Thursday, October 25, 2012

Of Magic and Medicine

Dr. William B. Leonard Brings Elizabethan Arts to Early Marietta
Among the rare books in Marietta College’s Special Collections is a volume entitled The Secretes of the Reverende Maister Alexis of Piemont, translated from French into English by William Warde, and printed in London in 1562.  The well-worn copy measures about 5-3/16” x 7” and contains infrequent marginal notations.  Inside the loose front cover is a bookplate bearing the inscription, “Hildreth Cabinet Library. Marietta College.”  Prior to his death in 1863, Dr. Samuel Prescott Hildreth transferred many of his books and papers to the College, and this interesting volume appears to have been part of his collection.

In an article entitled, “Biographical Sketches of the Early Physicians of Marietta, Ohio,” published in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register,” Vol. III (1849), Hildreth states that he had preserved many of the “curious relics” from the estate of Dr. William B. Leonard of Marietta.  “Amongst them,” he says, “is a small quarto volume, printed at London in the old black letter, in the year 1562.  It is entitled ‘The Secrets of Master Alexis of Piemont,’ and is filled with curious recipes in the arts, with odd, fanciful remedies for various diseases, such as were in use three hundred years ago.”

The original work is attributed to Girolamo Ruscelli, a sixteenth-century Italian alchemist who wrote under the pseudonym, “Alessio Piemontese.”  The contents are described as containing “excellent remedies against divers diseases, wounds, and other accidentes, with the maner to make distillations, parfumes, comfitures, dyinges, colours, fusions, and meltinges.”  As well as medical instructions, such as a remedy “to heale the Emorhodes or Piles in a nighte, a rare secret and very excellent,” and a prescription to “make a woman beare Children,” the book provides recipes for making cosmetics, perfumes, and soaps, while guaranteeing a method for conserving youth and holding back old age.  One can discover how to make a “Candell of Ice to burne,” and mix “a water that wyll make a whyte and pale persone well coloured.”  To curl hair, “take the ashes of sheepes hornes burned, and mire it with oyle, and rubbe your head often tymes with it.” Also revealed are “reciptes against the Plague,” that instructed one to eat three little branches of rue, a walnut, and a fig, to ensure one’s safety during a dangerous time.

Although many of the prescriptions rely largely upon faith and perhaps a little magic, a respectable amount of science was also involved.  In the preface, Alessio describes his search for the secrets of nature, which inspired many others to similar experimentation.  At least some of the recipes must have had favorable results, for Alessio’s volume was translated into five languages, published in over 100 editions, and continued in print through the 1790s.  Dr. William B. Leonard, who brought this book to Marietta, may have relied on some of Alessio’s methods in his own medical practice through the years.

 Dr. William Bouchier Leonard was born in London in 1737, trained as a surgeon, served in the British navy, and later practiced as an apothecary or pharmacist. A framed diploma displayed on his wall proclaimed him an associate of Apothecaries’ Hall, a renowned center for the manufacture and sale of drugs.

Apparently, the manufacture of wool was also of interest to the doctor.  About 1784, following the death of his first wife, he decided to immigrate to America and establish a woolen factory.  With the models and plans of machinery and some necessary equipment secretly packed in his baggage, Dr. Leonard attempted to board a ship at York, but was arrested by customs officers for the illegal exportation of materials related to England’s important woolen industry.  He was fined 200 pounds and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment, with no release until the fine was paid (New England Genealogical Register, Vol. VI, No. 2, April 1851).

By 1793, Dr. Leonard had been discharged from the English jail and had made his way to Newburyport, Massachusetts, where he first appears in records by posting an ad in the Newburyport Herald, December 27, 1793:



Dr. Leonard respectfully acquaints the inhabitants of this Town and Environs that after an extensive Practice by sea and land, and in many Hospitals in London, and other parts of Europe, where he has been Practitioner in Physic and Surgery, Midwifery, &c., upward of 35 years, and with good success in many great operations . . . Mr. L. entreats for a share in the favors of his fellow citizens, and he humbly hopes that his abilities and experience with the faithful discharge of his duty to the lives and limbs of his employers will commend him to future favors . . .

