with the class: “Sonnet,” “Shoveling Snow with Buddha”, and Forgetfulness.

After his reading, I waited until the end of his signing (he was very generous and stayed for almost 100 people) and showed him the two versions of his poem “Sonnet,” one in my spouse’s copy of Sailing Alone Around the Room, the second the periodical version from Kent State University’s library stacks, also available on JSTOR (subscription required). I had used the difference between the periodical version and the Sailing Alone Around the Room version in my class so that I could ask my students why the two versions were different—and then ask Collins. The difference between the two versions, in wording, occurs in line 2. In Poetry, the second line is “and after this next one just a dozen” (2). In Sailing Alone Around the Room, the second line differs: “and after this one just a dozen” (2). The word that differs is “next,” and my class came up with these two questions to ask the poet:

  • Did you change it because you couldn’t count? (i.e., in Poetry version because the “next” line is the third line and only 11 lines follow the third line). That was a student’s questions. I sorta thought “next” could refer to the line after the first one, the second line, so a “dozen” lines follow the second line (and I didn’t really want to ask a poet laureate whether he wrote a sonnet even though he couldn’t count to fourteen).
  • Were you unplaying the “iambic bongos” that the periodical version had? In the Poetry version the second line has five metrical feet: the feet are not predominantly “iambic,” unstressed followed by stressed, in that line. In my scanning trochees predominate. I’d scan periodical version like this (bold for stressed syllables):

    and af | ter this | next one | just a | doz en

    Even if trochees predominate in this line, a reader might detect echoes of pentameter, hence a reason for the poet to revise that version and undo the bongos.

So, armed with my students’ questions, I went to the reading (which was wonderful). And afterwards he sat and signed many posters and copies of his books. When he was done, I inquired with my class’s question, about like this (reconstructed from my memory).

ME: I have two copies of your poem “Sonnet” here, and there’s a difference between them.
COLLINS: Let’s see, what is that?
ME: A copy of the periodical Poetry.
COLLINS: Why do you have this?
ME: I was teaching the poem in my class, and I asked the students for possible reasons the poem was altered so we could ask you.
COLLINS: That’s a textual variant.
ME: I know. I’m a textual scholar. Some reasons for alteration that we came up with in class included that you did not want to play “iambic bongos” or that you could not count to twelve because “next” is ambiguous and could refer to third line—I thought the last was not a nice question.
COLLINS: I see. Well, that [Poetry version] is the earlier version, and this [Sailing Alone Around the Room version] has been cleaned up.
ME: I was wondering if you could correct it.
COLLINS: Oh, well, sure [He strikes out word "next" and signs below on the page].
ME: Thanks very much [suppressed squeals of delight].

So that’s how Billy Collins, U.S. poet laureate from 2001 to 2003, came to “correct” (though I wouldn’t necessarily say that—and he did say “cleaned up”) in his hand the Kent State University Library’s copy of “Sonnet” in the journal Poetry. The poem has been anthologized in the most recent edition of the Norton Anthology of American Literature. It’s officially part of the canon now, I suppose.

Soon, if things go as planned at the library, the copy annotated by Billy Collins should be ground into wood pulp. I need to return the copy to the journal stacks. It’s not my copy—it belongs to Kent State Library. One hopes that libraries preserve scholarship for the future. And this copy is certainly of interest. But I don’t know whether that’s a good idea because the Kent State Library is not really committed to preserving print copies of journals. I am the chair of the library committee for the English department (not a glorious position—I pester people to place book orders), and I recently received a memo from an Assistant Dean for libraries, which informed me that the number of print copies of journals held in library (8000 titles) will be cut in half in May of 2013. The faculty has about 4 weeks to review 8,000 titles, and we in English department have about 260 journal titles to review. Two relevant facts justify removing print volumes of the library, according to the assistant dean:

  • “While the vast majority of our journal holdings are now online, most of these 8,000 titles are not online. Nevertheless, very many of these volumes are ceased titles, cancelled titles, and/or have little or no use for many years.” (Klingler)
  • “In our world, the word ‘withdraw’ does not necessarily mean ‘throw away.’ ‘Withdraw’ means that we review the items for ownership in the state-wide depositories. If the item is already held in the state-wide depository system, we dispose of the items. If it is not held, we transfer the item permanently to the depository.” (Klingler)

In other words, because print journals have little use, they could be “withdrawn” or placed in remote retrieval service called AssureVault. But you see, nobody really wants to pay to store multiple copies in the depository. And the memo does not really go to any pains to distinguish between “copy” in the sense of “paper copy” or in the sense of “digital copy.” In my simplistic bibliographical world, destroying a paper copy is the same as destroying a paper copy, like in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In the library world, there’s no such thing as destroying anything unless you’ve destroyed the last copy (print, microfilm, or digital) in the state. And we have other uses for libraries on a university campus. I joke with my like-minded colleagues that we are speeding the transition from library as depository to library as infotainment emporium.

