Shrewsbury Cakes

[Ed. Note: Today's post is part of Alyssa Connell and Marissa Nicosia's "Cooking in the Archives" project, which launched in June 2014 with support from a UPenn GAPSA-Provost Fellowship for Interdisciplinary Innovation. Alyssa and Marissa are transcribing, adapting, and cooking recipes from Penn's collection of manuscript recipe books. Visit their site to learn more about their project.]


UPenn Ms. Codex 625. Printed title page.

One of the things we’ve been struck by along the way in this stroll through the culinary archives has been the similarity of certain recipes to many that we follow today.  This holds true particularly for baked goods. (Except the notorious fish custard.) We weren’t quite sure what to expect from these “Shrewsbury cakes” – small cakes? Pancakes? Drop cookies? It turns out that Shrewsbury cakes are basically early modern snickerdoodles.


This recipe comes from UPenn MS Codex 625, a manuscript recipe book that belonged to a student in a London cooking school in the early eighteenth century. The pastry school was owned by Edward Kidder, who taught at a few locations in London between around 1720 and 1734. Codex 625 is particularly interesting as it was apparently sold as a blank book with a printed title page for use by students to write down recipes they learned. Kidder also published his recipes in a separate printed volume, Receipts for Pastry and Cookery, in 1720.

The Recipe

shrewsbury cakes

Shrewsbury Cakes.

Take a pound of fresh butter a pound of double
refind sugar sifted fine a little beaten
mace & 4 eggs beat them all together with.
your hands till tis very leight & looks
curdling you put thereto a pound & 1/2 of
flower roul them out into little cakes

Our recipe (halved from the original)

1/2 lb. (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 lb. sugar
1/4 tsp. mace
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 eggs
3/4 lb. flour

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Then add the eggs and mix at medium speed until the mixture looks curdled. Sift together dry ingredients and add at low speed until just combined. Scoop and roll the dough by hand into 1-tbsp. balls, then pat flat. [You could also refrigerate the dough until it's firm enough to roll out on a flat surface and cut out into rounds.]

Bake  at 350F for 15-18 minutes (ours were about 1/3″ thick, so you could roll them thinner and have a slightly shorter cooking time) They’re done once they turn the slightest bit brown around the edges. This halved recipe yielded about two dozen cookies.

The Results

If you like snickerdoodles (and who doesn’t?), you’d like these. We added the cinnamon because we like it and couldn’t resist, and we thought it rounded out the mace nicely. These are mild, fairly soft cookies that are great with tea. We rolled and patted the dough into individual cookies because it was too soft and stick to roll out, but a little bit more flour and a stint in the fridge might make the dough easier to work with a rolling pin.

A “Loochooan” New Testament


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Okinawa conjures up many images for people in the 21st century. To mainland Japanese, it might be an exotic vacation destination in their own backyard, a place to feel both at home and abroad at the same time. For some Americans, who have our own colonized Pacific paradise in Hawaiʻi, it is a snapshot of patriotic WWII bravery. A truer picture of the island might lie somewhere in between these two idylls, as Okinawa Prefecture remains a tourist destination still marked by significant American military presence. An image rarely associated with the seat of the former Ryukyu Kingdom, however, is Christianity. However, a discovery in Penn’s special collections opens up a fascinating window into this aspect of Okinawan history.

As readers of this blog may remember, The Penn Libraries’ Japanese Studies unit has enjoyed rediscovering unique snapshots of Japanese bibliographic history. But this most recent find came from an unexpected place: Penn’s Evans Bible Collection. Within this collection are five books of the New Testament from the 1850s, previously cataloged with brief titles like “Luke Loochooan” and even more confusingly, “Japanese Romans.” Seen together, these five items reveal trends in 19th century imperialism and missionary culture, and help to tell the story of one cantankerous evangelist, Bernard Jean Bettelheim (1811-1870).

Born into a Jewish family in Hungary, Bettelheim traveled the Mediterranean, where he encountered, and soon converted to, Christianity. He made his way to London, where he became a British national. In his youth, he was an accomplished student with a talent for linguistics and a bent for medicine. Both of these skills, along with his zeal for Christianity, would position Bettelheim to be an ideal candidate as the first Protestant missionary to “Loochoo” (Ryukyu), sponsored by Herbert John Clifford’s Loochoo Naval Mission.

"Parting Scene at Loo Choo" from Hall's account.

“Parting Scene at Loo Choo” from Hall’s account.

Along with his wife Elizabeth Mary (neé Barwick, d. 1872) and daughter Victoria Rose—and later a son, Bernard James Gutzlaff (1845-1910), born along the voyage and named after Karl Friedrich August Gützlaff (1803-1851)—Bettelheim landed in 1846 at Hong Kong, which had recently been annexed by the British. Bettelheim used his time in Hong Kong to study Mandarin Chinese as well a bit of the “Loochooan” language and culture, using knowledge compiled by Clifford during his earlier expedition to East Asia in the 1820s with Basil Hall [1].

