Archive for the ‘Books of Note’ Category

The latest Shuffelton item to cross my desk is quite the Victorian jewel.  No, really.  You should see the cover.  In fact, here it is:

Ladies of the White House Cover

Yes, it’s Ladies of the White House; or, In the Home of the Presidents: Being a Complete History of the Social and Domestic Lives of the Presidents from Washington to Hayes – 1789-1880, by Laura C. Holloway.  With Numerous engravings on Steel and Wood.  (Cincinnati: Forshee & McMakin, 1880).

The contents of the book are just as gloriously, unashamedly, over-the-top as the cover.  Here’s  a particularly florid and naively dreamy passage  about Martha Jefferson Randolph, Jefferson’s daughter:

Her memory is so fragrant with the perfume of purity and saintly sweetness, that it is a privilege to dwell and muse upon a theme so elevating.  The world has not yet developed a more harmonious, refined, or superior type of womanhood than the daughters of Virginia in the last century.  Reared in ease and plenty, taught the virtues that ennoble, and valuing their good name no less than prizing their family lineage, they were the most delightful specimens of womanhood ever extant.  Most particularly was Martha Jefferson of this class, whose image is fast losing originality in the modern system of utilitarian education.  Her father’s and her husband’s great enemy pronounced her “the sweetest woman in Virginia;” and the assurance comes laden with the testimony of many tongues, that her existence was one of genial sunshine and peace.  Are not such natures doubly blessed, first, in the happiness they secure to themselves, and, secondly, in the blessing they are to those who walk in the light of their example?

Priceless!  Although, seriously, I doubt that a woman with eleven children would describe her existence as one of “genial sunshine and peace.”


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I received a little book in the mail just a bit ago, and I think it deserves to be read in front of a fire with a cup of tea.  It is called Romanticism and Nationalism in the Old South, by Rollin Osterweis (Louisiana State University Press, 1971) and is full of paragraphs like this:

The Virginia and Carolinian especially were of direct descent from the “rufflers” of Hastings, and Templestowe, of Agincourt, and Rochelle.  They were kindred too in more than pride and sentiment for the same English strain flowed in the veins of both, separating them from the Puritan English of the North, and warmed with the Huguenot flush and the dash of the Hibernian.

Isn’t that delightful?  I mean, it’s complete twaddle, but it’s deliciously twaddlesome.  And Osterweis does in fact seem to rely on primary sources and has respectable footnotes, so I suspect that despite the occasional twaddly passage, the overall quality of the book is alright.

I ordered this book for a certain reason, though, and it wasn’t for the trippy prose.  No, it was because of this passage:

Many officers and soldiers were in Charlottesville in the fall of 1863 recovering from their wounds and their presence in all the stages of convalescence infused a spirit of gaiety to the little town.  Picnics were organized in the bright autumn days to historic Monticello…One day we had a Tournament in the grounds at Monticello.  Some of the Knights, with only one arm to use – holding the reins in their teeth and dashing valiantly at the rings with wooden sticks improvised as spears for the occasion.   – quote from Mrs. D. Giraud Wright, A Southern Girl in ’61

So, romanticism > chivalry > jousting on the lawn at Monticello.  See?  We really can connect pretty much everything to Jefferson.

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That would be a great name for a band, wouldn’t it?  Or a car.  Alas, no, it’s my latest book acquisition, and although I do poke gentle fun at my Gilded Pig, it really is a great little find.  I’ve been scouring the Internets for undiscovered works of genius by Marie Kimball, and came across a book she wrote – more of a pamphlet, really – called Treasured Recipes of the Old South (1941).  There were plenty of copies to be had on used booksellers’ websites, but I wasn’t content with just any old copy.  No!  I bought a specially-bound presentation copy, produced for the author herself!  And inside all the fancy leather cover with its gold-leaf trim and marbled endpapers is a 20-page recipe booklet, published by the Morrill Ham Company, with wall-to-wall Morrill Ham recipes.  Ham cornucopias, anyone?

This little book is certainly a study in contrasts.  On the one hand, we have nightmare-inducing color pictures of food, which look like they’re straight out of the Gallery of Regrettable Food; on the other we have marbled endpapers, gilding, and a personal letter from the president of the Morrill Ham Company to Marie Kimball in the front of the book, declaiming that he was “sure that ‘Treasured Recipes of the Old South’ will continue for many years to shine as one of the brightest stars in the firmament of gastronomy!”

It would be a mean person indeed who would mock such earnestness.  Plus, it’s not just any old corporate-sponsored recipe booklet with scary pictures; it’s a corporate-sponsored recipe booklet with scary pictures, by Marie Kimball! And so we will treasure our new Gilded Pig, in all its amusing contrasts.

Photogallery of Treasured Recipes of the Old South, A.K.A. “The Gilded Pig”

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A new intriguing book on the shelves: Impossible Engineering: Technology and Territoriality on the Canal du Midi, by Chandra Mukerji (Princeton, 2009).

This dovetails nicely with one of our new TJ Encyclopedia articles, which features (among other useful pieces of information), an itinerary of Jefferson’s travels through southern France and Italy – during which, yes, he visited the Canal du Midi.  He rather liked it:

I have passed through the Canal from it’s entrance into the mediterranean at Cette to this place, and shall be immediately at Toulouse, in the whole 200 American miles, by water; having employed in examining all it’s details nine days, one of which was spent in making a tour of 40 miles on horseback, among the Montagnes noires, to see the manner in which water has been collected to supply the canal; the other eight on the canal itself. I dismounted my carriage from it’s wheels, placed it on the deck of a light bark, and was thus towed on the canal instead of the post road. That I might be perfectly master of all the delays necessary, I hired a bark to myself by the day, and have made from 20. to 35 miles a day, according to circumstances, always sleeping ashore. Of all the methods of travelling I have ever tried this is the pleasantest. I walk the greater part of the way along the banks of the canal, level, and lined with a double row of trees which furnish shade. When fatigued I take seat in my carriage where, as much at ease as if in my study, I read, write, or observe. My carriage being of glass all round, admits a full view of all the varying scenes thro’ which I am shifted, olives, figs, mulberries, vines, corn and pasture, villages and farms. I have had some days of superb weather, enjoying two parts of the Indian’s wish, cloudless skies and limpid waters: I have had another luxury which he could not wish, since we have driven him from the country of Mockingbirds, a double row of nightingales along the banks of the canal, in full song.