 While living in Newburyport, Dr. Leonard married for his second wife, Susanna Lindsey, in 1799.  She died not long after, and Leonard attended to her burial.  It was said that he obtained a carriage on which to place her coffin, and covered the coffin with a blanket in order to use it for a seat.  The cemetery was in a nearby town, and one of his neighbors was invited to share the melancholy seat during the journey.

Arriving in Marietta, Ohio, in 1801, Dr. Leonard’s unusual manners and peculiar appearance attracted considerable attention in a town of less than a thousand inhabitants.  He boarded with the family of William Moulton, a silversmith who had also moved west from Newburyport.  In 1802, Leonard married Moulton’s daughter, Lydia.  In the aforementioned 1849 article on Marietta physicians, Samuel P. Hildreth provides a colorful description of Dr. Leonard:

He appears to have been a skilful surgeon, but was rough and coarse in his manners and language, retaining the habits acquired in his naval service, at a period when profanity and rudeness occupied the place of the genteel manners of the present day.  He still retained and kept up the fashion of the showy dresses, such as prevailed in the days of Queen Elizabeth, which in the backwoods of Ohio excited the curiosity of a people accustomed to the most simple attire.  He was thin and spare in person, with very slender legs, on the borders of old age.  His favorite costume was a blue broadcloth coat trimmed with gold lace, and enormous gilt buttons, a waistcoat of crimson velvet, with large pocket flaps, and small clothes of the same material, a pair of silk or worsted stockings drawn over his slender legs, with large silver buckles at the knees and in his shoes.  On his head he wore a full flowing periwig, of which he had six or eight varieties, crowned with a three cornered or cocked beaver hat.  Over the whole, when he appeared in the street, unless the weather was very hot, he wore a large scarlet colored cloak.  This dress, with his gold headed cane, always called forth the admiration and wonder of the boys, who followed close in his train, and were often threatened with his displeasure in not very civil language.  When travelling on horseback to visit his patients, he rode a coal black steed with long flowing mane and tail, the saddle and trappings of which were as antiquated and showy as his own dress.  The shop furniture, surgeon’s instruments, skeletons, and books he brought out with him, were as odd and ancient as himself.
If a cure for consumption, or tuberculosis, was to be found among Alexis of Piemont’s secrets, it did not work for Dr. Leonard.  He died of that disease at Marietta in 1806, at the age of 69.  Before his death, a copper plate was engraved with the following lines and later attached to his tombstone:
Friend! For Jesus’ sake forbear
To touch the dust enclosed here;
Blest is the man that spares this urn,
And he’s a knave that moves my bones.


Linda Showalter
Special Collections Associate
Marietta College Library



Monday, February 13, 2012

John Langston Harrison - Class of 1887



John Langston Harrison
Marietta College's Fourth African-American Graduate

John Langston Harrison (1866-1940) entered Marietta College as a freshman in the fall of 1883, a candidate for the degree of Bachelor of Philosophy. Harrison’s path to higher education had been made a little easier by the successful college experience of his older brother, Charles Sumner Harrison, who had been Marietta’s first black graduate in 1876. A third member of the family, Walter Clifton Harrison, would complete his studies at the College in 1891.

The Harrison brothers were the sons of George W. Harrison (1829-1897) and Maria E. (Harris) Harrison (1834-1898) of Harmar, a village across the Muskingum River from Marietta. The couple and their nine children lived near David Putnam, Jr., a noted abolitionist and Underground Railroad worker. Also living nearby was David’s brother, Douglas Putnam, who served as the secretary of Marietta College’s Board of Trustees from the time of its corporation in 1835, until his death in 1894. It is likely that the Putnams were influential in the Harrison’s decision to send their sons to Marietta College.

John Langston Harrison and ten other young men graduated during Marietta College’s Fifty-Second Annual Commencement on June 29, 1887. Harrison delivered an oration that day entitled, “Nature and the Divine Reason.” Following graduation, he served as a principal in the public schools of Topeka, Kansas, and later in the schools of McDowell County, West Virginia, retiring in 1936.