In the 1840s, the Ryukyu Kingdom was already under the influence of Japan, itself still operating largely under the sakoku policy of isolationism. And while two French Catholic missionaries had already managed to find their way onto Okinawa, they were heavily monitored and guarded. Despite the fact that Ryukyuans were not eager to receive foreign visitors, Bettelheim was not to be dissuaded. Bribing some British crewmen to help ply Ryukyuan sailors with alcohol, Bettelheim smuggled his family and their possessions onto boats heading for the island. While the scheme was uncovered during the voyage to the city of Naha, it was too late to turn back. Taking pity on the Bettelheims (who now had an infant to care for), priests of the nearby Gokoku-ji allowed the stranded family to stay in their temple overnight. The next morning found the Bettelheims adamant about remaining there, and this small family (along with third newborn daughter, Lucy Lewchew Bettelheim, named after the islands) would occupy the temple for the next several years.

This first night would mark the first of numerous clashes between Bettelheim and the Ryukyuans. The sakoku policy enforced by mainland Japanese agents prevented local markets from selling anything to the Bettelheims. Unable to purchase goods, the Bettelheims survived on charity and by taking what they pleased (or leaving a token payment behind) from abandoned stalls—the mere sight of his family would cause some sellers to run away. Further, despite local opposition to Christianity (made illegal and punishable by death in Japan), Bettelheim refused to cease spreading the word of God, employing such stratagems as bribing locals to read some of his roughly “1,200 Tracts in Chinese and English,” and even breaking into homes. In his diary, Bettelheim writes:

To the rolls of tracts which I colported through the streets I added a good bagful of cakes… Those who refused a tract were frequently less rigorous toward my cakes… Even after [...] nobody cared for either my tracts, or my bag, or my cakes [...] nothing remained but boldly to venture into people’s houses [...] I was little moved with the cries of the women of frightened at the screams of the children, but seated myself in the first room I could get access to.

More cautious locals barred their doors to the foreign invader, but Bettelheim “found [his] way in through the deep gaps in dilapidated back walls.” In an amazing bit of self-centered cognitive dissonance, Bettelheim considered his breaking and entering as a service to homeowners for exposing weak points in their homes, and to local masons for giving them employment.

Bettelheim’s unpleasant encounters with the Naha locals caused the Ryukyuan officials at the capital Shuri to keep close watch on Bettelheim, employing guards to be stationed around Gokoku-ji and to accompany Bettelheim and family on their travels. Nevertheless, Bettelheim turned this to his advantage, and used his forced government sponsorship as an opportunity to improve his fluency in Chinese, Japanese, and Ryukyuan. Besides compiling grammars and dictionaries of the language, Bettelheim co-opted his Chinese classics tutors into helping him translate portions of the New Testament into the local language. While some reports of Bettelheim’s activities claim that he had translated the whole of the New Testament, there is little evidence that he ever got beyond the sixth book, Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Manuscript versions of his translations of the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark have since been reprinted in Japan, but Bettelheim only lived to see five editions of his translations reach publication.

Title page of Bettelheim's Gospel of Luke (1855).

Title page of Bettelheim’s Gospel of Luke (1855).

By 1855, Bettelheim and his family had left their post at Naha, having been transported back to China under the auspices of the Matthew Perry Expedition, to which Bettelheim had served as both helper and general nuisance. In that year, the crumbling Loochoo Naval Mission paid for the printing of Bettelheim’s translations of the Gospel of Luke, the Gospel of John, the Acts of the Apostles, and Paul’s Epistle to the Romans in Hong Kong.

These four stitch-bound, folded-leaved volumes, all measuring 29.5 x 15.5 cm, are a curious piece of linguistic history. Their title pages are in Chinese, each bearing the date of woodblock carving 1855 (“乙邜年鐫”), and each with the Chinese exhortation “往普天下傳福音與萬民” (Wang pu tian xia chuan fu yin yu wan min), a snippet from Mark 16:15 (the King James version of the Bible has “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature”). Besides the chapter and verse numbers, the only other instances of Chinese characters is the rather optimistic and ultimately misleading running series title printed on the folded column of each leaf, “新約全書” (“The Complete Books of the New Testament”). The rest of the books are written in katakana script, a Japanese syllabary used mostly to render foreign words. For most modern readers of Japanese, a text without kanji (Chinese characters) is difficult to parse. The Bettelheim Bible books, moreover, present a deeper challenge.

Firstly, it is difficult to determine exactly what language Bettelheim spoke while on Okinawa, and to what degree he recognized the overlaps between native Ryukyuan, mainland Japanese, Okinawan dialect Japanese, and the heavily Chinese-influenced “officialese” used by the local government. His grammar of the Ryukyuan and Japanese languages Elements or Contributions Towards a Loochooan & Japanese Grammar (surviving as a manuscript and in a Japanese reprint of the same) sometimes conflates the two. Bettelheim’s less than rigorous linguistics may have played a part in this. In his Elements, he appends a list of possible parallel roots to Hebrew words, in order “[t]o invite & stimulate phylologists to turn their attention to the Japanese”, and in a March 2, 1847 entry in his voluminous diaries, Bettelheim hints at his discovery of a Lost Tribe of Israel using comparative analysis of Ryukyuan personal names (“Moshi מיטה [sic]“, and “Yudji very near to Jesus”) [2].

