Category Archives: History

The Love Affair of Percy Shelley and Mary Shelley

By Sharon Reily, Reference Department

Early on an English summer morning more than two centuries years ago, a young girl ran away with an obscure poet and the two fled to France. She was seventeen years old. He was twenty-two and left behind a pregnant wife and a child. Depending on how you look at it, this was either the beginning of a sordid affair or the very stuff of romance. Either way, there’s much more to the story. The young man, Percy Bysshe Shelley, was a literary genius and became a celebrated Romantic poet. His lover, Mary Godwin, wrote Frankenstein, one of the most famous novels of all time. Today’s date, July 28, marks the 201st anniversary of their elopement in 1814 and the beginning of their tumultuous life together.

Upbringings625px-RothwellMaryShelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley was born into an aristocratic family on September 4, 1792. Percy enjoyed a life of privilege and was sent to Eton College when he was twelve. After six years at Eton, where he became known for his anti-authoritarian views and began writing poetry and prose, he entered Oxford University in 1810. At Oxford he and a friend, Thomas Jefferson Hogg, influenced each other’s growing rejection of societal rules. Their collaboration on a pamphlet titled The Necessity of Atheism resulted in their expulsion from Oxford. Percy’s father, angered by his expulsion and refusal to renounce the pamphlet’s atheist ideas, cut him off financially until he came of age two years later. While living in poverty, Percy eloped with sixteen-year-old Harriet Westbrook.

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin’s childhood has elements of “Cinderella,” complete with a malevolent stepmother. Mary was the child of two renowned freethinkers – reformer and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women), and William Godwin, noted writer, philosopher, and atheist. Mary Wollstonecraft died days after Mary’s birth on August 30, 1797. William then married Mary Jane Clairmont, a widow with two young children. The new Mrs. Godwin favored her children over Mary and was jealous of William’s attention to her. She made life difficult for Mary and promoted her children’s education at the expense of Mary’s. Despite Mrs. Godwin’s efforts, Mary received an excellent education. She had access to her father’s library, listened to his discussions with other leading intellectuals, and immersed herself in her late mother’s writings. Due to clashes with her stepmother, Mary was sent to live with the Baxter family in Scotland. Here she finally found a loving family, and began to focus on her writing.

740px-Percy_Bysshe_Shelley_by_Alfred_Clint_cropThe Meeting

On a visit home in 1812, fifteen-year-old Mary met Percy Shelley, an admirer of her father. Percy visited the Godwin home often and became friendly with Mary, whom he recognized as an intellectual soulmate. Percy resented that his wife Harriet, preoccupied with one child and pregnant with another, no longer made him the center of attention.

The Elopement

In 1814, Mary and Percy met again, began spending time together, and fell in love. William Godwin forbade the relationship and Mary promised not to see Percy. But after Percy threatened to commit suicide, she agreed to flee to France with him. Mary’s stepsister, Jane Claire Clairmont, accompanied them. Mary’s stepmother followed in hot pursuit to try to stop the elopement. She caught up with the three at the French port of Calais, but couldn’t persuade them to return with her. When the two lovers ran out of money and returned to England, William Godwin wouldn’t see them, and didn’t speak to Mary for almost four years. Percy’s father, angered by his son’s abandonment of Harriet, cut off his allowance, and Percy had to spend months on the run to avoid creditors.

frank5Married Life…and the Birth of a Monster

The couple experienced ups and downs over the next few years. In 1815, Mary was devastated by the death of her premature infant. Their finances improved when Percy received money after his grandfather died. In early 1816, Mary gave birth to their second child, William. A few months later, the couple visited Lord Byron and Mary’s stepsister Jane Claire Clairmont (Byron’s lover at the time) in Switzerland. One rainy afternoon, Byron suggested that his guests each write a ghost story. Only nineteen-year-old Mary finished her story, which eventually became the novel Frankenstein. In Mary’s novel, scientist Victor Frankenstein animates a creature from dismembered corpses. The enormous gentle but hideous creature is rejected and abandoned by Frankenstein. As the creature fails to find the love and companionship it craves, it becomes violent and brutal. Published anonymously in 1818 with a preface by Percy, it became one of the most popular works of the Romantic period.

