By CRAIG D'OOGE
One of the highlights of an exhibition at the Library of Congress is a children's book printed in Great Britain in the 18th century. It contains a short rhyme, "Base-ball" (right), illustrated with a woodcut of three children in tricornered hats. Two of them are each touching a post, while the third is standing in front of a third post holding a ball. The rhyme, corrected for modern spelling, reads:
The ball once struck off,
Away flies the Boy
To the next destined Post,
And then Home with Joy.
Thus Britons for Lucre
Fly over the Main;
But, with Pleasure transported,
Return back again.
This rhyme's title contains the earliest known use of the term "base-ball," thought by many to be an American invention. This is just one of many intersections of American and British interests in a new exhibition, "John Bull and Uncle Sam: Four Centuries of British-American Relations," which opens Nov. 18 in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.
This is the second in a series of exhibitions celebrating the Library's Bicentennial theme "Libraries, Creativity, Liberty." Future exhibitions are "Thomas Jefferson: Genius of Liberty" and "The Wizard of Oz: An American Fairy Tale," both opening on April 24, 2000, the Library's 200th birthday.
Much of the material on exhibition never has been publicly seen in either country and some of the rarest and most valuable objects from each collection will travel across the Atlantic for the first, and possibly only, time. After the exhibition closes at the Library of Congress on March 4, 2000, it will open at the British Library on a date to be announced.
"John Bull and Uncle Sam" features more than 200 rare and original treasures illuminating the relationship between the United States and Great Britain, from pre-Revolutionary times to the present day. For the first time, the riches of the two greatest library collections in the English-speaking world will be brought together to illustrate the interwoven history of the two nations by focusing on seven topics: "The Age of Exploration and Settlement," "The American Revolution," "War: From Enemies to Allies," "Reform Movements," "Technology," "Popular Culture" and "Language and Literature."
Various pairs of American and British personalities will be given special attention, such as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson. Included also will be many film and video selections documenting historic events and prominent figures from World War I to the present, as well as humorous clips showing how each culture has caricatured the other, from Monty Python and Benny Hill to W.C. Fields and Laurel and Hardy.
The exhibition looks at the relationship between America and Great Britain and their influence on each other at different times in history. It opens with an account of English adventurers of the 16th century as they sought to exploit America for fame and profit. Although John Cabot laid claim to North America as early as 1497-98, it took the English more than 50 years to exploit the New World, and then only by looting Spanish ships and settlements. The hugely profitable circumnavigation of the globe by Sir Francis Drake is documented with a large Dutch map (ca. 1595) from the Library of Congress. Sir Walter Raleigh (c. 1544-1618), one of Queen Elizabeth's favorites, took a longer view of exploitation in attempting to establish a colony in 1584-87 at Roanoke Island off the coast of North Carolina. By the time a relief party arrived in 1590, the 117 colonists had mysteriously disappeared.
On Jan. 5, 1585, the Queen knighted Raleigh and allowed the territory he had discovered to be called "Virginia," in honor of herself, the Virgin Queen. Raleigh is represented by the only known portrait issued during his lifetime, a steel engraving on loan from the British Museum. Other items relating to the early history of Virginia include a drawing by John White for an engraving by Theodore DeBry for America (1590) and a hand-drawn map of the James River showing Jamestown and other English settlements from 1608. The "Duke's Plan" of New York is also on display, prepared in September 1664, when the British took the town of New Amsterdam and renamed it "New York," in honor of King Charles II's brother, the Duke of York. New York was protected on the landward side by a 12-foot palisade ditch from which Wall Street takes its name.
New England was, of course, another area of settlement, and several items relating to its Puritan heritage are on display, including a contemporary (ca. 1629) copy of John Winthrop's "General Observations for the Plantation of New England" that was recently discovered in the Library of Congress. A bill of sale, dated Oct. 7, 1730, for a slave that was sold to Bishop George Berkeley (1685-1753) in Rhode Island and a broadside showing the West African forts and factories of a British slave company are reminders that not all settlers came willingly. Other items relate to the history of the Quakers, the Irish and the Scots in America.
Although many Colonists left England because they could not reform it, the "anglicizing" of America began almost immediately after settlement. The exhibition notes that by the beginning of the 18th century, many Colonists no longer viewed England as a place in need of reform but rather a model to be imitated. This "anglicizing" impulse persisted into the 19th century. Even during the Revolutionary War, most people living in America still considered themselves English, although many leading American statesmen thought that there would always be eternal hostility between Britain and America because of the war's brutality. Next to the Civil War, the Revolutionary War was responsible for the highest proportion of the population that died in American history, three times more lethal to Americans than World War II. However, even in the act of separation, Thomas Jefferson still made reference to the "ties of common kindred" between England and her Colonies in his rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, one of the Library's "Top Treasures" included in the exhibition.