First leaf of Luke (1855) "unfolded".

First leaf of “Loochooan” Luke (1855) “unfolded”.

Secondly, Bettelheim, might be considered an “executive translator” of these editions, since he compiled and adapted the translation work of others rather than laboring over it on his own. He was aided by numerous local tutors, and the lack of continuity among their translations (and their varying willingness to treat with Bettelheim in the “Loochooan” language) have apparently created some internal inconsistencies in the books, with some passages reading as broken sentences. It should also be noted that some of Bettelheim’s phrasing in the Gospel of John is very close to that of the Japanese translation of that same book made by Karl Gützlaff, Bettelheim’s son’s partial namesake. Both begin their translations of John 1:1 (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”) with the phrase “ハジマリニカシコイモノ…” (“Hajimari ni kashikoi mono…” “In the beginning [was] the wise [one]”), substantiating the abstract Greek Λόγος, usually translated literally as “Word.” Bettelheim, then, clearly took Japanese text and repackaged it as “Loochooan.”

Lastly, Bettelheim’s use of Japanese katakana to render Ryukyuan was a matter of necessity, since besides Chinese characters, there was no other method of writing the local language. Because katakana was not designed to accommodate Ryukyuan, a modern person literate in Japanese would read these books as if they sounded like Japanese, and not Ryukyuan [3].

First leaf of Luke (1858) "unfolded".

First leaf of “Loochooan”/Chinese Luke (1858) “unfolded”.

By 1858, Bettelheim had revised portions of his work, and 500 copies of a new version of Luke were published in Hong Kong, this time as a noticeably wider (29 x 21.5 cm) bilingual edition including the Gospel of Luke from Delegates’ Chinese version of the Bible. This same Delegates’ version, incidentally, had already served as the source of all five Hong Kong editions’ Chinese title page quotation. British and Foreign Bible Society bibliographers Darlow and Moule record that “[c]opies of this edition were sent to missionaries in Japan, who found, however, that the book was unsuitable for circulation in Japan proper.” Indeed, the curious mix of heavily Okinawan-flavored Japanese and Chinese would not prove useful for mainland Japanese. This second edition of Luke, by the way, still bears the carving date of 1855, since it appears that the block used to print the title page of the 1855 edition was reused for the bilingual 1858 edition.

Continue reading

An Independence Day Selection


John G. Craig Diaries. UPenn Ms. Coll. 113. Volume 2. Pages 156-7

As readers of this blog know, I like to always do a July 4th post about something related here at Penn. However, instead of picking a particular item or collection as in previous years I thought I’d dip into our rich collection of more than 100 manuscript diaries and journals for some first-hand accounts of Independence Day over time. Rather than trying to intentionally pick those diaries which might yield the most interesting results I chose from the collection more or less at random to get a few glimpses of how everyday people celebrated or experienced the 4th. Most of our diaries here date from the nineteenth century with a concentration towards the end of the century but otherwise span a wide range of places and writers but I’ve limited the selection here to only those writers who were American as they were the most likely to observe the holiday (I’ve also tried to keep spelling close to the original).

The longest of the accounts I came across comes from the extensive diaries of John G. Craig. A Philadelphia firefighter, Craig seems to have mixed feelings about the mayhem, fire, and noise occasioned by the holiday. Here, his observations on a soggy Independence Day in 1895 (UPenn Ms. Coll. 113, volume 2, pp. 155-7):

After dark despite the rain the sky was brilliantly illuminated with beautiful Rockets, fine Balloons, Roman Candles, and Colored fires, which were discharged in great profusion. The Programme which had been arranged for the celebration of the day was entirely upset by the Rain, it consisted of a Military Review and a Sham Battle at Belmont a Balloon Ascension at Memorial Hall, and a grand display of fire works on the Girard Avenue Bridge, there was also to be various various exercises in the Public Squares. The Review, and the Sham Battle at Belmont took place in the forenoon, before the Rain began. The Balloon ascension and the fire works were postponed. The Pick Nickers in the Park had a rough time, and were driven to seek shelter wherever they could find it. As usual there was a number of accidents from the careless handling of fire works &c The fires were trifling and few in number. It was the noisiest 4th of July I have ever known

As far as I know, celebrations in Philadelphia today will not involve any mock battles staged for “Pick Nickers” on Belmont Plateau in Fairmount Park! Independence Day was celebrated with as much noise but perhaps less revelry in the wartime US Navy in 1861 as evidenced in the diary of George J. Burnap who served aboard the U.S.S. Roanoke near Hampton Roads, Virginia (UPenn Ms. Coll. 216):

To day is the eighty sixth anniversary of the Independence of the United States. Clear beautiful day. Flags flying from all the Frigates and shipping in port. Everything on board as on any other day. At 12. Fortress Monroe commenced fireing the National salute, 34 guns, The Minnesota following, then the Cumberland, Commodore Pendergast’s Flag Ship.


