Qur’āns from Africa to the Silk Road

The Holy Qur’ān has occupied a central position in the spiritual and intellectual life of the Islamic world since the 7th century, serving as a common bond among Muslims, whether native speakers of Arabic, Persian, Turkish, or other languages. Not surprisingly, the Manuscripts Division’s extraordinary holdings of nearly 10,000 Islamic manuscripts include a substantial number of Qur’āns, complemented by Qur’ānic commentaries and related texts. Sacred text merited the most luxurious production by book artisans, writing in calligraphic hands on parchment or glazed Arabic paper, which was then handsomely embellished with geometric and non-representational forms in gold, lapis lazuli, and other colors, and finally encased in hand-tooled, decorated morocco bindings. Most of Princeton’s manuscript Qur’āns are from the Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Persia, Turkey, and the Indian subcontinent, dating from the earliest centuries of Islam through the 19th century, when printing finally replaced scribal production of the Qur’ān. Among the oldest Qur’āns at Princeton are two on parchment: a 17-line Qur’ānic fragment (Sūrah 21:15-36), written in Hijāzī script, probably dating from the 8th century, early in the history of the Abbasid Caliphate (Islamic Manuscripts, no. 14G[a]); and a largely complete Qur’ān (Sūrahs 1-100), in Kufic script, dating from the late 9th or early 10th century (no. 34G).

In recent years, the Manuscripts Division has been making a conscious effort to acquire Qur’āns from other geographical areas of the extended Islamic world, in order to document the book arts and trace minor variations in textual transmission. Holdings of Qur’āns now include 19th-century examples from the Philippines, Malaysia, and Nigeria. The most recent additions are two complete Qur’āns from China under the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), written in Arabic on paper and elegantly decorated in gold and vivid colors. Both are in contemporary bindings. In style, they combine Arabic, Central Asian, and Chinese influences. One of the Qur’āns dates from the 17th century (Islamic Manuscripts, Third Series, no. 875), and the other has a scribal colophon dated AH 1138 / 1726-27 CE (Third Series, no. 876). Islam was introduced to China in the 7th century and survives to this day as a minority religion, practiced by the Hui people, an ethnically Chinese group, chiefly in northwestern China, bordering on Muslim areas of Central Asia; by the Uyghurs, a Turkic people in Xinjiang, an autonomous region in northwestern China; and by Kazakhs, Kyrgyzs, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Tartars, and other less numerous ethnic minorities in China.

The Princeton University Library has the largest collection of Islamic manuscripts in North America and one of the finest such collections in the Western world. About two-thirds came to the Library as part of the collection of Robert Garrett (1875-1961), Class of 1897, one of Princeton’s preeminent manuscript collectors. He donated most of his collection to the Library in 1942. The rest have been acquired by gift and purchase since the 1950s. Most of the manuscripts originated in Near Eastern centers of Islamic civilization. But holdings also include manuscripts from Moorish Spain and the Maghreb in the West, to the Indonesian Archipelago in the East, and even a few from sub-Sahara Africa. The chief strength are Arabic texts relating to all aspects of the world of learning. Subject coverage is broad and comprehensive, including theology based on the Qur’ān and tradition (hadīth); Islamic law (fiqh); history and biography (especially of the Prophet and other religious leaders); book arts and illustration; vernacular literature; science; magic and the occult; and other aspects of the spiritual, intellectual, and artistic life of the Islamic world and its diverse peoples, including non-Muslims.

The Princeton University Library has long been committed to making these collections available to researchers worldwide. Access was initially provided by printed catalogs. In the last two decades, with initial support from the U.S. Department of Education, followed by more substantial support from Princeton’s Magic Project and Council of the Humanities (Virginia and Richard Stewart Memorial Fund), the Library has put many thousands of bibliographic records online and has digitized over 1,200 Islamic manuscripts. For more information about Princeton’s Islamic manuscripts, one can search bibliographic records in the online catalog or access the Princeton University Digital Library. Reference assistance is available from Public Services staff, rbsc@princeton.edu

Chinese Qur’an, AH 1138 / 1726-27 CE (Islamic Manuscripts, Third Series, no. 876).

The British Empire and the Revolutionary War: Recent Acquisitions

The Manuscripts Division has recently acquired several manuscripts relating the British Empire in North America during the Revolutionary War. These acquisitions have been possible by special funds made available to the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections for the purpose. The earliest of these recent acquisitions is a manuscript penned by Colonel Thomas Howard (1735–78), “A Sketch of the Interest of Great Britain in her American Colonies, with Some Remarks upon the Policy, Trade, and Commerce of America,” probably dating from the late 1760s (C1555). The author advocates free trade between Britain and the American colonies, encouragement of American manufacturing, a better understanding of the needs and desires of American settlers, limitation of taxation, and abolition of legislation reserving white pines to be used as masts on British ships. The manuscript is written in the same hand as an 8-page autograph letter of 30 November 1777, signed by “Thomas Howard” and addressed to Thomas, 1st Earl of Clarendon, on British military policy and difficulties in the American Revolution. “The country is so very strong, and the general enmity so very prevalent against us, that we find infinite difficulties whenever we are separated for any length of time from our shipping…” The letter was written in Philadelphia by Colonel Howard, commander of the First or Grenadier Guards in America, during the winter of 1777–1778. At the time, the British Army occupied the city and Continental forces were encamped at Valley Forge. While returning back to England in 1778, Howard was killed when the British ship in which he was sailing was attacked by an American privateer. His brother was John Howard (1739–1820), also a British military officer, became 15th Earl of Suffolk in 1783. This manuscript came from Holywell House, Hampshire, home of the Villiers family, earls of Clarendon.

