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Fathers and Sons of the American Navy

Posted for William Robinson, Spring 2014 Digital Library Intern.

The Digital Library at Villanova continues to digitize and transcribe the Barry-Hayes Papers, owned by the Independence Seaport Museum. The papers remind us that in the 19th century, sons often followed their fathers into a certain line of work. The collection has many letters written by the relatives of Commodore John Barry, considered a “father of the American Navy”, that discuss the naval and merchant careers of the sons of Revolutionary War era naval officers. In “Letter, To: ‘My Dear Son’ From: Mother Elizabeth Hayes, February 21, 1815”, Elizabeth Keen Hayes, the daughter-in-law of John Barry, tells her son Thomas Hayes, a midshipman at Boston Navy Yard, about the injuries of Richard Dale Jr. Dale Jr. was the son of Richard Dale, one of the original commodores of the Continental Navy who had fought under the command of John Barry and John Paul Jones during the Revolutionary War. In January 1815, serving aboard the U.S.S. President in the War of 1812, the British took him prisoner after he was struck by a cannonball in a sea battle off the coast of Bermuda. Elizabeth Hayes has received news from Richard Dale that Dale Jr. has been injured, but still hopes for his recovery: “the report is that is most relyd on he has lost his leg his father is in some respects prepared for it but his mother flatters herself it is not so. I pray sincerely it may only prove a slight wound, the day the President was captured Richard was twenty years old”. Hayes also discusses a letter from Stephen Decatur Jr. to Mrs. Dale describing her son’s injuries. Decatur Jr. was a celebrated naval commander in the Barbary Wars, the Quasi-War with France, and the War of 1812, and his own father was a naval officer who had fought in the Revolutionary War. Hayes reports that “Mr Dale wounded and doing well was all Decatur said respecting Richard”.

Letter, To: "My Dear Son"

The letter gives an interesting glimpse into the generational influence of naval warfare, the pace of communication in 1815, and the anxiety felt by a mother over her son’s work. The letter has references to three descendants of Revolutionary War era naval officers; Thomas Hayes, Richard Dale Jr., and Stephen Decatur Jr. Elizabeth Hayes can only speculate about the injuries of Richard Dale Jr. and must wait for more information. She expects that Dale’s mother will not admit the severity of her son’s injury, but his father is more prepared to accept bad news. Elizabeth Hayes also expresses worry about Thomas coming to harm in the war as a midshipman. She writes “you may judge my dear son of my feelings when I had you constantly before my eyes and did not know how soon it might be your lot, but thank God, Peace the sweet sound has revived my drooping spirits and giving me the hart felt pleasure that I will see my see my son again ere long”. The Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812, was signed in December 1814, but it was ratified in Washington only days before Hayes sent the letter to her son. In the time the Treaty of Ghent reached Washington, Richard Dale Jr.’s injuries worsened and he died in captivity in Bermuda.

Stephen Decatur, commander of the USS President, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Stephen Decatur, commander of the USS President, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Read more manuscripts from the Barry-Hayes Papers.

Find out more about the collection in the Barry-Hayes Papers finding aid, developed by the Independence Seaport Museum.

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“One of these days how ridiculous will all this appear”

A recent addition to the Digital Library is the friendship book of Cornelia Fletcher. This is a blank album in which affectionate friends and relatives wrote selections of poetry and prose they thought Cornelia might enjoy—sort of akin to both a commonplace book and the notes one finds in yearbooks. Most of the selections are works by popular authors (with or without attribution!), but several appear to be original. In addition to poetry and prose, there are also several artistic works, including pen-and-ink drawings, watercolors, and colored sketches.

Colored drawing of an artist's palette

The earliest entries in Cornelia’s friendship book are dated 1828, with the latest date being 1842—though many of the entries are not dated. Although, as noted, the majority of selections are not original, there are some noteworthy entries. The entries inscribed by “J.A.C.”, for instance, are most likely from Cornelia’s husband, Joseph Ashmead Clay. “J.A.C.” appears several times throughout the book, having selected for contribution several poems by George Herbert. Although one might expect these entries to have been written during their courtship, all of Clay’s entries are dated 1840—five years after his marriage to Cornelia! (As an example, see Herbert’s “Vertue” on page 89 of the album.) On a sadder note, there are two poems about the death of an infant on pages 181 to 185 of the album. These poems, dated June 1842 and without a signed inscriber, perhaps offer a glimpse of Cornelia’s own grief upon the loss of a child.

