Houghton From Home–Kinderballets

Houghton Library is home to the distinguished collection of George Chaffee (1907-1984), a dancer, balletophile, and collector. Although he specialized in the French Romantic ballet, some delightful bits of his collection available digitally are a series of illustrations showing “kinderballets” staged in Vienna during the early nineteenth century by Friedrich Horschelt (1793-1876). Horschelt was a ballet master and choreographer who created ballets for a company of children dancers at the Theater an der Wien—until they were outlawed by imperial decree over public concerns about the children’s welfare. This choreographic drawing (ca. 1818) of Horschelt’s Der Berggeist depicts a few of the company’s younger members.

Dancers arrayed with red and green hoops

George Chaffee collection of theatrical caricatures, costume design, scenography, and portraits (MS Thr 861). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Other illustrations show the children with elaborate props and arranged in visually arresting formations. One of Horschelt’s pupils perhaps pictured was the great ballerina Fanny Ellsler.

Dancers arrayed with red cloths interlaced among them

George Chaffee collection of theatrical caricatures, costume design, scenography, and portraits (MS Thr 861). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Dancers arrayed with large yellow and blue fabrics

George Chaffee collection of theatrical caricatures, costume design, scenography, and portraits (MS Thr 861). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

The artist seems to have taken some anatomical liberties with this last one.

The dancers have strangely elongated arms

George Chaffee collection of theatrical caricatures, costume design, scenography, and portraits. (MS Thr 861). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Thanks to Matthew Wittmann, Curator of the Harvard Theatre Collection, for contributing this post. Houghton From Home is a series of posts highlighting our digitized collections. For more items from across the Harvard Library, visit Harvard Digital Collections.

Houghton From Home–Medieval Charters

Houghton Library has a famously strong collection of richly illustrated medieval manuscripts, many of which can be viewed online here. But, if your eyes grow weary of beautiful illuminations, I invite you to explore our collection of charters relating to the Cistercian abbey of Buckland in Devon, England (MS Lat 10, digitized here). While less visually compelling than many of Houghton’s medieval codices, this collection offers an opportunity to brush up on relatively easy (because formulaic) Latin. The deeds—almost all indentures—span from shortly after the monastery’s foundation in 1278 up to nearly the dissolution of the monastery in the late 1530s, allowing you to readily compare documentary hands across centuries while also getting a view into the social and economic networks of the abbe.

If the Latin paleography is not enough of a challenge, I would suggest using the fantastic deed identification flowchart from the University of Nottingham to test whether you can identify the specific types of documents represented in the collection.

Thanks to Sara Powell, Assistant Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts, for contributing this post. Houghton From Home is a series of posts highlighting our digitized collections. For more items from across the Harvard Library, visit Harvard Digital Collections.

Charter of Margaret de Rivers, 1298

Charter of Margaret de Rivers, wife of Baldwin d’Isle, earl of Devon, to William the abbot of St. Benet of Bocland, 1289 (MS Lat 10 [1]), Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Houghton From Home–The Life of Samuel Johnson Illustrated

In the preface to his 1887 edition of Boswell’s Life of Johnson (including his Journal of a Tour of the Hebrides and Johnson’s Diary of a Journey into North Wales), George Birkbeck Hill laments how intervals of time and distance complicated his task of reviving Johnson, England’s greatest eighteenth century man of letters, for a new generation of readers: “I have sought to follow him wherever a remark of his required illustration, and have read through many a book that I might trace to its source a reference or an allusion.” Birkbeck Hill’s copious footnotes helped to restore topical immediacy to the Boswell’s text; they were regarded as the edition’s “chief glory” by L. F. Powell in his revised and enlarged edition of 1934.

Imagine now a copy of this edition that has been extra-illustrated with a few thousand engraved portraits, views, maps, and ephemera related to Johnson and his times. Imagine turning its pages and encountering hundreds of autograph letters of Johnson’s contemporaries and other literary and historical figures alluded to in the Life—from Jane Austen to Jonathan Swift. The original six-volume edition thus swelled to fill 32 sturdy volumes, its pages inlaid on larger sheets to accommodate the widest range of extra-illustrative content. This unique copy of the Life of Johnson was commissioned by Robert Borthwick Adam of Buffalo, New York, a great collector of Johnsoniana, who had the set richly bound by the Club Bindery in New York. It now resides in the Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson at Houghton Library. A major effort is underway currently to digitize the contents of this extraordinary resource. Cataloged as MS Hyde 76, a 718-page finding aid is available to browse or search for the added material. Click on the Digital Material tab to see the volumes that have been digitized to date.

Thanks to Peter Accardo, Programs and Public Service Librarian, for contributing this post. Houghton From Home is a series of posts highlighting our digitized collections. For more items from across the Harvard Library, visit Harvard Digital Collections.

Jonathan Swift autograph letter

Jonathan Swift, Letter to [William Richardson?] Apr. 30, 1737 (MS Hyde 76 [1.6.452.12]), Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Houghton From Home–Geoffrey Chaucer

Experience the works of the father of English poetry the way some of his earliest readers did via digital copies of his works held in our collections. Houghton has digitized two 16th century editions of Chaucer’s works. Richard Pynson published editions of The Canterbury Tales, Troilus and Criseyde, and The House of Fame together in 1526, marking the first collected edition of Chaucer’s works. Houghton’s copy of the 1598 edition of the works is enhanced by the handwritten annotations of 16th century scholar Francis Thynne.

If your interests run more to the scientific, Chaucer has you covered there as well. Our manuscript of his Treatise on the Astrolabe, written as an instruction manual on the use of the instrument for his son Lewis, dates nearly to Chaucer’s lifetime.

Houghton From Home is a series of posts highlighting our digitized collections. For more items from across the Harvard Library, visit Harvard Digital Collections.

Portion of the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

Prologue to the Canterbury Tales (HEW 5.11.8), Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Houghton From Home–Angus McBean’s Surreal Portraits

Feeling disconnected at home? You’re not alone. Diana Churchill is literally beside herself in this zany portrait by Angus McBean from 1940. Angus McBean’s portraits of actors are among the most complete visual records of the British stage from the 1930s through the 1960s. Early in his career, he dabbled in the surreal, producing a popular series of “surrealized” portraits that circulated widely in glossy magazines of the day like The Sketch. Many of these images—of film icons like Audrey Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, and Judy Garland—experiment with montage and multiple exposure. They’re also great fun. McBean often likes to litter his shots with the severed, yet smiling, heads of aspiring stars. Dorothy Dickson’s head bobs glamorously in a lily pond, Beatrice Lillie’s sprouts from a mountain of sand. McBean even turned the camera on himself.

McBean’s archive consists of approximately 30,000 glass negatives as well as over 25,000 contact prints. The latter have all been digitized.

Thanks to Dale Stinchcomb, Assistant Curator of the Harvard Theatre Collection, for contributing this post. Houghton From Home is a series of posts highlighting our digitized collections. For more items from across the Harvard Library, visit Harvard Digital Collections.

Bust of Audrey Hepburn within a landscape of architectural columns

Audrey Hepburn, 1951. Photograph by Angus McBean (MS Thr 581). © Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Head only of Diana Churchill, on the floor beneath a chair

Diana Churchill, 1940. Photograph by Angus McBean (MS Thr 581). © Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Stage actors as marionettes with a puppeteer above

Binkie Beaumont, Angela Baddeley, and Emlyn Williams, 1947. Photograph by Angus McBean (MS Thr 581). © Houghton Library, Harvard University.