Tuesday, March 15, 2022

An inscribed book of children's poetry: Did E. D. Cumming know Lincoln Kirstein?

One of the things about writing a biography is knowing when to stop. I published Ten Past Noon: Focus and Fate at Forty in 2020, but I keep learning things about Edward Dilworth Cumming.

Image by noriyuki yagi from Pixabay

I have just found that Edward — "Ned" — once owned a book of children's poetry and stories in German, Schnaken & Schnurren, by Wilhelm Busch and published in M√ľnchen in the 1860s-1870s. He wrote his name inside it. Eventually, the collection ended up in the hands of Lincoln Kirstein, who was six years younger than Ned, and who donated it to the Morgan in 1979. It's still available to see at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City today.

I don't know if the two of them knew each other as children and exchanged the book then, or if they did it later as adults, or if a used bookseller was an intermediary and the two of them never knew each other at all.

Schnaken & Schnurren / von Wilhelm Busch ; eine Sammlung humoristischer kleiner Erzählungen in Bildern. I. Teil. Author: Busch, Wilhelm, 1832-1908. Published: München: Verlag von Braun & Schneider, [189-?] Gift of Lincoln Kirstein, 1979. E. Mühlthalers Buch- und Kunstdruckerei A.G., München --verso of lower cover. Edward Dilworth Cumming, Irvington--inscription in black ink on recto of fly-leaf. Dyrsen & Pfeiffer. New York. 16 West 33rd Street--bookseller's label inside upper cover. Binding: Publisher's pictorial cream colored paper boards, printed in black, blue, red, yellow, and green. Provenance: Edward Dilworth Cumming, inscription; from the library of Lincoln Kirstein.
Screenshot of the library catalog listing of Schnaken & Schnurren from the Morgan.

The question interests me because, while Cumming was a private person and I know nothing about his personal relationships, Kirstein was more prominent and knew famous people. While a Harvard undergraduate, Kirstein was a cofounder of the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art, along with his fellow undergraduates Edward Warburg and John Walker and a twentysomething PhD candidate, Alfred Barr, a bisexual man who was already lecturing on modernist art at Wellesley College. (This detail on Kirstein comes from Bad Gays: A Homosexual History.)

Ned Cumming died in 1940 and Lincoln Kirstein died in 1996.

You can learn more about Cumming in Ten Past Noon: Focus and Fate at Forty.

You can learn more about Kirstein in Lincoln Kirstein: The Published Writings 1922-1977. A First Bibliography and in Martin Duberman's The Worlds of Lincoln Kirstein. Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 2008.


If you'd like to learn more about my work, I've published books. Also, I write for Medium. There, readers with a paid membership don't have to worry about the paywall.


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