Saturday, April 1, 2017

Theobaldus's Phisiologus de Naturis Duodecim Animalum, 1493

Precursors of the fantastical and brightly-illuminated bestiaries of later medieval times, physiologia were didactic and allegorical Christian texts which presented a catalog of the history and lore of the natural world. While these manuscripts would hardly be recognizable to a modern audience as reliable sources of scientific or zoological information, they have nevertheless been enjoyed throughout the centuries by scholars, theologians, and the casual page-turner alike.

The roots of physiologia go back to Late Antiquity. Though scholars debate the exact date of the first physiologus, most agree it was created in Egypt between the first and second centuries C.E. The earliest known physiologus featured stories that would become hallmarks of these texts and the later illuminated bestiaries which followed them. Some of the first known tales of mythological creatures—such as that of the phoenix rising from its own ashes—as well as mythological tales of real animals—like that of the pelican shedding blood onto its young to revive them—are contained in this text.

Though physiologia delighted readers of all ages, these compendia were especially valuable as teaching tools for young children. Because of its versatility and whimsical, entertaining nature, the physiologus is thought to have been the widest-circulated form of literature, after the Bible, for most of the Middle Ages. Though common allegorical notions and lore for particular animals connect across each version, each physiologus is unique and, often, anonymously authored. Each scribe imparted their own unique influence to each story, highlighting the moral aspects and biblical stories they wished to emphasize. Much like the later Fables of Aesop, human and theological characteristics were attributed to both real and mythological animals in order to impart moral and social lessons.

Excitingly, Brandeis University’s Archives and Special Collections holds a beautiful example of one such physiologus as part of its Incunabula collection*. Brandeis’ physiologus is a 1493 printing of a Latin manuscript attributed to Bishop Theobaldus, Abbot of Monte Cassino ca. 1022 to 1035. Fully titled Phisiologus de Naturis Duodecim Animalum, Theobaldus’s version contains the moral lessons of twelve animal entries: Lion, Eagle, Snake, Ant, Fox, Stag, Spider, Whale, Siren, Elephant, Turtle-dove, and Panther. Though much smaller in number than other physiologia, the Theobaldus manuscript is unique in its metered form and inclusion of creatures typically left out of most versions of the genre.

Each entry contains two elements—a natural history of the animal and an application of allegory to what was described in the first part of the entry. The first contains an explanation of a selection of known or rumored behaviors and appearance of the animal, such as the Snake’s shedding of its skin or the coat pattern of the Panther. Other descriptions are slightly more fanciful:


Stands in his might the Lion, on the highest peak of the mountain,
By whatsoever road he descends to the depth of the valley,
If through his sense of smell he perceives the approach of a hunter,
He rubs out with his tail, all the marks which his feet may have printed,
So that none most skilled can tell what road he has travelled,
Cubs, new born, live not till the sun three courses has finished,
Then with a roar the Lion arouses his cub from his slumbers,
When he begins to live, and gains all five of his senses,
Now whenever he sleeps his eyelids never are closed.


These natural histories are then followed by an allegorical application of the animal’s described nature and characteristics into a moral lesson. As one could likely guess from the example, the lion, in the second component of its entry, will be explained as symbolic of the life of Christ, awakened by his father after “three slumbers.” Furthermore, the belief that a lion sleeps with eyes open is a reminder to Christians to be watchful of the second coming. Each entry is fascinating in the nuances of its theological allegories—the eagle as repentant and weary sinner, the ant as a wise worker who stores away its treasures, and the whale as a symbol of false gods and prophets. The Spider is particularly interesting and important, as the Theobaldus physiologus contains the only known such occurrence of this animal in surviving manuscripts, as well as the Siren, which is not only mythological, but typically anthropomorphic, and therefore not often included in lists of animals.

