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New Acquisition Sheds Light on the Rediscovery of Mendel’s Theory of Hybridity

A recent donation to Villanova’s Distinctive Collections leaves us with more questions than answers about the “rediscovery” of Gregor Mendel OSA‘s theory of hybridity, today called ‘the laws of Mendelian inheritance’ after the Augustinian friar.

Dutch botanist and pioneer of the field of genetics, Hugo de Vries, came across Mendel’s original work on genes published 34 years earlier and hurried to publish his own research findings in the paper, “Sur la loi de disjonction des hybrids,” which first appeared in 1900 in the hefty tome Comptes Rendus Hebdomadaires des Séances de L’Academie des Sciences, now held by Distinctive Collections.

De Vries’ paper, together with two others from the same year by Carl Correns and Erich Tschermak, laid the foundations of the new scientific discipline of genetics.


Puzzling Comparisons: The German Paper

De Vries’ French publication appeared just four days later in German as “Das Spaltungsgesetz der Hybride”. The two papers contain identical descriptions, translated from French into German, however the German paper includes three explicit references to Mendel’s work, whereas in the French publication Mendel is noticeably absent.

Intentional Plagiarism or Scientific Similitude?

De Vries is credited with “rediscovering” Gregor Mendel’s principles of biological inheritance in 1900. However, in the original French essay Mendel is not explicitly credited or even mentioned. This was amended by de Vries in his subsequent German paper, published less than a week apart. De Vries claimed that he was unaware of Mendel’s work on hybridization when conducting his own experiments, and that the two scientists, working 50 years apart, had happened to draw the same conclusions.

Did de Vries intentionally exclude Mendel from the original French, only to include him in the German version after realizing that others were aware of Mendel’s discoveries and his obvious influence on de Vries work?

Despite his efforts to separate his own conclusions from those of Mendel years prior, de Vries did indeed help scholars rediscover and credit the important work of Gregor Mendel.

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The Modern Mithridates

Falvey Library’s Distinctive Collections has a new acquisition to our Dime Novel and Popular Literature Collection just in time for Halloween! Vanity fair, v. 1, no. 1, December 31, 1859 contains a spooky poem about poison and pharmacies.

“The Modern Mithridates.”

The poem opens with a plea for breakfast. It quickly becomes apparent that it is not sustenance that the narrator requires, but poison.

O! bring my breakfast—give to me

Bread that is snowy and light of weight—

Of alum and bone-dust let it be,

Chalk, and ammonia’s carbonate :

Within the poem, the narrator references Hydromel, the ancient Roman word for mead from the Latin hydro (meaning water) and mel (honey, the main ingredient of mead). The following line calls for assistance from the ancient pharmacologist Mithridates VI Eupator of Pontus (fl. 1st century BCE) who was known for his mythical remedy Mithridate, which was thought to be a powerful antidote to many illnesses.

Bring sugar, and sweeten the potion well—

Sugar of lead, and iron, and sand,

Sweet as honey of Hydromel

Or the Pressure of Mithridates’ hand!

The poem concludes with a witty twist—that all of the poisonous chemicals and minerals named in the poem can be found at your local grocery store.

Ha! you start! you think that I

Being a man of mortal clay,

After my meal will surely die,

For these are deadly poisons, you say :

Poisons? yes! Yet one and all

Are found on every grocer’s shelves

Our bills of mortality are not small,

—But how can we help ourselves?

G. A.

The author, George Arnold (d. 1834 – 1865) was an American poet and regular contributor to Vanity Fair. A contemporary of Walt Whitman, Arnold was born in New York City and was known to frequent one of Whitman’s local haunts—Pfaff’s beer cellar.

Walt Whitman and George Arnold at Pfaff’s, 1857.

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An Exhibit of Biblical Proportions

Divine Inspiration: Revealing the Sacred in Biblical Text and Imagery

The first floor of Falvey has a new exhibit installed that showcases historically significant Bibles from Falvey Library’s Distinctive Collections with a focus on the impact of the printing press on Sacred Texts.

