Harvey Lee’s Schoolbook

Collecting old books is as second nature to me as breathing. I’ve spent innumerable hours scouring the inventory of the now rare old booksellers whose shelves were long bent with heavy, old hardcovers, thick with thin pages spilling over with printed words.

For a captive and captivated audience of generations past

And when I open a tattered treasure such as this beauty: “Stories for a Good Boy” a 19th c. schoolbook by T. Nelson & Sons, NY, which I found in an old chicken coop, on an old Wisconsin farm, and find little clues of who it once belonged to, I’m absolutely delighted.

In this case, Harry Lee, delighted me – or at least the adult who carefully inscribed the young boy’s name, school and the year – 1882 – in it, before the young Harry carried this small book of tales to what was likely a rural, one-room Wisconsin schoolhouse.

While little, Harry Lee was learning to read and write, Oscar Wilde was touring the United States with lectures on the aesthetic movement.

Outlaw Jesse James was shot dead at his home in St. Joseph, Missouri.

Edison showed the world the first practical, electrical lighting system in September of 1882, when his generating plant lit up one square mile of New York City’s Lower East Side; while later that month the world’s first hydroelectric power plant began operations (not too far from Harry) on the Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin.

But even without these timeline facts, a look into its stained and aged pages will present the reader with a small window into the wonderfully pastoral world of 19th century America.

I gave this precious, little schoolbook to a lovely, young lady (a guest at our Airbnb) who was just about to begin her life as a wife and a teacher. Something told me that it was her time to pore over its pages and wonder.

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