Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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@ElizaBTweetin: February 5th 1873: Picturesque America

Posted on February 7, 2014


Eliza B. Wheaton's Diary, February 3-8, 1873.

Eliza B. Wheaton's Diary, February 3-8, 1873.

The diaries of Eliza B. Wheaton continue to yield treasures! These treasures are not only of the heritage of Wheaton College, but of greater American history in general.  In her entry of February 5th 1873, Eliza penned that she had formally subscribed to William Cullen Bryant’s Picturesque America, or The Land We Live In: a delineation by pen and pencil of the mountains, rivers, lakes, forests, water-falls,...and other picturesque features of our country.  The work had been issued originally in 48 individual parts. Eliza chose to have her set bound in the elaborately embossed leather covers pictured below.

Cover of Picturesque America.

Cover of Picturesque America.

Eliza’s set of Picturesque America, located in the Gebbie Archives, is a prize for collectors of American social history.  The collection of text and plate engravings, based on the finest American artists’ work of the era, illustrates the landscape and regional history of the continental United States.  Compiled in the decade following the Civil War and published between 1872-74, the collection was intended to “facilitate the course of America’s emerging sense of self.”[1]  It bolstered America's self-image after the cultural and human tragedies of the Civil War, and does just that through images of our most impressive natural landmarks!

American Picturesque Mammoth Cave

Picturesque America: Mammoth Cave

Though in black and white, the engravings are meticulously detailed – the interested reader can always find new details in the artwork.  The volumes are not only works of illustrative expertise but of different writers, artists, and printers. William Cullen Bryant edited the volumes; he was the long time editor of the New York Times’ predecessor, the New York Evening Post.  The work was a showpiece for collectors not only for the cost of the collection, but because they revealed the owner’s recognition that the natural wonders of the United States matched those of Europe.

Eliza may have been inspired to purchase these volumes because they include images of places she visited with her beloved husband Laban Morey Wheaton. Eliza and her husband visited The Mammoth Cave in Central Kentucky as part their tour of the Mid-Western United States from late April to mid July 1850.[2]

Both volumes of Eliza’s American Picturesque are easily accessible in the Gebbie Archives.

Written by Nicolas Sterner, Class of 2016.

[1] http://www.liucedarswampcollection.org/template1/picturesque.html

[2] Image: http://www.rare-maps.com/details.cfm?type=prints&rid=250462

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