Good and Bad Times

Percy and Mary returned to England in 1816 to face back-to-back tragedies. Mary’s half-sister committed suicide and a few weeks later, Percy’s wife Harriet killed herself. Harriet’s death allowed Percy and Mary to wed. Percy’s efforts to gain custody of his two children with Harriet were blocked by her family’s claims that his poetry (especially free love and atheism promoted in the political epic Queen Mab) showed him to be an unfit parent. In March of 1818, the Shelleys settled in Italy, where Percy became part of an expatriate artistic community centered on Lord Byron. There Percy wrote some of his best work – Prometheus Unbound, “Ode to the West Wind,” “The Cloud, “To a Skylark,” and “Ode to Liberty.” Sadly, their two children, William and Clara, died a year apart, in 1818 and 1819. Mary gave birth to a son, Percy Florence, in November 1819.

By 1822, the Shelleys had settled on the Bay of San Terenzo in Italy. They were joined by Edward Williams and his wife, Jane. Percy, disappointed in his marriage, began a flirtation with Jane and wrote several poems to her. In June, Mary almost died after the miscarriage of her fifth child. In July, shortly before Percy’s thirtieth birthday, he and Edward Williams drowned when their boat sank in a storm.

Mary devoted herself to caring for Percy Florence, the only one of her five children to reach adulthood. She was also dedicated to maintaining her husband’s literary legacy. She collected and edited Percy’s poetry and wrote his biography. She continued to write the rest of her life, and was able to provide Percy Florence with an excellent education at Harrow and Cambridge University. Mary died of a brain tumor in February of 1851.

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International CAPS LOCK Day!!

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department2326873674_c392bdc4e0_o

In 2000, when Derek Arnold created International CAPS LOCK day, it was a parody, making fun of those people who insist in typing everything in ALL CAPITALS. But, as it happened, it became more and more popular, with people celebrating it just for the key itself. No parody at all. The day became so popular with internet users that it is now celebrated twice a year—on June 28 (this Sunday)and on October 22.  But, WHERE DID WE GET THE CAPS LOCK KEY FROM?!?

antique-remington-typewriter-725x482In the beginning, before computers (GASP!) there were typewriters (ancient technology that went the way of the PHONOGRAPGH). Remington typewriters were the first to have a shift key, so you could shift to a capital letter but it was just a toggle switch–there was no way to keep that key down. In 1914, Remington added the SHIFT LOCK KEY on its Junior model, which gave the user access to more characters by keeping the key locked. Some think typewriters and computers added the CAPS LOCK KEY for businesses that needed forms typed in all caps (so anyone who hates the caps lock key, blame them). Typewriters placed the CAPS LOCK KEY where it is now, and computer designers copied the typewriter keyboard when the first put out computers, keeping the familiar QWERTY keyboard we all have become accustomed to. Even then, there were complaints when computers kept the same keyboard design (for those of you who wish the keyboard letters were alphabetical, they tried that first… there were issues, and now we’re stuck).

Early on in Internet history, Internet users had only text keys to show emphasis, no fun yet strange emoticons that can create entire conversations by themselves. They used **** and CAPS to differentiate their thoughts and emotions. Some people, holdovers from early Internet days perhaps, still type messages in all capitals. Nowadays, writing in ALL CAPS has become an etiquette NO-NO, since it is the equivalent of shouting online. Every once in a while for emphasis is considered OK, but not everything in caps. People have gotten fired for using all caps all the time. REALLY! In 2007, a woman in New Zealand was fired from her job after she sent one too many memos in all caps.

Hit your caps lock button and celebrate INTERNATIONAL CAPS LOCK DAY! Just don’t get fired.9762955951_814205da36


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Magna Carta, 800th anniversary this week

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department435px-Pictures_of_English_History_Plate_XXIV_-_King_John_and_Magna_Carta

We may remember the phrase Magna Carta (Latin for Great Charter) from our history books, but probably few remember what it was actually about. King John was surrounded by an army of rebellious lords in the fields of Runnymede on June 15, 1215, (actually they were blocking his re-entry into London.) They forced him to agree as king and put his seal on this “great charter” to bring peace to the land. Truly, it was a way to agree to peace, so he could keep his throne. Strangely enough, he never really signed it; he died a year later in 1216. His son, Henry III, in 1225, issued a new, slimmed down version of this “great charter”, in return for the support of the barons in 1225. (Again, the barons!) Later, in 1265, he trimmed the charter down again and it to establish the first Parliament (or parlement, in French, based on the word discuss.) (If you missed the google doodle created for this anniversary, it’s cute.)

