Musical Collaborations

In memory of Toni Morrison (1931-2019), the Princeton University Library has acquired two autograph music manuscripts containing drafts and sketches that the contemporary American composer Richard Danielpour wrote in pencil on the pages of orchestral score books: (1) Sweet Talk: Four Songs on Texts by Toni Morrison, a song cycle commissioned as part of the 1996 Princeton Atelier Program, for mezzo-soprano Jessye Norman (who recently passed), with instrumental accompaniment, 1995-96; and (2) Spirits in the Well, another song cycle with lyrics by Morrison, composed for voice and instrumental accompaniment at Yaddo, the artists’ community in Saratoga Springs, New York, November 1997. These two manuscripts will form a new one-box collection complementing related materials in the Toni Morrison Papers (C1491) The papers contain Morrison’s own files related to collaborations with Richard Danielpour, including these two song cycles and the opera Margaret Garner(2005), for which she wrote the libretto. Danielpour recalls, “When I realized that Beloved was based on the historical account of Margaret Garner, I thought, [Toni] is the person who needs to write [the libretto].” Morrison’s other well-known musical collaboration was Honey and Rue, a song cycle composed by André Previn with lyrics by Morrison for the soprano Kathleen Battle and chamber orchestra, which premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1992.

The papers of Toni Morrison, Nobel Laureate in Literature (1993) and Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities (Emeritus) at Princeton University, contain several hundred boxes of archival materials documenting her life and work, including manuscript drafts and other materials pertaining to her eleven published novels: The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1973), Song of Solomon (1977), Tar Baby (1981), Beloved (1987), Jazz (1992), Paradise (1997), Love (2003), A Mercy (2008), Home (2012), and God Help the Child (2015). Morrison was especially fond of her work at the Princeton Atelier and fruitful collaborations with Danielpour and other composers and creative artists. Now part of the Lewis Center for the Arts, the Princeton Atelier, in its own words, “brings together professional artists from different disciplines to create new work in the context of a semester-long course.” When President Christopher Eisgruber announced on Friday, October 17, in Richardson Auditorium, that Morrison’s papers had found their permanent home in Firestone Library, the author responded by thanking Princeton for some of the happiest days of her life, both in the classroom and the Atelier. When the manuscripts have been cataloged, descriptions will be available in the online catalog and finding aids.

Richard Danielpour, Sweet Talk (detail).

Egyptology Seminar

Verena M. Lepper and her graduate seminar (Ancient Egyptian Manuscripts: Writing, Materiality, Technology [REL 404/CLA 404/HUM 404]) is visiting Special Collections eight times this fall to study selected holdings of the Manuscripts Division. She is a Visiting Stewart Fellow in the Humanities Council and Department of Religion, as part of the Council’s Global Initiative in Comparative Antiquity. The seminar will be studying the Manuscripts Division’s collection of Books of the Dead and other ancient texts written in Hieroglyphic and Hieratic script. These have all been digitized, as described in a recent blogpost. The seminar will also study a selection of Coptic, Demotic, and Greek papyri and ostraka in the Manuscripts Division. Guest lecturers in the seminar include four Princeton faculty: AnneMarie Luijendijk (Religion), Marina Rustow (Near Eastern Studies), Martin Kern (East Asian Studies), and Thomas Hare (Comparative Literature). The seminar will visit the Princeton University Art Museum to study a newly acquired Book of the Dead. One possible outcome of the seminar will be a future exhibition, either gallery-based or virtual, relating to the materials studied. Lepper is Curator of Egyptian and Oriental Papyri and Manuscripts at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung. She is the author or editor of several books on Egyptology and is chief editor of two monograph series: Ägyptische und Orientalische Papyri und Handschriften des Ägyptischen Museums und Papyrussammlung Berlin (DeGruyther) and Studies on Elephantine (Brill).

Egyptology Seminar (left to right): Jianing Zhao, Leina Thurn, Verena M. Lepper, Rachel E. Richman, Emily Grace Smith-Sangster, and Rebekah Haigh.