George J. Burnap diary. UPenn  Ms. Coll. 216

Several of the diaries in our collection date from the Civil War era and it’s interesting to see the contrast in entries between them, from Burnap’s relatively cheery note, to mundane slightly humorous entries like that of a Mrs. Barber from Derry, New Hampshire who made the following note in her diary in 1863 (UPenn Ms. Coll. 215):

We have cake made. Made ice creams. Big White – mother of turky – they are 4 weeks today – laid one Egg. She is Patriotic.

I couldn’t resist pairing this with a diary from a young woman on the other side of the war who recorded an entry on the very same day. In her diaries, kept over the duration of the Civil War, Georgietta McLaughlin often reflected on how much her life had changed for the worse since the conflict started. Her entries for July 4th 1863 and 1864 when she was about 22 years old are decidedly morose and reflect no celebration but rather a yearning for Independence days of the past (UPenn Ms. Coll. 842):


What a contrast between this day and the 4th of July 1861 – that I spent in old WmsBurg and in the evening made down to the Battery for the first-time, saw the 10th Ga. Regt. on parade, to-day I am in the disagreeable City of Lynchburg, very sick. I’ll not complain however as I have my husband and mother with me. I am thankful for my blessings.


The 4th of this month always makes me feel sad but brings back the good old times at home, I don’t like to think of a anything connected with home, it so sadly  changed. Three years ago today. I went down to Fort Magruder near Williamsburg for the first time. Cousin Hattie, Sallie & I drove down late in the evening, was quite a pleasant time…I wonder if the good old times can ever be restored again – never for me!

Finally, for a take on the holiday abroad, I looked to the dense diaries of Florence Albrecht and her family during their 1888 trip to Japan. These diaries and accompanying photos have been digitized and provide a unique glimpse into a wealthy American family abroad in East Asia. In 1888 they spent July 4th touring Buddhist shrines, an excursion which covers several pages of the diary, but which begins with a note marking the strangeness of the holiday disconnect (UPenn Ms. Coll. 476):

 Today we celebrated Independence Day in rather an unusual way for us. We got up at seven and after a bath and breakfast – finished under the watchful gaze of half a dozen curio dealers we had a lunch put up and made an early start for the temples.

Though none of the sentiments and brief observations above are of any major interest individually I like to think of the diary collection as ripe for investigation of daily life across space and time. All the extant 19th-century diaries put together wouldn’t come close to recording the number of life experiences as a single minute of contemporary social media which makes what we take to be the mundane observations in these varied texts all the more rare and personalized.

Reflections on a Story Revealed


The ‘Levitt’ collection

[Ed. Note: Today's post is by Lucian McMahon a Penn Classics Post-Baccalaureate ‘14 who was a Penn Libraries Collections Student Assistant 2013--2014]

Despite the seemingly inexorable conquest of the e-book and contrary to the doom-and-gloom prognostications of bibliophiles (and publishing houses) everywhere, the physical book continues somehow to eke out an existence, maintaining a mysteriously tenacious hold on many readers. For some, the type on paper is easier on the eyes; for others, a bound book is more suitable for close reading—for underlining, circling, highlighting, writing in the margins; for others, living rooms chaotic with crowded bookshelves comfort and remind them of lives spent with the written word, each book a companion in this world and a guide to another.

Whatever the specific reason for the mysterious attraction, the physicality of the book is primary. More than just ethereal and ephemeral words on a screen, a book is a real object that can be touched, smelled, annotated, traded, inherited. We lend books to congenially-minded friends, we give them away when we move, we wrap them up as presents. We write in them to remind ourselves of a specific passage, to list characters and plotlines, to make a book a personal gift.

Our personal libraries are testaments of lives spent buying, trading, giving away, receiving, reading books. They tell a story beyond the stories in each individual book, a story found in the margins and on the inside covers and between the pages. Each annotation, inscription, forgotten slip of paper or memento is a snapshot of a life. Take all these snapshots and flip through them fast enough and you can watch a movie spanning decades.


Note dated Feb. 6, 1942 in the Poems and Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde 

Recently, while going through a gift to the Penn Libraries from Michael and Susan Levitt (not their real names), I was privileged to watch just such a movie. Looking up each book in the library catalogue as a student collections assistant, looking for defects, inscriptions, stamps, plates, etc. I began, unwittingly at first, to piece together their lives from the clues they had left behind in their books.

From the notes and dedications they and their children Jeff and Maria wrote to one another, from the letters forgotten and pieces of miscellanea left between the pages, I watched the lives of Michael and Susan unfold in fast forward: A dedication from Michael to Susan in The Poems and Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde in 1942, perhaps when he was soldiering overseas; an undated Valentine’s Day card in Borges’ Personal Anthology; a love note from Susan to Michael on the occasion of their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary in Unamuno’s The Tragic Sense of Life; Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting a Christmas gift in 1980; Living at the Edge by Squires and Talbot given to Susan on her 83rd birthday; a photograph of Michael peacefully asleep in an armchair with an obliging cat on his lap, “found in 2010,” in the pages of God’s Funeral by A. N. Wilson.

