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Of Lice and Men: A Special “Robbie Burns’ Day” Post

Louse post-ToALouse Robert Burns, Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Edinburgh: Printed for the author and sold by William Creech), 1787. NICKELL 821 B93po1787

Louse post-To A Louse
Robert Burns, Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Edinburgh: Printed for the author and sold by William Creech), 1787. NICKELL 821 B93po1787

Happy Robert Burns’ Day! In the spirit of good fun on this day that celebrates the great Scottish poet, we remind you of Burns’ poem “To a Louse” (1787). The brief poem addresses a louse, crawling upon a fine lady’s bonnet (“Ha! whaur ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie?”) and reminds us of our own little faults with the immortal line: “O wad some Power the giftie gie us /To see oursels as ithers see us!” [O would some power the gift give us / To see ourselves as others see us!]

Before toasting Burns with a glass of Scotch, we thought we might explore the preponderance of pests in English literature of Burns day by showing not only the first edition of his work (in his 1787 collection, Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect), but also a lousy work from the pen of John Wolcot (1738-1819), whom Burns called a ‘truly original Bard.”

Wolcot was a satiric wit who published under the pseudonym Peter Pindar. His mock epic, The Lousiad, a Heroi-Comic Poem appeared one year before Burns’ poem (perhaps serving to inspire the louse upon the lady’s hat?). The Lousiad went through numerous editions and created something of feeding frenzy for lice literature in the late 1780s. For example, the louse responded in a 1787 Poetical Epistle from a Louse to Peter Pindar, Esq ; or, The Louse Banished from Court, and the lowly flea also got into the action in The Fleaiad, An Heroic Poem, with Notes (1787).

Peter Pindar, The Lousiad : an heroi-comic poem (London : Printed for G. Kearsley, at Johnson's Head, no. 46, Fleet Street, and W. Forster, music-seller, no. 348, near Exeter 'Change, in the Strand, where may be had, all the author's other pieces), 1786. Nickell 073

Peter Pindar, The Lousiad : an heroi-comic poem (London : Printed for G. Kearsley, at Johnson’s Head, no. 46, Fleet Street, and W. Forster, music-seller, no. 348, near Exeter ‘Change, in the Strand, where may be had, all the author’s other pieces), 1786. Nickell 073

Paul Pindar, The fleaiad, an heroic poem, with notes (London : Printed for G. Kearsley), 1787. X 821 P6521F

Paul Pindar, The fleaiad, an heroic poem, with notes (London : Printed for G. Kearsley), 1787. X 821 P6521F

Much of this lousy literature can be found in the superb Nickell Collection at the University of Illinois. Lloyd F. Nickell, an alumnus of the University of Illinois, assembled this fine collection of English literature of the eighteenth century during his twenty-year residence in England as a business executive. The collection contains rare editions of all the great writers of the period, including Burns, Defoe, Swift, Fielding, Pope, Goldsmith, Samuel Johnson, Boswell, Addison and, of course, Wolcot/Peter Pindar. Most of the collection is beautifully bound and in exceptionally fine condition. VH

For more lousy literature, visit The Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois:

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Cataloging Cavagna! The man behind the collection

Count Cavagna in 1908

Count Cavagna in 1908, from In memoria del conte Antonio Cavagna Sangiuliani di Gualdana nel primo anniversario della sua morte, 5 aprile 1913 (Pavia: Caio Rossetti, 1914). Q. Cavagna 50262

To celebrate the recent grant awarded to the Rare Book & Manuscript Library by the Council on Library and Information Resources, we are offering a little background on the man behind the collection, Count Antonio Sangiuliani di Cavagna. In the weeks to come, the Cavagna catalogers will be showcasing a “Cavagna of the Week” every Thursday, so stay tuned to discover all of the facets of the collection and the interesting works we uncover.

Cavagna was born on August 15, 1843 in Alessandria, a city in Piedmont, the son of Don Giovanni Battista Cavagna, conte di Gualdana and his wife Ida Fenini. At the age of 10 he was adopted as heir by his cousin Antonio Sangiuliani, conte di Balbiano. His full name thus is Antonio Sangiuliani di Cavagna, conte di Gualdana. He studied law at the Universities of Bologna, Pavia, and Rome, receiving a laurea in legge in from the latter in 1871. His legal studies were interrupted in 1866 by military service in the Austrian war. Serving as a local elected official and managing his extensive agricultural holdings, he also published 161 works on historical, art-historical, socio-economic, and governmental topics. He married twice: to Beatrice De Vecchi (1867) and to Maria Gramignola (1885), with whom he had 4 daughters.

