The first volume of Leander’s diary, now safely archived

In the first chapter of American Sympathy, my 2001 study of the literary representation of affection between men in the antebellum United States, I wrote about two genteel Quakers in late-18th-century Philadelphia who kept diaries recording their romantic friendship. Their names were John Fishbourne Mifflin and James Gibson, and they went by the cognomens of Leander and Lorenzo, respectively. Gibson’s diary and the second volume of Mifflin’s were, and still are, in the archives of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. (Here’s a link to the catalog entry for the physical diaries, and one page of Leander/Mifflin’s diary has been digitized and is available online here. Rather cleverly, the page that the archivists chose to digitize is the one where Leander/Mifflin begins to describe a rather erotic dream that he had about Lorenzo/Gibson.)

I also had access to the first volume of Leander/Mifflin’s diary, through a photocopy that was loaned to me. This photocopy had been made by a bookseller decades earlier, while appraising a private individual’s collection. For safety’s sake, before returning this photocopy, I made a photocopy for myself. This turned out to be prudent, because the first-generation photocopy that I returned was later lost, and although the person who was thought to be the owner of the original manuscript graciously granted me permission to publish, he later told me that he had never been able to locate the original in his collection. Perhaps the bookseller had been mistaken in his memory of who owned the original. In any case, the second-generation photocopy that I had made became the only copy available to scholars.

Over the years, I sent reproductions of the photocopy to any scholar who asked, including Richard Godbeer, who wrote about the diarists in The Overflowing of Friendship (2013), and Sarah Knott, who wrote about them in Sensibility and the American Revolution (2009), but it made me nervous that I hadn’t made any provision about putting the photocopy into an archive somewhere. When my father-in-law passed away this January, I was reminded of the propriety of taking care of these things sooner rather than later, and at last I emailed the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to ask them if they would take custody of the photocopy. I’m happy to report that they said yes, I sent it, and it arrived safely. It doesn’t seem to be in their online catalog yet, but it’s there, if any scholar wants to consult it.

Of course I made a third-generation photocopy for myself, before I put the second-generation one in the mail.

Leander visits Columbia, 1786

Columbia University is celebrating its 250th anniversary, in honor of which, here’s how the college looked to a visitor on Wednesday, 16 August 1786, when it was just thirty-two. (The visitor was a graduate of Nassau Hall, today known as Princeton, and the comparisons of Columbia to his alma mater are a little invidious.)

. . . Went to view the bathing-houses — like them exceedingly & propose to go in tomorrow if the day is suitable —— from thence took a direction for the college & after passing thro some stragling [sic] ill-built streets came to it — It stands on a very elevated situation & makes a good appearance — I wished to see the inside but having no acquaintance with any of the professors I was somewhat at a loss — at length concluded to enquire for Mr Schuyler (son to the General) upon the strength of my acquaintance with his brother John — The building has four doors & (I think) sixteen windows in width — I enter’d the first door which lead [sic] to one of the professor’s appartments [sic] & was directed to the second to enquire for Mr Scuyler’s [sic] room — I found the College was like many New York houses, more in appearance than reality — it was very ill-contrived & but one room & two studies deep — very narrow passages & shabby staircases — & upon the whole nothing to compare to Nassau Hall either in airiness or convenience — when I entered the second door some blowsy headed man who was very much like the picture of Peter the Wild Boy, an usher I supposed, came out into the entry — he pointed for me to go up stairs & dodged in again — I went up, & a desolate castle it appeared to be for I peep’d into the third story without seeing or hearing a creature — In the third story I rattled at a study door which was locked when a sudden voice bawl’d out “who’s there” — I answerd [sic] “a friend” & rattled again before it was opened, when a trio of blades were discovered who seemd [sic] to drop their ears all at once on seeing a sort of person whom they so little expected — They were however very civil chums & showed me into the next room for Mr Schuyler’s while one of them went down to call him — he was not to be found but his room-mate (I took him to be) appeared — an awkward gangling young man about twenty — I told him I wanted to see the college & had called on Mr Schuyler for that purpose — Whether it was thro’ indolence or confusion or that things really were as he described them I cannot tell, but he gave such a woeful account of things that my curiosity was quite satisfied — that their apparatus was broken, their library destroyed, that there were no good rooms, & in short that there was nothing in it worth a stranger’s notice — How different thought I is this from the emulation of Nassau, & gave him a hint of it which did not seem to touch his pride much, so after enquiring the number of students (of whom he said there were thirty) & a few more questions I left my compliments for Mr. S & bid him good morning — the chums at the door (of whom a party had gathered in the mean time) all making their obeisance to me as I passed —I returned by the Oswego market & made a bargain with a fruit woman for some temptingly fine large plums . . .

The description is from pages 97 to 99 of the first volume of the diary of Leander, a.k.a. John Fishbourne Mifflin, discussed in chapter 1 of my book, American Sympathy.