Stamped Stories: A Look at Provenance

A tool of the trade: SLU’s newly designed ownership stamp.

One of my regular tasks here at SLU is ownership marking our books for security. This entails applying our newly designed “Saint Louis University Libraries” stamp to title pages and plate versos.

Our clean and compact new ownership stamp, looking even more clean and compact beside the sprawling figure in this neighboring title vignette. (Book shown: SLU Spec Coll Rare Bks 1748.2 Gravesande)

For some, the idea of marking up centuries-old books elicits a knee-jerk, Madam Pince-ian reaction (“Despoiled! Desecrated! Befouled!”), yet marking books has long been standard practice in special collections and is a measure recommended by the Security Committee of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of ACRL/ALA to guard against theft. Such basic security procedures are crucial to the balancing act of rare book caretaking, in which providing free and open access to materials is constantly weighed against the need to preserve both individual books and the integrity of collections. Much thought goes into marking tools, from the design and placement of a stamp (which should be legible, but detract from the look of the book as little as possible) to the composition of the ink (which must be permanent, but not deleterious to paper or parchment), and the markings themselves often play a key role in the identification of books stolen from institutional collections.

Provenance can tell us much about a volume. Case in point: the SLU High ownership markings on this former textbook contextualize its wear and tear. (Book shown: SLU Spec Coll Rare Bks PA2084 .D388 1798 12mo)

Ownership marking is vital from a security standpoint, but knowing that I’m helping to safeguard our collection from hypothetical future thieves doesn’t help me to shrug off the instinctive cringe I feel when I press our inked stamp onto a pre-1820 page. What does help is to consider our ownership markings within the broader context of provenance, or the traceable history of hands through which a book has passed. Our books are filled with provenance markings, including the signatures, inscriptions, and bookplates of former owners; stamps proudly blazoning institutional names; and booksellers’ labels discretely pasted in. These are visible traces of the humans who owned, read, or sold a book, and these traces can tell us all sorts of stories.

Here are some of the best stories that our books have told me thus far.

An STL Neighbor

The bookplate of Henry Shaw appears in SLU’s Moeurs des Sauvages Ameriquains, published in 1724. (Book shown: SLU Spec Coll Rare Bks E58 .L16 1724 4to)

Who hasn’t toured Tower Grove House, the former residence of Henry Shaw, and wondered if the books lining the walls of the formal dining room belonged to Shaw’s own library? Books can give insight into the tastes, preferences, and even the mind of the one who purchased and (presumably) read them, and thus the “authenticity” of the house museum’s library has always seemed of greater importance to me than that of the other furnishings. Well, I may have yet to answer the Great Question of Henry Shaw’s Books (though I’m sure it would be as simple as asking a museum docent), but this bookplate, adhered to the front pastedown of Moeurs des Sauvages Ameriquains, Comparées aux Moeurs des Premiers Temps (1724) tells us that at least one volume from Shaw’s library ended up here at SLU.

A Taste of Bloomsbury in St. Louis

This book passed through many hands, including those of Mary Augusta Elton, whose bookplate appears in the upper left-hand corner of the paste-down; Roger Senhouse; and Lytton Strachey. (Book shown: SLU Spec Coll Rare Bks DC63 .R36 1584 8vo)

You’ve likely heard of the Bloomsbury Set – the famed friendship group of artists, writers, and other intellectuals who first came together in Bloomsbury, London in the early twentieth century (and who are remembered nearly as much for their tangled web of scandalous relationships as for their minds). Also likely is that you probably wouldn’t expect to find much trace of this tradition-eschewing social circle in SLU’s Catholica- and Jesuitica-heavy Rare Book Collection. Nevertheless, while gathering materials for a March table-top exhibition on the works of Peter Ramus, I found this pictorial bookplate of Giles Lytton Strachey, biographer, critic, and member of the Bloomsbury set. The plate, pasted to the inside cover of a 1584 edition of Ramus’s De Moribus Veterum Gallorum, appears alongside the marks of Roger Senhouse (one of Strachey’s lovers), and Mary Augusta Elton (née Strachey).

A Metaphysical Poet

The title page of this volume from the library of poet John Donne features Donne’s motto (above the title) and his signature (to the right of the imprint information). (Book shown: SLU Spec Coll Rare Bks KBU205 1609 8vo)

One of the Rare Book Collection’s claims to fame is the signature of Renaissance poet John Donne on the title page of Codex Canonum Vetus Ecclesiae Romanae (1609). Donne does not appear to have used the book as a notepad for working out his verse (if only the couplet written on the flyleaf were in Donne’s hand!), but the presence of both his autograph and his motto, “Per Rachel ho servito [& non per Lea]” (“I served you for Rachel and not for Leah”), makes it certain that this volume was once part of his personal library.

Institutional History

This book bears about as many stamps as an envelope addressed by Molly Weasley. (Book shown: 1763.2 Plato)

The most prevalent provenance markings in SLU’s collection are those representing institutional libraries and collections. Among these are retired SLU ownership stamps, bookplates, and other markings from now-consolidated subject libraries and professors’ personal collections. These old markings provide us with an interesting glimpse of SLU history (particularly of its library history).

One such SLU-signed volume, The Republic of Plato, boasts a precursor to our current stamp, and made me feel much more confident about my ownership marking abilities. Rare Books Student Assistant Claire Peterson perhaps best summed up the work of this stamp-happy past library employee when she hypothesized, “Bring your child to work day?”

Physically marking our volumes may still make me cringe, but I love to think that I’m adding SLU’s link to our books’ long chains of provenance, and, in the process, joining the huge cast of characters in the lives of our volumes. Thanks to ownership markings, you never know not only what, but who you’ll find in a rare book.

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43rd Saint Louis Conference on Manuscript Studies, 14-15 October, 2016

The Knights of Columbus Vatican Film Library, part of the University Libraries Department of Special Collections, invites all to attend its 43rd Annual Saint Louis Conference on Manuscript Studies, 14–15 October 2016. This two-day conference each year offers a variety of sessions addressing aspects of the production, distribution, reception, and transmission of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, and featuring work in areas such as paleography, codicology, illumination, textual transmission, library history, provenance, cataloguing, and other subjects.

