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Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Humanitarian Stove -- Ronaldson's Philadelphia Cemetery, 1831

This is a sort of "apropos of nothing" post -- a chance encounter while looking for something else.

* * *

James Ronaldson died at Philadelphia, March 31st, 1841, aged upwards of sixty years. He was a native of Scotland, and one of the largest type-founders in the United States, and a great horticulturist. The beautiful cemetery bearing his name was established by him. He was an upright, frugal, and honest man, a sincere friend of Andrew Jackson, and a lover of his adopted country. He was never married.
Mr. Ronaldson's Cemetery was laid out in 1831. It is situated between Ninth and Tenth Streets, in the southwest section of the city, and he deserves respect for his memory, and much credit as the pioneer in this laudable enterprise. He laid out this cemetery on a square belonging to himself, several years before that of Laurel Hill was commenced, and it now contains a large number of splendid tombs, with appropriate trees, and adorned with flowers and shrubbery. In speaking of his original plan, he said, " he wanted to erect within the inclosure of the Philadelphia Cemetery a dwellinghouse for the keeper or gravedigger on one side of the gate, and on the other side, a house uniform with the gravedigger's; this house to have a room, provided with a stove, couch, &c., into which persons dying suddenly might be laid, and the string of a bell put into their hand, so that if there should be any motion of returning life, the alarm bell might be rung, the keeper alarmed, and medical help procured."

[Source: Henry Simpson, The Lives of Eminent Philadelphians, Now Deceased  (Philadelphia: William Brotherhead, 1859), p. 849,]

C19th Americans (and British, and maybe others too) were terrified by the prospect of being buried alive -- a more reasonable fear then than it would be now -- so there were quite a few patents for e.g. coffins with alarm bells to be rung by the occupants.  But Ronaldson's idea of a cosy, stove-heated chapel of rest is not one I've come across before.

The same sort of "search procedure" that produced this nugget -- i.e. when I'm reading an old book I almost always look for stove references -- found this other one, too: I was checking out early C19th guides to Cincinnati, which became one of the major stove-making centers in the Mid-West, and the only one I could find in an 1826 guide was to a stove in the possession of the Humane Society, whose purpose was fishing people out  of the Ohio and resuscitating them.  The equipment in its rescue boats included "a moveable bed, with a stove for heating it."  But that stove could just have been like a foot-stove, in which case it wouldn't really count.

[Source: Benjamin Drake & Edward D. Mansfield, Cincinnati in 1826 (Cincinnati: Morgan, Lodge, & Fisher, 1827), p.36,]

Monday, December 20, 2010

"Farewell, Old Stove," 1850-1851

This is a nice piece about how people can get quite attached to their things, especially when those things bring them basic everyday comforts.  It's from the pen of the Reverend Henry Bacon -- a Universalist minister, and also for more than twenty years the editor of the Ladies' Repository; evidently a man who took warmth seriously, and was a discerning stove consumer.  In the winter of 1851 he wrote to his friend the Rev'd A.D. Mayo inviting him to come and admire a new acquisition: "We have a new stove in our sitting-room, with an open grate, that gives a cheerfulness to the place we have never seen before.  Come, and feel it." (p. 192)  He even drew stoves into service to provide him with analogies when he was about his ministerial duties.  His widow remembered, on his parochial visits,

"the aptness with which he  drew to his aid the common objects around him, --  a remarkable trait in his social intercourse.

One day, on being ushered suddenly into a parlor, he found four persons in eager conversation. An  old gentleman, of his society, with his Bible open before him, had evidently been holding an argument  in behalf of his peculiar views:

The compliments of 'the call' being over, the old gentleman  referred to the subject of conversation at the time I  entered the room, and said, with the Bible still wide open on  his knees, 'Isn't it strange I can't make these folks read  this book as I do?' laying his right hand with emphasis on  the ample page of the holy volume.

'I do not think it so strange, sir,' I replied. 'We 've just  got at our house a new stove, and I can't make anybody  agree with me about kindling the fire in it; but we get a good  fire somehow, and keep very comfortable. If we differ about  so simple a matter, I don't see why it should be strange that  we should differ about the meaning of the Bible, while we all get comfort from it somehow, and keep the heart from a  chill. Do you agree about this stove?'

I spread my hands out towards the glowing  grate, and found that it was involuntarily a symbolical  act, signifying that, we should open our hearts to the warmth  of the Divine Word, however we might differ about the way  of kindling its materials into a glow by our methods of interpretation." (pp. 286-7).