Also from Holywell House are manuscript essays by Ambrose Serle (1742–1812) on North America, its economic opportunities, and other subjects (C1556). Serle was a British colonial official, who in 1772 was appointed under-secretary to William Legge (1731–1801), 2nd Earl of Dartmouth, Secretary of State for the Colonies. Serle also served from 1776 to 1778 as Secretary to General William Howe, commander of British forces in North America, and remained in America until 1780. Contents of the volume include: (1) “Thoughts of the Fur Trade on the River Mississippi,” 10 pages, 1769; (2) “Lusus Politicus or an Essay on the Pretensions of the Colonies,” 29 pages, 1769; (3) “Thoughts upon the Means of Establishing Episcopacy in the Colonies,” two copies, one with an introduction signed by the author addressed to Lord Hillsborough [Wills Hill, 1st Marquis of Downshire (1718–1793)], 71 pages, 1771–1772; (4) “A Political Essay,” concerning Rhode Island, 19 pages, August 1772; (5) Untitled tract on American policy, addressed to Lord Hyde, signed and dated, 10 pages, Lambeth, 28 May 1768; (6) Signed untitled tract on the development of manufacturing in America, addressed to Lord Hyde [Thomas Villiers, 1st Earl of Clarendon (1709–1786)], 7 pages, Lambeth, 26 July 1768; (7) “An Epitome of Some Facts and Thoughts respecting North America,” arguing that the American colonies had been a drain on British resources, 18 pages, January 1780. Serle wrote six of these tracts before publishing his well-known political pamphlet, Americans against Liberty; or an Essay on the Nature and Principles of True Freedom, Shewing that the Designs and Conduct of the Americans Tend only to Tyranny and Slavery (1775).

Other recent acquisitions include sets of financial accounts related to provisioning of the British Army. The more significant accounts are for Daniel Chamier (1724-1778), a wealthy Baltimore-born Loyalist, who served as Commissary General of the British Army in North America, 1774-1777 (C1560). The principal item is a 43-foot parchment roll, detailing the funds that he expended in provisioning the British Army during those years, from Nova Scotia to Florida. The detailed financial records underscore the saying, “an army moves on its stomach.” Chamier’s accounts include expenses for forces under generals Sir William Howe, Lord Charles Cornwallis, Sir Henry Clinton, and Thomas Gage. Chamier’s heirs and family compiled these records in the 1790s in an effort to gain reimbursement for the personal fortune that Chamier had spent during his service as Commissary General; for it appears that Chamier received some £65,000, but spent more than £300,000. Payments covered costs for provisions, including beef, pork, flour, rum, vinegar, rice, potatoes, turnips, corn, and butter, as well as for printing stationery and advertisements. Some of the printing was done by New York Loyalist printers Hugh Gaine and James Rivington.

The Manuscripts Division also acquired a two-volume British Army account book kept in the Carolinas and Florida, recording expenditures during the final stages of the Revolutionary War, 1781-1782 (C1559). The accounts are under headings, such as garrisons, labor, construction, transport, and names of individuals or companies. Some expenditures relate to African Americans. For example, Colonel James Moncrief, an engineer and commander of the Black Pioneers (a black loyalist force), spent £7.18s.8d with Walter Stewart, a hairdresser, £3.5.4 on a spy glass from George Ward and gave an order for the payment of £1.1.9 to “Negroe Jack, a Carpt.”

These recent acquisitions are most welcome because Princeton already has significant holdings of original research materials for this period. Most of these materials have come to the Library either as gifts of generous Princeton alumni collectors, such as Andre DeCoppet, Class of 1915. His extraordinary collection of American historical documents (C0063) includes “A Brief History of the American War.” The author of this manuscript was an English supporter of the American war for independence. A “Preliminary Discourse” and the early chapters of the main text largely consist of the author’s philosophical viewpoints on war, religion, and civil government. Later chapters include more historical detail. The history is incomplete, stopping with an account of a 1778 battle in Rhode Island. The manuscript was originally housed in a wooden box covered in brown leather with gold tooling. The box has a contemporary ownership inscription, “The Revd. E. Cartwright.” Initial speculation that the manuscript may have been written by British reformer Major John Cartwright or his brother Edmund Cartwright has been quelled, largely based on the author’s extremely antagonistic view of the Church of England, of which both Cartwrights were members. The author never references himself by name, which makes any attribution of authorship highly speculative.

For more information about these and other holdings of the Manuscripts Division, consult the online catalog and finding aids site. One can also contact Public Services, rbsc@princeton.edu


Chamier roll

Sealed Treasure: T. S. Eliot Letters to Emily Hale

In 1956, Emily Hale (1891-1969) donated 1,131 letters from the British poet and Nobel Laureate T. S. Eliot (1891-1969) to the Princeton University Library, together with related printed items and enclosures. Dating from 1930 to 1956, the letters are the largest single series of the poet’s correspondence. Hale was an American actress and drama teacher, who for decades was the poet’s secret love, confidant, and muse. By agreement between the Library and Emily Hale, the letters have remained closed in the Manuscripts Division for more than sixty years, but are scheduled to open in January 2020. The T. S. Eliot Letters to Emily Hale (C0686) are among the best-known sealed literary archives in the world. It is not unusual for donors to seal archives or impose other restrictions on access to them. In 1940, for example, Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh donated selected papers (C0697), which by agreement would remain sealed until both had passed. The papers opened in 2001.

