University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department

The Bassoon

1889 – 1892


Manuscript Collection Number: 419
Accessioned: Gift of Ethel Sparks Sikes, July 2001
Extent: 5 vols. (.6 linear ft.)
Content: Serial stories, cartoons, caricatures, editorials, playscripts, mast heads, poetry, and sheet music.
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: Sally W. Donatello, July 2001

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Table of Contents

Biographical and Historical Note

The Bassoon, 1889-1892, is a holograph manuscript of a serialized journal that was created in the course of Friday evening fellowship of the Bachelor’s Ten Society, a small club of teenage boys who attended the all-male Central High School of Philadelphia. Begun as an entertaining exercise in the field of journalism, The Bassoon is a unique record of the intellectual and recreational activities of a lively circle of nineteenth-century friends. As juvenilia, The Bassoon shines with wit, creativity, and spirit. Expressing high hopes for their serial in its first edition, the editors wrote, “The bass notes of The Bassoon will be heard thundering down the ages like a flatiron falling down stairs.”

In The Making of an American High School, The Credentials Market and the Central High School of Philadelphia, 1838 – 1939, David F. Labaree wrote the school is “one of the oldest and most prominent high schools in the United States… Founded in 1838, Central was the first, and, for most of the nineteenth century, the only public high school for boys in the nation’s second-largest city.” (Girls High School was founded in 1848; Central remained all- male until 1983.). Central High School was a model for the American high school in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It promoted citizen training, moral education, a practical curriculum, and meritocractic pedagogy.

In 1889, the Bachelor’s Ten Society started The Bassoon. Names of members, as derived from the collection, include Robert Montgomery Brooks, ___? Dunseith, Franklin Spencer Edmonds, Nicholas R. Guilbert, George A. Jones, Samuel D. Matlack, Arthur B. Smith, and Wallace Leland Wright.

Wallace Leland Wright (1873 - ?) edited the first “edition” of The Bassoon. He and his brother George Nagle Wright (1868 - ?) were uncles to Ethyl Sparks Sikes, who donated the collection to the Library.

Franklin Spencer Edmonds (1874 – 1945), a member of the Bachelor’s Ten Society, wrote the History of the Central High School of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1902).


Labaree, David F. The Making of an American High School, The Credentials Market and the Central High School of Philadelphia, 1838 – 1939. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.

Central High School of Philadelphia:

Historical and biographical information obtained from this collection.

Scope and Content Note

The Bassoon, spanning the dates 1889 – 1892, consists of five volumes of a handwritten serial that was created by members of the Bachelor’s Ten Society, a club of teenage boys who attended Central High School in Philadelphia. The manuscripts include serial stories, cartoons, caricatures, editorials, plays, sporting reports, and poetry. The volumes provide a rare opportunity to study the activities and imaginations of six boys who attended Central High, a prominent public school that became a model for the American educational system at the turn of the nineteenth century.

The collection, which is housed in two boxes, is arranged chronologically by volume and issue, 1889 – 1891. Volumes one through three are housed in box one, and volumes four through five are found in box two.

The Bassoon is layered with insights into the thoughts and interests of its creators. The manuscript consists of Volume I, which began the fall of 1889, through Volume V, which is dated December 1891. Laid into the last volume is a scrap of paper that was used by one of the Bachelor’s Ten to tally the number of pages in the volumes. The sheet referred to October 5, 1892 and page numbers, indicating there may have been additional volumes. Most of the pages are numbered in pencil. The entire journal is handwritten except for one supplement (Volume IV, no. 12), which is typewritten.

A supplement to Volume III, no. XV read: “Volume I of The Bassoon, the famous, Lawrence Bongolfy volume, consisted of eighteen numbers, aggregating 156 pages; - an average per number of about 8 pages. Volume II containing the largest numbers yet published, consisted of 24 issues, with a total of 292 pages; - an average of a little over 12 pages. Volume III has not, indeed, doubled the size of Volume II; yet, for 13 numbers, it has 206 pages, an average of 15 pages per number, and there are still four numbers to be counted in. It was my impression that Volume III was rather falling below the average of Volume II, but I am happy to find that I was mistaken and that, not only in quality, but in quantity, the present volume has surpassed all predecessors. Let us make Volume IV, beginning March 6th, still better, and still larger.”

The Bachelor’s Ten Society met every Friday evening at a different member’s home. They planned to meet for two or three hours and to be home by 10:30 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. Each member took a turn as editor or associate editor of the journal. The editor was usually the scribe for their weekly Friday evening gatherings. Although young in age, they were adventurers in the literary, performing, and visual arts. At times they made references to the expertise of some of the members (e.g., Wallace Leland Wright did the artwork for the journal and was the chess champion).

