Enjoyed giving a tour of Providence to Gibson Worsham and family this morning, before the rain set in. My son Billy and I awaited the Worshams, Gibson and Charlotte, of Richmond, and their son Steve (“Bubba”), a first-year grad at the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport, who joined us.
Billy and I awaited their arrival at Brown’s Van Wickle Gate, with its twin granite benches. One affords a view of the John Hay Library (Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, 1910) and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library (Warner, Burns, Toan & Lund, 1964). John D. Rockefeller Jr. attended the dedication of the library and is said to have expressed dismay that students were already calling it “The Rock,” to which his neighbor on the rostrum replied that he should rejoice that they’re not calling it “The John.”
You can easily guess which seat we chose. When the Worshams arrived we strolled through the glorious old campus and Gibson espied a pillar stuck in the ground before the restored Rhode Island Hall (James Bucklin, 1840). It is called the Elephant Column and is a reconstruction of a capital from the Great Temple of Petra excavation in Jordan.
Gibson wondered whether Andres Duany might covet a shot of the Elephant for his Heterodoxia project. But later I thought back to the Hay Library and wondered about the notion of heterodoxy in classical architecture. The Hay, with its bust of Dante, looks as orthodox as can be imagined (to my untrained eye). A marble box lightly encrusted with seemly typical classical ornament. But this array of embellishment is so robustly evocative as to call into question the idea of creativity versus convention at the upper rungs of architectural practice. A canon, it seems to me, is designed not to enforce conformity but to challenge the artistic imagination. It is hard to conceive of overt creativity superior to the completely natural and unforced ingenuity that enlivens the façade of the Hay.
I was pleased to show the Worshams much of interest in Providence, but the weather was threatening and while the rain largely held off the sky was not in a cooperative photographical mood, so I took few pictures. These, mostly of the Hay, were shot before the sun’s expected disappearance (delayed far beyond what the weatherman had predicted, thankfully).
[I erroneously placed the old Department of Egyptology, now the Department of Egyptology and Assyriology, in Rhode Island Hall. It is actually in Wilbour Hall, just south of The John, at the northwest corner of Prospect and George streets, near Rhode Island Hall at the southwest corner of the Campus Green.]
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The Department of Egyptology, renamed the Department of Egyptology and Assyriology following its absorption of the Department of the History of Mathematics, was never in Rhode Island Hall. It is rather where it has always been, on the northwest corner of Prospect and George streets in Wilbour Hall, the former Samuel Dorrance Mansion (built 1888), named for Charles Edwin Wilbour, famous Egyptologist and Brown class of 1854. The Van Wickle Gates (1900-01) were designed sequentially by two firms, Hoppin and Ely of Providence, and Hoppin and Koen of New York City. The Hay Library contains, arguably, the least important group of special collections in the Ivy League, but it is home to the only extant George Orwell typescript (with manuscript interlineation), that of “1984” itself (with an edit to the famous “clocks were striking thirteen” in the first sentence). The Hay’s Shakespeare First Folio lacks the first gathering (as do many FFs), but compensates with one of the best group of bookplate and manuscript provenance indicators, starting with a rare 17th century bookplate (Sir Fulwar Skipwith, 2nd baronet) and including an endpaper manuscript sonnet by Howard Staunton, 19th-century owner of the Folio and influential Shakespeare editor. The Hay First Folio is world inventory item West-Rasmussen 184. At the John Carter Brown Library is West-Rasmussen 183, a perfect copy with respect to original pages present. When the University announced that it would be Rhode Island venue of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s 50-state traveling First Folio, there was a loud silence (no doubt intentional) in the matter of Brown’s ownership of TWO First Folios, one of which is a finer copy than the Folger, both of which are accessible (by permission) 365 days a year. Brown’s great tragedy, historically speaking, is its failure to acquire, when it had the chance, the world’s most famous and important Shakespeare archive, the Halliwell-Phillipps Collection. For many years the HPC reposed in a climate-controlled vault in the John Brown House on Power Street, property of Marsden Perry. When Perry bought the collection from the widow of Halliwell-Phillipps there was an uproar in Britain. Even during the peak period of the sale of British heritage to America, the loss of the HPC was very big news. As a trustee of the John Hay Library, Marsden Perry was presumably disposed to give Brown first refusal when his fortune collapsed and he needed to sell up. But Brown unaccountably failed to act — failed to sound the alarm, failed find a benefactor, failed to do what any one of a hundred universities in its position would have done. There was an imperative to get the HPC and Brown disgraced itself. (A monograph about this pathetic episode awaits its author.) Perry’s widow sold the gigantic collection, with its documents, quartos, and Shakespeare signature, to Henry Clay Folger and his new library in Washington, administered then as now by Amherst College. The HPC is still a core constituent of the Folger. If it were in residence at Brown, the Hay Library would be crowded every day with English Renaissance scholars, and Brown might have an important English faculty instead of a virtually anonymous one. The last Shakespearean of any authority at Brown was Andrew Sabol four decades ago.
Thinking back myself, Ancient One, I see you are right about the location of the Department of Egyptology. I will correct the post, and I thank you as well for your in-depth tour of one instance of Brown’s occasional lack of acquisitionary insight.
Know any ex-journalists looking for a subject? The Perry-Brown-HPC episode deserves a monograph and Marsden Perry deserves a biographer. He was near the top of the group of great collectors in the generation that preceded Folger, Morgan, and Huntington (see, e.g., Carl Pforzheimer’s introduction to the famous catalogue of his own collection).