Book Find: Phrenology, a seemingly silly vintage science with dangerous consequences

Diderot’s Encyclopédie,published between 1751 and 1772, laid the groundwork for new modes of thinking that would flourish in the nineteenth century. Indeed, on both sides of the Atlantic, the 1800s witnessed a voracious appetite for cataloguing, compiling, and understanding every detail of everything. From wunderkammers (or “cabinets of curiousity”) where objects were meticulously displayed for curious eyes to Dmitri Mendeleev’s painstaking 1869 Periodic Law that built the groundwork for the modern Periodic Table, the nineteenth century was filled with a lust for order and understanding of the natural world.

It is this climate of categorization that led phrenology to come into vogue. Though the discipline was invented at the very end of the previous century by Franz Joseph Gall, its character was profoundly rooted in the spirit of the nineteenth century. The first of the two books discovered by the UVa Book Traces team, George Combe’s A System of Phrenology (1838), defines the discipline as follows:

” Phrenology, derived from [the Greek] φρήν (phrēn) mind and  λόγος (logos) discourse, professes to be a system of Philosophy of the Human Mind, and…to throw light on the primitive powers of feeling which incite us to action, and the capacities of thinking that guide our exertions…” (Combe 1)

The methodology of this “system” might cause a modern person to raise an eyebrow: Gall and his followers believed that they could gain insight into these “powers of feeling” and “capacities of thinking” by evaluating a person’s skull. The New illustrated self-instructor in phrenology and physiology (1859), the second book in the Book Traces project to address the subject,  furnishes a list of nearly forty “organs” — essentially nooks and crannies — of the skull that could reveal traits of its owner:

The organs listed are, in order "Amativeness, Conjugality, Parental Love, Friendship, Inhabitiveness, Continuity, Vitativeness, Combativeness, Destructiveness, Alimentiveness, Acquisitiveness, Secretiveness, Cautiousness, Approbativeness, Self-esteem, Firmness, Conscientiousness, Hope, Spirituality, Veneration, Benevolence, Constructiveness, Ideality, Sublimity, Imitation, Mirthfulness, Individuality, Form, Size, Weight, Color, Order, Calculation, Locality, Eventuality, Time, Tune, Language, Causality, Comparison, Human Nature, and Agreeableness"

Many of these traits may seem quaint and even humorous. We can imagine such humorous vignettes as a lady feeling a suitor’s scalp for “Conjugality” to see if a man is inevitably a cheater, or a friend palpating above an ear to see if the person has enough “Secretiveness” to be trusted with a spare key. Indeed, O.S. and L.N. Fowler, the earnest authors of the Self-instructor, even furnish us with images that we, using with our modern vocabulary, can find very funny indeed:

A drawing of Emerson, an idiot

“Well, of course that Emerson is an idiot; he looks just like one” we can imagine the Fowlers declaring with nonchalance.

A humorous interpretation of this “idiocy” would, however, require the modern levity with which the word can be used. If we put the word “idiot” back into its temporal (and pejorative) context, it quickly loses its humor. The American Heritage Stedman’s Medical Dictionary provides us with the following historical definition, stipulating that this use is now highly offensive:

idiot id·i·ot (ĭd’ē-ət)
A person of profound mental retardation having a mental age below threeyears and generally being unable to learn connected  speech or guard against common dangers.

Following this line of thinking, it becomes fairly easy to see how phrenology, in the wrong hands, could have very dangerous consequences indeed. For example, with Emerson above, we now understand that certain congenital physical traits may also come with life-altering mental traits. It is possible, then, that Emerson’s long forehead and craggy profile are hallmarks of what we might today call a “mental disability” in a medical or governmental setting or a “neurodivergent mind” in a social justice context. It is also possible that Emerson just looks like he does! We could take this phrenological reading of Emerson’s skull as a benevolent (or at least objective) attempt to acknowledge his difference, but given that he is juxtaposed with illustrations of various literary and political notables such as Edgar Allan Poe and George Washington on other pages of the volume, it seems that the authors are identifying him as being a comparatively inferior individual. Furthermore, they are casting him as an “idiot” for something he didn’t choose; he was born looking like this rather than like Poe or Washington and there is little he can do about it.

One of the interventions in the Combe text reveals that the discipline of phrenology was also contorted to draw conclusions about race. On page 198, which covers “acquisitiveness,” or the desire to accumulate goods, we see two vast generalizations in action:

Text reading : Dr. Gall states this organ to be little developed in the skulls of the Caribs. In accordance with this, travellers say that they are little prone to theft; and, therefore, says Rochester, in his History of the Antilles, when they are robbed, they always insist that it must have been by a Christian. (An intervention here makes a mark to highlight the following:) The Negroes are also little prone to steal, and the organ is moderately developed in them. (end highlight). Dr. Gall had an opportunity of observing among the Spanish...

The intervention that has been cut off likely reads “What!!” and below the handwritten text appears to read “Did he ever see a negro!”

While Combe, the author of the printed text, makes the positive — yet nonetheless prejudicial— observation that “Negroes are… little prone to steal,” the marginalia reveals a much more pejorative viewpoint. The handwritten text in pen brackets or highlights this observation and makes the observation that Dr. Gall must not have met or observed “a negro,” implying that, in this person’s mind, people of that heritage are indeed prone to stealing.

We have no traces of this incredulous reader’s identity, but what we do know about them can help us see how they may have been employing phrenology as a form of confirmation bias. Throughout the text, there are notes “correcting” Combe’s text that, while they employ an elevated vocabulary, are often rife with misspellings and rarely furnish proof. Take, for example, this indignant footer note on page 127, in the chapter on “Concentrativeness”:

"How absurd to suppose that the same faculty combines these pasions [sic] + different functions."

“How absurd to suppose that the same faculty combines these pasions [sic] + different functions.”

This writer seems to take great pleasure in pointing out the “absurdities” of Combe’s writing, but seems to be going by gut feeling, not empirical evidence. Though we might be tempted to characterize all of phrenology as a “pseudoscience,” it was respected in its era, making the real “pseudoscience” this pretentious yet decidedly faux-intellectual babble in the margins. Therefore, predicated solely on these traces, I would characterize this person as someone who has deluded himself or herself with prejudicial self-righteousness.

We also have a nonverbal trace that corroborates not only this writer’s pompousness but also his or her racially biased view of society. On the page preceding the title page, we see a series of crude portraits drawn in profile:

Four portraits presented in profile: top left of an adult male, top right of an elderly female, middle left of a Black male, captioned "Niger [sic], caffres" (both pejorative terms) middle right a bearded adult male rendered much smaller and possibly captioned "Jimmy." In the bottom center an amorphous front view of a possibly Black face.

This series of portraits, though rendered with little technical skill, presents enough detail that we can observe the pronounced differences between the white male and female portraits in the top row and the Black male portrait in the middle left (Indeed, his portrait is even subtitled with “nigers” [sic] and “caffres,” both antiquated — and now highly pejorative — terms for Black people in the plural that designate him as a generality, not an individual). We could interpret this as a descriptive exercise that objectively demonstrates the different features of people of different racial backgrounds, but since the portraits are in a book on phrenology, we should examine them phrenologically.

The first striking difference between the white male and the Black male portrait is the difference in the indentation between the head and the neck. This region corresponded to “Amativeness,” or “love between the sexes.” The white male’s skull dips profoundly into his neck to an unrealistic degree whereas the Black male’s skull flows almost directly into his neck. Therefore, we can judge that the “artist” here wished to convey that the white male possessed a small Amativeness faculty and the Black male a large faculty. Though “love between the sexes” does not seem to be a negative thing, a large Amativeness faculty was linked to deviant sexuality. This example of an assessment of a woman’s cranium elucidates this connection:

“Dr. Gall was led to the discovery of this organ in the following manner. He was physician to a widow of irreproachable character, who was seized with nervous affections, to which succeeded severe nymphomania. In the violence of a paroxysm, he supported her head, and was struck with the large size and heat of the neck” (Combe 109-10).

