Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Art and Poetry of William Jay Bolton of Bolton Priory in Pelham

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As I noted in last Friday's Blog posting entitled "The Earliest Newspaper in Pelham?", among the collections of The Office of The Historian of The Town of Pelham are two slim bound volumes that appear to be journals that once belonged to William Jay Bolton. Bolton was a son of the Reverend Robert Bolton who built Bolton Priory in 1838 and founded Christ Church in Pelham Manor shortly afterward.

During this past weekend I digitally photographed all of the pages of the earlier of the two volumes and a portion of the beginning of the second volume. This is the first step toward transcribing and analyzing the contents of the two journals.

While photographing the earlier volume, I found between the leaves of the journal pages from a separate and smaller journal written during the 1820s. For now I will try to tantalize readers with the teaser that I believe those pages to constitute a significant "rediscovery" of importance to the history of Westchester County, Pelham, Christ Church and even St. Paul's Church National Historic Site. Until I can analyze those journal pages carefully and render a final verdict, I can only tease for now . . . .

The Art of William Jay Bolton

The earlier of the two volumes contains a wealth of material that appears to have been written by William Jay Bolton. Among the many fascinating entries in the journal are a few in which he prepared intricate and lovely pen-and-ink sketches apparently for inclusion in the local newspaper named "The Pelham Chronicle" that he issued during the 1840s. Below appears an image of one such example:

The sketch seems to show an idyllic -- and likely fictional -- view of a harbor framed by lovely rolling hills. In the foreground is some sort of fruit tree beneath which have gathered a group of men. Written beneath the sketch is a reference that seems to denote the particular issue of The Pelham Chronicle for which the sketch was prepared: "Sept. 15th 1842 No. 73 Price one contribution". Above the image, of course, appears the phrase "The Pelham Chronicle".

There are numerous other sketches in the small volume, some of which are quite beautiful though a few seem to have been smudged when the artist -- or someone else -- closed the volume before the ink used to sketch the renderings had dried.

As I noted last Friday, William Jay Bolton was an artist of renown in his day. He eventually was admitted to the National Academy of Design where he won prizes including a coveted "Silver Palette" for one of his works. The works in the earlier of these two slim volumes constitute little-known examples of the sketches of a widely-acclaimed artist of the mid-19th century.

The Poetry of William Jay Bolton

In addition to his paintings, sketches and work in stained glass, William Jay Bolton also wrote poetry. In fact, he authored a little volume entitled "The Harp of Pelham" that was sold to raise funds to open the little one-room schoolhouse that still stands next to Christ Church and that served as a local school for many Pelham children for nearly a generation in the mid-19th century. The earlier of the two volumes that I reviewed this past weekend contains numerous examples of Bolton's poetry that he appears to have created for a regular feature in The Pelham Chronicle entitled "Poet's Corner".

Below is an image from the volume showing the beginning of one of Bolton's poems -- a particularly sorrowful and Victorian-influenced piece. Beneath the image I have transcribed the entirety of the poem -- apparently the first time it has been "published" in more than 160 years.

Poets Corner

A mother sorrowing over the dead body of her child

They often told me hearts could break!
But I as oft forgot,
It melted like a snowy flake,
That chills but lingers not:
I knew I had a womans heart,
But it was bounding then
and little dreaming of the smart
with which it throbs again.
Oh! had I never long'd to know
The depths of mother love,
And plunged me in this sea of woe
to clasp what shone above
I saw a bright star glittering there
and floated to its side,
But oh! it vanished into air
And left me on the tide.
Too true! thou art thy mother star
In the mild blue of heaven,
And this is but its image here
on a cold cask engraven
Yet it would lighten half the load
To keep such dust by me,
So when they lay it in its sod
If I might sleep with thee.
Had I believed the parting day
Could come so swift as this,
Would I have torn myself away
From those dear hours of bliss?
Would I have pressed those lips so oft?
or ere unlock'd my neck?
When thou went on my bosom soft,
That was not then a wreck!
Stay! had I dreamed that sorrowing
would come so soon as this,
Although each look might prove a sting:
A poison every kiss
I had sought none of what I mourn
or I had drunk before,
Seance sad if death the flower had torn
A dying mother more.
My faded bud how can we part?
Thou to thy little tombe,
Along with my poor broken heart,
And I to earth and gloom
Once did thy prattle Cheer the way,
And smiles that were my sun,
And looks of ecstasy to pay
For much that I had done:
Yet must we part - as won't at Eve
Then slumber for a while,
And I shall soon this dark world leave
To sleep with thee and smile,
And when the morning dawns for aye
I'll call thee then my own,
And bear thee to the skies away
where parting is unknown -
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