Book Find: “Of what use is language?”

Editor’s note: this post was researched and written by Book Traces @ UVA project assistant Nitisha Potti, with editing by me (Kristin Jensen).

One of the greatest perks of working with Book Traces @ UVA is that you come across these very fascinating and interesting interventions in various books, some of which are very puzzling like when you find some doodles drawn across the book on various pages, some of which may be related to the text and some may not. Some of the books have poems written in them, which may or may not be original. But the most exciting for me are those which have remarkable interventions spanning across various decades, yet have so much in common with the text that they could be easily mistaken to be written by the author himself or herself.

One such intervention which caught my eye appears in the UVA Library’s copy of The Treasure of the Humble written by Maurice Maeterlinck and translated by Alfred Sutro, published in 1900. It is a poem titled Silence written by Edgar Lee Masters and copied by hand onto the free endpaper  by an anonymous owner of the book. Now, the owner might have possessed the book in 1946 or later, since Silence was written in 1946. Book Traces @ UVA usually deals with interventions made before 1923, but this book has one more intervention which piqued my interest to write about this book. It has a very peculiar bookplate with the name of Marie Conrad Lehr on it. Mrs. Lehr lived from 1884-1921 (according to various online sources), a period which falls under the Book Traces @ UVA research era. This book is a classic example of what is called a “mixed scene” here at the Book Traces project, i.e. a book with interventions ranging over various times periods by different people.


As the interventions found in this book are very atypical I thought that the content of this blogpost should also be different from the previous blogposts where I tried to reason or dig as to why those interventions ended up in those books or why did the people involved make those interventions in those books.  Therefore, for this blogpost I decided to find a link between the various people involved with these interventions based on the thoughts reflected from the text of the book and the interventions.

As I read the introduction written by A. B. Walkey for this book The Treasure of the Humble, I get the sense of the book being written in a very spiritual manner of which you become sure when you read a line about the author from the introduction: “This volume presents him in a new character of a philosopher and an aesthetician.” Mr. Walkey calls Mr. Maeterlinck a Neo-Platonist in the introduction. The same can be seen from the first chapter Silence in this book. The author is found advocating silence over words and emphasizing the importance and strength of silence during and after the life of a human being: “let silence have had its instant of activity, and it will never efface itself; and indeed the true life, the only life that leaves a trace behind , is made up of silence alone.” Since the author strongly believes that a life is made up of silences more than anything else and you can find these silences in every part of life, I was astonished to see the poem of Edgar Lee Masters on the front page which propagates an idea similar to the idea put forth in the first chapter of the book.

The person who inscribed this poem in the book only wrote the first and the last stanzas of the poem, perhaps because those are the only two stanzas that relate so closely with the text in the book. In the first stanza the poet writes, “And I ask: for the depths, of what use is language?” To give more of a context: the poet starts off by saying that he has seen the silence of the stars, the seas, the city when it pauses, the woods before spring and so on and after seeing all these silences he wonders what is the use of language, of words more so when we are voiceless in the face of realities. When you read the poem after the text or vice-versa it doesn’t feel that they have been by different people from written in two different eras.

Opposite the poem on the free endpaper of The Treasure of the Humble was the bookplate that belonged to Marie Conrad Lehr, which was stuck behind the front cover, and on it were these words taken from a poem “Ode to the West Wind” written by Percy Bysshe Shelley:

“Drive my dead thoughts over the universe

Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth”

Marie Conrad Lehr was a direct descendent of Martha Washington on her paternal side. According to many online sources, Mrs. Lehr and her husband did a lot of social work and donated to many social causes and also after her death she gave away many of her personal belongings and her art collection to museums and Mount Vernon’s Ladies Association. It seems apt for a person who gave back to the society so often during her life and also after it to have chosen such words for her bookplate. Percy Bysshe Shelley asks the wind to carry his thoughts through time like it does with the dead leaves, which is symbolic of the fact that only our thoughts that survive even after our body perishes, which is so much in keeping with the tone of this book The Treasure of the Humble. 

