Bookshelf

Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

James Buchanan’s Wheatland
by Sally Smith Cahalan
The James Buchanan Foundation, 1988 (100 pages, paper, $7.95)

A handsomely designed guidebook, James Buchanan’s Wheatland promotes an under­standing of the nation’s fif­teenth president’s and his family’s life during his owner­ship of the Lancaster County property between 1849 and 1868. Although a lifetime bachelor, Buchanan sur­rounded himself with, as he referred to it, a “little family,” composed of his two wards, niece Harriet Lane and nephew James Buchanan Henry, first cousins orphaned at early ages; and his house­keeper, Esther Parker, whom he affectionately called Miss Hetty. The Wheatland house­hold, typical of others of the period, was a carefully differ­entiated hierarchy in which each member was both inde­pendent and interdependent. Each had his or her own indi­vidual responsibilities, while each performed a specific role within the family structure. Wheatland offered a place of refuge and respite where Bu­chanan retreated for relaxation and renewal. As the patriarch and provider, Buchanan sought a home in which family members were united by mu­tual affection; apart from the outside world, his “little fam­ily” nurtured, protected and supported its members. James Buchanan’s Wheatland goes far beyond merely yielding a social history of the house and its prominent mid-nineteenth century inhabitants; the book analyzes, in depth, both inte­rior and exterior architecture, furnishings, outbuildings and grounds, heating, artworks and paint colors and treat­ments. Not only are the dis­cussions accompanied by striking contemporary photo­graphs, many of which appear in color, but by historical litho­graphs, paintings and draw­ings as well. The guidebook transcends its role as an inter­pretive piece for this important Pennsylvania landmark, and serves as an introduction to the Victorian era lifestyle and household of a prosperous businessman. James Buchanan’s Wheatland concludes with brief, but meaningful, biogra­phies of Harriet Lane, James Buchanan Henry and Miss Hetty, all of which contribute to the reader’s appreciation of this rich milieu.

 

The Diary of William Maclay
by Kenneth R. Bowling and Helen E. Veit, editors
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988 (522 pages, paper, $10.95)

He despised John Adams, quarreled with Thomas Jeffer­son, and called George Wash­ington “a dishcloth in the hands of Hamilton:’ Caustic, witty and opinionated, Wil­liam Maclay (1737-1804) of Pennsylvania lifted the early United States Senate’s heavily­-guarded veil of secrecy for an insider’s look at eighteenth century politics and society. America’s first eyewitness political memoir, The Diary of William Maclay and Other Notes on Senate Debates is a rich and painstakingly recorded collec­tion kept by the Pennsylvanian whose credentials, although not well known outside of the state, were known to many colleagues and fellow resi­dents. A Federalist who had worked for the adoption of the new Constitution, Maclay resided in central Pennsylvania but had business ties to Phila­delphia. Like Washington, he had amassed his fortune from surveying and land specula­tion. In addition to being one of the first members elected to the First Federal Congress, William Maclay held a number of commissions and posts in Pennsylvania. During his tenure in the nation’s capital, the Senate met in secret, and much of what is known about its proceedings comes directly from Maclay, who kept a diary of what was actually said on the floor. His account establishes – beyond any doubt – that the founding fathers practiced legislative politics much as their descen­dants do today. To his record of Senate debates – prompted by the immediate and mutual dislike of Vice President John Adams – Maclay added tanta­lizing details about “behind-­the-scenes” politicking and social life in Philadelphia and New York, as well as offering insightful commentary about the character, motives and morals of those with whom he associated. The diary provides insight not only into Congress, but also into the personality of Maclay; the diarist, aloof and easily offended, was serious, hard working and deeply concerned about his reputa­tion and that of Pennsylvania. He often complained about his poor health, which was proba­bly aggravated by his displeas­ure with Congress and its decisions. In fact, his fierce independence and prickly character doomed his bid for re-election. In 1791, after his term ended, he moved his family to Maclaysburg (present-day Harrisburg), where he built an elegant mansion that still stands in center-city overlooking the Susquehanna River. He served in the state legislature until his death, and was inti­mately involved in the effort to relocate the state capital to Harrisburg. The Diary of Wil­liam Maclay is a rare, first-hand glimpse at the making of a nation by an individual who spent fifteen of the last twenty-five years of his life as an elected member of a legisla­tive body and one who at­tempted to implement his concept of the public interest.