Hale’s interest in the Princeton University Library grew out of conversations with her friends Professor Willard Thorp (1899-1990) and his wife Margaret Thorp. On 7 July 1942, Library Director Julian P. Boyd wrote to Hale, “I understand that you wish to protect the Eliot letters by placing them in a safe repository until they can be safely transmitted to their permanent home, which I assume is to be the Bodleian Library.” However, by the time Hale was ready to send the letters to Princeton, she had changed her mind about the permanent home for the letters. On 24 July 1956, Hale wrote to Thorp and promised to send the letters to Princeton “with the knowledge of T.S.E.” She told Thorp that the gift was because of “my years of friendship with you.” In a separate note, Hale specified that the letters were to be “under auspices of Professor Willard Thorp, as executor of my wishes in regard to to them; not be looked through or published [until] 25 years after my death.” Thorp discussed the gift with William S. Dix, the new University Librarian; and Alexander P. Clark, Curator of Manuscripts. By 17 November 1956, Hale had reconsidered the length of restriction, probably based on her understanding of Eliot’s wishes, and she signed a deed of gift, stipulating that the letters be kept “completely closed to all readers until the lapse of fifty years after the death of Mr. Eliot or myself, whichever shall occur later. At that time the files may be made available for study by properly qualified scholars in accordance with the regulations of the Library for the use of manuscript materials. To carry out this intention the Library is to keep the collection in sealed containers in its manuscript vaults.”

Once received in November 1956, Alexander P. Clark organized them in a dozen blue boxes in order to facilitate appraisal of the letters for tax purposes, thus allowing Hale to donate them in installments. Steel security bands were put over the boxes at a later date and remain in place to this day. The gift was formally accessioned on 12 December 1956. Additional gifts from Hale in the next dozen years, including two typed Eliot letters of 1930, donated in 1967, which are now in the Emily Hale Collection (C1294). They are entirely literary in content and for this reason were not considered personal enough to warrant being sealed with the bulk of the letters received in 1956. T. S. Eliot died on 4 January 1965 and Emily Hale on 12 October 1969. While the fifty-year restriction period should end on 12 October 2019, William S. Dix stated in 1971 that the Eliot letters be sealed until January 2020, which has been the official policy since then. This provides sufficient time for proper arrangement and description of the letters, possible conservation treatment, and other things that must be done before the official opening on 2 January 2020. The Library will produce digital surrogates to permit the number of researchers interested in studying them in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

The collection will be of incalculable importance for Eliot scholars and other students of modern literature. Their opening will finally resolve over a half century of scholarly speculation, which even inspired Martha Cooley’s novel The Archivist (1998). For information about the holdings of the Manuscripts Division on T. S. Eliot and modern literature, visit the finding aids site or contact Public Services.

Eliot-Hale sealed letters

Seeing Medieval Music

Generations of Princeton undergraduates and graduate students in the Department of Music have learned about music history in part by class visits to the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. For well over a half century, medievalists and chant specialists at Princeton have figured prominently in visits to the Manuscripts Division to see Latin and Greek manuscripts. Among the music faculty have been Kenneth Levy, Margaret Bent, Peter Jeffery, and now Jamie Reuland, who has visited twice in spring 2017 with her graduate seminar, Medieval Musical Style and Notation (MUS 504). The most recent visit was to see and learn about a thirteenth-century Gradual (Princeton MS. 245), just acquired through the cooperative efforts of the Manuscripts Division and the Mendel Music Library. In the new West Consultation Room of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections (see photo below), Professor Reuland (center) uses the Gradual to illustrate Christian liturgy and musical notation for the graduate students (left to right) Carolyn Watts, Jane Hines, Mumbua Kioko, and Ambra Casonato.

A Gradual is a liturgical manuscript containing the sung portions of the Mass, with text and musical notation. Religious houses needed Graduals as part of their complement of service books. While Princeton has many such books, the new acquisition offers a particularly good example for instruction and research. This Gradual was produced in the second half of the 13th century for a Dominican religious house, probably located in northern France or the southern Low Countries. The manuscript contains 176 parchment leaves (measuring 34.0 x 24.5 cm), with text in black and red ink, square notation on four-line red staves, ten large illuminated initials, and pen-work decoration in blue and red. Below is a close-up of the initial G for the word Gaudeamus (Latin for “Let us rejoice”), inhabited by a green, blue, and red dragon. The gold and rich colors of the illuminated initials are still vivid after seven centuries. The manuscript probably left the Dominicans around the time of the French Revolution, when monasteries were being closed and their property sold. From 1912, the Gradual was in the library of the British collector Allan Heywood Bright (1862-1941), whose descendants sold it and many other manuscripts in 2014.

