Recommendations from the Rare Books Collection

Editor’s note: We were delighted to have Shelby Beard as an intern in Special Collections this semester. Her previous post discussed her research on UNCA’s John Martin’s Book Collection. In this post she explores some books from our Rare Book collection. Shelby, an English Major, graduates this semester.

By Shelby Beard, Special Collections Intern

The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater

Thomas de Quincey

Content warning: addiction, drugs   

Thomas de Quincey was born in August, 1785, in Manchester, England. From an early age, it was clear that Thomas was creative and saw the world from a unique perspective. After the death of his father and two of his sisters, he was cared for primarily by a handful of legal guardians, which filled his life with conflict and transition. After attending two grammar schools, and fleeing the later, he went to university, and soon developed a relationship with a number of prominent writers at the time, such as William Wordsworth (and his family) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who proved to be influences in his writing career. Another influence on his career was opium, which de Quincey took for the first time in 1804 in hopes of quelling the pain of his “severe rheumatic pains in his head and jaw” (Agnew 34). At the time, opium was commonly and legally used to treat pain, but many people, including de Quincey, became addicted to the substance after taking it for a short time.

Portrait of Thomas de Quincey

In his autobiography, The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, de Quincey details the perks and downfalls of opium (or more specifically what was likely laudanum, a mixture of opium and alcohol) addiction and his own experiences with it, including the dreams he had under the influence. De Quincey began writing for Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in 1820, where he would publish Confessions as a two part series that would eventually be published as a book. Confessions was an immediate success and “brought [de Quincey] lasting fame” (Agnew 37). Despite his struggles with addiction, de Quincey maintained his writing career through most of his life. He regularly contributed to Blackwood’s, as well as Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine, and published essays and books independently. Throughout his successful career, de Quincey struggled with money, and he was in and out of debtor’s prison nine times from 1832 to 1840. So despite his success, his family continued to struggle. Near the end of his life, de Quincey’s battles with addiction and debt began to fade. Under the careful watch of his children after his wife’s death, de Quincey paid his debts and lived fairly comfortably until his death in December of 1859.  

As previously stated, The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater is an autobiographical account of de Quincey’s experience with opium addiction. Confessions is, as the title implies, a confession piece, which is a form of autobiographical literature that exposes intimate details of the subject’s life.  Writing in the Romantic era, de Quincey was pretty much alone in discussing addiction in the context of an English gentleman’s life, rather than a cliché junkie on the streets. He was also alone in discussing both the “pleasures” and the “pains” of opium, rather than outright condemning the substance and anyone who would touch it. De Quincey was famously fond of opium, though as he writes in his revised introduction, he was not proud of his addiction. This book is a compelling story, told in a stylistically unique fashion that helps the subject matter stand out in a crowd.  

Cover of Confessions

On ‘Tao Te Ching’

Bertolt Brecht

Portrait of Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht was most well-known for his play writing, but also wrote some poetry and fiction before his death in 1956. He is often remembered for his Marxist views that are apparent in his writing, which has made him a controversial figure amongst literary scholars. Bertolt Brecht’s On ‘Tao Te Ching’ is a short poem about an old man on a journey. This pocket sized book is number 85 of 150 numbered editions printed by Nancy Chambers for the Anvil Press in 1959. It is printed on rice paper, the cover is coated in decorated paper with the title pasted on the binding, and it includes illustrations pulled from a collection of Chinese prints. This is a beautiful book, and as a first (and only) edition could be valued at over $200 dollars. Little is known about this book, which makes it an intriguing addition to the rare books collection in UNCA’s Special Collections.

Cover of On ‘Tao Te Ching’

A Double Barrelled Detective Story

Mark Twain

Samuel Clemens was born on November 30, 1835, in Missouri, where he spent most of his childhood years by the Mississippi River. As a young adult, Clemens worked as an apprentice, a compositor, a writer for local newspapers, a journeyman, and a steamboat driver. He eventually adopted the pen name Mark Twain, which is a riverman’s term for “water that is safe, but only just safe, for navigation” (Gale 2). Twain continued to write for newspapers, began venturing into travel correspondence, and eventually began writing and lecturing on various topics. In 1870, Twain married Olivia Langdon, and they moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where they would live for the next twenty years and have their three daughters. Twain also started gaining popularity as a writer and lecturer at this time. Twain’s early work was sold by subscription, and sold well, which granted Twain a sizable profit. However, he soon fell into debt after his publishing company went bankrupt and his typesetting machine failed to make his fortune. He and his family moved to Europe, where they could live cheaper, until Twain was able to pay off his debts and return to the United States in 1900. By this point, Twain was reaching new levels of popularity and considered a public hero to some. He is often thought “among the best to express, or expose, the spirit of the American people” through his writings (Gale 4).

