Pre-Raphaelite Mural Discovered in William Morris’s Red House


Proserpine (Jane Burden Morris)

From The Guardian

The near-lifesize figures on the wall at the Red House, now buried in south-east London suburbia at Bexleyheath, are now believed to represent the joint work of Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his wife Elizabeth Siddal, Ford Madox Brown and Morris.

“In the morning we had one and a half murky figures, in the evening we had an entire wall covered in a pre-Raphaelite painting of international importance,” James Breslin, property manager at the Red House, said.

“We had no idea what the figures, or the newly revealed inscriptions, represented, but at the Red House it pretty much has to be Chaucer, Arthurian myth or the Bible – all fairly daunting works to start reading line by line.”

The property managers decided to tweet an appeal for people to help identify the text, and Breslin said that within an hour a tweet came back saying “Try Genesis 30:6”, which reads: “And Rachel said, God hath judged me, and hath also heard my voice, and hath given me a son.”

The figures are from the Bible, including Rachel, Noah holding a model ark, Adam and Eve, and Jacob with his ladder – the latter possibly by Morris himself – painted as if on a tapestry furled across the wall.

However the imagery is more complex, because scholars believe it also relates to another cherished pre-Raphaelite Arthurian legend, Sir Degrevaunt who married his mortal enemy’s daughter. But then neither family thought much of Morris’s choice of Janey Burden, the beautiful daughter of an Oxford stable man.


Side note: This was originally tweeted by @HistoryLondon and retweeted by @PaulFyfe, so in addition to helping The Red House to identify the source, Twitter helped to spread the word of the discovery. We’ll be talking about the Pre-Raphaelites in English 372 in a month or two.

Mark Twain: A new discovery about his pen name

twainMartin Zehr’s “A New Theory Could Solve the Mystery of Mark Twain” in the Kansas City Star  profiles a discovery by Twain scholar Kevin Mac Donnell, who presented it at the recent Conference on Mark Twain Studies (the Elmira conference). 

From the article:

Mac Donnell made use of the Google Print Library Project, a search tool not available to earlier scholars. He was searching through 19th-century humor magazines when he came across a character in a burlesque sketch by the name of Mark Twain. It was in the Jan. 26, 1861 issue of Vanity Fair, a short-lived but widely read humor magazine of the era Twain is known to have read.

The anonymously published sketch in which the character appears, titled “The North Star,” is a send-up of Southerners at a nautical convention attempting to address the nagging problem of compasses always pointing north.

Successive speakers in the sketch, including Mr. Pine Knott, Mr. Lee Scupper, Mr. Mark Twain, Mr. Robert Stay and Mr. Rattlin, whose names are derivatives of sailing terms, gripe about the problem. The Civil War is about to erupt and will close the Mississippi River, ending Sam Clemens’ piloting career. As used in the sketch, the name Mark Twain is an indication of shallow water for an ocean-going ship, and, by inference, a person lacking depth.

Mac Donnell’s exposition, which appears in a detailed version in the current edition of the Mark Twain Journal, includes the observation that Charles Farrar Browne, aka Artemus Ward, a print and standup humorist Twain admired, was then a staff writer for Vanity Fair.

Mac Donnell’s research fills an important gap in the story by suggesting Clemens’ likely familiarity with the  piece two years following its publication.

Media History Digital Library


Colleen Moore in Her Wild Oat

The Media History Digital Library ( has expanded its holdings in film magazines to include Variety from 1905-1926 and a host of others from all parts of the moviemaking industry, from technology to fan magazines. Here’s a partial list just from of the early cinema journals:

Exhibitors’ Times (1913)
Film Fun (1916-1926)
The Film Index (1910)
The Great Selection: First National First Season (1922-1923)
The Implet (1912)
Motion Picture Story Magazine (1913)

Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual (1916-1918)
Moving Picture Weekly (1916-1918)
Moving Picture World (1907-1919) – NOW COMPLETE FROM 1907 TO JUNE 1919!
National Board of Review Magazine (1926-1928)
The Nickelodeon (1909-1911)
The Photoplay Author (1914-1915)
The Photo-Play Journal (1916-1921)
The Photo Playwright (1912)
U.S. vs. Motion Picture Patents Company (1912-1913)
Variety (1905-1926)
The Writer’s Monthly (1916)

Some of these are at, but the organization at the Media History Digital Library makes them far easier to find. If you write about early film and don’t know about this resource already, it’s well worth a visit. 

John Hay’s Literary Network

John_Hay,_bw_photo_portrait,_1897I’m only up to the year 1895 in listening to John Taliaferro’s All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay, but it’s clear that what others are seeing as a bug in the biography is something I’d call a feature: its focus on the literary rather than the political side of Hay’s life.  Historians like Louis L. Gould in the Wall Street Journal and Heather Cox Richardson in the Washington Post have faulted Taliaferro’s lack of emphasis on politics, but for the literary historian, it offers a passing parade of nineteenth-century characters:

  • The Five of Hearts, including Henry Adams, the tragic Clover Adams, subject of a fine recent biography by Natalie Dykstra; and the mercurial Clarence King, whose amazing double life is told in Martha Sandweiss’s fascinating social history and biography of King, Passing Strange. 
  • The usual suspects: Lincoln, for whom (as anyone knows after seeing Lincoln), Hay served as a private secretary with John Nicolay; Garfield, Grant, James G. Blaine, McKinley, Mark Hanna.
  • Our old friend W. D. Howells, with whom Hay shared a lively correspondence as both men seem to have done with everyone else in the nineteenth century.
  • The beautiful and elusive Lizzie Cameron, for whom Hay, Adams, and a good portion of nineteenth-century masculine Washington seem to have carried a considerable torch (was she the “It Girl” of the Gilded Age?). She deserves a biography of her own.
  • Directly or indirectly: Mark Twain,  Henry James, and Bret Harte.  The latter’s success inspired Hay to write two popular dialect poems, “Little Breeches” and “Jim Bludso of the Prairie Belle.” 
  • And Constance Fenimore Woolson, the subject of Anne Boyd Rioux’s new biography project.  Hay was related to Woolson through Samuel Mather, and it was Hay who helped arrange and pay for her burial in Rome’s Protestant Cemetery. To Henry Adams, he wrote (I’m paraphrasing): “We buried poor Constance Woolson today. She did much good in her life, and no harm, and she had no more happiness than a convict.”

Hay’s The Breadwinners, which I read many years ago, is discussed at some length, as is the LIncoln biography and Hay’s poetry.