It is then possible that the person who drew the portrait wanted to confirm via phrenology the widely-held preconceived notions about Black sexuality. Marques P. Richeson draws from J.A. Rogers when observing that, even before the institution of slavery in the United States,

“This animalistic conceptualization naturally led to the stereotyping of black men as both hypersexual and hyperaggressive – “[i]n the Negro all the passions, emotions, and ambitions, are almost wholly subservient to the sexual instinct. . . .” (Richeson 103)

Furthermore, this perceived heightened libido was in turn tied to a diminished intelligence and an overall lack of personal control. This inverse proportion is also manifest in the pair of portraits: the forehead of the white male juts out in a once again exaggerated or unrealistic manner, whereas the forehead of the Black male barely makes provisions for the eye sockets. The area of the skull the artist probably intended to differentiate is the “Individuality” organ, and thus they perpetuate the idea that Black slavery could be justified by the entire race’s lack of agency.

The pair of portraits not only reveals a disdain for the Black race but also a personal bias. I am inclined to believe that, since the white male portrait is unlabelled yet appears first on the page that it may be a self-portrait. Even though this is impossible to know, it is at least most likely that the owner of this scientific book in 1838 North America was a white male. This would suggest that the aforementioned overwrought depictions of the white male’s neck dip and forehead crag seek to demonstrate the gentlemanly sexual restraint and the decisive individuality of the white male. The drawn portrait strikingly resembles the busts of famous men of politics and letters who are depicted in the Fowlers’ instructional book as well, further reinforcing my idea that this writer conceived of himself as being very distinguished and more intelligent than the author of his printed text.

We also see this supremacist view of the white male’s capacities in the fill-in chart at the front of the Fowlers’ book:

The chart lists all approximately 40 "conditions" and invites the autodidact to fill out the size of his or her capacities. For this owner of the book, we see that nearly every organ is listed as being either "large" with a value of 6 or "full" with a value of 5. The lowest value accorded is for the "Spirituality" organ, listed as a 3 for "moderate." No organs are listed as 7 or "very large."

An interactive feature of the Self-Instructor, this chart lists all approximately 40 “conditions” and invites the autodidact to fill out the size of his or her capacities. According to the title page, we are reading “R.G. Tyler’s” phrenological assessment as conducted by “S. R. Wells” on June 29, 1865:

Printed text: "New Illustrated Self-Instructor in Phrenology and Physiology; with Over One Hundred Engravings; together with the chart and and character of" Handwritten text: "R.G. Tyler" Printed text: "As marked by" Handwritten text: "S. R. Mills June 29/1865" Printed text: "By O.S. and L.N. Fowler, Practical Phrenologists. Self-knowledge is the essence of all knowledge. Your character corresponds with your organization. New York: Fowler and Wells, Publishers, No. 308 Broadway."

We note immediately that nearly every organ is listed as being either “large” with a value of 6 or “full” with a value of 5. The lowest value accorded is for the “Spirituality” organ, listed in the second column as a somewhere between a 4 and 3 for “moderate.” No organs are listed as 7 or “very large.” At first, we may be tempted to view this as a demonstration that the two men acknowledged Tyler’s faults as well as his strengths, but qualities such as a high Amativeness, “Destructiveness,” and “Combativeness” could be circumscribed by the constructs of virility and the Romantic notion of the fierce individual. When viewing this apparent willingness to present strongly — but not too strongly — in every possible category, it seems that these amateur phrenologists were not practicing objectively but instead armed with preconceived notions of white masculinity.

Lastly, in both of these phrenological volumes, very little attention is paid to female cranial traits. Though our artist did indeed draw a portrait of an elderly woman across from his white male, it is noteworthy that much of her skull is occluded by her bonnet. This eliminates the possibility of any conjectures as to such important traits as her sexuality (Amativeness, as previously discussed) and her conception of herself (“Self-Esteem” at the top of her skull). It even hinders our ability to draw conclusions about such “feminine” traits as her “Parental Love” (in the back middle of her skull), which represents one of the only qualities for which women are even depicted in the Fowlers’ volume:

Under the heading "Parental Love: Philoprogenitiveness" we see a "Large" curve of the head on the right attributed to "The Good Mother" and a relative lack of cranial curve attributed to "The Unmotherly."

Even in this science so obsessed with creating physical taxonomies for every trait of human life, an entire half of a species is flagrantly ignored and placed in neat, maternal boxes.

While phrenology may appear to be ridiculous, even humorous pseudoscience in retrospect, it is important to recognize how such a discipline affected the real lives of marginalized individuals. Divergence from the cognitive norm was typified, training people to recognize and even treat differently those bearing the telltale signs of “idiocy.” Phrenology was also used as a form of confirmation bias for race-based prejudice and characterized Black people and slaves as being morally inferior. Lastly, women were rarely discussed in this science that claimed to explain all of human behavior, diminishing the personhood of women and casting them as nothing more than mothers.

Phrenology, with its deeply rooted subjective biases, holds little weight in today’s data-driven science that prioritizes quantifiable evidence in an attempt to stave off confirmation bias. However, its legacy of prioritizing white, male physiology remains. Medical studies are just now making provisions for neural, racial, and gender difference in their experimental units. We can hope that, with an increased, authoritative understanding of how biological difference is not deviance, science will be further enriched to the point that we can laugh tomorrow at today’s biased methods just as we can laugh at phrenology.

 Works Cited

Combe, George. A System of Phrenology. Boston: Marsh, Capen, and Lyon, 1838. Print.

Fowler, O.S. and L.N. Fowler. New Illustrated Self-Instructor in Phrenology and Physiology. New York: Fowler and Wells, 1859. Print.

Richeson, Marques P. “Sex, Drugs, and…: A Black Box Warning of Chemical Castration’s Potential Racial Side Effects.” Harvard BlackLetter Law Journal (25): 95-131. Web.

Book Find: Understanding France’s scandalous Dreyfus Affair through the friendship and correspondence of two Jewish outsiders

France has always had a problem with what they call l’autre, the Other.

In contemporary history, this trouble with “Otherness” is exemplified by the astonishing number of French citizens who are defecting from their native land in order to join the forces of Daech (the preferred name in French for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIS or ISIL). What could possibly make these citizens of one of the most idolized countries on earth join a radical militant group terrorizing the Middle East? To answer this question, many scholars have pointed to a general sense of disenfranchisement among — most notably — young people from immigrant families, particularly those who practice Islam. Stated simply, these at-risk individuals do not feel “French” and do not feel like they are invited to participate in French culture and “Frenchness.” In fact, this detachment from la République has been identified as one of the main triggers of the rash of horrifying terrorist attacks in Paris.

This phenomenon of alienating the Other from French culture is certainly not new. While the United States experiences more cultural fractures on the basis of race, in French history it can be observed that greater fault-lines form on religious grounds. Indeed, the Gallic people have exhibited animosity towards Muslims as early as the eleventh century: The Song of Roland, considered to be the first complete work of literature in the French vernacular, depicts Charlemagne’s Christian army clashing with the Muslim Sarrasins.

Though French antipathy towards Islamic culture is well-known and well-documented, the abiding mistrust of the Jewish people is perhaps less apparent. When we, in the post-World War era, think of antisemitism, we often connect this form of prejudice to Nazism, but it runs deeply and broadly through the entirety of European recorded history.

