Celebrating the coming of spring, I took a gleeful stroll through our Rare Books Collection and pulled out some of my favorite harbingers of the season.  This also happens to be a great way of highlighting our substantial holdings in Natural History, Earth Science, and Nature .  And, of course, Emily Dickinson, who cannot meet the spring unmoved.  She and I have that in common.

Emily Dickinson "I cannot meet the spring unmoved," AC 230, F 1122, J 1051

Emily Dickinson “I cannot meet the spring unmoved,” AC 230, F 1122, J 1051

Our holdings in Ornithology include an outstanding copy of the double elephant folio edition of John James Audubon’s Birds of America, as well as the Richard L. Soffer (Class of 1954) Ornithology Collection.

Richard L. Soffer ’54 has donated an extensive collection of volumes about birds, with many books specifically focused on the various methods and techniques that have been used to reproduce illustrations of birds. The books in the collection provide examples of every type of illustrative technique: hand painting, woodcut and wood engraving, etching and engraving, lithography, and modern photomechanical methods.


Brasher, Rex, and Lisa McGaw. Birds & trees of North America. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1961.

Early signs of spring in our area are the return of the American Robin (Turdus migratorius) and the Woodcock (Scolopax minor).

Rickman, Philip. A selection of bird paintings and sketches. London: Curpotten, 1979. Print.from the Richard L. Soffer (Class of 1954) Ornithology Collection

Rickman, Philip. A selection of bird paintings and sketches. London: Curpotten, 1979. from the Richard L. Soffer (Class of 1954) Ornithology Collection

Emily Dickinson  wrote several poems about the early returning Robin.  This and all of Amherst College’s Dickinson manuscripts have been digitized and are viewable on the Amherst College Digital Collections repository.

Emily Dickinson "The robin is the one," AC 92-1, F 501, J 828

Emily Dickinson “The robin is the one,” AC 92-1, F 501, J 828


The Robin is the One
That interrupt the Morn
With hurried—few—express Reports
When March is scarcely on—

The Robin is the One
That overflow the Noon
With her cherubic quantity—
An April but begun—

The Robin is the One
That speechless from her Nest
Submit that Home—and Certainty
And Sanctity, are best




In the yard and woods, early appearances of the season include the blooming croci and bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).  The two images below are hand colored engravings from a 4 volume 1850s publication of A.B. Strong’s The American Flora.


Strong, A. B.. The American flora: or history of plants and wild flowers. New-York: Strong and Bidwell, 1853.


Strong, A. B.. The American flora: or history of plants and wild flowers. New-York: Strong and Bidwell, 1853.
















Just this week we’ve started hearing spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) and the salamanders have begun to emerge after the rains.  These images are from a 1842 publication of the Natural History of New York.


DeKay, James E.. Natural history of New York: Zoology. New York: D. Appleton :, 1842.


DeKay, James E.. Natural history of New York: Zoology. New York: D. Appleton :, 1842.













The Charles M. Pratt Lepidoptera Collection includes numerous volumes about New England butterflies, some containing beautiful hand colored plates.  At this time of year, the Brown Elfin (Callophrys augustinus) and the Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon) can be found throughout Massachusetts.

Butterflies, 67 plates


Butterflies, 67 Plates














And finally, one of the more bizarre springtime beauties which I have seen coming up recently: the Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus).  This image is also a hand colored engraving from The American Flora.


Strong, A. B.. The American flora: or history of plants and wild flowers. New-York: Strong and Bidwell, 1853.

These and other holdings in Botany, Ornithology, Zoology and Nature can be found in the Archives and Special Collections.  And don’t forget that a little madness in the spring is wholesome, says Emily Dickinson.

Emily Dickinson "A little madness in the spring," AC 106, J 1333, F 1356

Emily Dickinson “A little madness in the spring,” AC 106, J 1333, F 1356


A Gorgeous Something

The success of Jen Bervin and Marta Werner’s recently published The Gorgeous Nothings suggests that this might be a good opportunity to say something about another modest yet gorgeous nothing from our collection.

While researching a minor detail of Emily Dickinson’s biography during the summer of 2012, I came across a folder that caught my eye.