The fact that Marie Conrad Lehr and the anonymous owner of the book who wrote the poem Silence on the flyleaf both chose somebody else’s words to inscribe in the book shows how strongly these words resonated with them. When they came across this book that conveyed the same message that Silence and Ode to the West Wind conveyed they felt the urge to have these two literary works in the book. The most amazing part that reinforces what the text and both the poems are trying to tell, i.e. about the power of silence and that it is the thought which prevails even after the soul leaves the body, is that these interventions were made by two different people in two different decades in the same book.  Thus, the thought that links the author of the book, the earlier owner of the book, and the later owner who wrote down the poem in the book is the belief that a noble thought is what prevails even after death and the silence that follows it.

Works cited:

Maeterlinck, Maurice . The Treasure of the Humble.

“Montmorenci–Marie Conrad Lehr.”

Masters, Edgar Lee. “Silence.”

“Percy Shelley: Poems.”

Book Find: How a 19th-century letter became the tool to unearth a scandalous affair

Editor’s note: this post was researched and written by Book Traces @ UVA project assistant Nitisha Potti.

With the advent of digital media, everybody has become a Biographer or an Author or a Blogger. Given that researching about almost anybody’s life has become very easy with vast volumes of knowledge just a click away, how much can you trust these sources? And when you write something  without thorough research on your part, then you end up making a mistake or an error in reproducing facts and then you end up receiving flak from every Tom, Dick and Harry who has read (or not read but just wants to take advantage of the stage set up for ridiculing someone) within milliseconds. I wonder if the person at the receiving end of all this ridicule has ever wondered, would I have received so much criticism had I been a writer in the 19th century or early 20th century, or would anyone have even noticed that I made a small mistake had I been a writer in those days?

Being a blogger myself, all these questions which were always there in some remote corner of my head got answered when I came across this very interesting artifact while I was working with Book Traces @ UVA  in the form of a letter, which was written in 1894 by Mr. John Cordy Jeaffreson. Mr. Jeaffreson is also the author of the book I found this letter in which was pasted on the first page of the book. The book is titled A Book Of Recollections and is the first of the two volumes with the same title, published in 1894. The letter was addressed to Mr. Baker, who at that time might have possessed this book. Another interesting insertion was found pasted on the back page of the book which was a letter addressed to Mr. Baker by Mr. Sam Timmins in 1895; this letter I admit was very tedious to decipher.

letter-from-jeaffreson-part-1 letter-from-jeaffreson-part-2

Mr. Jeaffreson starts the first letter like this: “It delights me to know you approve the Halliwell Phillipps chapters of my Recollections.” The letter then goes on to describe the relation its writer shared with Mr. Halliwell and that he did not write the chapter to please anyone but he writes and I quote – “It would have been strangely discreditable to human nature, had no one of his many comrades spoken in behalf of this dead man, who in his life was ever ‘the advocate of the absent.’” One can clearly make out that Mr. Baker was related to Mr. Halliwell after reading Mr. Jeaffreson’s thanks to him – “your cordial words have afforded me [illegible] satisfaction coming to me from his [i.e. Mr. Halliwell’s] near kinsman and legal representative.” The part of the letter that intrigued me the most was “I sympathize cordially with the fervor of your remarks on ‘this Sidney Lee,’ though I wrote of him with so little warmth, from an opinion that a display of angry feeling would weaken the force of my vindicatory essay.” You can sense some resentment from both the parties towards Mr. Sidney Lee. Now, after examining the contents of the second letter that was pasted in book what caught my eye was “Vol II. has (pages 167-232) a very full of [illegible] of details about our dear old friend Halliwell.”


At this point there were many questions popping in my head—Why Mr. Jeaffreson and Mr. Baker shared this resentment towards Mr. Lee? What is the relation between Mr. Baker and Mr. Halliwell? How do Mr. Timmins and Mr. Halliwell know each other? And the most basic question who are all these people mentioned in the letters and why are they communicating with each other? So I decided to start my quest for answers from Google.