This year’s guest speaker is Madeline H. Caviness, Mary Richardson Professor Emeritus at Tufts University. Dr. Caviness will deliver the Lowrie J. Daly, S.J., Memorial Lecture on Manuscript Studies and will speak on

  • Medieval German Law and the Jews: The Sachsenspiegel Picture-Books

This lecture is open to the public and will be held on Friday, 14 October, at 4pm. It is co-sponsored with Saint Louis University’s Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies and is followed by a reception.

2016 Conference sessions:

  • All Things Visible and Invisible: Illuminating Working Practices in Manuscript Making
  • Creating Memory, Creating Identity
  • Pages with Extended Pedigree: Second-Hand Manuscripts and Their Owners
  • Illuminating Metalwork: Representations of Precious-Metal Objects in Medieval Manuscript Illumination
  • Revelations of Codicology
  • Manuscripts for Travelers
  • Beyond Arbiters of Lay Piety and Ambassadors of Culture: Revisiting Bell’s Medieval Women Book Owners

Regular sessions of the conference are open to the public through advance registration. Saint Louis University students, staff, faculty, and Library Associates are admitted free of charge, but are asked to register in advance. For program and registration information, visit the conference webpage. For further information, contact the Vatican Film Library at 314-977-3090 or vfl@slu.edu.

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Three Vassar Girls in England (1884)

The title page of SLU’s copy of Three Vassar Girls in England. As in all her juvenile fiction, Elizabeth Champney is familiarly identified as “Lizzie,” while the illustrator, James Wells Champney, is referred to simply as “Champ.” (SLU Spec Coll Rare Bks D980 .C444 1884)

Five years ago, I was at the tail end of a semester-long study abroad experience in London that had brought me everywhere from standing street-side at a royal wedding to learning what “hobs” were (and just how much food residue a group of first-year men could cook onto them in the time between the college’s monthly cleanliness inspections). Now, peppered with Facebook’s frequent reminders of the trip (“Five years ago, you were at Kew Gardens admiring Europe’s largest compost heap!”), this anglophile’s thoughts have been much in England. It is unsurprising, then, that a book titled Three Vassar Girls in England recently captured my attention.

Champney’s novel captures the spirit of discovery still typical of travel abroad today, but certain episodes — such as Maud’s visit to the London Foundling Hospital, closed in 1926, date the work.

Published in 1884, Elizabeth Williams Champney’s Three Vassar Girls in England tells the story of three fictional Vassar graduates – Barbara Atchison, Cecilia “Saint” Boylston, and Maud Van Vechten – traveling through the U.K. Visiting museums, embarking on sketching tours, attending concerts, and participating in women’s discussion groups, the young graduates may as well be students still, and, skimming their stories, I felt an immediate sense of fellowship with them. The experiences of these twenty-something Seven Sisters graduates – though dated in their specifics, such as Maud’s visit to the London foundling hospital – evoke the spirit of heady independence, novelty, and discovery still intrinsic to study abroad today.

While this fuel for nostalgia in the stories of the fictional college graduates was what initially drew me to Three Vassar Girls in England, it was the real Vassar woman behind the novel who held my attention. Between 1883 and 1921, Elizabeth Williams Champney authored five series and more than 30 novels; Three Vassar Girls in England, her second published work, was just the tip of the iceberg. Much of Champney’s commercial success came from her early works of juvenile fiction, among which (as you might deduce from our book’s bright cover art, ample illustrations, friendly prose, and infusion of textbook history) were the eleven novels of her Three Vassar Girls series.

The bright and inviting cover art of Three Vassar Girls in England marks it as a children’s book.

This series was also one of the author’s many artistic collaborations with her husband, artist James Wells Champney (playfully credited as “Champ” in his wife’s children’s books). The pairing of Elizabeth’s text and James’s illustrations in Three Vassar Girls in England might be seen as a visual representation of their partnership, for – although the Champneys’ first encounter was as drawing instructor and pupil during Elizabeth’s school days – their marriage appears to have been largely egalitarian. They named their son after a respected mentor of James’s and their daughter after a teacher of Elizabeth’s, they collaborated on many of Elizabeth’s children’s books, and, in 1876, it was in Elizabeth’s ancestral home in Deerfield, Massachusetts that they settled after years of travel.

In one of many playful pairings of image and text produced by the Champneys, James Champney illustrates an episode in which the spirited Barbara ponders whether or not to “crush” an opponent at lawn tennis.

The ideal of gender equality lived by the Champneys carries over into Elizabeth Champney’s fiction, giving the plot of Three Vassar Girls in England an unusual structure of female empowerment. The author presents many alternatives to marriage and motherhood available to the women of her day; by the end of the novel, two of Champney’s “Vassar girls” have entered into careers that enable them to live independently, while only one has married. Even the marriage plot is qualified by a feminist addendum, for the story of Barbara, the young bride, does not end with her marriage. Champney focuses on how Barbara uses her education to run a philanthropic society, downplaying her match. Champney writes of the courtship:

If this were a love-story instead of a story of friendship, we might tell how John Featherstonhaugh prospered in his wooing. As it is, we can only hint that Barbara was too high-spirited a girl to be easily won, even when the citadel was all in revolt in favor of the besieging army. (213)

Champney’s novel celebrates women’s education and female friendship above all, and characters like the poor, unheroically named John Featherstonhaugh must look on from the sidelines.

While there is little room for romantic love in Champney’s “story of friendship,” I would argue that Three Vassar Girls is a love story – an unconventional love letter to England, to travel, and, most of all, to Vasser and to Champney’s fellow classmates. Champney captures the spirit of a women’s college both then and now with the utmost accuracy. For her, education is empowerment, and a Vassar education is one that produces women for whom, whether they fail magnificently or succeed spectacularly, “mediocrity is the one unpardonable sin” (228). Champney peoples her book with women doing the unexpected: with wild schoolgirls who become church leaders, with female doctors and newspaper columnists, and with single women supporting themselves in careers independently of men. This unconventional love story celebrates these women, and encourages the girls who read it to be anything but ordinary.

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Mystery and Mysticism of María de Jesus de Ágreda (1602-1665)

Title page of María de Ágreda’s Exercicios Espirituales de Retiro, complete with a shelfmark tag inserted by an earlier owner.

