Thursday, January 1, 2015

"Early Days" from 1884

Looking through our library I came across a worn book, Early Days, a children's magazine published in 1884 in London. It was a Victorian Wesleyan Methodist publication mostly written by clergymen. 

In 1884 Christmas involved Christmas trees decked with candles, singing, tales, buying gifts, games, the return of family members who worked elsewhere, and eating--especially a big pudding with a sprig of holy!

"All too soon we have got to the last month of the year. And yet we are glad to see the long, foggy days passing away; glad to know that this month brings the shortest day of the year, and then we may look forward to longer and brighter days. The country is desolate. It almost makes us shiver to see the trees with their naked branches stretched out towards the leaden sky; and as the wind moans around these bare trees, we pull our clothes tighter around us to keep our bodies warm." 

This is not cheerful and light writing for children.

And of course there is a reminder of the real 'why' of Christmas, Christ's Mass.

January 1884 concerns included poor children in the cold, kids making a huge snow man and enjoying a magic lantern show, and a reminder that ships and sailing still were the mainstay of trade and the economy and involved huge risks to sailors.

"And when the stormy winds are blowing and howling round the house, keeping us awake in our beds, we think of the many poor sailor boys tossed about on the wild waves of the sea. Perhaps one of us has a brother or father out on the sea, and we lie awake wondering if he is safe. Poor fellows! It is hard for them to be in a storm, and very terrible when the ship is driven on to the rocks around our coast. How the sea rages around and over them, and tears the ship to pieces. They climb the icy rope ladders, and wait and pray for the life-boat to come to their rescue. And it is coming. Watchful eyes have seen them, and now the brave life-boatmen are 'toiling in rowing' to save those in danger. God speed them!"

The book belonged to Benjamin F. Cureton, 219 W. Goodale St, Columbus Ohio. A presentation plate shows he received the book in 1885, bequeathed by  James Smith, Esq. of Leebotwood for "early attendance at the Horsehay Wesleyan Sabbath School".

With all that information I had to go to and do research!

According to his obituary in the Conshocton Tribune, Benjamin F. Cureton had been a physician in private practice for 50 years, passing on Sept. 19, 1966 at age 89. He had been living in Mt. Vernon, OH at the McConnell long term care after an extended illness. Benjamen had a living sister Mrs. P. J. Cummings of Mt. Vernon, OH and a brother George also of Mt. Vernon, OH. Benjamin is buried at Forest Cemetery in Frederickton, OH.

The 1897 Ohio State University yearbooks shows B. F. Cureton was in the Company C "Prize" Company of 1896 under Captain C. E. Haigler. He was a WWI veteran--the first doctor called to Camp Sherman. Captain Cureton was honorably discharged on December 19, 1918. 

The 1940 census showed he had worked in private practice as a physician for 60 hours the previous week, was 62 years of age, and was a single man living as a boarder. 

Benjamin was born January 4, 1877 in Wellington, Shropshire, England. His parents were William and Elizabeth Stephens Cureton. Benjamin was baptized Feb 14 1877 in Dawley-Magna, Shropshire England. 

His father William was born in Dawley Magna in 1849 and in 1872 he married Elizabeth in her hometown of Wellington. In 1887 William and Elizabeth and their sons came to America and lived in Knox, Ohio. William passed away in 1919 and Elizabeth died at age 98 and is buried in Wellington. 
Benjamin had siblings William, Edward, Thomas, George and Samuel.
The bequest of the book came from James Smith who lived in Shropshire, England. The census of 1851 shows he was a 62 year old brick-maker employing six persons. He was also the Wesleyan local pastor. His wife was born in 1795 and died in 1851. James died in 1853. 

Horsehay was in Dawley. In 1817 there were three brickyards in Dawley and Methodism was flourishing with a Wesleyan Methodist, Primitive Methodist, Methodist New Connection, and Methodist Free churches founded there. 

In 1890 an autographed red and white quilt was created by the Horsehay Methodist Chapel members. It includes the name of James Smith, along with a Samuel and a Charles Smith. Perhaps they were relatives of Pastor Smith.

As Early Days was a Wesleyan publication it extolled values the Victorians deemed important to growing up. Working hard for a prize was the theme of one story. Barnabe Hooper was not "particularly fond of geography" because he got muddled over the long names. He tried hard but did not win the third-class prize. He felt like a loser and wondered how he was going to face his mother.

When Barnaby sadly told his mother his news he was surprised by her response. "Barny, you seem to think it is all loss for you, but I do not think so at all. When you began the very first day of this term to study your lessons so carefully, there was more than one prize in front of you. You only thought about one, and you have lost that. But never mind, you gave gained others! You have acquired a knowledge of several different subjects, and that is a prize worth having. You have, too, I know, the approval of your master, and what is better still, the satisfaction of knowing that you have tried to do your duty." She also mentions that "our Father in heaven is well pleased with those who earnestly and willingly do the work that comes to the every day." The story closes with a happy Barny--and a reminder for boys and girls to consider the prize which all may win--the glory and honor of eternal life.

The girl says "Oh! I am so thirsty!" Which is of course a parable, with Jesus being the eternal water that quenches thirst.

We will never know if Early Days magazine instilled motivation for Benjamin to work hard to become a physician, to care for patients over 50 years, and to succeed as as a military doctor during war time. Perhaps his childhood pastor James Smith's gift was a cherished reminder of the 'old country'. Did Benjamin volunteer for WWI out of concern for his homeland? How many men's lives were saved by his efforts as a doctor during the war? 

What a wonderful world we live in when a few facts can reveal the history behind a commonplace object or worn book. 

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