Visions of Hell

Unbearable torments and punishments awaited the wicked in Hell, according to the ancient Persian prophet Zoroaster (Zarathustra), who lived at some point between 1500 and 600 BCE. His teachings inspired the Zoroastrian religion, which flourished in pre-Islamic Persia and has managed to survive until the present day among the persecuted Zoroastrian minority in parts of Yazd and Kerman, in northeastern Iran; and among the Parses (meaning Persians) of India, about 200,000 of whom live in Mumbai (Bombay) and its environs. From there, the Parses have brought their faith to other places, including the Princeton area. Surviving Zoroastrian texts describe Hell as a fiery, stench-filled place for men and women guilty of sins ranging from murder, sodomy, and sorcery, to bad administration, perjury, and other crimes against the social order. Punishments meted out in Hell include torture, mutilation, dismemberment, and immolation. Depictions of these punishments can be found in the relatively uncommon Zoroastrian illustrated manuscripts preserved in major research libraries.

The Manuscripts Division is fortunate to have a particularly attractive example: Islamic Manuscripts, New Series, no. 1744, possibly dating from the year 1589. This manuscript contains Sad dar, Arda Viraf, and other Zoroastrian texts, written in Persian and illustrated with fifty miniatures of Heaven and Hell. See the miniatures below for particularly vivid scenes of armed demons, snakes, and wild beasts attacking the unfortunate souls consigned to Hell. The Library digitized this manuscript for the Digital Princeton University Library (DPUL), where it may be accessed at this URL. It is one of more than 1,600 manuscripts in the growing Princeton Digital Library of Islamic Manuscripts. As one can see online, the manuscript was living in its own kind of Book Hell. When acquired by the Library, perhaps a half century ago, the manuscript was disbound and badly worm-damaged, like many manuscripts of Iranian and Indian origin. In this compromised condition, it was difficult for the manuscript to be handled by researchers or shown to Near Eastern Studies classes without further damaging it. The volume needed full conservation treatment. Over the course of weeks, as time allowed, the manuscript was expertly flattened, mended, and rebound by Mick LeTourneaux, the Library’s Rare Books Conservator. This manuscript has now been saved. But many other seriously damaged and deteriorated manuscripts at Princeton need extensive conservation treatment if they are to survive as well.

Islamic Manuscripts, Third Series, no. 1744, pp. 214-215.

Entering the Public Domain

Under U.S. Copyright Law, a significant number of classic works first published in 1923 have entered into the public domain this year, which means that they can be republished and sold or read online free-of-charge through Project Gutenberg without permission of (or payment to) rights holders. Among the works entering the public domain this year are particular books by Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, and other leading authors of the last century. One title represented in the holdings of the Manuscripts Division is The Prophet, a collection of twenty-six brief inspirational essays by the Lebanese-American writer and artist Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931), a Maronite Christian influenced by Sufism and Baha’i. This thin volume has sold tens of millions of copies since it was first published by the New York publisher Alfred A. Knopf on 23 September 1923. This popular book achieved cult status in the 1960s. Even before being discovered by the counterculture, President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address (1961) paraphrased Gibran’s essay The New Frontier, in which the latter had written (actually about the Middle East), “Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country?” The book has been a perpetual bestseller and has been translated into twenty languages. Even today, rates Knopf’s Borzoi edition of The Prophet among its dozen best-selling works in the categories of “religious philosophy” and “inspirational philosophy.”

In 2007, the Library received the William H. Shehadi Collection of Kahlil Gibran (C1178) as a gift of the collector’s son Albert B. Shedadi (Woodrow Wilson School *1986). William H. Shehadi was a physician and director of the Department of Radiology at New York Medical College and Westchester Medical Center. He most admired Gibran’s compassion for others. His brother was the late Fadlou A. Shehadi (PhD *1959), a long-time Princeton resident. The collection includes significant portions of Gibran’s working manuscripts and notebooks for four well-known books, all written in English and published by Alfred A. Knopf in New York: The Madman: His Parables and Poems (1918), The Fore-Runner: His Parables and Poems (1920), The Prophet (1923), and The Earth Gods (1931). A page from the collection’s manuscript of The Prophet can be seen below. In particular, the notebooks contain the author’s many textual changes and deletions. The collection also includes fragments of other manuscripts, photographs of his New York studio, and published editions of his works. The Shehadi Collection is one of the main sources on Gibran, in addition to the author’s published works, love letters and private journal of his American friend and muse Mary Haskell, and Gibran manuscripts retained by family members and not readily available for research. In 1991, American University of Beirut published his book Kahlil Gibran: A Prophet in the Making, based on the Shehadi Collection. For more information, contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts,