Count Cavagna in 1866

Count Cavagna in the military uniform of the Reggimento “Lancieri di Aosta”, 1866

Cavagna’s library originated from the inheritance of both his father’s and cousin’s archives. His own collecting of books, pamphlets (including publications in honor of weddings), broadsides, ephemera, maps, and manuscripts reflected his historical and legal interests. His acquisition of works on farming, bonifica (land improvement), charities, and social welfare arose from his responsibilities as an agricultural landowner and his social position; government documents reflected his roles as an elected official of Voghera and Bereguardo and as provincial councilor of Pavia. His private enjoyment of theater–he became a member of the Accademia dei Filodrammatici of Milan at the age of 13–and interests in the medicinal value of mineral waters are also reflected in his library.

The first leg of the journey for Cavagna's Collection, from Bereguardo, Italy to the University of Illinois

The first leg of the journey for Cavagna’s Collection, from Bereguardo, Italy to the University of Illinois in 1921

Dying without direct male heirs in 1913, his collection was offered for sale by his sons-in-law. Negotiations with the University of Illinois were interrupted by WWI; the sale was completed in 1921 and shipped to Urbana the same year. The University purchased both Cavagna’s private library and most of his family archive. Manuscripts in the archive relating to the history of the city of Pavia were exempt from the sale and remained in the city of Pavia. RT

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Happy Winnie the Pooh Day

Today, January 18th, marks the 133rd anniversary of the birth of Alan Alexander Milne. Fans around the world celebrate it as “Winnie-the-Pooh” Day, in honor of Milne’s most famous creation. Although most readers know Milne through his works for children, he also wrote a number of novels and highly successful plays. In fact, he began his writing career as a journalist, writing for both Granta, then a Cambridge University student magazine (which he also edited), and the humor magazine Punch.

While Milne was editor of the Granta, he wrote a letter to a former teacher asking if he would contribute a piece to the magazine’s special May Week issue. In addition to articles from the magazine’s regular staff, this issue traditionally included pieces whose authors had, in Milne’s words, “something rather more than a local reputation” (letter dated May 4th 1902). Requesting help from a former teacher might seem rather unremarkable—except that in this case the teacher was none other than H.G. Wells. Milne’s father, John Vine Milne, ran a private school, known as Henley House School, which Milne had attended and at which Wells had taught science from sometime in early 1889 to sometime in early 1891.

We think Milne and Wells are somewhere in this photo, a group shot of the students and teachers at Henley House School. Can you help us identify them? Milne would have been about eight years old and Wells about twenty-four. Photograph is glued to the front flyleaf of The Henley House School Magazine. London: Ford & Son, 1881-1893. WELLS 828 H389

We think Milne and Wells may be somewhere in this photo, a group shot of the students and teachers at Henley House School. Can you help us identify them? Milne would have been about eight years old and Wells about twenty-four. Photograph is glued to the front flyleaf of our copy of The Henley House School Magazine (London: Ford & Son, 1881-1893). WELLS 828 H389

Milne begins his letter by referencing this earlier connection, writing: “Do you remember a small sized boy with long hair to whom you taught, at the time, all the geology he [ever] knew?” (letter dated May 4th 1902). He then explains about the May Week issue, and makes his request for Wells’ contribution. However, even as he writes it, Milne seems to doubt whether the request is appropriate—he writes “I know how busy you must be, and really I wonder at my [temerity] in approaching you. In fact, on thinking it over, it will almost be sufficient if you forgive me for writing this. With many apologies” (letter dated May 4th 1902). It’s hard to blame him for being so nervous–at the time he wrote the letter Milne was just twenty, while Wells was thirty-five and had already published a number of his most famous works, including The Invisible Man (1897) and The War of the Worlds (1898).

