The results are in: Intaglio class final projects

It is not often that I get to see the results of my Special Collections instruction sessions in such a tangible way.  Back in February, I worked with April Katz’s Intaglio class, who came in to view and take photos of examples of intaglio prints from a variety of our rare books to incorporate into their own studio projects. In April I had the pleasure of attending the class’s final critique and seeing the fruits of their labor.

All of the prints were inspiring and beautiful to see. I am highlighting here a few in which I could clearly decipher where the inspiration came from in our collections.

Here, for example, is the work of Jen Wichers, who took as inspiration images from a book on French fashion from the 1780s (Cornu, Paul, et. al. Galerie des Modes et Costumes Francais. Paris: É. Lévy, 1912?. Call number: GT865 G132).

 

Anna Wagner was inspired by images of tools from Diderot’s French Enlightenment Encyclopédie (Diderot, Denis. Encyclopédie. Paris: Briasson, etc, 1751-65. Call number: AE25 En185) in these prints of hammers with entwined flowers.

One of our botanical books inspired this work by Alexandria Collins, which shows the interplay of the natural and the man-made. (Hooker, William Jackson. Flora boreali-americana. London: H.G. Bohn, 1840. Call  number: QK201 .H764f)

Here is a final set of photos of the work of Jordan Jorgensen, who was also inspired by Diderot. I like the interplay of the hand tool (scissors) and the larger machine (spinning wheel) and the faceless woman running it.

Thank you to April Katz’s ARTIS 357/557, Intaglio & Monotype class for allowing me to attend your final critique and show off your work on our blog. You did great work!

 


Rare Book Highlights: Railroad tourism to Iowa lakes

Nichols, C. S. Spirit Lake and the Okobojis. Steubenville: Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Ry., 1901.

Cover of the pamphlet, Spirit Lake and the Okobojis. Notice the Native American paddling a canoe through reeds in the green below the title.

During the summer, I love to spend time at a lake. Clear Lake in north central Iowa is a favorite of mine because it is the closest natural lake to where I live in Iowa. People have been leaving the heated cities behind to spend summers at lakes for a long time. Before the car made the Great American Roadtrip commonplace, the early tourism industry was greatly promoted by railways, as one of our recent acquisitions makes clear. The Burlington, Cedar Rapids & Northern Railway published a travel guide in 1901 for Spirit Lake and the Okobojis, a group of glacial lakes in northwestern Iowa that is sometimes referred to as “Iowa’s Great Lakes.”

Crandall’s Lodge, Spirit Lake, North Shore

This 31-page pamphlet gives plenty of information for the potential traveler who might be considering these Iowa lakes for their summer destination, including a description of Spirit Lake, information on where to stay, points of interest, and things to do. Here is its description of Crandall’s Lodge, “the most noted” resort on Spirit Lake: “There are none of the restraints of a fashionable summer restort at Crandall’s Lodge, but visitors here come to have a good time, unhampered by anything that will prevent the fullest enjoyment. …The beach facing the Lodge is the finest on Spirit Lake. It is quite wide, floored with clean white sands, dipping so gently into the water that bathers can go out a great distance before getting beyond their depth. This is the most popular pastime at this resort, and the merry shouts of children in play upon the sand or sporting in the water are heard from morn till night. …The rooms are large, well furnished and comfortable. The table is supplied with an abundance of well cooked and well served food. The cream, milk and butter come to the table fresh from a herd of thirty-six thoroughbread cows, and the supply is never in the least stinted. The vegetables are fresh from its own garden, which is the especial pride of Mr. Orlando Crandall, the founder of the Lodge. The rates here are most reasonable. Transients are charged $2.00 per day or $10.00 per week, with special rates to families.” The Lodge is a good 6 1/2 miles from the railway station, but the proprietor will meet visitors at the station for the scenic drive along the lake to the lodging. A family friendly swimming beach, large rooms, local foods, and reasonable rates…what more could even a modern tourist ask for?

The young “bathers” look a little different from today, don’t they?

