Category Archives: On This Day

Happy Birthday, Alice B. Toklas

Alice B. Toklas was born on April 30, 1877, in San Francisco, California.  Known best as the longtime companion of Gertrude Stein, Toklas was also an author in her own right. Toklas and Stein conducted one of the most famous literary salons in Paris, where they hosted an exceptional array of authors, including Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Not limited to the literary arts, cultural icons such as Pablo Picasso, Charlie Chaplin, and Paul Robeson also visited their salon.

Stein and Toklas toured the United States for six months in 1934 and 1935, with Stein presenting more than 70 lectures.  In early February 1935, the two women, accompanied by Carl Van Vechten, came to Richmond.  After lecturing in Charlottesville, the group arrived by car in Richmond on February 5, 1935, and were hosted to a dinner at the home of famed Richmond author, Ellen Glasgow.  Fellow Richmond author James Branch Cabell attended, as did Mark Lutz, Hunter Stagg, and Van Vechten.  After a night at the Jefferson Hotel, Stein spoke the following day at the Cannon Memorial Chapel on the campus of the University of Richmond, and also visited the sites of one of her favorite authors, Edgar Allen Poe.  The Poe Foundation hosted an afternoon tea.

Letters by Alice B. Toklas

Letters from Alice B. Toklas to Mark Lutz, MS-1

The Carl Van Vechten – Mark Lutz Collection, housed in the Galvin Rare Book Room here at the University of Richmond, contains many materials documenting the long relationship between Stein, Toklas, Lutz, and Van Vechten.  A noted photographer, Van Vechten took numerous photographs of the two women, especially documenting their American tour.  The collection contains photographic prints made by Van Vechten as well as literary and cultural materials from both Stein and Toklas.  The letters from Toklas to Lutz, for example, solidify making the arrangements for their visit to Richmond.

Toklas died in Paris on March 7, 1967, at the age of 89.

The Little Prince & His Pilot

little prince sketch

You’ll be bothered from time to time by storms, fog, snow. When you are, think of those who went through it before you, and say to yourself, ‘What they could do, I can do.’

~ Antoine de Saint Exupéry,
Wind, Sand, and Stars, 1939


When I find a piece of history untouched for years (or even decades), a book with a sentimental inscription, a long-ago letter to a loved one far away — these moments are just a few of the special ones which cross my path on a regular basis.  Sometimes it is working with a researcher, especially one searching out bits and pieces of their family history, who makes a discovery about an ancestor previously unknown to them.  Sometimes it happens when I’m teaching.  I’ll see a student learn that the things they have to do sometimes become something they want to do instead.  Or, even more fun, when I work with someone who claims to have no interest in history, and watch them connect with a diary entry of a college student from the 1880s, a newspaper clipping from their hometown from the 1910s, or a photograph of some person or event that speaks to them across the years.  Moments like that are the unexpected joys, the ones that brighten a gray or cold day with sunshine from the inside.

Sometimes there are moments when I reconnect with a piece of my own past. I remember reading The Little Prince as a child and dreaming of flying free, exploring strange planets, and meeting a fox all my very own.  I’ve made a habit of re-reading it every few years, and each time I do, I come away feeling as though I’ve learned something different every time. The Little Prince was first published on this day in 1943, so let’s take a moment to celebrate that character and the pilot who created him.

When I first learned that the author of The Little Prince was a pilot, and that in many ways he was indeed much like the little prince of his book, I was charmed. And I knew I wanted to explore both the prince and the pilot.  Born into an old French noble family, Saint-Exupéry trained as a pilot in the early 1920s, a career which took him far and wide.  Eventually, he flew routes across North Africa, working on the air mail (Aéropostale) route between Toulouse and Dakar.  He was stationed at Cape Juby airfield, in South Morocco, inside the Sahara Desert for a number of years before directing the Aéropostale in Argentina.  During World War II, he flew reconnaissance flights, and, in fact, was on one such flight when he disappeared in 1944.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, pilot

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, pilot

Doing this research gave me the opportunity to delve into his other writing.  Many of these books are centered on his experiences as a pilot, including his first major work in 1931, Vol de nuit (Night Flight).  In 1935, he and his navigator were nearing the end of a long flight when they crashed in the Libyan portion of the Sahara Desert.  His memoir of survival, Wind, Sand and Stars, harbors echos of his future story of a little prince.  Other works included Flight to Arras, which dealt with a troubling reconnaissance mission, and the posthumously published work, The Wisdom of the Sands.

