Sunday, December 27, 2009

Rules of the Club

These rules, adopted in 1869, are still in force, although many of the formalities are no longer observed.  In particular the "two cubes" blackball rule is no longer observed — new members are accepted by consensus following discussion.

Rules of the Monday Evening Club, Pittsfield, Mass. 1869

I.  This Club shall consist of not more than twenty members.

II. Members shall be elected by secret ballot, by balls and cubes; two cubes shall reject.  Every member shall vote upon proposals.  No person who has been rejected as a member of the Club, under this rule, shall be eligible for membership during six months next succeeding his rejection, and shall not be balloted for as a member during that period.

III.  The Officers of the Club shall be a Chairman, Secretary, and an Executive Committee of three.
The Chairman for the time being shall be the member at whose house the session is held.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Father Knows Best: The Railroad Street Youth Project




Presented to the Club by Erik Bruun on December 14, 2009

1. Still Learning

The topic of this paper is the Railroad Street Youth Project of Great Barrington, Massachuetts, the youth empowerment organization that I have devoted more passion and energy than any other enterprise in my life other than parenting. As the title implies, the meaning is about fatherhood, something I learned a lot about in my role at RR Street. As my 16-year-old daughter is only too eager to tell me, fathers don't know best. In fact, according to her, we know virtually nothing at all. This, however, does not stop her from turning to me for support on an almost daily basis.

My experience is that as fathers we are called upon to know what is right and carry ourselves in certainty, but in reality our job is to prepare our children to trust their own judgments even in the face of our own doubts. In short, this paper is about love.

It comes from the place of having two teenage children who are starting to experience life’s joys, pains and disappointments as they embark upon independence. It also comes from a place of watching young people with virtually no credentials or privileges accomplish greatness that I would have never predicted through courage and determination. To leap to the conclusion, I am still learning and I imagine I always will be.

2. Why Don’t You Ask the Kids?

Ten years ago this fall community leaders and adults formed the South Berkshire Heroin Task Force to confront the increasingly visible and dangerous problem of drug addiction and substance abuse in downtown Great Barrington. Over the previous year, more than a dozen young people in South County died of drug overdoses, suicide, and alcohol-related car accidents. Many people were understandably freaked out. They gathered on a regular basis to try and do something about it. Amanda Root was one of those people.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A rose among thorns: The legacy of Dutch rule in America


Presented to the Club by Albert E. Easton on November 23, 2009

The First Church in Albany was founded in 1642. The chancel of that church contains the seventeenth century pulpit and the hour glass that the pastors, who were called “Dominies” used to time their sermons. On the wall there appears a seal with these words: “Like a rose among thorns is my love among the daughters.” Those words, from what seventeenth century Calvinists called the book of Canticles, were chosen as a motto because Albany, in those days, was a tiny enclave of European civilization in what was perceived as a vast wilderness. The words, of course, are not in English, but in Dutch, a reminder that Albany was part of a Dutch colony, which made New York different in important ways from the other twelve original colonies. That fact had consequences for the state, and even for the nation that it became a part of. My purpose tonight is to explore those differences and how they came about.

The first step in understanding this is to review the history of England and the Netherlands in the seventeenth century. The political and religious aspects of that history were so deeply intertwined as to be almost the same thing. Elizabeth I, who had restored the Anglican church in England, died in 1603, and her successor, James I continued this tradition. The Anglican church in those days followed most of the rite and ritual of the Roman Catholic church, rejecting only the authority of the pope.

The Netherlands, along with a good deal of the rest of western Europe, were a part of the Hapsburg empire in the sixteenth century, ruled from Spain. In 1568, a revolt led by William of Orange broke out, and by 1579, the seven northern provinces, of which Holland was the largest, formed a union called the United Provinces of the Netherlands. The government of this new nation was a republic, an unusual form in the sixteenth century. This republic, while nominally Roman Catholic was tolerant of all religions, and this resulted in a huge influx of Calvinist and Lutheran believers, who were generally not welcome in those provinces that remained under Spanish rule.

Church and State: The wall of separation


Presented to the Club by Harold I. Salzmann on June 8, 2009. Illustration: Statue of Roger Williams in the U. S. Capitol Building.


“Freedom’s a thing that has no ending …”

As all of us know, this Monday Evening Club of ours was founded almost 140 years ago at the home of the grandfather of our recently deceased member, Thomas Plunkett. That founding took place on Wednesday evening, November 11, 1869. By an unrelated coincidence, my own congregation, Temple Anshe Amunim (“People of Faith”) was founded just a few days later, on a Sunday evening, November 14. I have been researching this latter history for some time – not incidental to our congregation’s similar observance this November of its 140th celebratory observance.

One of the intriguing questions that concerned me, at the outset of my inquiry into the beginning of our congregation here in the Berkshires was why our beginnings here were only in the middle of the 19th century. Our congregation is one of the oldest in New England. But American Jewish history goes back actually to the discovery of America itself, beginning with Columbus. Luis Torres, the navigator’s official interpreter, was a converso/marrano, the first white man actually to set foot on the soil of the New World. And there is a school of scholars – non-Jewish and Spanish at that – who have theorized that Columbus himself was of Jewish origins.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Club's historic membership roster, part IV: Members joining 1885-1900

This is the fourth post in a series on the historic membership roster of the Club. These posts may be updated as additional biographical information on the members is uncovered. Research by Martin C. Langeveld, incorporating research by Harold L. Hutchins for a paper given to the Club in 1993. The photo at left is of William Stanley, Jr., who joined in 1892.

1885

Rev. Isaac Chipman Smart — 1859-1931; born in Shoreham, Vt.; graduated from Amherst College in 1881; editor of the Pittsfield Evening Journal, 1881-1882; graduated from Union Theological Seminary in 1885, ordained 1885 and became pastor of South Congregational Church, Pittsfield and served until 1906; became pastor of College Street Congregational Church, Burlington, Vt. in 1906; died in Burlington.

1886

Harlan Hoge Ballard — 1853-1934; born in Athens, Ohio; graduated from Williams College in 1874 and became principal of the Lenox, Mass. High School; appointed principal of the Lenox Academy in 1880, where he founded the Agassiz Association, a national organization for the study of natural object that eventually had more than 1,000 chapters worldwide; became librarian at the Berkshire Athenaeum; authored books of poetry, novels and translations from Latin. One of his books, The Tiler's Jewel, a Masonic novel, is still in print. His mother, Julia Perkins Pratt Ballard (1824-1894) was a noted nature writer and author of popular science books for children.

Charles Edmund Hibbard — 1844-1922; born in Farmington Falls, Maine; graduated from Amherst College in 1867; studied law in Woodstock, Vt.; admitted to the bar in Boston in 1869; practiced in Tama, Iowa from 1869 to 1873 and in Boston from 1873 to 1881; opened a law practice in Lee in 1881 (lived earlier in Iowa City, Iowa); moved his practice to Pittsfield in 1887; first mayor of Pittsfield (elected 1891); served as district attorney for six years; served as delegate to the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1917-1918; died in Pittsfield.

Henry Colt, Jr. — born in Pittsfield in 1856; graduated from Williams College in 1878 and from Harvard Medical School in 1881; physician, associated medical director of the Berkshire Life Insurance Company, medical examiner for Berkshire County, chairman of the medical and surgical board of the House of Mercy Hospital, trustee of the Berkshire Athenaeum, director of the Pittsfield National Bank and the Berkshire Loan and Trust Company; died in Pittsfield in 1931 (193 South Street).

Marcus H. Rogers — born in Mill River (village in New Marlborough) about 1835 (where he published a paper called the Rising Sun as a teenager; publisher and editor of the Berkshire Courier 1865-1879 and later the Berkshire County Eagle 1887-1889; spent more than 60 years in newspaper publishing; retired in Florida; died 1925 at the age of 90.

Rev. Orville Coats — pastor of the First Baptist Church; served later in Somerville and Lowell, Mass.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Club's historic membership roster, part III: Members joining 1877-1883

This is the third post in a series on the historic membership roster of the Club. These posts may be updated as additional biographical information on the members is uncovered. Research by Martin C. Langeveld, incorporating research by Harold L. Hutchins for a paper given to the Club in 1993.

The following became members of the Club from 1877 through 1883:

1877


Rev. O. P. Gifford — born in Montague, Mass. in 1847; graduated from Brown University in 1874 and the Baptist Theological Seminary in Rochester, N. Y. in 1877; ordained pastor at First Baptist Church in Pittsfield and served from 1877 to 1879; became pastor of Warren Avenue Baptist Church in Boston in 1879; from there he went to Brookline, Mass., then to Chicago's Immanuel Baptist Church; in Chicago he was active in the anti-sweatshop and other civic movements; in 1894 he became pastor of the Delaware Avenue Baptist Church in Buffalo, N. Y.

