Post by UVA English Department research assistant Maggie Whalen.
Book Traces @ U.Va. recently discovered this early-20th century French children’s book, Le Général Dourakine by Countess de Ségur, in the U.Va. Library Collection.
Opening it up, one finds an inscription and other verbal annotations in a young person’s script.
The inscription reveals that the book’s owners were Eugenia (1896-1980) and Adeline (1894-?) Davis, pictured below.
Dabney Family Photographs, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia.
At the time of the book’s signing, Eugenia was 12 and Adeline was 14. The girls were the daughters of Volumnia (1868-1949) and John Staige Davis II (1872-1946), a professor in the University of Virginia School of Medicine and one of the first American practitioners of plastic surgery. The Davises are a prominent family in the history of both Charlottesville and the University. Eugenia and Adeline’s grandfather, John Staige Davis I (1824-1885), also taught in the U.Va. medical department. Their great-grandfather, John A.G. Davis (1802-1840), was among the first students to graduate U.Va., where he went on to teach law. Of note to a University audience: John A.G. Davis is also the ill-fated protagonist of a frequently cited story that claims that the murder of a U.Va. professor by a student prompted the creation of the Honor Code. Although Davis was in fact fatally shot by a student, recent research has shown that the tale of the Honor Code’s origin is apocryphal.
Below their names, one of the girls has written the schedule of their weekly French lessons (transcribed here for easier reading):
French taught by Mille. Hubbard three times a week, Monday Morning at quarter past nine, on Wednesday evening at quarter pas[t] three, and on Friday evening at the same time.
Above the bookplate on the opposite page, one of the girls has written: “Nous finions ce livre le 10 de mai,” or: “We finished this book May 10.”
A bit of digging on the history of the text itself, apparently assigned to the girls by their French tutor, reveals that Countess de Ségur was an incredibly popular French children’s author at the turn of the 20th century. Indeed, the twenty books that she produced during her relatively short career, of which Le Général Dourakine was one, became the foundation of French children’s literature. The Davis sisters’ copy is a 1907 reprint by the original publisher. There are several other volumes of de Ségur’s famous collection of novels, La Bibliotheque Rose Illustrée, on the shelves of U.Va.’s Alderman library, though this seems to be the only copy owned by the Davises.
Annotations by the same hand are present on the book’s title page. Lightly penciled script reads: “Eugenia et Adeline Davis. La classe de Mille. Hubbard.” The inscription appears to have been corrected, however, by a later, heavier hand. This revision reflects the French spelling of Eugenia: “Eugénie.” The conjunction “et” is also retraced in darker pencil.
Letters in U.Va.’s Special Collections Library reveal that the Davises corresponded at length with a certain Eugénie Hubbard, suggesting that this family friend (also a prominent figure in the contemporary Charlottesville social scene) might have been the Mademoiselle to whom the book refers.
Verbal and nonverbal marginalia can be found on many of the book’s 375 pages. Most markings take the form of paired slashes and light underscoring, perhaps demarcating reading assignments or noting important moments in the story. The occasional “E” (for Eugenia, perhaps) pops up as well. A cursive “Natasha,” the name of one of the story’s characters, also appears.
On the final page of the tale, the date of the girls’ completion of the book, “May 10 1909,” is repeated.
Perhaps most interesting, though, is the note on the book’s rear flyleaf:
It reads: “April Fool. We are going to pin something on Miss Mary’s back tomorrow and get the mischief.” In this instance, the textbook seems to work as a platform for correspondence between scheming parties. One can easily imagine a young Eugenia or Adeline scribbling down this idea during a French lesson and sharing it with the her sister or perhaps another classmate.
Without any clues beyond “Miss Mary,” it is a long-shot to attempt to identify the nominated victim of the April Fools’ prank. A pair of documents available in the U.Va. Special Collections Library do, however, suggest one candidate.
John Staige Davis Papers, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library,
University of Virginia.
These 1908 and 1911 report cards of Adeline and Eugenia, respectively, are signed by one Mary Harrison of the Braehead School.
The Davis sisters’ copy of Le Général Dourakine was donated to the U.Va. Library Collection by John Staige Davis in 1954.
For additional examples of user-modified volumes donated by John Staige Davis and currently in U.Va.’s circulating collection, check out these links:
“Charlottesville Women Enroll in Auto School.” Richmond Times-Dispatch [Richmond] 27 June 1918: 3. Library of Virginia. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.
Claire-Lise Malarte-Feldman. “La Comtesse de Ségur, a Witness of Her Time.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 20.3 (1995): 135-139. Project MUSE. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. <https://muse.jhu.edu/>.