Beyond the fable-esque qualities of the text, however, physiologia are valuable not only because of their colorful descriptions and literary qualities. Their existence, in addition to the unique structures and elements differing across each reiteration of the genre, reflect the philosophical and theological thought of the historical moment in which each version was created. Overall, these texts demonstrate the underlying doctrinal belief that since all of creation could be attributed to God, then of course elements of this creation—plants and animals—would be imbued with special messages and meanings. The ways in which this doctrine was applied in texts such as these, as well as the shifts in the animals chosen for each anthology and their particular aspects, allegories, and characteristics, is a growing topic of research and inquiry.

As the physiologus form developed into the bestiary, scribes would begin to add bright illuminations and fantastical, though often unrecognizable, illustrations of the different animals. The allegories and connections of the animals would become ever more mythological and their descriptions and behaviors more fanciful. Each volume produced would alter the stories slightly more, and each author would add a small piece of themselves and their world into the texts. Yet their role as a source of whimsical moral instruction and a reflection of the beliefs of the age remained a constant in the ongoing evolution of study of the natural world.



*Icunabula (Latin for "cradles" or "swaddling clothes") are materials (books, pamphlets, broadsides) printed (not handwritten) before 1501 (that is, they were printed in the first fifty years after the invention of the printing press).


Description by Katie Graff, MA student in Classical Studies and Archives & Special Collections assistant.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Children's Literature Collection

Love it or hate it—or, display some more middle-way attitude if it pleases you—popular fiction plays an important role in society. The Brandeis Collection of Children’s Literature contains examples of the genre that date from the fin-de-siècle to the Eisenhower administration. Only four authors get detailed mention on this site, but the collection is much more extensive, including books from Henry Castelmon’s The Sportsman’s Club series, the X Bar X Boys, MacGuffey’s Reader, and Ainsworth Magazine, among others. A broader sample is available here.

Though often caricatured as simple rubber stamps for the dominant social values of their time, these books reflect some of the narrative challenges that come with trying to validate through myth a power structure that undermines its own myth. This is generally expressed as a problem of plotting in the novels discussed in this exhibit. One might ask how an author concludes his story of upward mobility in a satisfying way, if possessing wealth has been marked negatively throughout the story. What kinds of heroes fail in a popular novel? More specifically, what kind of hero fails in, say, a novel by Horatio Alger, who does not fail in a novel by Oliver Optic? If popular fiction serves only to reinforce the status quo, why do the novels in this collection have such different attitudes about wealth, the right way to attain it, and the right way to use it?

In making these books available to a wider audience, this exhibit hopes to encourage further discussion of popular fiction’s social function. A list of the entire collection is available via Brandeis library catalog. For those books out of copyright protection, the catalog offers links to online versions available, for free, through the Internet Archive.

A brief word about provenance: The Collection of Children's Literature is a part of the Dime Novels and Juvenile Literature Collection. The department received these materials from different sources. Large donations came from Charles and Edward Levy, Victor Berch, and Edward T. LeBlanc.


Horatio Alger

Alger’s heroes are working-class adolescent boys who, through hard work, honest dealings, and temperance, rise to live in bourgeois comfort. Herbert Carter’s Legacy (1875) follows one such boy as he struggles to make ends meet until he can overcome his financial straits. Midway through the novel, Alger writes, “To be willing to work, and yet to be unable to find an opportunity, was certainly a hardship.” And indeed, in Alger’s novels, each hero’s metaphysical crisis comes from not being able to use his able body, rather than from being without money. Alger’s villains, rascals, and knaves are pointlessly, infuriatingly wealthy, and his women are either dutiful mothers or triumphantly conscienceless manipulators. They are, in Alger’s world, non-producers. The concept of work as its own end is hardly unique to this novelist, but he does employ it in unexpected ways. In his moralization of President James A. Garfield’s life, From Canal Boy to President, he describes the future president’s introduction to the world of work, in which a farmer offers a job to his older brother, Thomas. “’I need help on my farm, and I guess you will suit me,’ said Mr. Conrad, though that was not his name. In fact, I don’t know his name, but that will do as well as any other” (page 12). Later, Alger writes that the meeting with Mr. Conrad did not happen at all, and that he will henceforth follow the narrative provided by Edmund Kirke. But in turning to a more reliable history, he does not invalidate the fiction that he has now admitted is fiction. That is the power of work. It is so exciting an idea that facts are secondary.


