Friday, June 12, 2009

Joseph Stevens Buckminster's Library

Another Library of Early America is now complete, with the addition of the 1,200-title collection of Joseph Stevens Buckminster (1784-1812). Buckminster, who graduated from Harvard in 1800, was ordained the minister of Boston's Brattle Street Church in 1805. In 1806-07 he made a long tour to Europe (where he purchased a great number of the books in his library), and upon his return was very active in Boston's literary and historical communities. He was a founding member of the Anthology Society, from which sprang the Boston Athenaeum, and served as an editor of their publication, the Monthly Anthology. He was elected a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1811, and was the same year named Harvard's Dexter professor of biblical criticism.

Sadly for the world, Buckminster suffered terribly from epilepsy from 1802 on, and died at the very young age of 28 on 9 June 1812. He had created during his short existence a massive library, consisting largely of classics, religious and philological texts. His LT catalog is mostly taken from the Catalogue of the library of the late Rev. J. S. Buckminster (Boston: Printed by John Eliot, Jun. 1812), a record of the auction in which his books were sold. Several other works had been presented to the Athenaeum prior to his death, and those are also included. Many of Buckminster's books ended up at the Athenaeum - where those are known I have noted it, but I suspect many others are in their collections.

A memoir of Buckminster appeared in the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1838. The author wrote "The services of him who descends to the grave, full of years as of honours, must be rememebred with gratitude; but a deeper and perhaps more lasting sentiment is excited when such ardent anticipations are blasted, as all his acquaintances indulged of our young friend. In the bright morning of his virtues, his fame, and his usefulness, - 'purpureus veluti cum flos, succisus aratro*,' - his fall is more justly bewailed than that of those who perish in the usual course of nature after exhaling all their fragrance."

Buckminster's papers are at the Athenaeum (finding guide). A two-volume edition of his works was published in 1839, and his sister Eliza Buckminster Lee published a memoir of her father and brother in 1849 (second edition in 1851). It includes many family letters, and much about Buckminster's life as a reader and book collector.

*"like a bright flower scythed by the plow" - from Catullus, via Virgil's Aeneid - thanks Google Books!