WELLSFolderM-359Letter1pg1 WELLSFolderM-359Letter1pg2

Nevertheless, from this first, cautious letter a more frequent and familiar correspondence seems to have evolved, in which Milne keeps Wells up-to-date on progress towards his goal of making a career as a journalist. In turn, it seems that Wells may have acted as a kind of mentor to Milne. In a letter dated 4 September 1903, Milne thanks Wells “for your kind encouragement last Xmas.” Then, in another letter a few weeks later, Milne recalls Wells’ advice to “send things as much as possible to one paper with a view to getting regular work from it” (letter dated 27 September 1903). The nervousness and formality of Milne’s first few letters soon disappears; by 1905 Milne is addressing his letters “My dear H.G.” rather than “My dear Mr. Wells.” By 1939, Milne even felt confident enough to send Wells a copy of one of his own books. He writes: “Now that I know that you are in London, I send you this. It isn’t as good as yours, but the early chapters may interest you” (letter dated 27 October 1939). Although Milne does not give the name of the work, it was likely The Ascent of Man, as Wells’ copy of the book bears the inscription “For H.G. from A.A.M.”  Seeing the inscription, one gets a sense almost of a cycle completing. Thirty-seven years prior, Milne had requested that Wells send him a piece of writing. Now Milne, an established writer himself, was sending some of his own work to Wells. While his fame may have come from writing stories for the young (and young at heart), the nervous young man of twenty was finally all grown up. -BS



Brackets denote words whose transcription is uncertain.

All letters are from the H.G. Wells Papers, MSS00071, Folder M-359.


Thwaite, Ann. “Milne, Alan Alexander (1882–1956).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 2012. Web.

Parrinder, Patrick. “Wells, Herbert George (1866–1946).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 2011. Web.

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Lessons from Lessing’s Nathan der Weise

Lessing 2

We’re celebrating religious toleration day in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library with the first edition of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s Nathan der Weise (1779)! This classic German play—written by a giant of German literature who was also, we are proud to say, a librarian—epitomizes the ideal of religious toleration through the dramatization of the Ring parable. The wise Nathan (modeled on Lessing’s friend Moses Mendelssohn) answers the sultan Saladin’s question as to which is the true faith by telling the story of a ring, passed down from father to son that makes its wearer beloved by God. Once, long ago, when a father had three sons, he had two copies of the ring made. No one could distinguish the real ring from the copies. Of course, the sons each claimed to have the real ring and arguments ensued. But Nathan argues that the authenticity of the ring does not matter for it is not the magic in the ring, but the virtuous life they each lead that makes each one of them pleasing to God. Nathan advises Christians, Muslims, and Jews to live by the religion they have each inherited, for each contains wisdom and salvation. Wise words for 2015, too!

Lessing 1

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Merry, Sparkly, and Bright!

It’s that time of year when houses and trees glow with holiday lights and, here in the Midwest at least, cars and windows boast thin layers of glimmering frost each morning. A few of the books in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library are getting a sparkly coating as well, thanks to a phenomenon known as efflorescence.

Efflorescence can affect a number of materials, including stone, concrete, and leather. It occurs when the amount of moisture in an object exceeds the amount of moisture in the air around that object. This causes the moisture to migrate towards the object’s surface. Once the moisture reaches the surface, it evaporates, leaving behind any salts that may have been dissolved in it.

Leather bindings often contain salts left over from the tanning process. If these salts are dissolved in any moisture that a book contains, then the drier air of fall and winter will bring them, in dissolved form, to the book’s surface. Once the salts reach the surface, the moisture evaporates, and they appear as a sparkly white powder. Fear not, the environment in the rare book vault is carefully controlled and kept at a constant temperature of 60 degrees with a humidity of 44%. Our conservators are never concerned about a little efflorescence in the winter.


