Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

How We Look To The Young Woman Back Of The Desk In The Library

From August 20, 1911

HOW WE LOOK TO THE YOUNG WOMAN BACK OF THE DESK IN THE LIBRARY

HOW WE LOOK TO THE YOUNG WOMAN BACK OF THE DESK IN THE LIBRARY: She Tells of the Queer Things We Do and the Queer Things We Say When We Go There to Get a Book. (PDF)

Ah, the librarian. In 2007 the Times noted that librarians are much hipper today than they used to be. Here’s a look at what the job was like for librarians in 1911.

She must have a sense of humor — it is absolutely necessary. She must not only see herself as others see her, she must see themselves as others see themselves.

She must be gently needleworkish with the old lady who wants a new pattern in drawn-work. She must be militantly suffragettish with the sister who wants to go to prison for the cause. She must be humble with the man who considers her a menial. She must try to act the part, since she cannot look it, when appealed to as a twenty-volume encyclopedia. She must feel a warm sympathy for all isms, she must of a working knowledge of all ologies.

She must never resent rudeness. Her prejudices, her personal tastes, her feelings must be hidden away. She must remember, always smilingly, that she is a servant of the public.

[…]

One of the most difficult demands to satisfy is the frequent request fo “a funny book.”

Now, if you have ever thought about it you know that there is no standard of funniness. Vague though it may be, we have a line above or below which a thing is god or bad as to plot, construction, style; but when it comes to the quality called humor, every man is a law unto himself. The book that one person says is “roaringly funny” another calls “deadly dull.”

A very nice person returns a book saying, “This is so funny we read it aloud, and I left the family still laughing.” Another man slams the same book down on your desk an hour after he has taken it home and cries in fiery tones, “Do you call this funny?” or “Don’t you know the difference between vulgarity and wit?” and goes out murmuring bits of the letter he is going to write the newspapers about gross misuse of the city’s money.”

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Written by David

August 18th, 2011 at 10:00 am

When Mark Twain Nearly Changed His Literary Career

From July 30, 1911

WHEN MARK TWAIN NEARLY CHANGED HIS LITERARY CAREER

WHEN MARK TWAIN NEARLY CHANGED HIS LITERARY CAREER: A Disappointment That Incidentally Gave Him a Lifelong Yearning to Kill a Critic. (PDF)

Here’s a first person account of Mark Twain’s reaction to a bad review.

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Written by David

July 27th, 2011 at 10:00 am

To Preserve The Home Of The Author Of “Little Women” As A Memorial

From June 25, 1911

TO PRESERVE THE HOME OF THE AUTHOR OF LITTLE WOMEN AS A MEMORIAL

TO PRESERVE THE HOME OF THE AUTHOR OF “LITTLE WOMEN” AS A MEMORIAL: “Orchard House,” Where Louisa M. Alcott Lived, Is to be Bought by Admirers of Her Books and Kept as a Literary Shrine. (PDF)

Orchard House is today a National Landmark, on the U.S. Register of Historic Places. You can visit the museum’s official website, and visit the house next time you’re in Concord, Massachusetts.

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Written by David

June 22nd, 2011 at 11:20 am

Posted in Literature

George B. Boynton, “The War Maker,” Tells His Adventures

From June 11, 1911

GEORGE B. BOYNTON, THE WAR MAKER, TELLS HIS ADVENTURES

GEORGE B. BOYNTON, “THE WAR MAKER,” TELLS HIS ADVENTURES: Memoirs of the Mysterious New Yorker Who Made Fighting His Profession Read Like a Dumas Romance. (PDF)

Here’s a bit of good summer reading for you. The book The War Maker tells the supposedly true story of George B. Boynton, whose unlikely adventures sound like a 19th century Forrest Gump.

You can download the book in a variety of ebook formats here at Google Books.

The article gives a historic context for the book. But here is the book’s own introduction:

The hero of this book was a real man, though he has carried to his grave the secret of his true name. It was not Boynton, although it is known that he was born in Fifth Avenue, near Fourteenth Street, New York, May 1, 1842, and that his father was a distinguished surgeon, with an estate on Lake Champlain. He rarely talked of his remarkable life, and recounted in detail to the author of this volume the facts of his career of adventure, only in the closing months of his life.