The original Magna Carta had 63 clauses. A third of this text was either cut or rewritten for the 1225 version. Today, only three of the original 63 clauses remain on the statute books. Of these three survivors one defends the liberties and rights of the English Church, another confirms the liberties and customs of London and other towns, and the third gives all English subjects the right to justice and a fair trial. This is the big one that made such an impact on English law, and therefore American law.

Here is the translation: No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no-one will we sell, to no-one deny or delay right or justice. (This means that for the first time in British history, and possibly world history, no one was above the law—not even the king!)Sothebys-Magna-Carta-1024x691

  • The right to due process (Habeas Corpus) allowed free men (not serfs, slaves or women) to be judged and if needed punished by a jury of their peers.
  • Justice could not delayed, bought or sold.
  • All fines had to be reasonable, so no free man would lose everything paying a fine.
  • Sheriffs could not take your property (presumably while you are in jail)

But that happened in England. What influence does the Magna Carta have for us, citizens of the United States of America?? Many of the founding fathers had studied English law and knew of this charter, and how it had limited the rights of the king. Since we were rebelling against the British government and the king, they wanted to use it as part of the foundation of their new nation – the United States of America. Many historians believe the founding fathers also used these statements, or at least Thomas Jefferson and James Madison did, in the writing of the Constitution as well. In 1976, for the bicentennial, Britain loaned one of the four surviving original copies to the United States for display at the Capitol. We did return the original, but kept a copy, which is still on display there.

after Unknown artist, etching, late 18th to early 19th century

after Unknown artist, etching, late 18th to early 19th century

So what started out as a peace deal between King John and the rich rebellious barons (who were angry at being overtaxed) became, in time, a foundation of one of our basics rights as put forth in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Read the rest of this entry

March is Women’s History Month!

By Robin Ebelt, Reference Department

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Women’s History Month celebrates the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. Take a moment to read about some amazing Tennessee women.


Nancy Ward from east Tennessee near Ft. Loudon was a native American who warned settlers of pending Indian attack enabling settlers to reach the safety of Ft. Watauga before an attack occurred.nancy

Loreta Velasquez from Memphis disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the Confederate army.loreta

Ida B. Wells from Memphis was a crusader against racial discrimination. She was one of the co-founders of the NAACP in 1909.ida

Wilma Rudolph from Clarksville, TN overcame childhood polio to be a winner of three gold medals in the 1960 Olympic games.wilma

Pat Head Summitt from Cheatham county was the University of Tennessee head women’s basketball coach from 1974-2012.pat

Dinah Shore was born in Winchester, Tennessee. She was an award-winning television personality and singer known for her string of TV shows, including Dinah!, Dinah’s Place, and Dinah and Friends.dinah

Dolly Parton was born in Locust Ridge, Tennessee. Her literacy program, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, mails one book per month to each enrolled child from the time of their birth until they enter kindergarten. The Dollywood Foundation, funded from Parton’s net profits, has been noted for bringing jobs and tax revenues to a previously depressed region.dolly