Where did these visitors come from? The B.C.R. & N. railway “has a direct line from Chicago, Peoria and St. Louis to Spirit Lake. It maintains a double daily service between Chicago and St. Paul and Minneapolis….”

Map of the Spirit Lake/Okoboji area showing the railway and attractions.

Now, who’s ready to join me at the lake?


Rare Books Highlights: Squire on the Longitude

A book open to two pages showing interspered text and rows of symbols.

Pages of Squire’s Proposal showing symbols of her own invention.

Squire, Jane. A proposal to determine our longitude. London: Printed for the author, and sold by S. Cope … and by the Booksellers of London and Westminster, 1743. Call number: QB225 S66x, 1743.

Women’s History Month was established to honor the contribution of women to society, and Jane Squire was not at all shy about putting herself forward as a women with a contribution to make.

Squire was an eighteenth century British woman and the only woman to participate openly when the British Parliament passed the Longitude Act in 1714 that offered a reward to whomever could establish a workable method for determining longitude at sea. Latitude was much easier to calculate than longitude, and the inability to accurately determine a ship’s east-west location sometimes resulted in shipwrecks.

Jane Squire boldly put forward her proposal, expecting it to be taken seriously, even though it was not considered proper at the time for women to engage in navigation and mathematics, especially for monetary gain. In a letter to Sir Thomas Hanmer, published in the book, she counters the objection with a hint of sly wit:

The Term Mathematick, I with great Ease resign to Men; but to count, to measure, &c. which are now generally suppos’d to be included in it; are so naturally, the Properties of every reasonable Creature, that it is impossible to renounce them, and deserve that Honour. (30)

And later she writes, in a frequently-quoted passage, “I do not remember any Play-thing, that does not appear to me a mathematical Instrument; nor any mathematical Instrument, that does not appear to me a Play-thing: I see not, therefore why I should confine myself to Needles, Cards, and Dice; much less to such Sorts of them only, as are at present in Use” (31).

If you are interested in learning more about Squire’s unusual and sometimes difficult life, I highly recommend the blog post, “The Lady of the Longitude: Jane Squire,” from the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Science and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge.

Our copy of Squire’s Proposal is a second edition, bound in leather and decorated with some unusual symbols that seem to be Squire’s invention and can be seen within the text in the image that heads this post. According to the aforementioned CRASSH blog post, this is the common binding for this book, which is interesting at a time when most books were sold unbound.

Shows front cover of book bound in leather with a black circle in the center fo the cover with cross-shaped symbols stamped in gold into the circle.

Front cover of Squire’s Proposal, showing symbols stamped into the leather binding.

Inside the front cover, there is evidence of an interesting provenance, or ownership history, for our copy, indicating that it was owned by at least two notable people.

Inside front cover of a book showing a bookplate in the center with a coat of arms of a birth of pray with wings extended rising out of a crown surrounded by a ring with the words White Wallingwells. Second bookplate is a simple name in white on gray reading Harrison D. Horblit

Two bookplates inside ISU’s copy of Squire’s Proposal.

The round armorial bookplate in the center has the words “White” and “Wallingwells” in the circle and appears to belong to the White Baronetcy of Tuxford and Wallingwells in County of Nottingham, England. Sir Thomas Woollaston White, 1st Baronet, lived from 1767-1816, and could easily have added this book to his library. The plain name plate reading “Harrison D. Horblit” indicates the noted collector of rare books in the history of science, navigation, and mathematics. Horblit is the author of One hundred books famous in science: based on an exhibition at the Grolier Club (call number: Q124 H781o), now a common reference book for rare book collectors and librarians–though it does not include Squire’s Proposal. It is pretty exciting to have a book with such an interesting provenance!

The copy also includes the fold-out summary of the proposal.

Unfolded large sheet of paper with many sections of text and charts of symbols

Fold out summary of Squire’s proposal bound into the front of the book.

This summary gives a visual demonstration of the proposal’s complexity. The CRASSH blog post describes the proposed method as based on “real astronomical research and intellectual trends” but not easy to put into practice. “The scheme centred on dividing the heavens into more than a million segments which could be recognised visually, so that young sailors would not need advanced mathematics, and which were described through a new universal language.”

