Category Archives: History

The Expulsion of Percy Shelley

By Lon Maxwell, Reference DepartmentPercy_Bysshe_Shelley_by_Alfred_Clint_crop

Percy Bysshe Shelley, perhaps one of the greatest poets of the English language, universally admired by students of literature, a revolutionary mind in literature and philosophy and college drop out. Okay, that is not entirely correct. He was actually expelled. Yes, expelled. That guy that you were required to study by your senior year English teacher and whom your Literature 201 professor went on about for days was actually expelled from Oxford. Now the Romantic poets were not exactly known for being good little boys and girls, and most of Byron’s poor behavior came in the form of romantic conquests and there was also the all too common descent into penury and debt that plagued them all at one time or another. But no, not Shelley.  He had done something entirely unacceptable, something so scandalous it would cause his father to stop speaking to him (although in honesty, it was one of several occasions where his father refused to speak to him so take that as you will).

What was this heinous crime? What terrible transgression did he commit? He wrote a paper. Yes, just a paper. Well, technically it was a pamphlet. It was 13 pages on a topic that would be none too popular today either. The pamphlet was titled “The Necessity of Atheism” and its author was listed only as “Thro’ deficiency of proof, an atheist.” Shelley never did actually cop to writing it, but it is believed that he and a friend named Thomas Jefferson Hogg wrote and published it in small numbers in the late winter of 1811. They both had talked it up amongst their fellows at Oxford and made sure copies were disseminated far and wide, going as far as to mail them to the bishops, professors and heads of the college. This was probably a bit too much cheek for the Oxford Dons.

The_Necessity_of_Atheism_(Shelley)_title_pageThe pamphlet itself was actually very blasé. It can be summed up quickly as saying due to a lack of empirical evidence of G_d’s existence; it is safer to be an atheist. It is not the very strong argument of a died in the wool zealot, nor was it actually written very well. It was, however, enough to bring him before a disciplinary committee. Some believe that it was helped by another of Shelley’s publications from that year, a poem called “A Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things” that Shelley had published alone as a Gentleman of the University of Oxford, that made a great outcry against the Napoleonic Wars that were nearing an end at that time. Whatever the reason turned out to be, when Shelley refused to confirm or deny his authorship of either works he was expelled. Hogg met the same fate.

Shelley wrote to his father 3 days after the expulsion had taken place. He was convinced that his father would at least sympathize with him. He Wrote:

“I know too well that your feeling mind will sympathise too deeply in my misfortunes. I hope it will alleviate your sorrow to know that for myself I am perfectly indifferent to the late tyrannical violent proceedings of Oxford.”

Sir Timothy Shelley felt no sorrow for his son. His own copy of “The Necessity of Atheism” has the word “impious” scrawled across it. In fact, the Baronet went to see his son and in the presence of the aforementioned Hogg raved, cursed and cried at his son, finally insisting that Percy return home to be educate by teachers Sir Timothy would choose. This began a rift that would eventually keep the two from speaking to each other for years and damaged their relationship in ways that were never to be mended.

To many modern Americans, “The Necessity of Atheism” and “A Poetical Essay” are just a bit of youthful rebellion, common to people in their late teens. They would have been articles in your school’s underground newspaper twenty or forty years ago. Today they would be blog posts from online aliases or facebooks status updates. Your parents might not approve, but nothing that would warrant expulsion and being disowned. Shelley held to his beliefs and rarely compromised them. He never abandoned them wholly, but only modified them as his life brought him greater scope of experience.

In an ironic twist, these two pamphlets as well as Shelley’s letter to his father are all part of the collection of the Bodleian Library and are part of a travelling collection called Shelley’s Ghost. In fact a copy of “A Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things”, once thought lost to the world was added at some expense to the library’s collection as the 12 millionth items in 2006. The Bodleian is the much celebrated research library of Oxford University and the second largest repository in Britain. If you go to see it you can also take in the rather grand memorial to Shelley placed on Oxford’s campus, a place too noble to accept him in life and only too willing to lionize him, deservedly so, in death.WHITE-BOX




African American Olympians: The Unknown Greats

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

With it being African-American history month and an Olympic year it seems only logical to look back at some of the great African-American Olympians of the past and look forward to the new heroes of this summer.


George Poage

Most Americans are familiar with the Olympic greats of the past like runners, Jesse Owens and Wilma Rudolf. They might even remember a young light heavyweight boxer from the 1960 Olympics named Cassius Clay, although they are more likely to remember him as we all do now as Mohammed Ali. Some people will recall Tommie Smith and John Carlos from their memorable podium appearance in the 1968 summer games for the 200 meter. And Gabby Douglas from the last Olympics who was the first American to win an individual all-around gold medal as well as the team gold.

However, for every one of these household names there are heroes who are forgotten. Very few remember George Poage who was the first African American to compete in the Olympics and the first to win a medal. Mr. Poage was born in Hannibal, Missouri but actually grew up in La Crosse, Wisconsin. While working on his post-graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin he was sponsored by the Milwaukee Athletic club to compete in the St. Louis games in 1904 where he won Bronze medals in the 200 and 400 meter Hurdles.


John Baxter Taylor, Jr. and team

There is also John Baxter Taylor, Jr. who became the first African American to win gold when he ran the third leg of the 400 meter relay. Dr. Taylor was a graduate of the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Veterinary Medicine, but did not live long enough to practice his craft or enjoy his Olympic success, dying of Typhoid Fever less than five months after the glory of his Olympic championship at the 1908 London games. He might have been the first African American individual gold medal winner, but refused to participate in a re-running of the 400 meter final because he felt a teammate was unfairly disqualified for obstructing a runner from the host nation.

Instead, DeHart Hubbard was the first African American to win an individual gold, a feat he completed in the long jump at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Mr. Hubbard went on to found the Cincinnati Tigers baseball team of the Negro American League.