Ancient Egyptian Manuscripts Online

The Manuscripts Division is pleased to announce that ten Pharaonic rolls, written in Hieroglyphic and Hieratic script either on papyrus or linen, have been digitized and are now available online in the Digital Princeton University Library (DPUL). See the listing below, with links to the digitized manuscripts. These rolls are the oldest part of the Princeton Papyri Collections. Most of them came to Princeton as part of the extensive 1942 gift of Robert Garrett (1875-1961), Class of 1897. In the late 1920s, Garrett acquired several such rolls, chiefly from the Ptolemaic period (305-30 BCE), in the antiquities trade. He purchased a fully mounted Saite recension of the Book of the Dead in Hieratic, 26th Dynasty, from Spink & Son (London) in 1928. Others were purchased still fully rolled. One of these, a Hieroglyphic Book of the Dead (Pharaonic Roll, no. 5), New Kingdom, 18th/19th Dynasty, was partially examined at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1944-48 by Egyptologist and fellow Princetonian William C. Hayes (1903-63), Class of 1924. Five of Garrett’s Pharaonic rolls were finally unrolled and mounted in the Library’s Preservation Office in 1998-99 under the supervision of paper conservator Ted Stanley. The work was done as part of the APIS Project (Advanced Papyrological Data System), with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts, supervised the project at Princeton. Leonard H. Lesko, Charles Edwin Wilbour Professor of Egyptology Emeritus at Brown University, was the project consultant who provided guidance during the unrolling and mounting, and then described them for the APIS database. Over the past twenty years, Egyptologists have studied these rolls and published their findings in books and articles. Previous blog posts have focused on three of the Pharaonic rolls: no. 5; no. 8; and no. 10. For more information, contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts,

Book of Amduat. Hieroglyphic script on papyrus. Ptolemaic Period. Contains 12th hour. Pharaonic Rolls, no. 1.

Book of the Dead. Hieroglyphic script on papyrus. Probably from a Theban tomb. Ptolemaic Period (?) Chapter 17 with polychrome illustrations. Pharaonic Rolls, no. 2.

Book of the Dead. Hieroglyphic script on papyrus. Ptolemaic Period (?) Owner’s name is (N)es-Ese, a “chantress of Amon.” Contains chapter 110 (Field of Hetep) and beginning of chapter 149 written in retrograde from left. Unrolled and mounted in the Princeton University Library,1998. Pharaonic Rolls, no. 3.

Book of the Dead. Hieroglyphic script on papyrus, with polychrome illustrations. Ptolemaic Period (?) Owner’s name is Pedimeh(y)et. His father’s name is (N)espautitaui, a “first prophet of Re”; his mother’s name is Lady Nebethutiyti. Pharaonic Rolls, no. 4.

Book of the Dead, with polychrome illustrations. Hieroglyphic script on papyrus. Dynasty XVIII. Owner is Iwt.nyr.syh (Iwtlsyh?), a name possibly of Semitic origin. Includes chapters 84, 77, 86, 85, 88, 114, 38, 105, 31, and 125. Unrolled and mounted in the Princeton University Library, 1999. Pharaonic Rolls, no. 5.

Unidentified fragments. Fourteen small pieces with either Hieroglyphic or Hieratic script. Pharaonic Rolls, no. 6.

Book of Breathings. Hieratic script on papyrus. Ptolemaic Period. Nearly complete, unrolled and mounted in the Princeton University Library, 1998. Pharaonic Rolls, no. 7.

Book of the Dead. Hieratic script on linen, Two complete rolls of the Saite recension (chapters 67-165), with illustrations in ink. The owner’s name is Hekaemsaf (or Heka-m-saf), whose mother was named Tinetmehenet. The owner should probably be identified with Hekaemsaf, a naval officer who served as Chief of Royal Ships under Pharaoh Ahmose II [or Amasis II] (570-526 BCE), 26th Dynasty. Pharaonic Rolls, no. 8.