Things You Never Knew About St. Patrick’s Day

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

  • St. Patrick indeed lived in Ireland, but he was born Scottish; he was captured and sent to Ireland to be a slave
  • He went back to his home after fleeing his servitude and answered God’s call, and went back to Ireland to convert the heathen
  • He may have used the shamrock to teach the pagan Gaels about the trinity—triunes were very popular in Irish Gaelic/Celtic belief (and gods)Irish_clover
  • For this holiday, the ban on drinking and eating rich foods was lifted by the church, which made it a most riotous holiday
  • Even though the tradition is for everyone to wear green, it really is supposed to be the Catholics who wear green. The Protestants are supposed to wear orange on St. Patrick’s Day
  • The first St. Patrick’s Day in the United States marched on March 17, 1762 by Irish soldiers serving in the English army, before the American Revolution!
  • The shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade is in County Cork – it is only 100 yards, stretching from one pub to the other
  • The holiday has been celebrated in space! In 2011, Catherine Coleman, who is Irish-American, played a flute and a pipe lent to her by members of The Chieftains
  • Corned beef and cabbage is the traditional meal for St. Patrick’s Day
  • Most people may be familiar with Dublin, Ohio, but there are several towns named for St. Patrick and Ireland in the United States:
    • St. Patrick, Missouri
    • Ireland, West Virginia
    • Clover, South Carolina
    • Shamrock, Texas
    • Limerick, Maine

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Fun Facts about Our Christmas Traditions

Part 2 of 2

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference LibrarianArtificial-Christmas-Tree

Christmas Carols – These are songs specifically written and sung to celebrated the events of the Nativity. Carols have been around since the 300s. St. Francis of Assisi and the Franciscans put poems to music and popularized the carols. During the reformation and in Puritan America, they were frowned upon and often illegal.

Christmas trees – No one really knows when this tradition started, but it is generally considered to have begun in Germany. Having Christmas trees spread slowly through Europe, and came to England with the German Hanoverian kings. Trees were truly popularized during Queen Victoria’s reign, with the influence of her husband, Prince Albert.

Christmas Wrapping – Originally, unwrapped presents were put out during Christmas Eve, after the tree was decorated. Nowadays, trees are put up so much earlier and gifts come from other family members. It is generally understood that any unwrapped gifts came from Santa Claus.

Christmas cards – Christmas cards started out as decorative note paper that people used to write to their relative on holidays. They became even more popular after Valentine’s Day cards spread throughout England in the 1830s.

Eggnog – This popular milk or cream based drink gets its name from an old term for ale, which was called nog. The drink was a French tradition, which we Americans promptly added ale (or liquor) to.

2256785187_179f1c297e_zNativity Scene or Crèche – The earliest known Nativity Scene dates back to Rome in the 300s; it was part of the Christ’s Mass, and was said to have come from Bethlehem. St. Francis of Assisi is credited with popularizing it when he placed real animals and people in the scene.

The Nutcracker – This story was written in 1816 by German author E T A Hoffman and was rather a dark grim tale. Alexandre Dumas adapted it in 1845 and made it less scary. In 1891, Tchaikovsky wrote the music for the ballet which opened in St. Petersburg in 1892, and has remained popular ever since.

The Twelve Days of Christmas – This time period starts on December 26 and continues through Epiphany (also known as Three Kings Day.) which is January 6th.  In 567, at the Council of Tours, it was decided that these twelve days would be set aside to honor and observe the birth of Christ.

Wassail – Wassail comes from the Old English words waes hael, which means “be well,” “be hale,” or “good health.” Originally it was a strong, hot drink (usually a mixture of ale, honey, and spices), but over the centuries some non-alcoholic versions of wassail evolved.

How to write Merry Christmas in other languages

Afrikaans Geseënde Kersfees
Czech Velike Vanoce
Danish Glaedelig Jul!
French Joyeux Noël
German Froeliche Weinachten
Italian Bono Natale
Japanese Meri Kurisumasu
Polish Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia
Spanish Feliz Navidad
Swedish God Jul
Welsh Nadolig Llawen


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The History of Christmas

Part 1 of 2

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference  Librarian732px-Jonathan_G_Meath_portrays_Santa_Claus

Most church historians have said that although December 25 is the official birth date for Jesus, most believe he was born in March. So why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25?

Because of Mithras. Mithraism spread across Asia Minor from Persia and became very popular with the Roman army. The Roman army was made up of conquered peoples, many of whom worshiped Mithras. He was a sun god; one of his main celebration dates was December 25, to ensure that the sun would be reborn to bring warmth to the world again in the spring and summer.   When Christianity was just starting, Mithraism was one of its main rivals. So the church changed the date of the celebration of Jesus’ birth to December 25.