Alice Coachman

African American woman began competing in the Olympics as early as the 1936 Berlin Olympics when Tidye Pickett and Louise Stokes were selected for the 80 meter hurdles, although only Pickett competed, Stokes having been injured before the games. The first Medal won by an African American woman was gold in High jump at the 1948 London Games, won by Alice Coachman. Ms. Coachman had begun her track career running barefoot on dirt roads and improvising her jumping equipment out of whatever was handy in Albany, Georgia, only learning proper technique and working with real equipment when she reached high school. She won the gold medal she received from King George VI by setting a world record and did it all despite missing her prime years due to the cancellation of the 1940 and 1944 Olympics due to the War. Ms. Coachman went on to work in education as a teacher and worked with the Job Corps as well as becoming the first African American woman to sign an endorsement deal for an international product when she appeared in a Coca-Cola advertisement with Jessie Owens in 1952.


Carl Lewis

While not breaking down barriers or being the firsts, many African American athletes have given us great memories over past 30 years as well. The Eighties and Nineties had the brother-sister team of nine time gold medalist, and International Olympic Committee Sportsman of the Century Carl Lewis and his Sister Carol, now a commentator and bobsleigh break man, competing in the track and field events. The U.S. dominance of track and field during that time was also helped by another family. Six time Olympic medalist; three gold, one silver and two bronze, Jackie Joyner Kersee, her brother Al Joyner, a gold medalist in 1984 and his wife Florence Griffith Joyner who has three gold and two silver Olympic medals. All three were trained by legendary track and field coach, and Jackie’s husband, Bob Kersee. Joyner Kersee has held the world record for most points in a Heptathlon since 1988 and was named Female Athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated. At this same time the Dream Team of the 1992 Olympics, including NBA greats like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippin, David Robinson and Charles Barkley, reasserted U.S. dominance of the basketball world.

As summer approaches and the Olympic rosters are set, many new faces and some returning heroes will make themselves known. We can already be sure that Ashley Perry, a young woman from right here in Middle Tennessee, playing for the inaugural women’s rugby sevens team, and hopefuls like Simone Biles and returning legend Gabby Douglas, expected US Gymnastic team stars, and track star Allyson Felix will make sure that African Americans and Americans in general are represented proudly in Rio this summer.

Edgar Alan Poe’s The Raven

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Paul_Gustave_Dore_Raven14Edgar Allan Poe finished his popular and unique poem The Raven in January 1845. Set on a cold December night, it makes perfect sense that it was released in January. It made him famous, but not what he also craved to be, rich.

Poe chose a raven as the central symbol in the story because he wanted a “non-reasoning” creature capable of speech. He decided on a raven, which he considered “equally capable of speech” as a parrot, because it matched the intended tone of the poem. Poe said the raven is meant to symbolize “Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance”. He was also inspired by Grip, the raven in Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of ‘Eighty by Charles Dickens.

Poe really knows how to create a mood, to make his reader feel the shadows, the creepy noises in the room, the croak of the bird. This is a poem that pulls you into a moment. Like anything that scares you in a fun way, this is all about making you feel like you are experiencing the story while you read it. It’s spooky and a little spine-tingling, like a good horror movie. It’s fun to read – it’s meant to be read out loud. Try it and see how satisfying these lines are when they roll off the tongue. He’s trying to make his poem as musical, hypnotic, and captivating as possible. All of this complicated rhyme and rhythm aims at drawing you more completely into the world of the poem.

It’s interesting to think that people have been excited (and scared) by stories like this for hundreds of years. Folks in the 19th century read Poe for the same reasons we read Stephen King: that creepy thrill in reading about scary things happening to other people. When you read a story about someone slowly losing his mind, you might be horrified, but it’s also pretty hard to put it down.

And now a little about Poe the man:

Edgar_Allan_Poe_2He was born to traveling actors in Boston on January 19, 1809. By the age of three both of his parents had died, and he was taken in by the wealthy tobacco merchant John Allan and his family in Richmond, Virginia. Mr. Allan tried to raise him in his own image as a businessman and a Virginia gentleman, but Poe had dreams of being a writer like his childhood hero, Lord Byron. By the age of thirteen, Poe had compiled enough poetry to publish a book.

In 1826 Poe attended the University of Virginia, where he excelled in his classes while accumulating considerable debt. To teach him frugality, he was sent to college with less than a third of the money he needed, so he soon took up gambling to raise money to pay his expenses. By the end of his first term Poe was so desperately poor that he burned his furniture to keep warm. Angry and humiliated by his poverty, he returned to Richmond to visit the home of his fiancée, only to discover she was engaged to another man. Heartbroken, he left Richmond, vowing to become a great poet and to find adventure. He published his first book Tamerlane by age eighteen and then he enlisted in the United States Army. Two years later he heard that Mrs. Allan, the only mother he had ever known, was dying of tuberculosis, who was hoping to see him before she died. By the time Poe returned to Richmond she had died and had already been buried. He and Allan briefly reconciled, and Allan helped him gain an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Before going to West Point, Poe published another volume of poetry. While there he found out that Allan had remarried without telling him or even inviting him to the ceremony. He threatened to get himself expelled from the academy. His wish came true; after only eight months at West Point he was thrown out, but he soon published another book.

Virginia Clemm

Virginia Clemm

Broke and alone, Poe turned to Baltimore, hoping to find relatives in the city to stay with. His aunt, Maria Clemm, became a new mother to him and welcomed him into her home.  Her daughter Virginia first acted as a courier to carry letters to his lady loves but soon became the object of his desire.  He started publishing his short stories; one won a contest sponsored by the Saturday Visiter. This allowed him to publish more stories and eventually gain an editorial position at the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. He had found a home as a magazine writer.  In 1836, when he was twenty-seven, he married Virginia (she was 13!). After six plus years of marriage, his beloved wife died of tuberculosis. (1847) No wonder he wrote of dark and depressing things. His life was depressing. And all his life he was a true, starving artist.

He kept trying to find a better paying job, moving to Philadelphia and to New York, but it wasn’t until he published The Raven that he began to be a household name. Unfortunately, he only lived another two years after his wife died, dying from mysterious causes (still unknown, even to this day) at the age of forty-nine in Baltimore. Oddly enough, after his death he finally became more famous because of author Rufus Griswold. Poe strongly criticized his works, so upon Poe’s death Griswold struck back, but it backfired. It only made Poe more popular.