Anyway, here's the main story -- from Eliza Ann Bacon, Memoir of Rev. Henry Bacon (Boston: A. Tompkins, 1857), pp. 208-14,

"Farewell to the Old Stove" is all about nostalgia -- about the renovation of the Ladies' Repository's office at 38 Cornhill, Boston.  After a couple of pages, he finally gets down to business -- at least, he does in good mid-C19th style, i.e. he drizzles on for several pages, saying not a lot, but doing it quite elegantly.  What interests me about all this is:

(a) the way that the Stove -- a thing -- is apostrophized;
(b) Bacon's conceit, as an Abolitionist writing for a Northern audience, in describing the Old Stove (black, a loyal servant) as "our venerable colored friend" or "that venerable African" or "our black friend" who does not deserve his fate; in the winter of 1850-1851, this is not just Bacon's "genial good humor" (p. 208) talking, there's a gentle political observation being made. More prosaically,
(c) note the way in which stove heat has now been thoroughly domesticated -- it's the replacement hot-air furnace that's now the disruptive new technology.

* * *

[p. 211] ... that sight of passing wonder, beyond the counter and the post, the Old Stove, is removed. Will nobody stop this march of -- no, this rush and tumble of improvement? Cannot one Old Stove be spared? Must we part with our warmest friend? How could the sun look down through that square of lights in the ceiling, and give aid to the nefarious business of making that 'colored' friend of ours 'a fugitive from service?' We never saw such meek submission as we witnessed in the 'arrest' of that Old Stove. Venerable friend! would that we could have taken thy part in that hour of destruction! To think what kindly warmth thou hadst diffused around so many circles; what bowels of mercies had been thine; what a fiery heart could be tamed to manifest only the warmth that cheers but harms not, like the wine of the gods, that exhilarates but does not intoxicate! What a fate to be reserved for such goodness, was that we saw before thee! 'New birds for new cages,' seemed to be the voice issuing from thy depths, running through thy pipes out upon the morning air. This is a wicked world, Old Stove! No better evidence can be asked for than the treatment reserved for you. What have you done that you should be discarded? To be removed for a time, like a miner to search for new riches in the dusty realms of old things, might be very well; but to be borne away, never to be replaced in power and authority, that is too bad! New building, new stove! But thou shalt have revenge! When didst thou ever refuse to answer a draft, to make all discounts needed to fill with the one thing needful the exhausted treasuries of the chilled and frozen? And when thy mouth was opened, was it to give any other but the warmest welcome? Let them have their furnaces, Old Stove, and they will soon wish thee back again. The heat of a hidden furnace is like hearing a friend without seeing him; and if it is pleasant to see the lip move, and the eye kindle, and the cheek wear the suffusing of sensibility, then is the stove better than the furnace. And then, too, what theologian loves to think about furnaces? They are the most difficult things in the world to spiritualize. We cannot help thinking of the plains of Dura and old [p. 212] Nebuchadnezzar and the golden image (the golden image might be pleasant to some, if it was not by the side of the fiery furnace), and what comfort is there in the poetry of a furnace that always burns best on warm days, and will not let you see what it is that is blessing you when you cry, 'Poor Tom's a cold' ? "