Dabney family Photographs, Accession #9852-e, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Va.
Davis, Nathaniel H. “Volumnia Hunley Davis.” Geni. N.p., 19 Nov. 2014. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.
The Family Forest Descendants of Lady Joan Beaufort. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 3257. Google Books. Millisecond Publishing Company, Inc. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.
“History of Our Maryland Society for Plastic Surgeons.” History of Our Maryland Society for Plastic Surgeons. The John Staige Davis Society, 2011. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.
Papers of John Staige Davis, Accession #3247, Special Collections Dept., University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Va.
Segur, Comtesse De. Le Général Dourakine. Paris: Hachette, 1907. Print.
Tyler, Lyon Gardiner. Men of Mark in Virginia: Ideals of American Life; a Collection of Biographies of the Leading Men in the State. Vol. 3. N.p.: Men of Mark, 1907. 109-10. Google Books. 12 June 2007. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.
NOTE: this post, originally published on October 23, has been expanded on November 11 with a continuation by research assistant Maggie Whalen.
Book Traces @ U.Va. recently found this 19th-century mechanical engineering handbook in the U.Va. Library collection.
If you open the front cover, you find a flyleaf inscription hinting at the book’s history and its meaning to the donor. The two inscriptions show that the book originally belonged to one R. B. S. Nicolson of Savannah, Georgia, who studied at the University of Virginia during the 1878-79 school term. It was later donated to the University of Virginia Library by the original owner’s brother, John Nicolson, himself a U.Va. graduate.
But if you look deeper in the book, you find the full story. The book was published with a quire of lined paper in the back, apparently meant for engineers to take notes or do calculations. The original owner left the lined paper blank, but his brother filled a page of it with this memorial annotation (transcribed below for easier reading):
New York City April 13th 1912.
It seems a desecration almost for me to write in this book so exclusively associated with my brother–but I am led to look into it for the first time in many, many years this Saturday night, the anniversary of his birth. He was born that memorable day, fifty one years ago, on which the Civil War between the North and the South began–fifty one years ago!! How life is slipping by!
This book is a relic of my brothers first ambitions–viz, to be a civil engineer–and of his course at the University of Virginia to this end. Instead of continuing to this goal, he went into our father’s business in Savannah in 1880, coming however to an early end. He was drowned at Tybee Island Ga. July 10th 1881.
Intrigued, the Book Traces @ U.Va. team started digging.
Robert Beauregard S. Nicolson (1861-1881), the book’s original owner, was born on April 13, 1861 at White Bluff, near Savannah, GA. He was the eldest son of John Nicolson Sr. (1828-1903), a successful plumber in the Savannah region, and Matilda Hall Nicolson (1832-1893). The day of Robert’s birth marked the first military engagement of the American Civil War, as Union forces surrendered Fort Sumter to the Rebel army just up the Georgia coast.
It is not entirely clear whether John Nicolson Sr., then 34 years of age, subsequently joined the Rebel cause. However, Confederate records reveal that a “John Nicholson” (perhaps a misspelling of the family’s surname) enlisted in the 47th Volunteer Infantry, which recruited from Chatham County, where the Nicolson family resided, in 1861.
On February 14, 1866, the war had come to a close and John Nicolson Jr., author of the book’s memorial annotation, was born in Brooklyn, NY.
Older brother Robert attended the University of Virginia between 1877 and 1879, where he studied civil engineering. The 1877-1878 and 1878-1879 Catalogues of Students reveal that Robert took classes in chemistry, mathematics, mineralogy, geology, natural philosophy, and applied mathematics during his time at U.Va.. This text, Trautwine’s Pocket Book, was among the “Books of Reference” required of students in the Civil Engineering program during the 1878-1879 academic year. Robert’s time in Charlottesville was, however, cut short. In 1880, he returned to Savannah to work at his father’s recently expanded plumbing company.
On July 10, 1881, just one year after returning home, Robert drowned at Tybee Island, a popular resort destination near Savannah. A July 13 article in The Macon Telegraph and Messenger details the incident:
The particulars of the sad calamity are as follows: There was a fine surf on, and a large number of persons were in bathing, young Nicolson being out a considerable distance from the others. The tide was running out at the time, and, having ventured beyond the life line, he was rapidly carried off. Realizing his danger, he struggled manfully to regain the life post, but was unsuccessful in consequence of the undertow, and was compelled to cry for help. A young man…heard his cry and gallantly responded.
The story continues, revealing that the young man’s heroic efforts were ultimately fruitless. Robert’s body was swept out to sea and discovered the following evening, a quarter-mile down the beach from where he was last seen. Robert was buried in the Nicolson family’s plot at Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah.
