The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: Exhibitions News

Anatomy of a Pun: 1813 Edition

 

Humor, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. This colorful broadside will be featured in the MHS’s upcoming War of 1812 exhibition, Mr. Madison’s War, which opens on June 18. A broadside such as this would have been posted on the side of a building or kept for home consumption by a patriotic family. In its day, it would have been considered as funny – and meaningful – as our contemporary newspaper’s political cartoons or television news spoofs such as The Colbert Report. But without context, a great deal of this broadside’s wit could be lost to today’s reader.

With the title “Huzza for the American Navy,” the picture features a heavyset man in uniform. Two winged insects sting him on either side as he runs, brandishing his sword, to get away. They are on the beach, and two ships are visible at sea in the background. The caption below reads, “John Bull stung to agony by the Wasp and the Hornet.”

The man is “John Bull,” the personification of Great Britain, and his uniform is hand-painted in scarlet. The “Wasp” and the “Hornet” refer to American ships that won victories over Britain early in the War of 1812. USS Wasp defeated HMS Frolic on October 15, 1812, and USS Hornet sunk HMS Peacock on February 24, 1813.

The first insect says, “You’ll bridge the Atlantic, won’t you? Oh then you’ll have a Bane to your Bridge, friend Johnny.” The use of “Bane” and “Bridge” refers to William Bainbridge, who was captain of USS Constitution when it captured HMS Java on December 29, 1812.

John Bull replies, “Are these your Wasps and Hornets! Oh! I’m Hull’d already!!” “Hull” was Isaac Hull, who commanded USS Constitution during an earlier cruise when it defeated HMS Guerrière on August 19, 1812.

The second insect says, “How comes on your Copper-bottom at Bombay? Here is something for you between Wind and Water.” “Copper-bottom at Bombay” appears to be a taunt. When the Constitution defeated and then destroyed the Java off the coast of Brazil, the Royal Navy frigate was transporting the new commander-in-chief of British forces in India, Sir Thomas Hislop, to Bombay, along with copper to sheath the hull of a new 74-gun ship. Copper sheathing prevented a ship from being slowed by marine growth on its hull over the course of a long voyage. The loss of the Java and its cargo of copper delayed the completion of HMS Cornwallis.

“Between Wind and Water” denotes the way sailing ships engaged in battle. They aimed their cannons for the opponent vessel’s waterline, to “hull” it. A hit there was likely to do the most damage because a ship’s waterline rose and fell as wind and waves rocked the ship. But it also works as a double entendre, with the insect stinging John Bull between where he created “wind” and “water – as does the word “Bombay.”

Although this broadside has no inscription, due to the timely nature of its content it likely was printed in March or April of 1813, soon after the Hornet returned from its victory over the Peacock off of the coast of Guyana. The Hornet anchored at Holmes’ Hole in Martha’s Vineyard on March 19, 1813.

Some of the jokes hidden inside this broadside we will likely never know, but a little bit of context provides insight not just into the events of the war but also into what made Americans laugh in 1813, when the pun was the epitome of wit.

To see more documents from the Society's collections related to the war, as well as more information about our upcoming exhibition and other planned events in the Boston area, please visit our War of 1812 web feature.


comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 9 May, 2012, 8:00 AM

Explore the World of Marian Hooper Adams

Marian Hooper Adams on HorsebackHave you had a chance to visit our current exhibition A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life: The Photographs of Clover Adams, 1883-1885? Hundreds of visitors have visited 1154 Boylston Street to view this stunning exhibition featuring the late-19th-century photographs of Marian Hooper Adams, whom family and friends called Clover. Read what some of them had to say about the exhibition:

“Clover Adams … you instantly fall in love with her”

“A very interesting and revealing installation”

“Very poignant”

“The written text made the exhibition come to life”

Not planning on visiting Boston in the near future? You do not have to miss out entirely. Clover's photographs can be viewed by a wider audience via our web feature, Marian Hooper Adams: Selected Photographs and Letters. The website presents 48 photographs (one entire album) from the Marian Hooper Adams photograph collection, five selected letters from the Hooper-Adams papers, and two letters by Henry Adams in which he reflects on his wife's death.

The website also provides information about Clover's approach to photography by presenting a digital facsimile of a notebook Clover kept from May 1883 to January 1884 in which she listed many of her photographs and commented on exposures, lighting, and other technical details. The display of the notebook includes a transcription of the text provided by Natalie Dykstra, the guest curator for our current exhibition. 

The exhibition runs through 2 June 2012 and is free and open to the public Monday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The web feature is available through our website 24 hours a day and will remain online after the exhibition closes.