The volumes are filled with descriptions of the activities (major league baseball, cards, checkers, chess, and sports) and preoccupations (girls, examinations, and their professors) of nineteenth-century boys that are expressed in the articles and editorials. The manuscript also reflected other interests of the boys: drama, politics, poetry, music, and serial stories, which were continued by each editor, such as “E Pluribus Unum, by Edjomat B. Dunwright.” Some of the headings used for articles and features were Foreign News, Scientific Page, Personals, Election Notes, Titles, Baso Profundo, Weekly Record, Benjamin Franklyn, Our Spring Championships, A Bus Ride, and Tiddledy Winks. Sometimes they wrote in stream of consciousness simply to fill the pages of an issue.

Passages about high school life and memories were occasionally sentimental, as in comments by Samuel D. Matlack, editor, of Volume III, no. XIV (February 6, 1891): “It seems very strange to the present writer to think that in six months his school life will be over. In some ways the time seems very short, since we entered High School together; but, looking back over the many events of the past four years, they seem to stretch out marvellously (sic); and the old days of the ‘bugle’ and the ‘windy Whistler’ seem very far in the past, while as to the time when as innocent ‘H kids,’ we were initiated into the mysteries of the ‘Roster,’ that, seems infinitely ancient, and about contemporary with our first long trousers.”

The hand-lettered and illustrated masthead for each issue of The Bassoon is varied, and became more artistic and elaborate as each weekly edition was produced. The earliest mastheads are simple but creative variations on lettering in The Bassoon. In the March – April, 1890 edition (Vol. II, No. I - No. VIII) the masthead became more artistic and daring, and they added a quote from Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “The wedding guest here beat his breast, For he heard the loud Bassoon.”

The masthead of Volume IV, no. XIV (June 12, 1891) had the byline, “Only Official Organ of the B.T.,” and selected members are described with the following contributions to the issue: S.D. Matlack, editor; W.L. Wright, post associate and staff artist; A.B. Smith, associate (editor); G.A. Jones, critic and cynic. Mastheads of special note are found on issues Volume II, no. XXIII (October 24, 1890), Volume IV, no. II (March 13, 1891), and Volume IV, no. XVIII (September 18, 1891). Several of the issues feature caricatures and cartoons, which was another way for the boys to express the subject of the piece (e.g., Volume II, no. IV, “Among the Sports,” which depicts how to walk past a group of girls).

Other collections related to Wallace Leland Wright:

Ms 408 Sparks Family Papers

Ms 411 J.K. Wright Printing Ink Company Records

Contents List

Box -- Folder -- Contents

1   F1   1889 Fall – 1890 Feb, Vol. I, Nos. I – XVIII

          The first edition of The Bassoon weekly journal by
          the Bachelor’s Ten Society; Wallace Leland Wright
          was editor of that first issue; subsequent issues
          had an editor and associate editor, each rotating
          among the members; complete first volume; laid
          inside is a piece of sheet music titled
          “Plantation Dance” for second banjo by Paul Eno,
          2pp.; bound edition

     F2   1890 Mar – Apr, Vol. II, Nos. I - No. VIII
          Added a quote from S.T. Coleridge to the masthead:
          “The wedding guest here beat his breast, For he
          heard the loud Bassoon”; bound with cardboard from
          a Strawbridge & Clothier (Philadelphia) box,
          addressed to Mrs. J. Matlack, 203 Market Street,
          city (c.o.d. $8.75)

     F3   1890 May – Jun, Vol. II, Nos. IX – XVII
          Added supplements called “Advanced Civilization”;
          no. XI missing

     F4   1890 Sep -  Oct, Vol. II, Nos. XVIII – XXIV
          No. IX missing, supplement included; no. 22

     F5   1890 Nov – Dec, Vol. III, Nos. I – VIII
          No. VII missing, supplement included

2    F6   1891 Jan – Feb, Vol. III, Nos. IX – XVII
          No. X missing, supplement included; no. XIII
          missing, supplement included; no. XVI missing,
          supplement included

     F7   1891 Mar – May, Vol. IV, Nos. I – IX
          Added Phila (delphia) before the date of no. 2;
          no. V missing, supplement included; no. VIII
          missing, supplement included; no. IX the editor
          has altered the quote from T.S. Coleridge

     F8   1891 May – Sep, Vol. IV, Nos. X – XIV
          No. XII missing; supplement No. XII was
          typewritten; no. XVI missing; alteration of
          Coleridge’s words continued

     F9   1891 Oct – Dec, Vol. V, Nos. I – XII
          No. I missing, supplement included; No. XII
          missing, supplement included; torn paper laid in
          and used to count the pages for the five
          volumes, and indicates that there may been more
          volumes—possibly to October 5, 1892

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