Rev. Jonathan Leavitt Jenkins — born in Portland, Maine in 1830, the son of a preacher; graduated from Yale College in 1851; became pastor of the First Church of Lowell, and then the Pearl Street Church in Hartford and the Congregational Church of Amherst, Mass., before coming to Pittsfield, where he served for 15 years as pastor of the First Church of Christ. He presided over a major redecoration of the church's sanctuary in 1882, the installation of stained glass windows including the Tiffany-designed Allen window, and the 125th anniversary celebration of the church in 1889. In 1892, he left to become pastor of the State Street Congregational Church in Portland. Later he moved on to a pastorate in Jamaica Plain, Mass., and died while visiting Pittsfield (?) in 1913.

Earl Grey Baldwin — 1847-1922; born in Coventry, Vt.; attended Amherst College, member of the class of 1876 but did not graduate; served as principal of Pittsfield High School from 1877 to 1883; also as principal at Wendall Hall School for Boys, Norwalk, Conn., and again at Pittsfield 1888 to 1892; was correspondent for Springfield, New York and Boston papers and editorial writer for The Berkshire Eagle; died in Pittsfield.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Club's historic membership roster, part II: Members joining 1870-1876

This is the second post in a series on the historic membership roster of the Club. These posts may be updated as additional biographical information on the members is uncovered. Research by Martin C. Langeveld, incorporating research by Harold L. Hutchins for a paper given to the Club in 1993.

The following became members of the Club from 1870 through 1876:

1870

James Madison Barker — (see image) 1839-1905; graduated from Williams College in 1856 and from Harvard Law School in 1863; lawyer, became a partner of fellow Club member Thomas B. Pingree in 1865; member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives 1872-1873; Superior Court judge 1882-1891; justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court 1891-1905; served as director and later vice-president of the Berkshire Life Insurance Company, director of the Pittsfield National Bank, and director of the Pontoosuc Woolen Company, president of the Berkshire Athenaeum 1903-1905, trustee of Williams College 1882-1905; author of "Shire Town Stories" and other unpublished historical and biographical narratives; member of the Massachusets Historical Society. (Additional information here.)

Thaddeus Clapp Jr. — 1821-1890; born in Pittsfield; discontinued his schooling in order to begin work at the Pontoosuc Woolen Mill where his father, Thaddeus Clapp, was manager; became president of the company in 1882 succeeding Ensign H. Kellogg, fellow member of the Club; married in 1845 Lucy Goodrich; died in Pittsfield 1890.

Edward Boltwood — 1839-1878; graduate of Yale College, 1860; born Amherst, Mass.; studied law at Harvard and admitted to the bar in Boston; practiced in Detroit beginning 1863; married in 1865 to Sarah E. Plunkett, daughter of Thomas F. Plunkett; returned to Berkshire County in 1871 to become treasurer of Berkshire Life Insurance Company; became president of the company in 1876 (succeeding fellow Club member Thomas F. Plunkett upon his death); died of tuberculosis (consumption) in Cairo, Egypt in 1878 at the age of 39 after various travels to mitigate the disease; father of Edward Boltwood Jr., who wrote the "History of Pittsfield 1876-1916."

1871

Robert W. Adam — 1825-1911; born in Canaan, Conn.; graduated from Williams College in 1845; admitted to the bar in Pittsfield, 1849; practiced law in Pittsfield until 1865; elected treasurer of Berkshire County Savings Bank in 1865, an office he held until his death in Pittsfield in 1911; served as director of the Pittsfield Coal Gas Company at its organization in 1853; was elected to the city council for the first two years of city government beginning in 1891, serving as president of the council the second year; married in 1852 Sarah P. Brewster; their one son, William L. Adam, a member of the Club, succeeded him as treasurer of the Berkshire County Savings Bank.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Club's historic membership roster, part I: Founding members

This post begins a series on the historic membership roster of the Club. These posts may be updated as additional biographical information on the members is uncovered. Research by Martin C. Langeveld, incorporating research by Harold L. Hutchins for a paper given to the Club in 1993.


One hundred eighty-eight men have been members of the Club since 1869. Twenty-one were founding members who formed the Club in 1869. Of those, the following 16 were present at the organizational meeting of the Club at the home of Thomas F. Plunkett, November 11, 1869:

J. F. A. Adams — Pittsfield physician; author of numerous medical and scientific articles; a resident of Wendell Avenue; founding member of the Berkshire Historical and Scientific Society organized in 1878.

William F. Bartlett — 1840-1876; born in Haverhill, Mass.; studied at Harvard University; Civil War veteran with an illustrious record: Captain, 20th Mass. Volunteers, wounded at Yorktown and had a leg amputated; returned to service as Colonel of the 49th Mass. Volunteers, wounded twice at Port Hudson, organized 57th Mass. Volunteers and led them to the in the Battle of the Wilderness, promoted to Brigadier-General, was taken prisoner, released in an exchange and made Major-General in command of the 1st Division of the 9th Corps; returned to Pittsfield where he had recruited the 49th regiment, married Mary Agnes Pomeroy, and engaged in business here; died of consumption in 1876. There is a bronze statue of Bartlett in Memorial Hall in the Massachusetts State House in Boston, unveiled in 1904. A biography of Bartlett by Richard Allen Sauers and Martin H. Sable was published in 2009.

Henry Shaw Briggs — 1824-1887; born in Lanesborough, Mass., lawyer and politician; graduate of Williams College, 1844; Massachusetts state legislator; Captain and later Brigadier-General in the Civil War, commander of the Allen Guards of Pittsfield; son of Massachusetts Governor George Nixon Briggs; elected state auditor in 1867, served until 1871; later special justice at Pittsfield District Court; died in Pittsfield and buried in Pittsfield Cemetery.

Thomas Colt
— Graduate of Williams College, 1842; active in First Church of Christ and in civic affairs; paper manufacturer with a mill at Coltsville, lived at 42 Wendell Avenue (later the Women's Club of Pittsfield); helped to organized the Housatonic Engine Co., a forerunner of the Pittsfield Fire Department; filed a $220,000 bankruptcy in 1876. (The idle mill was purchased in 1879 by the Crane Paper Company and has been manufacturing the U. S. currency paper ever since.)

Henry Laurens Dawes — 1816-1903; born in Cummington, Mass.; U.S. Senator and Representative; editor of the Greenfield Recorder and later the North Adams Transcript; lawyer; served in Massachusetts legislature; served as U.S. Attorney for western Massachusetts; U.S. Representative 1857-1875; a friend of Abraham Lincoln, who served as a pall bearer at Lincoln's funeral; supporter of the creation of Yellowstone National Park and the transcontinental railroad; U.S. Senator 1875-1893; author of the Dawes Act and later chairman of the Dawes Commission, under which native Americans were gradually deprived of some 90 million acres of tribal land.

Jacob Lyman Greene — 1837-1905; born in North Waterford, Maine; Brevet-General in the Civil war, described as Gen. George Armstrong Custer's "best man"; studied law at University of Michigan; enrolled as private in the 7th Michigan Volunteer Infantry in 1861; joined Custer's staff as assistant adjutant general in 1863; captured at Trevilian Station and held prisoner; refused parole "over an issue regarding unequal treatment of black prisoners"; paroled in December 1865; rejoined Custer's command one day after Lee's surrender at Appomattox; mustered out of the volunteer service in 1866; moved to Pittsfield where his brother was a physician; joined Berkshire Life Insurance Company as assistant secretary; moved to Hartford in 1870 to join Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance, where he became president in 1878 and held this position until his death; died following an operation at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1905. In Hartford he was the member of the Monday Evening Club of that city.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Bard's Berkshire connection


Presented to the Club by Michael A. Shirley in April, 1999

It is quite remarkable that today we use in everyday language so many of those quotations which were written 400 years ago and are taken from plays performed not only in English-speaking countries but literally in almost every country in the world. Our love, respect, wonder and admiration for William Shakespeare know no bounds.

In a humble way I would like to show you how my tenuous connection with him in England has now coincidentally extended to the Berkshires. I hope, nay I pray that you will find it interesting and that for those of you who have never studied the Elizabethan period Shakespeare’s plays with their difficult but beautiful verse will mean more to you. After all, an entree to Shakespeare opens up a world that one can dream about all one’s life. “Such stuff that dreams are made of.”

You are warned, though, that I find the social conditions that existed at this time are what really interests me so I’ll pass some of them on to you. My history at school was of the dates of kings and queens and other such static information. Little social history was taught, although in fairness the emphasis has shifted in modern times.