Mukerji’s book looks like it deals more with the actual construction of the canal in the seventeenth century, but she has an angle which is of particular interest to me. From the book flap:

The Canal du Midi is typically characterized as the achievement of Pierre-Paul Riquet, a tax farmer and entrepreneur for the canal. Yet Chandra Mukerji argues that it was a product of collective intelligence, depending on peasant women and artisans–unrecognized heirs to Roman traditions of engineering–who came to labor on the waterway in collaboration with military and academic supervisors. Ironically, while Louis XIV and his treasury minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert used propaganda to present France as a new Rome, the Canal du Midi was being constructed with unrecognized classical methods.

Did Jefferson recognize the classical pedigree of the Canal du Midi?  I’m not sure, but he was positively sloppy with adulation for the Pont du Gard and the Maison Carrée, so that aspect of the canal would surely have provoked a similar outburst of flowery language.

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As I believe I mentioned in a previous blog post, this fall will mark the 200th anniversary of Meriwether Lewis’s untimely and weird death on the Natchez Trace.  To prepare for the momentous occasion, I felt the need to read up on the whole debate on the nature of his death: was it suicide, or murder, or something else?  Since at work I have the attention span of a gnat, I am having to keep my background reading cursory, and so my program consists entirely of reading By His Own Hand? The Mysterious Death of Meriwether Lewis, ed. John D.W. Guice (University of Oklahoma Press, 2006).  A few weeks ago I read the chapter on the case for suicide, after which I firmly believed Lewis killed himself; yesterday morning I read the chapter on the case for homicide.  Unfortunately I have to say that I don’t think that this second chapter is as well-argued as the first, but after reading it I will say that I’m not prepared to entirely dismiss the possibility of homicide.   Mostly because it seems a little hard to believe that someone could manage to shoot themselves twice with .69-caliber bullets, using a 14 1/2-inch-long pistol, then stagger around still alive for hours afterward.  I’m just saying.

Others are even more adamant in their skepticism about the suicide theory.  There was a recent article in the local paper about a group of collateral Lewis descendants who are petitioning the federal government to have Lewis’s body exhumed and a forensic investigation performed on whatever remains, er, remain.  Lewis’s grave lies inside the boundaries of a national park, and so far the government seems less than keen on allowing poor Lewis to be dug up.  I can’t really blame them, I suppose – don’t want to encourage all the distasteful furor and so forth.  Of course, it’s already kind of a circus.  Maybe they should just give up and hire Geraldo to come and preside over the exhumation. Of course, then they’re sure to open up the coffin and find nothing but a bunch of buttons.  Perhaps some whisky bottles.

One of the rather fascinating things about this debate is not necessarily the subject matter itself, but the people doing the arguing, their attitudes towards the whole thing, and how they’re viewed by their opponents and others.  My basic impression is that, historically, the suicide theory has always enjoyed wider and more mainstream acceptance, while the murder theory has a bit of the wacky underdog about it.  The two sides were rather dramatically personified in one incident recounted in my reading yesterday – a rather snippy exchange of letters in the 1960s between Julian Boyd, original editor of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, and Vardis Fisher, author of Suicide or Murder?.  Boyd apparently took exception to Fisher’s quotation of him in his work, or his criticism of Jefferson (maybe both).  Fisher retorted that Boyd had an “idolatrous attitude towards Jefferson.”  (Er, he was kind of right there.)

Anyway, tune in next week, or whenever I get the chance, for my humble opinion on what happened to Meriwether Lewis, based on superficial reading and no subject expertise whatsoever!

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First off, apologies (again) for the lackadaisical nature of my blogging in the last few weeks.  I fear the pace may slow down a bit as we enter the busy months of summer.

IncidentalArchitectCoverSo, on with the business: just minutes ago I received a book which I feel certain will set many scholarly hearts aflutter here: Incidental Architect: William Thornton and the Cultural Life of Early Washington, D.C., 1794-1828, by Gordon S. Brown (Ohio University Press, 2009).   This is of course the very period that Jefferson spent a good deal of time in Washington, D.C. (what a coincidence!).  And in fact he knew the Thorntons, who visited him on his mountaintop in 1802.  Anna Maria Thornton wrote in her diary that Monticello “is a place you wou’d rather look at now & then than live at.”  Indeed.

Among the other treats inside the book: a full-color profile portrait of none other than George Watterston, one of the first Librarians of Congress.  He has a rather striking shock of red hair.  Like a ski jump.   This is definitely the coiffure of a man destined to lose Jefferson’s carefully-compiled packing list for the 6,487 volumes he sent to Washington, and to take liberties with Jefferson’s beautiful Baconian classification system.

The book is not cataloged yet, but look for it on the shelves soon…

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The Jefferson Library recently purchased The Great Decision: Jefferson, Adams, Marshall, and the Battle for the Supreme Court by Cliff Sloan and David McKean. It presents complex legality in a easy style for all readers. The book also sheds light on how the Supreme Court really was not seen as an equal to Congress and the Presidency until this case. We take judicial review for granted now, but this book gives us a glimpse in time before it.

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