Most liturgical manuscripts in the Manuscripts Division are described in Don C. Skemer, Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Princeton University Library (2013), 2 vols.; and Nancy Sevcenko and Sofia Kotzabassi, Greek Manuscripts at Princeton, Sixth-Nineteenth Century: A Descriptive Catalogue (2010). More recent acquisitions are described in the Library’s online catalog, as are music manuscripts in the Scheide Library.

Professor Reuland and graduate students

Princeton MS. 245 (detail)

Fitzgerald’s Unpublished Short Stories

Lovers of the writing of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), Class of 1917, can celebrate the publication of I’d Die for You and Other Lost Stories (Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster). Anne Margaret Daniel *99, a literature professor at The New School, prepared this eagerly awaited edition. The book includes sixteen previously unpublished short stories and two “uncollected stories.” Some are what Fitzgerald labeled “false starts.” Others had been rejected outright by publishers; needed revision, for which he lacked time; or dealt with taboo subjects. Daniel has edited most of these unpublished stories from handwritten and typescript drafts in the F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers (C0187), Manuscripts Division. The author’s daughter, Scottie Fitzgerald Lanahan, donated the papers to Princeton in 1950, along with the papers of her mother, Zelda Fitzgerald. Scottie retained a group of unpublished stories in the hope of finding a publisher. Unfortunately, most of these stories were not published. Put aside and forgotten, they were rediscovered by the Fitzgerald family a half century later.

Fitzgerald is celebrated today for The Great Gatsby (1925) and Tender is the Night (1934), though his youthful first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920), holds a special place in Tiger hearts. Yet for most of his life, Fitzgerald made a living as a successful writer of light fiction, especially for The Saturday Evening Post. Fitzgerald published more than 150 short stories in popular American magazines, from “Babes in the Woods” (1919) to the posthumous “Gods of Darkness” (1941). Some stories were published in series, like the Basil Duke Lee stories in The Saturday Evening Post and Pat Hobby Stories in Esquire. A number of the short stories are highly regarded by critics, such as “Winter Dreams” (1922), “Absolution” (1924), “The Rich Boy” (1926), “Babylon Revisited” (1931), and “Crazy Sunday” (1932). Many of Fitzgerald’s short stories were anthologized by Charles Scribner’s Sons in Flappers and Philosophers (1920), Tales of the Jazz Age (1922), All the Sad Young Men (1926) and Taps at Reveille (1935).

All but one of the short stories in I’d Die for You and Other Lost Stories date from the 1930s, when the intertwined lives of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were unraveling, and Fitzgerald was struggling to make a living as an author and screenwriter. Several stories are clearly autobiographical in part, including “The I.O.U.” (1920), written early in Fitzgerald’s literary career, about publishing; “Nightmare (Fantasy in Black)” (1932), set in a mental hospital; “I’d Die for You (The Legend of Lake Lure)” (1935/36), drawing on his time in North Carolina; “Travel Together” (1935/36), about a struggling screenwriter; “The Pearl and the Fur” (1936), which takes some inspiration from Scottie Fitzgerald; “Offside Play” (1937), about collegiate football, ostensibly at Yale; and “Love is a Pain” (1939/40), recalling Princeton days. Providing a context for Fitzgerald’s very readable stories are the editor’s general introduction, head notes and explanatory notes for each story, and a selection of illustrations (mostly from the Fitzgerald Papers). The book is available from the publisher and e-booksellers. The editor has also written, “The Story behind Fitzgerald’s Lost Short Stories” in The Guardian.

Einstein in Princeton

The Manuscripts Division is pleased to acknowledge that Mara Vishniac Kohn, daughter of the Russian-American photographer Roman Vishniac (1897-1990), has donated four 10 x 13-inch photographic portraits of Albert Einstein (1879-1955), from the Roman Vishniac Archive at the International Center of Photography (New York). The photographer visited Princeton to photograph Einstein in the fall of 1941. Most of the series of photos show Einstein seated in his office on the ground floor of Fuld Hall, at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. But several show Einstein standing and writing computations on a large blackboard, possibly at another location. Vishniac used his Rolleiflex intermediate-format camera with Kodak black-and-white 120 film. Other photos taken during Vishniac’s Princeton visit show the German refugee painter Eugen Spiro (1874-1972) painting Einstein’s portrait, and also Vishniac’s daughter Mara, who accompanied him, standing in Princeton University’s Blair Arch and the archway of nearby Lockhart Hall. Vishniac sent a selection of photo-prints to Einstein, who thanked him in a 28 January 1942 letter in German for the truly artistic photos (“wahrhaft kunstlerische Aufnamen”).

Roman Vishniac and his family were then living at 105 West 72nd Street, in New York City. It was there that Vishniac had found refuge early in 1941 after escaping from Vichy France and the horrors of World War II. Vishniac was born near Saint Petersburg, Russia, and is probably best known today for his pre-Holocaust photographic documentation of Jewish communities and life in Central and Eastern Europe. He did this work between 1935 and 1938 on a commission from the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (Paris). These photos are the subject of Vishniac’s book, A Vanished World (1983). Many of them are now available online in the Vishniac Archive website and reproduced in Maya Benton’s Roman Vishniac Rediscovered (2015). In the 1950s-70s, Vishniac returned to his original academic interest in biology and zoology and did pioneering work in photomicroscopy. In fact, the Manuscripts Division has Vishniac’s author files in the Archives of Charles Scribner’s Sons (C0101). The files relate to publication of Building Blocks of Life; Proteins, Vitamins, and Hormones: Seen Through the Microscope (1971), for which he supplied both text and images. The Vishniac photographs have been added to the Manuscript Division’s Albert Einstein Collection (C1022).