Oliver Optic

Oliver Optic’s heroes are often allowed to enjoy their financial security. His “All Over the World Library” (1892-1898) follows the heroically wealthy Louis Belgrave, whose adventures depend upon his wealth. Optic acknowledges his debt to Belgrave’s assets in the preface to the second book in the series, A Millionaire at Sixteen (1892), by writing, “Possibly some of my numerous friends may have accused me, after reading the first volume [A
Missing Million (1892)], with being unnecessarily liberal to my hero, in supplying him with ‘the missing million,’ even augmented to nearly half as much more, so that he is actually a millionaire and a half; but the present story will assure such critics that even this vast sum was necessary in carrying out the purposes of the writer.” Louis Belgrave would be a smug, obnoxious rich boy in an Alger novel, but Optic caresses him through such difficulties as almost losing some money, very nearly being sued, and having no choice but to shoot a penurious rapscallion in the shoulder. Optic’s novels take comfort in noblesse oblige, even when the results are more complicated than strictly noble.


Tom Swift, Jr. by Victor Appleman, Jr.

In Tom Swift, Jr., Victor Appleton, Jr., adds an Eisenhower-era spin to the problem of heroes and money. Swift is an eighteen-year-old inventor-patriot who uses his talents to outfox suggestively-named enemies like the Brungarians and Kranjovians. He decodes a message from outer space in a couple of days, builds an atmosphere spreader (for putting atmosphere where it isn’t) overnight, and troubleshoots a faulty repelatron (his replacement for rocket power) the afternoon before he uses it to fly to the moon. Naturally, he is rewarded for his brilliance with wealth (his father, Tom Swift, Sr., owns an island, about twenty jets, and, if my geography is correct, most of the northern seaboard), but Appleton has a different challenge from either Optic's or Alger's: wealth or no wealth, Tom must be middle-class. Appleton therefore introduces red herring villains—American men who have inherited more wealth than Tom and his father have earned—who function as safety valves for the anti-upper-class bias. This, then, provides Tom with competitors who, as the sad end of the aristocratic tradition, cannot compete with him. The stories follow him from one success to the next, building suspense not from danger and the threat of violence, but from anticipation about Tom’s next great achievement. But all this success has a noticeable downside for the hero. When, through circumstances beyond his control, he cannot invent, troubleshoot, or produce the next great thing, he gets bored. In Tom Swift, Jr. and the Race to the Moon (1958), he and his best bud, Bud, find themselves marooned in space, with no hope of being found before their oxygen runs out. What is the great problem they face in the interim? How to pass the time. Death by asphyxiation-in-a-few-hours is terribly dull, and it takes all of his formidable imagination to come up with jokes that will get them through it. Unfortunately, we don’t know what any of those jokes are, as the efficient Appleton deals with the entire drama with the following few lines:

Time dragged by. Tom and Bud swapped jokes and chattered away to keep up their spirits. From time to time they sipped at their liquid ration, which was the only way of taking nourishment inside the bulky space suits and helmets.
Hope waned as their air supply grew stale and sluggish. The two boys lapsed into gloomy silence. It was broken as Bud suddenly cried out:
“Tom! A rocket!”

Tom’s adventures triumph over boredom as easily as he triumphs over all that is not as American as apple pie, and teach the hard-earned lesson that the only real threat to happiness is not being able to invent.


