recess radio program

    by Rita Smith

I am curator of the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature at the University of Florida. One of the fascinating opportunities of working with such a collection is reading the inscriptions that people wrote in the books.

The penmanship generally shows great care taken. Sometimes the script is cursive, feathery and ornate with curlicues. Other times it is printed in solid block letters. The inscription often is centered on the page and sometimes is enclosed in a border, a simple line affair or a more elaborate one with flowers or geometric designs.

Sometimes, great care is taken, but to no avail. Colonel Stanfurth, for example, inscribed a book thus: For Mr. Hope; presented by Colonel Stanfurth, March 1909; It is written with a flourish, implying something of a triumph, but the inscription is written upside down on the inside back cover. Oops.

Most of the inscriptions are from an adult to a child and most of the adults are relatives of the child: mamma or papa, aunt or uncle, brother or sister. “ To Walter from his dear papa, 1853” “To my dear brother from his loving sister, 1857”

I think if a survey were taken, it would show that Aunts gave more books than any other relative. “To Hilliard from Aunt Nellie” “For Cliffie from Auntie Laura”

Young Henry Farnham evidently loved books by the author Thomas W. Knox. He got Knox’s books over the course of several years from mamma, Uncle John, Aunt Mary and Aunt Hattie. For Christmas 1892, Uncle John gave him The Boy Travelers in Central Europe. I guess Uncle John passed away in 1893, because under the inscription is a note added in pencil, “Last book from Uncle John.”

Some of the inscriptions are from a school teacher or Sunday School teacher, and the book is a reward for good work or a particular accomplishment. “A reward presented to Miss Gath with Mrs. Shaw’s love, for general attention and carefulness in all her studies. 1866” “For Elizabeth Hull for diligence as Collector for Weslyan Missions.”

Sometimes any excuse would do: “To Miss Pinkie Raymond for her charming recitation on Saturday evening. June 17, 1878.”

Finally, one of my favorite inscriptions. In a childish hand, on the inside cover of a tract published in 1838 entitled The Story of Joseph and his Brethren the owner, Peter Ingray, left an inscription for the ages:

Peter Ingray is my name
England is my nation
Bassingbourn is my living place
And Christ is my salvation.
When I’m dead and in the grave
And all my bones are rotten
Take up this book and in there look
And see I’m not forgotten.
Signed, Peter Ingray

I think it is by the slimmest of chances that this little book has survived almost 150 years. And by the slimmest of chances that the name of Peter Ingray this day, will be heard and remembered by perhaps more people than Peter saw in a year or a lifetime. So I say to Peter Ingray, of Bassingbourn, England, whose bones by now are rotten, we have taken up your little book and no, you’re not forgotten.

Copyright 2004 © Rita Smith

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"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."