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The Bassoon

Identifier: MSS 0419

Scope and Contents

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).


  • Creation: 1889-1892


Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Access Information

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections Department, University of Delaware Library,

Historical and Biographical 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).

Biographical AND/OR historical information derived from the collection.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: (accessed July 2001).


.6 linear foot (5 volumes)


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.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Ethel Sparks Sikes, July 2001

Related Materials in this Repository

Mss 0408, Sparks family papers Mss 0411, J.K. Wright Printing Ink Company records

Shelving Summary

Boxes 1-2: Shelved in SPEC MSS manuscript boxes

Rights Statement

The text of this web page can be reused and modified under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. (

Processing Information

Processed by Sally W. Donatello, July 2001. Encoded by Jaime Margalotti, December 2022.

Finding aid for The Bassoon
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2022 December 19
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

181 South College Avenue
Newark DE 19717-5267 USA