Albert Einstein first visited Princeton in 1921 to deliver the Stafford Little Lectures on the Theory of Relativity (five lectures in all) at 50 McCosh Hall, 9-13 May. During this visit, President John Grier Hibben conferred on him an honorary Doctor of Science degree at Alexander Hall. Einstein was later awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize for Physics. He returned to Princeton in 1933 as a refugee from Nazi Germany to assume his post as a life member of the newly established Institute for Advanced Study. He would remain in Princeton for the rest of his life, residing at 112 Mercer Street. Relations between Princeton University and the Institute were close. Oscar Veblen and John von Neumann were among Princeton faculty recruited by the Institute. While not a member of the Princeton University faculty, Einstein’s office was at first on campus at 109 Fine Hall (now Jones Hall) from 1933 to 1939, when construction of the Institute’s Fuld Hall was completed. He gave occasional lectures at the Palmer Physical Laboratory (now the Frist Campus Center), in Room 302, still preserved as it was in his time, and he had many connections with Princeton faculty. Professor Eugene P. Wigner, later a Nobel Laureate in Physics, helped Leo Szilard with the famous Einstein letter (1939) to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt about the possibility of an atomic bomb. Einstein’s last lecture was at 307 Palmer Physical Laboratory, on 4 April 1954, in Professor John A. Wheeler’s seminar on general and special relativity. Professor Henry DeWolf Smyth, author of the Smyth Report (August 1945), the first history of the Manhattan Project, observed after Einstein’s death that Physics at Princeton had “immeasurably benefited by his presence at the Institute for Advanced Study.”

The principal archival resource for Albert Einstein are his own papers, which he bequeathed with full rights to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. They remain there today in the Albert Einstein Archives. But the original papers were microfilmed before going to Jerusalem, and the Princeton University Library used the microfilm to create the Einstein Duplicate Archive (C0701). Though not as complete as the archives in Jerusalem, the Duplicate Archive may be consulted in the Manuscripts Division. Researchers may also request photoduplication. Hebrew University has been digitizing and providing online access to substantial portions of the Einstein Archive, with an effective search engine. Einstein’s writings and correspondence through 1925 have been published by Princeton University Press in The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, with 14 volumes in print since 1987. Files about the Einstein Papers project can be found in the Princeton University Press Archives (C0728) and Valentine Bargmann Papers (C0657), in the Manuscripts Division.

Einstein had many friends in Princeton. Among the closest was Hanna Fantova (1901-81), a refugee from Czechoslovakia who served as curator of the Historic Maps Collection at the Princeton University Lbrary. The Hanna Fantova Collection of Albert Einstein (C0701) includes Gespräche mit Einstein, Fantova’s telephone log of her conversations with Einstein between 14 October 1953 and 12 April 1955–the last 18 months of his life. An English translation of these conversations, filled with details about everything from Einstein’s health to his opinions on Cold War politics, is available in Alice Calaprice, ed., The New Quotable Einstein (2005). The Fantova collection also includes 28 Einstein letters and 15 poems (all in German), 57 undated (mostly black-and-white) informal photographs of Einstein, and other materials. Einstein letters and photos can also be found in the papers of other local friends and acquaintances, such as Saxe Commins, Erich von Kahler, and Immanuel Velikovsky, as well as items pertaining to his stepdaughter Margot Einstein, secretary Helen Dukas, and friend Otto Nathan. The latter two were co-trustees of Einstein’s literary estate.

Reference queries about Einstein are among the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. All archival materials can be identified in the Finding Aids website. For information about doing research at Princeton, contact Public Services, at rbsc@princeton.edu


Roman Vishniac, Albert Einstein in his office, 1941.
COPYRIGHT © Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy
International Center of Photography.

Royal Portraits in Wax

Thanks to two decades of careful collecting and generous gifts by Bruce C. Willsie (Class of 1986), the Manuscripts Division now has the finest North American collection on British sigillography (an auxiliary science of history devoted to the study of seals used with historical documents). The Bruce C. Willsie Collection of British Sigillography (C0953) contains over a hundred boxes of seals, matrices, seal impressions, and other items from Roman Britain almost to the present. Most important are royal charters on parchment, issued under the Great Seal of the Realm, from the reigns of King John to Queen Victoria. The collection also includes a significant array of private seal matrices in copper alloys and lead, which were used to mold the wax impressions for use on documents. These date from Romano-British of the 2nd-3rd centuries CE until the end of the 15th century. There are also a few papal bullae and some examples from the 16th-18th centuries.

Then as now, seals served to authenticate genuine documents and prevent forgeries and fabrications. The legal authority of documents could also be attested by prescribed forms of Latin legal expression and physical presentation, royal portraits and regalian imagery, inclusion of witness names and signatures, and conformance of the texts of engrossed documents to archival file copies, whether centrally maintained on rolls or in registers. Most medieval and early modern charters have two-sided pendant seals, generally attached to the document by means of a braided silk cord or parchment tag. Medieval English kings are depicted in stylized portraits as enthroned monarchs on the obverse and as mounted knights (counter-seal) on the reverse. Still intact, these royal charters and seals bear silent witness to ancient legal transactions and provide evidence of documentary practices and of royal government at work.

