“Words on Play: Baseball Literature before 1900” digital exhibit

Among the harbingers of spring here in RBSC is the introduction of a newly completed digital exhibit of early baseball publications and manuscripts drawn from the holdings of the Joyce Sports Collection. “Words on Play: Baseball Literature before 1900” brings together recreational manuals, guidebooks, histories, biographies, fiction and other forms, including many of the subject area’s great rarities. The exhibit was created by RBSC’s Americana curator, George Rugg.

Over the course of the nineteenth century, American baseball evolved from a localized folk game of English origin to a codified sport of broad popular appeal, commonly cited as the “National Pastime.” Clubs of young men dedicated to playing the game began to appear in earnest in the New York City area in the second quarter of the century; the rules they established became the basis for the sport as we know it today. In the post-Civil War years baseball became thoroughly commodified: crowds of paying spectators gathered in enclosed “parks” to watch celebrated professionals compete at an elite level. By 1900 baseball had entered the mainstream of American popular culture, and had been imbued with many of the mythologies that would persist in the minds of its celebrants well into the twentieth century: baseball as pastoral ideal, baseball as an exercise in democracy, baseball as secular religion. As a recreational form, then, baseball originated in England, but as a form of sport it is American, for it was in America that the game became standardized, organized and popular—and, one might add, the subject of a literature.

The printed word both recorded baseball’s growth and stimulated it. In the first few decades of the nineteenth century the game is mentioned mainly in children’s recreational manuals. Baseball’s rapid rise after mid-century was accompanied by a growing commentary, mainly in sporting newspapers and paper-bound annual guides, describing, discussing, and otherwise publicizing the game. By the 1880s and 90s coverage of professional baseball in urban daily newspapers had became routine, and many of the familiar genres of baseball book had made their appearance. Baseball journalists—who authored many of the books in this exhibit—never tired of emphasizing their contribution to the game’s success, and that contribution was no doubt great. Still, the number of baseball monographs published in the nineteenth century was not large; “Words on Play” brings together copies of most of the key publications of baseball’s early history.

Questions and comments may be directed to George Rugg, Americana curator.

 


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Recent Acquisition: Tenants, Evictions and Newspapers: a volume of cartoons from the Weekly Freeman

by Aedín Ní Bhróithe Clements, Irish Studies Librarian

The Weekly Freeman Cartoons contains 48 full-page cartoons bound into a single volume.  The cartoons cover the period from December 1886 to December 1887 and were published on Saturdays as weekly supplements to the Freeman’s Journal.

The Freeman’s Journal, the major Irish nationalist newspaper, was published in Dublin from 1763 to 1924. During the 1880s the newspaper was owned by Edmund Dwyer Gray, who was a Home Rule MP. During his ownership, circulation went up to over 30,000 copies per day.

“IN THE HOUSE” (12 February 1887) shows Charles Stewart Parnell, MP, leader of the Irish Party and of the Irish National Land League (founded by 1879), addressing Prime Minister Salisbury, who sits uncomfortably beside a woman representing the evicted tenants of Glenbeigh. Like most cartoons in this volume, this one comments on relations between Britain and Ireland, and in this case refers to the Land War and to the infamous evictions at Glenbeigh, County Kerry.

While the eviction of tenants for nonpayment of rent was relatively frequent, the Land War brought new attention to the Irish and British public about individual evictions through the use of images and descriptions. The Glenbeigh Evictions were much reported at the time and dramatically illustrated in the Illustrated London News. Glenbeigh, County Kerry in the southwest of Ireland was the scene of these evictions. An economic recession and poor harvests had increased agitation among tenant farmers faced with eviction. The landowner received very little rent on the many smallholdings on his land that he inherited, and with high arrears owed in rent, a court ordered 70 of the 300 tenants to pay one year’s rent. However, Father Thomas Quilter, the tenants’ parish priest, and J. D. Sheehan, their MP, advised the tenants to reject this offer.

And so the evictions began on 11 January 1887. Bailiffs burned down cabins and broke down walls to ensure that the evicted families could not return. These evictions received widespread attention, and by the end of January forty families had been evicted. The Detroit Free Press of 22 January 1887 reported on the evictions with the following headline: “POVERTY-STRICKEN PEOPLE. Father Quilter, of Glenbeigh, Says His are too Poor to Pay Rent. THEY ARE LARGELY DEPENDENT ON THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF OTHERS.” Newspaper reporting fluctuates widely between sympathy for the tenants in the face of barbarity such as in the Chicago Daily Tribune and consistent condemnation of the tenants and their leaders from the Irish Times.

The caption for “IN THE HOUSE” in the Weekly Freeman from 12 February 1887 reads:

Parnell to Salisbury. — You thought to force this poor creature into the Poorhouse, and shut her up there, but I have brought her into your own House, where she shall be seen and heard too.

Accompanying the cartoon is a ballad, “Parnell to Salisbury” that expands upon this theme. In the second verse, the victim, represented by the woman in the cartoon, also represents the many stories and illustrations of this eviction. The Roe mentioned here is Lanford Roe, the landlord’s agent who directed each eviction in Glenbeigh.

The truth is out! your victim stands
And tells her tale of confiscation,
Of burning cots, evicting bands,
Famine, and widespread desolation!
You little thought Roe’s brutal brands
Would raise so fierce a conflagration!

This volume of cartoons and accompanying ballads and verses appears to have belonged to nationalist archbishop Thomas William Croke (1823-1902). On its flyleaf appears the following inscription:

To His Grace, The Most Revd. Dr. Croke, Archbishop of Cashel.
White Abbey Bazaar 1888
With Father Staples Prayers and Best Wishes.

Felix M, Larkin’s essay, “‘A Great Daily Organ’: The Freeman’s Journal,” History Ireland 14 (2006): 44-49 is an excellent introduction to the newspaper. For information on the Glenbeigh Evictions, see L. Perry Curtis, Jr., The Depiction of Eviction in Ireland 1845-1910, University College Dublin Press, 2011.

 


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“Fighting Words” digital exhibit

Notre Dame’s Rare Books and Special Collections is home to perhaps the strongest institutional collection of boxing-related books and periodicals in the United States. A selection of these wonderful materials may now be experienced virtually, via the digital exhibit Fighting Words: English and American Boxing Literature from the Joyce Sports Collection.

Modern prizefighting is of English origin, and had developed a distinctive culture with a rich and abundant literature by the turn of the nineteenth century. Fighting Words includes many scarce items from this so-called golden age of English pugilism (ca. 1790-1830). It then carries the story forward to the United States, which by the second half of the 19th century had become the fight game’s new center of gravity. Publishers like Richard Kyle Fox (The National Police Gazette) and Nathaniel “Nat” Fleischer (The Ring) were central to prizefighting’s emergence from illegality into the American sporting mainstream. The exhibit concludes with materials from the 1950s, hearkening the erosion of U.S. boxing culture in the second half of the 20th century.

Questions and comments should be directed to George Rugg, the Joyce Collection’s curator.