This book presents an interesting element in the history of navigation and a woman who was not afraid to tread in new paths.

Cited

“The Lady of the Longitude: Jane Squire.” CRASSH blog, Posted 1 Dec. 2014, CRASSH: Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Science and Humanities, www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/blog/post/the-lady-of-the-longitude. Accessed 28 March 2017.


Rare Book Highlights: the oldest book

Large books sits in an open box with sides raised at angles to support the book when it is opened.

Quaestiones de veritate sitting in its cradle box specially designed by a former intern with the library’s Preservation Department.

Saint Thomas Aquinas. Quaestiones de veritate. Colonie: Johann Koelhoeff de Lubeck, 1475. Call number: XI 1475 T36.

It is certainly not the oldest book in the world, but it is the oldest book at Iowa State University Library. This copy of St. Thomas Aquinas‘s work, known in English as Disputed Questions on Truth and originally written in the 13th century, was printed by Johann Koelhoeff de Lubeck in 1475 in Cologne, Germany.  It is what is referred to as an incunabulum, or “incunable,” a book printed in Europe before the year 1501. “Incunabula” is a Latin word that translates to “swaddling clothes,” and it refers to books from “the cradle of printing” period–the first 50 years of printing following Gutenberg‘s invention of moveable type and the printing press. These are the first European books that were made in a mechanized fashion, after centuries of scribes in monasteries painstakingly copying books by hand.

With its designation as ISU’s Oldest Book, this Aquinas sees a lot of use. We trot it out for visiting VIPs getting a tour of the library. We show it to alumni, and occasionally to eager groups of students who heard something about a really old book. And this book is worth seeing. Not only because it is “really old,” but because it demonstrates a lot about how early books were made.

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The cover shows signs of being quite ornamental. Leather was stretched over wooden boards, and the leather was stamped with hot metal tools. These tools created diamond patterns and stamps of what looks like a deer, birds, fleur de lis, and other floral and geometric shapes. There are holes in four corners and in the center that likely once held bosses (click here for another blog post featuring bosses), and there are signs of clasps at the edges of the front and back covers.

Shows an open book. On the left side is a sheet with two columns of handwritten text.

Manuscript leaf used to attach the covers to the book.

Opening up the book, there are more interesting things to see. Above, you can see a manuscript leaf (a page that has been written by hand) that had been used as a front endpaper covering the wooden board of the cover. It was a common practice for early bookbinders to use manuscript waste or print waste in this way. Here is a close-up view of the manuscript writing:

Close up of the manuscript inside the front cover of the book.

Close up of the manuscript inside the front cover of the book.

The inside back cover is similar, but here, a strip of the paper has been torn away to reveal the cords laced in the board. The pages of a book are sewn onto a series of cords. These cords are then attached to the boards, as can be seen below. On the spine, you can see evidence of the cords hidden underneath the leather in what are known as raised bands.

Looking into the pages of the text itself, we see that the pages of the printed text look very similar to the manuscript pages lining the boards. In both the  manuscript and printed leaves, the page layout is very similar with two columns of text and wide margins that was commonly used for medieval manuscripts. The typeface was designed to resemble the form of letters in medieval scripts.

Two facing pages of a book. Each page has two columns of text. There are large red initial capital letters and other red markings added to the text by pen.

Inside pages of Quaestiones de veritate.

What also stands out are the red initial capital letters at the beginning of sections of the text. These features were also brought into printing from the medieval manuscript tradition. These initials could be decorated in various ways, and could sometimes contain elaborate figures and scenes. Here they are simple red letter forms, but I find them no less appealing for their simplicity.

The pages also contain numerous other red markings in the text. This is referred to as rubrication and is usually used to indicate the end of one section of text and the beginning of another, and sometimes to announce the subject of the section or its purpose. The word “rubrication” comes from the Latin rubrico, meaning “to color red.” A completed text was given to a special scribe known as a rubricator who would add the additional red markings. Here we see this early printed work following a similar process.

