This post is written by Megan Barrett, a long time student employee in the Digital Library Center in Special Collections & Archives. We’ll be sorry to see her graduate this spring but we know she’s off to big things!
I am currently a senior studying Art History, and I’ve had the opportunity to work as a Special Collections & Archives assistant for the past three years. I’ve helped with a number of fascinating projects, with topics ranging from Napoleonic newspapers to environmental studies, and this semester, I got to spend some time with the collection of John MacKay Shaw.
One of the books I worked with for this project was a poetry collection entitled The Poetical Star, published in London in 1843. The collection begins with an epigraph by the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne: “I have here only made a nosegay of culled flowers, and have brought nothing of my own but the thread that binds them.”
As a student interested in Romanticism, one of the poems in the collection that caught my eye was the “Description of a Mad-House” from Lord Byron’s The Lament of Tasso. The poem narrates the time that the Italian poet Torquato Tasso spent in a mental hospital, and it has become the subject of one of my favorite paintings by Eugène Delacroix, Tasso in the Madhouse (1839). The Poetical Star also includes poetry on abstract ideas of love and time, as well as comedic poetry and wordplay.