No event better laid French antisemitism bare than the all-encompassing Dreyfus Affair. When I once told my undergraduate thesis advisor that I wanted to know more about the Affair, she said, “It would take a year or more of graduate seminars to critically understand even the tip of its iceberg.” Therefore, for our purposes, I will simplify it: In 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus was accused of committing the (relatively bureaucratic) crime of transmitting classified French documents to the German Embassy in Paris. It came to light two years later that Dreyfus, who was of Alsatian Jewish descent, had been framed when evidence proved that a more “French” military man, Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, was the true spy. However, Esterhazy was quickly acquitted in a heavily biased military trial while Dreyfus was saddled with additional layers of cover-up charges. One of the most famous dreyfusards (“supporter of Dreyfus”; versus the anti-dreyfusards) arguments came in the form of novelist Émile Zola’s splashy “J’Accuse…!” published on the front page of L’Aurore in 1898, in which he accused the French government of complicity in Dreyfus’s unjust framing. It was not until 1906 that Dreyfus was fully exonerated and allowed to rejoin the military, making the total length of the Affair twelve years. Even with the actual events coming to a close, the scars they left behind would last for decades to come and threaten the very foundation of la République.

Zola's famous

Zola’s famous “J’Accuse…!” defending Dreyfus and accusing the government of complicity in his unfair treatment (1898)

Though the details of the Dreyfus’s myriad sentences and the motivations of the players involved are extremely complex, one of the primary contemporary assessments of the Affair is abundantly clear: Dreyfus was considered to be a more appealing culprit for treason on the basis of his Otherness. Because Alfred Dreyfus came from Alsace, a territory that at many points in history had been German, and also practiced a religion that was not French Catholicism, he was Other enough to be the perfect scapegoat for a political scandal.

Even as the Dreyfus Affair threatened to split the whole of French society into dreyfusards and anti-dreyfusards, within each of these factions, shared political views on the Affair forged tight bonds. One of these bonds is preserved in our Book Find, a 1903 volume by Joseph Reinach entitled Histoire de l’Affaire Dreyfus.

The traces in this book are particularly interesting in terms of format. Even as the gift inscription on the title page is typical, reading “To Henry Bauër, with great friendship, Joseph Reinach,” the meticulous enclosing of the accompanying letter is atypical indeed.

Joseph Reinach's near-illegible scrawl designates this book to be a gift to Heny Bauër.

Joseph Reinach’s near-illegible scrawl designates this book to be a gift to Heny Bauër.

Across from this gift inscription is a remnant of an envelope that has been carefully folded to display the addressee’s residence at the front of a diminutive pocket. Though the envelope was torn, not cut, the resulting paper pocket is crisp and delightfully delicate.

The delightful pocket pasted across from the cover page, shown with its folded note pulled out

The delightful pocket pasted across from the cover page, shown with its folded note pulled out

Inside of the origami-like pocket is a note on matching stationery. The paper quality is so fine that the watermarks of “JO” and “EXTRA” are readily visible even without holding the note up to a light source. Once again, we see Reinach’s practically indecipherable scrawl addressing his friend. The note reads:

The letter enclosed in the envelope pocket

The letter enclosed in the envelope pocket

Mon cher ami
Voici mon 9e volume. Un bel article
de vous, quelque part,
me ferait grand plaisir.
Personne ne sait mieux
que vous le balzacien
de l’affaire
Bien à vous
Joseph Reinach

My dear friend
Here enclosed is my 9th volume. A nice article
from you, somewhere,
would please me greatly.
Nobody knows better
than you how to see the Balzac
in the affair
Best wishes
Joseph Reinach (translation my own)

In reading a biography about the recipient, Henry Bauër, I was able to find a transcription of his thank-you note to Reinach:

1er juin 1903
Mon cher Reinach,
Vous me ferez grand plaisir en m’envoyant votre nouveau volume.
Les précédents m’ont ravi. Il me semblait tant était profonde la pénétration des caractères, magnifique la documentation de l’historien, il me semblait assister au développement d’un drame homérique et balzacien dont je n’aurais connu que le scénario.
Vos livres apprennent les ressorts cachés de l’affaire à ceux qui croyaient la connaître le mieux.
Dans les meilleurs sentiments
Je vous serre la main. – H.B. –3, place des Vosges.

My dear Reinach,
You have pleased me greatly by sending me your new volume.
The previous were thrilling. It seemed to me that the insight into the characters was so deep and the historical documentation was so magnificent that I felt as though I was attending the production of a play by Homer and Balzac of which I had, up to this point, only known the synopsis.
Your books teach the hidden motivations of the affair to those who thought they knew it inside and out.
In the best spirits
I shake your hand. – H.B. –3, place des Vosges. (Cerf 87, translation my own)

From this epistolary exchange, we can confirm that Bauër and Reinach were not only personal friends but also political allies that viewed the Dreyfus Affair with a critical eye. These letters show them comparing the historical events to a novel or drama that specifically recalled popular author Honoré de Balzac’s treatment of his characters, who were always neither good nor bad.

Understanding the friendship between Bauër and Reinach by reflecting upon their biographies presents us with an opportunity to begin to understand the often inscrutable Pandora’s box of the Dreyfus Affair.

Henry Bauër has a particularly riveting life story. Born in 1851 in Paris, Bauër was the illegitimate son of none other than literary juggernaut Alexandre Dumas, author of such celebrated classics as The Three Musketeers (1844) and The Count of Monte-Cristo (1844-6). He was the product of a tryst between the celebrated author and the married Anna Bauër, a German woman of Jewish faith. One can imagine that Bauër’s adjacency to fame and a legitimate legacy only served to further demarcate his indelible Otherness. He was not only a bastard child unworthy of his father’s illustrious name, but also Jewish by blood and only half-French by nationality. This muddled identity stood in sharp relief to his half-brother’s illustrious pedigree: Alexandre Dumas fils (“junior”) was twenty years older and would publish his classic novel, The Lady of Camellias, in 1848, when Bauër was only four years old. This novel would later be adapted by Giuseppe Verdi for the libretto of his masterpiece La Traviata, which draws enthralled audiences to this day.

Though Bauër was not a direct descendant of this line of literary masters, he nonetheless found his living in the written word. His biographer Marcel Cerf dubbed Bauër The Musketeer of the Pen in the title of his 1975 examination of Bauër’s life, work, and correspondance. After a youth spent provoking controversy by fighting for the disestablishmentarian Paris Commune of 1871 (which resulted in a period of exile to the archipelago of New Caledonia in the Pacific), Bauër returned to polite society and established himself as a venerable journalist and critic of literature and theater. During his tenure at the paper l’Écho de Paris (“Paris’s Current Events”),  he was known for championing Émile Zola’s literary output as well as his dreyfusard work in the political tangle of the Dreyfus Affair.

Bauër's career as a theater critic enabled him to befriend such individuals as stage superstar Sarah Bernhardt. (Cerf)

Bauër’s career as a theater critic enabled him to befriend such individuals as stage superstar Sarah Bernhardt. (Cerf)

However, by the time of Reinach’s gift in 1903, Bauër had left journalism in order to pursue an ill-fated theater career. Since he clearly had not inherited his father and half-brother’s ability to convert writing into a means of making a living, the later years of his life were spent not only in relative obscurity but also in a pecuniary situation that did not befit the son of such an illustrious literary figure.