Book of the Dead. Hieratic script on papyrus. Owner’s name is Khay-Hapy, “son of Isis-great-of-truth.” With Hieroglyphic labeling. Includes (from right) chapters 16, 18, 38B (?), 21, 23, 24, 25, 26, 28, 110, 27, 32, and 125. Ptolemaic Period (?). Pharaonic Rolls, no. 9.

Osiris text. Hieratic script on papyrus. Ptolemaic Period. Unrolled and mounted in the Princeton University Library, 1998-99. Pharaonic Rolls, no. 10.

Litany or Hymn to Osiris. Hieratic script on papyrus. Pharaonic Rolls, no. 11.

Note: A fragment of a Book of the Dead, in Hieratic script on papyrus (Dynasty XXI, ca. 1100-950 BCE), with the owner’s name Pen-Amen-Apt, has been digitized in Treasures of The Scheide Library. The Scheide Library M P95.

Not yet digitized: Crocodile mummy cartonnage made from gesso with polychrome decoration (Tebtunis, 2nd century BC) box 8 Item 1-5.

Pharaonic Roll, no. 5 (detail). Transformation Spell, no. 86: Swallow perched on mummy.

Minassian Islamic Leaf Collection

Over the past dozen years, Library renovation, space reallocation, and staff changes have led to the fortuitous rediscovery of valuable materials acquired long ago, even before Rare Books and Special Collections moved to the newly completed Firestone Library in 1949. One such rediscovery is a collection of early Qur’ānic and Persian decorated manuscript leaves (19 items), dating from the ninth to eighteenth centuries. Below one can see one of the nineteen: a bifolium of an early Qur’ān written on parchment in Kufic, the oldest of Arabic calligraphic scripts. Krikor Minassian (1874-1944), a New York dealer in Islamic manuscripts and Near Eastern art, probably assembled this collection by the late 1920s or 1930s and donated it to Princeton around 1940. The Library accessioned it in May 1945 (AM 13658). Minassian was a native of Kayseri, Turkey, and remained active in the international market for decades. He formed other Islamic leaf collections, which are in various American libraries, such as the Library of Congress and Brown University’s John Hay Library. It is likely that particular leaves in the Princeton collection were from the same manuscripts as those in these collections. The Minassian Collection has been rehoused and designated Islamic Manuscripts, Third Series, no. 885. When cataloging has been completed, it will be digitized and added to the growing Princeton Digital Library of Islamic Manuscripts. At least a dozen additional Islamic manuscripts were found along with the Misassian leaves. For more information, contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts,

Kufic bifolium

Patrick Henry and the American Revolution

“All the Families of those men of your Militia that have joined Gen’l Washington by my Orders, may be in want of Salt,” wrote Patrick Henry (1736-99) on 12 November 1777 as the first governor of Virginia after independence. He addressed his letter to the County Lieutenant of Berkeley County, who was probably Josiah Swearington (1719-88). The letter continues, “And as their absence from home may be the means of misery or supply of that necessary article, I desire you will give notice to all such militia on their Return, or to their Families in their absence, that an application to William Coorr Esq. at Dumfries half a Bushel of Salt will be delivered to each soldier of your militia that acted in Concert with the grand army, paying what it cost the public.” Months earlier, George Washington had advised Patrick Henry to prepare his state militia for engagement with British forces, and several Virginia militia companies, including one from Berkeley County, joined Washington’s “grand army” in Pennsylvania. The 1777 letter shows Patrick Henry’s level of daily responsibility as governor, including such mundane details as the provisioning of salt to militiamen and their families, no doubt for use in preserving food.

Patrick Henry is best remembered today for his stirring patriotic speech, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death,” urging his fellow Virginians to take up arms against British forces. He delivered it on 23 March 1775 to the Second Virginia Convention, assembled at St. John’s Church, in Richmond. Henry had first served in the Virginia House of Burgesses, then the Virginia Convention and was governor of Virginia, 1776-79 and 1784-86. The letter is the latest addition to the Manuscripts Division’s growing Collection of Patrick Henry Materials, 1743-1796 (C1165), which includes about 20 autograph letters and signed documents. Other letters in this collection pertain to his career as an attorney, owner of tobacco plantations, slaveholder, and land speculator. A 1784 letter to Colonel Joseph Martin concerns policy toward American Indians. This collection has been largely been assembled thanks to a generous Barksdale-Dabney-Henry endowment created in 2006 by Mrs. Margaret P. Nuttle. She was a direct descendant of Patrick Henry and had many Princeton family connections, including her brother S. Barksdale Penick, Class of 1925, a longtime Princeton Charter Trustee; and her son Philip E. Nuttle, Jr., Class of 1963.