Among several dozen recent donations by Willsie is a historically important charter of Henry III (r. 1216-72), prepared by Chancery clerks at Canterbury, on 25 October 1265 (see below). It is a grant to Sir John de Vaux (ca. 1220-87) of Lincolnshire, who later was appointed High Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk. The charter relates to a major English constitutional crisis, when Simon de Montfort (ca. 1208-65), sixth earl of Leicester, led the Rebel Barons against Henry III during the Second Barons War (1263-65). Simon de Montfort attained quasi-royal power and twice convened Parliament, until Montfortian forces were defeated decisively at the Battle of Evesham (4 October 1265), where Simon de Montfort was killed and dismembered. Henry III summarily confiscated property of the Rebel Barons for their treasonous acts and awarded them to royalist supporters. In the present charter, issued just three weeks after the Battle of Evesham, Henry III reallocated particular confiscated manors to Sir John de Vaux, including the manor of Benefield, Northhamptonshire; and the manors of Holt and Cley, Norfolk.

Among the charter’s high-ranking witnesses were other royalists, including Walter Giffard (d. 1279), bishop of Bath and Wells, subsequently archbishop of York; Hugh Bigod (ca. 1221-66), Justiciar of England, 1258-60; Philip Basset (ca. 1185-1271), Justiciar of England, 1261-63; Roger de Leybourne (1216-71), and Sir Robert Aguillon (d. 1286). The Great Seal of the Realm (in green wax) was attached to the charter by means of a green-and-tan braided silk cord. The latter was laced into the lower fold (plica) of the charter at and embedded in the green wax seal. The completed charter was then folded down several times in each direction, probably for secure storage in a muniments chest with other family archives. In later centuries, endorsements (listing manors granted) were added on a blank verso panel of the folded charter as part of a filing system for family archives, and Henry III’s Great Seal was inserted into a protective red silk cover because wax becomes brittle with age. A descendant of Sir John de Vaux eventually sold off old family documents, and this charter entered the antiquarian book trade, where it was acquired by the American attorney and bibliophile Robert S. Pirie (1934-2015). In December 2015, Willsie acquired the charter at the Pirie sale, at Sotheby’s, New York.

The Willsie collection is being conserved, properly housed, and described in a finding aid. Royal charters with seals, from the 12th to 16th centuries, are being conserved, flattened, and specially mounted by Ted Stanley, Special Collections Paper Conservator in the Library’s Preservation Office, for safe storage, consultation, and display. Among the Willsie collection’s many high spots are royal charters and seals of Elizabeth I, Oliver and Richard Cromwell, and Queen Victoria, whose massive royal seals are protected by tin skippets. Concerning Middle English charters and seal matrices, see Don C. Skemer, “Cover Note,” Princeton University Library Chronicle, vol. 75, no. 3 (2014), pp. 437-42. For more information about the Willsie Collection, contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts.

Henry III, Folded charter and red silk cover.


Henry III, Great Seal of the Realm.


Henry III, Charter (after conservation treatment).

Naval Journal of the Comte de Grasse

The Manuscripts Division has recently been able to acquire several important manuscripts and small collections on American history in the Revolutionary Era and Early National Period. This has been possible as a result of special funds made available to the Department of Rare Book and Special Collections for the purpose. These acquisitions are most welcome because the Manuscripts Division already has significant holdings for this time period. Faculty research interests in the Department of History have encouraged acquisitions in this area for more than a century. Most of these materials have come to the Library either as gifts of generous Princeton alumni collectors, such as Andre DeCoppet, Class of 1915, or by equally generous donors who have made acquisitions funding available to the Library. The Manuscripts Division’s extensive holdings of papers of the Livingston, Delafield, Blair-Lee, and other prominent political families help document American history through the Civil War.

The earliest of the recent acquisitions is Comte de Grasse (1723–88), Journeaux des Campagnes fait depuis 1756, 1757, 1759, 1760, 1761, 1762, 1763, 1764, 1765, 1767, 1768, 1772, 1776. [C0938, no. 723]. It is a densely written 178-page journal, which De Grasse kept in various places from February 1756 to November 1776. The journal is a detailed chronicle of his rise in the ranks of the French royal navy from lieutenant de vaisseau during the Seven Years’ War to ship’s captain by the end of this period. De Grasse was a native of southeastern France and entered naval service in 1741. He is best known as a French admiral during the Revolutionary War, when his fleet was active in American waters. His success at the 1781 Battle of Virginia Capes played a major role in the victory of General George Washington and the Continental Army at the Battle of Yorktown, and thus in securing American independence.

The journal helps document De Grasse’s earlier career. The volume begins on 26 February 1756 at Rochefort, an inland port in western France, aboard the 64-gun Infexible, built the previous year. Although not yet a captain, two tables within the journal list De Grasse (“M. de tilly”) in command of the Hardi-class ship of the line. During the campaign of 1757, he served in American waters near the islands of Martinique and Puerto Rico. On 2 July 1757, he reports on the arrival of the Berry’s regiment, en route to Quebec to reinforce General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, who would figure prominently in the 1758 defense of Fort Carillion (renamed Fort Ticonderoga). Of particular interest are De Grasse’s notes on the 1757 defense of Louisbourg. The journal ends in 1776, a year after the Revolutionary War began.