A little over two years ago I received an e-mail from a most surprised young lady at Shakespeare & Co. She had ventured onto the internet to look for the alumni of a school in South London called Dulwich College, and found my name with an address on the same street as the company she worked for.

Why, and why surprised? She, Mary Guzzy, is in charge of a project to build a replica of the Rose Theatre and its surrounding village, one of the new theatres built in London in the late 16th century, where Shakespeare’s new plays were performed. So “you could have knocked her over with a feather” (not a Shakespearean quote, I hasten to add) when she made this surprising discovery.

Why this Dulwich College? Well, the school was founded by Edward Alleyn, one of the most successful of Shakespeare’s actors. He was married to the daughter of a gentleman called Phillip Henslowe, an entrepreneur, who built and ran the Rose Theatre. His diaries and all the plans of the theatre reside in the archives at Dulwich College. We will see how Edward Alleyn, an actor, celebrated in a profession which took advantage of the prosperous times of Elizabeth's reign, managed to make enough money to found a school for twelve poor scholars, originally called “Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift at Dulwich.”

In the space of a few years on the North and South banks of the Thames in London several theatres were built. One should say purpose-built theatres, because there is evidence of plays being put on in arenas or pits where bear and bull baiting went on and in the courtyards of inns, all open to the air of course.

The first was built in 1576 by James Burbage and his brother-in-law John Brayne, and was just called “The Theatre.” Another called The Curtain was built close by the next year, 1577. The Theatre was situated North of the river at Cripplegate. It is this theatre that in 1599 was dismantled and moved to the South Bank or Bankside to become the Globe Theatre of which there is now a replica which is the centre of a thriving Shakespearean “industry” where education, an exhibition and performances are the hallmarks. (I can only urge you to visit and attend one of the plays when you are in London. )

Besides these “public theatres” which were considered noisome and rowdy there were smaller indoor ones considered “private” because higher fees were charged. The original actors here were choir boys (from St. Paul’s, the Chapel Royal at Windsor) who had begun acting out religious parables but turned to the performance of secular drama. We will see how religion was central to much tension and strife in Elizabethan England. But I am running ahead of myself.

The Rose was built in 1587 by Philip Henslowe, as I told you. It was the fourth such purpose-built theatre to be built in London and the first on Bankside. Now, Henslowe was an Elizabethan with an eye for making money and one of the first to see the financial potential of the new drama that was rapidly developing in London’s nascent playhouses from 1576 onwards. He was no player, or playwright, but his business success became joined with that of the Rose, as did his private life. In 1592 his stepdaughter married the celebrated actor Edward Alleyn.

There is evidence that the Rose was first built with the general entertainments in
mind, particularly animal baiting and traditional forms of drama, and that the new drama which demanded a fixed stage, tiring house (where actors changed their costumes) and frons scenae (performing area) came as a later modification.

I should point out that that this is disputed by some. The first five years of the Rose was a period of frantic development and change, first when a fixed stage was introduced and ending when it became a full version of a purpose-built playhouse after the extensive modifications of 1592. In one building we find the impressions left from this seminal period in the evolution of English drama. The Rose was a crucible of theatre development.

As an aside, to give you an idea that the theatre was not suited at first to the performances of theatrical plays I’ll read to you this amusing if rather chilling account found in Henslowe’s records at Dulwich:
You shall understand of some accidental news here in this town, though myself no witness thereof, yet I may be bold to verify if for an assured truth. My Lord Admiral, his men and players having a devise in their play to tie one of their fellows to a post as to shoot him to death, having borrowed their callyvers [guns] one of the players’ hands swerved, his piece being charged with bullet, missed the fellow he aimed at and killed a child, and a woman great with child forthwith, and hurt another man in the head very sore. How they will answer it I do not study, unless their profession were better, but in Christianity I am very sorry for the chance, but God, his judgements, are not to be searched or enquired of at man’s hands. And yet I find by this an old proverb verified: "There never comes more hurt than comes from fooling."
History has taught us that the Elizabethan Age was a golden age. England enjoyed prosperity and a certain stability. Land values and employment increased. Ships explored foreign lands. Foreign armies and navies, particularly the Spanish, were defeated. Elizabeth matured into a wise, diplomatic, shrewd and popular queen. It is only recently that it has been realised that the momentous events and changes that occurred in the 16th century caused turmoil in the religious and political lives of her citizens, only three million at this time.

After all, in the space of less than a century medieval Catholicism was replaced by modern Protestantism accompanied by the more extreme Puritanism. The link with Rome had begun in 597 with the conversion to Christianity by the mission of St. Augustine. It had been strong ever since. Henry VIII in his dispute with the Pope over his desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Ann Boleyn in the 1530s solved it by declaring himself the supreme head of the Church of England in place of the Pope. He meant to establish that he was the ultimate authority in his own kingdom.

It is quite likely that he was happy for change to stop there, but for two things. First, in 1536 he had financial problems and these led him to seize the lands, buildings and treasures of the monasteries. Second, there was an influx of new Protestant ideas from the German states, where Martin Luther had defied the Pope and emperor and become a national hero. One’s relation to God was a matter of personal conscience and initiative not determined by the doctrines and superstitious goings-on of the Catholic Church. The ordinary folk was imprisoned by them.

So the dissolution of the monasteries and the Protestant Reformation that followed brought about a fundamental shift in the power structure in England, the rise of a new landed class whose well-being was dependent on the new regime (Henry VIII had sold much of the land of the dissolved monasteries to them) and a state religion. Out of the religious strife, class conflict and eventual civil war the secular Britain as we know it today would evolve.

However, at the level of the village, town and in the countryside when Henry died in 1547, not much had changed. The Church was part Catholic and part Protestant with such new features as a new prayerbook. Edward, Henry’s son from his third marriage, then attempted to speed up the change — his determined, pious, singleminded personality egged on by a group of politically motivated advisors. Religious statues, screens and paintings were to be removed from churches, chapels and cathedrals. This destruction was cut short by his early death still in his teens in 1553. His half-sister, Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon and an ardent Catholic, set about reversing the trend. Her five years saw the burning of many Protestants all over the country. She earned the nickname of “Bloody Mary.”

The country was see-sawing between the religions, and now entered the new queen, Elizabeth. She was a convinced Protestant but no zealot. She set out to return the country to the path her father had begun. She surrounded herself with wise, moderate and astute men and could look forward to the smooth establishment of a country-wide Protestant Church. She achieved this, but not smoothly.

From our point of view, her achievement allowed the wondrous Renaissance of English literature and the theatre evidenced by our playhouses, the plays of Shakespeare, Marlowe and Jonson and eventually snuffed out by the Civil War of 1642. And within this achievement lived William Shakespeare. He was truly a man of his times witnessing all the momentous events around him.

Much evidence has been accumulating that his family were being caught up in these religious tensions. In 1563, a few months before William’s birth John, his father, previously a farmer, then a glover and now the Treasurer of Stratford responsible for the town accounts, was supervising the covering up and desecration of the religious images and painting in the churches. The records show that from being a relatively prominent and wealthy citizen he lost much of this almost certainly because of his Catholic faith and was lucky not to have lost his life in the frequent purges that Elizabeth’s regime resorted to as papist plots increased.

A century later a most extraordinary discovery was made in the attic of John Shakespeare’s house — a will requesting that he be buried essentially in a Catholic funeral. The goings-on around him were the fodder for his plays. He is said to have invented the concept of personality; he skillfully balanced the conflicting opinions around him; and he was the witness to the rise of European nations to challenge the ancient Asian civilizations — and yet he was born early enough to know the great medieval traditions of Christian England and Europe. He was successful enough in his time to restore his family’s fortunes so that he bought property that allowed his family to live comfortably in Stratford.

The public was demanding more and more plays. Shakespeare, Marlowe and Ben Jonson among others were providing them. The competition must have been fierce, as new theatres such as The Swan were going up. Henslowe responded as we have seen by modifying and modernising the Rose. Later in 1600 he and Alleyn built the Fortune Theatre and another, the Hope was also built. Two to three thousand people attended each play, paying a penny in the pit, another in the gallery and another for private rooms.

The acting companies were busy, very busy. The most successful of them like the King’s Men and Admiral’s Men included as many as 20 plays in their repertoire. Shakespeare belonged to the Chamberlain’s Men which later became the King’s Men that performed at the Globe Theatre. Indeed he and about five other actors had invested in, it as Burbage had difficulty in raising enough money, when they moved from The Theatre and built the Globe. That move was mainly necessary because it had proved most difficult to get a new lease because of the objections of residents to the noise and exceedingly bad company attracted to that theatre.

Shakespeare of course had written plays to be performed by his company and it is most likely that in his later years he became more of a theatre manager, even collaborating with others on some of them. Rehearsing in the mornings and performing in the afternoons must have meant a punishing pace but the public’s main entertainment in this late Elizabethan era was the theatre.

