Re-shelving, putting items in folders, boxing, labeling, sorting, shifting, dusting and vacuuming are just a snapshot of what happens behind the scenes everyday in any Special Collections or archives and that means our students and volunteers often have unique opportunities to identify unique items in the collections. From time to time in this space we will feature stories from our student workers or volunteers as they stumble upon items that simply have to be shared in a new series “Voices from the Stacks.”
Our first post comes from Sydney Smith, a senior English major who has been working with us for two years:
Many moons ago, I was a member of what I called the “Vacuuming Project Task Force.” Employees of Special Collections were asked to vacuum all the books in the department after a particularly dusty construction project.
It was not the project we were most fond of, but it did lend itself to exploring the stacks more, and when Karen, a fellow student employee, and I could no longer ignore the dusty books, we liked to play “Find the Book with the Weirdest Cover and (Carefully) Read Out of It.” It was during this game that Karen spotted our prize, a book we come back to for laughs on a regular basis; the crème de la crème of wacky and unexpected books (at least within the call number range from xPN2037.M4 through xPQ4627.L28C6.)
The Miseries of Human Life; or, The Groans of Samuel Sensitive and Timothy Testy. With a Few Supplementary Sighs from Mrs. Testy. In Twelve Dialogues contains all the ridiculous, painfully-detailed, horrible things that author James Beresford noticed in his day-to-day life.
These complaints include but are not limited to:
- “Pushing up your shirtsleeves for the purpose of washing your hands – but so ineffectually that, in the midst of the operation, they fall and bag down over your wet, soapy wrists.”
- “Straining your eyes over a book in the twilight, at the rate of about five minutes per line, before it occurs to you to obtain some light.”
- “Being compelled by a deaf person, in a large and silent company, to repeat some very inane remark three or four times over, at the highest pitch of your voice.”
- “Living in chambers under a man who takes private lessons in dancing.”
And, a personal favorite:
- “Going, with ardent expectations, to a picnic, and finding that, from some sudden capriccio in the decrees of fashion, there is no nic to pick.”
If I were able to compile my own list of miseries, it would probably sound a bit more like this:
- The wifi in my apartment isn’t working again, and I desperately need to check Facebook because I’m bored!
- My air conditioner isn’t cooling my home fast enough. I’ve had it on for five whole minutes!
- My printer is out of ink. I’ll have to walk all the way to the library to get this printed.
Life’s hard, isn’t it?
There are two editions on hand here in Special Collections, one, an early edition with the original illustrations, published in 1806. The second is an edition abridged by Michelle Lovric and published in 1995. The best part of the abridged edition, and the part that attracted Karen’s attention in the first place is that where it might have had a ribbon bookmark attached to the spine, it has a ball and chain. Thank you, Michelle Lovric!
If the little things are getting you down, please stop by Special Collections and take a look at either edition of Beresford’s Miseries, which is bound to create more laughs than tears any day. In the meanwhile, add a “misery” from your daily life in the comments!