Sunday, September 8, 2013

New Burgess Biography: Nature's Ambassador by Christie Lowrance

I am pleased to announce the publication of Christie Lowrance's new biography of Thornton W. Burgess. It is the first truly comprehensive Burgess biography. (Even TWB's own Now I Remember is more a series of memoirs than a true life story).

A careful reader of this blog and other existing accounts of his life will already have the broad outline of TWB's work and its significance. (Indeed, this blog is acknowledged (and recommended) as a useful resource [Thanks, Christie!]). Lowrance's special contribution (beyond putting everything in a cohesive package) is more access to Burgess the man (she draws extensively from his journals and correspondence) and more evidence about his legacy (she interviewed dozens of people [including me], some of whom knew TWB personally). I think she makes a compelling case that Thornton W. Burgess deserves more credit than he currently receives for influencing our relationship with the natural world.

At any rate, it is highly recommended and available through the Burgess Society website.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Page: Burgess Bedtime Story posts

To make it easier for future readers to make it through the 50-plus Burgess Bedtime Story posts, I have constructed an index page. Readers, of course, can already navigate from year to year simply by following the "older post" and "newer post" links at the bottom of each post. Nevertheless, I thought it might be useful for readers looking for a particular year to have a full linked list. The page does not include posts that are about things other than the stories themselves.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Online sources for Burgess newspaper stories

I've provided some of this information in a previous post but I thought it might be useful for some readers who might be inspired to track down some of the actual stories I've written about.

Google News Archives is the best free source, and so that's what I'll focus on.

The dates in parentheses indicate the years of the paper in the Google collection overall. The second pair of dates is the approximate starting and stopping point for Burgess stories. You will have to search the issues individually to find the stories, though by the 1930s they were usually run on the comics page.

Note that the Google collections are sometimes spotty with entire quarters occasionally missing. It usually works to move between the Lewiston Daily Sun and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. When both collections have holes at the same time, I usually had to move to a pay site to get the missing issues.

Milwaukee Journal (1884-1995) February 9, 1915-April 28, 1926

The Lewiston Daily Sun (1890-1989) April 4, 1921- November 10, 1943/ Dec 11. 43-October 21, 1961

The Deseret News (1832-2003) 1918/June 21, 1921-July 31, 1933

Youngstown Vindicator (1807-1984) July 6, 1921-January 16, 1932.

The Border Cities [Windsor, ON] Star (1918-1952) May 11, 1922 to June 4, 1925

Quebec Daily Telegraph (1812-1925) April 10, 1922-October 15, 1924

Pittsburgh Press (1819-1992) August 22, 1927-April 25, 1931.

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix (1851-1967) January 2, 1929-1965

Warsaw Times-Union (1949-1977) March 16, 1953-December 29, 1955. 

Edmonton Journal (1913-1986) May 1, 1953-May 31, 1955

Eugene Register-Guard (1867-2008) September 5, 1955-May 4, 1961.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Modular Story-telling

One of the things that first surprised me when I started investigating Thornton Burgess's newspaper stories was how modular they were, each a little unit that could stand alone or be combined with other units in a variety of ways. The first Bedtime Stories books, far from being reprints of continuous narratives from the newspaper serial, were very often composites of stories originally told months, sometimes years apart. These modular stories were only lightly edited for use in the books, if at all.

This modularity reached a whole new level when it came to the Burgess books published in the 1940s. Take, for example, At the Smiling Pool, which pieced together stories originally published from 1926 to 1943, sometimes, as in the case of "Peeper's Adventures", piecing together stories from many years apart to make a single chapter, or, as in the case of "Grandfather Frog's World," switching a story out of its original order in the continuity.

Below is the complete list of At the Smiling Pool chapters and the date of their original newspaper publication.