We are serious in our regard for our venerable friend. Our readers will not doubt our seriousness. They must have felt it. And 'is there not a cause ?' 'Thy friend and thy father's friend forsake not,' and, especially, when there has been a great warmth of friendship, giving a full return for all bestowments, kindled to intensity of heat by every appropriate appliance, keeping even its ashes alive that no man should make a lye out of them. We should have secured a daguerreotype of our venerable colored friend, had there been any opportunity, but there was not. It seems too bad that it should be so. It would be some comfort to look upon even the shadow of his ebony phiz [physiognomy], and his tall form so evidently made for use, and not for mere ornament. He was tall and compact, bearing every evidence of having been well fed and with fine digestive organs. He was never troubled with the dyspepsia. His coat was generally clasped, -- he disdained buttons, -- but when it was thrown open, there was every evidence that he had a kindly bosom and a warm heart. He wore a pointed frill about his neck, very much after the Queen Elizabeth fashion; the points thereof were very sharp, seemingly to give warning of the character of the old hero, 'Touch me rashly, and you will get hurt.' Despite all the changes in the fashions, he stuck to the conical hat, and was always as prim as any could desire a great personage to be. He had a queer way with his arms; they were always stretched up over his head, reaching up to the sky-light, to waft away, as with a blessing, the incense of his smoking pipe. Whatever of wrong thought may have been indulged in at any time in presence of our old friend, no man can say that that venerable African ever pointed to anything earthly, for he always piped a heavenward suggestion, like the lark, 'soaring as he sings.' What a song he would pipe, some blustering winter morning, when his whole vocal apparatus had an extra clearing, and the whistle was in perfect order! Sometimes people would look in, as they rushed through Franklin avenue, to see if the law had [p. 213] not been invaded by a steam engine being placed in the store. And what a warm backer did many a one find our friend to be while writing a letter at the desk! -- many a greeting being sent forth abounding with a warmth that the writer or reader little thought of attributing to the right source. What a richness of color, strange as it may seem, did our black friend bring to the countenances of those who stood up and faced him! Wrinkled faces have been smoothed, and a rose hue has tinted the cheek late so pale and sallow, 'sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought.' When the ladies came (for, old friend, many and beautiful did come to thy charmed circle), so readily did they receive the cordial welcome of their ardent servant, that they always expressed a fanciful want, and a trumpet was transformed into a fan to cool their cheek and brow. A strange life did our Old Stove live. How nobly did it stand up there, half way between discussions of business and the knotty things of theology! What changes of opinions and methods has it heard plead for and adopted! What greetings for new comers into the circle; the critical as ready to penetrate to the salient points of character, as its warmth was to enter the flesh and vivify the circulation! What a transformation of feeling in a western or eastern brother, who had been dreaming that 'distinctive Universalism' was exiled from Boston, but who found that the Old Stove had still its Murray fire! We well remember the coming of a dear brother from the South, and, as he stood there, he was a new stove, all a-burning, with the door wide open, the draught clear, the pipes singing. Our friend came with his heart alive to everything good, but with some ideas that the air of New England was to waft away. He was clear-spoken on any topic that came up; bold, uncompromising, steadfast to conviction; and, when the controversy waxed earnest and severe, how he would feel the extra heat of our endeared servant, and, snatching his hat from his head, thrust his fingers into his massive raven locks, and then drum a tat-too on the crown of his beaver! The Stove was too much for him, and he would rise and sway round in the area, with a Johnsonian stride and a little of a Johnsonian imperativeness. The moral, reformatory, evangelical warmth around the Old Stove vivified many a sympathetic thought then latent in his rich nature, and what a rivalship obtained between those two round, compact, large-breasted, [p. 214] and large-hearted friends of ours, to contribute to the genialities of the place! The rapid fire of wit never came from a better marksman than he; and, as for a story, who could excel the power of his telling? ' A man of infinite jest,' jocund as the summer morning, yet as ready with kindly sympathy and sterling thought as if a Barnabas and Paul were united with Apollos, the 'eloquent man.' His freest humor never reminded you of defilement, but of high-bred joviality, where wit is in and wine is out; and things sacred were never profaned to add to the mirth of the moment. The Old Stove never played false, but was ever up to its promise; and so was it ever with thee, great-hearted friend! eloquent champion of truth and humanity, gentle as a lover's lute where the theme required it, and stirring as the peal of the mountain bugle, when the alarm must ring through the intricate windings of a worldly conscience.'


The work of ruin is consummated ! The light above, the light and doors and walls around, are all gone; the thoroughfare is filled with rubbish, and we cannot, if we would, look in upon the deserted spot -- the brave Old Stove removed. Well, be it so. Many a man stands yet in the place of power who may well envy thee, Old Stove, when his mission time on earth is ended, and who then must recall the consuming fact that he has permitted the fire of soul to burn, not to warm the kindly charities into livelier activity, and to give energy to the chilled love of liberty and right, but to shrivel up the enlarging sympathies of a humanity that was striving to give the speediest answer to the command of God,'Break every yoke, and let the oppressed go free !'
'Take away the Old Stove!' is better to be heard while its glory is acknowledged and its beneficence is diffusive. Surely, this has a significance to those whose creed tells them of a fiery furnace that will show its heat when the mortal stove is taken down. Farewell, Old Stove!

'I care not in these fading days 
To raise a cry that lasts not long, 
And round thee with the breeze of song 
To stir a little dust of praise.' 

