I’m glancing through this book Almost History, full of documents from US history of times that very nearly went another way or look, in retrospect, ironic — Grant’s apology to Lincoln for not being able to take him up on the theater invitation, Eisenhower’s apology for the failure of D-Day, things like that. (Particularly interesting in light of another book I’m reading right now, Connie Willis’s All Clear — it centers on time travelers and her theory is that history is a chaotic system, where tiny changes can have huge, unpredicted effects; well, here are some examples.)
In this book I encounter the following — it’s the second half of a letter to the Smithsonian in 1899:
The works on the subject to which I have access are Marey’s and Jamieson’s books published by Appleton’s and various magazines and cyclopaedic articles. I am about to begin a systematic study of the subject in preparation for practical work to which I expect to devote what time I can spare from my regular business. I wish to obtain such papers as the Smithsonian Institution has published on this subject, and if possible a list of other works in print in the English language. I am an enthusiast, but not a crank in the sense that I have some pet theories as to the proper construction of a flying machine. I wish to avail myself of all that is already known, and then if possible add my mite to help on the future worker who will attain final success. I do not know the terms on which you send out your publications but if you will inform me of the cost I will remit the price.
4 thoughts on “one of history’s great reference requests”
Thanks for posting about this book. I hadn’t heard of it, and I find these kinds of letters, documents, and photographs fascinating. Perhaps I should have become an archivist instead.
One of the reasons I left my previous career was because the industry was so entirely unnecessary and, in fact, wasteful. On days I would be completely stressed out I would have to tell myself, “It’s not like you’re curing cancer.” One of the things I really love about being a librarian now is that I never get stressed out, yet I may be helping someone cure cancer! I read passages like this one from Wilbur Wright and love that so many reference transactions are important.
Wow. “I am an enthusiast, but not a crank.” Totally a sign of a crank when I get a letter…
*g* Yeah, my friend John liked that too. I had been wondering whether a sentence like that made it more, or less, likely that letter-writers were cranks (although the next few lines do bolster his enthusiast case; and hey, if he’s willing to pay for the books, may as well send them…)