Interesting facts:

  • Obsessed with cats, Edgar often wrote with a cat on his shoulder.
  • Edgar’s one and only novel Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket was about a boat capsizing and the crew members drawing straws for who would be eaten; they drew straws and ate Richard Parker. The book bombed. Even though Poe said it was a true story, in his time most of the critics didn’t believe him. They were right to think so because at the time Poe’s book wasn’t true, but just 5 years later a similar wreck happened with the same lead character name Richard Parker, but no cannibalism. Then in 1884 there was another shipwreck where there was cannibalism, and the one who was eaten was indeed Richard Parker. (And don’t forget the Tiger in The Life of Pi was named Richard Parker. Concidence?)
  • The Mystery Writers of America have named their award Edgar, after the great E. A. Poe.the-edgars-banner
  • He introduced the first recorded literary detective in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” The detective character would lead to become the prototypical detective we know today
  • He was early adopter of the genre of Science Fiction. In 1844, he published “The Balloon” in Sun Newspaper. He described a lighter than air balloon that transversed the Atlantic Ocean in three days. The accounts were so believable that the newspaper had to retract the story two days later. However untrue the story was, the Sun newspaper made a lot of money off of newspapers, and they did not give Poe a cent. From then on, Poe hated the Sun newspaper.
  • “The Raven” was a personal challenge Edgar imposed upon himself. He wanted to write 100 line poem, enough for one sitting. He ended up with 108 lines, which apparently was good enough for Poe.
  • Edgar changed the writing and publishing world. Before Poe, writing was a noble profession where not many were able to make a living off of solely writing. Edgar insisted that writing would be his career, and he made major strides to find an audience for his entertaining articles, which would become the initial spark of the magazine industry. He even was given $1,500 the last week of his life to start a magazine. However, in his life he was plagued by international copycats where he had no protection that we have now with international copyrights. In many ways, he paved the way for writers to be compensated enough to have a career.




The Hunchback of Notre Dame

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Hugo-NotreDame_titre_webOn January 15, 1831, Victor Hugo finished one of his famous novels— Notre Dame de Paris. It had taken him only four months, after missing many deadlines set by his publishers. This was his first novel; it was a hit in Paris and France from the very beginning. Hugo had already gained fame because of his poems (he was granted many gifts and a 3000 franc annual pension from King Louis XVIII.) He lived during turbulent times. When he was two, Napoleon became Emperor of France. During his eighteenth year, the Bourbon dynasty was restored and Napoleon overthrown. It is no wonder that The Hunchback of Notre Dame was set in turbulent times. And it also explains the French reaction to the work. The French had all lived through Napoleon and the struggles, not to mention the French Revolution that had occurred within living memory.

Notre Dame de Paris was a huge hit for him—even a sensation. The English translator for Hugo retitled the novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame because at the time of its publication in English, Gothic novels were popular. Thus all the confusion! Hugo titled it as he did because the main character really is the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, not Quasimodo or Esmerelda. Hugo wanted to bring attention to the condition of the famous cathedral—it was badly in need of repairs. It was attracting thousands of tourists who had read the popular novel. The book also inspired a renewed appreciation for pre-Renaissance buildings, which thereafter began to be actively preserved.

All his adult life, he passionately advocated for an end to the death penalty. He is credited with convincing the British government to spare the lives of six Irish people convicted of terrorist activities, and is also considered in the removal of the death penalty from the constitutions of Geneva, Portugal and Colombia. His archives show that he wrote a letter asking the USA, for the sake of their own reputation in the future, to spare John Brown’s life, but the letter arrived after Brown was executed. What would have happened if the letter had arrived before??

When Napoleon III came to power, Hugo declared him an enemy of the state and moved abroad. He spent fifteen years in exile in Brussels, then Channel Islands. Jersey expelled him soon after arrival, but Guernsey was welcoming. His home in exile is a museum now.

When he returned to Paris in 1870, he was touted as a national hero. He suffered a small stroke, his two sons died and his daughter was committed to an insane asylum, all in a short time period. His wife had died several years earlier; his devoted mistress died two years before him. The whole nation of France celebrated his eightieth birthday. Paris had one of the largest parades ever to celebrate it. For nearly six hours people marched past his window! He was recovering from a small stoke and was not able to leave his bed, but he was propped up so he could watch. He was also given a traditional gift that was only given to kings. Paris even renamed a street after him. Most of the large towns and cities have streets named after victor Hugo. When Hugo died at age 83 from pneumonia, his coffin was laid under the Arc de Triomphe for an all-night vigil. Nearly 2 million people marched in his funeral. He was buried with all honors in a crypt with Alexandre Dumas and Emile Zola.

img_44442On to the novel: On January 6, 1482, during the Feast of Fools, a huge crowd is milling around the Cathedral of Notre Dame, taking part in the celebrations. There is a maypole, a mystery play and a bonfire. Esmerelda, a Gypsy, singing and swaying, catches the eyes of several men: Captain (of the guards) Phoebus, Grigoire, Archdeacon Claude Frollo and Quasimodo. Frollo orders Quasimodo to kidnap Esmerelda, but he is caught by the guards, flogged and put in stocks. Esmerelda gives him water, gaining his undying love. Later, after Esmerelda is charged with Phoebus’ attempted murder, Quasimodo saves her from death by taking her to the sanctuary of the cathedral. But the sanctuary doesn’t last long. She is retaken, and hanged. Frollo laughs during the hanging so Quasimodo throws him off the cathedral. Quasimodo finds Esmerelda’s body in the graveyard and stays there until he dies of starvation.

Hugo introduced the concept of the novel as Epic Theatre in Notre Dame de Paris. This was a giant epic about the history of a whole people, with the figure of the great cathedral as witness and silent protagonist. It was the first novel to have beggars as protagonists. It was also the first work of fiction to encompass the whole of life, from the King of France to Paris sewer rats, in a manner later co-opted by many others authors, including Charles Dickens. The popularity of the book in France also kick started the historical preservation movement in Paris and the rest of the nation and strongly encouraged Gothic revival architecture. Ultimately it led to major renovations at Notre-Dame in the 19th century; much of the cathedral’s present appearance is a result of this renovation. Read the rest of this entry


New Year’s and the Ball Drop

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

We all know that many thousands of people gather in Times Square in New York City each year on December 31 and millions watch and celebrate at home. But why? Why December 31? And when did the ball drop in New York City become the American celebration it is?