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Our objects collection houses many of the things you might expect: reunion badges, fraternity pins, endless college mugs and tshirts… but it also contains a wide variety of surprises.
Here are a few for your enjoyment:
(click on the images for more information)

These tiny shoes and bracelets are part of a complete Turkish young girl’s outfit belonging to Laura Bliss, daughter of Edwin Bliss (Class of 1837) who was a missionary to Turkey from 1843 until 1852. Laura was born in 1846 and was six years old when her family left Turkey. She received this costume as a gift sometime before then. What you can’t tell from the images is how very small the shoes are – they range in length from 6 to 7.5 inches – they would likely fit a preschooler.

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Margaret Sutton Briscoe Hopkins

Margaret Sutton Briscoe Hopkins, undated. From the Ladies of Amherst photo album.

Margaret Sutton Briscoe was born at the end of the Civil War–December 1864–in Baltimore, MD, the daughter of a wealthy doctor, Samuel W. Briscoe and his wife, Cornelia Dushane Blacklock Briscoe. Although she had no memories of the war or slavery, the War marked an immense change in her extended family’s fortunes (the Briscoe family owned the large Sotterly plantation on the Chesapeake Bay), and she had strong memories of Reconstruction. Briscoe’s father died when she was two years old, and she, her mother, and infant brother moved in with her maternal grandfather and his wife. According to Briscoe, her grandfather and step-grandmother doted on and clearly preferred her brother. She was educated at home by private tutors and later lamented the fact that she had not gone to school or studied at college, something that “wasn’t done” in the circles she grew up in.

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ImageCelebrity trumps all.

Lawyer, financier, ambassador and US Senator Dwight W. Morrow (Amherst class of 1895) had a brilliant career in business and diplomacy, despite dying at only 58. In the 1920s, his name was often mentioned as a top prospect for Secretary of State or even President. As Ambassador to Mexico (1927-1930) he was very successful, not just for representing American interests (oil, primarily), but for playing an important role in negotiating a solution to the Cristero War in Mexico, which pitted the ruling government against the Catholic Church. His frequent breakfast meetings with Mexican President Calles caused him to be dubbed “the ham and eggs diplomat” by newspaper reporters.

But alas, in the cruel compendium of popular history, what is Morrow mainly known for? Being the father-in-law of Charles Lindbergh. In his recent best-selling pop history of 1920s America (One Summer: America, 1927), Bill Bryson simply characterizes Morrow as a comical tippler with a tendency to be frighteningly absent-minded. Regrettable.

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One of the highlights of the Kim-Wait/Eisenberg Native American Literature Collection is a copy of the fourth edition of A Sermon, Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul, an Indian, who was Executed at New-Haven, on the 2d of September 1772, for the Murder of Mr. Moses Cook, Late of Waterbury, on the 7th of December 1771 printed in New London, Connecticut in 1772.

Samson Occom. Fourth edition, 1772.

Samson Occom. Fourth edition, 1772.

We also hold two copies of the curious 1788 edition of the same sermon published in London, with an additional work by Jonathan Edwards appended to it.

Samson Occom. London, 1788.

Samson Occom. London, 1788.

The original 1772 edition is generally regarded as the first published book by a Native American author, and it raises a host of fascinating questions about the treatment of Native people by the British Colonial justice system, drunkenness, and capital punishment. The multiple editions of the Sermon that appeared over the next 50 years are a testament to its popularity. A digitized version of the 1788 edition is available online through The Internet Archive.

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Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, Sonnet V: XVI

Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, Sonnet V: XVI

Between March 15 and May 17, 1857, there were thirteen births recorded in Greenfield, Massachusetts. In the same two months, there were four maternal deaths from puerperal fever (or “childbed fever”), a highly contagious infection. Those were not good odds for a pregnant woman.¹

The third of those four deaths, on May 12, was that of Anna (formally Hannah) Tuckerman, beautiful and deeply beloved wife of poet Frederick Goddard Tuckerman (1821-1873). Anna was 29 and had already borne three children, one of whom had died shortly after birth, while the other two, Edward and Anna, were now, in 1857, children of 7 and 4 respectively. The fourth birth – that of her son Frederick – went well enough at first; that is, the child was born on May 7 and lived. But shortly after his birth, Anna began to suffer the effects of the infection. Letters in the archives from shocked relatives – her husband’s aunt, her sister- and brothers-in-law – reveal that she “suffered fifty convulsion fits & seemed to suffer intensely” and that her illness lasted five days. Her husband, who was probably with her all through the birth and subsequent illness, was “all but frantick [sic] with grief…” “What will poor Frederick do!” wrote his sister-in-law, Sarah Tuckerman, ” and those poor children too, left without a mother!  How short is life, how near is death to us.  I feel so sad that I can hardly write.”

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