DR. WYXMAN RICHARDSON was a big man with a directness and a simplicity most, endearing. He stood six feet one-and-a-half and in his prime weighed upwards of two hundred and twenty pounds, but his bigness was not boisterous; he had a light touch with the fly rod, was soft-spoken, and could watch birds as silently as any. I marked him first, years ago, at the luncheon table at the Harvard Club, where his long back elevated him above the other doctors from the Medical School. Later our kindred interest in the striped bass led us to compare notes at the Tavern. Then in the spring of 1947 he admitted shyly that he had been doing some writing about the Cape and would I like to see it. This was the first of a dozen essays we were to publish in the Atlantic — essays which arc the quintessence of Cape Cod: the winds and the stars, the moods of the sea, the pounding beauty of Nauset Beach by night or dawn, the sound and smell of the fish feeding in the marsh, the land birds and the shore birds of which he had such expert knowledge. These were his heart‘s desire which he dreamed of in the winter and reveled in during the summer and autumn when, away from his practice, he entered his native element at the Farm House.
The Farm House is a rudimentary shingled cottage at East ham which looks as if it had grown up out of the earth. The walls of the living room are covered with murals of the Canada Goose by Wyman’s uncle, the late Frank W. Benson, and in one or two spots the paint had cracked and flaked, but the great birds are still marvelously in motion, and one of them seems to have been shot in the neck — as indeed it was by a younger Richardson, who, home and warm after an icy day in the marsh, had taken aim with the remark, “Want to see me hit that old gander?" not realizing that, his shotgun was still loaded. The shot luckily missed the elders who were mounting the stairs on the way to bed, but it must have raised an enormous commotion in that snug room, and the spot was left bare thereafter as a warning to other casuals.
Opening off the living room with its kerosene lamps, the arrowheads, the reels, and the gunraek is the kitchen with its coal stove on which Wyman and Charlotte, his wife, prepared dishes which still make my mouth water. Wy was an exquisite cook, and I can see him stooping so as not to decapitate himself on the old oak beam as he entered the door to serve us. With our cocktails we might have whitebait fried in deep fat, crispy and so flaky hot that it would burn your tongue, or crabmeat served in quahog shells. The striper chowder was a meal in itself, made from the big majestic head with just the proper accompaniment of onions, potatoes, and but - ter. Pilot crackers went with it of course. The striper itself Wyman might boil and serve with an egg sauce, new potatoes in their skins, and fresh peas; or you might have it cold for supper with mayonnaise in a salad. Either way, you ate to immobility.
Wyman Richardson did not begin to write until he had had an intimation that his enjoyment of this blessed place might be limited. He had done the work of five men on the home front during the war, and the arthritis which began to afflict him after the Armistice was a warning that he would have to Watch himself. It made him sleepless at first; and in the black hours, he began writing in his mind descriptions and recollections of this Nauset life he loved. When day came he put. them on paper.
What he did, what he saw, what he felt, he has preserved for us simply, with a vivid sense of participation, in his book, The House on Nauset Marsh (Norton, $3.75), an account of his golden days, which will be lived again by those who read them here. The black and white illustrations, the end papers, and the jacket design of the Farm, by Henry Bugbee Kane, arc perfectly in keeping.
As a stimulus for summer reading, the Atlantic will supply on request a list oj fifty outstanding books for children published since 1910. The books have been selected by Virginia Haviland of the Boston Public Library, Julia Sauer of the Rochester Public Library, and Elizabeth H. Gross of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. Write to the Editor of the Atlantic Bookshelf, 8 Arlington Street, Boston 16, Massachusetts.
Samuel Hopkins Adams, who was writing books when I became a publisher’s apprentice thirty-two years ago, is an upstate New Yorker, and like his forebears is blessed with longevity. His two grandfathers lived to a ripe age, and the more colorful and irascible of the pair, his Grandfather Myron Adams, who was born in 1799, was until his very last breath, in his nineties, an independent, keen-witted, outspoken Yankee. His memory was prodigious and unpredictable. He had seen veterans of the Revolution and heard t he old-time oratory which celebrated that event; he himself as a young man had operated a stump-puller with eight-foot wheels in the construction of the Grand Erie Canal. The Canal was his dearest interest, and the stories which the old gentleman told about it. are among the best in this delightfully reminiscent volume, Grandfather Stories, by Samuel Hopkins Adams (Random House, $3.50).
There are, as I have said, two grandfathers involved: Grandfather Hopkins (who lived in Auburn) — a scholarly divine, impressively handsome, of great dignity, and rather finicky about his clothes. He was referred to by Grandfather Adams as “that ecclesiastical elegant.” Grandfather Adams, who lived in Rochester, was a much plainer American. He lived in a nondescript house, drove a non-pedigreed horse named Horace G (for Greeley); for his minor ailments he dosed himself with a nostrum named Hop Bitters (alcoholic content 40 per cent), and to pass the time in the long autumn of his life, he received and regaled his grandchildren, the most attentive of whom was Samuel Hopkins Adams. He recalls the great cholera epidemic of 1838, the fantastic measures which were invented to conceal or control it, and how, mercifully, the first frost brought it to an end. He speaks graphically of his first railroad trip, taken in the fall of 1835 when the Rensselaer & Saratoga had been running for just two weeks. “Ballston to Troy — twenty-four miles,” he murmured. “Six hours. My, my!” He tells of the inventions in which he invested — those like the Eliminator (it was supposed to eliminate bedbugs from canalboats) which cost him a pretty penny, and those like Mr. Eastman’s box camera which he shunned.
And again and again Grandfather Adams would emerge with some old-time aphorism on his lips, sayings which take us back to the very early days of this country: —
“Let young Loosetonguc hire a turnip cart and preach the end of the world from its tailpiece.”
“Blow high, blow low, hired money passes with the wind.”
“Only a wastethrift would plane the under side of a privy seat.”
Mr. Adams’s skills as a novelist and biographer have been charmingly blended in this delineation of old-time upstate New York.