Uncovering a Childhood Through Poetry

Hi! I’m Celita and I’m a senior studying Editing, Writing, and Media here at FSU. I’ve spent the past couple of months interning for Special Collections & Archives and beginning to dig into the collection of Scotsman John MacKay Shaw.

Shaw’s twofold collection, in addition to including his own works and memorabilia, also includes the works of other writers. To add to his personal collection of poetry, Shaw took to browsing secondhand bookstores, perusing their shelves for books to include in his “Childhood in Poetry” collection. While selecting a batch of these books for digitization, I gained an insight into Shaw’s collection practices and the implications of some of these artifacts in reflecting and shaping society.

Many of Shaw’s books are extremely rare or first edition books, and some are not recorded in any source. One of these is “The Lioness’s Ball,” believed to be the unrecorded sequel to another work entitled “The Butterfly’s Ball.” The 1807 book features six hand-colored plates produced by William Mulready, an Irish-born artist who worked out of London. “The Lioness’s Ball” is among the children’s books he illustrated, and his other artworks are displayed in prominent places like the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Tate Gallery, and Dublin’s National Gallery. One work is even in the possession of the royal family. The plates in “The Lioness’s Ball” feature vivid color images with a great deal of texture and depth. The frontispiece, which depicts the animals gathering, is shown below–

 

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In addition to some astounding images and engravings throughout the collection, Shaw’s collection of secondhand books reveals the familial and religious significance of poetry. Three of the items I found contained family crests inside the front cover. Several others included dedications (some personal and some religious), orphanage stamps, and other inscriptions.

To me, these artifacts highlighted the importance of books as social tools for spreading religious, moral, and educational values. Oftentimes, books were gifted by family members, organizations, or religious figures, with the primary purpose of serving as a teaching tool. Below is the author, Reverend Grant’s, dedication to a Miss Minshull, which faces her family crest on the inside cover.

 

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Inscriptions, advertisements, marks by booksellers, and dedications make the social significance of poetry books clear. Not only were these books read, but they were also circulated, whether it be as a gift, a prize, a donation, or something else. Preserved by some and marked by others, the books I selected to show how texts develop alongside people, creating a childhood through poetry.

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