Jerry Todd, by Leo Edwards

The eponymous hero of the Jerry Todd stories (1924-1938) is safely middle-class. His creator, Leo Edwards, is therefore free from the rhetorical problem of a hero with too much money, and can focus all his energies on overcoming boredom. He even manages to give some depth to his characters. Though Jerry Todd and his friends are earnest and well-meaning, they are also irresponsible. And though the novels toe the respect-your-elders-and-love-your-country line, they are not so stuffily orthodox that the authority figures cannot have faults or errors in judgment, or cannot look, at times, a little foolish. When, for example, Officer Bill Hadley misses his wedding because he’s been knocked unconscious and placed, handcuffed, on a train to the next town by Jerry and the gang—whose overzealous attempts to validate themselves as Junior Jupiter detectives do more to move the plot along than solve the mysteries they investigate—he returns to town with a story of how he fought off upwards of twenty strong men.



For more images and please visit the online exhibit: Brandeis University Collection of Children's Literature

Description by Jonathan Sudholt.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Crimean War in the French and British satirical press

Political intrigue has long served as artistic fodder, and political cartoons provide a particularly fascinating way to trace the winding paths of historical events, and the way in which this amusing and often subversive commentary offered readers alternative viewpoints on the events of the day. This post explores the way in which people and events connected with the Crimean War were represented in the French and British satirical press. It focuses specifically on cartoons by Honoré Daumier, John Tenniel, and John Leech that appeared in Le Charivari (France) and Punch, or the London Charivari (England), two major 19th-century satirical publications.

Special Collections is proudly home to several collections featuring the art of political satire, including one of the major Daumier collections in the United States. The Benjamin A. and Julia M. Trustman Collection of Honoré Daumier Lithographs (collection finding aid here) comprises nearly the entire oeuvre of Daumier in the lithographic medium, making it a unique resource for the study of Daumier's art and nineteenth-century French history. The entire collection of lithographs  has been digitized and placed in the Brandeis Institutional Repository (BIR). This digitization was made possible by a 2001 Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant. See the Daumier Spotlight for more information about the Trustman collection as a whole and the Spotlight on Punch's Pocket Book for more about that Punch-offshoot publication. Partial or whole runs of PunchThe Illustrated London News, and Le Charivari can be found in the Library stacks and in Special Collections.


Introduction

The Russo-Turkish War and the subsequent Crimean War flared between 1853 and 1856, and together they constituted the largest international conflict involving European powers between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I. Starting in 1851, political tensions ran high between France and Russia over which country should serve as guardian of the Christian Holy Places in Palestine, which at the time fell within the borders of the Ottoman Empire. After the Turks granted guardianship of the Holy Places to France, Russia reacted by occupying the Danubian Principalities on July 2, 1853 and invading Ottoman territory on March 20, 1854. One week later, Britain and France joined Turkey in declaring war on Russia. The Turks surprisingly beat the Russians back, pushing them out of Ottoman territory. Russia, however, refused to accept the terms of peace, prompting an invasion of the Crimea by Great Britain and France with the goal of capturing the naval port at Sebastopol and forcing Russia into submission.

The Crimean War has been termed the first media war. The development of the telegraph allowed news of the war to be sent home within days rather than weeks. Photography for the first time captured the brutality of war, and these images stirred up considerable outcries among the English and French public. Due to the obscure politics driving the war and the almost immediate reportage of events on the battle fields, popular enthusiasm in support of the war never materialized in England or France.

During the time of the Crimean War, Le Charivari and Punch were the leading satirical publications in France and England, respectively. The French artist Honoré Daumier published many of his famous lithographs in Le Charivari, while John Leech and John Tenniel (the original illustrator of the Alice in Wonderland books) produced almost all of the illustrations for Punch. These political cartoonists reflected the public' s general ambivalence towards the war by lampooning the botched diplomacy and inept military leadership that led to needless suffering among the soldiers. Most of their satirical invective, however, was aimed at Russia and its role in fomenting war.