The Ignatian Spiritual Exercises tend to take the spotlight at a Jesuit institution, but it was another book of exercises that caught my attention as I explored the Spanish language items in the stacks. Before picking up María de Ágreda’s Exercicios Espirituales de Retiro (1769), I had yet to encounter a set of spiritual exercises written by a woman. Adding to my curiosity was the small slip of cut-up envelope tucked inside the volume that reads, “This book was found in a cave near the ruins of an old Dominican monastery in Sonora, Mexico.” I wondered how this edition published in Barcelona ended up in a cave in Mexico, and I was eager to trace the origins of the book and its author.

By consulting works from the general collection and corresponding with the author of the recently published biography María of Ágreda: Mystical Lady in Blue, I learned that the Exercicios were not only written by a woman, but by one of the most prominent mystics of the seventeenth century. The author was a cloistered Franciscan Conceptionist nun known for her mystic spirituality, bilocation in Mexico and west Texas, levitation and trances during prayer, polemical writing, interrogation by the Spanish Inquisition, role as spiritual and political advisor to King Felipe IV, and incorrupt body. In addition, I discovered that one of her publications, Mística Ciudad de Dios, was cited as an authoritative source in standard Spanish language usage in the Real Academia Española’s first Diccionario (see my earlier post on our copy of the third edition). María’s roles as mystic and as influential published author struck me as unusual for a seventeenth-century woman, especially a cloistered nun.

A note, scrawled across the back of an old manila envelope and inserted into our book, that gives information about its provenance.

“M. Agreda” and her Mística Ciudad de Dios made the list of authors and works cited as language authorities in the Real Academia Española’s 1770 Diccionario.

Mística Ciudad de Dios (Mystical City of God), María’s most famous publication and the one that made her a Spanish language authority at the time, also established her as a controversial figure. This biography of Mary was completed in 1645, burned in the same year by order of María’s temporary confessor, and rewritten between 1655 and 1660. No doubt the controversy surrounding Mística Ciudad de Dios and its me on the Church’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum prompted the Licencia de la orden in her later Exercicios, which assures readers that the work has been examined by the Theologian of the Order, and “no contiene cosa contra la Santa Fè Catholica, ni buenas costumbres.” (does not contain anything against the Holy Catholic Faith, nor against good moral values).

María’s reported bilocation and widespread religious following in Mexico and west Texas earned her the attention of King Felipe IV of Spain, who sought her out as a spiritual and political advisor. They corresponded by letter beginning in 1643; over the next twenty-two years, six hundred exchanges passed between María’s convent and the King, all in the utter secrecy he demanded. Many of their exchanges consisted of the King’s writing his problems on the right side of the page and María’s responding to each of them in the left margin.

The “Licencia de la Orden” assures readers that María’s book has been approved by the church as a valuable (and moral) resource.

Our copy of Exercicios Espirituales de Retiro is as humble as María is described to be, and has survived generations and institutions. Its binding is wrinkled and withered, perhaps from the arid climate of Sonora. A small piece of paper attached with string to the book’s spine gives the title and author, and was presumably meant to be hung outside of the book allowing readers to identify the work without having to open it. The humble body of the book was cared for with multiple repairs to the spine in green and white thread.

This humble book has traveled far in this worn parchment cover.

The book’s missing final leaf reminded me of the larger mystery surrounding its travels from Barcelona to Sonora to our collection here in St. Louis. I learned there were around 69 Dominican and 172 Franciscan monasteries established in Mexico and the Southwest by the year 1612, eight years before María reported her bilocation encouraging missionaries in their work. After discovering this, it does not surprise me that a volume of her Exercicios espirituales would be found in the area. The question I am left pondering is: how did her book get from a cave in Mexico onto my desk in Rare Books?

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An 1873 Manual for Modern Mothers

Men have had their say. It is but fitting now that a woman should have hers, especially as the woman who assumes to speak does so with an authority man cannot venture to claim. (18)

The title page to Eliza Bisbee Duffey’s What Women Should Know. (SLU Spec Coll Rare Bks HQ 46 .D83 1873)

So writes Eliza Bisbee Duffey in the introduction to What Women Should Know: A Woman’s Book About Women Containing Practical Information for Wives and Mothers (1873). Part women’s health guide, part sex-ed manual, and part feminist tract, the work offers a refreshingly accurate, no-nonsense look at such topics as puberty, conception, childbirth, and motherhood, all from a much-needed woman’s perspective. In What Women Should Know, Duffey seeks to arm a “new regime” (248) of women — those “striving to do, and claiming to do, many things… heretofore… considered beyond their physical and mental capabilities” (19) — with a thorough knowledge of their bodies’ workings. This knowledge, Duffey hopes, will enable them to better safeguard their health and maximize their potential, reconciling new roles in the workplace with those of the domestic realm. Duffey’s work is, in many respects, groundbreaking: she de-stigmatizes menstruation, declaring that it “is not a disease” (44); details the physical and emotional “Evils of Stays” (41) that not only warp women’s bodies, but convince them that they are naturally flawed; broaches the taboo topic of marital rape, an issue largely unacknowledged (or thought not to exist) at the time (117); and argues that women’s seeming mental and physical shortcomings are not “inherent to the sex” (19), but the result of miseducation. Bear in mind that Duffey was writing about women’s bodies at a time when sex education was thought to be, at best, a morally dubious topic, and the confidence and clarity with which she delivers her message of empowerment seem all the more remarkable.

Duffey’s book is clad in an attractive publisher’s binding of the period.

Surprisingly, many of Duffey’s points remain relevant in 2016 America. She appears to have been an early proponent of gender-neutral play, contending that maternal “instinct” is not innate but instilled, and that few young girls dream of becoming mothers. Boys and girls alike, when given a doll to play with, will naturally make it their “baby.” Likewise, adolescent girls are naturally as inclined to “romping” outside as their brothers. Mothers should permit them to be “tomboyish,” running, swimming, and climbing trees as they please, rather than admonishing such healthy behavior as “improper and unlady-like” and forcing them to partake in “calisthenics, gymnastics… and other feminine substitutes for exercise which so many persons recommend” (35).