It boggles the mind how actors remembered all their lines, but education at the time concentrated on learning by rote. Printed copies were scarce not only because of the current printing methods but to prevent theft. Actors received only copies of their own lines. And then there were tours of the country which were conducted at least twice a year. The only breaks were enforced closures of the theatres by the authorities because of outbreaks of the plague. There was one of 18 months from the spring of 1602 until November 1603. Descriptions of the urban conditions on Bankside and in London make it quite plain that disease was rife. Open sewers running into the River Thames abounded so that rats which spread the plague must have infested the place. The stench apparently was appalling and the ground was frequently waterlogged.

From the diagrams of the City of London at this time you can see that most of the habitation existed on the North side of The Thames. Here is where the City authorities’ writ ran, not on the South side. Permits had to be obtained for performances of plays, often denied because they thought theatres were dens of iniquity frequented by lewd and lascivious folks, let alone a fear of the doubtful political intent and its effect on the populace.

It was not an accident that Bankside on the South bank was the site of numerous brothels, inns, bear and bull baiting arenas and eventually theatres. It was out of the City authorities’ jurisdiction. Interestingly, the land was owned by the Church and administered by the Bishop of Winchester. We will see how Edward Alleyn, the founder of Dulwich College, took advantage of this situation.

Another phenomenon I find interesting is the continual discovery of more documents that throw light on these Shakespearean times. England’s public records are more complete than those of most European countries. She has not been invaded or ravaged by foreign armies. As records are being scoured and then further references found to all sorts of events and material, a more complete picture is evolving. For instance now that it is known that the acting companies toured the countryside, town records have been examined for where their performances took place and which gentry patronised them. Much recent information has surfaced about Shakespeare’s life in London and in later years back in Stratford-on-Avon.

Some scholars are having a crack at identifying the boy who is the object of his first 17 sonnets. Interpretation of course has fixed on a homosexual relationship, but it is quite possible that having lost his only son about the time that they were written in the late 1590s, he was in a crisis-time of his life. He had described this as “being a hell of a time”

Speculation is rife about who “The Dark Lady” is. She is the object of very many of his later sonnets. Diaries have been found of an astrologer-cum-healer called Forman who treated many of Shakespeare’s circle. A lady who fits the bill is a woman descended from a Venetian family that arrived in England in the early part of the century. Their name was Bassano, and it was a Jewish family. The intrigue of the sonnets is that Shakespeare used the young man to be a messenger to the Dark Lady, a common practice of those times, but he ended up sleeping with her. Forman’s diaries are full of news, comment and scandal of these times.

In the first decade of the 17th century when he had gained success and fame he lodged with a Huguenot family in Cheapside on the North side of London. Maps of the area show the pubs, inns, brothels, houses, etc. and it can be appreciated that he was in daily contact with the common people of London. He only returned to Stratford about once a year although his wife and children continued living there.

Illustration: the planned reconstruction of the Rose Theatre at Shakespeare & Co., Lenox, Massachusetts

Friday, July 31, 2009

Is the glass half-empty or half-full?


Presented to the Club by Michael A. Shirley in April, 2001. (Readers should note that this paper was written and presented prior to the events of 9/11 and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.)

After our last “fun” musical evening I thought long about continuing in the same vein. I entertained the idea of presenting this paper in mime. But I thought you might have a problem with my “broken English.” Perhaps I should present it in song. I would not sully the rarified air of High Street, Pittsfield.

Seriously however, one of the pluses of our Monday Club meetings is the sheer “fun-ness” of them. I got to thinking about a remark Jack [Spencer] made to me about my having a different perspective from the other members. I certainly get much enjoyment from hearing your points of view on all sorts of matters. Further I detect marked differences in approach between Americans and the British and Europeans. This is a generalisation but it is always clear to me personally that my English friends tend to see serious difficulties, unpleasant consequences and pessimistic outcomes in many of the world’s affairs. Americans generally see the bright side of things and search for solutions. So there is the basis for my title, “Is the glass half empty or half full?” Of course there must be many reasons for this ranging from the age of the societies to their respective philosophies, pioneering or not, and to their differing economic circumstances among others.

I don’t intend to pursue these reasons but I do intend to have a little fun giving you my optimistic (thanks to America!) views and hopefully provoke some new thoughts. Bear with me.

As we took stock of the 20th century just over a year ago we realized that the past decade had been a very surprisingly positive one. Liberty — political, economic and personal — has become a widespread fact for the first time. FDR’s four freedoms — from fear and from want, of belief and of expression — are possessed by more people. more securely, than ever before. There is no challenge to the one world superpower, the United States, leading since 1945.

In business and trade this relatively peaceful world finds itself in the middle of two technological revolutions that promise on the whole beneficial changes to life, work and the intimate side of our affairs driven by computers and various forms of genetic engineering.

Too optimistic a view? A privileged, pampered, immigrant intentionally ignorant of the poverty and privations of millions of people on this earth?

Not really. I believe there is a good chance that a significant dent will be made in these depressing aspects of the modern world as I hope to explain.

Two impressive things stand out from the first 90 years of the last century, terror is no longer rife in large parts of the world, large-scale war is not ongoing or imminent, democracy is increasing and above all more and more people are interacting with each other across borders both economically and culturally. The second thing is how few people in the prosperous part of the world are as optimistic. Perhaps they are unable to step aside and recognize the good things amongst the daily worries and competition of their lives. Or they know that it has been a hard fight, no gift from heaven and liable to be reversed by purveyors of dogma, ideology and certainty.

The major issue today that threatens to overwhelm us is our population. The world’s people numbered 1 billion in 1900, today 6 billion. One-third of all people who have lived on this earth are alive today. The increase has been staggering in no small part to our very successful public health measures and to a lesser degree medical, lowering infant and maternal mortality to very low levels and raising life expectancy to an unimagined extent. Predictions in the1980s put the likely total in 2010 to be 12 billion. However since then fertility rates in many populations not only of prosperous nations have been dropping so much so that a total population of 10 billion in 2010 predicted in 1994 had been decreased to 9 in 1998. There is likelihood that fertility rates will drop further. That’s still a hell of a lot of people! (Note: This was written in 2001. As of mid-2009, the estimated world population for mid-2010 was 6.8 billion. — Editor)

There is no question that it is difficult to avoid a “half empty” (no pun intended) view of these statistics. And yet let us consider the enormous numbers of people who are living substantially better today than 50 years ago. I refer not only to Europeans and Japanese but to all those millions in East Asia, for example in Thailand, Taiwan, Korea and Malaysia. And let us not forget China and India. China with 1.3 billions has enjoyed 7-10 percent growth for over 10 years. Their economy will be the same size as that of the U. S. by 2015-20. Admittedly each individual’s share will be much less than an American’s but the catching up will be well underway. Who would have imagined 40 years ago when Mao Tse Tung was dispersing millions into the countryside onto inefficient communes that today China would have a robust and growing capitalist economy (a $60 billion trade surplus with the U. S.) and some companies like Kodak and Coca Cola are the largest players in their respective markets? It is true that the government is run by the Communist party but its involvement in the economy is diminishing quite rapidly. It genuinely sees this as a priority with its imminent admission into the WTO and its agreements on human rights. And most importantly a middle class is emerging which will demand political, economic and human rights. The environment will be one of its main concerns too. I will return to this later.

Now India, a country I love and find fascinating: I grew up in a post-war Great Britain dying to throw off its class structure and pursue a socialist utopia. It took 30 years for the country to realise you cannot keep cutting the cake into smaller and smaller equal parts if it cannot grow. Well, you can, but the nation becomes impoverished. India embraced socialism with a passion. For good reasons in the social field but disastrous in the economic one. Only in the last 10 years has India lowered its protective trade barriers, welcomed foreign investment and begun to take its proper place in the world. Frankly, when I mix with my affluent Indian friends I realise that if I lived there I would not want things to change. Cheap labour, family firms serving large protected markets, friends who invest your money with a 25 percent return and oodles of obsequious, respectful servants who truly know their place. India is beginning to stir. Witness its IT and programming wizards who live in Bangalore and send their work nightly to Silicon Valley companies and the enormous success of the its community here. The population is now over 1 billion. 225 million Indians enjoy an annual income of twice the American average of $40,000, an enormous absolute amount of money. The other 775 million are the problem but change is under away.