Thanks for coming on this tour of our oldest book in the collection. Now you can see why it gets so much attention!


Rare Book Highlights: Benjamin Franklin and electricity

Franklin, Benjamin. Experiments and observations on electricity, made at Philadelphia in America. London: Printed for F. Newbery, 1774. Call number: QC516 F854e5

Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Vol. 47, London: Royal Society of London, 1751-52. Call number: Q41 R812p

We’ve all heard the story of Benjamin Franklin discovering electricity by tying a key to a kite and flying it during a thunderstorm. But have you ever thought about how that story was documented?

Diagrams of leyden jars, lightnight rods, and various electrical experiments

The title page and frontispiece of Benjamin Franklin’s “Experiments and Observations on Electricity.”

As usual,the truth of the matter is a little more complicated than what we learned as children. Mythbusters performed an experiment to show that Ben would have been killed by the electric shock if he had actually touched the key. Other scholars note, however, that the charge in the key came from the surrounding atmosphere, and not from a lightning strike, making the charge much lower in intensity. Nor did Franklin exactly discover electricity. At the time, electricity was known and studied, but only in its static form (Carter 119). Franklin did prove through his experiments that lightning is a form of electricity, and he first proposed the use of lightning rods on buildings, masts of ships, or other tall structures, to attract the lightning away from the building and conduct the electric shock down into the ground.

Ben Franklin conducted a number of electrical experiments throughout the 18th century, along with a community of scientists throughout Europe. He shared the results of his experiments by letter, and he enjoyed a particular correspondence with Peter Collinson, a British scientist and Fellow of the Royal Society of London.  In his letters to Collinson, he described his experiments with Leyden jars, charged clouds, and lightning rods. Many of these letters were read at meetings of the Royal Society, where the experiments were discussed. Several other men of science performed their own experiments, and shared the results of these experiments through papers read at Royal Society meetings and through correspondence to Franklin and others.

Collinson gathered Franklin’s letters together and published them in London in 1751 under the title Experiments and Observations on Electricity, Made at Philadelphia in America. Five editions were printed by 1769, and editions in French, German, and Italian, were published not long after. Franklin’s work in electricity established his international reputation as a scientist, and this publication is considered to be “the most important scientific book of eighteenth-century America” (Carter 119).

Iowa State University library holds a copy published in 1774, the fifth edition by the printer F. Newbery of London. A description of the famous kite experiment can be found in Letter XI, from Oct. 19, 1752, shown below.

ISU also holds the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, where many of the letters from Franklin to Collinson and others are published. A different letter to Collinson describing the kite experiment is published in the Transactions. It was dated from Philadelphia on October 1, 1752, and it was read two-and-a-half months later, on Dec. 21, 1752.

Others were studying electricity at the same time. The same volume of Philosophical Transactions includes “An Account of the Effects of Lightning at Southmolton in Devonshire, by Joseph Palmer, Esquire,” which was read to the Society on January 9, 1752, and “An Account of the Phaenomena of Electricity in vacuo, with Some Observations thereupon, by Mr. Wm. Watson, F.R.S.,” read February 20, 1752.

Even if Ben Franklin did not “discover electricity,” he certainly made important contributions to the general understanding of the nature of electricity and lightning.

Work Cited

Carter, John, and Percy H. Muir. Printing and the Mind of Man. Karl Pressler, 1983.


Friday Fun!

Today Professor Lisa Ossian, from Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC),  brought her Western Civilization & U.S. History classes to learn about primary source research in  Special Collections & University Archives. Some of the students headed into our reading room or the library’s Media Center afterwards to start their research for their assignment.

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Contact us for more information on our instruction program.


Behind the Scenes – Homecoming 2016

Have you ever wondered what it takes to put together a pop-up exhibit? Last Friday, Special Collections & University Archives (SCUA) exhibited about two dozen items for three hours for Iowa State’s Homecoming. The temporary exhibit was open to the public, but our focus was alumni visiting for Homecoming. Today’s post is about our process.

