Friday, February 21, 2014

Happy Washington’s Birthday on February 22nd

There have been prints depicting George Washington with his family since the 1790s, when self-taught artist Edward Savage produced one based on the painting he completed in 1796. Especially numerous in the years surrounding the Civil War when political animosities were rampant, such prints presented scenes of domestic tranquility.

Our personal favorite is the mezzotint that William Sartain engraved, based on a painting by Christian Schussele: 

William Sartain after Christian Schussele. Washington and His Family (Philadelphia: Bradley & Co., 1864). Hand-colored mezzotint (proof copy). Purchased with funds from the Davida T. Deutsch Women’s History Fund.

This lofty mezzotint, with its deep black tones and hand-coloring, was produced for the high end of the print market. So imagine our surprise to see that the Schussele composition gets recycled in the 20th century as a lowly postcard: 

After Christian Schussele. Washington Birthday Greetings (ca. 1910). Postcard. Gift of John H. Serembus.

Do plan a visit to the Library Company to see a selection of prints depicting the Washington family – in a mini-exhibition showing off adaptations and responses to Edward Savage’s original work.
Free and open to the public 9 am to 4:45 pm, Monday through Friday.

Cornelia S. King
Chief of Reference

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Few of Our Favorite Things, Part Fourteen: Antoine Simon Le Page du Pratz’s The History of Louisiana, or of the Western Parts of Virginia and Carolina

My favorite thing to show visitors is a copy of Antoine Simon Le Page du Pratz’s The History of Louisiana, or of the Western Parts of Virginia and Carolina (London, 1774). It is the one-volume English translation and abridgement of the three-volume Paris 1758 edition of du Pratz’s book that the eminent Philadelphia botanist Benjamin Smith Barton lent to Meriwether Lewis to take along on the famous expedition of 1804-06. Lewis returned the book to Barton, making it the only book known to have been carried round-trip on the transcontinental expedition. The Library Company acquired it (for $2.60!) in 1823 at the sale of some of the books in Barton’s library.
Before embarking on the expedition, Lewis traveled to Philadelphia in the spring of 1803 to buy supplies and equipment and to receive valuable instruction from a coterie of the foremost scientists in the nation. These scientists, with their area of expertise, were Robert Patterson (mathematics), Andrew Ellicott (surveying and map-making; an ancestor of mine who, sadly, bequeathed me nothing of his mathematical and mechanical genius!), Caspar Wistar (anatomy and fossils), Benjamin Rush (medicine), and Barton (botany).
Benjamin Smith Barton (1766-1815) is known as the “father of American botany.” He was, at various times, professor of natural history, botany, and medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and served as vice president of the American Philosophical Society. Among his numerous publications in many fields are A Memoir Concerning the Fascinating Faculty Which Has Been Ascribed to the Rattle-Snake, and Other American Serpents (1796); New Views of the Origin of the Tribes and Nations of America (1797); Collections for an Essay Towards a Materia Medica of the United-States (1798); and most significantly Elements of Botany, or Outlines of the Natural History of Vegetables (1803), the first American textbook on botany ( a copy of which Lewis and Clark also took on their expedition).
Du Pratz (1695?-1775) was born either in the Netherlands or France and was raised in the latter country. He graduated from a French cours de mathematiques and considered himself an engineer and professional architect. Serving with Louis XIV’s dragoons in the French Army, he saw service in Germany in 1713 during the War of the Spanish Succession. On May 25, 1718 he left La Rochelle, France, with 800 men on one of three ships commissioned by the Company of the West (known also as the Mississippi Company) bound for Louisiana. Du Pratz arrived in Louisiana three months later on August 25, 1718. At that time the colony’s French population was very small and included secular and religious officials; a limited number of concessionaires, who received large land grants; a larger number of habitants, a group that included migrants sent by non-emigrating concessionaires to work their lands; and those who obtained smaller land grants of their own. It appears that du Pratz was one of the last group. All were supplemented by a far more transient population of traders, soldiers, and indentured servants. Du Pratz spent sixteen years in Louisiana, mostly in the Natchez area, before returning to France in 1734. A fuller account of his sojourn and History can be found at . It is not known what the former colonial planter did between the time of his arrival back in France and the publication of his first Louisiana article in 1751. He apparently associated with a literary circle, for he claims it was his “learned friends” who persuaded him to begin writing his memoirs. These first appeared in a series of twelve installments in the Journal Oeconomique between 1751 and 1753. And then followed the three-volume work in 1758.
There is no doubt that Lewis and Clark referred to du Pratz’s work during their journey, for in a journal entry of July 5, 1804 and in another document, known as the Fort Mandan Miscellany, William Clark specifically mentions the History.

At the end of the expedition, when Lewis returned to Philadelphia in 1807, he returned du Pratz’s History of Louisiana to its owner. On the fly-leaf he inscribed: “Dr. Benjamin Smith Barton was so obliging as to lend me this copy of Monsr. Du Pratz’s history of Louisiana in June 1803. it has been since conveyed by me to the Pacific Ocean through the interior of the Continent of North America on my late tour thither and is now returned to it’s proprietor by his Friend and Ob[edien]t. Serv[an]t. Meriwether Lewis, Philadelphia, May 9th, 1807.” What a remarkable association copy!

John C. Van Horne
The Edwin Wolf 2nd Director