I mentioned earlier the increasing interaction of people across borders both economically and culturally. Globalisation informs almost anyone in the world where he or she can earn more than in their village, town or city. Significant numbers are no longer deterred by distance, border police, discrimination or any other barrier you can think of. We are used to illegal immigrants here but increasingly “fortress” Europe is being invaded by East Europeans, North Africans, people from the Middle East and even further afield. Note the recent suffocation of over 50 Chinese in a truck which crossed the English Channel. Such poor immigrants will work for less than the minimum wage, do work that the locals won’t and send valuable money home. I believe that as fertility rates drop in the developed world and there are not enough young workers to fund the elderly’s pensions immigrants will be more welcomed. I further believe that if we allowed much freer movement of workers we would see them acquire and develop their skills, return to their countries with money to invest and set up businesses there. So, many immigrants wish to return but are deterred by a fear of not being able to move back to the developed country when they want.

Globalisation culturally is having an important effect in reducing prejudice. With rather more sensitive antennae than most I can detect quantum changes in racial attitudes most hearteningly amongst the young. White Aryan resistance is testimony to that. There are, I believe, 25,000 Chinese (from China) students in this country. During my trip to India last year invariably on meeting an educated Indian speaking English of course I would discover he or she had a relative in the States most often working in ‘high tech.”

Let me return to our exploding population. It is certainly challenging our resources. And yet all of us elderly gentlemen have lived long enough to see dire predictions proved wrong. Ages ago a Rome club predicted we would run out of energy sources, acid rain would destroy all of our forests, etc., etc. The side of the equation we tend to ignore is technology. Challenge has allowed more sophisticated geological methods to find oil, more efficient ways to extract it and now no longer extravagant promising new ways to obtain non-fossil energy.

Water is extremely scarce in many areas. ”Half empty” practitioners see wars being fought over it. Certainly it is potentially a serious problem but conservation measures like “drip” irrigation techniques in Israel and toilets using a 1 1/2 gallon water flush instead of a 5 gallon one (this has transformed New York City’s water situation) have hardly been used in most thirsty areas of the world. There is a realization that local communities have to be involved in the solutions to the problems.

So seeing that whether we like it or not the billions of poor people are with us and aspiring to the same standard of living that the rich enjoy already where do we go from here? I believe the great majority of poor people are going to reach that goal. We are beginning to identify those conditions that seem to be necessary for the economic advancement of poor nations. So often in analysis of why they have not lowered the gap with the rich countries economists come up with answers such as they don’t have skills, history stands in the way, they have too little capital, their culture is not entrepreneurial. In fact these are just detailed ways of saying that poor countries are poor. More helpful studies such as “Economic Freedom of the World” first published in 1996 by 11 economic think tanks around the world are suggesting that most of the explanations lie in the way poor countries are governed rather than in their natural disadvantages or in the unfair treatment by the rich although I think the last factor is a significant one.

Economic freedom means the ability to do what you want with whatever property you have legally acquired, as long as your actions do not violate other people’s rights to do the same. Goods and services arrive because of property rights and the incentives to create and use them. The conclusion is abundantly clear: the freer the economy, the higher the growth and the richer the people. Countries that have maintained a fairly free economy for many years did especially well.

This is not to say that a laissez-faire approach is advocated. Rather, the study indicates that economic freedom is a broad concept which requires a great deal from government. It must set a clear and predictable regulatory economic climate. That means protecting property rights, enforcing the law, avoiding inflation and, very importantly, not grabbing all the money for itself or nationalising enterprises. Other important attributes are an independent judiciary, the absence of protective tariffs and the presence of an investment climate which encourages the education of children and training of workers besides building factories and clearing land for farms.

As I contemplate what I have written and delivered I realise that I am sounding rather earnest. But then I should. We have to use our accumulated knowledge to help reduce the misery in the developing world. The billions of poor people have to be given the opportunity to enjoy the things that we do. Ah, you’ll say “that will destroy the world’s environment.” But when you consider that since 1900 the world’s population has more than trebled the world ought to be a pretty disgusting, smelly polluted place. And yet the air over Manchester, London and Pittsburgh is cleaner now than 100 years ago. The same goes for water. Why? The reasons have to do with prices, technological innovation, social change and, in democracies, government regulation in response to popular pressure. That is why today’s environmental problems in the poor countries ought, in principle, to be solvable. The worst pollution does occur in poor countries. But it reflects a lack of democracy more than an excess of economic growth. That said it has been heartening to see recent exposures of corruption in the Philippines, Indonesia and India. The emerging middle classes will demand higher standards of behaviour.

Before finishing I would like to put in a plea that this country and the other rich ones exercise enlightened self interest with the accent on enlightened. For instance the two areas in which poor countries should be allowed to trade freely with the rich ones are agriculture and textiles. In the last round of trade negotiations they were given implicit promises that that would occur in return for recognition of intellectual property rights. The rich countries have never delivered. Certainly there are powerful lobbies to resist this but we have to find the political will. Just as the U. S. practiced enlightened self-interest by the implementation of the Marshall Plan after World War II to the eventual enrichment of all parties the same principles must be applied in trade between rich and poor nations.

Finally I, like you, naturally wonder whether all this anticipated prosperity will deliver happiness. Now, there’s a hot potato! It seems to me that one of the inherent necessities of capitalism is to induce envy. Keeping up with the Joneses stimulates growth! However, successful capitalism does give us choices, even the choice to choose unhappiness.

And with that please pass me my half full glass of wine. I thank you for your attention.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The American Centinel: The first newspaper in Pittsfield, Massachusetts


Presented to the Monday Evening Club, April 14, 2003 by Martin C. Langeveld

Every day, the editorial page of The Berkshire Eagle carries a line proclaiming that the paper’s origins date back to the founding of The Western Star, a newspaper launched in Stockbridge on December 1, 1789. In an age when newspapers were generally both short-lived and strongly partisan, The Star was a mouthpiece for the county’s Federalists, then led by the venerable Stockbridgian judge, later U.S. Senator, founder of the Sedgwick clan and hub of the Sedgwick circle at the Stockbridge cemetery, Theodore Sedgwick.

One might assume that with this ancient origin The Western Star must have been the first newspaper in Berkshire County, but it was not. That honor belongs to a Pittsfield sheet, The American Centinel, launched about two years earlier in 1787. At the time, there were only two other newspapers in Massachusetts west of Worcester – the Hampshire Herald, which started in Springfield in 1782 as the Massachusetts Gazette; and the Hampshire Gazette, progenitor of the present Daily Hampshire Gazette, begun in Northampton in 1786.

Everything we know today about The Centinel is based on three copies, two of which were last seen in the 19th century. Those two we know only from mid-19th century published descriptions. The third issue was in the collection of Robert C. Rockwell of Pittsfield, who died in 1928. At his death, that copy, too, went missing and was unavailable to scholars for the rest of the 20th century. Rockwell’s copy, Vol. I, No. 4, dated October 19, 1787, was apparently examined during the 1920s by Clarence S. Brigham, a bibliographer who compiled the History and Bibliography of American Newspapers 1690-1820, which is the definitive bibliography of early American newspapers. Brigham provided little further detail about The Centinel, however, and the whereabouts of the Rockwell copy were unknown for three-quarters of a century following Rockwell’s death. But based on this copy, Brigham deduced The Centinel’s starting date of September 28, 1787.

In March 2000, however, the Rockwell copy resurfaced, when it was donated to the collection of the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester by Peter R. Haack, a West Newbury antiquarian book dealer. The Antiquarian Society boasts the country’s largest selection of early American imprints of all kinds, especially newspapers. Haack had acquired this copy, along with other newspapers and books, from a relative of Rockwell who lived in Andover. So today, for the first time in over 200 years, a copy of The Centinel is available for public perusal, and I recently visited the Antiquarian Society’s library and examined it and other early Berkshire newspapers.

The Centinel, a 4-page paper with pages 11 by 17 inches, was published by the partnership of Elijah Russell and Roger Storrs, “at their office, only a few rods west of the meeting house.” This would place them on the site of the present Berkshire Bank headquarters.

As I mentioned recently during a club discussion, newspapers in this era before copyrights reprinted somewhat random bits of news (much of it inaccurate and incomplete), anecdotes, opinions, reviews, poems and the like, all lifted without compensation from whatever other newspapers, books or pamphlets happened to reach the office of the publisher, whose principal occupation was generally that of printer. Local news was virtually absent from these newspapers because it circulated faster and more reliably via the grapevine, so there was no point in wasting valuable paper by printing it. The papers we will examine here follow that style.

Vol. I, No. 4 of The Centinel is a well-preserved copy that leads off with the concluding portion of a letter by George Washington, as president of the Constitutional Convention, transmitting the proposed Constitution to the president of the Continental Congress. Washington wrote “in our deliberations on this subject, we kept steadily in our view that which appears to us the greatest interest of every true American, the consideration of our Union, in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, perhaps our national existence.”