Dry Run

Back in mid-August, we invited the Alumni Center to drop by and see what items we thought we’d include in the October Homecoming exhibit. This dry run entailed staff from the department brainstorming on what items would be best to put on exhibit and what order they should be displayed. Labels were made and the classroom was rearranged into an exhibit space. Heather Botine, Associate Director for Constituent Engagement, dropped by and gave us feedback on how we set the room up and what kinds of materials may engage alumni more. We also discussed what reproductions SCUA could provide for digital display over at the Alumni Center.

Heather Botine, Associate Director for Constituent Engagement, looks at our oldest book with Amy Bishop, Rare Book and Manuscripts Archivist. University Archivist, Brad Kuennen, and Collections Archivist, Laura Sullivan, in background.

Heather Botine, Associate Director for Constituent Engagement, looks at our oldest book with Amy Bishop, Rare Book and Manuscripts Archivist. University Archivist, Brad Kuennen, and Collections Archivist, Laura Sullivan, in background (Photo by Rachel Seale)

Two weeks out

We made sure to promote our Homecoming event in the library and in our social media. We enlisted the help of Monica Gillen, the Communication Specialist for the library, and Jody Kalvik, Instruction, Program Coordinator. Monica helped get the word out and Jody designed flyers, posters, a banner, and our signage.

The week before before Homecoming

We did one last practice run. We tweaked our list of items on display and took into account Heather’s set-up advice. We also invited Sonya Barron, Conservator, to drop by. Sonya ensured our items were sturdy enough to display, offered to provide mounts, and advised us how to safely display materials. We also made final decisions on what would be in the temporary exhibit and what order we wanted to display items, there was some rearrangement.  Pictures were taken of materials so we’d know how to set up the following week.

Two of our rare books propped up in book cradles (Photo b Rachel Seale)

Two of our rare books propped up in book cradles (Photo by Rachel Seale)

The week of Homecoming

Now that we had our exhibit finalists, we had to finish drafting and mounting the labels.

Friday of Homecoming!

We spent the morning setting up and our doors opened at 1 pm. We were so pleased at the opportunity to show off our treasures.

Thank you to everyone who visited us last Friday at 405 Parks Library. To those that missed seeing our treasures on display, drop by and see us sometime. We’re open from 9-5, Monday-Friday.


SCUA Treasures – Leave Your Legacy Homecoming 2016

Tomorrow, from 1-4 pm in room 405 Parks Library, Special Collections & University Archives (SCUA) will have selected treasures on display. We will have artifacts, rare books, films, student publications from the 1960s, and other wonderful items from our collections.

 

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Please drop by. All are welcome!

For the preservation of our treasures, please leave food & drink outside.


Rare Book Highlights: Hammer of Demons

Alexandro Albertino. Mallevs daemonvm, siuè, quatuor experimentatissimi exorcismi, ex Euangelijs collecti : in fine erunt due Benedictiones, & vna vulgaris deprecatio pro ignaris, & mulierbus, vt possint semetipsos praeseruare, & liberare Deo auxiliante : si non habuerint sacerdotem. Veronae: Typis Bartholomaei Merli, 1620. (Call number: BF1555 A38x )

The demon-possessed woman. Obscure Latin verses causing the possessed to writhe in agony. Familiar scenes to any fan of exorcism movies, or to any TV channel surfer this time of year.

That is why I couldn’t resist choosing Malleus Daemonum (or Hammer of Demons) for this month’s Rare Book Highlight after discovering this book while perusing our shelves recently. While works on demonology, or even religion more broadly, are not a collecting area here in Special Collections, we do have a few interesting books to be found on subjects such as these from an earlier era of less discriminate collecting.

Title page of Malleus Daemonum, 1620.

Title page of Malleus Daemonum, 1620.

Malleus Daemonum appears to be a very rare book on the subject of exorcisms. Trying various searches in WorldCat (an online union catalog that includes items from libraries in 170 countries), I found only 4 other copies of the 1620 edition like we have (one at the University of Illinois here in the United States and three at libraries in the United Kingdom), and another five copies of the 1624 edition in the United States, Australia, and in Rome.