The 1960s and 70s left their mark on Michael and Susan’s library: The Bhagavad-Gita, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Confucius’ Analects, Herman Hesse. They read poetry, Rilke and Blake and Yeats and Coleridge. They read philosophy and history. Literature too, of course. A shelf of musical scores—compositions by Michael Levitt.

I found a book of the collected poems of Jeff Levitt. The preface tells of tragic events within the household. Suddenly, the melancholy strain wending through many of the inscriptions began to make sense. Maria appears to be a Near Eastern Studies scholar and a novelist in her own right. Michael was an accomplished scholar who must have died recently—a nursing home directory falls out of Yeats’ Mythologies and next to “Levitt” the name Susan stands alone.

When these books are catalogued and scattered throughout the stacks of the library and the snapshots of Michael and Susan’s lives have become disembodied and context-less, the story unfolding in their personal library will be lost—probably forever. A future student, plucking Phyllis Rose’s Parallel Lives from the shelf, might find a dedication to the Levitts’ sixty-fourth wedding anniversary, not knowing anything about Michael and Susan and Jeff and Maria. The student might begin to wonder about their lives and briefly invent a new story for them, with infinite possibilities. A Library of Babel of possible Levitt lives.

But while the books are still together, they tell a story beyond just what their owners liked to read or what the metadata of the future catalogue entry includes (how many pages, published when, where, and by whom). The inscriptions and personal effects tell a story of a life lived with love and sorrow, loss and gain. It is deeply touching to think I was lucky enough to be a last witness to this, Michael and Susan’s story.

Pittsburgh (i.e. Milan)

Why was the first book printed in Pittsburgh written in Italian? Spoiler: it wasn’t!

Above is the title page of the 1761 Lettere d’un vago italiano ad un suo amico with its place of publication listed as the thriving metropolis of “Pittburgo” a classic case of what bibliographers call a false imprint. I first came across this example nearly a year ago when researching European books which falsely claimed to be printed in North America and this April a copy of the first volume came up for sale from the bookseller Garrett Scott and is now here at Penn (call#: DP34 .C35 1761).

In 1761, Pittsburgh was only a few years old and had a population barely over 250. The first printing press and locally printed book didn’t come to the city until after Independence in 1786.  Given this fact and thanks to the sleuthing of the Italian bibliographer Marino Parenti, we know that this book is in fact part of a larger four volume series printed in Milan by the Agnelli family between 1761 and 1768, all of which were given a false “Pittburgo” imprint [1].

It’s interesting to speculate about what Italian readers thought when they saw the name of such a remote and marginal town on the title page. The text of the book itself consists of a number of letters recounting travel and conditions in Spain – why not give the book a false imprint from a Spanish city then? I can’t answer any of these questions with certainty but I like to think that Agnelli chose Pittsburgh to give a hint of the exotic. Pittsburgh and what is now western Pennsylvania likely figured in Italian news accounts of the Seven Years’ War and it would have appealed as an up-to-date reference for those in the know – something akin to how the name of the city of Timbuktu has often been used in Europe as a metaphor for remoteness. So while we can’t claim to have the first book published in Pittsburgh, I think this little volume is fascinating for showing a hint of how European readers and publishers must have viewed North America in the eighteenth century.

For more on false imprints see a wonderful recent piece by Shannon Supple at the Clark Library as well as a series of visualizations of select false imprints that I created last year.


[1] The entire set has been digitized by the University of Illinois and is available through HathiTrust. Note that the fourth volume includes a second title page giving the place of publication as Lucca.

A Founder’s Book


Initial Z from Kallimachou Kyrēnaiou Hymnoi. UPenn Call# PA3945 .A2 1532

Two weeks ago, the Penn Libraries hosted the annual Rosenbach Lectures in Bibliography featuring the book history scholar Ann Blair who has done fantastic work on the history of annotation and reading practices. Inspired by Blair’s lectures I thought I would share a new acquisition here at the Kislak Center. My colleagues and I spotted this item at auction recently and we were able to acquire it in January.  A 1532 Froben edition of the Greek poet Callimachus,our interest was primarily based on the prior owner of the book, James Wilson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and founder of the Penn Law School. Wilson (1742-1798) was born in Scotland and moved to Pennsylvania in 1765 when he was 23. He went on to become a successful lawyer, inaugural law instructor at the fledgling University of Pennsylvania, early American patriot, and one of the first justices of the new United States Supreme Court. For all of Wilson’s importance and his role at Penn, until acquiring this volume we held no books identified as being in his library [1].


