All posts by Celita Summa

A Moment in Time: Nostalgia in the Shaw Manuscript Collection

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Celita Summa who was our Shaw expert this semester as she shifted through his personal papers to select for a digitization project. She’s going abroad in the spring and we’ll miss her. Bon Voyage Celita!

While sifting through the Shaw manuscript collection, I discovered that many of Shaw’s collecting practices were driven by nostalgia and the important human connections formed during childhood. Although his manuscript collection is vast, both in scope and length (it measures over 46 linear feet in length), Shaw was clearly incentivized to collect in order to preserve the things he held most dear- friends, family, and childhood memories.

One of the objects in the collection is a small pocket calendar used by the 14-year-old Shaw to record his immigration to America. In the margins, he indicated his family’s last day in Scotland, their voyage at sea, and their first day in America. He noted that his devoutly Catholic family did not fail to miss Sunday mass their first weekend in America. The inclusion of this object represents Shaw’s own passage from his Scottish childhood to American manhood, as he would begin employment shortly after settling down in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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Pictured above is John Mackay Shaw’s week at sea.

 

Shaw indicates another motivator for the collection as he attempts to preserve memories that will forever remain in his childhood years. Throughout the collection, correspondence with some of his childhood best friends is featured heavily. There is a map of Shaw and Jimmy Macaulay’s childhood stomping grounds, mock newsletters the two drew up for each other, and even one of Macaulay’s commonplace books. I wondered what the reason for this might be, until I stumbled across wartime letters between the two long-time friends, along with a notice of Macaulay’s death.

 

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In his death notice, Macaulay was referred to as the “bravest and cheeriest of his platoon.” Here he is shortly before his death.

 

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This is a copy of the letter that informed Jimmy Macaulay’s family of his death.

Both men served in World War I, and Jimmy was not Shaw’s only loss due to the war. Another friend, Alfred Hendricks, was in frequent correspondence with Shaw. One day Shaw’s letter was returned unanswered, in an envelope marked “deceased.” Shaw’s inclusion of Macaulay and Hendricks in the collection depicts the unbreakable bond forged between childhood friends.

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Inside this envelope is contained the last letter John Mackay Shaw wrote to Alfred Hendricks. It is returned marked “deceased.”

Another aspect that drove Shaw’s manuscript collection was his own children. In fact, his kids were the very catalyst for the book collection and his own published works of poetry. In the manuscript collection, he includes his own children’s poems along with those he wrote specifically for them. By creating the “Childhood in Poetry” collection, Shaw preserved the themes he valued the most in his life, from friendship and fatherhood to memories of his childhood home and relatives.

 

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.