Portrait of Mark Twain

        Some of Twain’s most well-known books are The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1875), which center around quintessentially American notions of life along the Mississippi river, and The Innocents Abroad (1869), which is a humerous retelling of Twain’s travels. A Double Barrelled Detective Story (1902), is different from Twain’s more popular works. He write it later in his career, at a time when some believed Twain was only writing so that he could get out of debt, stay out of debt, and rebuild his decimated savings. Much of his work from this time is considered messy and not important to Twain’s established canon. However,  A Double Barrelled Detective Story is a unique work, and worth a look. This satirical story follows a woman who discovers that her son has a superhuman sense of smell. She decides to use this power to find her husband, who was abusive when they were together and is unaware that he has a son, and kill him. Along the way, a handful of colorful characters are introduced, including none other than Sherlock Holmes. Twain’s detective story is a satire jabbing at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s meticulously thought out crime dramas by throwing logic to the wind and telling a story with all the drama of an original Sherlock Holmes piece, but much less planning.  A Double Barrelled Detective Story was not received well by Twain’s contemporaries, or the general public, who largely seemed to miss his satire. While this story isn’t one of Twain’s most famous, it is worth a read. The edition available in the UNCA Special Collections is formatted uniquely in that each page of text is summed up in the margins with a word or two. For example on page 95, the margin simply reads “Sherlock Holmes!”, which adds to the intrigue and humor of this story.

Cover of A Double Barrelled Detective Story

The Ballad of Reading Gaol and Other Poems

Oscar Wilde

Content warning: homophobia, imprisonment

        Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born on October 16, 1854 in Dublin, Ireland. He was an Irish poet and playwright, and was well known for his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). His mother was also a writer, and his father was a doctor. Wilde was a leader of the Aestheticism movement in England, which promoted the idea of “art for art’s sake”. In 1884, Wilde married Constance Lloyd, and they had two children. The last ten years of Wilde’s life were most fruitful to his writing career, he wrote and published Dorian Gray, and his society comedies which included A Woman of No Importance (1893) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). The central theme of many of his works was the exposure of a secret or sin that someone was hiding, which usually ended badly. Wilde himself was known for his “reckless pursuit of pleasure” in life (Britannica). In 1891, Wilde met Lord Alfred Douglas, whom he started an affair with. Douglas’s father, upon finding out about their relationship, accused Wilde of homosexual activity. Wilde attempted to sue Douglas’s father for libel, but his case fell through and Wilde was arrested and made to stand trial. He was found guilty in 1895 and sentenced to two years of hard labor. Most of his sentence was served at Reading Gaol, and his time there left him with irreparable health issues that plagued him for the final years of his life. After his release in 1897, Wilde published The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), which expressed his concern about inhumane prison conditions. He died in 1900.

Portrait of Oscar Wilde

        Reading Gaol was a prison in England known for its harsh conditions. While imprisoned, Wilde was only allowed to write letters, but upon his release he wrote and published The Ballad of Reading Gaol in response to what he had endured for the past two years. He details the shame and pain he felt while imprisoned, and the brutal conditions he and the other prisoners faced on a daily basis. He mentions other prisoners, such as Charles Thomas Wooldridge, who was a murderer and was sentenced to death by hanging, which Wilde also recounts in his poem.  UNCA Special Collections has a small copy of The Ballad of Reading Gaol and Other Poems, published in 1951, well after Wilde’s death. This edition features black and white illustrations by Louise Phillips that accompany the poem, and make a powerful addition to the content.

Cover of The Ballad of Reading Gaol

Fairy Tales and Legends by Hans Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen

Portrait of Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen is a well-known and well-loved writer of fairy tales. Born in 1805 near Copenhagen, Denmark, Andersen was a prolific writer, and his work is renowned in many countries all over the world. He also wrote a number of novels, plays, and poems, which are less popular. Fairy tales most people would be familiar with, such as “The Princess and the Pea”, “The Little Mermaid”, “The Snow Queen”, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, and “The Ugly Duckling” are all works of Andersen. Some of his stories end with optimism and a favorable outcome for the characters, but others end unhappily like many Grimm’s fairy tales. Andersen was willing to engage with less than perfect outcomes in children’s literature, which is part of what made his stories compelling to adults as well. UNCA Special Collections has an illustrated copy of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales, published in 1948. This edition features a beautifully designed cover, and nearly fifty stories with illustrated pages throughout.