First page of the litany section of Exorcism I

First page of the litany section of Exorcism I

As the subtitle implies (quatuor experimentatissimi exorcismi, ex Euangelijs collecti, or Four Most Experimented Exorcisms Collected from the Gospels), the book explores the subject of exorcisms in the context of the four Christian gospels. The main part of the text is divided into four sections, Exorcismus I, II, III, and IIII. Written in Latin, each begins with a litany, or series of formulaic petitions, along these lines: “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison, Christe audi nos, Christe exaudi nos. Pater de Coelis Deus, libera hanc Creaturam tuam ab omnibus malis, et vexationibus Daemonium.” (Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Christ have mercy, Christ hear us, Christ graciously hear us. God the Father of Heaven, God, deliver this creature of thy family, from all evils, and vexation of evil spirits.) The litany continues for several pages, calling on the Trinity, the apostles, and the saints, to drive away demons. It culminates in a prayer, beginning, “Oremus” (We pray…) Next, are long sections discussing or perhaps quoting specific selections from each of the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The book ends with what appear to be three testimonials from priests, testifying to the book’s orthodoxy.

Oremus ("we pray")

Oremus (“we pray”)

To put this book in context, I looked at a number of recent scholarly works exploring witchcraft and demonic possession in early modern Europe and North America, roughly from the late 15th century to the late 18th century. In her book Demonic Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern France, Sarah Ferber explains that the high number of cases of demonic possession and exorcism of that period took place in the context of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, which brought a great deal of turmoil to Europe. She writes, “…in this context, public displays of battles with Satanic forces became a showcase for rival strands of Christianity. Exorcism – the ritual invocation and controlling of possessing demons, using prayer, sacred texts and exhortation – took place among every western Christian group, to varying degrees, in Europe and in its colonies” (3). The belief in demonic possession, or that spirits can take up residence in a person’s body in order to control it, has scriptural authority for Christians, specifically the gospel account of Jesus’ driving out the “Legion” of spirits from the man in Mark 5, essentially the first performance of exorcism in Christianity (Levack 11).

The proliferation of exorcism during the period was viewed as problematic by the Catholic Church, according to Ferber. Exorcists were sometimes viewed as having made a pact with the devil themselves, in their development of rituals to drive out the possessing demons, but the rite of exorcism also had its defenders. Most famously, Girolamo Menghi, an Italian Franciscan priest, published an authorized exorcism manual by the title Flagellum daemonum (Flail of Demons–it seems to me that our author Albertinus likely had this book in mind when titling his own) in 1576. Exorcists, both those viewed as genuine and those believed to be charlatans, used this work to establish their legitimacy (Ferber, “Demonic” 579, and Ferber, Demonic 38-39). In order to systematize the practice of exorcism, Pope Paul V approved an exorcism ritual that was published in 1614 in the Rituale Romanum, the priest’s service manual (Ferber, Demonic 38-29).

Malleus Daemonum on the shelf with its neighbors. See faint markings of previous letters on the spine.

Malleus Daemonum on the shelf with its neighbors. See faint markings of previous letters on the spine.

Examining the book beyond its text and historical milieu, it shows some interesting binding features. It is bound in limp vellum, meaning that the vellum is not stretched around a board, but is simply attached to the spine and folded around the text block, providing a flexible cover. On the spine is written, “E | V | Alberti | Malleu |Daemo | 23.” Beneath that are traces of previous writing that has been removed. This is what is known as a palimpsest, familiar to scholars of medieval manuscripts. Parchment and vellum were expensive to produce, so they were made reusable by scraping or washing the ink from a page. I am not experienced enough to know if this is a common feature of vellum used for bindings, but it is not something I have come across before. I cannot quite make out what was written underneath the current title.

Front cover of Malleus Daemonum in limp vellum with scribblings in ink.

Front cover of Malleus Daemonum in limp vellum with scribblings in ink.