Such equality between the sexes, Duffey contends, should also structure education. She argues that when boys and girls attend classes together, there are moral (as well as intellectual) benefits. She writes that “the two sexes exert a restraining and an elevating influence upon each other, and where they are mingled in educational institutions on the same terms of freedom and equality as in the home, there the standard of morality will be found to be highest” (56). (Anyone who attended high school in this century can see that this is a bit of a rosy picture, but good for Duffey for joining the co-ed movement so early on.) She also believes that the effects of co-education should extend beyond the classroom to make adult gender roles more fluid. Boys should learn housework and sewing, while girls should learn how to harness a horse and “use carpenters’ and gardeners’ tools with ease and dexterity” (161) so that they are later able to assist their spouses.

Duffey’s example of the benefits of such shared practical duties? That of the “washer-man,” a husband who (heaven forbid!) endeavored to wash five weeks’ worth of accumulated laundry in order to help his sick wife. Duffey describes how, in only three hours, the man had neatly and efficiently completed what would have taken his wife an entire exhausting day. Duffey concludes wryly, “I have felt convinced ever since that whenever a woman occupies the wash-tub she is encroaching upon man’s sphere, as he can do a washing quite as well as she, and so much more expeditiously, neatly and easily” (161).

Decades ahead of the curve, the author also challenges stigmas about working mothers. While Duffey claims that it isn’t her “purpose, in this book, to indulge in any discussion in regard to women’s right to enter into any field of labor they may see fit” (19), she makes no secret of her belief that women are capable of taking on a variety of roles outside the home while simultaneously raising healthy families. She cites several examples (including personal experience) of literary mothers who work as writers or editors and have never had to leave work for more than a month at a time to give birth and convalesce. None of these women, Duffey argues, have neglected their homes or their families in favor of work, and their infants have grown into healthy, happy, intelligent, self-sufficient young people. Again drawing from personal experience, Duffey recounts how, returning to work four weeks after giving birth to her daughter, she was met by exclamations of, “‘But your poor babe!’” Duffey’s rebuttal? That her “‘poor babe’ was the best, the quietest, the healthiest babe ever borne into the world” and that “as a child she is now bright and active beyond her years” (251).

Duffey dedicated her book “To the wives and mothers of America.”

The author maintains that not only can mothers work outside the home without negative implications for their children, but they can also excel at their jobs. In fact, Duffey believes that women can exceed male colleagues in workplace performance. A female doctor, for example, “is to be preferred to a man,” for she is “just as capable, more reliable, more sympathizing, and more helpful” (201) – especially during childbirth.

Who would have thought that modern women could find such a powerful defense of sexual equality and work-life balance in a book published in 1873? Yet over a century ago, poised on the brink of major social change for women, Duffey and her fellow nineteenth-century pioneers were already paving the way for modern motherhood, and the book’s dedication statement – made out to “the wives and mothers of America” that it may “cheer them when despondent… encourage them to endure bravely and wisely the trials incident to their sex; and… inspire them to become truer and nobler women” (5) – still rings true today.

The enduring relevance of What Women Should Know more than a century after its publication is, at least in part, a measure of our own sluggish progress toward promoting gender equality from early childhood and adopting widespread policies – such as paid parental leave – that support work-life balance. Yet this book also serves as a testament to the boldness and tenacity of Duffey and women like her, who not only challenged assumptions of their mental and physical limitations on paper, but, through their actions, proved them to be irrelevant. In this sense, the book is a celebration: it recognizes the women who began the slow process of reshaping “motherhood,” relegating it from the single purpose of a woman’s existence to just one part of her multifaceted identity — and, arguably, producing better-rounded and more fulfilled mothers along the way.

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The Trial of the Assassins and Conspirators… for the Murder of President Abraham Lincoln (1865)

This latest post by student assistant Claire Peterson will be the last issue of “Students in the Stacks” to feature a work from her list of top Civil War books in Special Collections (though we welcome you to visit us in Room 307 of Pius XII Memorial Library and to see more Civil War related materials any time!). From this fine month of May, 2016, Claire looks back 151 years to May 1865, when John Wilkes Booth was on trial for the murder of President Abraham Lincoln.

A portrait of the infamous John Wilkes Booth, set beside the title page of The Trial of the Assassins and Conspirators. (Book shown: E457.5 .T83)

Claiming to contain “the whole of the Suppressed Evidence” of John Wilkes Booth’s guilt, The Trial of the Assassins and Conspirators at Washington City, D.C., May and June, 1865, for the Murder of President Abraham Lincoln falls into the genre of sensationalist literature spawned by the murder of President Abraham Lincoln.

One of many crowded pages that fill Trial of the Assassins and Conspirators.

The small, cramped print of the testimonies of witnesses at the 1865 trial displays the cheap, tabloid quality of the work. Among the book’s simple illustrations are depictions of John Wilkes Booth and his executioner and maps of “The Scene of the Great Tragedy” (the site of Lincoln’s assassination on April 15, 1865).

In a book detailing the trial of President Lincoln’s assassin: a portrait mocking the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis.

In contrast to the somber images of Lincoln’s coffin in the railroad car that carried his remains to Springfield and in “Old Independence Hall,” the book includes a mocking image titled “Portrait of ‘Jeff. Davis’ in his wife’s clothes.” The confederate president was rumored to have grabbed his wife’s coat in his haste to escape capture by Northern forces in Georgia on May 10, 1865.

Seemingly out of place in a book about Lincoln’s assassins, the image of Jefferson Davis in his wife’s clothing was part of an 1865 media trend after his capture. Photographs that had been “photo-shopped” with petticoats and crinoline — the nineteenth-century equivalent of memes — were published. Although out of context, the inclusion of such an image in The Trial of the Assassins and Conspirators contributes to its appeal as a work of sensationalist journalism.

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Patterns in Paste: Reflections on Rare Books’ Paste Paper Workshop

A participant uses the ridged exterior of a seashell to stamp designs on her paper.

On Wednesday, April 6th, the Rare Books reading room underwent its second transformation of the semester from quiet research space to improvised dominotier studio, this time for a workshop in the art of paste paper. The hour-long session – a sequel to our February 11th marbling workshop – was designed to demystify the process by which the pre-industrial decorative bindings on display in our current exhibit, The Binder’s Art, were created. This workshop, like the first, enabled participants to work backwards from page through process by first viewing examples of historical paste paper from our collection, then learning techniques to make their own decorative sheets.