Captain Boynton was of the type of filibuster that is read of so often, but rarely met with in life. He was a tall, bronzed, athletic, broad-shouldered man, one of the most picturesque and daring of the many soldiers of fortune who have sought adventures over the world. From Hongkong to Valparaiso fighters of all races knew the name of Boynton. From Cape Horn to New York he did not permit himself to be forgotten. Whether exploring the sources of the Orinoco, or hunting elusive supporters for a deserted American President, or battling in the Haytian army, or spying out court secrets in Venezuela, or running a distillery in Brooklyn with Jim Fisk as partner, he was invariably master of himself and continually a personality to be reckoned with. Captain Boynton was the original of the ” Soldier of Fortune” in Richard Harding Davis’s story of that name, and gave to Guy Boothby the facts of his novel “The Beautiful White Devil,” with which dashing heroine Captain Boynton was on terms of intimacy. In the account of his life given in this volume fictitious names have in two or three instances been used for persons still living who figured in business deals with him. Otherwise the story is told almost identically as Captain Boynton narrated it to the author.

After escaping death in scores of forms, including a Chinese pirate’s cutlass, an assassin’s dagger, the fire of a file of soldiers at sunrise, and war’s guns, this utterly fearless, cheerfully arrogant retired blockade runner, revolutionist, and hunter of pirates died peacefully in his bed, at a ripe age, on January 19, 1911, in New York City, where he had led a quiet life since 1905, when he voluntarily left Venezuela, after withstanding repeated efforts by President Castro to drive him from the country.

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Written by David

June 6th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Adventure,Literature

Seeking Bacon Manuscripts In The River Wye

From May 14, 1911

SEEKING BACON MANUSCRIPTS IN THE RIVER WYE

SEEKING BACON MANUSCRIPTS IN THE RIVER WYE: Dr. Orville W. Owen’s Curious Search to Prove That Bacon Wrote the Shakespeare Plays Interests and Amuses England. (PDF)

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Written by David

May 10th, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Classics Of Literature Censored By A Sing Sing Convict

From April 30, 1911

CLASSICS OF LITERATURE CENSORED BY A SING SING CONVICT

CLASSICS OF LITERATURE CENSORED BY A SING SING CONVICT: Discovery of a Unique Document, in Modern Slang, Intended to “Steer” Patrons of Prison Library. (PDF)

These reviews of classic literature by a Sing Sing convict are great.

One of the most unique documents ever written by a convict in Sing Sing has just come to light. It was intended for the yes of convicts only — for the readers of prison books — and is penned in a slang that every convict knows perhaps better than the more erudite language of the average author.

The document is a review of prison literature, a guide book which tells the convicts what to shun and what to seek in Sing Sing’s library; a criticism brief but to the point, and showing in a remarkable way the literary point of view of a criminal who has spent many years in the seclusion of his cell, absorbing the stories of fact and fancy which the prison library affords.

Here, for example, is his review of The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas:

Alec was no jollier; when he got to pushing the pen across the paper he got down to cases right away. This one breaks the bank. On your life, don’t scratch this entry. The d’Artagnan guy in this is there with the knockout.

And The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne gets this review:

This one is there with the gray matter. There’s a sky-pilot in this that was a welcher. He’ll make you feel like putting him on the bum. The main dame is game to the core and the whole outfit of phoney knockers can’t feaze her.

And Les Miserables by Victor Hugo:

Now we’re getting down to brass tacks. This is the richest thing that ever came down the pike. It’s a lalapaloosa. You want to read it three times. The first time you won’t catch on to all the fine points; you skip the descriptions to follow Jean Valjean. The second time you’ll fall for a little of the descriptive dope, and about the third time you’ll read the swellest line on the Battle of Waterloo that was ever handed out. That line on the sewers of Paris is some class, too. The main guy in this is a con that makes a smooth getaway, but he’s up against it for fair. The bull that is after him must be a little flighty in the bean. They don’t have bulls like that now-a-days.

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Written by David

April 27th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Stories That Modern Science Has Made Impossible

From March 26, 1911

STORIES THAT MODERN SCIENCE HAS MADE IMPOSSIBLE

STORIES THAT MODERN SCIENCE HAS MADE IMPOSSIBLE: Why the Classics of Poe, Hoffman, and Others Seem Antiquated To-day. (PDF)

This amusing piece supposes that modern technology is making scary stories impossible.

It is lucky for us that Poe, Hoffman, Andersen, and other chroniclers of the great unknown lived years ago. For mystery and romance have suffered greatly at the hands of modern science and inventions. Electricity is the worst offender in that respect, as it has killed more goblins than all the grandmothers ever created.