Cover of Fairytales and Legends

Sources

Agnew, Lois Peters. “Chapter 2: De Quincey’s Life.” Thomas de Quincey: British Rhetoric’s Romantic Turn, Southern Illinois University Press, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/unca/detail.action?docID=1354633.

BBC – History – Historic Figures: Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900). http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/wilde_oscar.shtml. Accessed 17 Apr. 2019.

“Bertolt Brecht | German Dramatist.” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Bertolt-Brecht. Accessed 10 Apr. 2019.

Foundation, Poetry. “Bertolt Brecht.” Poetry Foundation, 10 Apr. 2019, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/bertolt-brecht.

“Hans Christian Andersen | Biography, Fairy Tales, & Books.” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hans-Christian-Andersen-Danish-author. Accessed 17 Apr. 2019.

“Oscar Wilde | Biography, Books, & Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Oscar-Wilde. Accessed 17 Apr. 2019.

Schiller, Francis. “Thomas De Quincey’s Lifelong Addiction.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, vol. 20, no. 1, 1976, pp. 131–41. DOI.org (Crossref), doi:10.1353/pbm.1976.0009.

Twain, Mark | Gale Biographies: Popular People – Credo Reference. https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/galegbpp/twain_mark/0. Accessed 17 Apr. 2019.

John Martin’s Book

By Shelby Beard, Special Collections Intern

UNC Asheville’s Special Collections is home to a large collection of John Martin’s Book magazines. The John Martin’s Book collection contains forty bound volumes and one hundred and nine individual issues, ranging in publication date from 1914 through 1933.

Who Was John Martin?

Morgan von Roorbach Shepard was born in 1865 and lived in poverty for the first years of his life in Maryland. Despite his circumstances, he lived happily with his “joy-giving” mother until she died when he was nine years old, leaving him in the care of a number of boarding schools until he was sixteen and he began to face the world alone. For years he worked odd jobs engineering, herding livestock, mining, ranching, street car driving, and he even claimed to have fought in a Central American revolution. Eventually he ended up in San Francisco and became a banker, which remained his employment for thirteen years and which Shepard considered repressing and dull work.

In early 1898 Shepard started a small publishing company in partnership with a book dealer.  During their time together Shepard and his partner, Paul Elder, published about forty books, many of which were targeted at children and some of which Shepard wrote and/or illustrated himself (“Paul Elder & Company”). Shepard worked with the company until 1904 and then traveled Europe, ultimately returning to San Francisco broke and jobless a couple of years later. He began designing greeting cards, which only lasted until 1906 when his office building was destroyed in an earthquake. Shepard then moved to New York City.

While recovering from an injury, Shepard began to write poetry for children’s magazines, and here he seems to have found his calling. After the earthquake brought his professional life to a halt, Shepard found joy in writing letters to children who were sick in hospitals or “lacking gladness” in their lives. He “yearned to give other children some measure of the joy and good that had been [his] ‘once upon a time’”, the joy he had experienced with his mother as a child (Martin). The individual letters eventually grew into a subscription service, and from there he followed his “hidden heart desires” and began to turn his passion for bringing happiness to children into John Martin’s Book.

John Martin’s Book was inspired by Shepard’s love for children and his mother’s love for life. When he was young, Shepard’s mother encouraged his imagination and creativity. In fact, the idea of John Martin’s Book was born of a story his mother used to tell him about a group of birds that lived near the family home. Shepard’s mother would tell him stories about these birds, and “John Martin-bird” was the leader of the group. He signed those first letters with the pseudonym, John Martin, and would from then on use that pen name when writing in his magazine.

What is John Martin’s Book?

Children’s periodicals began to gain popularity in the Victorian “age of children”. Increased literacy and general education in the eighteenth century lead to an increase in children’s literacy amongst the middle class. With this new level of literacy came a concern for what kind of things children should be reading. In the Victorian era, literature was considered “a potent force capable of immense good or harm”, and was to be handled with care (Lang 17). Theories of childhood purity and the desire to protect childhood innocence rose in popularity over the previously dominant puritanical fixation with the original sin. A parent could not entrust their child’s innocence in just any publication, and so the popularity of children’s books and magazines, written with these new ideals in mind, skyrocketed. This trend continued through the Victorian era and into the twentieth century.