The Stamp Act of 1765, which set a precedent for taxing the Colonies without their consent, is represented in the exhibition by a rare proof sheet from the British Library's Philatelic Section of 1-penny stamps that were to be used on newspapers and pamphlets. Other items relating to the beginnings of the War of Revolution include Paul Revere's famous engraving of the Boston Massacre, a broadside depicting the 40 Americans killed at the battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, printed a few days later, and a British watercolor of the battle of Bunker Hill.
The exhibition documents the War of Independence from start to finish, from George III's proclamation of Aug. 23, 1775, declaring the Colonies to be in open rebellion, to what one scholar has called "the most famous map in the history of American diplomacy." Variously called "Mitchell's Map," "the Red-lined Map," and "King George's Map," it was used by the British and American peace negotiators in Paris in the fall of 1782 to delineate the boundaries of what became the United States. The copy on loan from the British Library appears to have been prepared as the official copy for King George III, coming to the British Library in 1828 as part of the King's topographical collection.
American-British relations suffered later tensions because of the War of 1812, selective British support of the Confederacy during the American Civil War and American demands in 1895 that Britain submit to arbitration with Venezuela over a boundary dispute with British Guiana. But the United States fought beside Great Britain in World War I and II. Since then, the countries have grown so close that they habitually act in concert in war and diplomacy, most recently in Kosovo. This transformation is examined in the section of the exhibition "War: From Enemy to Ally."
Certainly if one had to pick a single act from history that could have doomed this exhibition well before it was conceived, one would have to cite the burning of the Library of Congress by British troops when they invaded Washington during the War of 1812. Although the British admiral who torched the U.S. Capitol -- and the Library of Congress within -- reportedly expressed his regret, asserting that he made war "neither against Letters nor Ladies," a depiction of this dastardly act taken from an English book of the same year contradicts such niceties, as does a book that came to light in 1940 bearing an inscription in Admiral Cockburn's hand that it was taken as a souvenir when the U.S. Capitol was destroyed.
But the "special relationship" enjoyed by America and Great Britain survived such atrocities. The ties of culture, history and language are simply too strong. Even the words for America's national anthem were set to the tune of an English drinking song, "To Anacreon in Heaven," and a copy of the lyrics in Francis Scott Key's own hand is displayed.
British involvement in the American Civil War is symbolized by a stamp die bearing the likeness of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, that was used in Britain to print a 5-cent stamp. The die, die proof and stamp will be on display. A letter of condolence from Queen Victoria to Mary Todd Lincoln after the president was assassinated reminds us that even the course of empire can pause to acknowledge the shared humanity of suffering.
World War I brought Great Britain and the United States together as never before, even though President Wilson insisted that American ground forces serve under the command of an American general. Common interests are underscored by the display of the famous recruiting poster of 1917 of Uncle Sam saying "I Want You for U.S. Army" next to the earlier British poster of 1914 upon which it was based. Artifacts from the World War II era show how intertwined American interests became with those of Great Britain, as emphasized by the display of Churchill's reading copy, with handwritten corrections, of his speech to the Virginia General Assembly on March 9, 1946, where he said that "among the English-speaking peoples, there must be the union of hearts based upon conviction and common ideals."
To show appreciation for American support after the war, W. Somerset Maugham presented to the Library of Congress the autograph copy of his famous novel Of Human Bondage, which will be on display, together with a reciprocal gift that was organized by Librarian of Congress Luther Evans to the British people: Lewis Carroll's original manuscript, containing his own illustrations, of Alice's Adventure's Underground.
Almost all of the so-called benevolent societies that flourished in America in the first half of the 19th century -- Bible, tract and missionary societies -- were copied from British models, as was the crusade to abolish slavery. The section of the exhibition on "Reform Movements" traces this "anglicizing" influence on American life through original historical materials, up to and including the modern civil rights movement, which reversed the trend as events in America began to influence those in Great Britain. In the late 1960s, British militants even formed a Black Panther Party in imitation of the parent group in California.