Think how much richer in unearthly being the world was in the day of the tallow candle, the oil lamp, and the flintlock. Imagine your great-great-grandfather coming home at, say, 1 in the morning; the house he returned to was one of those immense, gaunt mansions, built piece by piece, wing by wing, of wood that creaked and moaned when the night wind rose or when the worms were milling slowly, stubbornly, the heart of the beams into impalpable, yellow flour. Your great-great-grandfather’s conscience may have troubled him a little, for he may have partaken of a trifle too much of he cheering claret.

When the street door’s lock had clicked behind him he stood enshrouded in the hostile darkness of the endless corridors; echoes magnified the noise of every motion, his breath sounded like a cyclone. A match finally consented to burn, and its flicker only helped him to realize the thickness of the velvety pall.

The lamp was located; its chimney struck, but finally yielded just before all that was left of the match was a short, winking ember. Another match was struck and this time the wick, with much spluttering, emitted a little light; back went the chimney to its socket, and the shade that surmounted it divided this mystic worlds of darkness into two regions — the table and a part of the floor were immersed in a soft yellow gleam. Above the shade, however, ghosts and goblins, frightened an instant by man’s intrusion, resumed their play.

Scary.

On a similar note, here are some stories that cell phones have made impossible. And here’s a list of Seinfeld episodes that could not have happened with today’s modern technology.

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Written by David

March 25th, 2011 at 10:00 am

The Times Review of Books to Be Issued on Sundays

From January 28, 1911

The Times Review of Books to Be Issued on Sundays

The Times Review of Books to Be Issued on Sundays (PDF)

After 14 years on Saturdays, the Times Review of Books moved to Sundays this week in 1911. This notice appeared that Saturday, with similar notices appearing throughout the week. It could bee seen as more information than the reader needs about why the section is moving, but I find it refreshingly open and honest in its discussion of circulation and advertising issues. I imagine that a similar notice today would simply be reduced to “Now On Sundays!”

In transferring to the Sunday issue The Review of Books, which has for fourteen years formed a part of the Saturday morning issue of The Times, a change is made of which the necessity, long ago foreseen, has become so urgent that it can no longer be deferred. The Review of Books will to-morrow, and henceforth, be issued with The Sunday Times.

The reasons which make this change imperative concern both The Times and its readers. Owing to the increased number of pages required for the volume of news and advertisements printed in the daily edition on Saturday, it has of late frequently become necessary to reduce the size of The Review of Books. We are unwilling to adopt permanently that way out of the difficulty. There is but one other way. It is by making The Review of Books a part of the Sunday edition. This change, by avoiding the necessity of haste, makes it possible to improve the printing and the appearance of The Review; it will thus be more acceptable to its readers and better suited to binding or laying away for reference.

While this change has been long in contemplation, it has been deferred, out of regard to the interests both of readers and of advertisers, until the circulation of The Sunday Times should approximate that of the daily issue, thus continuing to give The Review of Books a circulation much larger than that of any other publication in the world devoted to the news of books and the discussion of their contents. Of this great circulation, pre-eminently a home circulation, The Review of Books, forming a part of the Sunday issue, will have the full benefit.

Moreover, it is believed that, issued on Sunday, The Review of Books will have an enhanced value for pleasure and instruction. It will be read with more thoughtful attention on a day when release from the cares and demands of week-day vocations leaves the reader free to enjoy its pages. As a part of the Sunday edition it will give new interest and value to that issue of The Times, and will itself, we are confident, be read with profit and satisfaction.

Today the New York Times Book Review remains published on Sundays, but has the further distinction of being the only section* in the Times that you can subscribe to separately from the rest of the paper.

*as far as I know.

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Written by David

January 26th, 2011 at 11:38 am

Posted in Business,Literature

Sewing Woman, Nearly Blind, Wins Prize For Novel

From January 1, 1911

SEWING WOMAN, NEARLY BLIND, WINS PRIZE FOR NOVEL

SEWING WOMAN, NEARLY BLIND, WINS PRIZE FOR NOVEL: Marguerite Audoux Amazes Paris by Getting the Academy of Women Prize of 5,000 Francs. (PDF)

This woman I’d never heard of has quite a remarkable story. She was born in 1863, but orphaned by age three when her mother died and her father abandoned her. She spent nine years in an orphanage, and then became a farm worker. She met a boy and fell in love, but his parents wouldn’t allow them to marry. In 1881 she moved to Paris and found work as a seamstress. In 1883, she had a difficult pregnancy that resulted in a stillbirth and left her sterile.

During her time as a seamstress, she found an interest in literature. She turned her own life story into the basis of a novel called Marie Claire, and it became a huge hit.