A participant mixes her own colors and uses an array of drawn paste techniques to achieve unique results.

The paste paper workshop’s eight participants – a diverse group of faculty, staff, and students from around the university – perused the bindings currently on exhibit, looked at a selection of paste-decorated covers, endpapers, and edges temporarily exhibited during the workshop, and became acquainted with paste paper reference sources in the rare book collection. Then, following a brief demonstration of the technique paired with an introduction to the tools provided, they were set free to create their own designs.

Rare Books Librarian Jenny Lowe discovers that, alas, paste has no taste.

Participants were provided with six colors of paste (a blend of acrylic paint and translucent, white cornstarch paste – which, an “anonymous” taster informs me, bears no gastronomic similarity to its lookalike tapioca), black and white paper, brushes for applying the paste, and various tools for drawing designs in the thick paint mixture. While all eight attendees were provided with the same materials, you would never guess as much from the sheer range of designs they produced. Paste paper-making is a relatively relaxed art, and the paste’s long dry-time and malleability enabled our participants to take their time, experiment, and infuse their patterns with individual flair.

Here’s just a sample of the papers they produced:

If you, too, would like to make your own paste papers, P.J.M. Marks’ An Anthology of Decorated Papers and Rosamond Loring’s Decorated Book Papers, both available in the Rare Books reading room, are solid resources for beginners. These reference books offer full-page photographs of paste papers, both historical and modern, as well as background information on the history of paste papers. For instructions on how to mix your own paste, try the Cornell University Library Preservation department’s guide to paste paper.

A  focused — and innovative — participant hard at work in his paste paper zone.

We’ve enjoyed our recent adventures in the decorative arts here at Rare Books, and I hope that we’ve inspired you – as the binders and decorative paper-makers of the past inspired us – to delve into the book arts, in any capacity.  Yet I hope that if you try out only one decorative paper technique, it’s paste paper. While there’s a certain magic to marbling and to watching the seemingly weightless paints expand across the surface of the water, the tactile nature of paste paper-making imbues it with a wonderfully childlike quality (despite its potential for creating sophisticated designs) that seems absent from the other technique.

Best of luck in your book arts endeavors!

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The Evils of Slavery, and the Cure of Slavery (1839)

In this installment of “Students in the Stacks,” Rare Books student assistant Claire Peterson shares another of work from her list of top Civil War books. April is National Poetry Month, so this month’s featured book is an abolitionist text by poet Lydia Maria Child, bound with the stirring John Greenleaf Whittier poem “Our Fellow-Countrymen in Chains.”

The title page to The Evils of Slavery.

The Evils of Slavery, and the Cure of Slavery by Lydia Maria Child is a collection of evidence compiled against slavery in 1830s America. First published in 1833, the book includes quotations from celebrated American men such as George Washington, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe, all of which, Child argues, demonstrate the evils of slavery from the mouths of southerners themselves.

In the first section of the work, Child quotes the writing of prominent southerners on the subject of slavery, using their voices to argue that slavery is morally reprehensible.

A poet and an abolitionist, Child was criticized for expressing anti-slavery sentiments in her 1833 publication An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans, and sales of her books suffered greatly.

Whittier’s “Our Countrymen in Chains” as it appears at the end of The Evils of Slavery.

The better-known — and emotionally charged — broadside publication of Whittier’s poem.

SLU’s copy of The Evils of Slavery, and the Cure of Slavery is a second edition pamphlet that includes a reprinting of Child’s friend John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem “Our Fellow-Countrymen in Chains.” Whittier’s poem is best known for its appearance on a broadside in 1837 under the image of a slave in chains with a banner reading, “Am I not a man and a brother?”

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Paste Paper: The Common Knowledge Craft

What do these two images have in common?

Left: Printed paste from the San Francisco Public Library’s collection (SFPL Instagram); Right: Pulled paste at SLU Rare Books (Spec Coll Rare Bks 1741.2 Baumeister)

They may share neither a color palette nor a design, but both depict paste papers found in eighteenth-century bindings. Such papers — some boasting bright shocks of color, others dull or faded — are scattered throughout the covers, end papers, and edges of SLU’s rare book collection. After marbled and printed papers, they are the most prevalent type of decorative paper in our stacks.

Snapshots of the paste-paper making process: gelatinous corn starch paste (top); paste applied to paper (center); and a finished design (bottom).

What exactly is paste paper, you may well ask? It is paper decorated with thick paint made from colored pigment and starch paste in a process often compared to finger painting. Makers need only a simple starch (such as wheat, corn, or rice flour), water, and a source of heat over which to mix the two until they thicken into (you guessed it) a paste. When the paste cools, it is combined with enough water-soluble paint to obtain the desired hue. A brush is then used to spread the colored paste across a dampened sheet of paper. Once the paper is evenly coated, various tools can be used to manipulate the paste into patterns simple or complex. The decorative process is very forgiving, for the long dry-time of the thick paste mixture allows the artist ample time to play with his or her design before it hardens. When the design is deemed complete, the paper is hung on a line to dry, usually overnight. It is then ironed flat and ready for use.

Paste papers can generally be broken into five main categories by method of decoration. Pulled, drawn (including combed), daubed, and printed pastes all begin in the standard way, with a sheet of paper evenly coated in paste. In making spatter paste (as well as two subcategories of the first group, Spanish daubed paste and prints in paste), the paste paint design is applied directly to blank paper with a tool rather than worked onto a sheet evenly coated with paste.

Pulled paste, a popular base design from the sixteenth century on, is made by coating two sheets with paste and laying them, paste-sides together, one on top of the other. The artist rubs the top sheet, then immediately peels it off the bottom sheet to produce a feathery, veined design.

A simple paper-over-boards binding decorated in brown pulled paste. (Spec Coll Rare Bks 1752.2 Buonanni)

Vibrant pulled-paste end papers. (Spec Coll Rare Bks 1747.2 Darjes)

Felt shapes or yarn might also be laid between paste-coated sheets, and appear, palely and indistinctly, in the finished pattern.

