mardi 25 janvier 2011

19th Century Libraries in Stanstead Part 2 : The Stanstead South-West Quarter Social Library (1823-1846)

We don’t have a clue as to what kinds of books the Stanstead and Barnston Union Library held, within the 90 volumes or so that were sold off at an auction in 1827. Our knowledge of this first library holds entirely in the few notices that were published in the British Colonist, between 1823 (when the Colonist started publishing) and 1827, when the library folded up -- see our blog for Jan. 19, 2011. The situation is quite different for the second local library, the Stanstead South-West Quarter Social Library : there is no mention of this library in the period’s newspapers, except for one in the very last days of its existence (1846). But, fortunately, part of the stock of books of the S.W. Quarter Library has been preserved, and now lies in the collections of the Stanstead Historical Society.

These books, totalling some 35 titles, hold a wealth of information on the library, as each one has retained its original sequential numbering, as well as a handwritten ex-libris page on the front endpapers of all the books (see illustrations). From the numbers, we learn that the library’s holdings were of over 118 titles – many of which have however been lost over time. There may well have been more. 

Indeed, after a long jump in numbers, books numbered from 306 onwards (to # 370 or more), are identified to the Stanstead Social Library – some with a printed label --, which we think might be a continuation of the S.W. Quarter Library, as the few books preserved from the S. S. L. bear publication dates that link to the last dates for those of the S.W. Quarter’s. If so, the S.W. Quarter Library would connect to at least one other library of the area (Stanstead Social) – yet not to the Stanstead and Barnston Union Library, which was still in place for some years after the S. W. Quarter Social Library was initiated.

This is another information we hold from the handwritten inscriptions on the endpages of the preserved books, confirming without doubt that the S.W. Quarter Library was set up in the Spring of 1823. As a matter of fact, the library ex-libris state the date each book was bought, the price paid, and the place it was purchased : we thus know that the library’s first purchases of books (matching the sequence of numbers from 1 to 18) were made in March 1823 in Windsor and Coventry, Vermont, and that later books (# 21-34) were bought in Stanstead from local merchants, in January and July 1824. Later purchases go up to 1839, some from Stanstead and Boston, but most from unspecified locations.

The ex-libris pages also bear the fixed meeting dates and time (annual and quarterly meetings), with a mention of fines incurred for late returns : "Fine of 12 ½ cents if not returned at the stated meetings", later expanded "with an additional cent for each exceeding day till returned". Meetings were held in March, June, September and December. It so appears that books were lent for months at a time, to be returned at the quarterly meetings, which was quite an unusual system. Some books also state a "Fine for lending Linrary book, 25 cents", or "Penalty for lending to non proprietors, 25 cents" – pointing to the fact that the library was only accessible to shareholders, i.e. "proprietors".

What members read can also be made out. Surprisingly, the most popular categories were documentaries : History, Travels, Manners & Customs, Biographies, personal Memoirs and Natural History. There were very few Novels (Cooper’s ‘The Pioneers’) or Poetry (Walter Scott), and even fewer Religious or Moral subjects. While fiction literature was often considered more or less "frivolous", many Social libraries, as a rule, excluded religious works, knowing that a choice of such books might cause dissent between members of different local congregations, and that churches, Sunday School libraries and Bible Societies would serve the community very well for such reading material. All the books we examined from the Stanstead South-West Quarter Social Library were titles issued by New England publishers (Vermont, New-Hampshire, Boston, etc.), but none from England or Canada – this was likely due to existing commercial networks from the U.S. at the time, and the difficulty of supplying Stanstead from Montreal, Quebec City or other places in British North America, in the absence of practical roads and railways.

The Stanstead South-West Quarter Social Library was brought to an end, without any prior public notice, in June of 1846, when the library’s holdings were dispersed at auction :

 Books at auction : a valuable collection of books, belonging to the Social Library in the south-west part of Stanstead, will be sold at Public Auction at the Marlow School House, on Saturday June 20th, at 1 o’clock, P. M. – Many of said books are standard works, and they will be sold singly or in lots to suit purchasers. By order of the committee.
[Signed :] Joseph Ward / Griffin Corner, June 6th, 1846 [1]

This, and a few other clues, give a clear indication as to where the so-called South-West Quarter was located. Griffin Corner, as well as Marlow Corners (the Marlow School), were hamlets north of Beebe Plain, close to Lake Memphremagog : very close to each other, these locations are now part of the Town of Ogden. The Marlow "settlement" as it was initially called, was later renamed Marlington. Not too surprisingly, some (if not all ?) of the books from Stanstead S.-W. Quarter Library were donated to the Stanstead Historical Society by the Hawes family, stating that they were "Books from the old Marlington Library" ; it all likeliness, the books from this Marlington Library were bought as a lot at the Marlow School auction in 1846.

[1] The Stanstead Journal, June 11, 1846 ; reprinted June 18, 1846.

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