It is during this later, less-successful period that Bauër’s letters reveal that he had begun at least a written relationship with Joseph Reinach. Reinach, born to German Jewish parents in 1856, also worked as a journalist but was primarily known for his political career. Like Bauër, he too experienced a tumultuous career of ups and downs: he served as a Parliamentarian from 1889 to 1898 but did not win re-election largely on the basis of his involvement in the Dreyfus Affair. Reinach is considered to be the champion par excellence of Dreyfus’s innocence. As his gift note to Bauër indicates, Reinach wrote many volumes on the Affair in which he meticulously laid out his argument, in chronological order, that Dreyfus was the victim of an insidious government cover-up. From 1898-9 he wrote no less than eight volumes entitled L’Affaire Dreyfus and subdivided the events of the Affair into thematic units that comprise the volumes. Histoire de l’Affaire Dreyfus, his ninth volume, is the one we possess that was sent to Bauër. Originally published in 1901, it functions as a sort of retrospective on Reinach’s initial Dreyfus series. After the journalistic tear-down of Reinach’s extensive dreyfusard output came to an end, he, unlike Bauër, experienced a renaissance and won re-election to the French Parliament in 1906 – not coincidentally the same year that Alfred Dreyfus was finally pardoned.

A 1912 photo of Joseph Reinach (Agence de presse Meurisse‏, Bibliothèque nationale de France)

A 1912 photo of Joseph Reinach (Agence de presse Meurisse‏, Bibliothèque nationale de France)

Neither I nor Marcel Cerf can pinpoint when or how exactly Bauër and Reinach became friends, but the basis of their friendship as Others in society is abundantly clear. Both men were not truly “French” in that they were of German Jewish parentage. However, given Bauër’s illustrious father and Reinach’s tenacious political career, both men touched fame even in a society that sought to exclude them. Though they never acknowledged in writing that their firm belief in Alfred Dreyfus’s innocence was founded on the fact that he, too, was a Germanic, Jewish Frenchman, it is not difficult to see how they might have identified with the embattled military man.

Even though, at the time of the gift, both men inhabited tony addresses in Paris (Place de Vosges, where Bauër lived, was once the seat of the French royal court and also the home of Victor Hugo; The stationery store indicated on the envelope sent by Reinach is located on the posh Boulevard Haussman, which suggests that he lived nearby), we can make no mistake that they were universally accepted in society. In my search for more information on Joseph Reinach, I came across a truly nasty re-writing of one of his Dreyfus volumes entitled, Joseph Reinach, Historian. The preface of this book, written by Charles Maurras, makes it abundantly clear that the subtitle Historian is intended to be pronounced in snarky quotes: “Historian.” This vicious preface makes it very clear for us that, for many, Jewish writers like Reinach were viewed with contempt. The preface author observes that

“An ardent vital instinct can provide man, particularly of the Semitic variety, with an ersatz approximation of, or even an equivalent to, actual intelligence” (Maurras x, translation my own)

and compares Jews to beasts with instinct, not intellect. Furthermore, he manages to make doubly-racist racist claims about Reinach:

“Mr. Joseph Reinach has gone too far. Never did any Asian sorcerer play as he does with the naïveté of the Gallic people. His example demonstrates that a certain absence of shame can reign over genius and virtue alike” (Maurras xii, translation my own).

Though I was not able to find any such screeds against Bauër, if this is the vitriol with which Reinach, a former Parliamentarian, was vilified, can we even imagine how the bastard Henry Bauër might have fared?

It is in the friendship between Bauër and Reinach, formed on the basis of shared heritage, the Otherness that came with it, and the prejudice they experienced in society despite their notable contributions that we can begin to comprehend the impact of the Dreyfus Affair. On the negative side, we see how the climate in late nineteenth-century France was genuinely hostile to people of different cultural backgrounds and how this undoubtedly played into Dreyfus’s unjust conviction. On the positive side, we see how, in order to brave the waves of antisemitic hatred, French Jews rallied around Dreyfus and formed lasting bonds that allowed them to insist that they, too, were part of the French nation and culture.

Given that this book find provides us with an approachable microcosmic view of a major French historical event, I find this book and its interventions to be of great value. Even though Henry Bauër and Joseph Reinach have largely fallen into obscurity (Indeed, this may be the reason why we have acquired this book here at the University of Virginia and that it has not yet been sent to Special Collections!), through their exchange in this controversial volume, we can begin to decode a historical event that has implications that can help us navigate issues of Otherness in the present day.

 Works Cited

Cerf, Marcel. Le Mousquetaire de la plume. La vie d’un grand critique dramatique : Henry Bauër, fils naturel d’Alexandre Dumas, 1851-1915. Paris: Académie d’Histoire, 1975. Print.

Dutrait-Crozon, Henri. Joseph Reinach historien. Révision de l’Histoire de l’Affaire Dreyfuspréface de Charles Maurras. Paris: Savaète, 1905. Print.

El Gammal, Jean. Joseph Reinach et la République (1856-1921). Bulletin du Centre d’histoire de la France contemporaine, vol. 4, 1983, p. 65-70. Print.

Maurras, Charles. Preface. In Henri Dutrait-Crozon. Joseph Reinach historien. Révision de l’Histoire de l’Affaire Dreyfuspréface de Charles Maurras. Paris: Savaète, 1905. Print.

Reinach, Joseph. Histoire de l’Affaire Dreyfus. Paris: Charpentier et Fasquelle, 1903. Print.


Book Find: How a runaway teenage heiress’s gift to her French tutor exposes the “Crowding Memories” early 20th-century feminity

Tucked into the front cover of a copy Mrs. Thomas Bailey Aldritch’s  memoirs covering her husband and their shared social circle, Crowding Memories, is an exquisitely preserved note. Though the material of the card and the ink there inscribed are of the highest quality, the quality of the French language text is decidedly lacking. The note reads:

Photo of the note tucked into the 1920 copy of Crowded Memories

À Mlle Hubbard
Je vous veux tout le bonheur de la saison
Kasia Mahoney


To Mademoiselle Hubbard
I want you all of the happiness of the season
Kasia Mahoney

Here I have purposefully translated Mahoney’s note in a clunky way to be faithful to the manner in which she wrote her French text.  She has made two interesting French errors that allow us to draw conclusions about the nature of her relationship with Hubbard. First, she uses the phrase “je vous veux” which, literally translated in isolation, means “I want you.” What Mahoney probably wanted to say was “je vous souhaite…” which would mean “I want for you,” and better fits the benevolent spirit of her note. Her second error is in signing off with “de,” which, though it does indeed mean “from” and would be used on a “to/from” for a gift as her salutation suggests, is certainly not the way one would sign a letter.

So why the French lesson? Mahoney’s inelegant French, as well as her addressing of the note’s recipient with a formal “Mademoiselle,” suggest that we are most likely looking at a note from a student to a teacher. Though Mahoney’s letter is not linguistically perfect, its earnestness in form and content speak to a certain desire to please a figure of authority.

The owner's signature — in a different hand from the note — on the title page gives us Hubbard's first name and the date of the gift.

The owner’s signature — in a different hand from the note — on the title page gives us Hubbard’s first name and the date of the gift.

In order to test my hypothesis that Kasia Mahoney was Eugénie Hubbard’s (see how I learned her first name above) student, I had to first identify the two women.

