October 16, 2012

Walt Whitman, Half-Length Portrait, Seated, Facing Left, Wearing Hat and Sweater, Holding Butterfly

This photograph of the American poet Walt Whitman, taken in 1877, was one of Whitman's favorites. He used the butterfly-on-hand as a recurring motif in his books and intended for this photo to be reproduced as the frontispiece in this sample proof of Leaves of Grass from 1891. To foster the image of himself as one with nature, he claimed that insect was real and one of his "good friends." In fact, the die-cut cardboard butterfly was clearly a photographic prop. Now in the collections of the Library of Congress, it was tucked into one of the first Whitman notebooks donated to the Library in 1918. The word "Easter" is printed down its spine, and it is imprinted with the lyrics to a John Mason Neale hymn. Dr. R.M. Bucke, one of Whitman’s literary heirs, said that to Whitman the butterfly represented Psyche (the Greek goddess of the soul), or the poet’s own soul. Leaves of Grass, first published in 1855, was Whitman’s major work and appeared in revised and expanded editions until the ninth edition of 1891–92.

Walt Whitman's Cardboard Butterfly

Shown here is the brilliantly colored cardboard butterfly that belonged to the American poet Walt Whitman. In 1877 Whitman had a photograph taken by W. Curtis Taylor of Broadbent & Taylor in Philadelphia of himself holding the butterfly, a portrait Whitman intended to use as the frontispiece for a new edition of Leaves of Grass. To foster the image of himself as one with nature, he claimed that insect was real and one of his "good friends." In fact, the die-cut cardboard butterfly was clearly a photographic prop. Now in the collections of the Library of Congress, it was tucked into one of the first Whitman notebooks donated to the Library in 1918. The word "Easter" is printed down its spine, and it is imprinted with the lyrics to a John Mason Neale hymn. Dr. R.M. Bucke, one of Whitman’s literary heirs, said that to Whitman the butterfly represented Psyche (the Greek goddess of the soul), or the poet’s own soul.

Asia According to New Geographical Observations, 1787

In 1717 a young Armenian Catholic priest, Mekhitar Sebastatsi (Mekhitar of Sebastia [present-day Sivas, in Turkey], 1676–1749) founded a Benedictine Armenian Catholic monastery on the island of San Lazzaro in Venice. Mekhitar wrote and published several works that became sources of inspiration and intellectual renewal throughout the centuries that followed. The monastery became a center for Armenian learning and publishing. Among the many works published by the Mekhitarist fathers of San Lazzaro were maps and geographical studies. This map of Asia is part of a set of four continental maps by Elia Endasian produced at the San Lazzaro press in 1786–87. The cartography is largely based on earlier works by Italian mapmakers, but the place-names and the map legends are in Armenian.

America According to New Geographical Observations, 1787

In 1717 a young Armenian Catholic priest, Mekhitar Sebastatsi (Mekhitar of Sebastia [present-day Sivas, in Turkey], 1676–1749) founded a Benedictine Armenian Catholic monastery on the island of San Lazzaro in Venice. Mekhitar wrote and published several works that became sources of inspiration and intellectual renewal throughout the centuries that followed. The monastery became a center for Armenian learning and publishing. Among the many works published by the Mekhitarist fathers of San Lazzaro were maps and geographical studies. This map of the Americas is part of a set of four continental maps by Elia Endasian produced at the San Lazzaro press in 1786–87. The cartography is largely based on earlier works by Italian mapmakers, but the place-names and the map legends are in Armenian.

Plan of Yerevan

The modern city of Yerevan dates its origins to the founding of the fortress of Erebuni in 782 BC. It has been inhabited continuously ever since, and its citizens delight in pointing out that their city is older than Rome. Yerevan, however, remained a relatively small city until after the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the early 19th century. It later became the capital of the short-lived First Armenian Republic (also called the Democratic Republic of Armenia), the first independent Armenian state since the fall of the Cilician Kingdom of Armenia in 1375. The country was created in May 28, 1918, out of the chaos that followed the end of World War I and lasted until late November–early December 1920. This large-scale map of Yerevan was probably published by the government of the republic shortly before the Bolshevik takeover. It shows the city as it appeared before the implementation, in 1924–36, of architect Alexander Tamanian's master plan for Yerevan, which transformed the character of the city from a regional town to a major metropolis. The map is hand-colored to show land use and includes an index to points of interest.

Japan, Hokkaido to Kyushu

This map was created by Tadataka Inō (1745–1818), an amateur astronomer and surveyor who produced maps of extraordinary accuracy and had a great impact on cartography in Japan. Spanning a total of 214 sheets, Inō’s large map of Japan shows the coastal outlines of the entire archipelago along with rivers and major roads. To complete the map, Inō and his team took a total of ten surveying trips over the course of more than 16 years. They used the traverse surveying technique rather than triangulation, measuring distances with fixed points based on observation, compass directions, and astronomical observations. Inō initially funded the work himself, but the Tokugawa shogunate later provided support and in the end financed 80 percent of the project. The details in Inō’s early maps impressed the authorities, who were increasingly concerned about coastal defenses and the threat of foreign intrusion. Based on a mathematical rather than a political-historical framework, Inō’s maps stood in stark contrast to traditional state cartography. However, the shogunate largely kept the maps hidden from the Japanese public, and officials continued to use and update existing kuni ezu (provincial maps) until the collapse of the Tokugawa regime in 1868. German physician Franz von Siebold (1796–1866) managed to carry a copy of Inō’s map out of Japan and had it published in Europe, where it made an impact on foreign views of Japan. Only 60 copies of Inō’s map are known to exist in Japan. This nearly-complete set of 207 sheets was discovered at the Library of Congress in 2001.