Further of interest, there is more writing, not so thoroughly erased, on the front cover of the binding. It is more messily written, as if it were used to scribble some notes, and makes me wonder if this book was bound with a piece of reused parchment. Again, I cannot make out much more than “Ergo” (therefore). More of a student of paleography than I can currently claim to be would need to take a look at it.

Works Cited

Ferber, Sarah. Demonic Possession and Exocism in Early Modern France. Routledge, 2004.

–. “Demonic Possession, Exorcism, and Witchcraft.” The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America, edited by Brian P. Levack, Oxford University Press, 2013, 575-592.

Levack, Brian P. The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe. Pearson, 2006.


Rare Book Highlights: Cobbett’s Corn

Cobbett, William. A Treatise on Cobbett’s Corn. London: W. Cobbett, 1828.

What do you think of when you think of Iowa?

Let me guess. Corn.

Cobbett's Corn title page, printed on paper made from corn husks, 1828.

Cobbett’s Corn title page, printed on paper made from corn husks, 1828.

That is why I love to pull out Cobbett’s Corn when people come to ISU’s Special Collections and University Archives. Not only is it a rare book focused on corn, but its first two leaves are actually printed on paper made from corn husks to demonstrate the usefulness of the plant.

William Cobbett was a lively writer with strong opinions. In his “Introduction” to the book, he explains that in the book he will

“show, what a blessing this plant will be to the English labourer, and how it will and must drive the accursed soul-degrading potatoe out of that land, into which it never ought to have come” (8).

Tell us how you really feel, Cobbett!

William Cobbett, portrait in oils, possibly by George Cooke, about 1831. National Portrait Gallery, London.

Cobbett’s animated writing style was matched by a spirited personality, which showed itself in his campaigns against corruption and fiery journalism that had a tendency to run afoul of the authorities. Born in 1763 in Farnham, Surrey, to a farmer and innkeeper, he joined the army at the age of 21, which took him to New Brunswick in Canada. After his return to England and leaving the army, he accused several of his former officers with corruption. Fearing retribution, he fled to France, but, as the country was in the midst of revolution, he soon left for America, settling in Philadelphia in 1792. There, he began his career in political journalism, returning to England in 1800 after losing a lawsuit for libel brought against him by the physician Dr. Benjamin Rush. He continued his political journalism in England, founding the Political Register in 1802, which he published until his death in 1835. He spent two years in prison (1810-1812) and paid a hefty fine for criticizing the flogging of a militiaman who had protested against unfair paycuts. Through his paper, he was an advocate for the poor and a proponent of Parliamentary reform. In the midst of social unrest, the government repressed dissent, which sent Cobbett fleeing once again to the United States in 1817, where he lived and continued to publish the Register for two years before returning to England.

Cobbett’s periods in North America exposed him to the maize that is native here. In fact, it was while serving in the army in New Brunswick that he first experienced “Indian corn” and “made many meals upon ears of corn in their green state” (14). Until this time, he writes,

“I used to be greatly puzzled by that text of Scripture (St. Matthew, chap. xii., ver. 1,) which told me that, ‘at that time Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the corn: and his disciples were an hungered, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat'” (14).

He then goes on (what I found to be) an entertaining digression for several pages of what he calls the “Scriptural history of the corn” (20), which includes little jabs at the corruption of the Church in England.

Engraving of a corn plant.

Plate 1 from Cobbett’s Corn, 1828.

The corn he suggests growing in England is a particular variety that his son discovered in France. It is a smaller variety that does not require long periods of heat to ripen, thus making it appropriate for England’s shorter, wetter summers.

Cobbett’s Corn is a less known book. He is better known for Rural Rides, in which he describes horseback rides through the country landscapes of Southeast England and the Midlands and shares his views on social reform. But Cobbett’s Corn is worth a look, as well. The bibliographer Morris L. Pearl wrote, “In this most entertainingly written treatise Cobbett skilfully blended agricultural and political advice with fascinating reminiscences. Contemptuous of his critics and enemies, he waxed lyrical at the prospect of English farm-labourers seeing ‘this beautiful crop growing in all their gardens…instead of the infamous Potato'” (Pearl, William Cobbett (1953), no. 154).