A pulled paste cover currently on display in The Binder’s Art.

In drawn paste, nearly any household object (or the artist’s fingers) can be used to draw designs across a paste-coated sheet of paper.

A bright blue drawn-paste design takes center stage between gilded and gauffered corners on the fore-edge of this upscale heraldic binding. (Spec Coll Rare Bks 1748.2 Daude v. 2 pt. 2)

Drawn paste paper by Rosamond Loring. (Spec Coll Rare Bks Ref. Z 271 .L85 2007, sample 20)

Daubed paste designs are made using sponges. In the most widespread tradition, a paste-covered sheet is dabbed with a sponge to create a textured design, but in the Spanish style, the sponge is used to apply paste to a blank sheet of paper.

A daubed-paste cover from SLU’s rare book collection. (Spec Coll Rare Bks 1751.2 Pfeiffer)

A nineteenth-century daubed-paste paper slipcase from the University of Washington Libraries’ Special Collections.

Printed paste borrows from the printed paper tradition, and relies on stamps or woodblocks to impress designs into paste-covered sheets. Designs cut in relief appear lighter than the surrounding paste, while intaglio designs are darker and more distinct.

A printed-paste end paper from SLU’s collection. (Spec Coll Rare Bks 1748.2 Daude v. 2 pt. 1)

A printed paste end paper currently on display in The Binder’s Art. The floral print, lighter than the surrounding paste, was made by stamping a pulled-paste paper with a design cut in relief. (Spec Coll Rare Bks PA 8570 .P6 A6 1746 8vo)

Alternatively, prints in paste can be made by applying paste – sometimes in multiple colors – directly to a woodblock. The design is stamped onto the paper as it would be in standard printing.

The front and back paste-downs of 1748.2 Daude v. 2 pt. 2 are prints in paste made from the same woodblock.

Spatter paste, in which paste thinned by water is splashed onto the page from the bristles of a paintbrush, creates the most random designs. If the paper is hung to dry while the paste is still quite wet, the paste will run.

An example of spatter paste hung up wet and allowed to drip as it dried. (Spec Coll Rare Bks Toulouse H.443.112)

Paste paper allowed binders and booksellers to dress up inexpensive bindings like this cover in blue pulled-paste paper over boards. In this case, the binder didn’t even have to pay for the paper — you can see the text on this printed waste paper peeking through the blue paste! (Spec Coll Rare Bks B 785 .L23 P73 1580 4to)

Paste paper examples can be found in books dating as far back as the sixteenth century, and many rival their better known marbled paper contemporaries in vibrancy and creativity of design. So why don’t we hear more about them? While paste paper’s popular contemporaries, marbled paper and printed paper, left a trail of production evidence, such as the woodblocks used to print designs and the records of the Parisian guild of dominotiers (makers of decorative papers), paste papers have left little trace – beyond their existence – on the historical record. This is, perhaps, because paste paper is far less glamorous (and demanding) than the marbled, Dutch gilt, and printed paper starlets of the decorative paper world. The marbling process required precise measurements of expensive ingredients (such as ox gall), and was sensitive to everything from impure water to changing air temperature; printed paper production required the right tools, and successful operations relied on skilled woodcarvers to produce a continual supply of woodblocks that could be mixed and matched in a variety of printed designs. Paste paper, by contrast, required only common and inexpensive ingredients, and was not susceptible to the vagaries of temperature and humidity. Making paste paper required “but little skill or experience” (Loring, “Colored,” 40), which meant that binders and booksellers could easily produce their own in-house. Paste paper became the logical choice for binding ephemeral publications (such as pamphlets), and was an economical option for small printing operations unable to afford professionally made decorative papers. Thus, paste-paper making was a craft of common knowledge: few (if any) paste recipes were written down, and papers were nearly always unsigned.

Drawn and printed paste end papers from the Pinterest page of the Moravian Church Archives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Drawn and printed paste paper from the Pinterest page of the Moravian Church Archives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

It wasn’t until the eighteenth century that a known European paste-paper-making operation began to produce stylistically distinct papers. From 1764 to 1825, the Sisters of Herrnhut (a group of unmarried women living in a strict Moravian Church community in Herrnhut, Germany) produced blue, red, and green paste papers using a mix of drawn and printed techniques. Little is known about the Sisters’ business or about the individual craftswomen, but the venture supplied a local demand for decorative papers and provided work for a community that not only valued hard work as a form of religious devotion, but required sixteen-hour workdays of all its able-bodied occupants. Their characteristic style – what Richard Wolfe calls “the Herrnhut way” of using woodblocks to make printed paste patterns (Wolfe, 201 n. 32), a method originally borrowed from printed textile manufactory (Berger, “Rosamond,” 15) – became extremely influential, for the layering of techniques in their designs exhibited the potential for true artistry and sophistication in paste paper. Aided by missionary work, both the Sisters’ papers and their methods of making them soon began to spread, and by 1800,“Herrnhutter Paper” had became almost synonymous with “paste paper.”

Combed paste mimicking fine-combed marbled paper. From the Pinterest page of the Moravian Church Archives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Though papers produced or influenced by the Sisters of Herrnhut can be found in many libraries’ collections, the Sisters’ legacy reaches far beyond any bookshelf. Not only did they establish a tradition of paper-crafting in their own community (a tradition that lives on in the manufacture of the twenty-five-pointed Herrnhuter Moravian star), but they paved the way for twentieth-century paper artists like Rosamond Loring and Veronica Ruzicka. By coaxing paste paper designs and techniques to reach new heights of sophistication, these women advanced and professionalized the craft, bringing it to broader public attention by providing decorative covers for limited editions issued by major publishers.

If this whirlwind tour of paste paper has inspired you to learn more about its history – or, better yet, to add your own designs to this four-hundred-year-old decorative tradition – then Rare Books is planning an event for you! From 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 6th, the Rare Books reading room (Room 307 of Pius XII Memorial Library) will be home to a paste paper workshop. We will examine eighteenth-century paste papers from SLU’s rare book collection, discuss how to produce various paste paper designs, and make our own drawn, pulled, and printed paste papers. Materials will be provided free of charge, and we’ll have many paste paper examples on hand to help kick-start your creativity.