The Crimean War: The Turkish Question
Russia in Europe with Transcaucasia.
(from The History of the War Against Russia by Edward Henry Nolan. London: Virtue, [1855-57?].)
This map shows the area of conflict during the Crimean War. In crossing the Danube River on the western edge of the Black Sea and into Ottoman territory, the Russians had designs on moving south and taking over Constantinople to open up easy shipping lanes to the Mediterranean. When this plan was thwarted by the Turks, the theater of war shifted to the Crimea, the peninsula that sits at the northern part of the Black Sea.
“Parisians Busy Studying the Turkish Question.”
Honoré Daumier. Actualités, no. 44. Le Charivari. August 4, 1853. LD 2370.
The Russian army crossed the Pruth River on July 3, 1853 and occupied Bucharest by July 15, bringing the Danubian Principalities under Russian control. The French press relentlessly reported on these events and the threat of war.
"A Consultation about the State of Turkey"
John Leech. Cartoon. Punch. September 17, 1853.
France and England confer while the specter of Russia looms over the sick Sultan of Turkey in anticipation of the break up of the Ottoman Empire.

Czar Nicholas I
Nicholas, ‘Autocrat of All the Russians’
From M. Demidoff’s ‘Travels in Southern Russia and the Crimea.’ The Illustrated London News. August 6, 1853.
This formal portrait provides a sharp contrast to the way Czar Nicholas I was depicted in the satirical press.

“Emperor Nicholas working in his cabinet room.” 
Honoré Daumier. Actualités, no. 94. 
Le Charivari. August 8, 1850. LD 1999. 
Trampling on a map of France in his war room, Czar Nicholas I of Russia brandishes his sword and loses his hat while a Cossack looks on, his spear pointed at France. The Czar conducted an often openly hostile relationship with France.

"Pet of the Manchester School"
John Tenniel. Cartoon. Punch. April 15, 1854.
Richard Cobden, a leading supporter of the Peace Society, and John Bright, a Quaker and member of Parliament, both openly opposed war with Russia. These two politicians from Manchester are shown facilitating a tantrum by Czar Nicholas I and his attempts to destroy the Turkish Empire.

“Te Deum [laudamus]” (We praise Thee, O God)
[A traditional Christian hymn of joy and thanksgiving.]
John Leech. Cartoon. Punch. January 28, 1854.
Russia, purportedly representing the interests of the Greek Orthodox Church, sought to serve as the protectorate of the Christian Holy Places lying within Turkish territory. The general opinion in Europe was that Czar Nicholas I used Turkey’s refusal to grant Russia this privilege as a pretext to carry out his true desire, namely to destroy the Ottoman Empire. This view informs the depiction of Czar Nicholas I as a devil figure within a religious setting. Note the cloven hoof in place of his left foot.

“THE TEMPTER: If you consent to being mine, that empire will be yours.”
Honoré Daumier. Actualités, no. 40. Le Charivari. April 26, 1854. LD 2494.
Traditional allies of Russia stayed out of the war, leaving Russia isolated. Daumier here draws upon the iconography of the Temptation of Christ: Nicholas I as the Devil tempts the Greek king, Otto I, to enter the war with the prize of Constantinople and a revival of the Byzantine Empire in a conquered Turkey.