The other main rival for Christmas was the Roman celebration of Saturnalia. This farming festival included feasting, giving gifts to family and sharing food with the poor lasted a whole week, ending on December 25. The Romans drank to excess and ate to excess, which is what many do today. The early Church considered these celebrations unseemly, so they made giving gifts and food to the poor part of the Christmas festival.

Christmas was a solemn and reflective holy day (holiday) for several centuries for Christians – Christmas was originally Christ’s Mass, a special service.   But the pagan celebrations persisted for so long that the Church adopted them, hoping that the pagans would become Christian.

The way we celebrate Christmas now generally originated in the Middle Ages, mostly from England. The decorations, carols, food, cards and gift giving were brought to the United States from England, Holland and Germany. Santa Claus was originally Saint Nicolas, which in Dutch became Sinter Claus, which became Santa Claus. In Holland, Belgium and Italy, children are left presents in their shoes on December 6, which is St. Nicholas’ Day. The Santa Claus we all know and are used to was created by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly, and first appeared in 1863!

Did you know Christmas was outlawed in the Puritan community of Plymouth. The Puritans associated all the celebrating and carousing with paganism. By the 1870s, Christmas gradually began to become more like what we know now. In the Jamestown Colony, in Virginia, Christmas was celebrated riotously, almost like it was in England.

Fun facts about our Christmas traditions coming in Part II!!


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It’s the great TURNIP, Charlie Brown!

IMG_9370

Taken by Rebecca Tischler, Reference Librarian

By Rebecca Tischler, Reference Librarian

We all love It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, but were you aware that the first Jack O’Lanterns were carved out of turnips?

Did you know that the horrifying mask worn by Michael Myers in the Halloween movie was actually a William Shatner Star Trek mask?

Halloween is the second highest grossing commercial holiday after Christmas. The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts Halloween spending this year—including candy, costumes, and decorations—will hit $7.4 billion.   Candy will account for more than $2 billion of that amount and a quarter of all candy bought in the U.S. is for Halloween.

But what are the origins of this creepy holiday? Here’s what we do know about the history of Halloween: it wasn’t created by the Candy Companies, although they’ve certainly profited, nor was it created by the toilet paper companies (though I do wonder how much money they make with all the teepeeing).

The history of Halloween is a rather vague and confusing tale, mainly because no one can seem to agree on how Halloween evolved from a harvest pagan New Year celebration, to the candy gorging and anything goes costumes of today. One thing that everyone seems to agree on, even though there has never been a proven connection, is that modern Halloween begins with the Celtic festival of Samhain (although, they don’t know much about that either).

samhain_scarecrow_2_by_belisarius2930-d4es8y7Scholars are pretty sure that Samhain was an annual celebration of the end of the harvest months to honor the Celtic deities (as well little green leprechauns and tricky fairies). It was also a time to gather resources and slaughter livestock (or maybe they were sacrifices – who knows) in preparation for the upcoming winter months. Some say it was the Celtic New Year. It was also believed that this was the day that the veil between the dead and living was thinnest, and the dead could cross over. They would celebrate this day with bonfires, food laid out for the dead, and costumes to blend with the spirits. Strangely enough, they’re not sure whether these actions were to honor and welcome the dead or to ward off the visiting spirits. Either way, the dead were a big part of the pagan festival.

The second part of Halloween’s history that seems to be agreed on is the attempted Christianization of a pagan celebration. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III assigned the Christian feast, All Saints Day, to November 1, as a day was to honor all Christian saints and martyrs. It is generally believed that this edict was meant to cause All Saints Day to replace Samhain. However, instead of killing off the pagan traditions, these two celebrations combined to create All-Hallows Eve. The holiday was no longer about the Celtic deities, or about the Christian Saints. The previously celebrated supernatural creatures were now thought to be evil and the main focus of the holiday was about the wandering dead.

Bonaire_Holloween The third fact that seems to be agreed upon is that trick-or-treating came from another two practices that eventually combined. The first is “mumming”, a medieval practice where people would disguise themselves and go door-to-door asking for food in exchange for “tricks” (basically they were putting on shows and clowning around).  The second is the practice of leaving out food and offerings for the dead in order to gain favor with them, which is believed to be part of the original Samhain tradition. So basically, we give kids candy in exchange for entertainment, and to satisfy the little goblins that knock on our door.

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