From scroll to manuscript codex to the hand-press printed book, Bible production has been a driving force behind global textual revolutions. The selections featured in this exhibit demonstrate the multitude of ways in which producers of Sacred Texts incorporated new media technologies into existing Biblical traditions to create the Bible anew.

As this exhibit illustrates, the Bible is not dead, but continues to be a dynamic object with enduring spiritual impact for readers from its inception to today.

The exhibit reception, Envisioning Celestial Beings, will be held Thursday, October 19th 2023 from 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM at the Falvey Library Speakers’ Corner. The physical exhibit will be up for the fall semester–stay tuned for information on the digital exhibit!

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‘What’s in a Dime Novel?’: Revisiting the Edward T. LeBlanc interviews

If you’ve ever wondered: ‘What exactly is a Dime Novel?’ You are not alone.

The latest, two-part Spare Change Library podcast episode unpacks some of the issues surrounding Dime Novel bibliography discussed in the 1982 Edward T. LeBlanc interviews between the former Dime Novel Round-Up editor and Dime Novel scholar Lydia Schurman, exclusively digitized by Falvey Library.

Over 40 years later, questions such as ‘How do we define the genre Dime Novel?’ are still pertinent today. Demian Katz, Falvey’s Director of Library Technology, joins me for this two-part podcast episode.

Photos of the LeBlanc collection at Northern Illinois University, provided by Matthew Short.

An Oral History of Dime Novels with Edward T. LeBlanc, Cassette 1

In addition to his role at Falvey Library, Demian is also an active collector and scholar of Dime Novel and Pulp Literature, specializing in choose-your-own-adventure type stories.

‘What’s in a Dime Novel?’: Revisiting the Edward T. LeBlanc interviews episode features audio clips from the first of the 24 60-minute cassette tapes from the LeBlanc interviews, to explore topics ranging from defining the genre of Dime Novel, the influence of women authors, English Penny Dreadfuls, and the future of pulp literature.

Photos of the LeBlanc collection at NIU, provided by Matthew Short.

Searchable transcriptions of the LeBlanc Cassettes featured in this podcast can be accessed through Villanova’s Digital Library.

Spare Change Library Podcast, a dime novel and popular literature podcast, features audio editions of stories and scholarly discussion–available through a shared RSS feed on

The Spare Change Library – The Dime Novel Bibliography (


Recent Donation to the Mendel Collection with a Fascinating Provenance

A Mutually Beneficial Relationship between Religion and Science

“There is no conflict between religion and science” – Abbé Lemaître

Popular culture today frequently portrays Science and Religion as two opposing forces that understand the natural world in drastically different ways. A new acquisition to Falvey’s Distinctive Collections paints a very different picture.

Mendel’s principles of heredity. A defense. / With a Translation of Mendel’s Original Papers on Hybridisation. Cambridge: William Bateson, 1902.


Last month an anonymous donation of a first edition Defense of Mendel’s principles of heredity, by William Bateson (1902), was generously gifted in honor of the outstanding career of Professor Angela DiBenedetto, Villanova University Biology Department. This is the first book on Mendelism in English, and the first English textbook of genetics. It contains a reprint of the English edition of Mendel’s ‘Versuch uber Pflanzen-Hybriden’ together with the new English edition of Mendel’s second paper on ‘Hieracium’ (1869). The author, Bateson, is responsible for naming this scientific study “genetics” (c. 1905-06).



A signature on the front pastedown of this copy reads “J. Aldrich”. John Merton Aldrich (1866-1934) was an American entomologist interested in the study of flies and North American Diptera. Aldrich was a prolific collector, known for his ability to find rare species previously unknown to Western naturalist classifications, and likely the first owner of this copy. Aldrich also taught religion at All Souls Unitarian-Universalist Church in Washington D.C. As the Associate Curator of Insects at the United States National Museum, he donated his collection of over 45,000 specimens / 4,000 named specimens to the museum, which today is one of the most important Diptera collections in the National Museum.

Lemaitre Follows Two Paths to Truth: The Famous Physicist, Who is Also a Priest, Tells Why He Finds No Conflict Between Science and Religion by Duncan Aikman. The New York Times Magazine, February 19, 1933.

