April is National Poetry Month, so in honor of this occasion, here are two books of poetry from our collections.
At left is a collection of William Wordsworth‘s poems: The Poetical Works of Wordsworth. With Memoir, Explanatory Notes, Etc., published by Belford, Clarke & Co, circa* 1885. The cover and spine are embossed with red, black, and gold accents, and the pages are edged in gold; it’s a nice volume, designed as much for display/presentation as for reading. On the endpaper, a nice floral pattern, we find this ink inscription: “Jennie Rice from her friend James M. Nourse”.
Jennie Longstreet Rice (1871-1941) was the daughter of George and Elberta Rice of Darnestown. The Reverend James M. Nourse (1840-1922), a cousin to the local Nourse family, was the minister of Darnestown Presbyterian Church from November 1883 through May 1885, at which point he was called to the First Presbyterian in Alexandria, Virginia. In November 1885, Miss Rice, age 15, was “received by examination” as a member of the Darnestown Presbyterian Church. Those facts come from church records; our book here adds another, more personal element to the story. The Darnestown Presbyterian Church, founded in 1855, was an important part of the religious and social life of the community; in the 1870s-90s, the minister was also the principal of the nearby Andrew Small Academy (which Miss Rice probably attended). Thus, Miss Rice likely encountered Rev. Nourse and his family in and around the neighborhood, and it seems probable that he also helped her prepare for her church membership examination. This handsome edition of Wordsworth – his favorite poet? Hers? (Or simply the nicest book available at the shop?) – may have been a parting gift, as Rev. Nourse left the community and moved on to his next assignment.
Next, continuing our Poetry Month theme and throwing in National Library Week for good measure, is the book on the right: a small, somewhat tattered volume of William Cullen Bryant’s works, “collected and arranged by the author,” and printed in 1857. Bryant was an American poet and journalist (and, fun fact, the namesake for NYC’s Bryant Park). The book appears well-read, or at least frequently handled, and indeed it was a library book. Pasted inside the front cover is a printed label reading, “Dawsonville Library Association. No. 66. No Book shall be kept from the Library more than Two Weeks. Without renewals of the same, the holder failing to return, shall pay Four Cents a day for extra use.”
I’ve not yet found any reference to a 19th century Library Association in Dawsonville (and perhaps this book originated in, say, Dawsonville, Georgia, rather than Montgomery County’s town), but it’s possible that this Association was an offshoot of the delightfully-named Dawsonville Literary Sociable. The activities of this lively group were recorded in the late 1870s-early 1880s by pseudonymous correspondents** in the local Montgomery Advocate. The Literary Society (as it was later known, though I can’t help but prefer “Sociable”) held officer elections and operated as a formal club, but in essence these meetings were well-organized house parties, designed to enliven the winter months with food, music, dancing, out-of-town guests, and – the ostensible point of the whole thing – readings and orations.
Not to be outdone – and conveniently helping to tie today’s books together – nearby Darnestown also had a Literary Society. In January 1883, Dawsonville correspondent “Johnny Reb” had “the pleasure . . . , accompanied by a fair damsel, to be present at the meeting of the Darnestown Literary Society last Friday evening.” After the “regular programme” of readings and songs, “chatting was renewed with increased vigor” and, essentially, a lot of young people spent a lot of time flirting until it was time to make their way home through the snow. In February 1883, the Dawsonville Literary Society received an invitation from their Darnestown counterparts “to attend, en masse, an entertainment . . . which was accepted by unanimous vote.”
The full text of the extant “society columns” – which also include wedding and death announcements, business updates, and weather news – can be found in our Library, in Jane Sween’s History of Dawsonville and Seneca, Montgomery County, Maryland (1967/1993); some excerpts also appear in the article of the same title and author in The Montgomery County Story, Vol. XI, No. 2, available in our Museum Shop. To whet your appetite for polite 19th century youthful antics (in case your copy of Jo’s Boys is not easily at hand), here’s the description of the December, 1879 meeting, as composed by “Toney”:
Eight months or more have passed since your humble servant occupied a position in your columns, as reporter of the doings of Dawsonville Literary Sociable; so hope you will give space to a brief description of the meeting which occurred Saturday week at the “Hermitage”, the residence of Mr. F. A. Dawson, one of its most prominent members. The wind though cold and boisterous during the day lulled when “Sol” donned the veil of night, leaving, however, Mrs. “Luna” and her dear little bright cherubs to twinkle in his absence to the merry throng that lined the different roads leading to the mansion. The entire building was ablaze with lights, all the rooms on the lower floor having been transformed into a spacious hall with cheerful fires to greet the chilled guests, who were received by the modest and pleasant Miss A.L. Dawson whose cordial welcome dismantled (if any) the slightest feeling of restraint worn by anyone. The agreeable Messrs. Hickerson and Balch aided in dispatching guests to the second floor where dressing rooms had been tastefully filled up with everything necessary to the comfort and vanity of women, or make an old bachelor ashamed of his lot. As early as 7 P.M. guests began to assemble in the South Parlor and up to 7:40 P.M. were continually arriving, filling the entire hall to repletion. Taking a survey of the room I concluded that I had never seen a brighter, handsomer and more tastefully dressed bevy of ladies in my life. The gentlemen also looked remarkably well.
The President, Mr. Cass F. Eastham, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called roll, which showed the society composed of twelve honorary and thirty-one active members all in the enjoyment of good health and liberty. . . . The business before the meeting was soon dispatched, Miss Gertrude Dade was added to the active list as a member and Miss Vallie W. Allnutt’s invitation was gladly accepted unanimously by everyone with thanks to meet at her pleasant home on Saturday January 3rd 1880. The secretary then called Miss M. C. Darby to open the evening’s programme, who read XIX Psalm; Miss Lille Dyson entertained by reading “Pondering”; Mr. B.F. White, declaimed “Charge of the Light Brigade”; Miss Nellie Allnutt read “Quality Hill”; Miss Susie Darby read “Antique Beau”; Mr. W.M. Hickerson read “The Deacon’s Story”; Miss Annie L. Dade recited “Buttercups and Daisies”; Miss Marian Cross read [not transcribed]. Miss Vallie Allnutt by request closed the programme by reading “The Rose.” The entire programme was creditably rendered and pleased the audience judging from the applause each participant received.
The Messrs. Heck, Mullican, Darby, Poole and Galeen of Darnestown then entertained to the great pleasure of all, with choice vocal music. Among the bright faces I noticed Miss Maud Hepburn of Washington; Miss Bessie Dawson of Arlington Heights; Miss Annie White of Loudoun, Va.; Misses Veirs, Scott and Hall of Poolesville; Miss Maggie Beall of Darnestown; Mr. Upton Darby of Seneca; Mr. Smoot of Washington; Milton White of Baltimore; Samuel Veirs of Rockville; and Mr. [?]. Wade of Barnesville. All vying with each other in general parlance when the announcement of supper caused a temporary stop. The pleasant hostess, Miss Gue, assisted by her bright sister Mary soon had served from waiters a luncheon tempting to the most delicate, winding up with a confectionary collation. After many congratulations and expressions of pleasure experienced the company left for their respective homes with hearts both light and gay.
*This edition has no copyright date, but several other collections by Belford, Clarke & Co., with similar covers, were published in 1884-85.
**These columns were collected in a scrapbook by an unknown individual; many are undated now. They are variously signed “Toney,” “Uteuty,” “Wild Bill,” “Johnny Reb,” “Delgrada,” and “Ivanhoe,” who may all be the same person; the authors frequently identify themselves as “an old bachelor,” and there are other literary similarities.