When books are sitting next to each other on a shelf, the efflorescence tends to appear only on their spines and top edges, as these are the only places where the leather is exposed to the air. The powder has no harmful effects, and a single swipe of the finger will remove it. As the weather warms, the holiday lights will come down, windows will no longer be etched in frost, and the efflorescence will fade. But we’ll know it’s there, waiting, a little bit of sparkle just under the surface. -BS


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Revolutionary Revolutions

When I was in elementary school, I had a small “Wheel of Presidents”—a device consisting of two cardstock circles affixed to each other in the center, one smaller, with a wedge-shaped cutout, and one larger, with miniature portraits of the U.S. presidents dotting its circumference. I don’t remember how I acquired it, but I do remember playing with it, turning the smaller, upper circle so that the cutout would align with one of the presidents on the rim of the larger, lower one and reveal the few facts about his presidency printed below his portrait. Although I did not know it at the time, my “Wheel of Presidents” was far from novel or unique. Rather, it represented just the most recent incarnation of a pedagogical tool whose origins were far older than my days in elementary school—far older, even, than the U.S. presidency.

The idea of organizing information in rotating charts dates at least to the incunabula era. Early astronomy books often featured paper or parchment wheels called volvelles as a way of helping students learn the motions of the planets, moon, and sun. Later, wheels morphed into calculation tools that could aid their users in finding the positions of stars, solving logarithmic equations, determining the dates of eclipses, and more.

Although The Rare Book & Manuscript Library holds many fine examples of books that include wheels as pedagogical aids, one in particular caught my eye: The First Part of the Principles of the Art Military Practifed in the Warres of the United Netherlands (Q. 355.009492 H511p 1642), printed in Delft in 1642. All of the other circular charts I had seen related somehow to astronomy–what was one doing in a military handbook? I had to know.

As he notes in his dedication to Prince William of Orange, Quartermaster Henry Hexham, the author of the Principles, felt a desire to pass on some of the knowledge and experience he had gained during his “two and fortie yeares” of service in the Dutch military. This led him to compose the Principles, a manual that he hopes will serve “for the inftruction of fuch English Gentleman, & Souldiers, who are willing to come into the States feruice, & for the informing of their Iudgments the better.” To this end, Hexham includes in the manual information on the duties of each member of a foot company, armor and weapons,  various methods of holding a pike and musket, and the exercises and motions through which captains would lead their foot companies. It is this last section where the wheels come in. Hexham accompanies the more basic exercises with static diagrams of a foot company in rank and file. For some of the more complex troop movements, he removes the images of the foot company to separate, small pieces of paper, which are fixed on the page in such a way that they can rotate. Spinning the pieces of paper one way or the other then allows readers to see the results of a particular command, like “To the left hand.” Though the pieces of paper themselves are actually rectangular rather than circular, they nevertheless demonstrate the power of interactive, rotating devices as instructional tools, especially when the subject to be taught involves complex movements—whether they be of heavenly bodies or earthly ones. BS


The First Part of the Principles of the Art Military Practifed in the Warres of the United Netherlands.Shelfmark: Q. 355.009492 H511p 1642

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How do you say “Remember, Remember the 5th of November” in Latin?

John Milton found a way at the tender age of 17, on the eleventh anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, when he wrote “In Quintum Novembris.” This rousing mini-epic praises God for preserving the heroic King James from a “band of impious Papists.” The poem ends with Milton’s description of Guy Fawkes festivities in the England of his day:

Attamen interea populi miserescit ab alto
Æthereus pater, & crudelibus obstitit ausis
Papicolûm; capti pœnas raptantur ad acres;
At pia thura Deo, & grati solvuntur honores;
Compita læta focis genialibus omnia fumant;
Turba choros juvenilis agit: Quintoque Novembris
Nulla dies toto occurrit celebratior anno.

Looking down from above mercifully on his people, the heavenly father thwarted the Papists’ cruel attempt. They are seized and taken off to bitter punishments. Pious incense and grateful honors are given to God. All the joyous streets smoke with amiable flames; the young people dance in crowds. No day in all the year is more celebrated than the fifth of November.

Guy Fawkes day photo 2

The poem was published in 1645 in Poems Of Mr. John Milton: Both English And Latin, Compos’d At Several Times. Printed By His True Copies. The Songs Were Set In Musick By Mr. Henry Lawes Gentleman Of The Kings Chappel, And One Of His Majesties Private Musick. London: Printed By Ruth Raworth for Humphrey Moseley, and are to be sold at The Signe of the Princes Arms in S. Pauls’ Church-yard, 1645.

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign holds nine copies of this work. Shelfmark: 821 M64L 1645.

Guy Fawkes day post photo 1

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