Under its flag, or title, The Centinel carried the motto, “Here you may range the WORLD from POLE to POLE – increase your KNOWLEDGE, and delight your SOUL.” The publishers had lifted this quotation, without attribution, from the introductory poem in the “The World in Miniature,” an anonymously written account of travels around the then-known world published in 1752. (Incidentally, in 1800, when the Pittsfield Sun was launched in the same location, its first two numbers bore what appears to be a parody of The Centinel’s motto: “Here all may scribble with unbound sway, If they will do it in a DECENT way.”)

Immediately following Washington’s message, the paper presented a remedy for cancer, cribbed from the Maryland Gazette, followed by an item called Miscellany, submitted by “A CUSTOMER” and signed “Observator,” who offers “Reflections suited to the Times.” These appear to be for the most part swiped without attribution from Jonathan Swift, including: “Law in a free country, is, or ought to be, the determination of the majority of those who have property in lands.” And: “When a true GENIOUS [sic] appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the Dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

The Centinel had its readership’s moral needs strongly in mind and continued with an extract from Matthew Hale’s Sum of Religion, a 17th century tract reprinted by Benjamin Franklin in 1740, and “A Portrait of Pleasure” – “Pleasure is a beautiful harlot sitting in her chariot, whose four wheels are Pride, Gluttony, Lust and Idleness.” It then lightened things up with an “Anecdote of Antisthenes:” “Anthistenes, being asked what he got by learning, answered, that he could talk with himself, could live alone, and that he needed not to go abroad and be beholden to others for delight.”

The Centinel offered its readers a collection of brief news items on European affairs as well as domestic dispatches, all of them gleaned from and attributed to a variety of other newspapers that had made their way to Pittsfield.

From Europe, there was news of a European peace conference being held at Versailles, with a July date (remember, this issue is from October, 1787), as well as items from Madrid, Utrecht, London, the Hague and the East Indies (the latter dispatch was fully a year old).

The domestic news led with this from Philadelphia, dated September 26 (and note the tenuousness of the source): “A report was circulated Monday (said to be upon the authority of a gentleman who came in the British packet which arrived at New York on Saturday last), that war had been declared between England and France before the packet sailed from Falmouth.” This roundabout intelligence obviously superceded the July item in the same issue on a Versailles peace conference. In any case it appears that both items were wrong. The Versailles conference most likely refers to the Assembly of Notables held at Versailles, a domestic gathering. A precursor to the French Revolution, the Notables first established the idea of representation in French politics, and no new war on Britain was declared that year.

Shays’ rebellion being fresh in the minds of Berkshire readers, the editor included a dispatch from Petersburgh, New York, dated September 6, in turn quoting “a gentleman from Great Brier county [meaning Greenbrier, now West Virginia] that a number of the inhabitants of that county, headed by one Matthews, have lately attempted to stop the court from proceeding to business . . . and had nearly effected their purpose … but in consequence of the interference of civil authority, Matthews thought proper to retire, and the rest dispersed. It is said Matthews has since been apprehended, and is now in close confinement.”

Closer to home, there is news from New Haven that the town meeting, on October 1, voted to request the legislature to hold a convention as soon as possible to ratify the proposed Constitution.

Finally, there is a Pittsfield item, an extract from a letter from a gentleman in Ridgefield, Connecticut to his brother in this town, dated the 29th of September, recommending “that this Constitution, once established, will do immortal honor to the patriots who formed it, establish the fame of America, and suit the greatest part of its inhabitants.”

To this the editor of The Centinel could not resist adding the following, full of typographical flourish: “This Constitution will not only raise Columbia (DIRECT) from a lingering despair, which (if nothing can rouse her therefrom) will justly entitle her to the animadvertion of him who once extracted her from the iron bounds of tyrannical power, and saved her from impending ruin, but directs a way to the FUTURE prosperity and national honor.” Getting more excited and carried away with punctuation and capitalization, he continues: “The only question to be determined now is, Where shall we find a PRESIDENT? --- Surely we need not apply to the king of Great Britain for one! --- Will the immortal WASHINGTON take on him the task, the laborious task, to navigate us through the second gulph, and land Columbia on a peaceful shore? --- If WE will be United, He doubtless will; but there’s the FEAR!” It seems very likely that Russell and Storrs founded The Centinel precisely in order to help drum up support for the not-universally-approved-of Constitution as well as for Washington himself as president. Interestingly, their landlord at the corner next to the meetinghouse, the redoubtable Parson Thomas Allen, was, at least in later years, a well-known anti-Federalist, who helped his nephew Phinehas start the staunchly Democratic Pittsfield Sun in 1800. But Allen named his fourth son George Washington Allen, so these may in fact be his own words.

Next we turn to a 1787 lawyer joke headed “Recent Anecdote:” A ‘countryman’ assured his friend the Judgment Day was near at hand. Asked how he knew, he told of a client of a lawyer of his acquaintance, who sent the lawyer 15 dollars and the promise of more if he won his case, and the lawyer “very honestly returned all but FIVE, which in my opinion forebodes some dreadful event.”

Rounding out the issue is an advertisement from J. Danforth’s general store, and a message from the publisher stating that “a few copies of the New Federal Constitution may be had of the printers.” There are also some poems, an essay on happiness, a list of axioms in Trade, and a set of Maxims, prepared for The Centinel by one Maximus.

Even in this age before telemarketing, circulation sales were on the mind of the publishers and their distributors. Bela Smith, Post Rider, offered in an announcement to deliver The Centinel in Lanesborough, New Ashford, Williamstown, Adams, Windsor, Partridgefield (later known as Peru), Dalton, Washington and Becket each Friday, at 2 Shillings per quarter, but “To obviate a great difficulty (viz. the want of cash) he will take grane of those who will advance a half year’s pay,” quoting rates per bushel for wheat, rye, oats and flaxseed.

As I mentioned, we only have 19th century descriptions by previous historians, but no physical copies, of a few other issues of The Centinel, so we have no idea how long Smith actually delivered The Centinel. Based on those descriptions, we do know that by December, after only about half a dozen issues, the publishing partnership was dissolved and only Elijah Russell was listed as publisher.

One of those issues, most likely the first published by Russell alone, on December 11, 1787, was described in the Pittsfield Sun, 91 years later, as having contained a continuation of a story of shipwreck and adventure, two or three contributions on abstract subjects addressed to “Mr. Printer,” a poem, a ponderous article on the study of history, the obituary of John Lippit of Adams, “a man of unblemished character who had lived above 60 years with his surviving widow,” and news from Lanesborough that Capt. Daniel Brown had slaughtered a heifer two years and seven months old, which weighed 782 pounds. “It is experienced that by good keeping and proper care we may make our cattle weigh near double to what they do with ordinary treatment.” The no-local-news rule could, apparently, be broken with something extraordinary. (By the way, a typical heifer today should weigh 600-700 pounds, depending on breed, at puberty or age 12 to 14 months, and fully 1200 pounds as an adult cow by age two and a half years.)

In another issue, (described in Josiah Gilbert Russell’s 1855 History of Western Massachusetts), Russell wrote that he “returns his thanks to those gentlemen who expressed their anxiety to have the printing office at Pittsfield . . . print a certain number of papers, and begs leave to inform them that he has a large number of papers on hand for which he has, as yet, received nothing, and which he wishes those gentlemen to call for, according to agreement. If agreements are not fulfilled, the Centinel must stop.”

Ultimately The Centinel did stop, but we don’t know quite when. However, the following springtime, Roger Storrs, the other partner, appears solo as publisher on the masthead of a successor publication, The Berkshire Chronicle, established May 8, 1788. On December 19 that year its name was changed to the ponderous title of Berkshire Chronicle and Massachusetts Intelligencer, which was published at least until September 30, 1790, and of which a fairly complete run is extant.

In No. 5 of The Chronicle, June 5, 1788, the publisher ran the first known “carrier wanted” ad in Berkshire County, apparently to replace Bela Smith, stating that “diligent, faithful post-rider is wanted to ride from this office.” Apparently he hired Alvin Woolcott, who announces in the September 4 issue that he will take his pay in linen rags at the store of Moses Woolcott in Lanesborough. Via the barter system, the publisher could get these rags converted to printing paper.

Cash was obviously still in short supply, and the paper did a brisk trade publishing notices from tradesmen and storekeepers requesting customers to settle accounts, including this creative gem published August 26, 1790: “The subscriber begs leave to inform the Public, that he has a small Book, and in that book there are some small Accounts, – and likewise, that he has a small Drawer, and in the Drawer are some small Notes – which must be immediately settled, in order to save some small cost, in a very small time. This from yours to serve, Nathaniel B. Torrey, Lanesborough.”

