June 16th, 2010 by Caroline Sloat
The first of the books about the history of the American Antiquarian Society to mark the 2012 bicentennial has arrived. It is A Place in My Chronicle: A New Edition of the Diary of Christopher Columbus Baldwin, 1829-1835, co-authored by Jack Larkin and Caroline Sloat. We always call it “diary” in the singular, but Baldwin (aka CCB) actually kept his diary in several volumes. The Society’s manuscript holdings list diaries for the period 1829 to 1835 (except from September 1832 to September 1833). The earliest were brief entries kept in almanacs to which he added extra pages; later, by his own admission, his diary keeping became a more self-conscious chronicle of the people he met in the course of his work as a lawyer and after 1832, as librarian of the American Antiquarian Society. Wherever he went, he remarked on his wide circle of friends and acquaintances and interesting features of the urban and rural landscapes he observed.
Jack and I had a lot of fun with the diary transcription, identifying the people that CCB recorded and finding illustrations (more than 160 of them) to bring his world to life. It was a world of work and of social occasions, one in which a Unitarian struggling with his faith could escape to the theater, and in which travelers journeyed by stagecoach, canal, and railroad—if they didn’t walk. Despite a lingering condition that left him lame for periods of time, Baldwin was an inveterate walker. And for CCB, it was a world of books. As AAS’s librarian, he was on the prowl for additions to the collections. Many of the books that he coveted and wheedled out of their owners and authors are illustrated in the volume.
Baldwin was trained as a lawyer by two future governors of Massachusetts—Levi Lincoln and John Davis—but despite having studied in such a prestigious Worcester law office, he was not able to establish a profitable practice in Worcester, or Barre, or Sutton. His sojourn in Barre was to pursue the lovely Mary James, but despite some romantic moments together, she was swept off her feet by her minister’s son, leaving Baldwin to make a quick sale of his practice and move on.
Baldwin took up his appointment as AAS librarian on April 1, 1832, and thereafter followed his passions for books, history, and collecting. He admired scholars such as the young Jared Sparks who was embarking on an edition of George Washington’s papers. He happily labored in 90 degree temperatures in a smelly Boston oil warehouse to pack pamphlets and a missing volume of Cotton Mather’s diary that would fill a wagon, only to be deflated when he returned to Worcester by the dismissive reaction of the Council to his treasure. (They later changed their minds.) In a library filled with riches, CCB’s own writings are themselves a treasure. Jack Larkin and I are excited to add this edition to the Baldwin chronicle.
Purchase information is available on AAS’s website.