Gregory_XIIIWe have to go way back in history to find out why January 1 is the beginning of the year, at least to most of us. The Jewish calendar and the Chinese calendar don’t begin on January 1. Neither does the Islamic calendar. In ancient times, the new year started for most civilizations after the Spring Equinox. It wasn’t until the time of Julius Caesar that our modern calendar was established. The calendar had gotten badly out of sync with the sun. That’s what happens when the year is only 10 months long. Julius Caesar added two months to the calendar (July and August, for Julius and Augusts, respectively.) He also established January 1 as the beginning of the year. Most European countries used the Julian calendar until it was replaced by the Gregorian calendar in 1582, which we still use today. That caused a great deal of unrest and problems, but that is another story.

Pope Gregory XIII, who invented the Gregorian calendar, also kept January 1 as the beginning of the year. Throughout history, January 1 was celebrated riotously, sometimes to excess. So much excess that these celebrations were banned after the Protestant Revolution. It took a while for fun and joy to return. Most people probably had a quiet celebration at home. Make you wonder how Scrooge would have celebrated the New Year.

New York was a happening town in the 19th century, bustling with life and many, many people. Around the beginning of the century, people began getting together to celebrate and welcome in the New Year. It didn’t take long to organize special events. People began to gather at times Square to celebrate New Year’s in 1904. It didn’t take long for the most famous celebration in the United States to start. The first ball drop was in 1907. But it was nothing like we see now. It was made of iron and wood, covered in 25 watt light bulbs—it weighed 700 hundred pounds! Made by a young immigrant metalworker named Jacob Starr; Mr. Starr formed the company that for most of the 1900s provided the ball for each new year celebration. And lest we think the lighted glasses and blinking light hats revelers wear are new, people wore battery-powered glasses in 1908!

Times_Square_ballIn 1920, the ball’s weight was reduced to only 400 pounds. That ball was in use up until 1955, when an aluminum ball was introduced, weighing much less. In 1980, red lights were added and a green lit stem, making the ball look like an apple—for the New York: The Big Apple campaign. In 1988, the white lights returned; in 1998, the last aluminum ball was lowered. But for the year 2000 celebration, everything changed. That’s when Waterford Crystal and Phillips Lighting created a new, snazzier and jazzier ball! In 2007, the 100th anniversary of the ball dropping, LED lights were added to the aluminum and crystal ball. There are now 2,688 triangles on the ball, with over 30,000 LED lights make the ball more spectacular and programmable. The lights are more like programmed Christmas lights you see now. As an added bonus, and a year-round tourist attraction, the ball stays in full public view at Times Square. It weighs over 10,000 pounds (that’s five tons!) and is twelve feet in diameter. It is lowered slowly (you wouldn’t want a 5 ton object to move fast) down a 77 foot tall poll at one minute to midnight on December 31. The whole crowd counts down the last ten seconds, then the horns and screams echo throughout the city, chaos ensues and a new year begins.

Across the United States a range of cities and towns hold their own versions of the ball drop. A variety of objects are lowered or raised during the last minute of the year. The objects are usually linked to an aspect of local history or industry. Examples of objects ‘dropped’ or raised in this way include a variety of live and modeled domestic and wild animals, fruit, vegetables and more…

  • Screen-Shot-2012-12-29-at-7.23.49-AMIn Key West, Florida, a very large conch is dropped
  • Miami drops “Big Orange”
  • Atlanta drops a peach – not surprising
  • In Indianapolis, they started dropping an Indy race car recently
  • Westover, NC drops a three-foot tall wooden flea
  • In Cincinnati, a flying pig is flown (not dropped)
  • Bethlehem, PA drops a 100 pound lighted Peep (the company headquarters are there…)
  • Memphis drops a guitar, Nashville used to, but now it’s a musical note
  • Plymouth, WI drops a huge cheese wedge, and why not?
  • Boise, ID drops a huge potato
  • Raleigh, NC drops a giant acorn made of brass—it weighs 900 pounds
  • And for a bit of fun, Stroudsburg, PA drops ping pong balls!

Read the rest of this entry



By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference DepartmentNostradamus_1846

Michael de Nostradame (Nostradamus) was born on December 15, 1503 in the south of France. His family bout and sold grain, and was originally Jewish (several generations before his birth, the family converted to Catholicism and changed the name to Nostradamus).  At the age of 15, in 1518, he became a student at the University of Avignon.  Yet only a year after he came, the plague came to the city and the school closed to keep the disease far away. This was not the only time that Nostradamus would come close to the plague.

Since he was interested in medicine, he traveled the French country-side collecting folk remedies and helping sick people. This became a problem for him later, though. After over seven years of traveling and healing, he went back to school to get a doctorate in medicine. He was quickly expelled after the faculty found out he had practiced “folk medicine.” When he was twenty-eight, he was invited to the Aquitaine area by a scholar and physician. While there he married, and had two children, all of whom died, most likely from the plague. He continued traveling after the death of his family through France, and (probably) Italy. In 1545, he helped a physician fight off a plague outbreak in Marseille, and then again in Provence, close to his home area. In 1547 he married a rich widow, and had another family of six children.  He he died from complications of gout in 1566.

His Books

Nostradamus’s books also reflected his medical interests. He translated a book by the famous Roman physician Galen, and wrote a medical cookbook with recipes for medicinal treatments, including the plague, which he is considered to have been somewhat successful at treating. It also included how to make various kinds of cosmetics.

However, during this time period, everyone was writing almanacs, at least many literate Renaissance men were (this continued up through Benjamin Franklin’s time. And yes, Franklin wrote an almanac too.) So in 1550, Nostradamus joined the trend and wrote an almanac for the year.  Once he realized how successful the almanac could be, he decided to write one a year (even though he often published more than one a year). He published them annually from 1550 until his death. In all, we know he wrote at least eleven almanacs—at least that’s all we know about, that still exist. These annual books contained over 6,000 prophecies. Is it any wonder he started getting requests for horoscopes from prominent people near and far?   His greatest and best seller, The Prophecies, was the compiled collection of his major predictions.