Georges Lemaître (1894-1966) was a Belgian Catholic priest, astronomer, and professor of physics. He is known for proposing the Big Bang theory, from which he derived the Hubble-Lemaître law: the observation that galaxies are rapidly expanding. This article was printed in 1933. The very next year, Villanova awarded Lemaître the Mendel Medal.

Einstein and Lemaître—“They Have a Profound Respect and Admiration for Each Other.”

Villanova awards the Mendel Medal annually to “outstanding scientists who have done much by their painstaking work to advance the cause of science, and, by their lives and their standing before the world as scientists, have demonstrated that between true science and true religion there is no intrinsic conflict.” The Mendel Medal is named for Gregor Johann Mendel (1822-1884) Abbot of the Augustinian Monastery in present-day Brno, Czech Republic who discovered the laws of heredity which now bear his name. The Medal was established in 1928 to recognize scientific accomplishment and religious conviction.


Cataloging the James Wheeler Collection of Polar Exploration

Two letters from Sir John Franklin (1786-1847)

John Franklin was an English admiral and explorer who led the infamous ‘Franklin expedition’ (c. 1845-1848) in search of a Northwest Passage through Canada. This ill-fated expedition resulted in the death of all 129 crew members and officers on board the two military-grade rocket vessels, ironically named the Erebus and the Terror. Despite efforts from the British navy to retrieve the lost crew and vessels, the exact circumstances of their perishing remain mysterious.

I have recently cataloged two handwritten letters from Sir John Franklin, both of which include machine-searchable transcriptions through our Digital Library.


Letter, To: Rev’d H. Wagner From: Sir John Franklin, undated.

This undated letter was written from Franklin to Rev. Henry Michell Wagner, a very influential clergyman of the Church of England. In this short letter, Franklin is very apologetic about forgetting to invite Wagner to visit with Franklin and his wife, whom he refers to as “Lady Franklin”.






Letter, To: “Dear Sir” From: John Franklin, 13 Sept 1834.

This letter comes with a typewritten transcript of the original document, which is scribed in the hand of Franklin. He sent this letter on the 13th of September 1834 from 5 Orchard Street, Portman Square, over a decade before his fateful expedition. The note is about a book, the Life of Scott, that the recipient (likely the name at the bottom of the document: E. H. Locker Esq.) had sent to Franklin.

The full title of the published book is Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott, by John Gibson Lockhart, first published in 1837. According to the date of the letter, Franklin must have had a copy of Scott’s autobiographical manuscript version, “Memoir of the Early Life of Sir Walter Scott, Written by Himself”, which was completed in 1826. The autobiographical version describes the Scottish author’s ancestry, upbringing, and life up to the age of 22. Franklin describes the affinity he felt towards the renowned historian, poet, and playwright, particularly in the context of the recent death of Franklin’s brother.


The James Wheeler Collection consists of books and items related to the Arctic and Antarctic regions in all aspects – history, travel, voyages, adventure, natural history, science, etc. These items were collected and generously donated by James Wheeler, MD. Only a selection of items are digitized.

Check out the digital exhibit featuring materials from the James Wheeler Collection, curated by Rebecca Oviedo “That Fairyland of Ice”: Polar Exploration in Mind and Memory.  


Meg Piorko’s Friday Falvey Favorites: the Magdeburg Himmelsbrief

A Magic Letter from God

Himmelsbrief, which translates to “heaven’s letter” is a miraculous religious textual object believed to have been written by God himself. The object’s purpose is to protect the owner of a copy from all evil and danger and punish disbelievers, so long as the owner follows the moral covenants detailed in the letter. These divine letters could also be invoked to communicate with someone departed, or to request assistance from God in heaven. Scholars today consider Himmelsbrief to be part of the Folk Medicine tradition.

Pennsylvania Dutch Powwow

The Pennsylvania Dutch participate in a magical worldview, where superstitions and charms have apotropaic properties. The Powwow was a popular method of physical and spiritual healing for believers. The integration of the Native American term “powwow” illustrates the diverse cultural influences of the Pennsylvania Dutch beyond their German ancestry.