Colored drawing of a flower

My favorite inscription, however, is a note on page 12 from “C.H.P.”, dated 1831. The note begins with: “If there is one thing in this world that I dislike more than another, it is a Young Ladies Album, and a more decided bore I never suffered in my life than writing in one.” Despite these opening sentiments, the author was clearly fond of Cornelia, and grudgingly accepts the “necessary evil” of inscribing something to be remembered by.

Manuscript image

Cornelia Fletcher’s personal history is not easily traced in great detail, but I have found that she was a daughter of Noah and Elizabeth Fletcher, born in 1814 in Washington, D.C. She married Joseph Ashmead Clay, a prominent lawyer of Philadelphia, on 12 March 1835 and presumably moved to Philadelphia with him at that time. Cornelia died in Philadelphia on 24 December 1880.

The original manuscript is also available for use in the library Rare Book Room.

Colored drawing of goats

References:

Cornelia Fletcher’s friendship book in the Digital Library.

Cornelia Fletcher’s marriage license is listed in the District of Columbia Marriage Licenses: Register 1, 1811-1858, available on Google Books here.

Information about Cornelia’s grave, along with information about her children, can be found here.

For information about Joseph Ashmead Clay (and several other generations of Clays), see Cecil Clay’s The Family of Clay, of New Castle, Delaware & Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1895), available from the Internet Archive here.

Colored drawing of a flower

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Demand Drives Digitization / Three Shafts of Death

We use a number of different strategies to increase the number of available offerings beyond those physically held at Villanova University including individual Digital Donations and contributions from Partners, like the American Catholic Historical Society. On the other hand, in selecting which materials to digitize from the Villanova University collections and the order and priority of digitization of these materials the needs of readers and researchers must be weighed heavily in calculating what and when to scan. While many scholars have a need to physically touch and manipulate a rare book or artifact to hunt out an elusive watermark or other textual evidence, others may be quite satisfied with a digital surrogate of a work. Distance can stand in the way as a hurdle to scholarship in this matter and sending rare books and manuscript materials via Interlibrary Loan presents significant difficulties in maintaining appropriate care and custody of the ofttimes fragile and monetarily valuable works. A way around this conundrum is to digitize materials that scholars request and to do so as immediately as practicable so as to provide the greatest access possible. We use demand driven digitization as a way to provide remote access to unique Villanova University materials, materials that have been collected through the years and which serve as a physical treasure chest of our collective wisdom and community heritage. Note the earlier article by Bente Polites on the Digital Library’s first request for remote access to a manuscript.

With the publication in 2007 of William Mahon’s Catalogue of Irish manuscripts in Villanova University, Pennsylvania new scholarly attention was focused on the Irish language materials held at Villanova University. Over the last year, 5 different scholars all working at colleges or universities in Ireland, have requested either entire or partial access to 7 of these manuscripts. Just a few years ago that would have meant expensive flights to Philadelphia; today we are able to provide the high level of access demanded by textual scholars by digitization at high resolution. And not only for access by one scholar, all can share in looking at these works, which can be viewed in the Digital Library Manuscript Collection.

One noteworthy requested item is the interesting Tri Biorghaoithe an Bhais or the Three Shafts of Death.

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Written in the Irish language in 1630 by Geoffrey Keating (known in the Irish tongue as Seathrún Céitinn), the manuscript copy at Villanova was scribed by Diarmuid O’Connail in 1824 and so serves as a witness to the continued literacy and written tradition of the Irish language in this period. The work itself is a series of three meditations on death. Drawing on the Fathers of the Church including St. Jerome and St. Augustine, Keating held forth that there were 3 forms of death: bodily death, spiritual death, and eternal death. In describing death eternal he provided a tour of the hell of eternal suffering.