The PropheciesNostradamus_Centurie_1557

He wrote his greatest and best seller, The Prophecies, as a book of quatrains—poems with four lines. Each quatrain was a prophecy for a future time, but they were not in chronological order.  He often wrote in prophetic code; sometimes using mixed words from other languages, puns, word games and more. He must have worried about threats from the church, but he was never charged or arrested by the Inquisition for his writings. According to the work’s preface, a letter from Nostradamus to his son Cesar (a child from his second marriage), the verses were intended to be mystifying; plus he wanted return customers!

They were published over a period of three years by his secretary, who oversaw the entire collection’s publication in 1568. Nostradamus’ major work of prophecies is often referred to as “The Centuries.” It was published in installments and consisted of about a thousand quatrains , collected in groups of a hundred , which gave the title its other name. The Centuries refers to the organizing structure of the work, not to periods of time. Nostradamus said he was able to predict the future through a combination of astrological study and divine inspiration. He was well-known for his astrological charts and was popular with both nobles and royalty. He said that sometimes an angelic spirit helped him figure out the charts and influences. He sought out inspiration through various forms of meditation, usually focusing in on fire or water. He claimed he could see and understand events in the near and distant future. Most quatrains refer to deaths, wars or natural disasters, events that are sure to occur again and again. This is a lot like modern horoscopes. Horoscopes typically detail things a wide range of people experience regularly, such as “conflicts at work,” “happiness in relationships” or “exciting new changes.” Chances are, these predictions will line up with your life, at least some of the time.


Interesting facts:

  1. The house where he grew up still exists, and has a plaque next to it indicating that this house is where the seer Nostradamus was born.
  2. The document about his being expelled from the University of Montpellier still exists, archived in the school’s library.
  3. He was buried in the local Franciscan chapel in Salon (legend says he was standing up!), which is now part of a restaurant. He was re-interred during the French Revolution in the Saint-Laurent Church, where his tomb remains to this day.

Read the rest of this entry


Anti-Santa: The Krampus

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Krampus is a new movie coming out in December that’s rated PG-13; the story is based on the Germanic legend of Krampus. It could be scary for the little ones. Read below and you’ll see why. And if you’re wondering what is a Krampus? It’s not a what; it’s a who.krampus_by_give_dreams_wings-d5oumri

Gruss_vom_KrampusKrampus, a kind of bogeyman, is most often found in Germanic and Austrian legends and is a terrifying companion of St. Nicholas, usually seen as a black or dark figure with horns, (and often a very long tongue) shadowing the good Santa Claus. He walks behind Saint Nicholas on St. Nicholas Day Eve (December 6) and leaves ashes or sticks for the naughty children, while St. Nicholas leaves sweets or fruit for the good little girls and boys. Krampus is the one who punishes the bad children, those who misbehave or are mean to others. He carries a large sack with him, and legend has it that he carried bad girls and boys (those on the naughty list) away to store in a tall tree for eating later.   You wouldn’t want to be on this naughty list! In some towns, not too long ago, he followed Saint Nicholas from town to town and quizzed children on their deeds, whether they were good of bad that year, whether they did well in school and their chores.

Some think that the word Krampus comes from the Germanic word for talon, similar to crampon, the device climbers use when climbing icy mountains.   Some folklorists say that Krampus is the god of the witches, brought low to serve Saint Nicholas. Others say he is a pagan god, greatly diminished. Perhaps this is why Krampus celebrations were banned by the Catholic Church for centuries. He is similar to the horned god the witches in colonial New England were accused often of consorting with!

Nikolaus_und_KrampusHe is mostly known in Europe, Austria and Germany, and is popular in Christmas parades in those countries. In Holland, he’s known as Black Peter, or Zwarte Piet. In Germany, he’s known as Knecht Ruprecht and in some parts of Germany, Hans Trapp. When the Pennsylvania Dutch came to America, they brought the name Fur Nicholas (Pelz Nicholas) with them. This name became Belsnickel down through the years. Also, in Philadelphia, there is still a Mummer’s parade on New Year’s Day, often with people in Krampus costumes. In Austria, sweets made out of dates and nuts are made to look like Krampus are sold in markets. At one time, people could send Christmas cards with Krampus on them. Who’s to say they won’t make a reappearance? In Ypsilanti, they put on a Krampus Ball. People can come in costume and dance. One of the organizers has called it “Halloween for Adults,” even though it’s a Christmas party.

Many families brought the legend of Krampus with them when they came to the United States. Perhaps Brom was from one of those families? The legend of Krampus became more widely known in the United States from the book Krampus the Yule Lord by the author and artist Brom. The cover of his book is quite arresting. If something looking like that was asking me if I was a good child, I’d say yes no matter what. In Brom’s story, Krampus has been imprisoned by Saint Nicholas, and is working on getting free to take his revenge. He has a few servants, called belsnickels, who carry out his orders. Whether or not he succeeds, you’ll have to find out yourself.

He was known to carry with him a whip, a stick, a bell or a sack.

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Sir Francis Drake

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference DepartmentSir_Francis_Drake_(post_1580)

419 years ago Sir Francis Drake died of dysentery on a ship near Puerto Rico; it was his last voyage. It was fitting that this privateer, naval captain and hero to the English died at sea, on his ship. He was almost always at sea.

Francis Drake was born in 1540, probably, since no recorded date exists. When he was nine, his family moved to Kent. It was a lucky break for Francis. His father was appointed as chaplain for the King’s Navy, which brought Francis to the sea. He was apprenticed to a family neighbor who had coastal ship, and thus his training started. He was such a natural at sea that the ship’s owner, being so impressed with his abilities, willed Francis his ship. And so he got his first ship.

In 1563, when he was twenty-three, Drake made his first voyage to the Americas with his cousin, whose family owned a fleet of ships. One must suppose that from the age of nine to at least his mid-teens, he was learning the ropes, so to speak, probably working his way up from the lowly cabin boy. History doesn’t say, but he did well enough to sail with his cousin several times.

