Some of my ancestors’ books seem worth sharing. Most of them are educational in nature – three are dictionaries. Despite their two hundred years of existence and what must have been frequent use, the pages remain supple and thick. Most of the bindings still hold together, and the leather covers feel like velvet. As I open them and look at their inscriptions, doodles, jottings, and marks of usage, I applaud my relatives for their literacy and love of history.
Here are some of the books, and a few interesting facts about each.
The Oldest Book
I’m a 4-leaf clover hunter. Many of my finds live on between the pages of books and diaries on our bookshelves. So it was no surprise when I opened this book – “Noah Webster’s American Spelling Book,” published in 1803 – and found one of my dried clovers on the first page. At some point, the original binding, made of wood covered with leather and paper, began to deteriorate from hard use, so someone covered it with crudely sewn striped cotton cloth.
At the end of the book are the “Additional Lessons.” My favorite lesson is “Of Cheerfulness.”
Q. Is cheerfulness a virtue?
A. It doubtless is. And a moral duty to practice it.
Q. Can we be cheerful when we please?
A. In general it depends much on ourselves. We can often mold our tempers into a cheerful frame. — We can frequent company and other objects calculated to inspire us with cheerfulness. To indulge an habitual gloominess of mind is weakness and sin.
Wow! Who knew?
The Wrong Asahel
Asahel Hall was the first Hall to live on Whirlwind Hill. My grandmother Agnes assumed that this “Entick’s New Spelling Dictionary” was his, but since he died in 1795 and the Entick’s dictionary wasn’t published until 1805, it must instead have belonged to his grandson – also named Asahel.
Still – 1805 was a long time ago, and in this book the letter ‘s’ often looks like an ‘f,’ and there are definitions that are definitely of their time.
Oil man, s. a man who deals in oils and pickles
Oil shop, s. a shop where oils and pickles are sold.
Fun with Fonts
Mary Jane Hall, my great-grandfather William’s sister, pasted an 1849 calendar into the back cover of this 1825 dictionary. The printers of these old books had fun with their fonts.
This “History of the United States on a New Plan; Adapted to the Capacity of Youth,” published in 1843, belonged to my great-uncle Aaron A. Hall, who wrote a poem on the back page.
Asked me for a song
After trying in vain,
The tears ran like rain.
The book is full of lively black and white engravings illustrating America’s history. Someone used paint to hand-color a few of them.
The Book I Keep Meaning to Read
Archibald Robbin’s 1821 book about his three years as a captive of the “Wandering Arabs” in the Sahara was a bestseller when it was published. Abraham Lincoln, who read it, referred to it in speeches and spoke of it as an influence on him. I really do need to read it.
My Great-Grandfather Read This???
Another book I mean to read, John C. Cobden’s 1853 “The White Slaves of England,” was written to call attention to the slave-like working conditions of miners, seamstresses, children, tenant farmers, etc. in Great Britain in the mid-nineteenth century. My great-grandfather, William E. Hall wrote his name inside the front cover.
A Different Country
My cousin Tom sent me this “Mitchell’s School Atlas – 1848” a few years ago on my birthday. Although it came from the farm, one of the neighbors, Amos Ives, wrote his name and made numerous doodles on its pages.
The colorful maps detail locations of Indian tribes, herds of animals, and routes to the frontier.
In Texas, part of the land is marked “Herds of Buffaloes and Wild Horses,” and “Extensive Prairies.”
Several states are conspicuously absent from this map of the west coast.
Amos must have daydreamed through his geography classes, because the book is sprinkled with doodles. He drew cats and dogs and circles and people. This is my favorite drawing. I wonder if Amos was having girlfriend troubles.
On Wednesday: “Outbuildings #6 – A House for an Auto”