April 17th, 2014

The “Lady Adventurer”

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the newly acquired Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.

Grace Thompson Seton was many things, a feminist, a suffragette, a poet, a mother, a designer, a crack shot, and most relevant to this post a travel writer.  She was married to Ernest Thompson Seton who was a natural scientist and author of many books including Animal heroes : being the histories of a cat, a dog, a pigeon, a lynx, two wolves & a reindeer and in elucidation of the same over 200 drawings.  Grace is credited with designing the cover, title-page, and general make up of Animal heroes and it is likely that she designed the cover for her own books including Poison Arrows.  Both were naturalists and Ernest co-founded the Boy Scouts of America while Grace helped form a parallel orgaization that would eventually become the Camp Fire Girls.

Seton gives us a fascinating look at a very independent early 20th-century woman.  Her expeditions took her all over the world and she traveled to Egypt, India, China, South America, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Bali among others.  After her daughter Ann was grown up she refused to stop traveling and remain at home with her husband.  Ernest eventually took up with his much younger married secretary in 1922, though the official divorce wasn’t until 1935.  Poison Arrows was her last travel book and one of the most interesting.  In Saigon she was only able to locate one person that was willing to take her into the jungle and he was a self-professed opium addict.  The combination of an unusal guide and exotic locales make it an interesting read though many critics were dismissive of her writing.  The book includes a fabulous fold out map that chronicles her last journey into Indochina.

Ironically it was her least profitable book most likely due to the Depression and the looming of World War II.  After Poison Arrows she turned to promoting womens’ literature as well as publishing a few volumes of poetry.  If you are interested in more information about Seton her papers can be found at the Schlesinger Library, Seton- Thompson, Grace Gallatin. Papers, 1878-1989: A Finding Aid.

Poison arrows : strange journey with an opium dreamer, Annam, Cambodia, Siam, and the Lotos Isle of Bali / by Grace Thompson Seton. London : Travel Book Club, c1938. DS508.S45x 1938b.

Thanks to Alison Harris, Santo Domingo Project Manager for contributing this post.

April 15th, 2014

Unmodified sexuality

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.

We return to the occult in this week’s feature from the Santo Domingo Collection. Today’s author is Austin Osman Spare, an English artist, writer, and occultist active in the first half of the twentieth century. While Spare’s finely-wrought illustrations recall the Art Nouveau conventions popular during his formative years, their imagery is more sexual, monstrous, and grotesque in nature. Spare was also an occultist with an idiosyncratic philosophy of consciousness and desire; he used automatic writing and drawing, among other techniques, to limn out his ideas. Among those drawn to Spare’s work was Aleister Crowley, who invited Spare to join his magical order, the A∴A∴; the two had a falling out not long afterward.

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April 10th, 2014

Ghost Detective

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the newly acquired Santo Domingo collection.

There are many spin-offs of Sherlock Holmes, and some excellent ones from the early 20th century are Jean Ray’s Harry Dickson, le Sherlock Holmes Americain.   This series of pulp dime-novel’s originally started in Germany 1907 and continued until 1911.  It underwent several  different translations and versions and the one in the Santo Domingo Collection is one of the more interesting ones.

Hired to translate the originals, Jean Ray, a noted Flemish author, became tired of the stories and began writing new ones under the same series without signing them.   These new stories mimic the length and illustration style of the originals but the stories tended to be more in the fantasy genre since Ray was a horror author. 

Widener has several more of Jean Ray’s works which can be found here:  Le grand nocturne : Les cercles de l’épouvante, Les derniers contes de Canterbury, and Œuvres complètes.

Two volumes of Harry Dickson’s adventures can be requested from Widener:  Ray, Jean, 1887-1964, author. La maison des hallucinations. Paris : Messageries Hachette and Une fumerie d’opium parisienne. Amsterdam : Roman-Boek-en-Kunsthandel.

Thanks to Emma Clement, Santo Domingo Library Assistant, for contributing this post.

April 7th, 2014

The Vetālapañcaviṃśati, A Manuscript Divided

The Vetālapañcaviṃśati, or the twenty-five tales of the corpse-possessing spirit, is an Indian story collection dating back to at least the 11th century CE. The framing narrative tells the story of a king who is tricked into helping an ascetic perform a necromantic ritual in a cremation ground. The king is tasked with the fetching of a corpse hung from a nearby tree, only to discover that the corpse is possessed by the title’s eponymous vetāla, or spirit.

The last page of MS Max Müller memorial f. 1 in the Bodleian Library, Oxford University, which contains the first 10 tales of the Vetālapañcaviṃśati.

The first page of MS Indic 1200 in Houghton Library, Harvard University, which begins with the 11th tale of the Vetālapañcaviṃśati.
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April 4th, 2014

New on Oasis in April

Dorothea Lynde Dix rebuses and other papers. MS Am 2969 (3-7)Finding aids for eight newly cataloged collections have been added to the OASIS database this month, including a collection of rebuses created by Dorothea Dix, and a bit of Houghton history which marks our 2500th online finding aid.
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April 3rd, 2014

Whodunit and howdunit?

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the newly acquired Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.

