Wednesday, April 28, 2010

From the archives: The Club's 1894 trip to Cummington

The following communication was sent to members of the Club in August, 1894 in preparation for a summer meeting in Cummington, Mass., to attend the centennial celebration of the birth of the poet William Cullen Bryant on August 16th, 1894. 

A transcription of the day's proceedings may be downloaded here

Commemorating this expedition 111 years later, during a summer outing in 2005, the Club paid a second visit to the Bryant Homestead, now a house museum maintained by the Trustees of Reservations.


The Monday Evening Club will show its respect for the memory of William Cullen Bryant by having the summer meeting of the Club, at the Bryant Homestead in Cummington, on Thursday, August 16th, in connection with the centennial celebration of the birthday of the poet.

Each member of the club is expected to invite such guests as he may choose, and to make his own arrangements for food and transportation, and thereafter to grumble only at himself. But the committee suggests that members join in making arrangements to attend the excursion in such parties as they may find agreeable.

The route is via. Dalton, Windsor P. O., East Windsor (alias Jordanville) and West Cummington — the road to the Bryant place crossing the stream at the first bridge below West Cummington. The distances are, from Pittsfield to Windsor P. O., thirteen miles; to West Cummington from Windsor P. O., four miles; total from Pittsfield to the Bryant Place, twenty-one miles. The road is good. Shaw's hotel at West Cummington village is pleasantly located. As the distance from Pittsfield is but twenty-one miles, the whole excursion can be made by rising early on Thursday; but the best way is to drive to Windsor or Cummington after business hours on Wednesday, sleep there, go to the celebration on Thursday, returning home in the afternoon. Accommodations can be secured at private houses in Windsor, East Windsor and West Cummington. Oats should be taken for the horses, as the farmers have only new hay. Also a pail to water horses on the route. A daily mail for Windsor, East Windsor and West Cummington goes by stage, leaving Dalton at one o'clock P.M.

Members who desire further information will please interview the committee. The point of rendezvous at the Bryant Place will be indicated by the banner of the club.

Members are requested to inform the Secretary promptly whether they hope to attend the meeting.

Per order of the Commitee,

GEO. H. TUCKER, Secretary

Pittsfield, Aug. 7th, 1894.

From the Daily Union [Springfield, Mass.] of Aug. 6th, 1894.

"CUMMINGTON, August 4. — All the arrangements are now practically complete for the observance of the 100th anniversary of the birth of William Cullen Bryant, August 16th. On the evening of the 15th the school children will have a celebration of song and recitation in the village church.

At the celebration on the 16th, Lorenzo H. Tower, librarian of the Bryant library, will give an address of welcome. Parke Goodwin [sic., actually Godwin] of New York will then preside. The address will be given by Edwin R. Brown of Elmwood, Ill., who will arrive at Cummington about the 10th. After the oration the only surviving brother of William Cullen Bryant, John H. Bryant of Princeton, Ill., will read three poems. One is "The Rivulet," and the other two are poems of Mr. Bryant's own composition, "A Monody," and "At 87." This will be followed by the singing of Mrs. Julia Ward Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

A basket lunch will follow and then will come the after dinner addresses. The speakers will be Charles Eliot Norton, Charles Dudley Warner, President [of Clark University] G. Stanley Hall and George W. Cable.

Mrs. Julia Ward Howe will be present and will read a poem written by her for Bryant's sixtieth birthday and read at the Century Club in New York. To this she has added several stanzas appropriate to the occasion. There will be letters from ex-Senator [and Club member, Henry L.] Dawes, who was born in the same house with Bryant, and from Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes. During the day John W. Hutchinson of Lynn, the only surviving member of the Hutchinson family, that created such enthusiasm by their singing during abolition times, will sing "Old Friends are the Best."

John Bigelow, the warm friend of Bryant, and who was associated with him for many years on the New York Evening Post, has been obliged to cancel his engagement to speak at Cummington, because his duties in connection with the New York constitutional convention will detain him in Albany."


Here's a New York Times report of the centennial celebration, published the next day, August 17, 1894:



Eloquent Addresses Delivered by the Friends of the Genius Whose Inspirations Came from the Berkshire Hills, Their Forests, Streams, Birds, and Flowers — John Howard Bryant Read "The Rivulet" — Minds and Hearts of Those Present Stirred.

CUMMINGTON, Mass., Aug. 16 — Pleasant skies and the presence of distinguished speakers and poets, together with the desire to do honor to the memory of William Cullen Bryant, drew hundreds of visitors to this little town to-day, and the centenary of the birth of the poet was celebrated.