A search for “Kasia Mahoney” turned out to be far more sensational than anticipated. Her name is splashed across front pages from her native to New York, through the Midwest, and even as far away as Utah starting in the year 1927. Here are some of the more choice headlines:

"Fate Kind to Small Girl, Out to See World"

From the Chicago Tribune, February 26, 1927

Girl Prodigy, 15, Daughter of Supreme Court Judge, Missing Disappearance of Kasia Mahoney, Kept Secret by New York Police for Three Days, Revealed by Inquiries of Reporters – Girl Much Advanced Intellectually for Her Age– Nation-Wide Search in Progress

From The Bridgeport Telegram, Bridgeport, Connecticut, February 25, 1927

Kasia Mahoney Found, Left Mansion Home for "Thrills"

From The Bridgeport Telegram, February 26, 1927

And lastly, Mahoney makes a cameo in the following:

How the New Psychology Explains why Frances Smith Disappeared: All Rich Girls Crave Liberty and Independence, Says Professor Marston

From the Ogden Standard Examiner, Ogden, Utah, March 3, 1929

In the articles corresponding to these headlines, we learn just as much about Kasia Mahoney’s jaunt away from her Madison Avenue home as we do about prevailing attitudes towards women in the late 1920s. It is notable that Mahoney, even though she was fifteen when she took flight and was seventeen when the Ogden Standard Examiner article was published, is invariably referred to as a “girl,” even a “small girl.” From our vantage point a century later, doesn’t it seem odd that a fifteen-year-old is characterized as a child even when she lived in an era when lifespans were shorter and child labor laws were less strict?

The Ogden Standard Examiner article, from Columbia University’s Professor William M. Marston, clearly delineates the infantilization of these runaway women. First, Marston denies that these women, being mere children, have agency, stating that “such girls may not be aware of their own motives for their actions” and that they are “under the influence of…new freedoms” women had gained at the time. Second, he melds such theories as Social Darwinism and physiognomy to declare that these heiresses’ flights from their tony mansions are inevitable. He compares women to pack animals, observing that “in nature we find the female frequently fending for herself,” and attributes some of the flights to women’s being more “susceptible to comradeship” since their female peers sometimes encourage them to run away. Marston also echoes the phrenological and physiognomical studies of the past century when he conducts a detailed analysis of the Frances Smith in the headlines. He notes that, “judging by her face, she is cautious, shrewd, a commonsense kind of girl” and that “her chin is sharp, which shows that she is an extraordinary woman, in that she can focus her mind resolutely on what she intends to do” — even if, as he writes earlier, she has no idea why she is doing it! Third, he belittles these women as being little more than consumers, hypothesizing that these women had no reason to run away given their social standing and “no unsatisfied desires for clothes.” Lastly, Mahoney, whose likeness appears as an illustration accompanying the article, is even depicted as being childlike: she is shown slouching forward, making her body smaller, and her eyes are enlarged and vacant like those of a young child.

At Left: Kasia Mahoney, 15, Daughter of a Former New York Supreme Court Justice, Who Ran Away from Home "For a Thrill" She Admitted.

Kasia Mahoney, as illustrated in the Ogden Standard Examiner article

Though Mahoney and her fellow runaways are relentlessly characterized as children in the Marston article, he does touch on something very interesting: the New Woman’s desire to make her own living. Referring once again to Frances Smith, the Professor concludes that “When she got to college for the first time, she had a taste of freedom. She suddenly realized that it was possible to lead her own life…She probably got a job and began living her own life.” This evocation of a desire for an occupation is certainly something applicable to the life of our subject, Kasia Mahoney. In The Bridgeport Telegram headline above, Mahoney is called a “prodigy” and the accompanying article specifies that “She is most studious…a linguist of brilliant ability and possesses talent in writing…She has great confidence in her ability to make a career.” Despite her ambitions at 15, the last Census record we have of her in 1930 still lists her as being a member of her father’s household with her occupation being “none.”

Kasia Mahoney's 1930 Census entry

Kasia Mahoney’s 1930 Census entry (Click to enlarge)

Although we cannot say for sure that Kasia’s ambitions met a dead end or that she ran away in order to “make a career” away from her prescribed heiress lifestyle, these details certainly paint for us a picture of a headstrong, intelligent young woman.

Now, how to tie Kasia’s possible desire to liberate herself to the notecard tucked in Crowding Memories? How to tie her to Eugénie Hubbard? My earlier conclusion that Mahoney was likely the student in her relationship with Hubbard certainly fits well with her reputation as being a linguist of great talent, especially for her age. She would have been thirteen years old when she gifted the book to Mademoiselle Hubbard in 1925, and therefore even her awkward French could have been viewed as an achievement. We have no conclusive evidence that Hubbard was the teacher who led her to such commendable linguistic efforts, but we can surmise that since Hubbard was a native speaker of French and that their age difference was probably too great for them to have been mere friends, she was likely an authority figure for Mahoney. Hubbard’s application for a passport to the United States reveals that she was born in Paris, France in 1861, making her no less than fifty-one years older than Mahoney, and that she immigrated to the United States in 1906 and therefore spent considerable time in France.

Eugénie Hubbard's 1906 Passport Application shows that she entered the United States with no planned occupation but did intend to reside at University Station in Charlottesville

Eugénie Hubbard’s 1906 Passport Application

What remains unclear is whether Mahoney and Hubbard ever actually met in person. While Hubbard’s passport application was validated in New York, she lists her planned residence as “University Station, Charlottesville.” Indeed, in the 1910 Census, she is listed as being a “relative” and member of the household of L. Bruce Moore in Charlottesville. However, the 1940 Census taken just four years before her death states that, in 1935, her residence was “New York, city.” So it is certainly possible that immediately after her arrival to the United States, she lived in Charlottesville, but somewhere in the window of 1910-1935, she (and her family) relocated to New York City. This window of time makes an in-person gift-giving between the heiress Mahoney and the immigrant Hubbard possible.

To clarify that Hubbard was some sort of teacher-figure for Mahoney, it is important to consider Hubbard’s biography. While Eugénie Hubbard possesses a French name and was born in Paris, her gravestone tells us that her parents were the Americans Daniel and Mary Hubbard. The 1910 Census furnishes the detail that her father, Daniel Hubbard, was born in Louisiana, making it a possibility that he was a native speaker of French and wanted his daughter to be in touch with her francophone roots and raised her abroad. It is also clear that Eugénie, while not as wealthy as Mahoney, came from an affluent background: in a report from the University of Virginia School of Architecture, “Eugenie” Hubbard is noted to have granted the rights to “Howard Place (Mayhurst)” to a new owner. In 2016, this property is known as the Mayhurst Inn, a Civil-War-era “mansion” in Orange, Virginia built by the great nephew of President James Madison and known for having hosted Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson.

An archival photo of Howard Place (Mayhurst), from

An archival photo of Howard Place (Mayhurst), from

Hubbard’s also being a sort of heiress who was never formally employed (as per her Census records and her passport application) leads me to believe that, while she would not have been Mahoney’s teacher in any formal capacity, she may have socialized in similar circles as Kasia’s father Jeremiah Mahoney, making it feasible for her to have been chosen to be an informal conversation partner or tutor for the budding teenage linguist.

Though we can imagine a warm, pseudo-granddaughter/grandmother relationship between thirteen-year-old Kasia Mahoney and sixty-four year old Eugénie Hubbard, there is something slightly subversive when we contextualize their relationship with this gifted book. Crowding Memories was written by Mrs. Thomas Bailey Aldritch and was considered to be a sort of companion book to the official biography of Thomas Bailey Aldritch that was also published in 1920. Mr. Aldritch was known as a consummate man of letters, having published poetry and served as an editor of The Atlantic Quarterly. He had many notable friends and acquaintances including such illustrious figures as Mark Twain. What makes this gift subversive is that this book is not a widow’s glowing biography of her deceased husband, but instead her perspective on all of the “crowd” with whom the couple socialized. While this book was to be the companion book to the husband’s biography, it instead serves as an alternative narrative of the wife’s memories. I am inclined to follow a (purely conjectural) interpretive reading of the transmission of this book from the young Mahoney to the elder Hubbard as not just an acknowledgement of a mutual admiration for Aldritch, but a tacit understanding that they, as heiresses and socialites, also had a perspective worth sharing with the world. They were not “small girls” but instead intelligent women who sought expression in their multilingual, multigenerational friendship. Their memories were not to be lost in the crowd of a society that sought to infantilize them at every turn.

