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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!

April 2, 2011

Old New England by Barrows Mussey

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.



1 comment:

simplysuzie2 said...

Great stuff here! How interesting! I knew I belonged in the past... then I could actually afford to send my daughter to college!

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