So if not next month, maybe next year, maybe later, this copy of the journal should be pulped. Because, as you know, there are plenty of copies of the journal Poetry available everywhere. And nobody will bother to go to the library to look at paper copies of journals anymore (or so my departmental colleagues and graduate students tell me). Any one periodical is exactly the same as another, and the vast majority of our library holdings are now digital anyhow. So it really makes no sense to keep it and clutter up library space with paper copies of journals that have no value.

So that’s why it should be pulped. To make this point, that libraries and scholars no longer appreciate the value of individual copies of journal articles, which generations of labor wrote, peer reviewed, copy edited, typeset, printed, distributed to libraries, bound into volumes, and saved to benefit those who would follow. But we’re in a new digital world, where scholarship does not exist if it’s not digitally accessible. So if nobody else cares, why should I?

Works Cited

Collins, Billy. “Sonnet.” Poetry 173:4 (February 1999): 274. JSTOR. 26 April 2013. Web. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23045442

Collins, Billy. “Sonnet.” Norton Anthology of American Literature. Vol. E. Eds. Nina Baym and Robert S. Levine. New York: W. W. Norton, 2012. 837. Print.

Collins, Billy. “Sonnet.” Sailing Alone Around the Room. New York: Random House, 2001. 146. Print.

Klingler, Tom. “Library Journal Review: Your Input Please by May 10.” Email to Wesley Raabe [and All Chairs, Directors, and Library Representatives]. 2 April 2013.

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Sherwood Anderson’s “Hands” in The Masses

This transcription is taken from beginning Sherwood Anderson’s “Hands,” as it appeared in The Masses in March 1916. I have transcribed the text from page images on New York University’s Digital Library site. The text differs, in ways I think interesting, from the original book appearance of story in Winesburg, Ohio.

“OH, YOU Wing Biddlebaum! Comb your hair! It’s falling into your eyes!”
Wing Biddlebaum, a fat, little old man, had been walking nervously up and down the half decayed veranda of a small frame house that stood near the edge of a ravine. He could see, across a long field that had been seeded for clover, but that had produced only a dense crop of yellow mustard weeds, the public highway. Along this road a wagon filled with berry pickers was returning from the fields. The berry pickers, youths and maidens, laughed and shouted boisterously. A boy, clad in a blue shirt, leaped from the wagon and attempted to drag after him one of the girls, who screamed and protested shrilly.
As he watched them, the plump little hands of the old man fiddled unconsciously about his bare, white forehead as though arranging a mass of tangled locks on that bald crown. Then, as the berry pickers saw him, that thin girlish voice came mockingly across the field. Wing Biddlebaum stopped, with a frightened look, and put down his hands helplessly.
When the wagon had passed on, he went across the field through the tall mustard weeds, and climbing a rail fence, peered anxiously along the road to the town. He was hoping that young George Willard would come and spend the evening with him. For a moment he stood on the fence, unconsciously rubbing his hands together and looking up the road; and the, fear overcoming him, he ran back to the house and commenced to walk again on the half decayed veranda.
Among all the people of Winesburg, but one had come close to this man; for Wing Biddlebaum, forever frightened and beset by a ghostly band of doubts, did not think of himself as in any way a part of the life of the town in which he had lived for the past twenty years. But with George Willard, son of Tom Willard, the proprietor of the new Willard House, he had formed something like a friendship. George Willard was a reporter on the Winesburg Democrat, and sometimes in the evening walked out along the highway to Wing Biddlebaum’s house.
In George Willard’s presence, Wing Biddlebaum, who for twenty years had been the town mystery …

The remainder of the story seldom differs in wording, except this one line:

He was one of those men in whom sex is diffused, not centralized. (see pg. 7, para. 5).