An early member of our Monday Evening Club, Thaddeus Clapp, collected early newspapers and contributed information on them to Russell’s 1855 history. Besides The Centinel, The Chronicle and The Western Star, only two other pre-1800 Berkshire newspapers are believed to have existed. Clapp described these other two as follows: “We have a traditionary account of a paper started by Mr. Spooner, about 1790, and soon afterward removed to Windsor, Vermont, and another by Merrill and Smith, between 1790 and 1800.” There are no surviving issues of either of these papers, and even the names have been lost. But the vigorous political thinking in our young nation, and the guarantees of the First Amendment, ensured that these early papers would have many successors during the 19th century. (It seems quite possible, by the way, that members of our club perused now-lost copies of the Centinel at an early meeting of our club, at his home on Wendell Avenue, recently converted to a bed-and-breakfast.)

The available issues of The Chronicle mention various mileposts in the adoption of the Constitution, and the seating of the first Congress. It did not take long for some signs of dissatisfaction to crop up in contrast to the earlier cheerleading by Russell and Storrs. A letter signed "Junius" appears in the issue of July 29, 1790, expressing impatience at the lack of substantive action by Congress after being in session four or five months. (Junius apparently was a popular pen name for anonymous political critics during this era – in this instance it is again possibly the voice of Parson Allen.) The most important decision made by Congress in five months, writes Junius, had been to decide on the location of a temporary capital. “It is hoped,” he continues, “that another election will introduce such characters, as will attend the great business of government, to the exclusion of local interest and detestable party combinations.”

The great business of government did get started, but neither local interest nor detestable party combinations have been eliminated to this day.

Illustration: Pittsfield in 1807, from Bay State Monthly, 1885.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Monday Evening Club: A history

Presented to the Club by Rabbi Harold I. Salzmann on May 10, 1999

Note: This paper was presented just prior to the Club’s 130th anniversary in 1999. In the fall of 2009, the Club plans a celebration of its 140th anniversary. Throughout the following text, bracketed information updates the 1999 facts and figures to their 2009 status.

As some of you may recall from a program I gave here a number of years back, Francis Joseph (Franz Josef) I, some 130 [140] years ago, was the first reigning monarch of Europe to visit the Holy Land since the Crusades of the 13th century. That very special visit allowed the Hapsburg ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to participate in another momentous happening that same year — the opening of the Suez Canal on November 17, and the premier performance of “Aida,” composed by Verdi, who had been commissioned by Ismail Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt, to write an opera in honor of this historic occasion. Here in America, those 13 [14] decades back, Ulysses Simpson Grant had been inaugurated President of the United States and two months later the nation’s first transcontinental railroad had been completed with the driving in of the golden spike that united the railroad ties connecting the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads at Promontory Point, Utah. [Rev. John Todd, a member of the Club, delivered the prayer of invocation at that event.]

Indeed, 1869 was a year of signal happenings, not the least of which were, with all due modesty, two transpiring right here in the Berkshires, of which the first we are noting here in this paper — the founding of the Monday Evening Club on November 11, and the second, three days later: the founding of the first Jewish religious congregation in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts west of Boston, Society Anshe Amunim. [The author of this paper, Rabbi Salzmann, served this congregation for many years.] In the latter case, 17 heads of households were invited to the home of Charles Wolff on Jubilee Hill on Sunday, November 14, and in the former instance, on Thursday evening, November 11, 16 men were in attendance at the Plunkett home to discuss the formation of what is now the Monday Evening Club. The initial invitation for this last was dated November 1, 1869 and was sent by Thomas F. Plunkett to a select group of the leading men of the central Berkshire community for an evening meeting on November 3. For some reason the meeting had to be postponed until Thursday, November 11.

Those present for that original meeting, 130 [140] years ago come this November, were, of course, Thomas F. Plunkett, great-grandfather of our current member by the same name, as well as Edward Strong, John M. Taylor, William G. Harding, Thomas Colt, J. F. A. Adams, William B. Rice, Charles V. Spear, John Tatlock, Jacob L. Greene, William F. Bartlett, William C. Richards, John Todd, Frank K. Paddock, Henry L. Dawes and Henry S. Briggs. Shortly afterwards, five others agreed to join the new organization — Ensign H. Kellogg, William R. Plunkett, Thomas P. Pingree, Benjamin Chickering and George P. Briggs — and they, too, should be considered among the founders. All in all, the 1869 founding group totaled 21 members.

It is difficult for us to really imagine just what life was like during the winters here in the Berkshires 130 [140] years ago. The winters unquestionably were far more severe than they have been during our own lifetimes. Undoubtedly, in recent decades we’ve experienced climatic changes which have had a moderating effect upon our Berkshire winters. But 130 [140] years ago the winters must have been far more debilitating than they are now. There was very little in the way of entertainment diversions — no theaters, no movies, no radio, no television — the long nights allowed very little in the way of pleasurable enjoyments. These conditions, of course, prevailed almost everywhere in the northern climes. Elsewhere, perhaps because of similar seasonal conditions, social innovations of an intellectual kind were becoming more and more popular, particularly in the larger metropolitan areas. These big city happenings, plus the dreary winter conditions here in the Berkshires, possibly were the stimuli that may have provided the motivation for Thomas Plunkett’s original invitation of November 1, 1869. Boston already had a number of such social-cultural groups which were meeting on a regular weekly or fortnightly basis. From the Club’s own minutes, we read that Haverhill, Massachusetts had formed, ten years earlier in 1859, a “Monday Evening Club.” The plan originally adopted by the original founding members of our Club was quite simple. The goal was to assemble not more than 30 men (remember, homes of the better-off were generally much larger than they are today) — 30 men of the kind who would appreciate intellectual stimulation, who would like writing an original essay, who would enjoy listening to it and then, adding by way of comment, criticism, information or ideas, further enhancement to the subject or theme of the program presentation.

This form of cerebral entertainment was to be preceded by a dinner provided by the host who also determined the venue for the dinner gathering. For the overwhelming majority of members that venue was their homes. Over the years, however, having such large numbers at one’s home for a dinner meeting proved difficult for even those many who may have had the space and support facilities required to host the membership and before too long alternate sites for showing one’s hospitality became more and more common. The early minutes begin to make mention of such places as the American House, the White Tree Inn, the Maplewood Music School, the Pittsfield Country Club, the Park Club, the Board Room of the Berkshire Life Insurance Co., the South Street Inn, and one of the most frequently mentioned, the Wendell Hotel, which was still quite popular in my early years of membership in the Club. And, from what is stated in the initial set of by-laws, the dinner meetings were to be scheduled every other Monday evening, November through March. With some 20 to 30 members, in the 19th century the Club featured some 10 to 15 dinner meetings a year in contrast to our present schedule of approximately seven or eight. Incidentally, the by-laws, since the original 1869 version, have been revised four subsequent times. Whatever the case, it is of interest to note that the Club has never been too strict about making its members abide by its rules; flexibility and sympathetic understanding having always been an unwritten aspect of the by-laws. As James Rosenthal, himself an outstanding lawyer of a generation back and a longtime member of the Club, more than a half century ago observed, “whatever may be said about the government which governs best when it governs least, it is certainly true of our Club….its by-laws, like certain necessary household appliances, have always been kept in decent obscurity, and referred to, if at all, with something less than reverential respect.”

Originally, it was deemed by the founders to be prudent to caution members against treating with subjects which might be politically or religiously controversial. Thomas Plunkett observed in a paper he wrote for the Club’s 30th anniversary, 100 [110] years ago, that one of its most rancorous meetings once took place at the home of Judge Thomas Colt in 1880. It seems that at this particular meeting, George P. Briggs read a paper on Marcus Aurelius during the course of which he ascribed to that Roman emperor such “Christian” virtues and attributes as would assure him eternal life, i.e. a place in heaven. Plunkett observes in his paper that “subsequently the heavy pastoral guns of the church” (there were three clergymen in the Club at the time) “were brought into action greatly to the irritation of the reader, Briggs, who defended himself with ability and considerable heat.” And Plunkett (our own T. F. Plunkett Jr.’s ancestor) goes on to state, “those of us who were wise, kept out of the conflict, or attempted to be peacemakers. It was abundantly proven that the founders of the Club were wise in excluding partisan and sectarian subjects from papers to be read.” Whatever the case, since 1916 the Club’s by-laws have made no provisions against papers dealing with controversial subjects. In clerical terms, readers have what the clergy would call a “free pulpit.” The only requirements pertaining to papers to be read by members is that they be no more than 40 minutes long and the reading or program together with the discussion to follow ought not extend beyond two hours. As for the subject, it can be based on any scientific, literary or general interest matter so chosen by the person who is scheduled to prepare the program for the meeting.

