Books from a Family Library; Or, Selected Volumes in the Collection of the Kent-Delord House Museum
One of the richest and most diverse collections in the Museum is the library assembled by Henry and Betsey Delord, Frances Henrietta and Henry Livingston Webb, John Webb, Frank and Fanny Hall, and their assorted relatives, friends, and servants. With literally thousands of volumes to choose from, the works selected for discussion in this brief survey will no doubt strike some readers as quirky. Although you may not agree with my selections, I do hope you gain a greater appreciation for the reading habits of extended Delord family as well as a better understanding of their life and times.
Poetical Remains of the Late Lucretia Davidson, Collected and Arranged by Her Mother: With a Biography, by Miss Sedgwick (Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1846).
Lucretia Maria Davidson was born at Plattsburgh on September 27, 1808, the daughter of Dr. Oliver and Margaret Miller Davidson. Lucretia and her younger sister, Margaret, grew up in the family home next door to the Delords and were friends of Frances Henrietta. Oliver Davidson, a physician, was described by a contemporary who knew him well as “a man of worth and endowed with an ordinary intellectual capacity,” while his wife “had an exquisitely nervous organization, was highly imaginative, and impressed with peculiar romantic sensibilities.”
Lucretia wrote her first known poem, Epitaph on a Robin, at the age of nine. Winslow P. Watson remembered Lucretia as being “very beautiful. She was not tall and rather, I think, petite; she would not have been, perhaps, pronounced elegant or handsome. Her figure was delicate, a pearly complexion, as I remember it, tinged with a roseate hue; her hair was long, massive, and deeply black; her eyes dark, large, and lustrous; and her who countenance beaming with the radiance of intelligence and genius.”
Moss Kent, a brother of Chancellor James Kent (the Kent of the Kent-Delord House), assumed the charge and responsibility of Lucretia’s education, sending her to the Troy Female Seminary, founded by Emma Willard in 1814. Unfortunately, “this great bounty proved to Lucretia a fatal gift. The peculiar and unlooked-for privilege stimulated all the hidden energies of her nature, and, in yielding to her insatiate desire for knowledge and culture, she labored beyond her strength. Her fragile physical system was unable to sustain the tension upon her brain and nerves. After struggling for a few months against the progress of an insidious malady, she came home to die.”
Lucretia died at Plattsburgh on August 27, 1825, at the age of sixteen years and eleven months of tuberculosis, then known as consumption, although it has been speculated that her condition may have been linked to anorexia nervosa. Lucretia Davidson wrote prolifically in her short life, and her surviving poems, of various lengths, approach 300. The young poetess was praised, with varying levels of enthusiasm, by such notable figures as Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Southey, and Catharine Maria Sedgwick. Sedgwick wrote a biographical sketch which was included with Lucretia’s Poetical Remains.
Biography and Poetical Remains of the Late Margaret Miller Davidson by Washington Irving (Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1841), “Presented to the Kent Delord House Library by Mary B.T. Andrews, August 3, 1954, From the Library of Mrs. George Fuller Tuttle.”
Margaret Miller Davidson was born in Plattsburgh on March 26, 1823. Soon after Lucretia’s death, Dr. Davidson moved the family to Ballston and took up the new occupation of dentistry, continuing his struggle against “relentless adverse fortune.” Margaret emulated Lucretia’s literary example, “and closely resembled her in the same bright intellectual qualities.” Margaret’s life paralleled her sister’s in productivity and in its short duration. Margaret died in Ballston on November 25, 1838, at the age of fifteen years and eight months. Her poems were arranged and published with a notice by Washington Irving.
In 1834, when Margaret was only eleven, she sent a poem to Elizabeth Swetland (Betsey Delord), following Frances Henrietta’s death from the complications of childbirth in March. Several stanzas of Margaret’s poem, On the Death of Mrs. F.H. Webb, follow:
In vain I strike my youthful lyre,
Some gayer music to impart,
And dissipate the gloom which hangs
Too sadly round my mourning heart.
For she, the young, the bright, the gay,
Has left us here to weep,
While cover’d with her parent clay,
And wrapt in death’s long sleep.
But memory still can paint the scenes
Of past, but ne’er forgotten joy,
When we have sported wild and free,
No sorrow pleasure’s tide to cloy.
Thy form, as it was wont to be,
Still mingles with each thought of home;
My earliest sports were join’d by thee,
When graced by beauty’s brightest bloom.
Again I view that hazel eye,
With life and pleasure beaming;
Again I view that fair, white brow,
Those dark locks o’er it streaming.
Again I view thy blushing cheek,
The glow of love and pride,
When, ‘mid the throng of smiling friends,
A blooming, happy bride.
How changed the scene! The star of hope
Has set in clouds of darkest night,
And she, the lovely and the gay,
Is laid in the grave with her beauty and light.
Oh, where shall the mother, all mourning and sad,
Oh, where shall she look for the child she adored!
And where shall the husband, half frantic with grief,
Find the wife in whose bosom his sorrows he pour’d!
