Monthly Archives: June 2013

Yellow Roses

The combination of last week’s very hot weather followed by serious rain meant that this weekend the roses started popping out, about a week or so earlier than usual. In the past I have been a negligent rosarian (t is a word) but this summer I’m determined to do better: as you can see below, some of my roses are being attacked by some little pest, whether it’s an insect or a mildewy disease I do not know–but I am determined to find out and root it out! Though I love red in general and red roses in particular, I don’t like that color in my garden:  it’s too dramatic. I like everything in the garden to be kind of faded and mixed together, and red doesn’t mix well. So I prefer yellow roses above all, even though Kate Greenaway (my source for all things Victorian) tells me that yellow roses mean “a decrease of love, jealousy” in her Language of Flowers.  Surprising symbolism for such a warm and sunny color! For some reason, I also have a bright orange rose bush, which I don’t particularly care for but as it’s such a vigorous climber–and completely resistant to any pest– I would never tear it out. And if the roses are blooming in New England the lady’s mantle is too–this year it looks particularly abundant.

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Yellow Roses Wallpaper V and A William Morris 1877

Yellow Roses Briar Wallpaper CFA Voysey 1901

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Yellow (and pink and orange) roses in my garden interspersed with Mr. Darcy on the deck, “Roses” wallpaper by William Morris (1877) and “Briar” wallpaper by C.F.A. Voysey (1901), Victoria & Albert Museum London.

Purple Reigns

I was looking at pictures of the recent commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, and even the Anglophile in me thought: aren’t they done? Haven’t the British been celebrating anything and everything for the past several years? Enough. But I did like this one photograph of royal purple banners, and it inspired me to find some purple in my own city. I’ve been working my way through the palette of paint colors here in Salem for several years, beginning with Old Orange Houses, so it’s all about purple today.

Purple Reigns in London

Purple banners in London last week and Salem (and one Marblehead) houses below:

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One of my favorite houses in (south) Salem, a mid-nineteenth-century extended “cottage” that extends for quite a bit and is set on a very nice property. Love these long windows on the side and the purple-with-green paint scheme.

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A purple Salem triple-decker, and a c. 1710 house in nearby Old Town Marblehead.

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Side by side in North Salem, an 1830 house and one from the turn-of-the-century or after (not quite sure about this style; it almost looks storybook to me. This house is a very, very, very pale greyish purple with purple trim and it is for sale now–no, under agreement; I just checked).

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Two High Victorian houses in purple on Federal Street.

A Hebrew Scholar at Harvard

Last night was the second annual Conservation Night at the Salem Athenaeum, at which the newly-conserved books which were “adopted” last year were showcased to their sponsors, as well as a whole new (actually very old) crop of books which need conservation through sponsorship. It was a really nice evening, because it was immediately apparent that everyone in attendance (quite a crowd) really loved books, and they were able to examine and touch and talk about such amazing texts as the 1730 edition of Newton’s Opticks, a 1774 edition of Franklin’s Experiments and Observations on Electricity, several Hawthorne first editions, as well as the first appearance of Poe’s The Raven and Collected Poems in book form. Two conservators who did much of the work on the first group of adoptees were also on hand to discuss their process and answer questions (quite a lot of questions):  Peter Geraty of Praxis Bindery and Stephanie Gibbs. I was on the committee which chose the books to be put forward for adoption, so I’ve been looking and thinking about these titles all year long. I knew that the Newton and the Franklin and the Poe and anything by Hawthorne (this is Salem after all) would find sponsors quickly (and so they did) but that less famous titles might be “orphaned”, so I went straight for a more mundane text (book), the first Hebrew textbook to be published in America by the first Jew to receive a college degree in the New World:  Judah Monis’s Grammar of the Hebrew Tongue [Dickdook leshon gnebreet]. Being an Essay to Bring the Hebrew Grammar into English, to Facilitate the Instruction of All Those Who Are Desirous of Acquiring a Clear Idea of this Primitive Tongue by their Own Studies.  Boston, N.E., Printed by Jonas Green, and are to be sold by the author at his house in Cambridge, 1735.

