Archive for June, 2010

Hold (over) that Tiger!

Friday, June 4th, 2010
 

 

LSU Cadet Band, c. 1900, LSU Photograph Collection, University Archives
LSU Cadet Band, c. 1900, LSU Photograph Collection, University Archives

A portion of the exhibition “Campus Chronicle: 150 Years of LSU” has been held over through October 23, 2010.

Items on display include images and materials related to LSU’s founding, the school’s military tradition, band history, student life, the Civil Rights movement, politics, academics and research, university publications, athletics, and the scandals of the 1930s.

The exhibition is free and open to the public.

The Bobbin Boy

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

bobbin-boy

Special Collections recently acquired eight editions, dating from 1860 to about 1890, of The Bobbin Boy, or How Nat Got His Learning: An Example for Youth, by William M. Thayer. 

The Louisiana connection isn’t immediately obvious to modern readers, but in fact there is a strong one. Originally published in Boston in 1859, The Bobbin Boy is a fictionalized biography of Nathaniel Banks, one of the commanders of Union forces in Louisiana during the Civil War. In 1863, Banks captured Port Hudson, twenty miles north of Baton Rouge, bringing the entire Mississippi River under Union control. His success was marred, however, by his mismanagement of the subsequent Red River Campaign and defeat at the Battle of Mansfield, near Shreveport. 

As a boy, Banks worked in a textile mill in Waltham, Massachusetts, where his job was to deliver bobbins to girls at the looms. For the rest of his life, he was known as “The Bobbin Boy” or “Bobbin Boy Banks.” Although he received only a basic education in public schools, Banks rose through the ranks on his own by hard work and self study. By 1853 he had been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Two years later he became Speaker of the House. The Kansas-Nebraska Act, which essentially opened the West to slavery, had recently been passed, causing widespread public outcry in the North. Determined not to let southern slaveholders have their way, Banks, a Democrat, used his influence to place members of the new antislavery Republican Party in power. 

Banks’ early life served as a model for William Makepeace Thayer (1820-1898), a minister and educator who in 1852 began writing inspirational works for young readers. Written in dialogue form, his biographies of famous men were free with the facts but sought to show boys and girls that hard work and honesty really did pay off. In 1863, Thayer published The Pioneer Boy, one of the first biographies of Abraham Lincoln, and before the Civil War had even ended he began publishing a Youth’s History of the Rebellion. More than one million copies of his works were sold, and many were translated into foreign languages (including Greek and Hawaiian!).

Bindon Blood

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

bindon-blood

Bibliomania, an obsessive-compulsive disorder involving the collecting or hoarding of books, has taken many forms over the years. As early as 1809, the English bibliographer Thomas Frognall Dibdin published a book on the subject. In more recent years, Nicholas Basbanes’ bestselling A Gentle Madness (1994) tells the stories of several modern “bibliomanes”—people who are literally crazy about books, in good ways and bad. 

A book recently donated to the LSU Libraries’ Special Collections—Ovid’s Art of Love (London: Jacob Tonson, 1709)—once belonged to a little-known bibliomane named Bindon Blood, a Dickensian character whom other book collectors nicknamed “The Vampire.” Born in Ireland in 1775, Blood amassed a huge collection of books over his life. But he didn’t buy them to read, or even (as was common at the time) to furnish his house. According to John Hill Burton, author of The Book-Hunter (1882), Blood’s books were “piled in great heaps in garrets, cellars, and warerooms, like unsorted goods. They were accumulated, in fact, not so much that the owner might have them, as that other people might not.” 

A rich man, Blood liked to attend auctions, “watch the biddings of persons on whose judgment he relied, and cut in just as the contest was becoming critical.” At one auction, he snatched up a rare book he already owned a copy of, just to be mean to another bidder who desperately wanted it. Eventually, though, the tables were turned and Blood became the butt of his own joke. Other book buyers “began to observe that he was degenerating by degrees in the rank of his purchases, and, at last becoming utterly reckless, buying, at the prices of the sublimest rarities, common works of ordinary literature to be found in every book-shop.” Auctioneers came to love “The Vampire,” because they knew they could sell him books at high prices that were worth nothing. 

J. H. Burton was never sure what happened to Blood’s books after his death in 1855 but said he would not have been surprised if Blood had burned them all to keep other people from owning them. At least one book, however, which Blood inscribed as a young man in 1794, has survived and is now part of the Rare Book Collection at LSU, where it may be enjoyed by any and all. 

– Michael Taylor, Assistant Curator of Books


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