In 1572, commanding his first fleet, he sailed to the Isthmus of Panama (where the Panama Canal is now.) During the raid, Drake was badly wounded, and the crew, wanting to save his life, left the treasure they had liberated. He recovered and then set about liberating some more gold and treasure from Spain. He had a close call later; his partner was captured and beheaded. With the Spanish hot on his trail, he and two volunteers built a raft and sailed on it to meet up with the rest of the fleet. (Wow!)


1570 map of the Americas

After Panama, he was asked by Queen Elizabeth to raid the Spanish along the American Pacific coast, but bad weather stopped him. He tried again, and lost several ships. He ended up wintering in the Argentina area, or what was later to be Argentina. With his last ship (the Golden Hinde), he made it to the western coast of South America. He captured a ship here, a ship there, adding to his fleet and obtaining more accurate maps of the area. He liberated a ship of wine and a treasure ship carrying 25,000 pesos. He also captured a ship with 80 pounds of gold and 25 tons of silver! He sailed all the way up to California, calling it New Albion; he may have been the first white man to see the San Francisco Bay!. In 1580, after sailing across the Pacific and around India and Africa, he sailed into Plymouth. The queen’s share of the treasure was more than the income of the nation for the whole year! He was knighted the next year, by a French diplomat, as Elizabeth watched.

King Phillip II of Spain had declared war, so the British government ordered Drake to attack the Spanish colonies. In 1585, commanding twenty one ships, he did just that. With twenty-one ships under his command, he sailed to Spain and then the colonies of Santa Domingo and Cartagena. He even sacked St. Augustine (in Florida) and stopped by Roanoke and took all the colonists back to England. Could this be what happened to the lost colony? He returned to England in 1586 to be hailed a hero. In another raid later that year, he raided Cadiz, destroying 37 ships. Based on these continued attacks and raids Phillip II ordered a planned invasion of England. Spain was truly feeling the pinch from the English privateers.

The Spanish Armada off the English coast

This invasion, now called the Spanish Armada, was to overwhelm, defeat England and overthrow Queen Elizabeth and bring back Catholicism. In July 1588, this fleet of 130 ships was planning to sail to the Flemish coast and meet up with Flemish troops. The fleet never met with the Flemish soldiers, since the Protestant Dutch were blockading the port. Drake, who was now Vice Admiral of the English Navy captured one of the Spanish flag ships; the next morning the English brought out fire ships, which dispersed most of the fleet. Finally the weather took over and one third of the fleet was lost to storms and the rocky coasts on England (Cornwall) and Ireland. The Spanish Armada was no more.

In 1589, Drake was ordered by the queen to sail to Portugal to help support the Portuguese in their uprising against King Phillip II (he ruled both Spain and Portugal at this time), and also to find and destroy any remaining Armada ships. They were also to try to capture the Azores. This proved disastrous, since they lost twenty ships and over 100 men. He continued with the navy, but his glory days were behind him. During the attack on San Juan, 1596 (still a Spanish colony at this time) his cabin was badly damaged by a cannon ball shot. He survived, but succumbed to dysentery a few weeks later. He was buried at sea in a leaded coffin; he was 55. Although many people have tried to find his coffin, no one has yet been successful.


Drake’s famous ship – The Golden Hind


Drake’s famous ship the Golden Hind was originally known as Pelican, but was renamed by Drake mid-voyage in 1578, in honor of his patron, Sir Christopher Hatton, whose crest was a golden ‘hind’ (a female deer). Hatton was one of the principal sponsors of Drake’s world voyage.

After Drake’s circumnavigation, the Golden Hind was maintained for public exhibition for nearly 100 years at Deptford. This is the earliest known example of a ship being maintained for public display because of her historic significance. She eventually rotted away and was finally broken up. Two replicas have since been built over the years; the first of them was permanently on display in Brixham after 1963, when it was built for a TV series about Francis Drake, but was wrecked by a storm in 1987. The next replica was built in Devon soon after, in 1973, using traditional methods. She sailed from Plymouth on her maiden voyage in late 1974, arriving on May 8, 1975 in San Francisco. Between 1981 and 1984, she was berthed in England and was established as an educational museum, but in 1984–1985 she sailed around the British Isles and then crossed the Atlantic to the Caribbean. In 1986, she passed through the Panama Canal to sail on to Vancouver. In 1987, she began a tour of the US Pacific coast. In 1988, she passed back through the Panama Canal to visit Texas. In 1992 she returned home to tour the British Isles again. The oceangoing Golden Hinde has been featured in several films; since 1996 she has been berthed in London where she hosts visits from schools.

Other interesting items:
There is a board game called Francis Drake, which came out in 2013. Here is the description: Return to a bustling Plymouth Harbor in 1572 as an aspiring Elizabethan captain makes preparations for three exciting voyages to the Spanish Main in search of fame and fortune! The object of the game is to see who can set sail and reach the Spanish Main first. The riches of the Aztec and Inca Empires await the swashbuckling captains.

There is a Sir Francis Drake hotel in downtown San Francisco. Perhaps it is named after Drake since he sailed to this city? It was built in 1928 and although it has been refurbished it still tries to have an older, more historic feel to it. The doormen are Beefeaters, and the place gets four star ratings. It’s even pet friendly!

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Robert Louis Stevenson

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department


Robert Louis Stevenson

The well-known author and poet Robert Louis Stevenson was born 165 years ago in Edinburgh, Scotland on November 13. We are very lucky that he didn’t go into the family business of building lighthouses!! He left us with children’s poems in A Child’s Garden of Verses, many other lyric poems, and of course, his novels, Kidnapped, Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Louis (he was never really called Robert) was sickly as a child, and continued to struggle with ill health all his life. His mother and father had lung problems and he inherited his breathing problems from them both. His family often moved to warmer climates during the colder weather, which he and his family continued later on in his life. His parents were well-off and well-read and moderate Presbyterians. His nurse Cummy (Alison Cunningham) was fervent in her beliefs and scared young Louis out of sound sleep many nights with her scary stories of sinners going to hell, and supernatural beings coming to get him. It’s no wonder he had such a great imagination!