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As an educator myself, I was drawn to this important educational text:  upperclassmen at Harvard College in the eighteenth century were required to read the Old Testament in its original language, and so training in Hebrew was essential. Monis transitioned from student to instructor at Harvard in the 1720s based on his knowledge of the ancient language, and students would make copies of his handwritten grammar before the college imported Hebrew type from England and commissioned the printed text, which remained required reading for undergraduates for much of the eighteenth century. I was also drawn to Monis’s personal story: born in the Old world, he flourished in the New, based on the expertise he acquired from his heritage. But in order to retain his position at Harvard  (which he held until his retirement in 1760) he was compelled to relinquish a good part of that heritage and convert to Christianity.

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The complete list of adoptable Athenaeum books is available here: there are still a few “orphans”, and one share of Monis, I believe.

Summer Arrives

Summer arrived in Salem in a big way this past weekend with several days of 90+ degree heat; it felt more like early August than June. This is a bit of an aberration, and we should be back in the 70s this week (it’s raining this morning). I braved the heat and went out into the garden, armed with a quart of “half-and-half”, half lemonade, half unsweetened strong black iced tea–my second favorite summer drink (after gin & tonics). On Sunday I was able to have a few of my VERY favorite summer drinks out in the garden of the Salem Athenaeum, at the annual garden party. This event is timed to coincide with the blooming of the massive multicolored rhododendrons in the garden, and I think the timing was perfect this year.

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At home the lady’s slippers have arrived and the catmint is in full bloom, beckoning Moneypenny. On a less happy note, someone stole my three large planters–filled to the brim with hydrangeas and Memorial Day flags!!!!–as well as my neighbors’ in the middle of the night. Not a tragedy obviously, but sad that someone would do this.

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Path leading into the garden of the Salem Athenaeum, lined by huge rhododendrons, which frame a beautiful 18th century house next door. Another beautiful house, on Chestnut Street, with the street’s only surviving Elm tree in front. I’m on a quest to find all the elms I can this summer, so if you know of a particularly majestic one in eastern New England, please let me know!

Bad Hermits

Somehow I never connected the words hermit and hermitage until yesterday, when I read an article in the New York Times about a new book by Gordon Campbell entitled The Hermit in the Garden: From Imperial Rome to Ornamental Gnome (Oxford University Press), which traces “the origins of Snow White’s cuddly dwarf friends and their suburban-lawn counterparts to the 18th-century outbuildings where real people lived merely to provide ambiance.” The article leads off with a photograph of an eighteenth-century  Scottish hermitage (one of only perhaps 200 such structures that survive in Europe) that made the metaphorical light bulb turn on in my head. It also included a charming story taken from the book, about an English nobleman who hired a hermit to live in the quaint hermitage in his garden, for a period of seven years. Apparently the solitude was oppressive, and “subsequent versions of the story have the hermit being caught in the local tavern after three weeks and dismissed, and more recent elaborations include improper relations with a dairymaid” according to Mr. Campbell.


The Surviving Scottish Hermitage/ Photograph by Gordon Campbell, New York Times.

These stories also caught by attention, as they reminded me of the wayward hermit in a magnificent (and amusing) medieval manuscript commonly known as the “Smithfield Decretals”, produced in southern France around 1300 with additional illuminations added in London later on. Its formal title is the Decretals of [Pope] Gregory IX, British Library Royal MS 10 E.iv and it fills 310 folios of text and accompanying gloss–you can read a great post about it here. The images are varied and whimsical:  there are anthropomorphic animals, grotesques, crimes and misdemeanors, amorous encounters, and a very bad hermit, who, enticed by the devil, leaves his hermitage for the tavern, and becomes (in succession) a drunkard, fornicator, murderer, and wild man (surely an occupational hazard for any hermit), before he is ultimately redeemed in the end.

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Hermit Confessing

The Hermit and the Devil, followed by the Hermit drinking outside a tavern, in delicto flagrante, clubbing a miller to death, as a wild man  with only animals for company, and confessing his many sins, British Library MS Royal 10 E. iv, early 14th century.

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