Members of the RRG viewed the “Shelley’s Ghost” exhibit, followed by a visit to the Pforzheimer Collection, where the curator, Elizabeth Denlinger, showed us several items from the collection that were not included in the exhibit.
Among the highlights of the exhibit was a notebook of Shelley’s containing a revision of Queen Mab. The exhibit itself is wonderfully curated to tell the story not only of Percy Shelley’s life and the afterlife of his poetic reputation, but of the Godwin’ Wollstonecraft-Shelley family more generally. There were a number of letters on display from various members of the Godwin-Wollstonecraft-Shelley family, including Harriet Shelley’s suicide letter, which I found rather poignant. Along with printed books and manuscripts, the exhibit includes several other artifacts, from hair jewelry and portraits to Shelley’s guitar and fragments of his skull. The ornate rattle with golden bells from Shelley’s childhood helped me grasp just how wealthy his family was.
On our visit to the Pforzheimer we examined several interesting texts, including early editions of Lyrical Ballads, Robinson’s Lyrical Tales, and the manuscript of the sixteenth canto of Byron’s Don Juan. But along with these more canonical texts, Liz Denlinger displayed lesser-known texts and items of Romantic-era ephemera.
Most interesting to me, given my work on education in the period, were the children’s books and educational toys. The collection includes an item described as a “Lilliputian Library,” a wooden box about 6” tall containing two rows of tiny books of children’s stories. A didactic children’s board game entitled “A Game of Genius,” in which children learned about inventions such as the telegraph and gunpowder, featured beautiful color lithography. Most intriguing was a toy Denlinger described as a “peep show” (and no, not that kind). It looked like a small book with an opening cut into the front cover, but it consisted of paper folded accordion-style, the “pages” inside cut and colored so that when you looked through the hole, you saw a detailed diorama with beautiful perspective.
I plan on returning soon to read some educational texts for my dissertation, but suspect I may need to find an appropriate conference to attend just to justify examining more of these fascinating toys and games!