Turns out Mr. Halliwell was the noted English Shakespearean scholar James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps. He has written many volumes about the life of Shakespeare and many literary scholars and critics have admired his work because of the extensive labor and the passion that went into his works. Many books have been written critiquing the work of Mr. Halliwell. He created Shakespeare collections, acquired many copies of plays, and arranged clippings from other early printed works in scrapbooks alongside his own notes. He also produced facsimiles of the quartos, so that he might have accurate copies of editions he could not purchase.

Mr. Halliwell’s life was dogged by controversy. While researching about Mr. Halliwell I stumbled upon this conjecture surrounding him during 1845 when Mr. Halliwell was, according to Wikipedia, “excluded from the library of the British Museum on account of the suspicion concerning his possession of some manuscripts which had been removed from the library of Trinity College, Cambridge. He published privately an explanation of the matter in 1845.” This piece of information prompted me into reading the pages suggested by Mr. Timmins in his letter and look for some clues on the matter at hand. On page 191 of Vol. 2 of his book A Book Of Recollections Mr. Jeaffreson writes “Unfortunately, the writer of the notice of James Orchard Halliwell in the Dictionary of National Biography was misinformed in respect to a most important point of the story, which he reproduced to the grave discredit of the Shakespearian scholar. Speaking of the scandalous charge against young Halliwell the writer of the deplorable memoir observed,” and then he quotes the snippet from the article he claims deplorable which was published a year after the death of Mr. Halliwell in 1889. To worsen things, this memoir was the first time Mr. Halliwell’s widow and his daughters came to learn about this scandalous affair. On page 192, Mr. Jeaffreson writes that Mrs. Halliwell wrote to the author of this memoir that the order excluding Mr. Halliwell was soon rescinded. Upon being thusly informed the author of the memoir went to the British Museum for official evidence on the point wherein he learnt that Mrs. Halliwell was in fact correct. Mr. Jeaffreson then went on to write, “The consequences of this worst of several mistakes in the faulty memoir of Halliwell-Phillipps were, are, and will always remain lamentable.” Mr. Jeaffreson uses rather harsh words to describe this memoir, calling it “The worst of the Memoir’s Several Errors.”

I then tried to find who the writer of the debatable memoir was as the details of the memoir were clearly mentioned in the book by Mr. Jeaffreson, and it turns out it was Mr. Sidney Lee. This therefore puts the resentment of Mr. Jeaffreson towards Mr. Lee in perspective. The next step was to find out the relationship between Mr. Baker and Mr. Jeaffreson. Googling threw light on this as well: according to Folgerpedia, Mr. Ernest E. Baker was the nephew and executor of Mr. Halliwell. Mr. Timmins, who wrote the second letter, according to many online sources was credited with finding many sources of information for the books written by Mr. Halliwell. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that being closely involved with Mr. Halliwell was the reason why Mr. Baker and Mr. Timmins were so interested in the chapters written by Mr. Jeaffreson about Mr. Halliwell.

To summarize: Mr. Halliwell Phillpps, a noted Shakespearean scholar, was wrongly accused of stealing manuscripts from Trinity College due to which he was excluded from using the college library, which was rescinded in light of the evidence produced by Mr. Halliwell proving his innocence. But, the author of the memoir about Mr. Halliwell i.e. Mr. Lee did not reproduce this incident faithfully due to lack of information or negligence on his part (nobody can tell). He never mentioned any retraction of the exclusion, which according to Mr. Jeaffreson tainted the reputation of Mr. Halliwell. Also according to Mr. Jeaffreson there were other parts of the memoir, for instance the part written about Mr. Halliwell’s family members, which was totally incorrect; Mr. Jeaffreson calls the memoir “Strangely inaccurate.” Also, Mr. Halliwell’s friends who knew about the “vile charge” as Mr. Jeaffreson puts it were furious because up until the memoir was published Mr. Halliwell’s wife and daughters knew nothing about it and suddenly the affair was splashed across the memoir in a highly inaccurate manner. In due course, some respite was felt by Mr. Baker and Mr. Timmins who wrote a letter to Mr. Baker suggesting he read Mr. Jeaffreson’s version of the entire scandalous affair, after reading the vindicatory account of the entire matter written by Mr. Jeaffreson. The first letter hints at gratitude felt by Mr. Baker towards Mr. Jeaffreson for his truthful account. The second letter was written in 1895 and it is safe to say that Mr. Baker had already read the book by then and had a warm exchange of letters with the author before Mr. Timmins wrote the letter to Mr. Baker. Nevertheless Mr. Baker saved the second letter in this book which shows the strong relation he shared with his uncle and his gratification on reading Mr. Jeaffreson’s account, that he wanted to save anything related to the book in the book itself.

