Undergraduate Language Classes to Howard Cosell and Back Again

A.S.W. Rosenbach, 1898, the year he graduated from college.
Gilbert & Bacon, portrait of A.S.W Rosenbach. Philadelphia: [1898]. 2006.1989.

Our founder, A.S.W. Rosenbach, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1898. He went to earn his doctorate from Penn three years later (hence the nickname “Doctor R.”) His doctoral thesis explored “The Influence of Celestina in the Early English Drama.” (Celestina is a Spanish novel attributed to Fernando de Rojas, a converso, or Jewish convert to Christianity, published in 1499. It was originally entitled Comedia de Caliste y Melibea but it’s been known as La Celestina since the early 16th century.) As you might imagine, given his topic, Dr. R. had a facility for languages. Courtesy of the kind staff of the University of Pennsylvania Archives, here is a list of the language courses he took as an undergraduate:

1894/1895: French, German, Hebrew I
1895/1896: French, German
1896/1897: Italian, French, German
1897/1898: Italian, Spanish, German, French

Holy polyglot! First of all, what else did he study besides languages? Dio mio! And how do you keep track of so many languages at once? Ay, Dios mio! Sure, his senior year he studied three Romance languages, so maybe that’s a bit easier to juggle, but he was taking German the whole time, too. Mein Gott! I’m told that in his senior year he was awarded a prize for best senior work in French Language and Literature. Mon Dieu!

Franklin FieldVince Lombardi on a happier occasion.Tangent: The Penn Archives are housed in the University’s football stadium,Franklin Field. The Penn Athletics website reminds visitors that Chuck Bednarik: He could tackle you really hard five times before you hit the ground.Vince Lombardi lost his only playoff game at Franklin Field in 1960, but neglects to mention who won. That was the game, as any Philadelphian in good standing can tell you, in which the Eagles won their last NFL Championship, thanks to a clutch tackle in the last few seconds by the legendary Chuck Bednarik, the last of the 60-minute men.
Cosell: Fled Franklin Field Following Fouling of Fellow Football Flogger's Footwear
Wikipedia, incidentally, has some great stories about Franklin Field. I can’t resist relating the one about Howard Cosell vomiting on Don Meredith’s boots during a Monday Night Football broadcast, then catching a cab back to New York. Cosell claimed he wasn’t drunk, as was commonly suspected, but just worn out from overdoing it while running laps with U.S. 200 meter Olympic Gold medalist Tommie Smith. Ay-ay-ay, Señor Ding-Dong! That’s unbelievable. I do Dandy Don: Dirtiedactually believe it’s physically impossible for something like that to happen today. Modern sports broadcasting has changed the nature of human existence to prevent just these kinds of incidents from occurring.

Tommie Smith at the top of the podium, Mexico City, 1968.Center: The great Tommie Smith. He held 11 world records simultaneously.My father would never forgive me if I didn’t also mention that Franklin Field is home to the greatest track and field meet in the world, the Penn Relays. End of tangent.
The Rosenbach has the Hebrew-English dictionary Abie Rosenbach used in his freshman Hebrew class. The folks at Penn also informed me that the class was intended for juniors — A.S.W. must have had some real Hebrew skills to have been admitted into the class taught by Professor Marcus Jastrow, one of the leading scholars in the field. Jastrow’s work apparently still influences Hebrew scholarship a century later. Jastrow was also a librarian at Penn which may also have appealled to Rosenbach, a confirmed bibliophile since childhood.
The Rosenbach Museum & Library.  Ro3 895he.
Hebrew-English Lexicon: Containing all the Hebrew and Chaldee Words in the Old Testament Scriptures with Their Meanings in English
London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1895.
Ro3 895he

Along with Abie’s omnivorous interest in languages, this little book gives us a peek into his passion for collecting books. Seen here is his hand-written book plate, appropriately using his Hebrew name. What I love about this bookplate is that even though he’s had to draw it in himself (presumably because he doesn’t have a printed one to paste into the book), his ambition as a collector is right upfront. The Latin text comes from the motto of legendary bibliophile Jean Grolier who is remembered as having liked to share his books. It translates as “From the Library of Avram [i.e. Abraham] Rosenbach and his friends” (though I’m told his Hebrew penmanship is a bit rough). So, here’s A.S.W. Rosenbach, a mere eighteen years old or so, adopting the bookplate of one of the greatest collectors of all time. It seems young Abie set his sights high early on in his collecting career.
C2 f.E65d. A detail of the Rosenbach's sole Grolier book.Erasmaus, Desiderius (d.1536). Des Erasmi Rot. Ecclesiastae… Basel: 1535. C2 f.E65d.

Of course one has to wonder if Rosenbach intended to be ironic when he pencilled in his Grolierian label. The book is quite humble and utilitarian — it’s a dictionary for a freshman language class, you know. Plus he just wrote it in using pencil, not even bothering with ink. He did sign his name on the opposite page in ink, though, so maybe he intended the bookplate as a kind of joke, not meant to be permanent. Who knows? The little French bit may or may not offer some insight. It reads “Les Bibliophies sont ___!”, which translates as “the bibliophiles are ___!” The bibliophiles are what? Precocious? Presumptuous? Scandalously handsome? I dunno. But I suspect that Dr. Rosenbach pencilled in the French phrase some time later, as an older collector picking up a book from his college days, seeing the bookplate text borrowed from Grolier, and having a bit of a chuckle at the expense of his younger self.

The French phrase itself resembles other notes Dr. R. left in others of his books — written in pencil in tiny handwriting, inside the front cover. Those notes tend to read more like “The only copy known.”, or “The first book printed in the Mid-Atlantic colonies.”, or sometimes even “A marvelous volume!” Rosenbach’s small notes are the discreet comments you might leave in a valuable, important book, and “damn rare” book, especially if you’ve become a legend in bookish circles. You want to comment on your book, and put your mark on it, but you don’t want to alter it too much. (Of course, if you love books as Rosenbach did, sometimes you can’t help yourself and your excitement, however contained by discretion, comes out.) Either way, you probably wouldn’t sloppily scrawl a bookplate in just any college textbook. That’s not a book you “collect” in the Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach/Jean Grolier sense; it’s one you have and you use. Though I suppose it is one you might share with friends or classmates.

Interestingly, Rosenbach never did use a book plate in his books. I’m not sure why. Because the books he had periodically slipped in and out of Rosenbach Company’s stock and there was always the possibilty that he might sell them, perhaps he didn’t want to bother with a bookplate. Or perhaps he remembered his youthful bookplate with a touch of chagrin and wanted to be a bit more modest once he’d really established himself…

I’m posting this because I had to cut this book from a small exhibition I put together for our Library. I stuffed the case with too many books and had to make some room, so this one got the ax. But I like this glimpse into the mind of a young book collector and scholar, and so here you are.

Ay-ay-ay, Señor Ding-Dong!

One thought on “Undergraduate Language Classes to Howard Cosell and Back Again

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