Manufacture of a Long Theme. UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS -- COLLEGE LIFE, William L. FERGUS, 1875?-1956?
Manufacture of a Long Theme.
Manufacture of a Long Theme.

Manufacture of a Long Theme.

Fascinating archive of student papers from a University of Illinois engineering undergraduate, dated between 16 January 1894 and 20 March 1896. Consists of 109 "themes" (rectos only) on 130 ruled leaves, each 8" X 10½", each signed and dated on the verso by Fergus. Overall very good. Each bears a strong vertical fold running down center (as turned in), but not weakened; a few show bits of edgewear and the occasional stray stain, one bears a large corner chip (not affecting text) and several multi-page themes are held together with 2-prong brass clasps. Most are quite neatly and legibly penned in ink, a smaller number in pencil. Item #45662

Fergus was a bright young engineering student, apparently a Chicagoan, assigned to the required rhetoric course of "Mr. Clark" -- Thomas Arkle Clark (1862-1932), who began teaching in the Rhetoric Department this same year, became department head in 1899 and was named acting dean in 1900. Needing to write a single-page theme every few days, the resulting mass of text is in effect a diary in which we follow Fergus's thinking on a wide variety of topics from his freshman through his junior year. These topics tend to fall within five broad groups -- in no particular order: DAY-TO-DAY UNIVERSITY LIFE: Lugging an enormous telescope that "now weighed four hundred and thirty-seven pounds" from the train station to his boarding house; nice image of studying calculus in room with clacking of croquet being played outside next door; the difficult of keeping a room warm and of heating a room with a stove; fire in student's boarding house room; "The Athletic Park presents a lively scene on any afternoon from four to five o'clock... the whir of the bicycles and the jerky gait of the sprinters are scarcely noticed beside the greater attraction of the football practice"; "The most talked of part of the freshman-sophomore combination today is the new order or request that every one shall appear in a 'prep suit'"; annoyance of military-style drills; "This military business is entirely overdone in this University; "There has been a strong movement towards its abolition [the color-rush] among both the sophomores and freshman... but it is rather a delicate question to settle'; "the faculty has accepted the [football] challenge of the seniors... the line-up of the profs is only guessed at but the ones most frequently mentioned are: for position of center, Vendervoort or Weston; for guards, Weston and Krohn, for tackles, Curtiss and Brush... the candidates for ends may be Piatt, Esty, Sager, or Burnham; half-backs Clark (C.B.) and Barton... the odds are three to two on the profs'"; football followup noting "Too bad about that score, wasn't it. Went the wrong way. That was a 'hot' game, though"; visit of hypnosis pioneer Professor Roche -- "A number of the students are having a great deal of fun out of his performances"; "The Gym seems to answer fairly well to the requirements of the athletes of the University in nearly every particular" -- except for a much-needed track; "unofficial talk of introducing the 'honor system' in examinations at the University of Illinois and the benefit of it. CHALLENGES OF ENGINEERING MAJORS: Difficulty of calculus and " tearing my hair over an attempt to master a few lines or paragraphs or pages of 'Elements of the Differential and Integral Calculus' by Simon Newcomb''; sophomore engineers' fear of final examinations, when "each 'soph' eyes paragraph of his 'calc' as it rapidly slips past, and wonders whether that will be the one to undo him"; "I am confident that in [Mexico] and on the southern continent there are openings for many... engineers who come from the University of Illinois"; "The Library and the Engineering Student" "No one has greater need to read up on current events than the student of engineering, and no one has less opportunity"; drawing of "Plate XII" of a "Belt Gearing / Diagram for Finding Size of Cones / for Open Belts" and description of making said drawing; "A Down-draft Boiler Furnace" -- four page description of how it functions; drawing of surveying level and tale of helping check grades on Chicago streets; legislators visit and "carry away everything that they could lift... electrical engineers are feeling much cast down on account of the prophecy of one of the legislators who impressively informed them that they would never find what electricity is"; Professor Shattuck's reception for 20 integral calculus students; "The junior engineers visited the 'Big Four' shops today" in Champaign. CHAMPAIGN AND ITS ISSUES: Missing the suburban train on a snow day and taking the cable and horse cars, halted by a derailed car; incredible description of a gypsy family he spotted riding three "prairie schooners with white duck tops" filled with children down "the principal street of Champaign"; analysis "from an engineering standpoint" of Champaign's flooding issue. CHICAGO AND ILLINOIS: "I saw away to the south the red glow of a burning building. My first impulse was to step over to the nearest telephone and ask if the World's Fair was burning again, but recollecting that Champaign is south of Jackson Park and that I had seen the Fair burn up twice"; several pages on a strange Frenchman from Tennessee met at the World's Fair; describing scenery on train trip home to Chicago for Thanksgiving -- "the scenery between Champaign and Chicago looks almost as interesting in the dark as by day light... at last I recognized Pullman; then the ruins of the World's Fair"; "Illinois Weather in General, and Chicago Weather in Particular... Chicago was the only place where an Esquiman and a South Sea Islander could both be suited in the same day"; several pages describing Chicago's Lake Shore Drive and the crowds found there at different times of day; "The attitude of the Chicago papers toward the University is mainly that of total indifference" and how to improve this; train travel from Chicago to Champaign; description of Chicago train conductor Tim. ODDBALL ECLECTIC TOPICS: Spending uncomfortable night at Silverton, Colorado train station and waking to a most awful noise, it was long and loud, it commenced in a whistling shriek and ended in a low rumble which seemed to shake the ground... our first introduction to the famous Rocky Mountain Nightingale"; several pages on visiting the silver mines of northern Mexico and engineering the roads there; "Celebrating Hallowe'en is a custom that has nearly died out, especially in large cities where the police are numerous" -- then elaborating a gate-unhinging prank; bizarre and unusual transcript of a telephone conversation about a real estate lot; seven-page short story titled "Miss Euphemia's Boy"; five months spent in Columnes (Sacramento County, CA) and the Chinese population there. This is a heavy sampling of the topics represented in this detailed chronicle of the life and interests of a U. of I. student of the 1890s. For an undergraduate Fergus was a clever, imaginative writer and creates many vivid images. In red ink, Clark makes a correction or two on many of the essays and always offers a sentence or two of commentary on the verso. The title given this archive is the title of Fergus's October 29, 1895 theme, for it appropriately describes the entire collection: Seven miniscule ink sketches, each captioned, chronicle a student's approach to creating themes: "1. Preliminary Processes" shows a young man standing beside his work desk, empty save a lamp and inkpot. "2. Roughing Out" shows him seated at the desk with a blank sheet in front of him, scratching his head with his pen. "3. Brazing on the Introduction" shows him writing furiously. "4. Retarding the Movement" shows him leaning back in his chair, hands clasped behind his head and apparently asleep. "5. Working on the Frame" shows him working away again. "6. Assembling" shows him still writing, head resting on left hand and papers strewn on the floor. And finally "&. The Finished Article" shows an empty desk with papers across its top and the chair tipped over, many papers cluttering the floor. A meaty, highly interesting archive that highlights the daily life, academic and personal interests of an articulate young man of the period.

Price: $495.00