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Friday, January 13, 2012

Is This The Worst Stove Poem Yet? Sylvester Judd's "Philo: An Evangeliad"

Sylvester Judd (1813-1853) was a very minor literary figure, but not without interest -- Wikipedia supplies the basic facts and even a picture,

His huge prose-poem Philo: An Evangeliad (Boston: Phillips, Sampson & Co., 1850), is almost unreadable.  But Judd, like many of his contemporaries, evidently had a thing about stoves.  He described himself ("the Poet") as "A man like other men" -- he "hates / An air-tight stove, but cannot buy a better." (p. 125).  On p. 181 he really goes to town on mid-C19th stoves.  I can do no better than to quote him in full:

ANNIE. "This man unearths a stove, all arabesqued, / And daintily inlaid with birds and flowers."

PHILO. "Its history forenote; that stove doth plait / The Borean zone with tissue of the Line; / Our snowbound parlors, windows intersprigged / With frost, it renders quite Arcadian; / It shelters poverty, and tends the sick, / Relieves the body, purifies the soul; / In winter nights those iron birds will sing / Unto our Poet, and the flowers distil / Castalian sweets."

CHARLES. "Like taxes, toothache, tides / A stove has no respect of persons. Once, / At a vendue, I saw a horse-faced preacher, / A skipjack transcendentalist, a lean / And muzzy artist, barbers, scullions, trulls, / Bidding against each other for an Olmsted."

* * *

Much of this makes no sense to me, but Judd's voices are mostly just talking about recognizable mid C19th parlor stoves. 

  • The 1840s was the first great age of decorated cast iron, and Annie sounds as if she is just quoting from a design patent (e.g. Ezra Ripley, Troy, NY, "Stove," Patent D377 (1851), 
  • Philo's reply is very pro-stove: "plaiting the Borean zone with tissue of the Line" means bringing the warmth of the Equator or at least the Tropics to the northern latitudes of New England.  Stove makers played on this promise in the way they named stoves -- e.g. the Madeira stove, to warm New England interiors until they were as good for consumptives and other invalids as the atmosphere of the Canary Islands to which they'd otherwise have to travel.  See Nahum Capen, ed., The Massachusetts State Record and Year Book of General Information. 1848. Vol. 2  (Boston: James French, 1848), p. 2, for a Madeira Stove advertisement, or p. 132 (including a picture); and John A. Dix, A Winter in Madeira: and a Summer in Spain and Florence (New York: William Holdredge, 1851). 2nd. ed., pp. 9, 81 esp., on Victorian health tourism,
  • An Olmsted was a very popular anthracite-fueled heating stove, invented by Prof. Denison Olmsted of Yale.  The patent for his "Stove or Furnace for Burning Anthracite Coal," 9167X (1835), lacks his text but has a nice picture.  And he described his stove in full elsewhere -- Denison Olmsted [Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, Yale College], "Observations on the Use of Anthracite Coal," American Almanac and Repository of Useful Knowledge for the Year 1837 (Boston: Charles Bowen, 1837), pp. 61-9,

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