The Huntington Library Announces Aquisitions, Including Unique Edition of John Muir’s Writings, Exquisite Illustrated Book on Camellias
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens announced today that it has acquired a unique 10-volume edition of The Life and Writings of John Muir (1916–1924) that incorporates 260 original photographs—most by Herbert W. Gleason (1855–1937), a nature photographer who inspired the work of Ansel Adams. The items were purchased at The Huntington’s 20th annual Library Collectors’ Council meeting held last month.
The Council also purchased A Monograph on the Genus Camellia (1819), an outsize volume containing sumptuous hand-colored aquatint plates after watercolors by Clara Maria Pope (d. 1838), one of a small number of women in England who pursued an artistic career in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Additional purchases included manuscripts by a close member of Galileo’s circle and by a U.S. Revolutionary War officer, as well as a genealogical roll of arms from the Elizabethan era.
“During the past two decades, the Library Collectors’ Council has helped us acquire more than 100 significant items—including rare books, individual manuscripts, archival collections, and photographs—and spent nearly $3.9 million doing so,” said David Zeidberg, Avery Director of the Library at The Huntington. “We are enormously grateful to the Council for their generous support over the years.”
The Library Collectors’ Council is a group of 43 families who assist in the development of the collections by supporting the purchase of important works that the Library would not otherwise be able to afford.
Highlights of the newly purchased materials:
John Muir, Herbert W. Gleason, and the portrayal of American landscapes
The Huntington’s deluxe, one-of-a-kind edition of The Life and Writings of John Muir includes an original Muir manuscript and a color frontispiece in each of the set’s 10 volumes, as well as 260 original photographs, most of them by Gleason. It is an important addition to The Huntington’s extensive collections in early environmentalism and in early California photography, which include works by Carleton E. Watkins, Edward Weston, and Ansel Adams, and sets the stage for the role of fine art photography in service to the preservationist cause.
Throughout his life, Scottish-born naturalist and philosopher John Muir possessed an unquenchable passion for nature. By the time of his death in 1914, many Americans sympathized with his vision of the everlasting unity of all living things and endorsed the necessity of preserving wild spaces. Muir’s tireless championing of the Yosemite Valley and California’s Sierra Nevada contributed to securing them as part of the Golden State’s legacy of natural wonders.
“Muir was an assiduous student of all things living and poet laureate of California’s forests, lakes, and mountains—as well as an unswerving advocate of wilderness,” said Peter J. Blodgett, H. Russell Smith Foundation Curator of Western American History. “He exemplified a radical transformation in the perspective through which humans envisioned the natural world.”
Following Muir’s death, his daughters asked his good friend William F. Badé, a faculty member at the University of California, to prepare an edition of their father’s principal literary works. Published by Houghton Mifflin between 1916 and 1924, the 10-volume set involved the collaboration of Gleason, another close friend of Muir’s.
Gleason was based in Massachusetts but spent much of his adult life traveling around North America with a camera and notebook. An extended visit to California and the High Sierra in the summer of 1907 brought him into contact with Muir, and a meaningful association was born. Gleason went on to become one of the most capable and prolific nature photographers of the early 20th century.
“While this unique assemblage of The Life and Writings of John Muir was perhaps created at the behest of a subscriber, research suggests that its inspiration came from Gleason himself,” said Jennifer Watts, curator of photography and visual culture. “The photographer’s imagery influenced a range of early practitioners, including a young Ansel Adams, and its eloquence is on powerful display.”
A Monograph on the Genus Camellia is a landmark work of horticultural literature that contains what are probably Clara Maria Pope’s best-known botanical illustrations.
Pope’s first husband, Francis Wheatley (1747–1801), was a portrait, landscape, and genre painter, and his debts prompted Pope herself to turn to art to support their family. She taught drawing and sold her own art as well, sending her first painting to the Royal Academy in 1796 and continuing to exhibit there until the year of her death. After 1812, she devoted herself almost exclusively to flower painting and botanical art, in which she excelled.
Pope’s vivid watercolors of camellias were engraved for A Monograph on the Genus Camellia, with text by Samuel Curtis (1779–1860), the son-in-law of William Curtis (1746–1799), founding editor of Botanical Magazine. The plant had been cultivated in England since before 1739, and the monograph lists the 29 camellias known there at the time of publication. Curtis discusses in full the 11 varieties of Japan Rose illustrated in Pope’s five flamboyant yet scientifically informative plates, as well as the propagation and culture of camellias. Sitwell and Blunt’s Great Flower Books, 1700–1900 calls the publication “one of the earliest and probably the best of all the great camellia books.”
“Curtis and Pope’s splendid volume exemplifies The Huntington’s trinity of books, art, and gardens,” said Claudia Funke, chief curator and associate director of library collections.
The Huntington has one of the most comprehensive collections of camellia plants in the world, including nearly 80 species and 1,200 cultivars. Extensive library holdings enhance the plant’s study, most notably more than 100 rare camellia books.
Pope’s achievements are also in context with The Huntington’s outstanding British art collection, which holds more than a dozen works by her first husband, Francis Wheatley, including a pair of group portraits on display in the dining room of the Huntington Art Gallery.