1. The Voice of Spring [March 30, April 1, 1942]
2. Peter Stops a Chorus [April 2-3, 1937]
3. Peeper's Adventures [April 9, 1926; May 7, 1934]
4. The Happy Trio [May 8-9, 1934]
5. The Smiling Pool Philosopher [June 7-8, 1934]
6. Grandfather Frog's World [September 11, 1940; August 15, 1935]
7. Taddy the Tadpole [May 24-25, 1937]
8. Taddy Meets his Father [May 26-28, 1937]
9. The Reward of Patience [September 7 and 9, 1940]
10. Little Mr. Know-it-all [September 12-14, 1940]
11. Jerry Muskrat is Envious [August 13-14, 1935]
12. Prickly Porky Seeks a Change [August 18-19, 1942]
13. An Honorable Retreat [June 21-23, 1939]
14. An Anxious Morning [May 31 to June 1, 1934]
15. Lessons in Living [June 2-4, 1934]
16. Greedy Touslehead [June 5-6, 1934]
17. Blacky's Chagrin [August 23-24, 1940]
18. Blacky Finds a Way [August 26-27, 1940]
19. Friendly Neighbors [May 7-8, 1940]
20. Mrs. Little Friend is Upset [May 10-11, 1937]
21. Surprising Babies [May 12-13, 1937]
22. Mrs. Slippery Slim [November 15-16, 1939]
23. A Happy Farewell [November 17-18, 1939]
24. Peter Makes a New Acquaintance [May 16-17, 1929]
25. A Secret is Kept [May 22-24, 1929]
26 The Happy Family [May 25 and 27, 1929]
27. The Water Sprites [May 28 and 29, 1929]
28. A Matter of Opinion [September 16 and 17, 1943]

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1960

The Stories

January 1 to January 8. Old Man Coyote tries to get beavers and grouse but fails. Little Joe Otter leaves fish for him to eat.

January 9. Tommy Tit isn't afraid of Jack Frost.

January 11 to January 16. Peter Rabbit finds himself too far from the Old Briar Patch and is almost caught by Whitey the Snowy Owl. Luckily Terror the Goshawk gets in the way and Peter makes it safely to a bramble-tangle. Peter decides he is getting old and will follow Jumper the Hare's advice to stay in the Old Briar Patch from now on.


The end of 48 years of Burgess Bedtime Stories was relatively abrupt with closure coming in a mere two stories. On January 15, Peter Rabbit, breathing hard from a race with Whitey the Snowy Owl that Peter almost lost, began to worry.
"I guess I'm getting old," thought Peter. "That Owl nearly caught me. I didn't dodge him as well as I used to. If this bramble-tangle had been any farther away I guess I would never had made it. I don't think I'll come over here [Green Forest] anymore..." 
"Somehow I don't feel just the way I used to. I can't run as fast as I once could. I think I can, but when I try to I find I can't. If I should meet Reddy Fox out on the Green Meadows I'm afraid I couldn't get back to the dear Old Briar Patch as I have so many times before. My legs are not what they used to be. No, sir, my legs are not what they used to be. When a fellow's legs play out it's time to stay at home. It isn't that I want to stay at home, because I don't. I like to get about and see what is going on. That is what legs are for." For a long time Peter continued to worry. 
[In his 1960 Life profile Burgess's only complaint about aging was the state of his legs.] January 16, Jumper the Hare came along and helped Peter make a final decision.
"If your legs really are not what they used to be, and you can't dodge as you used to dodge, there is only one thing for you to do," said Jumper. 
"I suppose, you mean, stay in the Old Briar Patch," said Peter. 
"That's just what I mean," replied Jumper. "Hasn't Mrs. Peter told you that?" 
"More times than I can remember," replied Peter. "She hardly ever leaves it."
Moreover there was an ethical reason why Peter should stay put:
"...If as you say, you are getting old, it is time to stop taking chances. You had better get back to the dear Old Briar-patch and stay there. You will save yourself a lot of trouble and danger, and perhaps save some other people, too. If it hadn't been for your being over here, Whitey the Snowy Owl and Terror the Goshawk would not have had a fight. And Terror wouldn't have lost two tail feathers." 
"I don't care if he did. I'm glad of it," said Peter. "Those two don't belong down here anyway." 
"But they are here. You don't want to forget that, Peter. They are here, but not over in the dear Old Briar-Patch," declared Jumper. 
And that was the end. It appears that there was supposed to be at least one more story. Previewed for the following Monday was "Peter's Last Race." And indeed, in the story above Peter had not yet returned to the Old Briar Patch, he was still in the bramble-tangle. He would need to make one more race in order to get there. But as far as I can tell that story was never published. One would assume Burgess intended for Peter to arrive safely but one wonders, given Burgess's trend toward naturalism, whether Peter might have illustrated the principle that animals in the wild rarely die of old age...