My point that I started at the beginning of this account being: no matter what century you are in, if you make a literary mistake concerning facts, you will get criticized, showing that only the intensity of the criticism and the speed at which you may receive it changes with changing times.

Works Cited:

Jeaffreson, John Cordy. A Book Of Recollections. vol. 1, London, Hurst and Blackett, Limited, 1894.

Jeaffreson, John Cordy. A Book Of Recollections. vol. 2, London, Hurst and Blackett, Limited, 1894.

Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography. vol. 24.

“J. O. Halliwell Phillips.” Wikipedia.

“J. O. Halliwell Phillipps.” Folgerpedia.

“James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps.” Shakespeare Collected.

The Reading Habits of Randolph H. McKim

Editor’s note: This is a guest post written by Book Traces @ UVA intern Araba Dennis, a double major in Latin American Studies and American Studies who spent part of the fall 2016 semester researching the history of the Alderman Library collections.

One of the most fascinating aspects of a project such as Book Traces is its ability to uncover the richness of history that exists both in and around UVA. As a student traversing around Grounds for classes and meetings in any given 200-year-old edifice, rarely do I delve deeply into the history of how that edifice, statue, or even a serpentine garden wall came to be. One such example rests in the history of McKim Hall, currently existing as an array of administrative offices for the University of Virginia Health System; this purpose is not terribly far off from its original in 1930, being a dormitory for nursing students.[1] This hall was named after none other than Randolph Harrison McKim, owner of one of Book Traces’ recent finds, an extended copy of Works of Michael de Montaigne with the inscription: ‘4th Virginia H[eavy] Art[illery] Nov. 1863’.

DSCN2032 edited for blog

Randolph Harrison McKim was born in Baltimore in 1842, not even two decades shy of the beginning of the American Civil War.  A student at the University of Virginia in 1861, McKim was swayed to join Confederate forces after seeing a secession flag waving from the dome of Jefferson’s Rotunda[2]. Witnessing the cheers and nearly explosive Southern pride touted by students and professors alike, that day, McKim decided to join the Confederate army as a member of the 4th Virginia Heavy Artillery directly after his graduation in 1861; he ascended to the position of lieutenant, and soon to chaplain of the entire 2nd Virginia Cavalry.[3]

McKim’s reading habits throughout his life, borne through his love for academia during his time at the University and even more greatly cultivated during his time at war, correlate greatly to his ownership of the Montaigne work; even more so, one can further understand why the University would name a building in McKim’s honor. In his first year as a student, McKim took classes in French, German, moral philosophy, and senior math. Many of his extracurricular readings centered on the new schools of thought developed by Western philosophers. McKim details this with a letter written to his mother on June 20, 1861: “I stand moral philosophy on Tuesday next. To-morrow and next day I am to read two essays in the Moral class,–one on two of Butler’s sermons, one on a chapter in the Analogy”[5].

