When This You See | Newberry

When This You See

“I hope you won’t stay the front part of a moose.”

That was written inside a high school yearbook. I was checking through it because it was a yearbook from a school noted for producing famous graduates and, in fact, one member of the class took home a Nobel Prize just fifty years later. I don’t believe HE wrote that bit about the moose, but you never can tell.

Maybe you think I read these things inside the books you donate just for the fun and frolic of it. No, the hope is that I’ll find a previously unknown work by Ezra Pound or Jane Austen, an inscription of significance that can justify an increase in price. (Or make the Newberry’s reputation even larger, once it is known as the home of this previously unknown masterpiece.)

Am I asking too much?

Take this little songbook from 1887. It’s about half hymns and half pop songs from an even earlier age, and someone has scribbled in something headed “The Spacious Firmament.” I had hopes of some unpublished lyric of unsuspected grace, but no, the previous owner was just copying down the lyrics to a song set to music a hundred years earlier. I can actually go to YouTube and hear it being sung, as I can “Like As a Father”, which was written on a piece of paper tucked inside the cover. I have NOT so far identified “The Crowning of Seasons”, which is on a piece of paper folded with “Like As a Father”, but after two disappointments, I don’t have much hope for this one. Perhaps one of you knows it, and can tell me, “Why, Isaac Watts wrote that years earlier.” It begins, “The corn in heavy sheaves is down, the sickle, sharp, has sped.”

This nice flower book, however, almost certainly has a bit of original verse by G.H. written as a means of presenting the book to a friend. But I don’t believe I’ll hunt for records of a great Midwestern poet with those initials. The sentiment is fine, but, um, as poetry…well, you be the judge.

“When in hours of recolection

When in hours of social glee

When I am thinking of others

I always think of thee.”

It isn’t so much the spelling of recollection—this kind of things always happen when you are setting down deep thoughts in ink—it’s the way the last two lines stumble over their own feet.

On the whole, I prefer pictures by people who are still figuring out how to draw. This set of paper doll clothes made in the 1940s by some young lady who learned what she knows about fashion design from the Sunday funnies is much more entertaining. She seems to have whiled her time away drawing these designs while in a hotel: she cut them out of hotel stationery, and spent a great deal of time coloring them. The cut and color are quite suitable to the lady she drew, obviously freehand, not tracing, because not all the body parts are exactly in the right place. If she’d signed them, perhaps I could link her to a famous designer…or modern artist who didn’t care where the arms and legs attach.

Maybe I’ll go back to figuring out who owned that yearbook. They might have wound up National President of the Loyal Order of Moose.

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