Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - July - 2014 Issue

Written Documents from People You Know Offered by the Raab Collection

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Catalog 77 from the Raab Collection.

The Raab Collection has published their Catalog 77. It presents 40 items, mostly written and signed documents, some of considerable length. These are all from people you know, many from politics, some from science and other endeavors. The great majority are Americans, but others such as Churchill, Darwin, Gandhi and Napoleon make an appearance. We will take a look at a few samples of these fascinating, often important documents.

 

We begin with a thank you letter from George Washington. It is the time and circumstances that make this “thank you” special. It was written in Philadelphia on December 30, 1778. The British had captured Philadelphia in the fall of the previous year, and Washington and his troops had to survive a brutal winter at Valley Forge. The situation was dire for the colonial army. However, come February, the Americans managed to sign an alliance with France, which promised to provide naval support. The threat of French warships entering the British stronghold of New York called for reinforcements, so in June, the British troops abandoned Philadelphia to return to New York. Washington pursued the British, and then set up headquarters at West Point, north of New York, where he could keep an eye on the enemy. Congress returned to Philadelphia, from which it earlier had fled, and in December, Washington made his first return. It was a triumphant return, and on December 29, the governing Magistrates of Philadelphia officially welcomed him with great praise. The next day, Washington responded to them with this letter. He thanks them for the honor, and notes, “...I sincerely hope that a persevering exercise of the same national virtues which have hereto frustrated the designs of the enemy will perpetuate to this city a full enjoyment of all the blessings which have been the objects of the present glorious and important contest.” Item 2. Priced at $120,000.

 

Washington wasn't the only general to appreciate the value of perseverance. General William T. Sherman credited it as the major factor in his victorious March to the Sea against the Confederate Army in 1864. Item 17 is a letter Sherman wrote to a friend from his days back in California before the Civil War. The friend was looking for advice on how to play a role in the war. The General provides some advice, but most interestingly, talks about the current state of the war. The letter is dated December 23, 1864, and Sherman's troops had just begun to enter Savannah the previous day, bringing his March to the Sea to a successful conclusion. This previously unknown letter may have been the first he wrote from Savannah. Sherman writes, “My own success in the war has resulted more from persevering through ill report and good report than from professional knowledge; and if my example be worth anything, it results from this truth.” Despite the victory and hasty retreat of the Confederates, Sherman adds, “I do not regard the war as over yet, by a good deal...” $14,000.

 

Back in the 1860's, Charles Darwin certainly appreciated all the support he could get. He had many supporters, but his theory of evolution was so disruptive to most people's world view that opposition ran high. In 1866, he received a letter from Robert MacLachlin, a young scientist, who had been studying insects. His studies led him to agree with some of Darwin's finding. Specifically, he found some could adapt to their environment, changing color and the like. It led MacLachlin to conclude that the previously accepted belief in the immutability of species was wrong. That, in turn, meant evolution was possible. On March 23, Darwin responded with this letter. He writes, “I have been very glad to see (whether or not you have been influenced by my writings) that you have given up to a great extent the belief in the immutability of species...” Darwin also offers some suggestions as to further experiments MacLachlin might try. Item 10. $22,000.

 

Item 20 is a typed letter signed by President John F. Kennedy on January 5, 1962. It was sent to the publisher of the Chicago American, a popular afternoon newspaper in the Windy City. Kennedy had briefly worked as a reporter at the American's predecessor in 1945. Kennedy offers his congratulations on the paper's new building. He then goes on to speak about the role of the press in a free society. Kennedy lauds the free press, but also notes its responsibility to the people. He believed that an “informed citizenry” was essential for a free country. He praises the American's role, and notes, “It is my hope that it will continue to disseminate information wisely and with full awareness of the responsibility and opportunity which it has.” What Kennedy couldn't have known was the dire situation that newspapers would soon face, particularly afternoon ones like the American. It may have been healthy enough to build a new plant in 1962, but by the end of the decade, it was changing its name and format, and in 1974, closed down for good. One can only wonder what Kennedy would think about people getting their news from biased cable “news” talkers or via Facebook. $13,000.

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