The endowment made possible the successful Library exhibition, “A Republic in the Wilderness: Treasures of American History from Jamestown to Appomattox” (22 February-4 August 2013); as well as the acquisition of other early Americana to support research and instruction. Recent acquisitions include a 1774 journal relating to Lord Dunmore (1730-1809), the last colonial governor of Virginia, and to Lord Dunmore’s War. The journal was once owned by the Marquis de Chastellux (1734-88), a major general of French expeditionary forces under the Comte de Rochambeau (1725-1807) during the American Revolution. For more information, contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts,

Patrick Henry. Engraving by Edward Wellmore.

Middle English Manuscripts in the Princeton University Library

Among the most frequently studied medieval manuscripts in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections are those in Middle English, the form of the English language spoken from around 1150 to 1500. Most of Princeton’s Middle English manuscripts, more than thirty in number, date from the second half of the fourteenth century until the last quarter of the fifteenth. The Manuscripts Division has the largest number because of the generosity of two great Princeton collectors, Robert Garrett (Class of 1897) and Robert H. Taylor (Class of 1930). Several manuscripts are in The Scheide Library, part of the extraordinary bequest of William H. Scheide (Class of 1936), announced in 2015. Included are manuscripts of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, John Gower’s Confessio amantis, Ranulf Higden’s Polychronicon in John Trevisa’s translation, Mandeville’s Travels, and the Wycliffe Bible. Among the most recently digitized is Revelations of St. Bridget of Sweden (see image below). These are supplemented by Middle English verses attributed to Sir George Ripley, in two Ripley Alchemical Scrolls (1590s and 1624), which are the focus of a Firestone Library exhibition, Through a Glass Darkly: Alchemy and the Ripley Scrolls, 1400–1700 (Spring 2020). In addition, there are various Middle English charters and seal matrices in the John Hinsdale Scheide Collection of Documents (C0704) and the Bruce C. Willsie Collection of English Sigillography (C0953). These are discussed in Don C. Skemer’s “Cover Note,” in Princeton University Library Chronicle, vol. 75, no. 3 (2014), pp. 439-444 (available online in JSTOR). Latin and Anglo-Norman manuscripts from England are also well represented in Rare Books and Special Collections.

Below is a checklist of Middle English manuscripts, with links to bibliographical records in Voyager, the Princeton University Library’s online catalog. Manuscripts are being digitized, either from the original manuscript or from existing greyscale microfilm, in order to reach the widest possible audience. To date, about half of the Middle English manuscripts have been digitized, with additional manuscripts being added over time. Voyager records provide links to manuscripts digitized in the Digital Princeton University Library (DPUL). Full textual and codicological descriptions (with bibliographies) are available for the Garrett, Taylor, Kane, and Princeton manuscripts in the published catalog: Don C. Skemer, Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Princeton University Library (2013). This two-volume catalog is available in major research libraries, and it can also be ordered from Princeton University Press and online vendors of books. For questions about those in the Manuscripts Division, contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts, Concerning Scheide manuscripts, contact Paul Needham, Scheide Librarian,

Garrett MS. 136: John Gower, Confessio amantis.
Garrett MS. 137: Thomas Hoccleve, The Regiment of Princes.
Garrett MS. 138: The Prick of Conscience.
Garrett MS. 139: John Lydgate, Fall of Princes.
Garrett MS. 140: The Sowdon of Babyloyne.
Garrett MS. 141: John Metham, Works.
Garrett MS. 142: John Hardyng, Chronicle of England.
Garrett MS. 143: Devotional Miscellany.
Garrett MS. 144: Devotional Miscellany.
Garrett MS. 145: Revelations of St. Bridget of Sweden.
Garrett MS. 150: Prose Brut.
Garrett MS. 151: Ranulf Higden, Polychronicon.