Although his primary career was in education, Harrison was also an author. His published works include Short Stories, in 1909, and A Lesson Learned and Other Stories of the Color Line, in 1912. In 1937, Harrison wrote an essay in which he looked back at the years when he was a student at Marietta College:

"Some Reminiscences of Far Off Days"

“Last June marked the fiftieth year since graduation of the Class of 1887. (That’s a mighty long time to look forward to, but a very short time in retrospect.) The class graduated eleven men and now but two remain – Russell L. Janney and the writer. Of course it was a distinguished and ‘noble’ group, maintaining a high average of scholarship and showing great athletic ability. Its attainments were many and the class prided itself on being the apple of the eye of the faculty.

“Many pleasant memories cluster about those bright college years from 1883 up to and including 1887. The student body was small in number but large in spirit and mischief. Israel W. Andrews, and later John Eaton, headed the institution. Professors Beach, Chamberlin, Phillips, Mitchell, and Biscoe awed us by their erudition. Our class was among the last to sit under the inspirational teaching of Pres. Andrews in his exposition of the Constitution.

“Back then, as now, athletics assumed major proportions, but with this difference – we had to finance the games out of our pockets, shallow as they were. Football, baseball, track and tennis were the chief sports. Tennis was confined to a favored few. The annual ‘Field Day’ on the campus was a gala occasion and always drew a large crowd. Competition was keen for prizes furnished by Marietta business men.

“We excelled in baseball, for the College team was never defeated in the four years from ’83 to ’87. It was fast and clicked perfectly. Frank Jordan, now of the University of Pittsburgh, was catcher, the writer was pitcher, Ban Johnson [founder of baseball’s American League] first base, Tom Church [brother of civil rights activist Mary Church Terrell] second base, Art Clark third, and Kent Loomis short stop. The other players have somehow faded from my memory. Beverly, fortified by two professionals imported from Wheeling, was defeated five to three. This victory so elated the boys that they staged an hilarious celebration in the band wagon on the way home, which, reaching the ears of President Eaton, caused him to decree an enforced vacation of two weeks for three players.

“Our football was a modified form of soccer. Dean Alderman brought back the Rugby game from Phillips Exeter Academy, but we preferred our own game to that. The sport was largely intramural, although we did play teams from surrounding districts. Charlie Dawes [U.S. Vice President, 1925-29] captained a College team which played a hard fought game with the Devol boys at the Fairgrounds. A great crowd (admission free) was in attendance. We won.

“Rodney M. Stimson, affectionately known as ‘Stimpy,’ was the librarian. He was possessed of a grim and sardonic humour which greatly endeared him to the students. One Wednesday afternoon at the assembly, he was making an address. Toward the last of it he said, ‘I don’t know why they keep asking me to talk. I can’t make a speech – never could. I recall my first attempt. I was a lad of seven. I wore curls and had on a frilled waist with a broad stiff collar. I also had on a little pair of pants.’ That last statement was the signal for a tremendous outburst of thunderous applause which so discomfited the speaker that he quit then and there. As he resumed his seat, though, he gave the boys an appreciative grin.

“Roaming the campus one dark night, four of us sophomores, looking for freshmen, stopped at the college pump for a drink. A little distance away we dimly discerned a white object couched modestly at the foot of a tree. Investigating, it proved to be a large demijohn covered with wicker work. We shook it and a cheerful gurgle emanated. Lugging our prize to Fred Corner’s room in the dormitory, it proved to be filled with the finest of crab apple cider. Summoning other kindred spirits we held a wild orgy of drinking, after which we carried it back to the pump, filled it with clear water and deposited it tenderly in its original place. Early the next morning it had disappeared. To this day its ownership remains a deep, dark, mystery. We wished we could have seen the face of the saddened and bewildered owner as he poured out the first anticipatory drink. We prayed he was a freshman.

“Looking back through the vista of fifty years, the inconsequential things of college life are sweeter to the memory than are the sips at the Pierian spring. Perhaps we did not drink deeply enough. Ironically, Greek, Latin, philosophy, mathematics and science are nebulous things, while the pranks and mischief stick like burrs. Perhaps a higher philosophy than ours recognizes an eternal fitness of things beyond our ken.”  - John L. Harrison, '87
Always a loyal Marietta College alumnus, John Langston Harrison represented his alma mater during a dedicatory event at Howard University in 1939. He subscribed to Marietta’s alumni magazine and contributed to the alumni fund, once sending eight dollars and commenting that, “I only wish I could make it eight thousand as a partial payment for what I received by attending Marietta.”