On Monday January 18, instead of "Peter's Last Race," there was a story from January 7, 1935, titled "A family gathering." It was run under the heading, "Nature Stories" (Burgess's preferred title for his series since the mid 1930s) and ran without an accompanying Harrison Cady illustration. For the rest of 1960, newspapers carrying Burgess stories continued the 1935 repeats. The series continued in repeats, primarily from the 1930s, until 1965. Burgess himself would die in June of that year. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Presenting A New Burgess Bedtime Stories Book

The Adventures of Rusty the Fox Squirrel

This book compiles "Burgess Bedtime Stories" from November 1, 1920 to December 16, 1920. I consider it one of Thornton W. Burgess's "lost books." While I have no evidence that he intended to publish it as a separate book, Burgess wrote it as a continuous narrative and although it contains familiar elements (Farmer Brown's boy takes care of a wounded animal, squirrels compete over nuts) I think it stands together as something new. Burgess's storytelling is top-notch throughout.

To parents who might want to read this to their children a few notes are in order. First, as in other Burgess books from this era (The Adventures of Poor Mrs. Quack and The Adventures of Bob White come to mind) there is a scene of violence involving a hunter and a gun. Second, Farmer Brown's boy's behavior in reaction to the hunter, while showing his deep commitment to the rights of his animal friends, is probably not something some parents would want their children to imitate. Finally, Burgess tells the story slowly, with a lot of recapitulation (these stories were serialized in newspapers), and the occasional archaic sentence construction. This is something I now appreciate, but the attention of smaller children will sometimes wander.

I've tried to keep my editing to a minimum. The design is based on the earliest Burgess Bedtime Story books, which were, limited by the printing technology of the day, probably not laid out for optimum readability. At some point in the future I will likely explore other book designs, as well as ebooks. The original is in an InDesign file, so I am also pursuing the possibility of actual printing (to be distributed via an "abandoned art" model I've used before).

Please enjoy and distribute freely. While I've embedded the book above, I think the reading experience is better via the downloaded pdf.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1959

The Stories

January 1 to January 16. Buster Bear breaks into the sugar house before settling down to sleep under a snow blanket. Meanwhile Reddy and Gray Fox jump when they catch the scent of Mother Bear and her new babies.

January 17 to January 24. Little Woody the Wood Mouse foolishly thinks he's safe because Buster Bear is sleeping close by his house.

January 26 to February 16. Rusty the Fox Squirrel moves because he fears (justifiably) that his tree won't last the winter. Yowler the Bobcat plans to catch him in his new nest until Tufty the Lynx interferes. After Tufty steals his hen, Yowler puts a dog on his trail, driving the Lynx from the Green Forest for good.

February 17 to February 23. Mrs. Grouse eats Chatterer the Red Squirrel's nuts.

February 24 to February 26. Danny Meadow Mouse wishes there was snow on the ground all year long. 

February 27 to March 6. It's Spooky the Screech Owl's turn to be trapped in a hole after an ice storm. Farmer Brown's boy comes to the rescue. 

March 7 to March 23. Crows mob Chatterer the Red Squirrel when he tries to get crow eggs but their mobbing action turns tragic when they try it on Mrs Hooty.

March 24 to April 3. King Eagle watches Reddy Fox do his silly duck catching dance. Then steals his duck. Later Reddy gets even by stealing a fish dropped by an osprey in tribute to eagle.

April 4 to April 18. Sharpshin the Hawk can't figure out where the bluebirds are nesting (a hole in a fence post). 