What was most interesting to me, however, was trying to reconcile the adventurous and somewhat undisciplined pilot, an aviation pioneer in many respects, with the lyrical, charming, and even sentimental, writer.  The two worlds don’t usually mix.  But he did, and he did it well at that. Reading his detailed story of surviving the crash in the desert brought home the crash of the little prince.  And learning of the pilot’s mysterious disappearance (although somewhat less mysterious now) helped understand the departure of the Little Prince.  As Saint-Exupéry himself wrote, “flying and writing are one and the same for me.”

It seems both brought him some bit of joy. Doing this research brought moments of joy to my world – the chance to re-read a favorite book, and the opportunity to bring a bit of it to life in the story of its author. Stop by the Galvin Rare Book Room to see our 1943 French edition of The Little Prince and our beautiful 1942 numbered and signed edition of Flight to Arras, as pictured below.

The Ides of March

The Ides of March

The ides of March or March 15th was a day of religious celebrations in ancient Rome and notoriously the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar.

In our Rare Book Room we have a copy of Thornton Wilder’s The Ides of March, a novel about Caesar told through imaginary letters and documents cleverly revealing what Caesar the man may have been like. This copy is part of The William Dew Gresham Collection. Mr. Gresham collected signed copies of great books. This copy is signed by Mr. Wilder to Mr. Gresham in 1951.

The Ides of March was published in 1948, ten years after Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Our Town. (His The Skin of Our Teeth won the 1943 Pulitzer.) He wrote seven novels, including The Bridge of San Luis Rey which won the Pulitzer in 1928. His play The Matchmaker ran on Broadway for 486 performances from 1955-1957. It may be more familiar as it’s musical adaptation, Hello Dolly!

IMG_1004 Wilder was enormously successful in many different genres including translation, acting, opera librettos, lecturing, teaching, and film (he wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1943 psycho-thriller, Shadow of a Doubt.) His many honors include the Gold Medal for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the National Book Committee’s Medal for Literature. On April 7, 1997, what would have been his 100th birthday, the US Postal Service unveiled the Thornton Wilder 32 cent stamp.

Born on the 14th of February

Frank Harris

We should probably be running a post about Frank Harris during Banned Books Week instead of as a representative of February 14th, his birthday in 1855.  Born in Ireland, he was an editor, journalist and publisher, who hobnobbed with the likes of George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, H. G. Wells, Winston Churchill and Max Beerbohm.   While his reputation painted him as a rake and rascal, he idealized Jesus, Goethe, and Shakespeare, and was almost elected a Conservative Member of Parliament.

Early in life, he emigrated to America, settled in Kansas and did odd jobs until finally attending the University of Kansas to study law.  He graduated, became a citizen and practiced law until he grew tired of the law and went back to Europe in 1882.  After traveling around, he settled in London and became a journalist.

He had quite a reputation for irascible and outspoken personality, and his editorship of London papers and Pearson’s magazine. He also wrote short stories, and novels, two books on Shakespeare, five volumes under the title Contemporary Portraits, and biographies of his friends Wilde and Shaw. His book My Reminiscences as a Cowboy was made into a movie with Jack Lemmon. But his most notorious publication was his four volume memoir, My Life and Loves which destroyed his reputation. The book was banned in many countries for its sexual explicitness.

The Galvin Rare Book Room has three of his books, one signed.  Unpath’d Waters, a collection of stories with titles such as The Holy Man and The King of the Jews.  (Rare Book Room PR4759.H37 U53 1913)  Elder Conklin and other stories, is a bit racier than the former book.  (Rare Book Room PR4759.H37 E4 1894) And the third book is a treatise on the first World War, England or Germany–? (Rare Book Room D523.H251915) with chapters titled “Christian Morality and War”, “The ‘Soul of Goodness in Things Evil'”, and “Who Will Win the War?”  Mr. Harris was a write not to be pigeonholed!


On This Day ~ December 12: A New King

The highest of distinctions is service to others. ~ King George VI

Accession proclamation King George VI

Proclamation of Accession to the Throne of King George VI [Special Collections, DA584 .P6 1936]

On December 12, 1936, the official proclamation of a new King of England, George VI, was announced formally.  His story is a well-known one, most recently the subject of the 2010 film, The King’s Speech, which dramatized the events that made him king as well as the personal obstacles he faced.

Born on December 14, 1895, the second son of King George V, young Albert never expected to become king.  Early in 1936, when his father passed away, Albert’s brother, Edward, ascended the British throne as King Edward VIII.  In less than a year, however, Edward abdicated the throne on December 10, to marry Wallis Simpson, leaving the crown to his younger brother.  Edward’s radio broadcast the following day led to the official proclamation of the new king on December 12.

The coronation of King George VI took place on May 12, 1937, and he went on to lead Britain during the years of World War II and beyond, until his death in February 1952.

Our holdings include the official proclamation, pictured above, as well as two copies of the official souvenir program of the 1937 coronation [Galvin Rare Book Room, DA584 .K52].