He was one of those men in whom the force that creates life is diffused, not centralized. (Winesburg, Ohio)

Anderson, Sherwood. “Hands.” The Masses 8:5 (March 1916): 5–7. Web. 28 Mar. 2013. http://dlib.nyu.edu/themasses/.

Also see:
Anderson, Sherwood. “Hands.” Winesburg, Ohio. New York: Modern Library, 1918. 7-18. http://bit.ly/XCThgu.

If you’ve read in book version, doesn’t this Wing Biddlebaum seem, well, smaller and older? The words are more or less the same, though ordered differently, but my impression is that his smallness is more noticeable in this version. Also, browse the page on The Masses. Notice the image of the female figures, one nude, that interrupts the story. And notice the charcoal drawing of “Youngstown, Ohio” strikers that follows. How might the first image affect your understanding of the presence of sexuality in Anderson’s story? Could the second alter your understanding of the mob that drives Adolph Myers out of the town?

In the “Hands” text of The Masses, Adolph Myers’ (Biddlebaum’s) interaction with the boys is more openly acknowledged as sexual in nature (second quote). If the energy that encourages his interest is “diffused,” doesn’t the half-witted boy detect or intuit Myers’ interest in a way that the more gifted boys do not? I ask in class, when teaching, whether Myers’ incursion into the personal space of the young boys becomes, ultimately, a form of predation or molestation? But I usually ask that question more pointedly to make sure the question is clear, “Is Myers a child molester?” Or does the quality of “diffusion” that characterizes his interaction eliminate the possibility that his is a type of predation?

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Against the Photograph: Advertising Artistic Miniatures

Ever wonder how the miniature artists held on after the advent of photographs? With brutal ads, like this one in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (19 September 1872: 3) for Williamson’s Gallery.

MiniatureAd

Art.–Of a pretty woman a miniature alone can only do her justice. Photography details the ugliness. Art supplies the beauty–at Williamson’s–Galleries newly appointed.

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Lost in Brooklyn, A Louisa Van Velsor Whitman Letter

In a letter written in June 1870, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman proposes to walk to a funeral. From her home on Portland Avenue, she walks to Myrtle Avenue. The funeral is being held at the residence of one Richard Hunt, who died in late-May.

Where does Richard Hunt live? Well, the wording is not clear. It could be “slonter st” or “danter st” or “slanter st” or something like that. It may be shortened. Who is Richard Hunt. Well, according to census death records on Ancestry.com, a Richard Hunt died in May 1870, a butcher. And according to the 1860 census, a Richard Hunt in New York (Ward 17, District 1) had five children ranging in age from 7 to 20. Presumably by ten years later all could be married, if it’s the same Richard Hunt. I can find no death notice for Richard Hunt from late May in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He does not appear to be on grave sites, probably because according to Louisa he was buried at his residence.

My query is, can anyone propose a Brooklyn street name near the corner of Myrtle and Portland (Washington Park) that might be within hopeful walking distance of a rather frail elderly woman? one that it is anywhere close to “slonter” or “danter” or “slanter”

By the way, it may not be a contemporary Brooklyn street name. You can see a zoomable map at the http://www.geographicus.com/P/AntiqueMap/Brooklyn-bishop-1868. It’s in the sector numbered 12, near the Navy Yard. You can look up the Richard Hunts (if you like in the Brooklyn City Directories).

Answering My Own Question

Today I noticed that the Brooklyn Directory (1871) has a chart of the changes that have been made in the Street and Avenue Directory (pgs. 467-688 in PDF). One change may provide a clue to our mystery. Duffield Street was renamed Stanton Street in 1871. Deerfield Street is about 7 blocks from Washington Square Park and so at least seems possible as a street to which Louisa Van Velsor Whitman would have considered walking. This seems promising because A) Duffield/Stanton is close enough to Myrtle and Washington Squart Park, B) Stanton is very close to “slonter” or “slanter” if the first “t” is not crossed, which led me to suspect that second letter was an “l” instead of what I now suspect, a “t.” C), C) A June 1870 letter might reflect changes in street names before they were published in the 1871 directory. With these clues to go on, it’s time to see if I can make this into a rock-solid annotation. Perhaps the Duffield-Stanton street name change will be in the Eagle, and perhaps I can find the death notice of Richard Hunt.

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