There has been dust enough stirred around thee in thy time, and now thou art down, poor Stove!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Another Stove Poem, a century later -- "A Plain Old Kitchen Chap"

This is from the Boston Globe for 19th April 1899, p. 6.  This title is available online via ProQuest, if you're lucky enough to have access to a university or public library that subscribes.  It's a bit long for me to transcribe in full, but this is the gist of it: it's a humorous poem about a retired farmer whose wife has done up the parlor with proceeds of chicken money:

...I've got no growl a-comin'; mother ain't let up on grub!
Still I'm wishin' she would let me have my smoke and take my nap
In the corner, side the woodbox; I'm a plain old kitchen chap."

"Land! If I could have a palace, wouldn't ask no better nook
Than this corner in the kitchen with my pipe and some good book.
I'm a sort of dull old codger, clear behind the times, I s'pose,
Stay at home and mind my bus'ness; wear some pretty rusty clothes,
'Druther set out here'n the kitchen: have for 40 years of more
Till the heel of that old rocker's gouged a hollow in the floor;
Set my boots behind the cook stove, dry my old blue woolen socks,
Get my knife and plug tobacker from that dented, old tin box,
Set and smoke and look at mother clearing up the things from tea;
-- Rather tame for city fellers, but that's good enough for me.

Holman F. Day, "Plain Old Kitchen Chap," from the Lewiston [Maine] Journal -- eventually gathered in his Up In Maine: Stories of Yankee Life Told In Verse (Boston: Small, Maynard & Co., 1904),

You can even hear it recited in an appropriate accent by Charles Ross Taggart in a 1914 recording from 

Now, what's the point of this?  OK, it's a nice piece of doggerel in what's evidently supposed to be Down-East vernacular, but it's also in its way an interesting commentary on the way that new technologies become old, and the focus of people's nostalgia changes.  As soon as stoves began to become common in the 1820s, Americans expressed an instant nostalgia for the open fireplace as the heart of the home, and cultural historians have taken the evidence of the resulting negative commentaries to prove that Americans' adoption of the new cooking and heating technology only proceeded in the face of significant resistance.  This is the heart of the argument of the late Patricia Brewer's From Fireplace to Cookstove: Technology and the Domestic Ideal in America (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Univ. Press, 2000)

The materialist historian in me can't agree with that conclusion -- the evidence of the speed of adoption of stove technology is too overwhelming -- but that doesn't mean the nostalgia wasn't real in its own way, alongside the behavior.  By the end of the century, stoves were getting displaced -- by basement furnaces and steam heating -- so we see a different sort of nostalgia: now it's the stove itself that symbolizes the good old simpler days, becomes sentimentalized, as in this poem, and -- by the mid-20th century, when it's just a residual old technology in the homes of poorer and rural families -- it ends up as a valuable collectable.

One final literary point: there's a much more significant piece of Down-East, local-color writing from the end of the C19th that also makes its case about progress, nostalgia, and the different ways men and women responded.  The author is Sarah Orne Jewett, particularly in her stories "The Farm-House Kitchen" and "At Jake and Martin's," in her collection A Country Doctor (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1884), pp. 5-17 and 18-30.  They are widely available online, and offer a nice read. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

An Early Stove Poem

18th-century England wasn't a great place for iron stoves (nor was 19th century Britain either, for reasons I might get into sometime), but there was one big exception: the works of Abraham Buzaglo, an immigrant Moroccan Jew of Spanish émigré background, who died in 1788.  He is known in America because one of the last royal governors of Virginia, Lord Botetourt, gave a very grand Buzaglo stove to the House of Burgesses in 1770.  It survived the Revolution, and being removed from Williamsburg to Richmond when the new state's capital was moved to escape British troops.  It's now back in Williamsburg.


G.A.M., "The Old Stove Again," in William Maxwell, ed., The Virginia Historical Register, and Literary Companion, 6:1 (Richmond: Macfarlane & Fergusson, 1853), pp. 42-5,

Samuel Mordecai, Richmond in By-Gone Days: Being Reminiscences of an Old Citizen (Richmond,
VA: G.M. West, 1856; New York, Arno Press, 1975), pp. 60-61, -- pp. 74-5 in the 1860 ed.,

Elizabeth P. Guzler, "Buzaglo's 'Masterpiece' in Iron -- London Iron Founder Abraham Buzaglo," Magazine Antiques (Jan. 1997),

Loretta Chase & Susan Holloway Scott, "Keeping Warm: Buzaglo Stoves," 4 Feb. 2010,

Anyway, 'Buzaglos' (the maker's name turned into the name for his works) found quite a market in upper-class houses, churches, etc., in Georgian England, and even made their way into a poem that I found, as I find so much, online.