James Wilson’s ownership inscription in Kallimachou Kyrēnaiou Hymnoi. UPenn Call# PA3945 .A2 1532

Wilson came to the North American colonies in the fall of 1765 and quickly became a tutor in classics at Penn. This volume is of special interest then as it dates from the first year of his time in Philadelphia. I have to especially thank our brilliant cataloger Liz Broadwell for her insight into Wilson’s inscription. What I had assumed was some corruption of “Ejus Liber” (his book) she masterfully read instead as “Ejus Lebetes” referring to a kind of Greek pot often presented as a prize (also a quote from the Vulgate Leviticus 27:3). This kind of classicist pedantry is just the kind of complicated allusion that would appeal to a young Greek instructor struggling to teach his students the ins and outs of a 4th century BC poet.  After his time at Penn Wilson of course became one of the first U.S. Supreme Court justices but the last few years of his life were difficult ones and he died a debtor in 1798. In the course of settling his estate Wilson’s administrators sold his possessions to the highest bidder. Last week I went to look through this rather sad list of sales in the records of the Philadelphia register of wills [2]. Among the lists of old linens, and a judicial robe sold to Samuel Chase is an inventory of Wilson’s books. Unfortunately the Callimachus described here is not on the list, perhaps sold earlier or retained by a family member, indeed the list of books sold consists almost entirely of legal works.


Entry for $17 received by the Wilson estate for his judicial robe (Philadelphia Administrations 1799-66).

After the volume left Wilson’s hands it went to a J.M. Duncan whose inscription is dated 1807. This is perhaps  John Mason Duncan who had graduated from Penn two years prior [3]. It then ended up in the collection of the

Signature of J.M. Duncan dated May 15, 1807

Signature of J.M. Duncan dated May 15, 1807

businessman and collector John Gribbel  (1858-1936) and was sold in the massive auction of his library in the 1940s [4]. Though there are a few eighteenth-century notes taken on the preliminary leaves of the volume, perhaps in Wilson’s hand, he and later readers appear to have added little in the way of marginalia. However, looking through the text I found my eyes drawn to the faint but voluminous traces of an earlier reader. These copious transliterations and notes taken between lines in the Greek text and in the margins are typical of early modern instructional practice. They suggest perhaps an early schoolboy reader, especially as the annotations exist only for certain portions of the text, indicative of lessons on particular chapters or poems. Though nearly impossible to photograph in natural light, under blacklight they come to life and overwhelm the page. I can’t say for sure, but I think it’s entirely possible

Annotations on flyleaf of UPenn Call # . Possibly in Wilson's hand.

Annotations on flyleaf of Kallimachou Kyrēnaiou Hymnoi. UPenn Call# PA3945 .A2 1532

given the state of the annotations that they were intentionally washed by a later owner or book dealer, perhaps in the 19th century. Whereas in its original state, and indeed to Wilson in 1766, the book had value primarily as an excellent Greek teaching text, by the 19th and 20th centuries its value shifted to its association with Wilson and a new focus and fetishization of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. It’s truly exciting to have this volume and its many layers of use in the collection and I hope it will inspire interest for generations of students to come.


[1] Thanks to the work of Jeremy Dibbell and others with the early American Libraries project we know of a few other books with his provenance that have appeared in the trade. In addition both the Kislak Center and the Biddle Law Library at Penn hold manuscript material relating to Wilson. See here for Kislak mss., see also Biddle Ms 016

[2] Papers related to Wilson’s estate are available at Philadelphia City Hall as Administrations 1799-66 (James Wilson). They are in extremely poor condition and covered with black mold. Photostatic and later photocopy surrogates are also available in the file. I have made a preliminary transcription of Wilson’s books from this inventory available.

[3]For a brief biography of Duncan see Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit (1869), pp. 145-6.

[4] Autograph letters, manuscripts and rare books, the entire collection of the late John Gribbel, Philadelphia (New York: Parke-Bernet Galleries, 1940-45).

Reading Chaucer through Dryden’s Eyes

[Ed. Note: Today's post is by Simran Thadani who received her Ph.D. in 2013 from Penn's Department of English with a specialization in book history and special collections]

John Dryden, perhaps the most prolific seventeenth-century English poet, playwright, and commentator, is well known for his adaptations of older texts. In his last work, Fables Ancient and Modern (1700), Dryden translated works by Homer, Ovid, Boccaccio, and Chaucer. But although Dryden styled Chaucer the “Father of English poetry,” and reprinted Chaucer’s original Middle English poems in the Fables,[1] one might suspect that Dryden’s eighteenth-century readers didn’t think Chaucer a worthwhile subject of study.

I make this claim based on two readers’ manuscript annotations in Penn’s copy of the Fables (Kislak Center, RBC Folio PR3418 .F3 1700). The unidentified readers, whom I’ll call A and B, engaged broadly with Dryden’s text. Here are some different things they wrote while reading:
Definitions: Reader A looked up the meanings of several unfamiliar terms. For instance, the word “horoscope” is defined as the “configuration of the planets at the hour of Birth,” while a “Quartil” is explained as “when planets are 3 signs distant = to one quarter or 90 degrees” (sigs. C1v, D2r).


Other specialized terms come from fields like fencing—to “foin” is “to push in fencing”; armory—a “Morion” is a “helmet, armour for the head”; and botany—“Fumetery, Centaury, and Spurge” are “an herb,” “a plant,” and “laurel or mezerion,” respectively (sigs. E4v, K1r, 2G3v; all definitions from the OED).

