It was a very busy weekend in Salem and Essex Country, encompassing the first seventeenth-century Saturday of the season, the Salem Arts Festival, Shakespeare on the common, open houses and garden tours, an ice cream social and a cider launch party, among other happenings. The weather was absolutely spectacular, sunny, dry, and in the low 80s, enticing “this is why we live in New England” comments everywhere I went. Salem was packed with tourists: I also heard many languages. I was outside all weekend and am paying for it this morning, with sunburn, itchy bug bites, and lots and lots of work to do–but I don’t care. After I plant the beautiful herbs that I purchased up in Salisbury in my garden, I’ll lock myself in my office!
Scenes from my first June weekend: hula hoop canopy and fish at the Salem Arts Festival, Derby House herb garden, something’s finally happening at the “Crotchet House”, launch party for Salem-made cider (really good–much dryer than other varieties of hard cider that I have had here in the U.S.), the Herb FARMacy in Salisbury, Massachusetts, and the Dole-Little House in nearby Newbury.
Among the books up for “adoption” and restoration at the Salem Athenaeum this spring and summer is a first (1891) edition of Caroline Upham’s Salem Witchcraft in Outline, which has the outrageous subtitle the story without the tedious detail. It’s a beautiful little book, but I just can’t get past that subtitle, a knife to the heart of any historian: THE STORY WITHOUT THE TEDIOUS DETAIL. Caroline was the daughter-in-law of the first serious historian of the Salem Witch Trials, Charles W. Upham, whose Salem Witchcraft: with an account of Salem Village and a History of Opinions on Witchcraft and Kindred Subjects (1867) approached the event and topic withunprecedented context and detail. With her Outline, she admits that she is neither a brilliant essayist nor an historian, but offers her little book to the public as one would the photograph of a notable scene, not a great original painting. And if, as it must be, the rich coloring and delicate effects are missing in the reproduction, it is hoped the drawing may be found true, and no important lines set in awry. Having been desired by the heirs of the late Charles W. Upham to draw freely from the History, paragraphs from it have been woven into the sketch giving strength to the little story, and serving the reader better than a feminine pen I could do”. Her “photograph” is certainly framed well, with a beautiful cover, amazing fonts, and lovely pen-and-ink illustrations of the seventeenth-century houses that “witnessed” the events of 1692. I also like the “signature page” featuring the names of some of the major participants in the trials: Governor Phips, several judges, the victim John Proctor: this represents Caroline’s approach and emphasis on personal stories, which actually anticipates the focus of witchcraft histories from a century later.
So there’s a lot to like about this little book, but again, there is also that objectionable subtitle: THE STORY WITHOUT THE TEDIOUS DETAIL. For me, it’s all about the details: the details make the “story”. I do want to give Caroline the benefit of the doubt, however: it’s clear to me that nineteenth-century Salemites were tired of their witchcraft past (Nathaniel Hawthorne being the best example); they couldn’t quite conceive yet (actually Daniel Low’s witch spoon would appear at just about the same time as Salem Witchcraft in Outline, for the 200th anniversary of the Trials) how to turn their dark past into commercial opportunities. They wanted to acknowledge, but move on. So a succinct outline, produced just in time for the big anniversary, might have seemed sufficiently reverential. And I also have to admit, as one who has delved in Victorian volumes quite a bit, that nineteenth-century history writing is a bit tedious, with its focus on great men, big battles, and past politics. I can appreciate the images below, even though the first one is every professor’s worst fear!
Of insects, or rather, American Entomology: or Descriptions of the Insects of North America by Thomas Say, published in 3 volumes in Philadelphia, 1824-28. That’s my pick of the books up for “adoption” at the Salem Athenaeum’s 3rd annual Conservation Night tonight, when antique books in need of serious restoration are funded by generous benefactor bibliophiles. I’ve been working on this committee for several years now, and the depth and breadth of the Athenaeum’s collection never fails to amaze: it’s tough to narrow down the list of needy books each year but the institution is committed to a long-term campaign. This year’s candidates, which you can see here, include: the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia (1787–with an amazing pull-out map), 1714 and 1739 editions of Newton’s Principia Mathematica, a first (1884) edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, Hawthorne’s Marble Faun (1860), and (of course) Caroline Upham’s Salem Witchcraft in Outline (1891—with a really cool cover), among other worthy volumes. I really don’t care much for bugs, but bug books are another thing altogether, so the Say volumes appeal to me if only for their beautiful plates, produced by Say himself and his fellow artists/naturalists Charles Alexander Lesueur, and Titian Ramsay Peale, the youngest son of the esteemed artist Charles Willson Peale.
Thomas Say (1787-1834) accomplished a lot in his relatively short life: he was a self-taught naturalist, entomologist, and conchologist ( word I had never heard before now–one who studies shells, mollusc shells in particular) and great explorer–of nature and territory. He was a co-founder of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1812, Professor of Natural History at the University of Pennsylvania, and author of two pioneering works, American Entomology and American Conchology (1830-36). He was also a Utopian scientist (not incompatible at that time), settling in the Owenite community at New Harmony, Indiana in 1826, where he died eight years later.
While searching my usual sources for characteristic images of the month of June, I was struck by how many epic battles occurred during the most green and golden of months: there are as many images of conflict as there are of pastoral fields and full-blown flowers. This is pretty understandable given that spring and summer constituted “campaign season” in the pre-modern past, but momentous battles continue into the modern era, presumably after nature has been conquered herself: Naseby, Louisburg, Bunker Hill, Waterloo, Custer’s Last Stand, D-Day. I don’t really want to go there, so I’ll think I’ll dwell in the more distant past, where not only serious battles occurred in the first month of summer, but also “play” ones, as a whole circuit of tournaments and festivals emerged in the late medieval and early modern eras, signalling the submission of the military aristocracy and the coincidental expansion of royal authority and centralized monarchies. As soon as a way of life gets ritualized, you know it’s on its way out!
Detail of miniature of a joust between Pierre de Courtenay and Sire de Clary, British Library MS Harley 4379, f. 19v; June calendar page from BL MS Additional 24098, Book of Hours, Use of Rome (the “Golf Book”, c. 1540); Kings Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France meet at the “Field of the Cloth of Gold”, 5 June, 1520; King Henri II is injured during a celebratory joust on 30 June, 1559, Franz Hogenberg, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris (leading to a half-century of power struggles and warfare among the unleashed French nobility, divided and motivated by their religious differences); Louis XIV’s “Grand Carrousel”, 1662: the festival (after Henri de Gissey) and a participant in one of the elaborate “oriental” costumes designed for the event, Chateau de Versailles(certainly no self-respecting noble would put on this garb a century before!)