All SLU students, faculty, staff, and Library Associates are welcome to register for the event beginning on Monday, March 28th at noon.

We hope to see you there!

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References:

Berger, Sidney E. “Paste Papers.” Conversant: The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum. Peabody Essex Museum, 20 July 2015. Blog post.

—-. “Rosamond B. Loring’s Decorated Papers.” Marbled and Paste Papers: Rosamond Loring’s Recipe Book. By Rosamond Loring. Cambridge: Houghton Library, 2007. 11-29. [Rare Bks Ref. Z 271.3 .M37 L67 2007]

Dürninger Textil Druck. Web.

Hutton, J.E. A History of the Moravian Church. London: Moravian Publication Office, 1909.  [Pius Microfiche BT10 .A8 no.1988-0692]

Loring, Rosamond B. “Colored Paste Papers.” The New Colophon: A Book Collector’s Quarterly 2.5 (1949): 33-40.

—-. “Paste End-Papers.” Decorated Book Papers. Cambridge: Houghton Library, 2007. 65-70. [Rare Bks Ref. Z 271 .L85 2007]

Marks, P.J.M.  An Anthology of Decorated Papers: A Sourcebook for Designers. [Rare Bks Ref. NK 8553 .M37 2015]

Sutter, Sem. “Wrapped in Color: A Survey of Paste Paper Bookbindings.” University of Chicago Library Special Collections, March 1994. Exhibit catalog.

Wolfe, Richard. Marbled Paper: Its History, Techniques, and Patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990.

Zaehnsdorf, Joseph William. The Art of Bookbinding: A Practical Treatise. 1890. Farnborough: Gregg International Publishers Limited, 1969. [Rare Bks Ref. Z 271 .Z17 1890a]

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A Glimpse of Life in a Far-Off Land

In Our Journey Around the World: An Illustrated Record of a Year’s Travel of Forty Thousand Miles Through India, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, Palestine, Greece, Turkey, Italy, France, Spain, etc. (1895), American minister Francis E. Clark, founder of the nineteenth-century Christian Endeavor movement, documents his family’s year-long tour of missions throughout the world. For me, Clark’s book – from its purportedly secular content to its distinctive late-nineteenth-century binding – represents a journey from one curiosity to another.

A close-up of the front cover of Our Journey Around the World. (Book shown: G 440 .C59 1895)

Frontispiece portrait of Francis E. Clark.

First, there is the author’s claim that his travelogue is “distinctly a book of travel” (viii), and, beyond the preface, will not discuss the primary purpose of his family’s journey: to nurture the movement from which the youth ministry traditions of many modern evangelical Christian groups were born. As his family’s route was plotted between the homes of fellow “Endeavorers” and the bulk of their time was spent touring missions, attending prayer meetings, and speaking at conventions around the world, isolating those rare moments of leisure between religious engagements and restricting an account of the journey to those respites seems a formidable task. Unsurprisingly, the finished book could not be called entirely secular. Evidence of the Clarks’ religious beliefs and motivations is everywhere apparent, from the “USCE” flag depicted on the book’s spine to Clark’s characterization of himself, his wife, and his thirteen-year-old son as “the Pilgrim,” “Mrs. Pilgrim,” and “the Young Pilgrim” (39). The Society for Christian Endeavor, launched in 1881 as a youth group in the Portland, Maine parish where Francis Clark served as a Congregational minister, is the ever-present, seldom named character underlying his account, for, by the time Clark’s family took their world journey in 1892, it had exploded into an influential, international society, the running of which had become Clark’s new vocation. Even the title page of Our Journey Around the World makes it clear that the society has become integral to Clark’s identity, for he is named as “Rev. Francis E. Clark, D.D. President of the United Society for Christian Endeavor.”

SLU’s copy carries its own unique reminder that, though the work was marketed as a secular narrative, it still promotes the author’s evangelical agenda. An annotation on the dedication page reveals that not all Christians were on board with Clark’s inter-denominational youth movement.

The annotation reads: “This book was given to us and was looked after casually by Rev Assistant at St. Michaels Church at Shrewsbury who said the only harm of reading same would be by an immature mind, a child or one not well set in the Catholic faith. A. Litzau”

SLU’s copy of the Clarks’ travel book is bound in a blue cloth publisher’s binding stamped in gold. And ours is the cheap edition!

Clearly, the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor was not Catholic priest-approved (at least, not in St. Michael’s Church in Shrewsbury, Missouri), and though this book could be enjoyed harmlessly by adults firmly grounded in the Catholic faith, it certainly could not be trusted in the hands of the young impressionables Clark preached to.

Beyond its association with a late-nineteenth-century religious movement, Clark’s book offers a fascinating glimpse into its time of publication. Our copy’s gold-stamped blue cloth binding models a typical late-nineteenth-century cover design, and its bric-a-brac spine decoration – in the midst of which are a finely delineated ship, a globe, and an embellished “CE,” for “Christian Endeavor” – gives a clear visual summary of the book’s contents to prospective readers. (This is only the first example of the book’s fondness for self-summary, which also manifests in descriptive, dramatic, and sometimes hilarious running titles — see the image below for some representative examples.)

A quirk of Our Journey Around the World: the over-the-top drama and specificity of its running titles, a representative sample of which has been arranged here.

The volume is also filled with illustrations, and its title page proudly boasts that it is “superbly illustrated with steel-plate portraits, and upwards of two hundred choice engravings.” Today, we take for granted that our travel guides will be filled to the brim with high-quality, color photographs, but in 1897, an abundance of realistic illustrations in an affordable travel book was still novel. The excitement underlying the claim that these illustrations are “from special photographs taken from life expressly for this work” (xiii) is nearly tangible, and the persistence with which they were advertised implies that these reproduced photographs considerably boosted the book’s marketability.

This depiction of a Cairo coffeehouse is among the handful of plates listed as being from “instantaneous photographs.”