Years later, John Jr. followed his deceased brother’s path to the University of Virginia, where he studied law between 1890 and 1892. The 1891 and 1892 editions of Corks and Curls, U.Va.’s yearbook, reveal that John was a member of the Temperance Union and the Georgia Association, a center on the Law School Football Team, a brother of the Beta Chapter of Phi Theta Psi fraternity, and the Vice President and President of the Young Men’s Christian Association. In 1892, John graduated with a Bachelors of Law, returned to Savannah, and was admitted to the Georgia bar. After practicing law in Savannah for several years, John relocated to his hometown, New York City, in 1897. It is from New York that John eventually inscribed the 1912 remembrance of his brother, Robert, on what would have been his 51st birthday.
Corks and Curls Yearbook. Charlottesville: U of Virginia, 1891. Print.
Corks and Curls Yearbook. Charlottesville: U of Virginia, 1892. Print.
“Drowned in the Surf.” The Macon Telegraph and Messenger [Macon] 13 July 1881: 3. America’s Historical Newspapers. Web. 9 Nov. 2015.
“Fort Sumter Surrenders.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 09 Nov. 2015.
Nicolson, John. Sanitary and Heating Age. New York: Sanitary and Heating, 1894. 56. Google Books. University of Michigan, 15 Apr. 2011. Web. 9 Nov. 2015.
Smith, Candace. “Robert B.S. “Beaury” Nicolson.” Find A Grave. N.p., 15 July 2009. Web. 09 Nov. 2015.
Trautwine, John C. The Civil Engineer’s Pocket-book. 10th ed. Philadelphia: Claxton, 1876. Print.
United States. National Park Service. “Soldier Details: Nicholson, John.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 09 Nov. 2015. Web. 09 Nov. 2015.
Who’s Who in New York City and State. N.p.: L.R. Hamersly, 1911. 704. Google Books. Harvard University, 11 Jan. 2008. Web. 09 Nov. 2015.
On September 24, the Otto G. Richter Library at the University of Miami hosted a Book Traces day. The two principal investigators for Book Traces @ U.Va., Kara McClurken and Andrew Stauffer, traveled to Miami to give guest presentations on Book Traces and how the project has influenced preservation work at the University of Virginia’s Alderman Library. The Richter Library stacks were open all day for student searchers to hunt for “hidden treasures” in the collection.
Here is one of the highlights from an article about the event by the Miami Hurricane:
“Book Traces is a project to get students to think about the book as an object and not just a source of textual information,” said Special Collections Librarian Jay Sylvestre, who helped organize the event. “All the parts of a book, from the cover, to the illustrations, to any notes added by readers, tells us a story. Book Traces helps students find and follow that story.”
The students found numerous examples of unique copies in the Richter collection, with marginalia and other reader interventions ranging from the cheerfully comic to the touchingly tragic. It has been great for us to see the number of unique copies uncovered in the stacks during one-day Book Traces exercises at Columbia University and now Miami. It goes to show that the U.Va. collection is not unique in having numerous donated books with artifactual value.
If you are interested in hosting a Book Traces day at your library, please contact Prof. Stauffer.
Professor Andrew Stauffer of the University of Virginia, one of the two co-principal investigators for Book Traces @ U.Va., recently gave an interview about the larger Book Traces project on the radio show With Good Reason. When interviewer Allison Quantz asked about the origins of the project, Stauffer explained how a class exercise in the library led to a more methodical search:
I began looking systematically through the books of poetry in Alderman Library at the University of Virginia and finding all sorts of amazing things. It was as if no one had ever looked for this before but as soon as you started looking for it, it was everywhere. People wrote in their books all the time in the nineteenth century. It was a way to keep journals, to establish reactions to reading. I mean we still write in books now, but I think the practices were different in different historical periods and we learned a lot from that.
You can listen to the interview here (it will be the first segment when you press play).
Guest post by Book Traces @ U.Va. volunteer Kaye Marie Ferguson
Camp-Fire and Memorial Poems by Kate Brownlee Sherwood is a collection of poetry published in 1885 and written in dedication to those soldiers—both living and dead—who served in the Union forces during the Civil War and became members of a veterans’ organization called the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). This particular copy of the book features two inscriptions, one establishing the book as a Christmas gift from the author and another indicating the owner and recipient, J. Warren Keifer:
Although the extent of the relationship between Keifer and Sherwood cannot be known definitively, the biography of each gives us a glimpse into a potential professional relationship, if not a friendship.