Performing a Powwow hinges on repetition of specific Bible verses and other incantations to ensure that their owners would be protected from death, injury, and other misfortune. In addition to verbal repetition of magical and religious phrases, simply owning a copy of a Himmelsbrief can serve as a protective talisman against evils and ailments. Although the text of these letters is often written in a formulaic rhyming scheme, Powwow practitioners charged steeply for these magical letters–with prices dependent on the reputation of the practitioner (referred to as a Hexenmeister or Braucher).

Falvey’s Magdeburg Himmelsbrief

The two most popular examples of these Powwow letters are the Koenigsberg Fire Brief of 1714 and the Magdeburg Himmelsbrief of 1783. Falvey Library holds a copy of the latter, described on the bottom of the page as “Magdeburg, 1783.” The title at the top of the letter reads:

Ein Brief, so von Gott selbsten geschrieben, und zu Magdeburg niedergelassen worden ist. // A letter written by God himself found in Magdeburg.

It is believed that these divine letters miraculously fall from the sky, and are subsequently found by the devout (in this case, found in Magdeburg–historically one of the most populous cities in the Holy Roman Empire). The title is followed by 27 lines of prose, and tacked on the back of the frame are six nails with the note “Original hand-made nails used on frame backing—frame refinished March ‘82”.


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Meg Piorko’s Friday Falvey Favorites

“The Oracle” of Mystery Magazine

This Friday Favorite from the Distinctive Collections at Falvey Library is the pulp magazine series Mystery Magazine. One of the earliest examples of the ‘crime pulp’ genre, Mystery Magazine published a total of 216 issues from November 1917 to July 1927. Produced in New York City, readers could purchase the latest issue for just 10cents a copy.

What is Mystery Magazine?

In the words of publisher Frank Tousey in the inaugural issue:

Mystery Magazine has been issued to fill a unique niche in the field of literature. Its objects are both to amuse and instruct. […] Many of the stories are based on such subjects as fortune-telling, astrology, hypnotism, dreams, spiritualism, palmistry, etc., and some will be splendid detective stories.





The Oracle: The Mystery of Man and How to Solve It

Mystery Magazine ran a seven-part recurring column called “The Oracle: The Mystery of Man and How to Solve It” (issues 103 – 109) written by Russell Raymond Voorhees, a contemporary fiction author who published in a variety of pulp magazines. On the latest episode of Spare Change Library Podcast I am joined by Erica Hayes (Digital Scholarship Librarian) to read and discuss fortune telling with astrology in “The Oracle.”

Spare Change Library Podcast Episode 2: “The Oracle”

Not only was the content mysterious and strange, but the magazine featured advertisements from mystical sponsors as well, such as the fortune teller Parashira the Adept.

Are you interested in reading your own Oracle horoscope, or learning more about fortune telling in Mystery Magazine? Read your horoscope based on the day you were born in Mystery Magazine, The Oracle Part I: Astrology and decide for yourself if you ‘believe’ in the stars.

Mystery magazine, v. IV, no. 103, February 15, 1922.

Spare Change Library Podcast is a dime novel and popular literature podcast, featuring audio editions of stories and scholarly discussion–available through a shared RSS feed on


Winged Words: Visualizing Sappho

This second installment of ‘Winged Words’ is brought to you in honor of Women’s History Month. This week’s picks includes selections of Falvey Distinctive Collections materials pertaining to the visual interpretation of the ancient poetess Sappho (c. 630—c. 570 BCE) from the ancient world to the 20th century.

The Life of Sappho

There is not much biographical information on the life of Sappho of Mytilene. Historical records tell us that she was a Greek poet from the capitol city of the island of Lesbos. Extant sources provide only one date, that of her exile to Sicily by democratic despot Pittacus in 598 BCE. Sappho married a rich man from Andros, with whom she had one daughter, named after her mother Cleïs. Sappho was known to have intimate relationships with women, notably with Atthis, Telesippa, and Megara.