John Martin’s Book was first published as such in 1913. The magazine was aimed at children from ages three to ten, which Shepard considered to be the period in childhood when values are shaped. He adopted a policy of writing “right and only what is right for children” and aimed for each issue to be wholesome and valuable to children’s development (Martin).

What was John Martin’s Book Teaching?

The pages of each issue of John Martin’s Book are filled with colorful illustrations and whimsical writing meant to engage the child readers’ imagination and moral compass. The goal of the magazine was to entertain young children in a wholesome and “exceptionally constructive” way, providing them with content they could enjoy with their parents or on their own (Martin). Every issue included a number of short works ranging from retellings of old fables and fairy tales, to summaries of historical events, to regular installments of stories revolving around a specific character. Some pages were even made to be interacted with, including coloring pages, puzzles, and cut outs.

The left page is titled “Peter Puzzlemaker’s Tree Puzzle”, written across the bottom. The last two words are in a font that resembles tree bark. Above and to the left is a figure (Peter), he is small and wears a tall pointy hat, a black tunic with buttons and a collar, shorts, and buckled shoes. He is dipping a paintbrush into a can of paint with his right hand and pointing to the puzzle above with his left. The puzzle above is a grid of nine squares (one of which Peter is in front of, and is empty). In order from one to eight the squares contain drawings of a dog, a pocket watch, a wig, a book with pages falling out, an old trunk, mannequin limbs, a spinning top, and a bowing man. Behind the grid and peter is a forest scene. The second page is an introduction to Peter Puzzlemaker. It gives instructions on how to solve the puzzle - in this case, each illustration in a box represents a part of a tree.


This is the first appearance of a regular installment in the magazine, Peter Puzzlemaker. Peter “thinks up jolly puzzles for [children] to solve”.  
A two page spread in black ink. At the top of the left page is the title “A Silly Story” followed by “Can U Read It?”, where the “can” is replaced with a drawing of a tin can. To the left of the title is a drawing of a boy walking in the sun. To the right is a drawing of a bird, a duck wearing a top hat, and a rat. The rest of the first page and the entire second page are filled by the text of the story, and the small symbols to replace sounds. Some of the symbols are: an eye, a sun, a saw, an ink well, a tree branch, a deer, a cat, a bee, and a hat.
An example of one of the more quirky pages often included in the magazine, this is a short story where some of the words are replaced (in whole or in part) by small symbols and illustrations. The reader is meant to see if they can read the story using the pictures to sound out the missing letters.
A page in black ink with the title “The Funny Menagere” at the top in bold curly letters. There are five boxes, each with a drawing of an animal pun. There is “A dog with a cocked ear” with a drawing of a dog that has a chicken for an ear, for example.
An example of the fun pages found in John Martin’s Book. A humorous page with animal puns.

Every selection in the magazine was meant to entertain a child, and to instill messages of positivity, love, and happiness. Even the advertisements were carefully selected to reflect the values of the John Martin’s Book company. Shepard says in his article “The Substance of Dreams”, in which he details his motives behind creating John Martin’s Book, “I take the responsibility of preserving the right of children to have only the truest influences brought to them… I will not exploit children for money gain or popularize John Martin’s Book for ‘circulation’ ends” (Martin). Shepard wrote the advertisements himself (or supervised a colleague doing so), and nearly always made something as simple as a soap ad into an engaging story for children to read.

A fully illustrated page printed in light blue ink. Title “A Gift of The Sea” across the top. Below, a woman floats amongst the waves of the sea, bubbles or pearls flowing from her hands. In the center a poem is printed, followed by Colgate branding and an illustration of a box of toothpaste. There is a bust portrait on either side of the box, a little girl on the left and little boy on the right, they look content.
This fully illustrated page shows the care that Shepard put into the advertisements he chose to include in the magazine. He creates a story about a magical lady that lives in the sea and gives children the gift of pearly white teeth, where he could simply have printed a generic ad for Colgate that wouldn’t have been of much interest to the children reading. Shepard was intentional about everything he included in his magazine.

In addition to whimsical games, poems, stories, short plays, and advertisements, John Martin’s Book typically included pieces that invoked God and/or piety. Mostly from Christian influence, though not always explicitly denominational, these pieces were light and peaceful, aiming to express love to the children reading and instill religious conviction from a young age.