 

The Amish Wedding and Other Special Occasions of the Old Order Communities
by Stephen Scott
Good Books, 1988 (128 pages, paper, $4.50)

Special occasions do more than brighten life-they are the. threads that tether the Old Order community together. Showcasing the strength of the plain community, The Amish Wedding illustrates the ways in which members celebrate, support each other in times of grief and make decisions. The book depicts Old Order prac­tices and traditions through the eyes of such characters as Levi Lapp, as he prepares to wed Mary Beiler; seventeen year old Esther Weber, on becoming a member of the Woolrich Old Order Menno­nite Church; and the family and friends of Amos Yoder, bearing his body to its resting place in the central Pennsylva­nia hills. The author also pro­vides the most detailed account of an Amish wedding ever published, along with stories of an ordination, auc­tion, baptism, funeral, Old German Baptist annual meet­ing and typical Sunday among the Amish. Summary sections and charts pointing out varia­tions in practice from group to group are supplemented by photographs, excerpts from Old Order documents, de­scriptions of the origins of different groups of plain peo­ple and a map showing the locations of Old Order com­munities in North America. The Amish Wedding is based on information from plain indi­viduals and extensive observa­tion by the author, a member of an Old Order group.

 

Majesty of the Law
by James D. Van Trump
Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, 1988 (180 pages, doth, $19.95)

Subtitled The Court Houses of Allegheny County, this book is a condensation of a mam­moth study that the author wrote some years ago, with added material by Walter C. Kidney to update the text. The author, a perceptive architec­tural historian and eloquent writer, offers not only engag­ing historical and architectural accounts of the buildings which housed the courts of Allegheny County, but pro­vides a rich social, aesthetic and cultural history of Pittsburgh – and Pittsburghers – as well. In many American towns, the court house is the supreme work of architecture, the pride of the community. Allegheny County had three successive court houses, and in each case this was (and remains) so. The first court house of the 1790s dominated a frontier settle­ment still largely built of logs. It was replaced in 1841 by a much grander Greek Revival style building on Pittsburgh’s Grant’s Hill, rising over what was already a burgeoning industrial city. In 1882 this structure burned, and in its place rose a pair of county buildings, the present Court House and Jail, both by master American architect Henry Hobson Richardson. These were – and still remain­ – famous: much imitated, mostly praised, threatened at times but always saved by a proud population. The indus­trial city has faded and the original town that these court houses have successively dom­inated is now a business dis­trict of tall buildings, but Richardson’s elegant tower, although overshadowed, re­tains its original distinction. Although Majesty of the Law provides an outstanding archi­tectural history; it also offers an account of the existence of three important buildings in their historic context, that of a changing community. The greater part of this book covers the present-day Allegheny Court House and Jail, recount­ing their construction year by year, followed by a discussion of their subsequent history and concluded with a sum­mary of critical opinion regard­ing them. Captivating illustrations – old views and modern photographs – show all three buildings, the evolv­ing city and their place within it. Van Trump’s sensitive por­trayal of the court houses establishes a record of how they were created and how they existed. As such, his work is not written for scholars, but is a celebration of art that, according to the author, “be­longs to the whole body of humanity.”

 

An American Vision: Three Generations of Wyeth Art
by James H. Duff
Little, Brown and Company, Inc., 1987 (209 pages, paper, $22.50)

Published for the Brandy­wine River Museum, Chadds Ford, as a New York Graphic Society Book, An American Vision is a sumptuous visual feast which accompanied the landmark exhibit on its inter­national tour, with shows in Dallas, Chicago, Washington, Moscow, Tokyo, Milan and Cambridge. The beautifully illustrated catalogue provides new insights into the three highly productive artistic ca­reers of the Wyeth family: Nathaniel Convers (1882-1945), Andrew (born 1917) and James (born 1946). For three genera­tions, members of the Wyeth family have captured the imag­ination and admiration of a broad public, and this book reiterates the deep apprecia­tion of a growing worldwide audience. An American Vision is particularly noteworthy be­cause the works of the prolific N. C. Wyeth, perhaps Ameri­ca’s best-loved illustrator, have never been surveyed and de­scribed in their entirety. The catalogue includes essays by Andrew Wyeth, who discusses highlights of his father’s long career; James H. Duff, director of the Brandywine River Mu­seum; Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Lincoln Kirstein, author, art historian and chairman of the School of American Ballet, New York. In recent years, a spate of exhibi­tions has traced various parts of the Wyeths’ careers, but these have not traced inter­connections among the three generations in great detail; as a result, they have been unable to slake the thirst for more information about the Wyeths. However, the essays in this book are by individuals who have long been acquainted with the Wyeth tradition, and each may be described as one who has had the opportunity to study that art and the artist, and to discuss it with the man himself. The insights that each of these authors bring to their essays broaden the world’s perspective of this outstanding family of artists. Together the essays present a composite picture of the distinctive – and distinguished – Wyeth tradi­tion, one that delineates the men and their work in the context of the twentieth cen­tury.