Alexandre Lacassagne was a French physician and criminologist in the 19th-century.  He founded the Lacassagne School of Criminology which was based in Lyon, France and focused on medical jurisprudence and criminal anthropology.  He quite famously gave evidence in several criminal trials including that of Joseph Vacher, also known as “The French Ripper” who had a scarred face, an accordian, and a trademark white rabbit-fur hat.  Vacher attempted to claim insanity from a rabid dog bite, but Lacassange testified that he was sane, thus he was found guilty and executed by guillotine in 1898.

Lacassagne specialized in toxicology, was a pioneer in bloodstain analysis, and was an expert in identifying specific bullet markings from guns.  This particular volume of Précis de médecine judiciaire explores various aspects of medical jurisprudence and includes these color plates that illustrate the appearance of organs due to specific conditions or perilous circumstances.  For example the plate on the left is an example of the state of the thoracic organs in a case of suffication accompanied by the image of a furrow of the neck resulting from a hanging.  The other plate displays the difference between two sets of lungs in an infant, one which is able to breath normally and one which does not.

To learn more about the early days of forensic medicine check out Précis de médecine judiciaire / par A. Lacassagne. Paris : G. Masson, 1878. RA1051 .L12 1878  which can be found at the Countway Library at the Harvard Medical School in Longwood.

Thanks to Alison Harris, Santo Domingo Project Manager and Joan Thomas, Rare Book Cataloger at Countway for contributing this post.

April 2nd, 2014

2014 Philip Hofer Prize for Collecting Books or Art

On March 25, 2014, winners of the Philip Hofer Prize for Collecting Books or Art were announced in a ceremony at Houghton Library. The Hofer Prize is awarded each year to a student or students whose collections of books or works of art best reflect the traditions of breadth, coherence, and imagination exemplified in the collections given to Harvard by Philip Hofer, A.B. ’21, L.H.D. ’67, founder and first Curator of the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts in Houghton Library and Secretary of the Fogg Art Museum. All Harvard students are eligible to compete for the prize, and collections are judged on the purpose, consistency, and quality of the collection, not on cost, rarity, or size. The prize was established by Melvin R. Seiden, A.B. ’52, L.L.B. ’55, to encourage student interest in collecting. The 2013-2014 Hofer Prize competition attracted a strong field, with three particularly outstanding submissions. As a result, the judges decided to award a first prize of $3,000, and two second prizes of $1,500 each.

Benjamin Lee's collection "“A History of the 1933 Goudey Baseball Card Set"
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April 1st, 2014

Pacifist rats

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the newly acquired Julio Mario Santo Domingo collection.

By the controversial nature of its subject areas, the Santo Domingo Collection naturally includes a wealth of banned, censored, or otherwise suppressed literature. Ronge-maille vainqueur, a text by the French novelist Lucien Descaves and illustrated by Lucien LeForge, is one example. This edition, published in 1920, includes a facsimile of a manuscript note from Descaves explaining that while the manuscript was produced in 1917, its publication was “forbidden by the censors” for the subsequent three years.

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March 31st, 2014

Explosive Opera

Bissari, Pietro Paolo, conte, active 1640-1660, librettist. Medea vendicativa, 1662. TS 8420.77 1662In September, 1662, the Elector of Bavaria and his wife celebrated the christening of their infant son with eight days of public and private festivity. The squares and streets of Munich were lit up, gold coins and commemorative medals struck and bread and wine freely distributed to the populace. Meanwhile, a trilogy of interwoven operas on classical themes was performed at court over the course of the week. The music, possibly composed by Johann Kaspar Kerll [note: link may require Harvard access], is lost. Commemorative festival books have survived, however. These contain the text by Pietro Paolo Bissari as well as plates engraved by the brothers Melchior and Mathäus Küsel after drawings by Caspar Amort of Francesco Santurini’s set designs and theatrical machines.

Houghton Library recently acquired first editions of two of these festival books: the operatic entertainment for the first night, Fedra incoronata, and for the last, Medea vendicativa. The latter is not only a drama but a drama di foco performed on a floating stage, with several pages of instructions explaining exactly how and when in the final chorus of each act the fireworks are to be set off.
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March 27th, 2014

Witches and vampires and ghosts, Oh My!

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the newly acquired Santo Domingo collection.

Witches have always fascinated people, from the magical tales of Merlin to the Salem Witch trials, to the current trend of magic and vampires in popular culture.  Written by Colin Wilson and illustrated by Una Woodruff, Witches is an intricately and beautifully illustrated history of witchcraft.  A comprehensive guide from primitive sorcery up through modern witchcraft, Wilson touches on everything someone could want to know about witches. 


Next to sections on well-known witches such as Aleister Crowley, The Templars, and Jayne Mansfield, Wilson gives insight on research into magic and spells such as the witches’ salve and possession.   









Using research from Albert Hoffman and Richard Shultes, Wilson explains the hallucinogenic results that experimenters found when searching for witches’ salve to make them fly.

Both Woodruff and Wilson have worked extensively on magic and witchcraft related projects.  You can find Introduction to the Faces of Evil by Wilson and Amarant: the flora and fauna of Atlantis by a Lady Botanist, edited and compiled by Woodruff.

Witches / written by Colin Wilson ; [illustrated by] Una Woodruff.  Limpsfield, Surrey : Paper Tiger, c1981.  BF1563 .W572 can be requested from Harvard Depository.



Thanks to Emma Clement, Santo Domingo Library Assistant, for contributing this post.

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