Throughout the war, McKim remained an avid reader, despite having left volumes in his dorm at the University and losing many of his books when the Heavy Artillery would transfer camp. Leading up to 1863 and even beyond, McKim journalled about his enduring passion for reading. In a diary entry after the Battle of Manassas, composed on January 24, 1861, McKim notes:

“I have felt my ignorance lately in listening to men in the mess of greater age and far greater reading and information than myself. In listening to George Williamson, describing the cities, and the manners of foreign countries, and the monuments of art and antiquity in Europe, I have felt a longing to travel, and to learn more of men and things; and I have sighed in contemplating my ignorance of the world of Nature, of literature and of art, and yearned to drink deep of knowledge.”[2]

The loss of the Confederacy was not quite the end of Randolph Harrison McKim’s journey. McKim was ordained as a minister in 1866, and served as a pastor until his death in Washington, DC in 1920. McKim recorded his growing affinity for theology in diary entries and letters to loved ones during the war. For example, on February 4, 1863, McKim described in a journal entry his leading of worship amongst the Heavy Artillery — it is also imperative to note that, immediately following this entry, McKim claimed that, deeper into the war, all of Northern Virginia was swept up in a religious fervor:

“On Saturday evening I again commenced the prayer-meetings. Only a few came, but I felt sure the numbers would increase. The next day I was sent over to Major Snowden’s headquarters as corporal of the guard and was obliged to stay all night. I read the XXVIIth chapter of St. Matthew aloud to the men on guard.” [2]

Ten years before his death, the former Confederate lieutenant published A Soldier’s Recollections: Leaves from the Diary of a Young Confederate, with an Oration on the Motives and Aims of the Soldiers of the South, a personal anthology of the battles McKim fought as a member of the 4th Virginia Heavy Artillery.[5] Additionally, in McKim’s will, he left a sizable portion of his estate to the University of Virginia – some of which included nearly $70,000 for which he requested the construction of a new nurses’ dormitory.

McKim Hall was designed and opened for use in 1930. Coincidentally, this was only a few years before Alderman Library officially opened, simultaneously aggregating collections through donations and books left behind by students; perhaps McKim left the collections as part of the estate he bestowed upon the University. One way or another, Book Traces’ ability to uncover this little piece of a larger puzzle gets us closer to an understanding of history, of people, and of the University of Virginia as a whole.


[1] Virginia, University of. McKim Hall, School of Medicine Administration. n.d. 24 October 2016 <>.


[2] McKim, Randolph Harrison. A Soldier’s Recollections. New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1910.


[3]  Confederate Vets. n.d. 26 October 2016 <>.


[4] Internet Archive. Works of Michael de Montaigne; comprising his essays, journey into Italy, and letters, with notes from all the commentators, biographical and bibliographical notices, etc . 1864. 26 October 2016 <>.


[5] Confederate Vets. n.d. 26 October 2016 <>.a


Book find: A message of hope in World War I

Editor’s note: this post was researched and written by Book Traces @ UVA project assistant Nitisha Potti.

During my stint with Book Traces @ UVA, I came across this intriguing intervention in one of the books I had pulled out. It was a book addressing the existence of God that was published in 1919: God and the Struggle for Existence written by B. H. Streeter. Behind the front cover of the book I found an extensive piece of annotation, which seems to have been first written on a separate piece of paper and then cut into pieces so that it could be accommodated in the book. The letter was signed Eva G. Orndorff.

Photograph of the letter on faith written by Robert Burdette and copied by hand onto sheets of paper pasted into a copy of the book "God and the Struggle for Existence" by BH Streeter, owned by the University of Virginia Library.

What makes this intervention the subject of my first Book Traces @ UVA blogpost is the strong urge of the book’s owner (at that point of time) to have this text somewhere in this book which deals with a subject not directly related to the contents of the book but finds some familiarity with it on the grounds of a belief that there exists a world for one to pass on to after one leaves the world we are all in forever. “Well, there is another land, that I look toward as I watch the sunset,” reads the text transcribed by hand. “I have never seen it. I have never seen anyone who has been there; but it has a more abiding reality than any of these lands which I do know. This land beyond the sunset—this land beyond immortality, this fair and blessed country of the soul why, this heaven of ours is the one thing in world which I know with absolute certainty, unshaken, changeless certainty.”

On closely examining the text I saw that it begins and ends with quotation marks which suggest that this was actually a quotation of a text that was originally written by someone else. On researching in depth about the contents of this text, I came across a few newspaper articles where the same text was repeatedly quoted. One of those articles was in a newspaper titled Presbyterian of the South; the article appeared in the 14th July 1915 edition of the newspaper. It was a historic American newspaper published in the early 1900s. The article appeared under “Family Readings” and was taken out of what appears to be personal letter that was written by a certain Dr. Robert J. Burdette to a friend of his residing in New York at time.