-- o -- 

Richard Tickell, "The Project. To the Dean Tucker," Epistle 11 in Bell's Classical Arrangement of Fugitive Poetry Vol. 4 (London: John Bell, 1793), pp. 92-101,

The basic 'conceit' underlying the poem is that climate forms national character, a common late C18th belief; so if you can change the indoor climate with the aid of a Buzaglo, maybe you can change people's character and behaviour too, and in particular the behaviour of members of the warring parties and factions in the House of Commons.  It's too long to quote in full, but the following extracts give the essence, and if anybody is ever interested, they can read it in full above.

p. 93

The silken sons of slavish ease [the TURKS], /
Wou'd glow for freedom, while they freeze, /
And, in proportion to the coldness, /
Discover latent fire and boldness. /
For thus 'tis Montesquieu explains /
The power of air upon the veins ; /
The short'ning fibres brac'd by cold, /
The blood flies back, the heart grows bold ; /
Relax'd by heat, their force declines, /
The spirits droop, the being pines :  /
Till, quite o'erpow'r'd, the sick'ning soul, /
Yields to the atmosphere's control : /
Thus air each impulse can impart, /
To that thermometer, the heart. /
Thanks, mighty Jove, thy sovereign care, /
Environs us with Northern air ! /
Our atmosphere to honor leads, /
Inspires the breast to hardy deeds ; /
The heart beats quick ; -- the spirits rise; /
All which our latitude supplies. /
Yet, (for extremes ev'n virtue mar) /
We sometimes carry our's too far : /
When winter winds too chilly pierce, /
We grow impatient, wild. and fierce; /
While every softer virtue flies, /
To gentler climes, and milder skies.

p. 94

The system's plain if well pursued; /
We must correct our latitude. /
How many Questions have been lost, /
By the house meeting in a frost? /
The opposition flock together, /
Like strings of wild geese, in hard weather ;/
Keen, as the blast that chills their blood, /
They nip each ministerial bud :

p. 95 Tickell's bright idea: excessive COLD leads to political argument, and anti-ministerial attacks; so THE PROJECT is to mitigate the effects with a stove:

Winter, stern pow'r ! must still create /
The kindred storms of mad debate; /
Still, by the climate's magic pow'r, /
Must gloomy statesmen droop and lour, /
Unless some Project we can frame /
To sooth it's rage - it's rigor tame. /
A simple plan the Muse explains; /
Nor asks a patent for her pains. /
In either house, below the chairs, /
Where Bathurst rules, and Norton glares, /
There stands a table, where they place /
The votes, the journals, and the mace: /
"Hence with that bauble!" Cromwell cried; /
And wisely too; 'tis useless pride; /
Hence with it all! it fills a place /
A nobler ornament shall grace. /
Here with capacious bulk, profound /
As Falstaff's paunch, as Plymouth's round, /
A vast Buzaglo, day by day, /
Shall chase the noxious blasts away, /
And spread an artificial glow, /
Tho' Palace-yard be wrapt in snow. - /
Around the flame, with vestal pride, /
A Fire-Committee shall preside,

p. 96

How bright will the Buzaglo glow, /
While heaps of Juntas blaze below.

p. 97

Already, by thy fond presage, /
Her [time's] blest Buzaglo melts the age; /
Relenting Party feels it's sway; /
And Faction's vapors die away.

p. 98

Now let the full Buzaglo glow! /
Spread wide the flame above, below: /
Now Montesquieu, thy wisdom shines; /
Thy system 's true, 'tis heat refines: /
It's genial influence all adore; /
And opposition is no more.

p. 100

... the House enjoys the effect /
And the Buzaglo all protect. /
But Fox, more warily, to gain. /
His dear delight to speak again, /
Most humbly moves, since they approve /
This potent wonder-working stove,  /

Lest some unseen mischance ensue, /
They'd have a Ventilator too.


What this blog is for

Partly, perhaps, to waste a bit more time -- but mostly because I am trying to write a book about the history of the cast-iron stove in the United States (and, to an extent, Canada) and in the course of that I come across all kinds of nice things that I know are too long for me ever to use, either at all or in full, so I thought "Nice Mr Google makes it possible for people to post stuff out there where anybody can see it, and also makes it easy for people to stumble over stuff even if they never knew it existed, so why not?"  If I make no use of this or get bored, nothing has been lost.