In her early career and throughout her life, Kate Brownlee Sherwood involved herself in journalism, working for several Ohio newspapers as a typesetter and leader-writer, as well as owning and serving as editor of the Canton Daily News-Democrat. Married to Congressman Isaac R. Sherwood, she was also highly active in politics and became known as the “Poetess of the Congressional Circle,” writing political and patriotic poems advocating the Union, many of which she read aloud at National Conventions for the GAR. After the Civil War, Kate Sherwood possessed one of the most outspoken voices calling for a national congress of women, and in 1883, she co-founded the Woman’s Relief Corps (WRC), an organization consisting of women who supported the Union during the war. The purpose of the WRC was to work in conjunction with the GAR and assist in the promotion and management of Memorial Day (originally a day used to educate youth about patriotic nationalism).
Warren Keifer, a Republican Representative from Ohio, fought for the Union Army as Major General and served as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1881-83. When not in office or serving in the armed forces, he practiced law in his hometown in Clark County, Ohio.
Sherwood and Keifer, both Ohio-born, attended several GAR and WRC National Conventions (including the one hosted in San Francisco, California, among the participants of which both were named in the San Francisco Daily Morning Call). It is likely that the two of them met at one or several of these conventions. Tucked within the pages of this copy of her patriotic poetry is Sherwood’s WRC business card:
Whether Sherwood and Keifer were friends, colleagues, or simply acquaintances, this seemingly insignificant piece of paper and the inscriptions found within a book in Alderman Library’s circulating collection remind us of literature’s power to bring individuals together. Just as Sherwood’s poetry served to unite Americans in the remembrance of soldiers, the physical book itself provides evidence of human connectedness.
“Sherwood, Mrs. Kate Brownlee.” American Women: Fifteen Hundred Biographies with Over 1,400 Portraits: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of the Lives and Achievements of American Women During the Nineteenth Century, Volume 2. 1897. Print.
“Women of the Woman’s Relief Corps.” Women of America: Part of the American History & Genealogy Project. The American History & Genealogy Project, 3 Feb. 2015. Web. 11 Aug. 2015.
“Keifer, Joseph Warren.” History, Art & Archives of the United States House of Representatives. United States House of Representatives, n.d. Web. 11 Aug. 2015.
Journal of the National Convention of the Woman’s Relief Corps, Auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic 7.26 (1889). Print.
“San Francisco Call Newspaper Participants 1886.” The Federation of East European Family History Societies. FEEFHS, n.d. Web. 11 Aug. 2015.
Journal of the National Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic 48 (1915). Print.
McCabe has annotated the free endpaper not only with his own name and hometown of Petersburg, Virginia, but also with the following notation: “Aldworth, Sussex, England, August 18, 1894.” Later McCabe added a few lines in pencil explaining the significance of the latter place and date:
Hallam, Lord Tennyson, told me this day (Aug. 18th, 1894) that he considered this book, “a very poor book.” But allowances must be made for—”the point of view.”
The great English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson had died in October of 1892, the same month that Waugh’s biography was first published. Hallam, Lord Tennyson was Alfred’s son and evidently did not think highly of Waugh’s portrayal of his father.
“Grant Boosts Efforts to Catalog Secrets Hidden in Old Library Books,” an article published in U.Va. Today, provides a nice introduction to the project–formerly called Hidden in Plain Sight–that has turned into Book Traces @ U.Va.
Associate Professor of English Andrew Stauffer began a crowd-sourced project, “Book Traces,” earlier this year to preserve this hidden literary life of the 19th century before many older volumes get moved off of library shelves. He considers the project an “intervention” to retrieve these fragile copies that reveal aspects of social life, the history of reading and uses of the book.
Now Stauffer has teamed with Kara McClurken, head of the University Library’s preservation services, to expand the recovery effort. The Council on Library and Information Resources recently awarded them a two-year, $221,000 grant for their project, “Hidden in Plain Sight,” to discover, describe and preserve unique pre-1923 books in the circulating collection.
After the 1895 Rotunda fire destroyed U.Va.’s library, many people donated their own books to rebuild the collection, McClurken said.
Like many readers, “I used to think that things written in books were nothing but a defacement,” she said.
Then McClurken met Stauffer this summer in a Rare Book School class in the library. Through their conversations, she began to understand there were important things to be learned from the marginalia and artifacts found on the pages. The historical evidence “has a role to play” in scholarly research, she said.
With the grant, library staff members will seek to identify subject areas that are most likely to have marginalia. They’ll work on a process to record the information and enter it into the online catalogue; at U.Va., that’s Virgo. Because many of the volumes are fragile, they’ll figure out how best to preserve them. Another goal is to make sure other academic libraries can use the process.
Read the full article on the U.Va. Today website.