Lotus-Eating #3: Scrapbook

Lotus-Eating is a hodgepodge of material. After learning about different kinds of scrapbooks and compilations this week, I’m going to look at the book from a few different perspectives.

The Form

I noticed this detail on my last visit to Special Collections. The book’s dedication says: “To Charles A. Dana. The letters originally addressed to the editor, are now affectionately inscribed to the friend.”

The dedication seems to imply that Lotus-Eating is a collection of letters from Curtis to Dana. Curtis does speak to a specific person throughout. (One of my favorite lines: “In fact, if your romantic nerves can stand the steady truth, the Catskill Fall is turned on to accommodate poets and parties of pleasure.”) I don’t think Curtis ever names Dana in the body of the text, but if Dana received these letters and decided that they should be a book, he would be similar to one of Blair’s compilers (Blair 174).

The Letter

Northeastern’s copy of Lotus-Eating has a letter from Curtis tucked between the front cover and the first page.


22 January 1884

Dear Sir:

The address has been delayed by the photo of the statue but it will be published immediately.

Truly yours,
George William Curtis

Mr. Coolidge

Looking at this transcription, the only thing that connects the letter to the book is the author. It’s not related to the book’s content, written in the same year as the book, or addressed to either of the people who at one time owned the book (Arthur L. Swann or Charles G. David). The Mr. Coolidge mentioned at the bottom may be one of the Boston Brahmin Coolidges, but it’s difficult to tell which one.

This letter is an additional artifact of Curtis, added to a collection of his letters. Whoever placed it in here is again like a compiler, deciding that these two objects are better together than separate.

The Quotations

In the body of the text, Curtis constantly references and quotes from other sources. While all of the citations in Clotel may amount to “textual clutter,” as Cohen says, the citations in Lotus-Eating are what I would call “organized chaos” (Cohen 161). Curtis writes in stream-of-consciousness, bringing in lines and stanzas from poems whenever the landscape reminds him of them. It’s as though he has cut out and pasted in his favorite poems to go along with his narrative.

In the first chapter alone, I found all of these references:

“To Violets,” Robert Herring
pg 12: entire poem printed, sourced

“Rip Van Winkle,” Washington Irving
pg 13: character of Rip referenced, not sourced
pg 24: character of Rip referenced, not sourced
pg 25: character of Rip referenced, not sourced

“Kickleburys on the Rhine,” William Makepeace Thackeray
pg 15: title and author mentioned

The Pilgrims of the Rhine, Edward Bulwer Lytton
pg 16: title and author mentioned

“The Passage,” Johann Ludwig Uhland
pg 16: entire poem printed, sourced
pg 22: author mentioned

“Yarrow Unvisited,” William Wordsworth
pg 18: four lines quoted, not sourced

“A Poet’s Epitaph,” William Wordsworth
pg 19: two lines quoted, not sourced

“Die Lorelei,” Heinreich Heine
pg 20: six verses printed (translated from German to English by someone Curtis calls “Xtopher,” possibly Christopher Pearse Cranch), sourced

“The Merman,” Alfred Lord Tennyson
pg 23: line quoted, not sourced
pg 24: line quoted, not sourced

The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., Washington Irving
pg 24: title mentioned

A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker, Washington Irving
pg 24: title mentioned

“The Culprit Fay,” Joseph Rodman Drake
pg 24: title and author mentioned
pg 26: last verse printed, not sourced

The Tempest, William Shakespeare
pg 26: line quoted, neither title nor author mentioned

Curtis’s style of citation isn’t the same as William Wells Brown’s, but the inclusion of Cohen’s article in the scrapbook “chapter” of the class made me think about Lotus-Eating differently.

Works Cited

Blair, Ann M. Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age. Yale University Press, 2010.

Cohen, Lara Langer. “Notes from the State of Saint Domingue: The Practice of Citation in Clotel.” Early African American Print Culture, edited by Lara Langer Cohen and Jordan Alexander Stein, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012, pp. 161-177.

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