I tried to find more details about Robert J. Burdette, starting from his Wikipedia page which says that “Robert Jones Burdette (July 30, 1844 – November 19, 1914) was an American humorist and clergyman who became noted through his paragraphs in the Burlington (Iowa) Hawkeye.” The Wiki page also directed me towards my next and major source of information about this man, Robert J. Burdette: His Message, a biography of Mr. Burdette written by his second wife, Clara B. Burdette. According to the foreword of this book which was also penned down by Mrs. Burdette, she says that she endeavored to set forth the life of her late husband by the excerpts from his writings. In the book she says that the later years of her husband’s life were devoted to writing for the press, giving lectures and public addresses. The book quotes Mr. Burdette saying that he would write to his friends “up to the time when the pen became so grievous a burden.” The letter that then went on to get published in many articles seems to be one amongst the correspondences of Mr. Burdette with his friends.

This copy of God and the Struggle for Existence with the annotations inside the front cover was given to the Alderman Library by Mr. M. H. Urner. Resorting to Google to find more about Mr. Urner didn’t prove much of a help; therefore, I started to look for clues about Mr. Urner by pulling out other books that were given to UVA by him. I was lucky enough to find a gift inscription by the author of the book addressed to “Captain Martin H. Urner” in a book titled Applied Mental Efficiency. The Harvard Alumni Bulletin says that Dr. Martin H. Urner was the 1st Lieutenant at Med. R. C. in Princeton N. J. On further digging I happened upon a book called Kelly Field in the Great World War; one of the excerpts from this book says that Captain was one of the flight surgeons taking care of student pilots and that it was safe to say that superior health among student pilots cannot be found at any other field in the country.

The Foreword for God and the Struggle for Existence says that “This book is written to suggest that there are solid grounds in reason for the contrary conviction – God is alive, and from him we may get power ourselves to really live.” The book was published in 1919, i.e. towards the end of World War I. The book says that it addresses many in this world who in the face of evil are unsure about the existence of a divine power but still “faintly trust the larger hope.”

A lot of time was spent on trying to find who Eva G. Orndorff was but the Google search resulted in many Eva G. Orndorffs from whom I couldn’t single out the one particular Eva G. Orndorff who may have penned down this annotation.

As I try and dig deeper and think more as to why this letter that was originally written by one was copied on a paper by a second and ended up in a book that was written by a third and owned and given to the University by a fourth; having hit a road block trying to find any relation among these four people I just described, there was only one possible thing that came to mind which could justify a link among all these people and the text finding its place behind the front cover of the book: World War I.

War as many have described is the worst form of evil that mankind has seen or can ever see. It drives out the one most important thing that keeps us going in the face of any evil, HOPE. Keeping soldiers motivated while facing such an evil is the most important thing; one of the things usually done to motivate soldiers was to read to them about the divine power and reinstall their faith the existence of divine power even in the face of such a calamity. Captain M. H. Urner who was working in Kelly Field at the time may have stumbled upon this letter that was taken from the newspaper article about Robert J. Burdette’s Faith and found it very inspiring in such trying times and deemed this book he owned a good place to save such an inspiring letter. I am still unable to put my finger on Eva G. Orndorff’s connection all of this. But this conclusion from the research conducted seems like a good explanation to me as to why this letter ended up in this book.

Works Cited:

Streeter, B. H. God and Struggle for Existence. Association Press, 1919.

Orr, Tasso Vance. Applied Mental Efficiency. The Efficiency Institute, 1913.

Burdette, Clara B. Robert J. Burdette: His Message. 1922.

Kroll, Harry David, editor. Kelly Field in the Great War.

“Family Readings” Presbyterian of the South, 14 July 1915.

“Robert J. Burdette.” Wikipedia.

Harvard Alumni Bulletin. vol. 20.