The Early History of Treason

A few weeks ago a little bird came in and told me where I might find a room full of very interesting books. I went and she was right. Many of these beautiful old books turned out to have belonged to the collection of Dr. Floyd Seward Lear, who taught in Rice’s history department from 1925 until his retirement in 1975. (The Woodson, happily, is home to his papers. You can find the guide along with a brief biography here.) For my purposes the best find was the typescript of Dr. Lear’s own 1925 Harvard dissertation, which has one of the best dissertation titles I’ve ever seen: The Early History of Treason. That, it seems to me, is a title that is just begging for a novel to be written around it.

Lear dissertation

It’s also fairly common in my line of work to discover that the most interesting thing about a bunch of books is what the owners have stashed inside them. Inside many of these were  receipts for their purchase, including many bought at the Rice campus store. Here, for example, is a volume he bought on September 24, 1960:

campus store receipt

And here’s the receipt—for $5.40.

campus store receipt 2


I very much enjoy the thought of Dr. Lear walking over to the RMC, maybe on a day late enough in September that it was beginning to cool off, and finding himself unable to resist yet another copy of the New Testament in Latin (this one with English on facing pages).

Bonus: I recently came across some pictures taken at Dr. Lear’s retirement reception in Cohen House. Here he is with his student, later his colleague, Katherine Fischer Drew:




I confess that I don’t know who the gentleman at left is, but to his right is historian Frank Vandiver, a woman I expect is Mrs. Lear, historian Andrew Forest Muir and Dr. Lear:



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8 Responses to The Early History of Treason

  1. I never had any contact with Professor Lear, but Katherine Drew taught the History of Western Civilization class I took as a freshman — 8:00 a.m., MWF — the first hour quiz was a rude shock, the first test I had ever failed. History had always been something I sort of absorbed in class, then studied for a few hours the night before the test. I learned a lot from that class, since it was my first exposure to a much more complex world than I knew from growing up in a small West Texas town. I would love to know if she is still alive, and, if so, where she is now. I thought she had already finished her graduate work when I took her class in 1954-55, 20 years before he retired if the 1975 date is correct.

  2. Angela Wren Wall says:

    I spoke with Dr. Drew about two weeks ago. Her health is not ideal (she’s in her 90s now, I believe), but she still visits her 3rd floor Humanities Building office. Those visits are random and have become fewer as time goes on, but I have always enjoyed any time with her.

    Next time I see her I will mention your name and your post.

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