In my mailbox from University Presses, part 2

February 19, 2021 at 8:44 pm (books, entertainment, history) (, , , )


Two days ago, I “published” the first three in a list of five new books, recently received in the mail. Today I continue with two more *finds*, all (curiously!) from University Presses.

A View from Abroad:
The Story of John and Abigail Adams in Europe”

Jeanne E. Abrams
New York University Press, 2021
(vi + 288 pages)

Many moons ago (2010), when composing my JASNA lecture “Austen/Adams: Journeys with Jane and Abigail,” I read the Letters of Abigail Adams in an old copy from the UVM library. What I had wanted to focus on were those letters written during her travels abroad – the sailing ship; the carriage travel in England; the lengthy period in France. I have never forgotten her fleet way with words. “No Bean, and No Queen” was her succinct phrase to deal with daughter, Nabby’s hunt for the elusive “bean,” part of a French traditional celebration, which Mrs. Adams wrote about in a letter to Lucy Cranch, 5 Jan 1785:

“I will relate to you a custom of this country. You must know that the religion of this country requires abundance of feasting and fasting, and each person has his particular saint, as well as each calling and occupation. To-morrow is to be celebrated, le jour des rois. The day before this feast it is customary to make a large paste pie, into which one bean is put. Each person at table cuts his slice, and the one who is so lucky as to obtain the bean, is dubbed king or queen. Accordingly, to-day, when I went in to dinner, I found one upon our table. Your cousin Abby began by taking the first slice; but alas! poor girl, no bean, and no queen. In the next place, your cousin John seconded her by taking a larger cut, and . . . bisected his paste with mathematical circumspection; but to him it pertained not. By this time, I was ready for my part; but first I declared that I had no cravings for royalty. I accordingly separated my piece with much firmness, nowise disappointed that it fell not to me. Your uncle, who was all this time picking his chicken bone, saw us divert ourselves without saying any thing; but presently he seized the remaining half, and to crumbs went the poor paste, cut here and slash there; when, behold the bean! “And thus,” said he, “are kingdoms obtained;” but the servant, who stood by and saw the havoc, declared solemnly that he could not retain the title, as the laws decreed it to chance, and not to force.”

I always *cheer* the servant’s coup de grâce! (and the scenario made me loathe gauche John Adams…)

David McCullough, author of the hefty biography JOHN ADAMS, once indicated that he could have written a whole book just on Abigail’s time abroad. Now Jeanne Abrams has published on this very topic, though included the trips John Adams accomplished on his own too. This is a newly-released book – and just arrived in my mailbox three days ago (Feb 2021). Abrams is also the author of First Ladies of the Republic: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, and the Creation of an Iconic American Role.

Dear Catharine, Dear Taylor:
The Civil War Letters of a Union Soldier and His Wife

edited by Richard L. Kiper
letters transcribed by Donna B. Vaughn
University Press of Kansas, 2002
(xii + 448 pages)

I found this book searching . . . for something else.

I had a book (upstairs) that was a Civil War correspondence between husband and wife. Those words were what I searched for. You can see other “finds” by reading this post at Isadore Albee’s Civil War Diaries website. Bad weather has kept this book longer in the mail – last seen in Nashua, New Hampshire! so I expect that it’s closed in and will deliver soon.

Taylor Peirce was 40-years-old when he enlisted. The letters are described by the publisher, specifically Catharine Peirce’s half of the correspondence, as “a rich trove of letters from the homefront.” THAT was all I needed to see in order to hunt down a copy of the book. The book describes both halves of the correspondence, but, again, it’s Catharine’s plight that intrigues: “Catharine, for her part, reported on family and relatives, the demands of being a single mother with three young children, business affairs, household concerns, weather and crops, events in Des Moines, and national politics, filling gaps in our knowledge of Northern life during the war. Most of all, her letters convey her frustration and aching loneliness in Taylor’s absence, as well as her fears for his life, even as other women were becoming widowed by the war.”

Bad (snow) weather delayed its delivery by several days once the mail hit southern New Hampshire. It finally arrived yesterday. On first perusal – a slight disappointment that of 178 letters, only 51 are by Catharine Peirce. Footnotes attached to early letters by Taylor indicate “letter not found” whenever the husband thanked the wife for a letter. Ah, such a loss! I can imagine that some catastrophe happened, and Taylor’s carefully preserved stash of early letters went missing or got destroyed. A horrible loss to him no doubt. Taylor’s first letter is dated 20 August 1862; Catharine’s first surviving letter is dated January 1863.

*

The Websters: Letters of an American Army Family
in Peace & in War, 1836-1853

edited by Van R. Baker
The Kent State University Press, 2000
(xiv + 327 pages)

As a ‘bonus’ – the book I was trying to find through the online search — instead of going upstairs to pluck this book off the shelf — which resulted in finding Dear Catharine. I had remembered this as a book that included husband & wife letters AND had a Vermont connection. Indeed Lucien Bonaparte Webster had been born in Hartland, Vermont. His future wife, Frances Smith, was perhaps born in her grandfather’s Litchfield, Connecticut home. It fits this series of books because – surprisingly – it’s another University Press publication.

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