How lonely and silent each well-beloved scene,
Each garden, each grove, which she loved to frequent;
The sweet flowers she nurtured so fondly and long,
In sorrow their heads to the damp ground have bent.
The Pioneers, or the Sources of the Susquehanna; A Descriptive Tale by James Fenimore Cooper (New York-Charles Wiley, 1823), First edition. “E. Delord.”
This important volume is the first of Cooper’s famous Leatherstocking tales and marks the introduction of Natty Bumpo into American fiction. Cooper’s third novel overall, the plot is a fictionalized account of his hometown of Cooperstown, New York, founded after the Revolutionary War by his father William Cooper. James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) has several direct ties to the extended Delord family. In the spring of 1833, near the end of Henry Livingston Webb and Frances Henrietta’s honeymoon tour, Cooper invited the couple to dine with him in Paris. Then in the first trimester of her pregnancy, Frances declined the invitation from the best known American author of the times.
A second Cooper connection to the Museum is the candelabra in the blue parlor, called a girandole. It contains nearly three dozen prisms which separate light into primary colors and create a rainbow effect. The mirror behind the girandole reflected the light from the candles. The brass base includes the figure of a woman in mid-nineteenth century dress. The artist was an admirer of Cooper and incorporated one of the Victorian ladies from Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans (1826) into the brass base. The only other similar piece is in the Fenimore Cooper House in Cooperstown.
The Trial of the Witness of the Resurrection of Jesus. (Philadelphia: H. Tuckniss, 1800), signed twice “Henry Delord” on first two pages, signed “Betsey Delord’s Book Peru. March 19thh 1802” on page 3.
The Trial of the Witness of the Resurrection of Jesus is the earliest signed Betsey Delord book in the collection. Bound in original sheepskin, these pages were turned by the seventeen-year old Betsey more than two centuries ago.
The Elements of Medicine; Or, A Translation Of The Elementa Medicinæ Brunonis, With Large Notes, Illustrations, and Comments, By The Author Of The Original Work by John Brown (Fairhaven: James Lyon, 1797), leather covers, sewn binding. Inside front cover “Purchased at New York 27thh October 1796 By Henry Delord.”
One of Henry Delord’s first acquisitions after arriving at New York in the fall of 1796, this lovely leather volume marks the beginning of the Delord family library. Many of the volumes in the library deal with either medical or religious themes.
Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands by Harriet Beecher Stowe (2 volumes, Boston: Phillips, Sampson, and Company, 1854 and 1856), First edition. “Mrs. E. Swetland.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) had published her masterpiece, Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852. The book sold over 300,000 copies in the first year alone, bringing the author previously unknown income and fame. In 1854, she decided to travel abroad and record her experiences, perhaps to chronicle her new-found fame as well as to establish a presence as an international person of letters. Stowe intentionally used the cultural gulf between the homespun and the Gilded Age that started in the 1850’s as the backdrop for Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands. Stowe understood that in order to maintain cultural authority, she had to speak in the terms of the emerging culture of consumption, which was beginning to be defined by European travel. Cast in the form of travel letters, Stowe included homely illusions while claiming culture for “the folk.” Sunny Memories was carried by countless American tourists abroad as others later carried Baedeker and Fodor.
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1880), First edition. “Francis B. Hall.”
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, a novel by Civil War general Lew Wallace, was published on November 12, 1880 by Harper & Brothers. The novel was a phenomenal best-seller; it soon surpassed Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin as the best-selling American novel and retained this distinction until the 1936 publication of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. Ben-Hur was inspired in part by Wallace’s love of the story The Count of Monte Cristo (1846) by Alexander Dumas. The highly successful novel was quickly adapted into numerous stage productions, including one which recreated the climactic chariot race on stage using live horses and full size chariots. The novel was also adapted into motion pictures in 1907, 1925, 1959, and 2003
Aids to Early Religionn by W.B. Sprague (New York: M.W. Dodd, 1847), “Frances D. Webb from her aff. friend M.E.R.”
William Buel Sprague, an eminent Presbyterian minister, was born in Andover, Massachusetts, in 1795. He enrolled at Yale in 1811 and graduated with honors in 1815. The following year he entered Princeton Seminary where he studied for more than two years, after which he gained experience in two pastorates lasting one year and ten years respectively. Dr. Sprague served the pastorate of the Second Presbyterian Church in Albany for forty years (1829-1869).
Henry Livingston Webb was a parishioner at the Second Presbyterian Church and, while courting Frances Henrietta in the spring of 1832, gave her a copy of Sprague’s Lectures on Revival. Dr. Sprague prayed with Frances Henrietta during her fatal illness, and wrote an obituary for the Albany newspapers following her death on March 15, 1834, at the age of twenty. Other than his Lectures on Revival, perhaps Sprague’s best known work was his Annals of the American Pulpit, undertaken when he was fifty-seven years old, and finished in ten large octavo volumes. In 1869, at the age of seventy-four, he left his church and after a peaceful retirement died in 1876. One wonders if Frances Delord was aware of the author’s multiple close connections to her parents. One also wonders about the identity of M.E.R.