Czar Alexander II
Alexander II, Emperor of Russia.
The Illustrated London News. March 17, 1855.
This mounted portrait appeared in The Illustrated London News shortly after Czar Alexander II assumed the throne of Russia.
"The Young Czar Coming into his Property"
John Tenniel. Cartoon. Punch. March 17, 1855.
After Czar Nicholas I died on March 2, 1855, his son, Alexander II, succeeded him on the throne. Here Alexander is shown inheriting the war started by his father.
“They say that I will soon be reduced to exchanging my crown for a simple hat!”
Honoré Daumier. Actualités, no. 249. Le Charivari. December 1, 1855. LD 2554.
Czar Alexander I contemplates his possible fate after the Russians suffer severe losses on the battlefield.
“THE CZAR AT SEVASTOPOL: It’s vexing—they know that I don’t like the tricolor flag, yet they have put it everywhere!” 
Honoré Daumier. Actualités, no. 251. Le Charivari. December 29, 1855. LD 2558.
The Russians lost Sebastopol to the Allied Army on September 11, 1855. A frustrated Czar Alexander II looks over the Russian naval port, only to see it occupied by the French.
Turkey and the Russian Bear
“The Northern Bear, the Most Disagreeable of All the Known Bears.”
Honoré Daumier. Actualités, no. 36; Chargeons les Russes (Let’s Make Caricatures of the Russians), no. 10. Le Charivari. April 17–18, 1854. LD 2493.
The bellicose Russian Bear as an autocrat with all of its subjects kneeling at its feet.
"Turkey in Danger"
John Tenniel. Cartoon. Punch. April 9, 1853.
The Russian Bear in both images is shown threatening Turkey during the dispute over the guardianship of the Holy Places. 
"Paws Off, Bruin!"
John Tenniel. Cartoon/Initial. Punch. June 4, 1853.
The Russian Bear in both images is shown threatening Turkey during the dispute over the guardianship of the Holy Places. Note the British Lion lounging in the background of the Initial, “T.”
"The Bear and the Bees--A New Version of an Old Story"
John Tenniel. Cartoon. Punch. July 16, 1853.
This print plays on an old folktale where a bear threatens to use his great strength against a hive of bees if they do not give him free honey. The bees refuse, and when the bear sticks his tongue in the hive to take the honey by force, the bees attack him, and their combined stings make the bear run away. Here, the Turks play the role of the bees—with their mosques resembling beehives—in beating back the advances of the Russian army on Turkish territory.
“David and Goliath.”
Honoré Daumier. Actualités, no. 77. Le Charivari. July 5, 1854. LD 2521.
Czar Nicholas I (Goliath) takes on the Turkish Empire (David).
"The Giant and the Dwarf"
John Tenniel. Cartoon. Punch. August 5, 1854.
The Allied Army of France and Great Britain (the Giant) urges Turkey (The Dwarf) to continue fighting, given its success against the Russian Army in the Danubian Principalities.

The Russian Cossacks

"Cossack of the Don."
The Illustrated London News. February 11, 1854.
"A Good Joke"
John Tenniel. Cartoon. Punch. July 23, 1853.
A heavily armed Russian Cossack soldier threateningly mocks a diminutive Turk, with French and British sailors standing in support behind him. After Russia invaded the Danubian Principalities, British and French fleets were positioned to aid Turkey in the event of war.
“Method for training the Cossacks.”
Honoré Daumier. Actualités, no. 28; Les Cosaques pour rire (Laughing at the Cossacks), no. 16. Le Charivari. April 4, 1854. LD 2479.

With tensions between France and Russia running high, an old wives’ tale that Cossacks subsisted on candles surfaced, which Daumier played to the hilt with caricatures of uncouth, candle-eating Cossacks dominating several of his lithographs. Here, the Cossacks’ supposed hunger for candles spurs them on during a military training session.
“Distribution of one day’s worth of extra rations.”
Honoré Daumier. Actualités, no. 34; Les Cosaques pour rire (Laughing at the Cossacks), no. 20. Le Charivari. April 13, 1854. LD 2481.
The box in the background reads, “Top Quality Lampions”—flat, plate-shaped iron vessels filled with oil and wicks, perhaps booty from the conquered Danubian Principalities. The Cossack in the middle is licking his normal meal of candles, while his cohort on the right is salivating over his bonus lampion. Note the Cossack sitting in the background licking a lampion as if it were a plate or shallow bowl.
Negotiating the Peace
"The Split Crown in the Crimea"
John Leech. Cartoon. Punch. September 29, 1855.
After a year-long siege by the French and British armies, the Russians abandoned the naval port of Sebastopol on September 11, 1855. Here, two allied soldiers have the Russian split crow wounded and on the run.
“Between war and peace.”
Honoré Daumier. Actualités, no. 256. Le Charivari. December 29, 1855. LD 2733.
Czar Alexander II stands between a soldier who wants war and a politician who wants peace. The Treaty of Paris, then in discussion, would bring an end to the Crimean War.
"Negotiations"
John Leech. Cartoon. Punch. January 26, 1856.
Czar Alexander II offers olive branches to French and British commanders, who are skeptical, given Russia’s expansionist tendencies. Nonetheless, the Treaty of Paris was signed on March 30, 1856. The Treaty lacked any mention of the Holy Places, which originally served as the supposed rationale for the war.