Thadani3Thadani4Thadani5Almost all these words originated in the medieval or Renaissance periods: the OED says “horoscope” was first used in 1050 CE (and then in Chaucer’s Astrolabe), “quartile” in 1500, “foin” in about 1450, “morion” in 1547, “centary” in about 1000 (and then in Chaucer’s “Nun’s Priest’s Tale”), and “spurge” in 1387. But none were in common use in 1700, so Dryden’s use of Chaucer’s idiom, while serving as an evocative tribute to the older poet, was obviously hard for Dryden’s readers to navigate. This reader was evidently more comfortable with Dryden’s classical and Biblical sources than his medieval vocabulary, for very few allusions—such as to Samson, Solomon, Medea, or Circe—are glossed.

Corrections to typographical errors: It’s hard to say which reader made these corrections from the handwriting alone, since the marks are so small and generic. Here, “chast” and “hast” are given terminal “e”s, with commas inserted to clarify the syntax (sig. 3Q1r):

Thadani6In a more substantive correction, the word “Orphans” in Dryden’s triplet is emended to “Orpheus,” restoring the correct allusion to the musician, his “Wife” Eurydice, and the “Tyrant” Pluto (sig. 2I3v).

Thadani7Classical quotations: Reader B explicitly links Dryden and his sources. This reader quotes both Horace and Ovid in connection with a dream Arcite has “at Break of Day” (sig. D2v):


“Post mediam noctem visus, cum somnia vera,” from Horace’s tenth Satire, is a description of Romulus “appearing … after midnight, when dreams are true.” Similarly, “Namque sub auroram, jam dormitante lucerna, / Somnia quo cerni tempore vera solent,” from Ovid’s Heroides, refers to the time “just before dawn, when the star is sinking, / A time of sleep when true dreams are often experienced.”

Dryden’s “Love’s a Malady without a Cure” has a more direct precedent, “nullis amor, est medicabilis, herbis,” although the reader does not provide the source (Ovid’s Metamorphoses) (sig. E3r).


Ovid’s Ars amatoria is the source for the note “Jupiter ex alto, perjuria videt amantum,” which follows the comment that “Jove but laughs at Lovers Perjury” (sig. E3v).


The reader was obviously familiar with unattributed Latin proverbs, too, citing “amare et sapere vix deo conceditur” next to Dryden’s “to be wise and love, / Is hardly granted to the Gods above” (sig. F3v).


Extended critical notes: Reader B copied out lengthy passages from the critic Joseph Warton’s Essay of the Genius and Writings of Pope (1756) [2] (sigs. G2v, G3r):


Crucially, neither reader goes back to Chaucer’s originals, which boast no annotations at all. Of course, blank margins don’t necessarily mean an ignored text, but still, they give us no evidence of these readers’ engagement with Chaucer, and in fact suggest a lack thereof, given how much manuscript material is to be found in Dryden’s text by comparison. It doesn’t help that Dryden doesn’t even mention the Chaucerian originals.

The annotations to Dryden’s Fables, then, start to seem like evidence of Chaucer’s obsolescence, and testimony to Dryden’s success in rendering the past legible for his readers.

[1] It was likely that Dryden had some say in the decision to reprint Chaucer’s original poems in the Fables; he had worked closely with Jacob Tonson, his publisher, for some time by then. None of the other three poets’ original works were included, so at least Chaucer was special in that context. But his Middle English texts were stripped of all notes and scholarly apparatus, relegated to the back of the volume where they could easily be overlooked or forgotten, printed in smaller type than Dryden’s text, and not even mentioned in the table of contents! Why would they have been included at all, then, since the cost of printing them would obviously have increased Tonson’s expenses and decreased his profits?

[2] Needless to say, the publication date of Warton’s essay provides a terminus post quem for Reader B’s annotations, which cannot have been made before 1756. It is worth noting that (a) Warton discusses not Chaucer himself, but Pope and Dryden’s versifications of Chaucer, and (b) the second excerpt from Warton also contains a reference to Spenser—again ignoring the fourteenth-century poetry in deference to its successors.

Fabulously Illustrated and Easy to Carry

Just a quick post to direct readers to my colleague Nancy Shawcross’s write-up of a fascinating new acquisition here at Penn:


In the last decade of the eighteenth century–amid some of the most tumultuous political times in the history of France–Pierre-Étienne Janet publishes an almanac of love songs in a richly-decorated binding. There is nothing in the text, the plates, or the hand-wrought covers that bespeak the Revolution, the execution of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, or the war being waged against Austria. The miniature book for ladies offers love poems–to be sung to existing tunes–interspersed with engraved plates, some of which evoke classical or medieval themes…

Always check the endpapers

ChinneryfullFor years scholars (including many from Penn!) have reminded us that print and manuscript cultures are far from exclusive. Printed forms with handwritten additions, handwritten diaries within printed borders, printed books interleaved with as much manuscript as printed text, are just some examples of this inter-mixing. Despite this knowledge though, I’m always delighted to find print nesting within what we tend to describe as manuscript and vice versa. I was browsing through one of our eighteenth-century manuscript commonplace books (UPenn Ms. Codex 782) a few months ago trying to identify the text when I noticed several printed pieces pasted onto the endpapers and rear board of the manuscript. I snapped some pictures and moved on. Later, looking back at the picture and reading the text, I realized we had two remarkable and unique pieces of print.


