Friday, December 28, 2012

Cowper's Poems

Among the old books inherited from Pine Knoll are two small volumes of poems by British poet William Cowper. This two-volume set was printed in 1803. That's almost 210 years old!

Curious to learn more about this publication and its author, I did some online searching last night. I discovered that the New York Public Library's copy of this same edition has been digitized and is freely available via Google Books. (Click on the image here to access it.)

I also learned that many editions of Cowper's poems have recently been offered for sale via the eBay auction site, and very few have sold, even though the asking prices were low ($28, $35, $9.99, etc.) and the bindings looked in MUCH better condition than my worn set. Mine might be worth $10 or less, given its poor condition with many brown stains (e.g., "foxing") on the pages. I now feel free to handle the books, read the poems, and show them to others, such as the writers in our weekly Fun with Writing group.

The fun and value, for me, in these volumes are the clues about family ancestors. I found "Joshua H. Ward, Cambridge, MA 1820?" handwritten on a front page and "No. 7 Walnut St, 1820?" on a second blank page. In very tiny penmanship "Harvard University" was written inside the front cover of volume 1. In volume 2 "Joshua Ward" is penned over a previous name that had been partially erased. Re-examining volume 1, I also see evidence of an erased address, and the name "Anna."  I'll leave these puzzles for another day.

See Wikipedia's article on William Cooper for background about the author's life and influence.  He lived from 1731 to 1800. His book "Poems" was first published in 1782.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Shelf space

For Christmas this year my husband Ken and I gave each other shelf space. We ordered a tall narrow bookcase to fit in a corner of our living room, in a nook of space once occupied by a steam radiator. Some years ago we had thought of building a bookcase there, but hadn't followed through on the idea. Now we have a lovely Amish-built bookcase and the fun of deciding what to put on these new shelves.

My office upstairs for years has been crammed with file cabinets, computer table and desk (all cluttered with paper), and a wall of built-in shelves filled with books, photo albums, music CDs, and notebooks relating to various projects. Too much stuff! Too many on-going projects!  How will I ever find space to accommodate the Pine Knoll family history project that my cousin Janet wishes to pass to me? That thought has been on my mind constantly since Thanksgiving. (See my previous posts: "Old treasures" and "Love letters"). I want to accept her offer, but questions of where to put her books and files have prompted me to look critically at my bookshelves. The DANVERS section on that wall will have to expand. Or, I will need to find another place for the Pine Knoll files. For a while I considered a table in the "yellow room" (a wide hallway near laundry and bathroom) or the shelves above that, but roof leaks there have sometimes spoiled what I leave on that table.

The anticipated arrival of a beautiful new bookcase prompted us to take a fresh look at EVERYTHING we store on shelves in this house, where we've lived for 17 years. An entire revolution of our accumulated stuff is in progress! What merits display in the new case?  What has served its purpose and could be given away or tossed?  I was happy to discover that several shelves full of accumulated magazines --which I'd wanted to keep permanently-- are now accessible on DVD or online. I've had fun donating some physical magazines to a local literacy program, which was delighted to accept them. Each shelf that I empty spurs me on. I've discovered a much better place to store our photo albums (which no longer need room for expansion, thanks to our switch in 2004 to digital photo storage). In the attic Ken found extra boards (shelves) belonging to an older bookcase in the living room, allowing us to insert extra shelves closely spaced -- just right for our music CDs, which had previously been scattered in various locations.

By now we have filled the bottom of the new bookcase with children's books and board games. We're still experimenting with what to put on the top shelves.  EMPTY shelves are visible now in several rooms, and the piles of books to be reshelved are dwindling. I rejoice at this progress!

In my office, I've begun re-arranging the books so that all the Danvers-related items (mine plus what I'll receive from Janet) can be together in one tall (floor to ceiling), narrow (20" width) section of shelving.

I found a stepladder and began to tackle the highest shelves, including long-neglected, dusty old volumes inherited from my father's family.