While Our Journey Around the World is certainly worthy of attention as a physical artifact, it was the content of its last 46 pages that initially caught my eye. Clark hands this final section of the 641-page tome over to his wife, Harriet E. Clark, who ends the book with Glimpses of Life in a Far-Off Land, As Seen Through a Woman’s Eyes. Admittedly, the balance of authority is somewhat skewed to our modern eyes (how gracious to cede your wife a whole seven percent of your work), it’s important to remember that Clark needn’t have shared authorship with his spouse at all. That Harriet Clark’s voice made it into the volume indicates that her husband valued her as an (almost) equal partner, and hints at the crucial role she played in his work. In fact, Mrs. Clark stood beside (or, at least, slightly behind) her husband from the very first meeting of the Society of Christian Endeavor, and was instrumental in driving up female participation in their flagship youth group. She was a founding member who shared in her husband’s travels, raised their son in accordance with his teachings, and, within the society, was fondly known as “Mother Endeavor.”

The portrait of Harriet E. Clark that serves as frontispiece to Glimpses of Life in a Far-Away Land.

In Glimpses of Life in a Far-Off Land, Harriet Clark brings to travel the same maternal perspective she was known for bringing to her husband’s work, observing domestic life through a whirlwind of women’s prayer meetings, teas, and tiffins (an Anglo-Indian term for luncheon or tea, as well as my new favorite word). While her husband attempts to describe everything from a country’s flora and fauna (e.g., the wallaby with its “puny little forelegs which seem so utterly inadequate to the occasion” (106)) to its cultural traditions, Harriet Clark hones in on women’s clothing, education, daily life, and rules of etiquette. She also turns her shrewd housewife’s eye on the realities of nomadic life, addressing those “weary housekeepers” (597) back home with delightfully unexpected bouts of dry humor. In one tongue-in-cheek passage addressing American women bored with running households, she casts the monotony of traveling for days on an unchanging seascape as the greatest adventure. She writes:

If you do not like your front yard to-day, you can console yourself with the thought that it will be your back-yard tomorrow. If you are not pleased with the Banda Sea this week, you know you will have the Sulu Sea next week. If Thursday Island does not suit you, wait a day or two and you can have Friday Island, or Saturday Island.

It is true that all water looks very much alike, whether it is the Yellow Sea or the Bosphorus, but then you can always assure yourself that it is not the same, and that you are looking out upon a different place from yesterday. (599)

A depiction of workers in a Chinese paper mill accompanies Clark’s back-handed compliment of Chinese innovation.

While Our Journey Around the World is full of entertaining anecdotes and observations, it also has a darker side. The Western authors’ hubris and belief in the superiority of their own culture, paired with the desire to “improve” other peoples, permeates the text. From the patronizing tone of Francis Clark’s introduction, which thanks missionary friends for taking his family “into the homes of the natives” and showing them their “oddities,” we can infer that, of all the people the Clarks met in their travels abroad, it was only the American and European missionaries that they viewed as equals. Thus, while Clark’s descriptions of the “natives” occasionally begin with admiration, they generally end in culturally insensitive, back-handed compliments. In one passage, Clark acknowledges that paper, gunpowder, movable type, and the compass were all invented in China (refreshing admissions!), only to assert that the entire nation is an example of “arrested development,” and that “as she [China] made these articles a thousand years ago she makes them now” (264). Even worse is Clark’s frequently racist language, which he slips into the narrative with the oblivious insensitivity of his time, but which is jarring to modern readers. Matters aren’t helped by the book’s much-touted illustrations, which, while “taken from life,” exoticize rather than humanize the people they depict.

Images of people in Our Journey Around the World take cultural norms out of context, casting them as strange and exotic.

One of the Japanese maidens whose grace — by the Western definition — Mrs. Clark calls into question.

Harriet Clark’s narrative is, if anything, even more cringe-worthy, for her observations of the women and children of other nations are laden with the sentiment of the white man’s burden. Take, for example, her description of the children of Port Darwin, Australia, in which she laments that “little is being done to civilize or Christianize these people,” continuing, “My heart went out to those poor, dirty, black babies, and I wished with all my heart that I could do something for them” (605). Never does she consider that the people she and her husband encounter in their travels may not want – or need – to be “helped” through westernization. Instead, she fixates on the (perceived) positive impact that her missionary friends have had on communities around the world. In one instance, she notes that the average Japanese maiden is “very pretty,” but she wishes that she would “learn to walk more gracefully instead of shuffling along in an awkward manner in… clumsy wooden shoes” (606); in another, she notes that mission-educated Japanese girls are very refined, and “would compare favorably with the girls at Wellesley or Smith or Vassar” (615). I can’t help but think that, at the height of nineteenth-century imperialism, “West-washing” paved the way for today’s persistently problematic whitewashing, propagating a worldview in which Western was “right” and “Other” was “wrong,” and in which all non-western cultures could be rectified if only they were marched smartly into a worldwide Western monoculture.

What better way to conclude our overview of this riddle-of-a-work than with an image of Egypt’s “Incomprehensible Sphinx”? Like the sphinx, Our Journey Around the World raises more questions than it answers (though, thankfully, you don’t face death or mutilation if you emerge from its pages confused).

Our Journey Around the World may be, at best, morally gray, but is nonetheless fascinating in its contradictions. It is a “secular” work infused with evangelical fervor, written by people who dedicated their lives to channeling the vigor and enthusiasm of youth into helping others, but who often write less-than-charitably about other peoples. Beautiful to look at and frequently entertaining, the book is also deeply offensive in its depiction of other cultural norms and of non-Western peoples. Reading this work is like riding a psychological roller coaster: one passage, in which Francis Clark wonders at the misinformation that led a young Australian to believe that American women all chew gum and “go around spitting upon the streets promiscuously” (98) elicits a chuckle; a few pages on, a description of three Australian cattle drovers, whom Clark refers to as “tame blacks” and describes in much the same language as the regional wildlife, is like a punch in the stomach.

Yet whether you love it or loathe it, Our Journey Around the World is every bit a product of its time, and can be valued for the historical evidence it provides. Through its pages, we can peer into a late-nineteenth-century power couple’s worldview as they (literally) view the world — a “glimpse of life in a far-off land” if I’ve ever seen one.

_________________

Further reading on the Clarks and the Society for Christian Endeavor:

MacFarland, Henry B.F. “The Christian Endeavor Movement.” The North American Review 182.591 (1906): 194-203.

Model Constitution and By-Laws of the Young People’s Society for Christian Endeavor.” Toronto: The Endeavor Herald Publishing Co., 1888.

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