From Colonials to Provincials

Colonial Craftsmen

Customs and Fashions in Old New England

blue. In their veins runs the ichor—arachnidian though it be—that came over in the Mayflower; yes, doubly honored, came over in the special staterbom of an Ainsworth's Psalm-Book or a Genevan Bible. No degrading alliances, no admixtures through foreign emigration, have crossed that pure inbred strain; my book-spiders are of real Pilgrim stock-they are true New England Brahmins.

Any one who turns over with attention the books of an old New England library must be struck with a sense of the affection with which these books have been treasured, the care with which they have been read, and, in case of accident, with which they have been repaired. One psalm-book, nibbled by mice, has had every page neatly mended by the insertion of thin sheets of paper to replace the lost bits; and some painstaking and pious New Englander, with a pen and skill worthy the illuminating monks of another faith, has minutely printed the missing letters on both sides of the inserted slip in a text no larger than the surrounding print. Another book, a Bible, burnt in round holes by a slow-burning coal from the pipe of a sleepy reader, has been mended in the same careful manner. I have seen Bibles that have been read and turned over till the margins of the pages at the lower corner and outer edge were worn off down to the print by loving daily use. In one such the margins had been neatly replaced by pasted slips of paper. In more than one book I have found a minutely written home-made index on the blank pages at the end of the volume, showing a personal interest and love for a book which can hardly be equalled. Careful notes and references and postils also show a patient and appreciative perusal.

Though books were so closely cherished, so seemly bekept in colonial days, they were subject to one indignity with which now they are unmenaced and undegraded--they were sometimes sentenced to be burned by the public hangman. In 1654 the writings of John Reeves and Ludowick Muggleton, who set up to be prophets, were burned by that abhorred public functionary in Boston market-place; and two years later Quaker books were similarly destroyed. William Pyncheon's book was burned, in 1650, in Boston Market. In 1707 a "libel on the Governor" was hanged by the hangman. In 1754 a pamphlet called "The Monster of Monsters," a sharp political criticism on the Massachusetts Court, was thus burned in King Street, Boston. From the Connecticut Gazette of November 29th, 1755, we learn that another offending publication was sentenced to be "publickly whipt according to Moses Law with 40 stripes save one, then Burnt." How a true book-lover winces at the thought of the public hangman placing his blood-stained hand on any book, no matter how much a "monster."

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