Fannie van der Grift Osbourne

He was tutored at home often, attending school sporadically, because of his ill health, and only liking playing games at recess. He wrote stories throughout his childhood, but his father determined he needed to have a career, so he was sent to Edinburgh University to become a lawyer. He did pass the bar, but never practiced. His father came to understand that Louis would have to be a writer, and continued to support him from time to time until his death. Louis travelled and wrote about his travels. He traveled and met people, most of them ended up helping him with publishing or editing his works. When he was 26, he met an American woman, Fannie van der Grift Osbourne, while they were staying at a hostel in France. He fell in love but she was still married (with two surviving children) and unsure about her feelings. She returned to America to gain a divorce and Louis, desperate to see her again, sailed across the ocean in steerage, and then traveled across county to Monterey, California. He nearly died- his health was never very good after this trip. They married and began to try to find the best places for his health to live. It was while happily married with Fanny that he wrote his most famous books. Lloyd, Fanny’s son helped him with Treasure Island. He was a teen at the time and found the story involving. He helped make the map.

The Stevensons found the best place for Louis’ health were the South Sea Islands and ended up living in Samoa. Louis became involved in his adopted country and wrote a book about the history of the Islands that was well received. The natives called him Tusitala (Teller of Tales). He died in Samoa at the age of 44, after a massive brain hemorrhage in 1894. He wrote his own epitaph, his poem Requiem.

For bit a of levity, Nancy Horan, who recently wrote a fictionalized biography about Stevenson’s wife, Fanny, wrote an article for the Huffington Post about things you never knew about Robert Louis Stevenson.

  1. 9780486266886_custom-de4c7597f325d5e33e1fa15b18393c9e335c34a5-s400-c85He invented the sleeping bag – too bad he never got to see one for sale in a store. Wonder who saw his and went on to invent a better version?
  2. He wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in eight days, while bedridden and recovering from a bout of illness.
  3. He used a pseudonym when he published Treasure Island in monthly chapters in a children’s magazine. He probably thought Captain George North would be more seaman-like.
  4. He gave away his birthday to a twelve-year old girl. They were talking and she said she’d never had a birthday since she was born on Christmas Day. He was appalled that she’d never had an actual birthday and wrote a legal letter giving her his birthday. (This makes me think he must have been a fun person to be with!)

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Boris Pasternak’s Elusive Nobel Prize

pasternakBy Lance Hickerson, Reference Department

Boris Leonidovich Pasternak (1890-1960) won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 “for his important achievement both in contemporary lyrical poetry and in the field of the great Russian epic tradition.” The Prize was prompted by his crowning achievement, Doctor Zhivago, an epic novel that concludes with a cycle of poetry by the main character weaving together the seasons of nature, love, redemption, and the life of Christ. While Pasternak was “infinitely grateful, touched, proud, surprised, [and] overwhelmed,” at the award, six days later he declined the prize in a telegram: “Due to the resonance caused by my award in the society I belong to, I have to decline the Prize; don’t consider my voluntary refusal an insult.”

Pasternak reflected on this moment in a poem entitled “The Nobel Prize,” which asks, “What sort of dirty trick I’ve done, am I a murderer, a villain? I, who made the whole world crying of my homeland’s beauty.”

Pasternak was neither murderer nor villain; however, his book challenged the presiding Russian-Soviet ideological vision of the world. He was given a strong indication of how Doctor Zhivago would be taken when he received a 10,000 word rejection letter by the Russian magazine New World saying that “the spirit of [the] novel [was] that of non-acceptance of the socialist revolution.” Explaining further, the magazine felt the novel’s main character, Dr. Yuri Zhivago, to be “an essentially immoral man who refuses to do his duty by the people and who is interested only in his own rights, including the alleged privilege of a superman to betray with impunity.”

It is at least obvious that the editorial board read his book. Following are some not so subtle statements that Pasternak made through his main character about those of whom it could be said, “We are the children of Russia’s terrible years”:

  • “It turns out that those who inspired the revolution aren’t at home in anything except change and turmoil: that’s their native element.”
  • “And do you know why there is this incessant whirl of never-ending preparations? It’s because they haven’t any real capacities, they are ungifted. Man is born to live, not to prepare for life. Life itself – the gift of life – is such a breathtakingly serious thing!”
  • “They always talk of ‘remaking life,’ but “people who can talk in this way,” claims Zhivago, “have never known life at all, have never felt its spirit, its soul. For them human existence is a lump of raw material which has not been ennobled by their touch.”
  • To Yuri, life “is always out of reach of our stupid theories.”
  • “They are so anxious to establish the myth of their infallibility, that they do their utmost to ignore the truth.” Yet, “They had the boastful, dead eternity of bronze monuments and marble columns.” (Series of quotations from the poetry foundation and Geoffrey Hosking)

Pasternak was just as clear in his own poem, “After the Storm.” He closed with this stanza: It is not revolutions and upheavals / which clear the way to a new life / But the revelations, storms and bounties / Of someone’s spirit on fire.

Like other intellectuals at the time of his country’s Revolution, Pasternak held high hopes that change would work for a new and better Russia. But life 40 years “after the storm” gave him such extended and overwhelming evidence against the socialist utopia, that he went from disappointment to disillusionment to a “new birth” of sorts that included his taking seriously once again his Christianity. Pasternak was part of the intellectuals who could be called “pre-Soviet; post-Marxist.” This helps make sense of two statements Pasternak made during the Doctor Zhivago controversy when he requested his closest loved one to write “that I was born not in the Soviet Union, but in Russia,” while he wrote Premier Krushchev to avoid deportation, with this explanation: “Leaving the motherland will equal death for me. I am tied to Russia by birth, by life and work.”

“I won the Nobel Prize for Literature, what’s your crime?” Cartoonist Bill Maudlin / Published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 30, 1958. Bill Maudlin received the 1959 Pulitzer Prize for cartooning this cartoon.

While Doctor Zhivago was censured in the former Soviet Union, the novel escaped to the West in 1957 through a publisher in Milan, Italy, who refused to return the book “for revisions.” By the next year the novel had been translated into 18 languages, including English.