De Grasse kept his journal in a stationer’s blank book. The original binding was intact when the manuscript arrived at Princeton but needed conservation treatment in the Princeton University Library’s Preservation Office because the stiffened-paper wrapper had come apart. Book Conservator Mick LeTourneaux was able to repair the binding in such a way that the two eighteenth-century items used to stiffen the wrapper are revealed and readable. One is an uncut printed sheet of a dozen blank receipts from the French bookseller Pierre Faye, Rochefort. The other is a handwritten page of French accounting records that relate to the provisioning of an unidentified naval vessel and mention St. Vincent, most likely the West Indies island then claimed by both England and France. Although there is no bookseller’s ticket in the blank book, it is very likely that it had been purchased from Pierre Faye’s bookshop in Rochefort. The port was then home to a French naval base, arsenal, and school.

Future blog-posts will report on other acquisitions made possible by special funding. For information about other Franco-American historical manuscripts and archives, see “A Founding Father in Revolutionary Paris.” For general reference assistance, contact Public Services at rbsc@princeton.edu

De Grasse Journal

Martin Guerre Returns, Again

The saga of Martin Guerre continues, nearly five centuries after the birth of this obscure French peasant. His Basque family had settled in the southern French village of Artigat, where he married a local woman named Bertrande de Rois and had a son. In 1548, after being accused of theft, Martin disappeared suddenly at age twenty-four. Between 1548 and 1557, his whereabouts were unknown, and he was eventually presumed dead. But then a man claiming to be Martin appeared, looking enough like the long-lost Martin and knowing details of his earlier life so that Bertrande and many villagers in Artigat were convinced he had returned to resume married life with Bertrande. Martin and Bertrande did live as husband and wife. But Martin’s brother Pierre and others accused him of being an imposter and later identified him as Arnaud du Tilh (called “Pansette”), from a village in the area. The accusations resulted in court cases in 1559-60. During appeals to the Parlement de Toulouse (1560), the real Martin did indeed return as a war veteran with a peg-leg, and the judges condemned Arnaud to death for adultery with Bertrande. Then as now, the case made compelling reading—a morality tale with lurid details about love, abandonment, impersonation, betrayal, and ultimate punishment. These events were chronicled in two contemporary accounts. The most famous was an often reprinted account by the French jurist Jean de Coras (1515-72), one of the Toulouse judges, Arrest mémorable, du Parlement de Tolose (1561). The story would be retold for centuries and find a place in popular literature. It was even being turned into a movie, Le Retour de Martin Guerre (1982), starring Gérard Depardieu and Nathalie Baye. And the story was reimagined during the American Civil War in another movie, Sommersby (1993), with Richard Gere and Jodie Foster. The most important scholarly study is The Return of Martin Guerre (1983), by Natalie Zemon Davis, Henry Charles Lea Professor of History Emeritus, Princeton.

The Manuscripts Division is pleased to have acquired an unpublished Italian account of the case by the Pistoia humanist and poet Giovanni Battista Forteguerri (1508-82), Processo et Arresto ò sentenza data dal Parlamento di Tolosa sopra d’un fatto prodigioso et memorabile, tradotto di lingua Francese nella favella per M. Giovanni Battista Forteguerri, Dottore Pistorese, con cento annotationi ornate et aggiunte da lui. The paper manuscript, still in a contemporary limp-vellum binding, is Forteguerri’s 1591 autograph draft of his Italian translation and revision of the published account by Jean de Coras. Forteguerri prepared the manuscript for presentation to Christina de Lorraine (1565-1637), Grand Duchess of Tuscany, for whom Galileo would later write his 1615 letter. Forteguerri added a dedicatory letter to the Grand Duchess (fols. 3r-4v), dated April 1591, which is followed by his Italian translation (fols. 16r-178r), with substantial additions and revisions. Forteguerri rewrote particular portions of Jean de Coras’s text and added extensive Greek and Latin quotations from classical texts, thematically related to the case. No doubt he had consulted early printed editions, which were probably available at Pistoia’s Biblioteca Forteguerriana, founded by Niccolò Forteguerri (1419-73). Interestingly, there is no Greek text in the French and Latin editions of Jean de Coras’s text. The manuscript includes marginal bibliographic annotations in Latin, authorial corrections scattered throughout the text, and a “Sommail del fatto” (a separately booklet replacing Jean de Coras’s Argument & Sommaire du faict in French printed editions). The manuscript was formerly owned by Guglielmo Libri Carucci dalla Sommaja (1803-69). It was sold at the Libri sale, at Sotheby’s, London, on 28 March 1859, no. 382. The great British collector Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872), of Middle Hill, Worcestershire, purchased the manuscript at the Libri sale and assigned it the Phillipps no. 16321. It was later offered for sale at Sotheby’s London, in Bibliotheca Phillippica: Catalogue of a Further Portion of Sir Thomas Phillipps (1910), no. 343; and by the New York antiquarian bookseller H. P. Kraus, in List 203 (1960), no. 132. Princeton acquired the manuscript from a bookseller who had purchased it decades ago from Kraus.

For more impormation about this manuscript and other Renaissance holdings of the Manuscripts Division, please contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts, dcskemer@princeton.edu

Princeton MS. 230, fol. 46r.