If you want to learn even more about the life of Clover Adams, look for Natalie Dykstra's new book Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life ( Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), which offers a full-length biography of the woman behind the camera. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 26 April, 2012, 8:00 AM

A New Way to Look at an Old (and forgotten) Story

We have just opened a new exhibition, The First Seasons of the Federal Street Theatre: 1794-1798, that complements a larger exhibition, Forgotten Chapters of Boston’s Literary History, at the Boston Public Library. The controversy over a public theater that raged in Boston in the 1790s, an old and largely forgotten story, now has been brought to life through the efforts of Professor Paul Lewis of the English Department of Boston College and his very able students. Thanks to the audio production services of Boston College, it also is the first time that the Society—and the Boston Public Library—have used QR codes in an exhibition. QR codes, the ubiquitous matrix barcodes that appear everywhere in advertisements, now are used increasingly in museum settings so that smartphone users are able to call up additional audio information about what is on display. 

The First Seasons of the Federal Street Theatre will be on display, Monday-Saturday, 10:00 AM-4:00 PM, through July 30, but more than twenty items from the MHS exhibition also are on “virtual” display at the Forgotten Chapters of Boston’s History website, www.bostonliteraryhistory.com. The online version of the First Seasons section of the Forgotten Chapters exhibition will reach a wider audience than those who are able to visit the MHS and be available for a longer period of time, but it also is an informative and engaging introduction to the original materials on show at the Society.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 4 April, 2012, 1:00 AM

The Joy of Discoveries: Answering a Visitor's Question

It is always fun to make a connections in surprising places.  It is even more fun when those connections are made as a result of a question asked by a visitor to the MHS.

Last week, a visitor to our current exhibition The Purchase by Blood: Massachusetts in the Civil War, 1861-1862, asked a simple question that I could not answer.  The question, was Stephen Perkins -- a soldier featured in the exhibition -- related to the Perkins that was the namesake of the Perkins School for the Blind

Unable to answer the questions off the cuff, I promised to research the relationship and provide an answer via email. This lead me on a serendipidious mission.

Thomas Handasyd Perkins (1764-1854) -- one of Boston's most successfull China trade merchants -- was an early benefactor of the the school, selling his own home (which had housed the school for a year) and donating the funds so that the school could be moved to a larger location as enrollment grew. The MHS holds a large collection of Perkins' personal and business papers (see a guide to the collection here), which is where I started my search. But I was unable to determine a clear familial connection between Thomas Handasyd Perkins and Stephen Perkins there.  So I changed my search strategy and turned to our online catalog, ABIGAIL, for assistance. 

Through ABIGAIL I discovered that the photograph of Stephen Perkins featured in our exhibtion was the only item we held credited to Perkins himself. So I kept digging through the entries for the various Perkins family members until discovering the generic subject heading "Perkins Family" which brought me to a catalog record for an item that seemed to have promise in terms of revealing a clear answer to the question at hand: a large broadside title The Perkins Family of Boston.  Dashing to the stacks to view the broadside, I was delighted to see that it  was a large genealogical chart which revealed there was a connection between Thomas Handasyd Perkins and Stephen G. Perkins, killed at the Battle of Cedar Mountain in the Civil War. 

Looking at the chart I could see that Thomas had a brother named Samuel, who was born in 1767. Samuel had a son, who he named Stephen, in 1804.  That Stephen also had a son named Stephen, born in 1835.  That Stephen, the grandson of Thomas Handasyd Perkins' brother Samuel, was the Stephen pictured in our exhibition. 

I was happy to be able to reveal the answer to the exhibition visitor as well as to build for myself a little extra knowledge to share with future visitor to the MHS. 

 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 11 January, 2012, 12:09 PM

Web Presentation Launched Today: Massachusetts in the Civil War, 1861-1862

In connection with the exhibition The Purchase by Blood: Massachusetts in the Civil War, 1861-1862, the Massachusetts Historical Society has digitized a number of letters, photographs, and broadsides from its collections to present online. Available are small and large high resolution images as well as transcriptions of letters to facilitate reading where the handwriting may be difficult to discern.

Image of web page banner

The pages in the web presentation represent a subset of the documents in the exhibition, narrating micro-stories of some battles which took place in Virginia (Ball's Bluff, Peninsula Campaign, Cedar Mountain) and Maryland (Antietam). Regimental units were formed based on networks of friendships and alliances, and the featured materials convey the close connections between many of the soldiers. Each page highlights at least one of Massachusetts's fallen sons, providing both a photographic image of a soldier and, in most instances, a letter which provides contextual information about a particular battle and/or a soldiers' actions in the war and in death. Among those individuals featured are William Lowell Putnam, James Jackson Lowell, Richard Goodwin, Richard Cary, and Wilder Dwight. 

The launch is particularly timely as today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Ball's Bluff, a battle explored in both the exhibition and the accompanying web presentation. 

In addition to this web presentation, please visit the The Massachusetts Historical Society Commemorates the Civil War subject portal to find additional online content, including our monthly presentation of a Civil War document from 150 years that month, a timeline, selected publications, classroom tools, and a list of past and future events held at the MHS.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 21 October, 2011, 10:00 AM

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