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The first visitors' book used in the library had a remarkable history. It belonged to Prof. Webster, and contains these words in ink, probably written by the owner: "Mineralogical cabinet, Harvard College, 1838 and 1839. Removed to the present room in 1842." Below in pencil, as usual, is the explanatory note: "The mineral cabinet occupied the east lower room of Harvard Hall, till it was moved to the upper room in Harvard, which had been occupied by the library." On the fly-leaf is the following interesting note by John Langdon Sibley: "After Webster's execution, search was made for this book, with the hope that it might result in some pecuniary benefit to his family. After a long time it was found in a box with minerals. Friends of the family were consulted, and the writer was advised not to mention it, but to appropriate this book to his private use. It belonged to Prof. Webster." This was the professor to whom Ben Butler's famous remark applied, that "we hanged one of them [the Harvard professors] the other day."
This time-worn volume is incomplete, but contains some 180 pages of manuscript, embracing about 3600 names, about half of which number are now illegible. Many were written in pencil, and many more with an insufficient supply of ink, so that several hundred worthy persons lost their chance of gaining an immortality by neglecting to pay enough attention to details. The first gentleman, however, who signed on the 2d of July, 1838, evidently appreciated the honor of being the "first visitor" to Harvard College, so that we can still read with pleasure that his name was Thomas, and that he came from near Dublin, Ireland. The details in this volume are often very curious. One married lady from Russia, with amiable reverence for truth, gives her maiden name in full. Something of the same spirit possessed the party of eight young ladies and gentlemen, who record that they were "locked in." The oblivion of youth heeded not the page's cry, "Library closed!"
It is amazing to read the names of the young "Lieuts., U. S. N.," who visited the library in the "forties." Business in their line seems to have been slack during the "calm" before the war. On June 19, 1843, in a faltering but plain hand, Robert Andrews of Bridgton, Me., 91 years old, records, "I was at the battle of Bunker Hill." On the same page John Tyler, Sr., Washington, has written his name with a firmness of hand and an amount of ink that insures it preservation "till the coming of time." With the same plainness of writing is the name of a now famous Western lawyer, J. Young Scammon, Chicago, III. Not so bold in style, but with an antique scholarship, a certain Joannes Ignatius ventured upon some Latin which begins thus: "Kalendus Julus anni MDCCCXLIII., hac finis in Bostoniensi academia."
This remarkable volume contains on the last page an immense amount of pencil flourishing by John M. Goodwin of S. Boston, who adds by way of a joke, "Nicholas of Russia." Thus closes the first book used in Harvard College as a vistors' register. It, however, was the private property of Prof. Webster, and only came into possession of the college through the kindness of John Langdon Sibley, years after the death of its owner. About ten years after Prof. Webster's book was closed Volume I. of the register for visitors to Harvard College Library was opened in January, 1859, by Mary S. Felton.
In many places in this volume names have been cut out, and in these instances a note at the top tells us of the day of the mutilation, and states that the name thus lost is known to the librarian. After losing a number of names in this way, and after having left his own autograph on as many pages, the librarian adopted the ingenious method of tearing out the page on which an illustrious visitor had left his marks, and of restoring the leaves after the rage for autographs had departed from the breasts of the kleptomaniacs. Thus we find the Duke Alexis and a few of his suite occupy a lonely position at the top of a page. The democratic Dom Pedro is relegated to another lonely leaf. These are some of the woes "that troop with majesty."
Perhaps the second volume, which begins in 1864 and ends in 1871, contains the greatest number of famous names. It opens with the signatures of the librarian and his assistants. In 1864 Richard H. Dana, Jerome Bonaparte, and the world-renowned Daniel Pratt, the Great American Traveller, S. T. 1860 X. all visited the college within a month of one another. It seems that the invincible Daniel has been a great traveller since 1864, without having succeeded in getting beyond Cambridge. Succeeding Daniel comes W. T. Sherman, Maj. Gen. U. S. Army, 1866. Wendell Phillips, fresh from his anti-slavery work, writes his name with the same boldness as he was wont to speak.
The third volume extends from 1871 to 1878. Great names seem to decline. One of the customs which seemed to have gained ground after the war was that of classes signing. This appears in 1866 and 1869, where nearly all of each class signed. The visitors' register has been kept in the Harvard Library for thirty-three years, during which about 1570 octavo pages have been covered with names, containing about 25 names to a page, making a total of about 26,110.
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