A poem printed in mostly black ink, with accents of orange. At the top of the page is the title, “Friendship Road”, in which the F and R are printed in orange. Below, the poem is printed. To the right of the poem is an illustration of a mountain with a castle at the top. The sun in the background is orange. There is a group of children in the foreground walking up a path towards the castle together, they are smiling and holding hands. One child is dressed in orange.
A poem that exemplifies the religious themes often found in the John Martin’s Books. It discusses being grateful to God every day, and following the “right” path in life. There are also themes of friendship and hope in this poem.
A simple page, mostly of text. At the top is the title “Little Beatitudes” below is the poem, four stanzas of four lines each. The first letter of each stanza is ornately drawn in black and red. Below the poem is a small symbol that resembles a heart shape.
This short poem is another example of the way Shepard often wrote about God in the magazine. This poem is teaching that God fearing children are happy.

It is true that John Martin’s Book was never extremely lucrative, in the early days Shepard was fighting to break even, but he always said he wasn’t in it for the money. The purpose of this magazine was to  provide a safe space for children. Parents never had to worry what would be in the next issue of John Martin’s Book, and children could always expect to be entertained.

Shepard was not the only person writing for John Martin’s Book. As the magazine grew in popularity, Shepard brought on new editors to assist him in creating content, including Helene Jane Waldo, who remained on Shepard’s editorial staff until the magazine’s final issue in 1933 (Gardner 151). John Martin’s Book often included pieces submitted by guest authors, who would be credited in the magazine alongside their works. Regardless of the size of his team, Shepard was the only person to write to the children as John Martin.  

A double page spread featuring ornate illustration printed in black and orange ink. The left page depicts an illustration of a castle with knights on horses coming out of the gates and riding down a path. This illustration is contained in an oval. Outside the upper part of the oval, the illustration is framed with tree leaves. An owl sits to the left of the oval reading a book, and a raven to the right, also reading a book and wearing glasses. Near the lower part of the oval, two bunnies dressed like the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland hold a letter between them. The right page features the title of the magazine in a large font, contained in an oval mirroring the left page’s. Behind the oval is another illustration of a castle and knights on horses. The bottom third of the page has an owl holding a book that reads “Come children look, This is your book” on the pages.
These pages exemplify the amount of detail that can be found in the design and illustrations of John Martin’s Book. Notice the small note to the reader on the first page, signed by John Martin himself. A note like this could be found in nearly every issue, greeting the reader and welcoming them to the magazine. The owl on the second page holds a message that invites the children to read on.

Little has been written about John Martin’s Book, and few copies of the earliest editions have survived. However, this magazine remains a shining example of children’s literature from the early twentieth century. As stated in a bulletin in the September 1915 issue of the magazine, the purpose of John Martin’s Book was “to make little children happy”. Shepard’s whimsical writing and editorial style captured the hearts of tens of thousands of children, and his clear love for these children is apparent in his fondly, if scarcely,  remembered magazine.


Works Cited/Referenced

Gardner, Martin. “John Martin’s Book: An Almost Forgotten Children’s Magazine.” Children’s Literature, vol. 18, no. 1, 1990, pp. 145–59. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/chl.0.0682.

Lang, Marjory. “Childhood’s Champions: Mid-Victorian Children’s Periodicals and the Critics.” Victorian Periodicals Review, vol. 13, no. 1/2, 1980, pp. 17–31. JSTOR.

Martin, John. “The Substance of Dreams: A Bit of Intimate History and Romance of How John Martin’s Book Came to Be.” John Martin’s Book, July 1923. UNCA Special Collections.“Morgan

Shepard, Aka ‘John Martin.’” Paul Elder & Company: San Francisco Bookseller & Publisher, 1898-1968, http://paulelder.org/people/morgan-shepard/. Accessed 6 Feb. 2019.

Photos Cited

Martin, John. “Friendship Road.” John Martin’s Book, July 1915. UNCA Special Collections.

Martin, John. “A Gift From the Sea.” John Martin’s Book, July 1918. UNCA Special Collections.

Martin, John. “Little Beatitudes.” John Martin’s Book, Mar. 1924. UNCA Special Collections.

Martin, John. “Peter Puzzlemaker.” John Martin’s Book, Oct. 1918. UNCA Special Collections.

Martin, John. “A Silly Story.” John Martin’s Book, Nov. 19198. UNCA Special Collections.

Martin, John. “Title Pages” John Martin’s Book, May 1924. UNCA Special Collections.