Her subsequent novels never reached the acclaim of her debut effort. You can read Marie Claire for free at Project Gutenberg.

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Written by David

December 31st, 2010 at 9:45 am

Posted in Literature

New York’s Fine New Library Nearly Completed

From December 11, 1910

NEW YORKS FINE NEW LIBRARY NEARLY COMPLETED

NEW YORK’S FINE NEW LIBRARY NEARLY COMPLETED: Will Be Ready Before the Contract Time, and Needs Only the Interior Furnishings (PDF)

Because I’ve done so much research for this website in the microforms room of this building at 5th Avenue and 42nd Street, I was especially delighted to come across this article. It’s interesting to see the famous reading room totally empty of furniture.

After ten years of actual construction and an expenditure of upward of $9,000,000, New York’s new public library has been completed.

It is not to be opened for use until May of next year because the furniture has to be installed, and that cannot be done before the middle of April. But the last stroke of the builder’s hammer has already fallen. Bag and baggage, the building himself has been turned out, and at present the mechanical equipment of the structure, such as printing presses, type-setting machines, and book stacks are being installed.

But for the lack of furniture the building could be thrown open in a month.

Before the main branch of the New York Public Library was built, the entire block was occupied by the Croton Reservoir, a tall above-ground reservoir in the middle of the city. People could go for a stroll on top of the surrounding wall. The reservoir was torn down around 1900, and the library was built in its place.

In the article, a representative from the architectural firm which designed the building looks forward to today:

A century hence… the classic perfection herein attained by the artisans of the Hayden ateliers will have rendered this work, then softened with the passing of time, an antique that will be much appreciated.

He was specifically referring to a wood carving inside the building, but the same could have been said of the building itself. Unfortunately, the building has softened a bit too much with the passing of time, and has needed renovation. The interior restoration has already been finished, and the exterior renovation is currently underway. I assume it will be finished in time for the building’s centennial next year.

The main branch of the NYPL (now officially named the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building) was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965.

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Written by David

December 10th, 2010 at 9:00 am

O. Henry (Sidney Porter) As His Intimates Knew Him

From June 12, 1910

O. HENRY SIDNEY PORTER AS HIS INTIMATES KNEW HIM

“O. HENRY” (SIDNEY PORTER) AS HIS INTIMATES KNEW HIM: Quiet, Modest, Reserved, He Avoided the Limelight and Found Happiness in Odd Corners of New York That Furnished Types and Plots for His Delightful Stories (PDF)

O. Henry, author of famous stories including The Gift of the Magi died on June 5, 1910. In this article, the New York Times Magazine writes a nice remembrance.

You can download several of his stories for free at Project Gutenberg.

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Written by David

June 11th, 2010 at 9:10 am

Posted in Humor,Literature

Mark Twain’s Secret Book Gives Startling Views

From May 1, 1910

MARK TWAINS SECRET BOOK GIVES STARTLING VIEWS

MARK TWAIN’S SECRET BOOK GIVES STARTLING VIEWS: The Humorist Wrote His Serious Thoughts on Religion and Life and Had Them Printed for Private Circulation Among His Intimates (PDF)

This issue of the Times came out about 10 days after Mark Twain died. The article excerpts a book called What is Man? that Twain had written and only shared with his close friends. Just 250 copies were printed, and were attributed to his personal secretary. Even his most knowledgeable biographer had never heard of it.

The article says, “The book is in the form of a dialogue between an Old Man and a Young Man. The Old Man had asserted that a human being is merely a machine and nothing more. The Young Man objected and asked him to go into particulars and furnish his reasons for his position.”

Having only ever read Twain’s famous works, I’d never heard of this book before. The article includes several excerpts that are thought-provoking and philosophical. You can read the entire text for free at the Gutenberg Project. A free edition is also available for the nook. I couldn’t find a free copy for Kindle but this one is only 95 cents.

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Written by David

April 30th, 2010 at 9:01 am

Mark Twain — Philosopher Of Democracy

From April 24, 1910

MARK TWAIN -- PHILOSOPHER OF DEMOCRACY

MARK TWAIN — PHILOSOPHER OF DEMOCRACY: The Serious Side of the Famous Humorist Whose Dominant Note Was Love of Liberty and Hate of Shams (PDF)

Mark Twain died 100 years ago this week, on April 20, 1910. The following Sunday, the Times ran this remembrance of him on the front page of the Magazine Section.

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Written by David

April 23rd, 2010 at 9:05 am