Tuesday, June 19, 2007


So I just found that the library of our august institution has what appears to be a first edition of Countee Cullen's book Color (1925) out on its shelves. The only slightly crumbly volume was donated by one Hamilton Cottier, class of '22, who writes this on the inside cover: "Interestingly reviewed./ Good, but quite unremarkable, poetry - were it not by a negro, and chiefly about the Negro, it would not be worth printing. - 6/27/26." This is the only thing written in the book other than his name. So on the one hand, thanks Prof. Cottier, for donating the book. On the other... One imagines him walking in the P-rade every year, waving to smiling crowds of young alumni who cheer him uncomplicatedly. But maybe he's not such a bad fellow -- after all, this is a quotation of a review, no? Not his own judgment on the book. Well, needless to say this sent me on a tizzy of distracting research. Let us begin.


Ann Seton Cottier -- later "Anya Seton," the popular novelist of meticulously researched historical novels (and daughter of Boy Scouts of America co-founder Edward Thomas Seton) -- married Hamilton Cottier. Here she is, the blushing bride:

According to Lucinda H. MacKethan: "Daughter Ann Cottier enjoyed a stimulating intellectual life with her husband in Oxford and then returned with him to Princeton, New Jersey to become an increasingly unhappy faculty wife. By 1929, the Seton family identity had been violently ruptured, resembling Little Peequo itself, a house that had been built haphazardly, expanded at odd angles, and scarred by fire in 1922."

And the followin
g appeared in Time magazine (Monday, 17 Feb. 1930):
"Sued for divorce. Hamilton Cottier, Princeton English instructor; by Mrs. Ann Seton Cottier, daughter of Ernest Thompson Seton (woodcrafty author); at Reno. Grounds: mental cruelty."

Funny (or at least that's one word for it) that some very slight vestige of this "mental cruelty" might (might - i'm trying not to libel here) stretch down to some random stack-searcher, getting one last book as the work day winds down on a Tuesday nearly a century later.

A different, distinguished faculty member, Prof. John Fleming, had this to say in a column for the Princetonian (3/24/03): "A single grim subject occupies my mind; but my unimportant opinions about events in Iraq would amount to no more than another teardrop in the bucket, or rather sea of troubles on which our lumbering ship of state is now tossed. I'm facing writing deadlines, and I have been sticking to Firestone Library, where I continue to be amazed at what one can find in books."

Here here!
Prof. Fleming goes on to find the signatures of interesting ex-faculty in our library, including that of H. Cottier in the Variorum Spenser. But there's more to find: Racism, lurid prying into the lives of ex-faculty, an upsetting inability to decipher whether the note is in the hand of this ex-prof. or that of some nameless student (since the volume appears to have been bought, for $1.20, at the University Store). What can't one find in these books?