Taylor MS. 2: John Lydgate, Fall of Princes.
Taylor MS. 3: Sidrac and Boccus; Prose Brut.
Taylor MS. 5: John Gower, Confessio amantis.
Taylor MS. 6: Ranulf Higden, Polychronicon.
Taylor MS. 9: Arthurian Metrical Romances.
Taylor MS. 10: Mandeville’s Travels.
Taylor MS. 11: Speculum vitae.
Taylor MS. 13: The Prick of Conscience. 253
Taylor MS. 16: Wycliffite Sermons.
Taylor MS. 17: Arma Christi and Prayers.
Taylor MS. 18: King Henry VI, Royal Household Bills.
Taylor MS. 22: Religious Verse.
RTC01, no. 237: Ripley Alchemical Scroll.

Kane MS. 21: Nicholas Love, Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ.

Princeton MS. 93: Ripley Alchemical Scroll.
Princeton MS. 100: Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales.
Princeton MS. 101: King Edward IV, Great Wardrobe Account.
Princeton MS. 138: Fragments, nos. 5(a), 5(d).
Princeton MS. 186: Nicholas Love, Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ.

Scheide M12: Wycliffe Bible.
Scheide M13: Wycliffe New Testament.
Scheide M143: Psalter with Canticles.

Garrett MS. 145: Revelations of St. Bridget of Sweden.

Recent Acquisitions on African American History

These days, Aaron Burr, Jr. (1756-1836), Princeton Class of 1772, is chiefly remembered as the man who, while serving as the third Vice President of the United States (1801-5), mortally wounded Alexander Hamilton in a duel (1804). Burr’s career in public life all but ended with the duel at Weehawken, New Jersey. Sometimes forgotten, however, is Burr’s earlier distinguished service as a Continental Army officer during the Revolutionary War and his subsequent career as a busy New York City attorney and litigator. He moved there in 1783 to practice law and would handle cases of every conceivable description, including some involving the city’s more than two thousand slaves. As part of ongoing efforts to expand holdings on African American history, the Manuscripts Division has just acquired Aaron Burr’s signed legal complaint in the Mayor’s Court (9 August 1784) relating to his legal client, William Stevenson, a local auctioneer, whose woman slave had been taken “craftily and subtlely” by a certain John Lake, alleged to have “converted and disposed of the said Negroe woman slave to his own proper use to the damage of the said Thomas of eighty pounds.” This was one of three slave cases handled by Burr in 1784, according to Nancy Isenberg’s Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr (2007). At the time, Burr was a slaveholder, yet surprisingly he also favored the abolition of slavery and opposed restrictions on the rights of New York’s free blacks. The document has been added to the Aaron Burr (1756-1836) Collection (C0089).

Other recent acquisitions include documents pertaining to the African slave trade and African Americans from slavery to freedom. The oldest is a slim volume of sailing directions for an unnamed English ship trading between the “slave coast” of West Africa and the Caribbean, 1760 (C1210).Added to the same open collection of documents were other items, such as a New Jersey slave bill of sale for a boy named Harry, sold by John Dixon, of Morristown, to Shubal Pitney, of Mendham, 1797 (see image below); a note concerning a runaway slave in Carroll County, Maryland, ca. 1817; a letter from James Holladay to William Langhorne, of Portsmouth, Virginia, discussing an advertisement for the sale of a slave girl, 1820; an order for the arrest and whipping of a black slave named “Negro Frank,” who was accused of insulting and striking John Kelly, a white man, 1851; and a slave bill of sale for five black men in Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1857. The Hooe Family Papers is a separate collection (C1628) relating to a slave plantation in Prince William County, Virginia, 1829-50. Finally, the Manuscripts Division acquired a complete set of eleven Civil War muster rolls (1864) for U.S. Colored Troops, 39th Infantry Regiment and ten of its companies (C1626). Most of the black troops were from Baltimore and its environs, supplemented by others from other places. The regiment saw action in Virginia under the command of Colonel Ozora Pierson Stearns. Among the troops was Sergeant Decatur Dorsey, an African American honored for his actions at the Battle of the Crater (30 July 1864) and later settled in the town of Hoboken, less than two miles south of the Burr-Hamilton duel site.

Previous blog posts have surveyed holdings on the African slave trade and slave society in the Americas. For more information about recent additions, contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts,

New Jersey Slave Bill of Sale, 1797.