The last piece of the puzzle also demonstrates a sort of subversive femininity. The bookplate of our copy of Crowding Memories specifies that the book was presented to the University of Virginia by “L. Bruce Moore.” This would have been impossible; the man bearing this name has a death certificate that was registered in 1926 and no record of a son bearing his name. How could a dead man present a book that wasn’t even his but that was instead gifted to Eugénie Hubbard, who at that point lived in New York? The answer to this question reveals another enduring female friendship. The presenter of the book, “L. Bruce Moore,” would have to have been his widow, Helen Moore, called “L. Bruce Moore (Mrs.)” in the 1940 Census. With whom did Mrs. L. Bruce Moore live in Charlottesville? With her “sister” Eugénie Hubbard (Hubbard is listed as a “relative” of Helen Moore in 1910). The Alderman Library possesses dozens of books presented under the “L. Bruce Moore” name, several of which coalesce around the theme of young, wealthy women making gutsy moves to big cities. In this collection we see these ingenues move from the Wild West to New York City in Letters Home (1903 edition), from Boston to Venice in William Dean Howell’s The Lady of the Aroostook (1907 edition), from England to The New World in Mary J. Holmes’s The English Orphans (1900 edition), and — perhaps most appropriately of all considering Eugénie’s biography — from New York to The Continent in Henry James’s Daisy Miller (1879 edition). Therefore, even after Hubbard passed away in 1944, traces of her transatlantic voyage and her female friendships with the Americans Mahoney and Moore live on, here for the independent women of 2016 to discover in Alderman Library.

The bookplate of presenter L. Bruce Moore inside the front cover

The bookplate of presenter L. Bruce Moore inside the front cover

Works Cited

Aldritch, Mrs. Thomas Bailey. Crowding Memories. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, The Riverside Press Cambridge, 1920. Print.

Death Certificate for L. Bruce Moore, 20 Mar 1926, Commonwealth of Virginia, Bureau of Vital Statistics, State Board of Health. Web. 11 May 2016.

“Fate Kind to Small Girl, Out to See World.” Chicago Tribune. Chicago, 26 Feb 1927. Web. 11 May 2016.”Girl Prodigy, 15, Daughter of Supreme Court Judge, Missing.” The Bridgeport Telegram. Bridgeport, Connecticut, 25 Feb 1927. Web. 11 May 2016.

Gravestone for Eugénie Hubbard, 1861-1944, Graham Cemetery, Orange, VA. Web. 11 May 2016.

“Kasia Mahoney Found, Left Mansion Home for ‘Thrills’.” The Bridgeport Telegram. Bridgeport, Connecticut, 26 Feb 1927. Web. 11 May 2016.

Marston, William M. “How the New Psychology Explains Why Frances Smith Disappeared.” Ogden Standard Examiner, Ogden, Utah, 3 Mar 1929. Web. 11 May 2016.

Mayhurst Inn: 1859 Virginia Plantation. Mayhurst Inn, 2016. Web. 11 May 2016.

School of Architecture, University of Virginia. “Howard Place (Mayhurst), U.S. Rt 15, Orange vicinity, Orange County, Virginia, HABS No. VA-1082.” Charlottesville, VA, n.d. Web. 11 May 2016.

“Thomas Bailey Aldritch.” The Literature Network, 2016. Web. 11 May 2016.

United States. Census Bureau. “Department of Commerce and Labor– Bureau of the Census, Thirteenth Census of the United States: 1930, Population, Charlottesville, Sheet No. 19 B.” United States Census 1910. Washington: U.S. Census Bureau, 4 May 1910. Web. 11 May 2016.

United States. Census Bureau. “Department of Commerce – Bureau of the Census, Sixteenth Census of the United States: 1940, Population Schedule, Virginia, Charlottesville City, 104-5.” United States Census 1940. Washington: U.S. Census Bureau, 18 Apr 1940. Web. 11 May 2016.

United States. Census Bureau. “Form 55-4, Department of Commerce- Bureau of the Census, Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930, Population Schedule, New York, Manhattan (Districts 501-750), District 546.” United States Census 1930. Washington: U.S. Census Bureau, 14-5 April 1930. Web. 11 May 2016.

United States. Passport Applications. “Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925, 1906-7, Roll 0016 – Certificates: 17289-17998, 28 Jun 1906-08 Jul 1906.” New York: Department of State, 30 June 1906. Web. 11 May 2016.

Book Find: Professor Algernon Coleman shows us how scholars still work the same way

Hello! My name is Julia V. Schrank and I am a new graduate assistant for Book Traces. I am a Ph.D. student in the Department of French, so get ready for some Francophilia in my blog posts!


Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.

– French aphorism

Bequeathed to the University of Virginia by University of Chicago French professor Algernon Coleman (1876-1939), this volume of French literary giant Gustave Flaubert’s letters provides a fascinating inside look at how academic workflow has remained much the same across centuries.

Coleman's imprint on marbled endpapers

Coleman’s imprint on marbled endpapers

Before we scrutinize Coleman’s work habits, it is important to know just who he was. In the Vita of a reprint of his dissertation, held in Special Collections in a volume of “Rare Virginia Pamphlets,” Coleman reveals that he was born in Halifax County, Virginia in 1876 and completed his undergraduate education at the University of Virginia (Wahoowa!). He writes with affection that it was here at UVa that “Professor Richard H. Wilson had awakened [his] interest in the study of the Romance Languages.” After various teaching appointments around the state of Virginia, Coleman decided to further his dedication to the romance languages, with a particular emphasis on French literature. Coleman spent “a quarter…in graduate study” at the University of Chicago (for what we can probably presume to be equivalent to a modern Master’s Degree) and then obtained his doctor of philosophy degree at Johns Hopkins University. It was in Baltimore that Coleman produced his dissertation, Flaubert’s Literary Development in the Light of his Mémoires d’un Fou, Novembre, and Éducation Sentimemtale, in 1913 at age 37. From Baltimore, Coleman returned to the University of Chicago, where he served as a professor from 1913 until his death in 1939. Despite having completed his Ph.D. in Maryland and leading his academic career in Illinois, Coleman never forgot his Virginia roots and bequeathed much of his personal library to UVa.

The formal traits of Coleman’s idiosyncratic notes tell us much more about his academic persona than his biographical details ever could. Handwritten traces in Coleman’s personal volume of Flaubert paint a picture of a fastidious, efficient character who developed systematized research methods over a lifetime.

The first of these hallmarks of fastidiousness is the exhaustive personal index Coleman created for himself on the page preceding the cover page:

A snapshot of Algernon Coleman's meticulous index

A snapshot of Algernon Coleman’s meticulous index

While one can imagine that this procedure of painstakingly pulling out themes, ideas, places, and people for reference must have been very time-consuming, it is important to remember that Coleman was working in the age before highlighters and neon paper flags. Since these colorful ways of marking out passages of interest were unavailable to him, Coleman created a centralized location for his “highlights,” which each correspond to a graphite check-mark in the margins of the indicated page. This practice speaks to a highly organized research procedure; it is clear that Coleman knew what interested him and wanted to be able to find it as quickly as possible.