Philosophia Naturalis (ca. 1680) consists of the texts of lectures given by Galileo’s friend and colleague Carlo Rinaldini (1615–1698) at the University of Padua. The manuscript contains discussions of Galileo’s work as well as an account of Rinaldini’s own important discoveries, including that of the convection of heat.
“Rinaldini is an important transitional figure, presenting Aristotelian ideas alongside those of the ‘new science’ of Galileo and his supporters,” said Daniel Lewis, Dibner Senior Curator of Science, Medicine, and Technology. “He was intellectually bold—no easy task in the political climate of the era in Italy, which just a few decades earlier had seen Galileo placed under house arrest.”
The manuscript, Lewis added, provides deep and rich content for scholars studying the 17th century, astronomy, experimentation, the social and cultural ramifications of the Copernican revolution, Italian science, lecture notes, and watermarks.
The text covers scientific experiments, the nature of the heavens, and an analysis of other competing worldviews. Among the authors Rinaldini cites and discusses are Brahe, Barrow, Borelli, Boyle, Copernicus, Descartes, Gassendi, Kepler, Riccioli, and Torricelli.
This parchment roll—composed of four membranes pasted together to form a document 8.5 feet long—claims to display the ancestry of the Palmer family from the 11th or 12th century into the Elizabethan period.
“While English families liked to take heraldic sources as gospel, scholars are far less trusting, understanding these pedigrees were frequently inventions of the imagination,” said Vanessa Wilkie, William A. Moffett Curator of Medieval Manuscripts and British History. “Historians are taking new interest in heraldic documents, family pedigrees, and family archives to better understand the complex relationship between family honor, family image, and political authority.”
In 1555, Queen Elizabeth re-established the College of Arms by royal charter. She appointed three kings of arms and six heralds empowered to verify the ancestral claims of aristocratic families and their rights to display arms. Heraldic shields were the symbols of elite power, and in the second half of the 16th century, rising gentry families were eager to prove that they, too, had these rights.
In the 1570s, the Palmer family of Gloucestershire were the model rising gentry family. William Palmer served as the Gentleman Pensioner to King Henry VIII, and by 1575, his nephew, 25-year-old Edward Palmer, was the patriarch of the family. Edward was a wealthy landowner and is likely the person who commissioned his family’s heraldic roll in the 1570s, but it was given elevated status when the controversial Clarenceaux King of Arms Robert Cooke signed the bottom of it, thus giving Palmer the documentation he needed to solidify his family’s place in the social order.
“Perhaps not surprisingly, families were willing to forge pedigrees, and many kings of arms and heralds were all too easily bribed to lend their endorsements to fabricated rolls,” said Wilkie.
In 2005, the Library Collectors’ Council purchased another one of Robert Cooke’s heraldic manuscripts—the pedigree book of the Earls of Leicester, which celebrates an established nobleman, Robert Dudley. In contrast, the Palmer family roll demonstrates Cooke’s validation of a rising country family. When combined, these two manuscripts expand scholarly understanding of the work of one of the most notorious heralds of the 16th century.
The Huntington has one of the most important collections of English heraldic sources, both print and manuscript, outside of the United Kingdom.
Divinity of Jesus Christ (ca. 1794–95) is an unpublished and previously unknown manuscript by Lewis Nicola (1717–1807), the founder of the Continental Army’s Corps of Invalids. In 1781, Nicola became beset by religious doubts. At the time, he was stationed at West Point, which he described as “a small country town,” and had with him only his copy of the Bible; having read it twice, he came to doubt the divinity of Jesus Christ.
“This manuscript, an extremely rare example of a theological study penned by an American man of the Enlightenment, is a new and untapped source for the studies of the rich religious and intellectual life of the Early Republic,” said Olga Tsapina, Norris Foundation Curator of American History. “It adds a new dimension to the history of American 18th-century religiosity, which mostly relies on the writings of ministers or religious testimony generated by religious revivals. The manuscript capped an important if largely unknown debate that involved Joseph Priestly, the world-famous scientist and founder of the Unitarian Church. It is a rational examination of scripture predating another example of such an endeavor, Thomas Jefferson’s Bible.”
During the Revolutionary War, Nicola served as the commander of Philadelphia’s garrison and published military manuals “calculated for the use of Americans.” After Congress accepted his proposal to establish a corps that would employ veterans unfit for active duty, Nicola spent the next five years as the commander of the Corps of Invalids in charge of guarding hospitals and military stores and collecting intelligence.
Nicola’s claim to fame stems from his controversial letter to George Washington on May 22, 1781, suggesting that because the Continental Congress was so dysfunctional, veterans should be governed by a British-style “mixed government.” The letter, which received a sharply worded rebuke from Washington, was the first episode in the wave of discontent that culminated in the Newburgh conspiracy in March 1783. It also overshadowed the rest of Nicola’s remarkable career.
“Amazingly, there is no known body of Nicola’s papers, apart from his Revolutionary War correspondence in the George Washington papers at the Library of Congress and some military papers left with the War Department,” said Tsapina. “Divinity of Jesus Christ is the only manuscript of Nicola’s that has come to light since he died, destitute, in August 1807.”