When what to my wondering eyes should appear, but ... ?

Oh!  A book published in 1852!

A shelf of 19th century books with old family names written inside 
-- very similar to the classic found recently in California. 

Another surprising find, right in my own house! Undoubtedly these all came from Pine Knoll in Danvers. I'll write more about these old books in a future post.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Love letters

For this month's column I've written a piece called Accidental discoveries and unexpected finds. In it, I include a long quote from my cousin Janet Derouin's history of Pine Knoll, the home in Danvers built by our great-grandfather Andrew Nichols. The home existed from 1861 to 1975, when it succumbed to arson.  One day in the Pine Knoll attic, after the great aunts had died and no family members lived there anymore, Janet made a discovery.
  "    Several months before the fire I was in the cavernous attic helping my father, who was one of the heirs, choose a blanket chest as his part of the division of household goods. It was to be sent to my brother in California, and I felt sorry that he and his wife weren’t with us to choose for themselves. As we started to leave, having made our selection, I noticed a cardboard candy box of undetermined age, with STANLEY neatly printed on the top in letters large enough to catch my eye.
            Since Stanley was the middle name of my grandfather, William Stanley Nichols, as well as my California brother, William Stanley Nichols II, my father and I decided to look inside. I brushed years of dust off the top and untied the inevitable piece of string, only to discover it was full of folded letters in little packets, each one tied with a bit of ribbon.  … I examined the various bundles and realized the letters were just as they had been originally put away, and I about to be the first, since that time, to slip off the ribbons and read them!
            To my great surprise I discovered they must have been put in the box over one hundred years before, the bulk of them written by my great-grandfather to his future wife, Elizabeth Perkins Stanley, during their courtship days. She was his beloved Lizzie for whom he had built the cottage he named “Pine Knoll” where I had found them.  The last one was written on the eve of his wedding day [1861].
            As I read her precious old letters I found that Andrew made frequent references to things Lizzie had written in her letters to him, which I then had a consuming desire to find.
            During the months that followed, my aunt, Janet Cutler Nichols, and I moved hundreds of old papers and letters from the Pine Knoll library to her home nearby, for safe keeping and sorting. During the long hours that we read and sorted materials to be donated to the Essex Institute, and other suitable repositories, I constantly hoped to find the other half of my treasure. … All hope reluctantly died away when every paper and letter had been rough sorted and the house itself was gone, whatever treasures remaining inside its walls, now nothing but ashes.
            In the year after the fire, Janet and I continued to work at least one day a week, getting the letters and documents into proper order for donation. It was a tedious, exacting job and at the end of one of those days I was tidying up when a leather folder slipped from my hands, spilling a number of ancient deeds all over the floor. When the folder landed it came to rest inside out. As I gingerly picked it up, lamenting my “butter fingers,” I saw that it had a pocket on either side, and they met in such a way as to be invisible, unless the folder was turned back on itself, as it had become in the fall.
            I reached into one of the pockets and pulled out a copy book. It was filled with copies of Andrew’s courting letters in Lizzie’s candy box. They were written in pencil by the same hand and numbered in the order they were sent. Stunned by this discovery, I reached into the other pocket, afraid to hope for what I wanted to find. It contained Lizzie’s letters to him!  I had had them all the time!
            At that moment came my determination to sort and type the letters and diaries still in existence that tell the story of Pine Knoll so it might be enjoyed by the generations to come.”

Janet Derouin did type those letters and spent many years researching family history and writing down family stories, but her project has not been published. Nor is it finished. She did finish the part about Lizzie and Andrew's four-year courtship and why it had to be so secretive. (Family opposition...)  In spite of the obstacles, Andrew married Lizzie in 1861 and brought her to Danvers, where they raised eight children and continued to love each other for 61 years!

Janet, now 83, wants to pass this project and all its associated files (paper and computer) to me for safe keeping and, perhaps, continuation or publication in some form. I am pondering options. I agree with Janet that this special love story should be shared.