War's Aftermath
"Grand Military Spectacle"
John Leech. Cartoon. Punch. November 3, 1855.
The British supply chain broke down during the winter of 1855/1856, creating appalling conditions for the soldiers on the field and in hospitals, while many British officers sought shelter in their yachts. The situation was immediately reported in the press and led to public outcry over the bungled military operations. Here, in a reversal of celebratory protocol, soldiers returning from the war—many injured—inspect the field-marshals, who appear none the worse for wear.
"Piping Time of Peace"
John Leech. Cartoon. Punch. April 5, 1856.
These two cartoons lampoon the use of ceremonial bagpipes to welcome soldiers returning home from the war. In the image on the right, a soldier ties squealing pigs to himself before attending a ceremony to help him adjust to the noise of the bagpipes.
"A Real Soldier"
John Leech. Cartoon. Punch. April 5, 1856.
These two cartoons lampoon the use of ceremonial bagpipes to welcome soldiers returning home from the war. In the image on the right, a soldier ties squealing pigs to himself before attending a ceremony to help him adjust to the noise of the bagpipes.
“Saint Mitrophan and the God Mars Resting from the Fatigues of War.”
Honoré Daumier. Actualités, no. 272. Le Charivari. February 9, 1856. LD 2563.
St. Mitrophan of Voronezh (one of the Russian protector saints) and Mars (the god of war), exhausted from battle, rest on some clouds during the negotiation of the Treaty of Paris.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Lenny Bruce Collection

Lenny Bruce was a comedian, satirist, social commentator, and rule breaker, whose brilliant, disturbing, and divisive comedy routines led to several arrests on obscenity charges. His bold use of language, his fearlessness in naming social, legal, and political hypocrisies, and his fight for his First Amendment rights paved the way for important changes in this country, not only to its comedic landscape, but also to the rights of its citizens to speak freely and without fear. Brandeis University’s Archives & Special Collections Department acquired the Lenny Bruce collection from his daughter, Kitty Bruce, in 2014, with a generous gift from the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation.

The collection consists of ten linear feet of photographs, writings and performance transcripts, correspondence, news clippings and articles, audio recordings, and trial materials, all related to Lenny Bruce’s performances and life, as well as some materials relating to his family members. Many of the photographs document Bruce’s personal life and show him among friends and family. Bruce’s professional career is well-documented through his manuscripts, typescripts, magazine and newspaper articles and (sometimes annotated) performance transcripts and set lists. The audio materials include excerpts or full recordings of many of Bruce’s performances, as well several personal recordings made at home. The large news clippings and articles series provides insight into the public response to Bruce’s humor and performance style, his legal battles, and the state of free speech in mid-20th-century America. This series includes materials which had been previously gathered by Bruce’s close friend, Ralph J. Gleason, a journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle who later became the founding editor for Rolling Stone Magazine. The Lenny Bruce collection materials range in date from the early 1920s to the 2000s.