The book said to have been the first publication in the Anglo-American world to advocate the immediate, unconditional abolition of slavery will be displayed: a volume by the British Quaker antislavery crusader Elizabeth Heyrick from 1824. American abolitionists even celebrated as an unofficial holiday Aug. 1, the date in 1834 when Britain emancipated the slaves in the West Indies. An address on this date by Ralph Waldo Emerson is included in this section, as are the manuscript of an address by Frederick Douglass upon leaving Great Britain, original sketches of illustrations for a British edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin and the draft of the Emancipation Proclamation in Lincoln's own hand.
At the beginning of the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, a delegation of American women was denied the opportunity to participate equally with men. Elizabeth Cady Stanton later asserted that the women's suffrage movement in both England and America had its origins in this affront. Original speeches, graphics, posters, photographs and songs document the history of this movement on both sides of the Atlantic.
In 1904 Susan B. Anthony presented to the Library of Congress her personal copy of Mary Wollstonecraft's pathbreaking Vindication of the Rights of Woman, first published in 1792 and included in the exhibition. Anthony wrote in the inscription to this volume that she was "a great admirer of this earliest work for woman's right to Equality of rights ever penned by a Woman."
In science and technology, as in so many other areas, British-American relations followed the same pattern: at first, Americans imitated and adopted British inventions and techniques, and then technology affected each country in a reciprocal manner in the mid-19th century, followed by the dominant influence of American science and technology in the 20th century.
Early British influence on America is exemplified by printed works relating to the invention of the steam engine by Scotsman James Watt (1736-1819); yet it was an American, John Fitch, who adapted the steam engine to a boat, operating a steam-powered vessel on the Delaware River on Aug. 22, 1787, as members of the Constitutional Convention watched. The exhibition includes a sketch of a steamboat by Fitch from that year. The influence of American technology on Great Britain was first established with the Great London Exhibition of 1851, which featured American products such as the McCormick reaper and the Colt revolver. Later, the Singer sewing machine became popular in Great Britain. An American entrepreneur, Cyrus Field (1819-1892) organized the major Anglo-American effort to lay a cable across the Atlantic, finally succeeding in 1866 after many earlier setbacks. A large print titled "The Eighth Wonder of the World: The Atlantic Cable" commemorates the achievement. Other illustrations compare American and British advances in bridge and canal-building, railroads, telegraphs, architecture, computer-building, medicine and other forms of technology, not omitting an illustration of the flush toilet, which was perfected by Englishman Thomas Crapper in 1884.
A wide assortment of British and American examples have been drawn together for the "Popular Culture" and "Language and Literature" sections of the exhibition. Here visitors will find many sporting items relating to the history of horse racing, golf, boxing and football. Musical and theatrical influences are documented in sheet music, photographs of Shakespearean actors, Gilbert and Sullivan manuscripts and posters advertising wild west shows in London.
For sheer cultural impact, perhaps nothing compares to the "British Invasion" of America by the Beatles in the 1960s. Publicity materials from their first album, "Meet the Beatles," will be displayed from the Library's Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, and the British Library has lent an original holograph score of a musical composition by Paul McCartney. Surely one of the reasons the Beatles were so successful in this country was because their music was so familiar. They were heavily influenced by American rock and roll and the exhibition acknowledges this debt with items relating to Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and other American musical talents.
Various literary masterpieces and rare items have been selected to draw attention to the common language that "separates" America and Great Britain, as George Bernard Shaw reportedly characterized it. In 1820 Englishman Sydney Smith asked, "Who Reads an American Book?" in a famous essay in the Edinburgh Review, and a large American-made "Pictorial Chart of English Literature" shows the influence of English literature in America into the 20th century.
Still, American soldiers stationed in Britain during World War II were given a sort of "English-English" dictionary, one of which is on display. Also included are the first American edition of Shakespeare's plays (1795), a manuscript page from a Dickens novel (and personal items belonging to the author, above), a T.S. Eliot manuscript, an Auden poem, and Mark Twain's letter to his British publishers describing Huckleberry Finn as a "rattling good one.
Mr. D'Ooge is media director in the Public Affairs Office.
"John Bull and Uncle Sam: Four Centuries of British-American Relations" is supported by a grant from the Annenberg Foundation. Curator for the Library of Congress is James Hutson, working with Irene Chambers, chief of the Interpretive Programs Office, and Martha Hopkins, exhibition director. The head of exhibitions at the British Library is Alan Sterenberg. The exhibition, which runs Nov. 18 through March 4, will be open, free of charge, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. An online version of the exhibition will be available on the Library's Web site at http://www.loc.gov/exhibits.