Good attendance was a by-law mandate. However, early in the Club’s history, rathe than exercise the by-law provision for dropping members for frequent absences, fines of 25 cents per absence (and tardiness, too) were levied at the end of the year and collected. The minutes record the names of those penalized and in view of the totals collected the Club’s treasury must have been considerably enhanced because it was not unusual for anywhere between four to thirteen absences to be recorded for a meeting.

As for the governance of the Club, that has always been quite simple. From the start there was the need for one member to arrange the schedule of meetings and designate the readers and hosts, and therefore, a Club secretary was a necessity from the start and the by-laws so indicate this need. At first there were two secretaries chosen by lot every year. But this obviously proved unsatisfactory and before the first year had ended it was decided to elect a permanent secretary. From 1879 to 1909 George H. Tucker served in that capacity — a period of some 30 years. My own tenure as Club secretary began in 1972 and I, obviously, am in the midst of my 27th [37th] year of service in this capacity. The Club also has an interim chairman — whoever may be the host for the dinner meeting — and an executive committee of three members, who are, according to the by-laws, supposed to be elected at the start of each year but in current practice are now the seniors in terms of length of Club membership. Our current [1999] executive committee consists of Robert G. Newman, Roger B. Linscott, and Thomas F. Plunkett Jr. [Currently in 2009: Kelton M. Burbank, William A. Selke, and Albert E. Eastman]

Some 181 [188] men have been elected to membership in the Club in the past 130 [140] years. I would estimate that approximately 2100 [1300*] papers or programs have been presented for the membership’s edification and enjoyment over the now almost 13 [14] decades of the Club’s existence. At some future anniversary occasion we might read a selective list of titles of some of the programs and papers give in the earlier history of the Club — titles which we clergy would call “transparent” appellations. The custom during the last half-century, however, has been otherwise, rather to make the titles conundrums — guessing games — with the obvious purpose of keeping hidden the content or the subject of the presentation. Not so was the practice for the first half century or more of the Club’s history. Papers with titles such “The history of the Gypsy race” by John Todd, one of Rick Floyd’s predecessors; “Bible in the schools” by Edward Strong; “The Sabbath: What is the proper observance of it?” by H. S. Briggs; “Fur seals of Alaska” by Henry L. Dawes [1816-1903; U.S. representative from Massachusetts 1857-1875; U.S. Senator from Massachusetts 1875-1893]; and Walter Kellogg’s “Beginnings of Pittsfield” and his “Goethe and the religious philosophy of Faust” left it very clear, very “transparent” as to what the subject was to be. Not so, however, in my almost 45 [55] years of Club membership. With such titles as “Opus 20,” “Replication is the test,” “Top shelf,” “Sugar and spice and everything nice,” and “Towery city and branchy between towers” it is nigh impossible to anticipate or guess the night’s topic and prepare in advance some commentary for it. I could go on and on — but I best leave off at this point and promise, as mentioned earlier, that I shall try to compile a more extensive listing of past titles of delivered Monday Evening Club papers and programs for some future meeting or — God willing — some future anniversary occasion.

But before concluding this particular presentation, let me make mention of some past practices of the Club which have long since been abandoned but are surely worthy of possible revival. The first is the custom, at one time in our Club’s history, of reading short biographies and/or memoirs about deceased members. These were accustomed to be given, in addition to the regular paper, by another member of the Club or else at a special memorial meeting of the Club scheduled for that specific purpose. The minutes record, in this last connection, that on February 20, 1882 written eulogies were delivered for eight deceased members of the Club. I understand that these were kept with the Club records at one time but I have not seen them.

A more happy custom was that of holding an annual summer meeting of some kind. Some of these happenings were illustrated by material I distributed at our 125th anniversary celebration at the Rockwell Museum, some of you may recall. The old records indicate, for example, that the first such happening took place on June 10, 1876 at the Stockbridge House, now known as the Red Lion Inn. Two years after that, the Club on June 26, 1878 took the train to Adams and then journeyed up Mount Greylock for a summer picnic. In July 1879, the following year, the Club hired carriages to Lee and stopped at the Lenox Club on its way home to Pittsfield. Evidently there was a similar kind of Club to ours in Lee at the time, for in June, 1880 the records state the Club met on the lawn of George P. Briggs with the Lee Club and then were driven by carriage after lunch to Potter Mountain. In June, 1881 the Club took the train to Great Barrington and then, by horse-drawn carriages, visited [the town of] Mount Washington. Again in 1882 another summer excursion to Great Barrington and from there on to Bash Bish Falls (a site, incidentally, I have yet to visit despite my own 45 [55] years of residency here in the Berkshires). In 1883 the Club drove by carriage to Pontoosuc Lake where the members enjoyed a summer picnic lunch in what was then called Hodecker’s Grove (anyone know exactly where this was?). In the summers of 1884, 1885, 1886, 1887, 1888 and 1889 the Club was entertained by its member Byron Weston [Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts 1880-1883] at his “Great Hearth Lodge” on Windsor Mountain.

Without question, one of the most ambitious summer trips was the arduous excursion the Club took to journey to Cummington in August, 1894 in order to participate in the centennial birthday celebration of William Cullen Bryant, who was a native of that Berkshire town. Another long-distance summer adventure took place on Saturday, August 6, 1898 when 20 members of the Club and guests took the train to Springfield to visit Mount Tom for dinner and sightseeing. The all-inclusive cost per member for that summer excursion was four dollars per person, according to the minutes. Such summer get-togethers during the Club’s, as it were, “off-season” continued on into the early 1900s. A number of them took place at Mount Pleasant, the Windsor summer residence of Winthrop Murray Crane [1853-1920; Lt. Gov. of Massachusetts, 1897-1900; Governor 1900-1903; U. S. Senator from Massachusetts 1904-1913] , who had become a member of the Club in 1914. Even before he became an official member of the Club, Crane had been in the habit of inviting the Club to his summer home for an August or early September outing. And frequently these invitations were combined with an invitation also to the wives of the Club members from his father, Zenas Crane, for a late afternoon tea at the senior Crane’s residence back in Dalton. These summer outings apparently were abandoned sometime during the 1920s. Many years ago I remember talking to our late friend and member, Bob Bardwell, about reviving the custom and he thought the Lenox Club might be an ideal site for such an event. However, he was unable to get agreement on such an arrangement and the two of us abandoned the proposed project. A more successful attempt to bring off a summer happening, some of you will recall, took place when we arranged an outing at the summer home of our member, Dr. Harry Judson, in Canaan, N. Y. in 1981. That venture of 18 [28] years ago was the last summer meeting the Club has experienced. From the records and recollections of these long-ago summer ventures, they were most enjoyable experiences. Hopefully, the Club may choose some time in the future to re-institute these annual summer get-togethers. [At Rabbi Salzmann’s prodding, the Club has had several such outings in the last few years, including a return to the William Cullen Bryant homestead 110 years after the our visit.]

As we meet together here tonight for the last session of our 129th year, let me conclude this brief history of our Club by quoting the words of William R. Plunkett (the brother of Thomas F. Plunkett) at the 30th anniversary of our venerable association in November 1899. Observed this charter member of the Monday Evening Club on that occasion now almost 100 [110] years ago:

Under a simple organization, this Club has maintained its existence for 30 years. None of us is certainly any the worse in mind or heart on account of it. How many of us have been lifted up to higher planes or thought by the associations with this Club, none of us can tell. It is a success to have kept up the Club and interest in it for nearly a generation. Part of this is due to the fact we have not tried to do too much, but have been content in being, in the language of Dr. Johnson in defining a club, “an assembly of good fellows under certain conditions.” The conditions have been a limited intellectual entertainment and an unlimited supper.
As we bring our 129th [139th] year to a close this evening, and look forward later this year to the official celebration of our 130th [140th] anniversary, let us express the hope that this Monday Evening Club of ours will continue to go from strength to strength to ever increasing strength as, and again in Dr. Johnson’s words, “an assembly of good fellows under certain conditions” — yes those very special and wonderful conditions, whatever they may be and have been — that have nurtured and sustain our club all these now almost 130 [140] years.

*Note: while Rabbi Salzmann estimated 2100 papers had been presented as of 1999, closer review of the frequency of meetings over the years suggests that the actual count is between 1400 and 1500. In the first season, 1869-1870, 18 of the 21 original members presented papers. But the following season, with three more members added for a total of 25, there were 12 papers. So after what was probably deemed too strenuous a regimen (hosting and presenting in the same season), the Club appears to have settled very quickly on the pattern of having about half the members read papers each season. An 1899 account states that in the first 30 years, there were 342 papers presented, or about 11 per year. We estimate that this rate continued during the next 70 years, while in the past 40 years the pace dropped to between 8 and 9 papers annually, for a cumulative total of about 1450 papers. Research continues. — Editor

Photo by designwallah, used under Creative Commons License.