Leonard Alfred Schneider was born on October 13, 1925, in Mineola, New York, to Myron Schneider and Sally Marr. Bruce’s parents divorced when he was young, and Bruce’s early relationship with his father was strained, though Bruce was always very close with his mother. Marr herself was a stand-up comic (one of the first female comedians), and one of Bruce’s earliest public performances was as part of a Sally Marr show. Bruce’s relationship with his father improved later in his life, and some of their correspondence can be found in this collection. Bruce joined the Navy at age sixteen, serving in both Africa and Italy during World War II. He performed his first comedy routine for his shipmates.

Best known for his stand-up comedy, much of which was improvised, Bruce often took a rather free-form, jazz-style approach to his performances, rarely writing his routines down in advance (though he transcribed many of them). As his legal battles began to heat up, Bruce’s routines often dealt with his multiple arrests and court cases. Bruce made several albums of original material and was also a prolific writer, authoring plays, sketch comedy routines, screenplays, and numerous articles for a variety of magazines. He completed an autobiography in 1965, entitled How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, which was rereleased in 2016.

In his stand-up routines, Bruce regularly discussed issues of race, gender, sexuality, sex, politics, and religion, and the language he used was often classified, at the time, as “vulgar,” “obscene,” or “sick.” He was branded the “sick comedian,” and was arrested and tried several times on charges of obscenity. His first such arrest, at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco on October 4, 1961, resulted in an acquittal, but Bruce was busted several more times and eventually found guilty of obscenity on November 4, 1964. The charges for this conviction stemmed from Bruce’s April 1964 performances at Greenwich Village’s Café au Go Go and he was sentenced to serve time in a workhouse, though he died during the appeals process. By the end of his life, Bruce was blacklisted from most clubs in America, and barred from entering England, where he had performed in 1962. His court cases were highly publicized and continue to be considered important moments in the fight for freedom of speech.

When Lenny Bruce died of an accidental heroin overdose on August 3, 1966, he left behind a legacy of groundbreaking comedy and commentary. He left his mark on generations of comedians who cite him as a major influence for their work, who point to Lenny Bruce as having paved the way for how they think about and perform their comedy.

Bruce also left behind an American legal legacy in his years-long battle to speak freely while performing his art. In 2003, thirty-seven years after his death, Bruce was granted a pardon for his 1964 obscenity conviction, by New York Governor George Pataki. Bruce’s life and work have been the subject of numerous books, articles, plays, movies, and documentaries. Kitty Bruce continues to honor her father’s legacy; in 2008, she founded the The Lenny Bruce Memorial Foundation, which combats alcohol and drug addiction with scholarships and education.

Through the things Bruce left behind, his photographs, letters, writings, and recordings, researchers can experience his impact on comedy, free speech, and society in America.

For more details, you can access the collection finding aid here.

The Lenny Bruce collection is open to the public.  Please contact us for information on visiting and viewing the collection materials.


2016 Conference
On October 27-28, 2016, Brandeis hosted an academic conference: “Comedy and the Constitution: The Legacy of Lenny Bruce,” which sought to evaluate the legacy, context, and comedic lineage of the most influential American comedian of the post-World War II era. This conference coincided with the formal opening of this collection of archival material. Parts of the conference were streamed live online and can be viewed here.

2016-2017 Exhibit
Highlights from the collection are currently on display in the Archives & Special Collections department, in an exhibit entitled “Introducing…Lenny Bruce!” This exhibit, based on the collection materials, is an introduction to Lenny Bruce as a person, a son, a father, a comedian, a friend, and as the creator of a comedic and constitutional legacy. Visitors to the exhibit will also be treated to a special exhibit-within-an-exhibit: a display of photographs of Bruce taken and donated by Don Carroll, a professional photographer and good friend of Lenny Bruce. The exhibit will be up Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm, through July 2017, and is open and free to all.

The Lenny Bruce Audio Files
In addition, the collection’s audio files have been restored and digitized thanks to a grant from the GRAMMY Foundation. Clips from these files are showcased in this online exhibit.



Description by Surella Evanor Seelig, Archives & Special Collections Outreach Librarian.