Palimpsests, Before and After

Palimpsests of early manuscripts may be interesting even when they contain no underlying text. Garrett Coptic MS. 7 is a fragment of a late 6th-century or early-7th century parchment codex. The piece was discovered in 1993 among approximately 50 Coptic manuscript fragments that Robert Garrett (1875-1961), Class of 1896, had purchased in Cairo around 1930 and donated to the Princeton University Library in 1942. The scribe used iron-gall ink, composed of ferrous sulfate, gallotannic acid, a binder such as gum Arabic, and occasionally other ingredients. Writing is now only visible only on the flesh side of the piece of parchment, which suffered considerable losses over the centuries. The ink was originally a dark brown but is now very pale, yet readable under ultraviolet light, which causes the ink to fluoresce. (See before-and-after photographs below.) One can see two columns of the Sahidic Gospel of Matthew (14:8-17). Sahidic was the southern dialect of Coptic, the leading dialect in the pre-Islamic period. This passage relates to the death of John the Baptist. It begins with Herodias’s unnamed daughter, known to history and legend as Salome, dancing before King Herod of Judea for his birthday and, at her mother’s urging, asking in return for the head of John the Baptist. The brief accounts in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 14:8-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:7-9), varying in their details, were much embellished over the next two thousand years in art, literature, and opera. Think of the lurid visual details in Aubrey Beardsley’s illustration (1893) for the French version of Oscar Wilde’s Salome (“J’ai baisé ta bouche Iokanaan”) and the “Dance of Seven Veils” in Richard Strauss’s opera Salome (1905).

While Garrett Coptic MS. no. 7 has no undertext, there is much to see, such as hardpoint rulings in places, as well as what appears to be a portion of a vertical bounding line along the left side of the first column. Horizontal lines were ruled using vertical rows of prick marks, which can still be seen in the space between the two columns, and are most easily seen using transmitted light. So too is the thinning of the parchment wherever there is writing in iron-gall ink. As the parchment codex replaced the papyrus roll in the Roman Empire, particularly from the 4th century CE, prick marks were necessary to achieve the more-or-less uniform ruling of text areas. The text is written scriptura continua, with no spaces between words, in an upright Biblical majuscule datable to the late 6th or early 7th century. The original Coptic codex had probably been retired from use after a few centuries, stored in an Egyptian monastic collectarium, and then aggressively erased so the parchment could be written on again. Parchment was easily palimpsested, unlike papyrus, making it an attractive writing support for reuse. The flesh side of the parchment retained traces of the iron-gall ink, but writing on the hair side was obliterated. The word palimpsest is derived from a Greek word meaning “scraped again.” But most often, the text was erased for reuse by rubbing it with a wet cloth or sponge, perhaps with occasional spot-scraping if necessary.

Robert Garrett had purchased at least 17 of his Coptic parchment fragments in March 1929, according to annotations in his hand, from the Cairo-based antiquities dealer Maurice Nahman, along with some Greek papyri and early Arabic documents. Nahman was active in the inter¬national antiquities trade from the 1900s until his death in 1948. During the 1920s and 1930s, Nahman was selling Coptic fragments Coptic manuscripts and fragments to European and American libraries, museums, and private collectors. Many had been recovered from the White Monastery, the Coptic Orthodox monastery that St. Shenouda the Archimandrite had founded on the west bank of the Nile at Deir el-Abiad, more than 450 kilometers south of Cairo. By the 19th century, much of St. Shenouda’s large library was housed in the monastery’s “Secret Chamber.” In the 1880s and 1890s, innumerable fragments were sold to what are now the Bibliothèque Nationale and the British Library. Other fragments entered the antiquities trade and are now widely dispersed, from Russia to North America. It is possible that the Princeton fragments were among them. But Nahman also bought and sold Coptic manuscripts from other monasteries, so provenance cannot be certain. In 1942, Garrett donated these Coptic fragments to Princeton, along with the rest of his extensive collection of nearly 10,000 manuscripts that he had amassed since the 1890s.

For more information about the Coptic fragments, see the Preliminary Checklist in the Princeton University Library Papyrus Home Page.

Garrett Coptic MS. 7, photographed under
reflected and ultraviolet light, by Ted Stanley.