On the Wings of Sappho

Much of Sappho’s reputation today has been mediated through the lens of the Roman poet Horace (c. 1st century BCE). The few surviving sources on her physical appearance describe her as having bird-like features, and aviary metaphors are frequently used to describe both Sappho and her poems.

“[Sappho is] small, dark, and very ill-favored… like a nightingale with ill-shapen wings enfolding a tiny body”.

Depicting Sappho in the 20th century

This English translation and glossary of Sappho’s work contains illustrations by Véra Willoughby that depict Sappho in the contemporary Art Deco-style with Greek features.

“A selection of the poems of the world’s greatest woman poet”

Tutin, J. R. Sappho the Queen of Song. London: 19—.

The selection of poems was illustrated by E. A. R. Collings, who interpreted Sappho’s poetry in an Art Nouveau-style as Greek mythological tropes within surrealistic landscapes, including fragmented Greek statues that symbolize the fragmented nature of her work today.

These and other works are featured in the spring 2023 exhibit “Poetic License: Seven Curators’ Poetry Selections from Distinctive Collections” located on the first floor of Falvey Library.

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Winged Words: Sappho’s Poetic Influence

In celebration of Women’s History Month, this week’s pick includes selections of Falvey Distinctive Collections materials pertaining to the ancient poetess, Sappho (c. 630—c. 570 BCE). These and other works are featured in the spring 2023 exhibit “Poetic License: Seven Curators’ Poetry Selections from Distinctive Collections” located on the first floor of Falvey Library.

The Tenth Muse

Sappho’s poetry was renowned in her own time, and while brief, her poetic works are full of feeling that still resonates with readers today. Plato called her “the tenth Muse”, while Strabo described her as an unrivaled “marvel”. Her fellow countrymen put her face on their coinage, and Sappho continues to be a popular name in her hometown today.

Alloy coin of Mytilene with head of Sappho. Roman Empire, 2nd c. The British Museum.

Poésie de Sapho

Parny, Évariste. Poésie de Sapho: Suivies, de différentes poésies dans le même genre. London: 1810. 

This little book of poetry containing French translations of Sappho was published in London in the early nineteenth century. The French word for poem (poésie) might also be read as a play on words as the English word “poesies” can be translated to French as a bouquet of flowers.

The frontispiece is an image of Sappho depicted as a Victorian portrait pendant surrounded by flowers and bundles of wheat. The bundles might also be interpreted as visual symbolism for the collection of poems within the book, as the Latin fasciculus means collection and can be more literally translated to “bundle of twigs”. Below the portrait two putti play a lyre, illustrating the lyrical style of Sappho.

Parisian Manners

Daudet, Alphonse. Sappho: Parisian Manners. New York: 1900. 

This dime novel is no. 147 of The Sunset Series, a popular series on manners and etiquette. On the cover, Sappho is depicted as a maiden holding a cornucopia filled with grain (a reference to fertility and femininity) and wearing a garland on her head (a reference to her crowning). She stands on a wheel with wings, the iconography of Hermes the messenger god and a symbol of Sappho’s “winged words”.

The story describes an exchange between a pifferaro (musician who plays an oboe-type instrument) and a Fellah (Egyptian) woman in the author’s studio. Based on the French novel Sappho (1884), this version of the poetess places her in Alexandrian Egypt.

Words of Air

Sappho, from the island of Lesbos, wrote in a traditional Lesbian style of lyrical poetry which was meant to be sang aloud. Unfortunately, the majority of her work was lost before the Christian era. All that remains are later copies of her Odes and some fragments.

“The words I begin are words of air, But good to hear” -fragment from a book titled Winged Words held by Sappho in this vase-painting.

Sappho reading, detail of the Vari vase. National Archaeological Museum in Athens 1260.


The brief remains of Sappho’s words only exist today as citations from ancient writers or papyrus fragments of her lost Nine Books, excavated from ancient Egypt during the late-19th century. To what extent should scholars fill in the gaps of Sappho’s fragmented poetry?


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Last Modified: March 3, 2023

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