Such an index also corresponds well to the modern use of bibliographic management software such as Endnote, Zotero, Mendeley, etc. We behold here Coleman’s early-twentieth-century analog to the “search” function, where he can pull the book from his shelf and mine it for his desired data with a quick scan of his index. Just like notes of the digital variety, Coleman’s notes are personalized and are clearly taken on the fly, as evidenced by his one slip-up into writing “Beauty” in English in the middle of otherwise impeccable French:

The English "Beauty" amidst writing in French

The English “Beauty” amidst writing in French

Which passage moved Coleman so profoundly that he momentarily lost his French? It is a letter containing a relatively famous, very abstract quote wherein Flaubert waxes rhapsodic on the beauty of poetry:

“There is nothing else in the world for me other than beautiful verse, expert, harmonious, singing turns of phrase, beautiful sunsets, the moonlight, colorful paintings, antique marbles, and well-formed heads. Beyond that, nothing.” (Flaubert 196, translation my own)

Indeed, Coleman’s agreement with his object of study that harmony and form were the be-all, end-all extends even to his notation system within the text. With only a few exceptions, Coleman notes anything that was in Flaubert’s words (more on how Coleman got these original words in a bit) in pen and any of his own notes in pencil. Here, we can see some of these personal annotations written in pencil where he once again slipped into English with a note of “of November” and also indicated a connection he made between the letters and Flaubert’s Mémoires d’un fou:

Coleman uses pen for Flaubert and pencil for himself

Coleman uses pen for Flaubert and pencil for himself

Yet even the fastidious Coleman was subject to the outside world’s interruptions of his research. These comical interludes are most evident in certain nonverbal traces in the volume. First we see what appear to be the unmistakable dark brown stains of coffee in the margins of three pages of the volume:

The first of Coleman's coffee stains

The first of Coleman’s coffee stains

The darkest of Coleman's coffee stains

The darkest of Coleman’s coffee stains

Later, there is evidence of what must have been a jarring leak of blue ink that Coleman, efficient as ever, at least managed to contain:

A startling ink blot

A startling ink blot

Thankfully, these are the only traces of chaos in Coleman’s characteristically meticulous workflow, because even the content of his notes speaks to his “Type A” personality. It is clear, from Coleman’s fastidious grammatical “corrections” of the printed text, that he was very much a teacher. His “new paragraph” notes and corrections of accent markings show us a strict grammarian French teacher (Indeed, American scholars of French have sometimes been accused of being “plus royaliste que le roi” — “more Royalist than the King” — when it comes to grammar):

New paragraph marking

New paragraph!

Coleman adds a French "accent grave"

Coleman adds a French “accent grave”

The idea that Coleman is “correcting” his printed volume of correspondence tells us two very interesting things about his academic ideology. First, Coleman is challenging the authority of the printed word in a strikingly contemporary way. It is clear that Coleman’s numerous additions in blue pen are not in his own voice, but in the style of Flaubert. With this detail alone, we know that Coleman must have corroborated the wording of Flaubert’s actual, handwritten correspondence. Instead of implicitly trusting that his 1910 edition “conforms” to “l’édition orginale” published in 1887 by nineteenth-century Paris publishing behemoth Charpentier, Coleman insisted on digging further before he drew any research conclusions. This idea that a printed edition of a manuscript is inherently untrustworthy shows us how the current idea that the “original” copy in all of its materiality is the best resource came into being.

But could Coleman merely have triangulated this information from other printed editions? One trace in particular makes it very clear that this was not the case and therefore shows a second– also very modern– part of his academic ideology. At the top of one letter in the middle of the volume, Coleman has written, “Écrite au crayon,” “Written in pencil”:

Coleman writes "Écrite au crayon," "Written in pencil" pencil!

Coleman writes “Écrite au crayon,” “Written in pencil”…in pencil!

That Coleman is this conscious of a material trait of Flaubert’s letters is sufficient proof that he must have believed that trans-Atlantic travel to the source was imperative for French scholarship. Just as today’s scholars in foreign language departments often take research sabbaticals to the country of their field’s origin, we can imagine that Coleman also engaged in this sort of trans-oceanic quest for knowledge.

We can confirm what this trace tells us by reading the “Biographic and Bibliographic Note” in the front matter of Coleman’s dissertation, where he gives us a disclaimer about the extent of his manuscript access:

“I have been assured that such letters exist, but I have found it impossible to get access to them. Some subsequent student, more fortunate than I, may, therefore confirm or overturn with ease many results which, in the following study, must needs be held as subject to correction” (Coleman 7).

In a very “meta-” way, Coleman recognizes that his own research is just as falsifiable as his printed edition of the correspondence. This affirms that his research and his persona fundamentally challenge the authority of the printed word, just like twenty-first-century scholarship.

While Coleman’s workflow is decidedly modern, we are reminded by the nature of his scholarship that certain things have changed. His emphasis on mining Flaubert’s correspondence in order to discover biographical “truths” hidden in the author’s œuvre, as we see in his dissertation, seems very passé indeed. In the wake of a series of movements springing from Roland Barthes’s watershed essay “The Death of the Author” in 1967– which implores modern textual scholars to separate the text from the person who wrote it– this approach of scrutinizing Flaubert’s letters down to the word level seems very “nineteenth century” indeed. However, Coleman’s determination to fit into the academic vogue of the day still draws parallels to modern literary studies’ tendencies to follow emergent trends in order to be part of the current conversation.

Despite some outmoded scholarship practices, when viewing this volume and its traces globally, we are left with an artifact that shows us that modern scholarship is not as cutting-edge as we might think. Algernon Coleman, with his creation of a personal “search” function, his coffee and ink stains, and his fundamental questioning of the written word, demonstrates that although research trends have changed, methodology has stayed much the same.

Works Cited

Flaubert, Gustave. Œuvres Complètes de Gustave Flaubert. Vol. 2. Paris: Louis Conard, 1910. Print.

Coleman, Algernon. Flaubert’s Literary Development in the Light of his Mémoires d’un Fou, Novembre, and Éducation Sentimemtale. Diss. Johns Hopkins University, 1913. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1915. Print.

Book Find: Cowper’s Homer and the mind of a critical reader

UVA Library Video Preservation Specialist Marc Campbell approached us with a set of books from his own collection, two volumes of English poet William Cowper’s translation of Homer. Marc had noticed that the books contained extensive handwritten marginalia and wondered if we would be interested in having a look. The result of our investigation is this guest post by Book Traces @ UVA volunteer Kaye Marie Ferguson. (Edited by Kristin Jensen.)

This privately owned copy of Cowper’s translation of Homer (published in 1802) contains extensive marginalia and annotations by an unnamed reader–sadly, there is no inscription–which provide a general idea of the kind of person he may have been. (Given the time period, I am willing to assume that this reader was most likely male, as women characteristically read for pleasure and did not generally have access to the education exhibited by this reader.)

Admittedly, I have never read any Homer, so before I could truly make sense of the reader’s comments, I had to research Cowper’s translation. Most, if not all, literary criticism defines Cowper’s Homer as “Miltonian” and “un-Homeric.” But what does this mean? Homeric style is most importantly characterized by the rapidity of flow and simple, direct expression (Rouse 1971, 5). In the original Greek, Homer makes use of dactylic (or heroic) hexameter (six metrical feet to a line, each made up of one long and two short syllables), which impacts the flow of the lines. Longfellow’s Evangeline is one of the rare examples of this meter in English:

This is the | for-est pri | me-val. The | mur-muring | pines and the | hemlocks (Thompson 2012)

Read it once with emphasis on the non-italicized syllables, and then read it naturally or recite it aloud; the rhythm is still fairly prominent, but–despite the unusual word order characteristic of poetry–it does not feel stilted as many other meters do (although it still has more of a focus on stress than Greek would). Nevertheless, the example does show that dactylic hexameter resembles the flow and rhythm of speech. This contributes in some degree to Homer’s rapid style in that the lines are propelled forward without being hindered either by an unnatural, forced rhythm or by rhyme.