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What the 2008 Olympic Ceremony says about digital texts

Posted for Scott Grapin, Digital Library Team:

maneb114.jpg

Beijing’s spectacular celebration of textuality in the twenty-ninth Olympiad’s opening ceremony for the summer games surprised me. But why should it have? After all, the Chinese invented paper. They were printing texts hundreds of years before the West. And they have long esteemed calligraphy among the highest forms of expression. Textuality variously illustrates China’s cultural history, making it a natural centerpiece for welcoming the sporting world to the country’s capital.

It was somewhat more surprising that Beijing reconstructed some of my earliest impressions as a student employee in the digital library. The ceremony proposed a harmonious integration of textuality’s multiple technologies. A giant scroll was unrolled on the stadium floor to frame a blank sheet of paper. Modern dancers proceeded to paint a shan-shui, or “mountains and water,” picture on the blank page with their dancing bodies while the scroll, an LED screen unrolled to 230 by 70 feet, appeared to continuously unfurl digital highlights of China’s cultural history. The painted page was then raised to reveal an assemblage of movable-type settings rising from the digital scroll, undulating like waves in the wind, and intermittently forming the Chinese character for “harmony” in astoundingly precise choreography for a collection of individual gray blocks. If there was any impression of impermeable divisions between textual technologies in these transitions, the movable types dismantled them by forming an impression of China’s Great Wall and then transforming the wall and its opposite sides into a blooming field of flowering plum blossoms. Finally, for this initial part of the ceremony, each of the hundreds of movable-type tops sprung open to reveal a human animator waving from inside. It seems that every individual textual endeavor that manifests upon the cultural scroll is a collaborative production. Each text is also continuously transformed. Historically, Chinese viewers of shan-shui landscape paintings have appended commentaries and poems to the scrolls that have framed the paintings. Likewise, the framing scroll of history, providing a context of constant flux and alteration, contributes its own instability to the collaboratively produced text. Fittingly, throughout the Olympic ceremony, the shan-shui painting continued to be transformed. Even the global parade of athletes trailed a rainbow of footsteps across it when entering the stadium.

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If the scroll on which the painting is mounted comprises part of the work itself, then perhaps the digitization of a text collaborates in a work’s continued creation. One of my first projects in the digital library was to scan and crop Historia Deorum Et Heroum, a fifteenth-century illuminated manuscript written on vellum and bound in oak and leather. Unable to locate a printed equivalent of this particular manuscript, I was initially excited to think that this particular volume was making a giant leap, over roughly four hundred years of print, from manuscript culture to digital culture. Moreover I was one of the cyber-type-setters determining its new shape and form to post on the digital library mainframe. In one moment, the manuscript would abandon its centuries of hidden obscurity for instantaneous global accessibility. But while this manuscript can now be altered in myriad ways through digitization and potentially limitless contexts, I’m also inclined to believe Beijing’s suggestion that this transformational potential is inherent in manuscripts and printed texts themselves. Historia Deorum Et Heroum even seems to invite the suggestion. No singular author takes credit for this compiled history of gods and heroes. Such compilations are collaborative and intertextual by nature, depending on a collective capital of textually-inscribed myth and history (here, in lieu of a title page informing modern print-readers of the title, author, and publisher of a work, there is an index of the subjects themselves). Finally, a poised surplus of lined vellum at book’s end awaits a stylus that never arrives. Or perhaps, rather, the creative implement is always arriving, in contemporary forms of context and technology, to collaborate in a culture’s self-expression. I’ve been just one kind of digital typesetter among many, in a library among many, popping out his head in this entry and waving as we collectively contribute to the ever-unscrolling textual dance.

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For related Chinese textual studies, see:

Cherniack, Susan. “Book Culture and Textual Transmission in Sung China.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 54.1 (Jun 1994): 5-125.

Lee, Sherman E. and Wen Fong. Streams and Mountains Without End: A Northern Sung Handscroll and Its Significance in the History of Early Chinese Painting. 1954. 2nd ed. rev. Ascona, Switzerland: Artibus Asia, 1967.

Printing Museum of China, The. An Illustrated History of Printing in Ancient China. Ed. Luo Shubao. Trans. Chan Sin-wai. Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong Press, 1998.

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Last Modified: August 12, 2008