April 20 to May 1. Mrs. Woodcock attacks Peter Rabbit for giving away the location of her nest. 

May 2 to May 21. Peter Rabbit asks Johnny Chuck a lot of questions about hole digging, then is surprised to learn that woodchucks eat cherries, and even grasshoppers on occasion.

May 22 to June 23. Little Jerry Junior learns to fear Snapper the Turtle after he sees him kill a duckling and then his little sister. Later Mrs. Snapper leaves the Smiling Pool to lay eggs. Jimmy Skunk gets there before Bobby Coon. 

June 24 to July 21. Mrs. Possum hisses at Peter Rabbit when he tries to follow her. He admires her tail. Then Peter asks Unc' Billy to teach him how to play dead. Peter gets a scary demonstration when a dog shakes a "dead" Unc' Billy. Peter is not very skillful at playing dead himself.

July 22 to August 1. Big Bully the Dog needs two bouts with Prickly Porky to learn to avoid him. Later, "not wholly stupid," he infers that skunks are not to be messed with when Prickly steps aside for Jimmy Skunk and decides that a buzzing rattle means a rattlesnake is dangerous.  

August 3 to September 16. Reddy Fox, who must provide for his new family, leads a dog away but finds his path blocked by a rattlesnake. Later six little foxes go to school on the Old Pasture. Little Red shows hunting talent. Then his father teaches him tricks to avoid dogs. Finally he is ready for independence. 

September 17 to September 29. Young Bob White, wounded by a hunter, stays in the Old Briar Patch. Then a stalking Black Pussy is frightened by an explosion of bobwhites.

September 30 to October 7. Johnny Chuck, chased by a dog and too fat to run, choose to fight. Jimmy Skunk helps out, in exchange for using old woodchuck holes in the winter. 

October 8 to October 21. Farmer Brown's boy rescues Sooty the Chimney Swift after he wets his wings in the river water. 

October 22 to November 2. Nimbleheels the Jumping Mouse is ready to go to sleep but gets one last jump in over the head of Black Pussy.

November 3 to November 18. Instead of moving Striped Chipmunk decides to simply rearrange his house when Shadow the Weasel shows up. Then he gossips with Polly Chuck about winter preparations.

November 19 to December 12. Peter Rabbit visits Lightfoot the Deer and watches him fight a rival. The rival bucks get their antlers locked but the sudden appearance of Buster Bear and a lucky twist frees them. Later Buster wanders all the way around Great Mountain. 

December 14 to December 28. Young Bob becomes "Crippy" after he loses his leg in a trap. On Christmas a young trapper finds the leg, vows never to set another trap, and leaves food for the raccoon.

December 29 to December 31. A big snow storm makes hunting hard for foxes. (continued in 1960).


1959 was the last full year of new Burgess stories, though there was little sign that the series was coming to an end. Rather stories continued as they had in the past few years, a lot of repetition and a few new ideas. There was a return to explicitly humorous moments (more common in the earliest years than lately) with Peter Rabbit foolishly trying to play dead like Unc' Billy Possum (akin to his failed attempts to hibernate and be thrifty) and Buster Bear going wandering and finding that he had just made a giant circle. It is also worth noting a rather gruesome Christmas story, Burgess's last, centered around the discovery of a disembodied raccoon leg in a trap, though the present for the Green Forest would be the end of the young trapper's trapping career.

In 1959 Peter Rabbit's incessant curiosity (fueled, as Burgess himself indicated, by a staggering level of forgetfulness) was met with hostility at least twice. This had been a trend in Burgess stories, as Peter tried to discover things (particularly nesting locations) that were supposed to be secret. In 1959 Mrs. Woodcock actually attacked him (Mrs. Possum merely hissed at him). And in fact Mrs. Woodcock had been justified because Peter effectively led potential predators straight to her hiding place. It is worth reflecting on the pros and cons of his curiosity. On the one hand, Peter's constant need to know modeled an eager student and allowed Burgess to teach nature facts.  On the other hand, to the extent that some degree of secrecy is necessary in the animal kingdom, it might be possible to know too much--or more than is in the best interest of the animal.