Tuesday, November 29, 2011

John Cotton Dana and "The Men of Letters"


I'm a great admirer of John Cotton Dana (1856-1919), one of our nation's great early librarians. Although Dana is best known in the library profession for his advocacy of library public relations, one of the things that I admire most about him was his sense of humor. I have in my collection a small, four page  publication titled The Men of Letters (Vol. I No. 1, May 1913, Newark, NJ) published by The Elm Tree Press, Woodstock, Vermont. This publication begins with a letter signed by a John Silver that was supposedly published in the Newark Evening News on May 8, 1913. The letter indicates that an organization called "The Newark Men of Letters" has been formed, and that the organization "has no constitution, by-laws, fees or dues, unless duties are dues. Every member is an office-holder and bears a title."  The organization was instigated by Dana and fellow bibliophiles while he was Director of the Newark Public Library. The official titles of the members included: "Captain of the Pirate Crew"; "Long Rifle"; "Thumb Mark Detective"; and "Galloping Dick, Highwayman". John Cotton Dana's title was "The Devil's Admiral". By unanimous vote Treasure Island was adopted by The Newark Men of Letters as the model of all novels for the organization. The coat of arms for the organization which is included on the cover of The Men of Letters (see above) has the motto "Read What You Like". I think the coat of arms would make a great bookplate. Jane Durnell, in an article titled "The Cardelius Syndrome" in the Spring 1976 issue of Imprint: Oregon (Published by the University of Oregon Library), reviewed several escapades of Dana and associates including The Men of Letters. "Cardelius" in the title of Durnell's article refers to a personage created by Dana as an early printer and the writer of a tribute to printing. Subsequently, several letters about Cardelius were published in The Nation magazine as if he were a real person. Durnell also discusses "The Bibliosmiles" and Charles Lummis which I have written about previously. Wayne Wiegand has written about one of Dana's more elaborate hoaxes, "The Old Librarian's Almanack". Let's hear it for library humor, may we all have more of it.

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