The exercises were held in a beautiful grove a few rods beyond the Bryant homestead. It was at this homestead that Mr. Bryant passed the last twelve Summers of this life, and here that he spent the days of his youth and young manhood. It was in these woods that "Thanatopsis" was written, and the rivulet of which he wrote still goes murmering to the larger stream as it did in the days of his boyhood.

In the grove where the exercises took place, the visitor to-day can see the traces of the initials cut on the trees by the Bryant boys. The grove is situated alongside the roadside between the upper and lower Bryant places, so called because the lower one was the homestead of the Bryant family and the upper one was the home of Bryant's mother, whose maiden name was Snell, and both were repurchased by Mr. Bryant in the evening of his life.

The exercises consisted of an address of welcome by Lorenzo H. Tower, the librarian of the Bryant Library [in Cummington], on behalf of the townspeople. Then Parke Godwin of New York, who was associated with Mr. Bryant for many years and who married his eldest daughter, was made the presiding officer.

In taking the chair Mr. Godwin quoted Samuel Johnson's sentence: "The man is little to be envied whose patriotism would not gain force on the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona." Mr. Godwin said that Johnson meant by this that localities by mere historic association acquire a power which stirs the minds and hearts of men to their fountains. Such a locality is this, and assuredly no American can visit these hills without feeling his whole nature exalted by the consciousness that here one of the first and most energetic of American citizens, William Cullen Bryant, was born.

In closing, he said, "Mr. Bryant died in his eighty-fourth year, and the last words that he uttered in public were in aspiration for the coming of that universal religion and soul liberty, when the the rights of human brotherhood shall be acknowledged by all the races of mankind."

Mr. Godwin then introduced Edwin R. Brown of Elmwood, Ill., a native of Cummington and the orator of the day. Mr. Brown spoke eloquently, and his address occupied something over an hour in delivery. He said in part:
Bryant was a marvel, but no miracle. He was the result of high and favoring conditions, among which is the fact that he came of a line sound in physique, strong of brain, and eminent for virtue , and that the perspective of his pilgrim lineage runs back to John Aldon and Priscilla Mullins, under the bows of the Mayflower. In Bryant's parentage there was a happy combination of cavalier and Puritan in temperament.

Bryant's power of acquiring knowledge was so prodigious and his industry so unremitting that, in effect, he lived two or three centuries.
John Howard Bryant, now eighty-seven years old, the only surviving brother of the poet, and himself a poet of recognized ability, read his brother's poem "The Rivulet," and followed it with two compositions of his own, the first being, "A Monody," written in 1878, just after the death of William Cullen Bryant, and the second, "At Eighty-seven," written for the occasion.

After singing some of the old familiar tunes, under the direction of Mrs. Julia Shaw, including Mrs. Julia Ward Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic," an adjournment was taken for dinner.

After lunch, which for the uninvited guests was in the form of a basket picnic, the people were called to order again, and a number of addresses were given by distinguished men and women. Among them were Prof. Charles Eliot Norton of Harvard University, Charles Dudley Warner, President G. Stanley Hall, the Rev. John W. Chadwick of Brooklyn, George W. Cable and H. S. Gere, the veteran editor of the Hampshire Gazette, in which paper Bryant's first poem was published, when he was ten years old.

Mrs. Julia Ward Howe read a poem written for the sixtieth birthday of the poet and first read at the Century Club in New York. To this Mrs. Howe added several stanzas appropriate to the present occasion.

John W. Hutchinson, the only surviving member of the famous family of singers whose stirring songs created so much enthusiasm in the old abolition days, was also present by invitation, and sang "Old Friends are the Truest."

In the course of his remarks, Prof. Norton said:
In the long run, Bryant's fame is likely to rest on a few poems. One of the greatest services which a poet can render to his people is to make their land dearer to them. This is what Scott and Burns did for Scotland, Wordsworth for the English lakes, and it is what Bryant has done for Western Massachusetts. The nature from which he drew inspiration was that of the hills, the forests and the streams of Berkshire and Hampshire Counties, and the character expressed in the poetry and its dominating sentiment were the descriptive character and the sentiment of the people of this region during his youth.

Happy the poet who has this power. Happy the poet who thus deepens the patriotic pride of his own people and becomes thus part of it. Happy is he who indissolubly connects the thought of himself with a scene or with some natural object — even with a bird or a flower.

The harebell nods with the rhythm of Scott's delightful verse; the daffodil dances to Wordsworth's tune; the lark sings Shakespeare's "Hark! hark!" at heaven's gate; the nightingale never ceases to lament for her poet's untimely dead in Keats, and as Burns has made the mountain daisy, so has Bryant made the fringed gentian his own. And as long as a wild duck shall cross the crimson sky of evening in his flight, so long shall Bryant's memory float heavenward with it.

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