African Slavery in the Americas

The Manuscripts Division holds a wide array of archival resources documenting the history of African slavery in the Americas, chiefly for the United States and the Caribbean islands during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Relevant materials can be found in personal and family papers, subject-oriented open collections on African American slavery, and separately cataloged bound manuscripts. Most of this material may be identified in the Princeton University Library’s Finding Aids and New Catalog, generally by searching for subjects or keywords. In addition to “African American” and “slavery,” one can search for terms such as abolition, anti-slavery, colonization, manumission, plantations, slave, slave bills of sale, slave ships, and slave trade; or for specific personal and corporate names.

The oldest holdings on slavery in the New World are Spanish documents and business records pertaining to Indian slave labor on Latin American plantations and mines. Particular manuscripts and collections relate to slavery in Mexico, Brazil, Peru, and Colombia. But Princeton’s holdings are best for the African and Caribbean slave trade. Good materials on the importation of slaves into the Americas are contained in the four record books of the Brig Nancy under the command of Captain J. B. Cook (Oversize C0199 no. 1226f). The records document the operations of a slave ship operating between Rhode Island and the plantations of Surinam, 1791-96. Professor Mitra Sharafi (University of Wisconsin Law School), studied these records when she was a Princeton graduate student in the History Department and presented her findings in an article in Slavery and Abolition, vol. 24, no. 1 (2003), pp. 71-100. Efforts to monitor transatlantic slavery after the abolition of the slave trade are documented in the Papers of George W. Storer (1789-1864) (C1433), who served in the U.S. Navy for more than a half century, including his years as a captain and then commander-in-chief of the Brazil Squadron, 1837-50, which, in part, had the goal of preventing American ships from transporting African slaves. During his tenure as commander of the Brazil Squadron, the fleet frequently worked with the British Navy and captured four slave ships.

The Francis C. Brown Collection on Slavery in America (C0605) contains nearly a hundred individual documents and printed items relating to slavery, chiefly in Louisiana but to a lesser degree Tennessee, Kentucky, Maryland, Alabama, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, and the Carolinas. The collection amassed by Francis C. Brown, Class of 1958, includes so many representative examples that it is used regularly for class visits to the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. The finding aid has just been revised, with expanded descriptions. Similar materials are found in the Miscellaneous Slavery Collection (C1210). Another document collection, Louisiana Slavery and Civil War Collection (C0033), includes fascinating files on the estate of a manumitted slave named Marie Claire Chabert (1769-1847), of New Orleans. Mitra Sharafi explores these files in an article in Journal of Civil Law Studies, vol. 4 (2011), pp. 188-215, as evidence of the process by which slaves could buy freedom for themselves and family members. Slavery collections of this sort are complemented by relevant materials in the papers of eminent early Princetonians, such as Richard Rush, Class of 1797, within the Rush Family Papers (C0063); Samuel L. Southard, Class of 1804 (C0250); and John Miller, Class of 1836 (C0632).

Records of Caribbean slave plantations have been a growing area of strength in the Manuscripts Division. The earliest such collection is the Boarded Hall Estate Plantation Records (C1227), 1676-1887 (mostly 1712-1845). The records of this plantation on the island of Barbados were brought together by Sir George Harnage, Baronet, a captain in the British Royal Navy. An important recent acquisitions is the Sir John Orde (1751-1824), Collection on Slavery in Dominica and Jamaica (C1534), which is comprised of five boxes of accounts, land registers, letters, and documents pertaining to slavery and the plantation economy under British colonial rule in Dominica in the late 18th century and in Jamaica in the early 19th century. Sir John Orde was governor of Dominica, 1783-93; as well as lists of enslaved workers on the estates of Peter Campbell, Esq., plantation owner in the Jamaican parishes of Saint Elizabeth, Westmoreland, and Hanover, in 1817, 1820, 1823, and 1825. The John and Martha Bowen Letter Book concerning Bowen Hall Sugar Plantation (C1490) relates to the management of a Jamaican sugar plantation, including its varied finances, seasonal production and export of sugar and rum, and the treatment of slaves and “apprentices,” 1822-48.

Also relating to the later history of slavery and gradual emancipation in Jamaica is the Rae Family Estate Collection (C1222), covering the 1830s to 1850s. Account books of this Scottish family provide information concerning the slaves or “apprenticed labourers” who worked on their Jamaican plantations. Entries include the purchase of “negro hats,” medical bills for doctors who attended on apprentices and “free children,” the purchase or sale of apprentices, hospital bills, money paid to apprentices for attending funerals, money paid to constables or police officers for apprehending and returning runaway apprentices, or money paid for the freedom of apprentices. Also of interest is an 1818 manuscript appraisal of the Elizabeth Anne plantation estate with hundreds of slaves on Leguan Island in the Essequibo Islands-West Demerara region of colonial British Guiana (now Guyana), assigning monetary value to the enslaved workers, land, buildings, and livestock owned by Robert Gordon, Esq., a native of Aberdeen, Scotland (F-000052).

For information about research using these and other materials in the Manuscripts Division concerning slavery in the Americas, or about class visits by Princeton students, please contact Public Services, rbsc@princeton.edu

slave-bill-of-sale-1825
Kentucky slave bill of sale, 28 June 1825
Francis C. Brown Collection on Slavery
in America (C0605), Manuscripts Division