Welcome to Prospero's Blog! My wife Mollie and I work together in our Rough Magic studio on the coast of Maine. I've always loved old books, memorabilia, curiosities and Americana (especially 19th century dramatic literature) and am happy to share my discoveries in my Etsy Shops. Please come by and browse ~ there's just no telling what you'll find!
During the 20th century America's best known Christian Idealist playwright was Charles Rann Kennedy (1871-1950), a man born in England who became an American citizen in 1917, well after he had become a successful playwright on Broadway.
Combining a searching mind with good dramatic technique, Kennedy created an effective Christ figure as a hero in The Servant in the House (1907). In 1912 he presented an inspiring crucifixion theme in The Terrible Meek.
Exploring his thesis that "the real meek are beginning to inherit the earth," Kennedy sent his published play to all of the kings, emperors, presidents, war ministers, munition-makers and every other leader he knew of in the world.
Among the literary figures of the 19th century in America, Edgar Allan Poe is surely one of the most memorable -- for his rhythmical poetry and his short stories, especially his detective stories. His life was not long, and it was an unhappy life in many ways, but during his forty years he produced quite a number of poems and stories many people, even high school students, still enjoy reading.
I have just placed a strange little volume of his poems on the Shelf. Unfortunately, it is not in the best shape. In its 110 years it has seen rather hard usage. It is a special publication by the Roycrofters at their Shop in East Aurora, NY, with a once beautiful brown suede leather cover with a gold lettered title and vellum paper. It is, however, still a collector's item.
Lacking a title page or any publisher's information on the front pages (you'll find those on the final page), the book boasts a four and a half page Foreword by Michael Monahan and a Contents page listing the following:
The Raven, Lenore, The Bells, Anabel Lee, Ulalume, The Coliseum, To Helen (I saw thee once), To My Mother, Hymn, The Haunted Palace, The Conqueror Worm, To One in Paradise, The City in the Sea, The Sleeper, The Valley of Unrest, Dreamland, Eulalie, Israfel, For Annie, Eldorado, A Dream Within a Dream, To Helen (thy beauty is to me), To Zante, To F-----.
Spring cleaning has its advantages. The other day I found this little book that I never remember seeing, and yet there it was on a dusty shelf. It seems that back in the early 1960s the editors of House and Garden thought that it would be nice to commission well-known writers to write essays on some of "the older, simpler, humbler things about us." I suspect that the essays appeared in issues of House and Garden, and in 1962 they were collected into this little book--about 5" X 6 1/2".
The writers you will recognize, the subject matter of their essays is even more familiar: The Teakettle, Stove, Knife,Coat Hanger, Spoon, Grass, Light Bulb, Glass, Water, Salt, Bread.
Elizabeth Bowen, that English lady, started off by explaining the value of the Teakettle as distinct from the Teapot. With a certain righteous indignation, born of her English upbringing, she points out the difference between boiling the necessary water and the later infusion of the tea. With a little history and her own sophistication she writes a charming essay.
My other favorite among the eleven authors' work is Aldous Huxley's essay on Salt. Beginning with his own very young experiments following the instructions of others on catching birds by putting salt on their tails (complete failure for this small boy in either catching birds or understanding the joke of it all), Huxley progressed to the later acquired epigram that "kissing a man without a mustache was like eating an egg without salt'--never abandoning his theme. His erudition takes him to the Bible , Plato and others on the necessity of salt in the human diet. More meaningful to adult life, perhaps, he furthers his thesis by explaining that the word "salary" finds its root in the word "salarium" which describes the allowance for the purchase of salt accorded to Roman soldiers.
Essays may have lost their appeal to a population nurtured on short stories and comics, but they are wonderful sources of humor, instruction and leisurely charm.
June Barrows Mussey (1910-1985) was much better known in the world at large under his pseudonym Henry Hay. As "Henry Hay" he was a magician who chose his magical career at a very young age and was a "semi pro" touring magician by the time he was in college. Under the name of Henry Hay, Barrows Mussey wrote such popular books as "The Amateur Magician's Handbook." But we are interested in this magician because he was also an historian and, for our particular concern, a lover of New England.
Barrows Mussey's fascinating book on Old New England has our attention because I have good copy on ProsperosBookshelf, a bit soiled perhaps by eager hands but firm and unmarked. My single reservation is that the book lacks some resource notes and a bibliography, but that is my problem as a former professor. It does have an index. There is no doubt in my mind that Mussey was a good and resourceful historian who did not want to burden his readers with an abundance of footnotes.
Mussey's previous volume on New England was titled We Were New England and with this book brought his history through the Civil War. Old New England begins with Plymouth Rock and traces his history via the Towns (Portland to the Birkshires), The Sea (Eastport to the Sound), The Country (Pernscot to Housatonic), Yankees (Mather to Barnum) to The Eyes of New England (Artists and Engravers). And this last section is the glory of his book, although he writes a very sprightly and fascinating history. This book has hundreds of illustrations - almost all of them either a woodcut or a wood engraving.
Mussey has a talent for finding the particulars and the scenes of the New England he admires. For example, Dartmouth College started out as a mission school for Stockbridge Indians in Connecticut before it went to Hanover, New Hampshire, where in 1854, parents today will be interested to learn, tuition was $27 a year and lodging $7.50. There are hundreds of illustrations, and generally the prose explains these illustrations.
On page 103 the top picture shows three men, customs agents, in a wood watching a boat with smugglers crossing the river from New Brunswick into Maine. The picture below shows a woman in Ellsworth, Maine (less than thirty miles from where I sit) brutally murdered, presumably by her husband Dr. Mose Adams, High Sheriff of Hancock County, who was charged but not convicted. Next is a picture of an old jail in York, Maine. Not all of the woodcuts and engravings are as flamboyant, but the history is tilted toward the more exciting aspects of our past. There are many pastoral scenes, portraits of important and not so important people and numerous scenes down the main streets of Old New England towns.