Miltonian style, on the other hand, is characterized by unrhymed lines in iambic pentameter (blank verse: five metrical feet to a line, each with an unstressed syllable preceding a stressed syllable). Cowper’s opening lines of The Odyssey serve as a good example (though they contain unintentional slant-rhymed lines, which are not characteristic of the whole work):

Muse make | the man | thy theme, | for shrewd | ness famed
And genius versatile; who far and wide
A Wand’rer, after Ilium overthrown,
Discover’d various cities, and the mind
And manners learn’d of men in lands remote.

Although the unrhymed nature of blank verse does imitate the naturalness of speech, the iambic pentameter reads unnaturally as a result of the all-too-intentional trot-like flow. Beautiful in its own right, iambic pentameter is simply not suitable to Homer, according to every literary critic I read, because its stilted nature slows down the reading of each line. It merely does not lend to the simplicity of expression found in the original works. The “direct expression” of everyday language, metaphors, and similes are replaced by contrived rhetoric that fits within this restrictive meter.

It is important to note that the literary criticism I am citing is not contemporary to the reader or to Cowper; it was published around 1861, while the reader had been writing in the early 1800s. Nevertheless, this criticism illuminates certain aspects of the reader’s annotations, which in turn help to illuminate the criticism. Now for the real question: who was this unnamed reader?

First, I believe that the reader was at least middle-aged, as there are several formal elements of the his writing that indicate this: the unstandardized spellings of certain words, such as “Antients,” as well as the long ‘s’ and capitalized nouns, all of which began to disappear from print toward the end of the 18th century and in the early 19th century. His use of 18th century conventions suggests that he grew up learning and using them; therefore, he was an older gentleman.

Second, the reader was an upperclass gentleman and scholar, as he had access to an education in the classics. The passage in which the reader responds to Cowper’s footnote about the purpose of Helen calling herself Κυνώπιδα–meaning dog-eyed (translation courtesy of Rachel Makarowski)–reveals this.

greek word2Reader’s annotation: The Greek word “face of a bitch” is somewhat strong for a lady to give herself. I doubt if any of our [?] Dames would be as candid, yet certainly Helen meant to [?] her own elopement.

The reader provides his own translation of the word in Cowper’s footnote and then gives his own reason for Helen’s use of such a strong word to describe herself. Also, in another passage he points out a note he remembers from Pope’s translation; thus, having read at least two translations of Homer and having the ability to translate the original Greek himself, the reader must have been learned.

The reader also exhibits the capacity to think critically, operating like a literary critic. The following passage and the reader’s accompanying annotations reveal this.

Cowper’s translation:
Few sons their fathers equal; most appear
Degenerate; but we find, though rare, sometimes
A son superiour even to his Sire*.

Cowper’s footnote: *The sentiment is justified by the opinion of many Antients. Ælius Spartianus in his life of the Emperor Severus says “It is sufficiently known that hardly any great man has left a son of much merit or use behind him.”–The sons of heroes are a nuisance, was proverbial, and Demosthenes observed that good and valuable men are so often succeeded by a race of triflers, that it seems the effect of some fatality.–C. (Homer trans. Cowper 1802, 41-2)

Reader’s annotation: He has exaggerated & thereby perverted Homer’s sentiment. He says it is rare for a son to surpass his father. But it does not follow that it is rare for a son not to degenerate. The sentiment of the Antients[,] Romans[,] or Greeks in subsequent ages may be true as it is now among us, for they & we are equally corrupt Creoles. When men rise by wickedness or plausible virtues & ability, & whose children having no motive for exertion, or perhaps abhorring their father’s crimes, degenerate this idleness. For a man now or in Rome or Greece, must be idle or in mischief. But had the sentiment been true either in the Heroic or Feudal Ages, Greece wd have remained inhabited by Acorn Eaters. And Europe wd never have risen above the ruin into w[hich] Rome had reduced it. Men indeed were never perfect. But all that Europe now possesses we owe to the virtues of [illegible] who on average if they did not “transcend at least equalled their father’s fame”. But this Cowper is a bitter malignant democrat.

In saying Cowper has “perverted Homer’s sentiment,” the reader implies that he himself understands what Homer is truly saying. He disagrees with Cowper’s interpretation (not necessarily the translation), arguing that the rarity of a son becoming greater than his father does not necessarily mean it is rare for a son to remain equal to his father. He reinforces this idea by providing a logical sequence of examples. Thus, the reader is certainly capable of critical argumentation.

Furthermore, many of his comments show that he came nearly to the same conclusion as the critics mentioned above. Though the reader did not explicitly refer to the meter as the source of the problem, he did point out several issues of grammar that resulted from it, which indicate to me that he was, perhaps, coming to the conclusion that Miltonian style is unsuitable to Homer.

Example 1

Cowper’s translation:
Suitors, (their children who in this our isle
Hold highest rank) importunate besiege
My mother, though desirous not to wed,
Dare not solicit, in that cause, her Sire…
[reader’s emphasis] (Homer trans. Cowper 1802, 29)

Reader’s annotation: Not grammar. There wants [the] pronoun “They” to begin the line. For the Sense is completed by the foregoing line. “Suitors besiege my mother who had rather not marry. They dare not &c. but chuse intruding here –

Example 2

Cowper’s translation:
The feast was now begun; these tasting sat
The entrails
, those stood off’ring to the God
[reader’s emphasis] (Homer trans. Cowper 1802, 52)

Reader’s annotation: This transposition of words not allowable in English. He means “These, sat tasting [the] entrails. Those, stood offering &c.

In the first example, the reader points out that the subject of the sentence (“Suitors”) gets lost, and the line conveys a different meaning than Cowper intends. However, in order to keep the meter consistent, Cowper would not have been able to add the word “they,” as it would give the line eleven syllables instead of ten; therefore, the line would not have been in iambic pentameter unless Cowper were to rework all of the lines in order to clarify the meaning. The second example presents a similar problem. The word order muddles the meaning of the lines, but the words are forced into this placement by the meter. Compare the “unallowable” transposition with the proper one:

The feast | was now | be-gun; | these tast | ing sat
The en | trails, those | stood off’ | ring to | the God

The feast | was now | be-gun; | these sat | tast-ing
The en | trails, those | stood off’ | ring to | the God

In the grammatical version, the emphasis is on the wrong syllable in the word ‘tasting,’ making the line flow awkwardly. The flow is better in the ungrammatical, but the meaning is unclear. As a result, iambic pentameter limits word order possibilities and, by extension, the comprehensible communication of the idea. This is the opposite of Homer’s style–that is, the direct, simple expression of a thought. The reader’s annotations reveal that iambic pentameter is too restrictive for something like Homer, though he does not explicitly come to this conclusion. These annotations reflect the early evidence-gathering stage in the formation of a critical argument.

I am not trying to conclude that the reader was making the same arguments as future literary critics, but rather I am trying to show how the reader’s annotations reflect the precursory thought processes of the critic. Perhaps the reader himself engaged in literary criticism. We cannot know this since there is no owner’s inscription to indicate who he was; we can, however, conclude that the marginalia demonstrate critic-like observations. Additionally, his commentary and the criticism that emerged later illuminate one another, providing an idea of how certain ideas about a work may have come about.

Works Cited

Homer. The Odyssey. Translated by William Cowper. London: Bunney and Gold, 1802.

W. H. D. Rouse, introduction to On Translating Homer by Matthew Arnold (New York: AMS Press, 1971), 5

Laurence Thompson, “A Guide to Poetry #1: On Metrics #4: Classical prosody,” Implicate Disorder (blog), March 18, 2012,