Friday, December 7, 2012

Profile of a Cantabridgian: Caroline Orne

Recently, my reading has introduced me to Caroline Frances Orne (1818-1905), who was a well-regarded poet in her day, and the first librarian of the Cambridge Public Library. 

The Cambridge Public Library was known as the Dana Library when it first opened in 1858, after its first major benefactor, Edmund Dana. Cambridge residents could pay one dollar a year to be a member of the library, which was initially open one afternoon a week.1 During Orne's sixteen years of leadership, the library became quite popular, and by the time she resigned, it was open every day but Sunday.2

Public libraries were only just starting to become common when Orne took the job. The Boston Public Library had opened five years before.3 At the time, public libraries were expected to provide some guidance about appropriate reading for the general public. In some ways, they were arbiters of taste. Orne was well-regarded for her knowledge of literature and her judgment and taste in selecting books for the library. She was known for taking a personal interest in library patrons and helping them choose books.4

Caroline Frances Orne was friends with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russel Lowell and other women and men of letters.5 While I'm not a scholar of the poetry of the time, I think I hear a bit of Longfellow's influence in her writing, in the lyric, regular but melodic style.

Orne wrote throughout her life. In 1844,  she published a volume of poetry titled "Sweet Auburn and Mount Auburn, with other poems." Mount Auburn cemetery, founded in 1831, is lauded as being the first landscaped cemetery, breaking the tradition of crowded church burial grounds, but Orne was of the generation that had fond memories of that hill when it was just an open natural space, called Sweet Auburn. In the two long poems that begin the volume, Orne celebrates both the past and the present.

As the first landscaped cemetery, Mount Auburn represented a very controlled form of natural beauty. It was, and still is, a place that you visit for pleasure, as well as to visit the dead who rest there. In deliberate contrast, Orne's poem "Sweet Auburn" frequently relates nature and childhood innocence.
It begins,

Far-famed Mount Auburn! in the days of old,
As nature bade thy varied charms unfold,
Ere yet the hand of art had changed thy mien,
And in thy pristine beauty thou wert seen,
A lovelier object wert thou to my view,
Thy name was dearer that my childhood knew.
Sweet Auburn! send the spirit of thy shades
To Iight my song when memory's radiance fades.

The poem also contains some lyric words of Cantabridgian pride.

Lo, where the morning sun shed its first ray,
Boston's bright spires and domes before me lay;
Dorchester's heights, and Charlestown's battle mound,
And many a famous scene lay all around,
Far as the eye might reach, was freedom's hallowed
Hamlet and town shone in the distance bright,
And Charles far-winding glowed a beam of light.
And, where my eye delighted oft would rove,

Stately old Harvard stood in academic grove.

Caroline Frances Orne may not be a household name in Cambridge today, but her work for the library left a lasting mark on the city, and her poetry (which is in the public domain and available online) is worth a read.

1. Doyle, Edward. A Commemorative History of the Cambridge Public Library. Cambridge: Cambridge Public Library, 1989. Page 3.
2. Doyle 6.
3. Doyle 3.
4. History of the Cambridge Public Library, Alfred Mudge and Sons, Cambridge, 1908. Page 13
5. History (1908), 13

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Projects, projects, projects...

It's been a while since I've posted here, largely because I have a number of other projects on my plate. I am doing a blog of book reviews and thoughts on the greater Boston literary scene over at Diffuse 5. I recently appeared as a guest on the great blog The Uncataloged Museum, reflecting on my experiences volunteering at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. (By the way, the museum's founder and namesake, Mrs. Gardner, is buried in Cambridge, in Mount Auburn cemetery). I am a textile conservation intern at Museum Textile Services in Andover, and soon, I'll be appearing on their blog as well. And then there's my day job -- no blogging there...yet.

When I next return to Cambridge Considered, I'll be posting one of a few possibilities.
  • At some point, I'm going to do another photo essay. This time, I want to trace the route that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow probably took when he walked to his lady friend (and future wife) Fanny Appleton's family home on Beacon Hill.
  • I plan to do one or two more transportation posts, on trolleys and early busses, and on the good old MBTA. 
  • I've been saying for a long time that I will do a post on bicycles in Cambridge at some point.
If any of these particularly pique your interest, or you have a suggestion for another topic or a question you'd like answered, let me know!

In the meantime, here are a few Cambridge history tidbits you might be interested in.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Some Musings and Resources on the War of 1812

This month is the bicentennial of the start of the War of 1812. President James Madison declared war on Great Britain two hundred years ago today, June 18, 1812.

If the War of 1812 has a reputation among non-historians, it's that American War that no one knows anything about today. I disagree; I think the Spanish-American War and the Mexican-American War are even less known, to say nothing of the Quasi-War with France or the Barbary Wars (not that I'm an expert on any of these myself). America was pretty bellicose in the 19th Century.

However, the War of 1812 rarely ever gets the spotlight except now, because of its bicentennial. I believe that the reason it's not remembered the way it could be is that many historians call it a second American Revolution. If you like to take a patriotic view of the past, it's not particularly glorious that we went to war for freedom from Britain a second time. So, the war is more interesting to historians than to Americana buffs, and honestly, a lot of how we hear about history comes from that second group. 

The United States fought England over control of the North American continent, and because the Americans felt the British were interfering with their right and ability to compete in the marketplace of transatlantic trade. The war ended in a stalemate (according to most U.S. historians -- Canadians disagree), but Europe began to see America as a legitimate player in the global marketplace and foreign affairs.

Much of Cambridge, like much of New England, opposed the War of 1812. The seaport economy of the region had suffered from the Embargo Act of 1807, which had been intended as a less drastic way to address some of the same issues that led to the war. Cantabridgians involved with the War of 1812 were likely either in the Cambridge Light Infantry, a force of about 50 men,1 or in the Navy or the Marines, sailing from the nearby Charlestown Navy Yard. 

There are a number of great resources on this often-ignored war coming out of the woodwork for the bicentennial.  Here are a few.
  • Speaking of the Charlestown Navy Yard, the USS Constitution Museum has a number of great resources on the war, including this short overview, a silly but addictive online game portraying the life of a Navy sailor during the war, and of course, events and exhibits at the museum itself. The Navy Yard itself is a National Park Service Site, and Navy offers free tours of the ship USS Constitution. 
  • The factoids in Smithsonian Magazine's article The 10 Things You Didn't Know About the War of 1812 range from the mundane (#1, the war needs to be re-branded, because it formally lasted until 1814 and isolated fighting continued until 1815) to the poetic (#3, the rockets really did have red glare). Smithsonian has a number of great articles on the war, collected here.
  • The interactive War of 1812 Timeline presented by the Naval History and Heritage Command's War of 1812 Bicentennial Website, "Our Flag Was Still There" is a great source of information. It is a little hard to scroll through in some browsers, but it has a map that displays the location of events as you click on them, and it includes international events with indirect relationships to the war as well as events of the war itself. Overall, the website is a little flag-wavy and American-centric, but still a good resource.
If you want to learn more, there are a number of histories of the subject. Here are a few:
  • The War of 1812: A Short History, by Donald R. Hickey. University of Illinois Press.
  • 1812: The War That Forged A Nation, by Walter R. Borneman. Harper Perennial.
  • 1812: The Navy's War, by George C. Daughan. Basic Books.

1. Paige, Lucius Robinson. History of Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1630-1877: With a Genealogical Register. Boston: H.O. Houghton and Co., 1877. Page 431.