Monday, December 8, 2014

Manuscript Monday—Epistolary drama

Processing an archival collection is a lot like watching a baseball game: stretches of mild boredom alternate unexpectedly with moments of great pleasure, excitement, and discovery. This is especially true of the Asbury Harpending papers (MS 950), a collection in which wonderful gems of correspondence are found scattered amongst the most tedious financial records. Many of these letters hint at moments of great personal crisis, the details of which can only be guessed. The letter below, written to Harpending by his longtime associate George D. Roberts, has a desperate Dostoevskian quality typical of Harpending's correspondence; in fact, the sum of money in question (3,000) is exactly the sum so desperately needed by Dmitri in The Brothers Karamazov.
[George D. Roberts?] letter to Asbury Harpending, 1884 November 8, Asbury Harpending papers, MS 950, California Historical Society
Harpending and Roberts had a relationship that would today be termed "dysfunctional," with Roberts often accusing his friend and business associate of false accusations, untruths, and great injustices. Nonetheless, they appear to have stuck it out together. Whether their bond was one of true friendship or complicity (or both) can only be guessed.

Marie Silva
Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian
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