UPenn Ms. Codex 782. Rear pastedown.

The first of these is a handy guide to arithmetic and weights and measures  engraved by William Chinnery in 1744 [1]. It was “design’d to be bind up with Cyphering Books” to assist a scribe with difficult calculations and to serve as a reference. Given the dual content of this manuscript book, primarily a copied text of the Philosophical Transactions but with accounting leaves excised at the end, it’s possible that it was sold with the printed Chinnery sheet already pasted in.

An unrecorded engraved sheet doesn’t come around every day but I found myself even more fascinated by the second set of printed inclusions pasted in the manuscript. What first appeared as newspaper clippings turned out to be a typefounder’s advertisement or specimen. In the age of digital fonts and typesetting we often take for granted what a big deal a new type design could be in the hand-press era. In other words, type had to be physically created and designed mould by mould.


This particular type specimen comes from the type founder Joseph Jackson (1733-1792) who was especially known for his development of new typefaces to print Persian and Devanagari scripts, reflecting the growing interest in disseminating works in those languages from the British territories in South Asia.


Specimen of Devanagari type published by Joseph Jackson in 1785. ESTC T193655. Cambridge University copy (ECCO).

The specimen pasted into the manuscript here at Penn, though not of one of Jackson’s South Asian types is not in James Mosley’s list of British type specimens and is otherwise unknown. Continue reading

Indian diaries at Penn


Illustration of Payne & Co. warehouse in Calcutta (1866). UPenn Call# CT9999.P39 1866

The Penn Libraries have important holdings in both the history of British India and 19th-century diaries. To add to this collection,  the Libraries have acquired an additional three personal diaries in the past year, all from the British colonial period. These diaries provide different glimpses into the world of the British Raj.

The first of these diaries was commercially produced for the year 1866 by Payne & Co. in Calcutta, and carries handwritten diary entries that note the weather, the author’s health, and social engagements. In addition, there are scores of advertisements of establishments in Calcutta, which offer an exciting view of the period in this erstwhile capital of the Indian Presidencies. The diary has the autograph of someone named “Trevelyn[?]” and numerous scattered contemporary diary entries in ink in the same hand between March and July, recording the weather and the author’s state of health, familial and social engagements, and religious reflections. It also includes a very early railway map and a brief almanac.


Page from Cockshott diary describing his visit to Calcutta. UPenn Ms. Coll. 938

The second diary takes a different form, instead of a pre-printed book, it is what we might think of as a blank book used by the author to record his travels. The volume, now UPenn Ms. Coll 938, was used by Alfred E. Cockshott from 1880 to 1936. The youngest of eight children born to Francis P. Cockshott and Jane A. Cockshott, of Islington in London, Alfred married Ada Martha Read in 1899 and they had three children. Cockshott most likely worked for the renowned insurer Lloyd’s of London. Preceding the first entry in the diary Cockshott provides a half-page list entitled “summer holidays” spanning 1867 to 1879 with a city next to each year. The journal continues with short, descriptive daily entries of each trip Cockshott took throughout his life. The first journey he recorded was in August 1880 when he was just thirteen years old and on a summer vacation with his family. Cockshott provides almost daily entries of his trips. He chiefly travels with family members, mentioning his mother, father, and brothers. In later years he traveled with his wife referring to her by her initials A. M. C. Many of his journeys are to Scotland and places within the United Kingdom. He did however also travel further afield visiting the continent as well as India. One personal note by Cockshott was written while he was in India. He discusses his brother Frank’s illness and recovery from dysentery. The last entry in the journal records a trip to Scotland in 1936 and includes three additional leaves laid in. Occasionally there are notations regarding costs of hotel stays or travel. The diary is written in ink and almost half of the journal is blank.

The third of the diaries was kept in 1932 by Rai Sahib Radha Mohan Lal, a judge for the chief court in Jaipur, India. Now UPenn Ms. Coll. 913  The diary is written in a daily-paged calendar displaying the Gregorian date as well as the Sambat, Fasli, and Hijri calendars. The title page features an attractive paper label reading “The Gents’ Diary, 1932.”  The pre-printed portion of the diary includes advertisements on the end papers and a table of contents with common reference information preceding the calendar.


Lal’s daily entries record his work schedule, days he is in court hearing cases, or at home writing decisions. He writes of marriage arrangements, obtaining gold pieces, and banking. He also includes details of the travels of his family (including his wife and sons) and friends, their education, and health status, and visits to the hospital. Lal also records the Hindu holidays and some details of the celebrations. The diary also includes quotidian details about his life, including the receipt of fresh fruit and mangoes, tidbits about his home garden, and news that his cow successfully calved.


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