Meanwhile, The Union of Soviet Writers (of which Pasternak was one of the some 800 members) took swift action. It is important to understand that the Writer’s Union was indoctrinated and in full concert with Soviet Socialist Realism. “Socialist Realism is the officially sanctioned style of art that dominated Soviet painting for 50 years from the early 1930s. The style and content was laid down by the state with the purpose of furthering the goals of socialism and communism. The result was a huge body of work by thousands of artists, the majority of which is stultifyingly boring and which has been mocked in the West ever since as “Girl meets tractor”. (This description of Socialist Realism and policy quote below from

Applying Socialist Realism to literature, The Union of Soviet Writers stated in 1934 that “Socialist Realism is the basic method of Soviet literature and literary criticism. It demands of the artist the truthful, historically concrete representation of reality in its revolutionary development. Moreover, the truthfulness and historical concreteness of the artistic representation of reality must be linked with the task of ideological transformation and education of workers in the spirit of socialism.”

Olga_IvinskaiaIt is hardly surprising that Doctor Zhivago inspired hostility from those committed to the spirit of socialism. One Union representative called Pasternak, “a literary whore, hired and kept in America’s anti-Soviet brothel,” while a government official called him “a pig who has fouled the spot where he eats and cast filth on those by whose labor he lives and breathes.” Not only was Pasternak excommunicated from the Union of Soviet Writers, but some demanded that he be banished from Russia altogether.

Pasternak did not have to leave Russia; however, his being cut off from the Union of Soviet Writers meant that his many translations of the classics into Russian could no longer be published. This made it impossible for him to make a living as a writer. The love of Pasternak’s life, Olga Ivinskaya, said “The easiest way of dealing with intellectuals like us was simply to starve us into submission.” Ironically this did not silence Pasternak, and neither Ivinskaya. Another way of getting to Pasternak, however, was pressuring Ivinskaya. She was taken away to prison in 1950 while pregnant with Pasternak’s child. While there she experienced a miscarriage.

As Pasternak completed the translation of many tragedies of Shakespeare, it seemed his real life was just as tragic. Pasternak’s reaction to times of suffering is formulated, naturally, in poetic verse:

The order of the acts has been schemed and plotted / And nothing can avert the final curtain’s fall / I stand alone / All else is swamped by Pharisaism / To live life to the end is not a childish task.

Yet, Pasternak’s determination to stay the course, is neither simple defiance nor resignation. He expressed, “If there is suffering anywhere, why should not my art suffer and myself with it? I am speaking of the most artistic in the artist . . . of the sacrifice without which art becomes unnecessary.”

The insight of literary critic Mitzi Brunsdale is surely significant here. Explaining the novel’s point of view, she writes:

“Zhivago” itself derives from the Russian verb “to live,” lending irony to the opening scene of the novel, the funeral of Zhivago’s mother: “’Who’s being buried?’ – ‘Zhivago’ [the living one].” The name also has a wealth of religious connotations stemming from the risen Christ’s question in the Orthodox Easter liturgy, “Why seek you the living [zhivago] among the dead?” In his search for truth, the thinking man Yuri Zhivago at first naively embraces revolution as the natural result of the czarist repression of the people, only gradually realizing that enforced collectivization under the Soviets means the spiritual slavery of the very souls it falsely purported to free. The truth at which Yuri Zhivago at last arrives, after his long journey through the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, the savagery of World War I and the Civil War, and the struggle for survival that faced his people during the 1920s, is the old truth of humanity’s youth – that an individual can be fulfilled only by free choice in pursuing his own creativity, his own love, unhampered by political or social stricture.” (from the Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Volume 6, pp. 3464-3465)

41XBNR5FSSLPasternak, “presented Zhivago’s inability to influence his own fate not as a fault, but as a sign that he was destined to become an artistic witness to the tragedy of his age. The author closely identified Zhivago’s predicament with that of the suffering Christ.” (

Professor Brunsdale ends her critical consideration of Pasternak by refusing to ignore the strong religious aspect of Pasternak’s work. The cycle of poetry concluding Doctor Zhivago speaks not only of nature and love, but also the meaning of life and the life of Christ. She explains: “Pasternak exercised . . . intense awareness of all cosmic and human reality as ‘life in Christ,’ and the consequent plunge into love as the only dynamic and creative force which really honors this ‘Life’ by creating itself anew in Life’s – Christ’s – image. In the glorious healing lesson of Doctor Zhivago, that modern man’s renewal lies in identification of his sufferings with those of his Savior, undistracted by selfish materialistic desire, the poet of Doctor Zhivago thus is “the living one” against whom godless history cannot prevail.”

In 1987 Pasternak was posthumously reinstated to the Soviet Writer’s Union. In 1988, thirty years after its censure, Doctor Zhivago was published in Russia. The New World, which had rejected Doctor Zhivago, went on to publish Solzhenitsyn. Pasternak’s house was made into a museum. In 1989, Pasternak’s son accepted the Nobel Prize on behalf of his father.

Geoffrey Hosking (from The Cambridge History of Russian Literature), observes, Pasternak’s “novel and its accompanying poems . . . were to be very influential, for they helped to revive a concern with the human personality, with morality and with religion, which had been largely submerged within the majestic state sponsored collective certainties of the Soviet era.”

It is only appropriate to let Pasternak conclude with his poetry, the last three stanzas of HOLY WEEK from the “Poems of Yuri Zhivago.” Pasternak became the suffering artist he had mentioned, with a profound artistic message for his Motherland. His message neither suppressed nor submerged the suffering, but rather offered the highest social realism, transformation, and hope for the Russian people he loved so much.

March scatters handfuls of the snow; Like alms among the lame,
As though a man had carried out
The holy Ark outside the church,
And gave its all unto the poor.
They sing until the sunrise hour.

Then, having wept their fill,
Their chants of the Psalms and Acts
Flow with an air serene
Into an empty lamplit street.

All creatures hear the voice of spring
In the still of night, believing
That when good weather comes
Death itself shall be destroyed
By the travail of the Resurrection.

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