George Perkins Marsh Online Research Center
The George Perkins Marsh Research Center provides access to transcriptions and images of selected letters in Marsh's correspondence. With a generous grant from the Woodstock Foundation we have transcribed over 650 letters from the University...
Show moreThe George Perkins Marsh Research Center provides access to transcriptions and images of selected letters in Marsh's correspondence. With a generous grant from the Woodstock Foundation we have transcribed over 650 letters from the University manuscript collection and from Marsh's letters located at other institutions.
Major topics in the correspondence selected for electronic publication are:
The American Civil War. The letters present the war from two perspectives: as it was experienced by those in Europe and by those in New England, particularly in Vermont. Marsh, an ardent Unionist, wrote from Italy, where there were many active Confederate sympathizers in the American expatriate community and among English residents. The view from Vermont is represented by Albert G. Peirce, a Burlington grocer, who sent Marsh detailed accounts of the war as it affected the city. Other Vermonters and Charles Eliot Norton, the Harvard luminary and an active abolitionist, also wrote of their hopes and opinions as the war progressed.
Vermont geography. Creating an accurate geographical description of the complex Vermont landscape remained a problem throughout the nineteenth century. Marsh and his brother Charles, a Woodstock, Vermont, farmer, made several attempts to measure the elevation of Vermont mountains, and Marsh kept in contact with leading geographers of the day to find more accurate instruments to measure temperature and ascertain the exact landmass of the state.
Nineteenth century sculpture. Marsh's friendship with Hiram Powers, begun when both were children on neighboring Woodstock farms, led to a correspondence in which Powers not only described the trials and tribulations of a working sculptor, but discussed his ideas about classical and contemporary works in some detail. Powers's aesthetics are most clearly expressed in his letters to Caroline Crane Marsh regarding the bust he made of her, now in the Fleming Museum at the University of Vermont. In addition, Marsh corresponded with Larkin G. Mead, then a young sculptor from Barre, who designed the statue of "Agriculture" atop the State House, and with John Norton Pomeroy of Burlington about the statue of Ethan Allen, carved in Italy under Marsh's supervision, that now stands above Allen's grave in Burlington's Green Mount Cemetery.
Nineteenth century public architecture. The rebuilding of the Vermont State House in 1857 provides a detailed picture of how American connoisseurs and architects designed public buildings. The collection contains over ninety letters by Thomas W. Silloway, the architect, to Marsh, one of the building commissioners, discussing appropriate forms for each element, as well as the politics involved in construction. These are enhanced by letters from the building superintendent, Thomas E. Powers of Woodstock, from another commissioner, Norman Williams of Woodstock, and from state legislators and private citizens caught up in what was a highly controversial undertaking.
Creation of the Smithsonian Institution. The evolution of the museum and its support for scientific expeditions and collection development are documented in the correspondence between Marsh and Spencer Fullerton Baird which began in 1847 and ended with Marsh's death in 1882. Marsh was instrumental in securing a post at the Smithsonian for Baird, who eventually became its second director and founded the Oceanographic Institute at Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The two men also worked together to increase the Smithsonian's collections and facilitate the exchange of scientific information with Italy.
In addition the letters provide information on nineteenth century domestic life, the politics surrounding Vermont's railroads, local and national social and political developments, the tangled relationships between the European powers, and other subjects of interest to educated and engaged individuals of the time.
The Center also includes the full text of contemporary publications that are related to the major topics of the letters.
Biography: When Man and Nature was published in 1864 it was immediately hailed as a major contribution to the field of physical geography. Now a classic of environmental literature, its author, George Perkins Marsh, was one of the first to recognize and described in detail the significance of human action in transforming the natural world.
Lawyer, diplomat, and scholar, Marsh, was born on March 15, 1801 at Woodstock, Vermont. In 1820 he graduated with highest honors from Dartmouth. He immediately tried teaching, but finding it distasteful, studied law with his father, Charles Marsh. Admitted to the bar in 1825, he practiced in Burlington, Vermont, where he became prominent in his profession. On April 10, 1828, he married Harriet Buell of Burlington. They had two sons; the eldest died a few days before his mother in 1833. Marsh immersed himself in the study of Icelandic and other Scandinavian languages, beginning a life long career as a philologist and linguist. Six years after his first wife's death, he married Caroline Crane of Berkley, Massachusetts. Already well known as a lawyer, business man and scholar, in 1835 he was elected to the Governor's Council. In 1843 he ran for Congress as a Whig, and during three successive terms proved himself a cogent speaker in support of a high tariff and in opposition to slavery and the Mexican War. He served on the committee that established and guided the future of the Smithsonian Institution.
In 1849 President Taylor appointed Marsh U.S. Minister to Turkey. He aided refugees from central European revolutions of 1848, and in the summer of 1852 he was sent to Athens on a special mission. He collected specimens for the Smithsonian during an intensive tour of Egypt and Palestine.
Recalled by a new administration in 1854, Marsh labored to mend his bankrupt fortunes, to act as Vermont railroad commissioner, fish commissioner, and to lead a commission formed to rebuild the Vermont State House. He lectured throughout the northeast and mid-West and taught courses on the English language at Columbia College and the Lowell Institute. Having joined and campaigned for the Republican party in 1856, he was sent by President Lincoln as the first United States minister to the new kingdom of Italy in 1861, a post he held for the remaining twenty-one years of his life. He won admirers in the Italian government and a greater reputation as a scholar by his mastery of Italian affairs and his writings on language and environmental matters. He died on July 23, 1882 at Vallombrosa, near Florence, and was buried in the Protestant cemetery in Rome.
David Lowenthal's George Perkins Marsh: Prophet of Conservation. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000.
Caroline Crane Marsh's Life and Letters of George Perkins Marsh. Vol. I. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1888.
Biographical sketches can also be found in national biographical dictionaries.
Technical Information The text files were created using WordPerfect 7.0 as an SGML editor and the DTD for historical documents developed by Dr. David R. Chesnutt of the University of South Carolina and the Model Editions Partnership (MEP). The SGML publication used DynaText, a software package developed by EBT Corporation of Providence Rhode Island and granted to the University of Vermont under their educational grant program. WordPerfect 9.0 was used as the final editor and parser.
The actual coding depended largely on programs James P. Tranowski wrote to process the letters. Ellen Mazur Thomson did the bulk of it, although Cheryl Morrison and several graduate students connected with the MEP project at the University of South Carolina also worked on the letters. William Hicks of Tyrone, Pennsylvania, provided additional coding of the Correspondence Lists. Aaron Shamp coded the footnotes, entered copy editing corrections, parsed and cleaned all the SGML files and entities.
Paul Philbin and Marcie A. Crocker, at the Howe Library and Hope A. Greenberg, at the Academic Computing Service served as technical advisers for the hardware and software.
Original web publication came through DynaWeb, also an EBT grant program.
On November 26, 2008 The George Perkin Marsh Online Research Center was migrated from its original location http://bailey2.uvm.edu/specialcollections/gpmorc.html to its new home at the CDI. Documents were migrated from SGML to XML using openSP and XSL.
Contributors David A. Donath, the Advisory Board of Directors, and the Board of Trustees of the Woodstock Foundation provided the financial support that made this project possible. Bruce Kirby, archivist at the Smithsonian Institution Archives, and archivists at the Houghton Library, Harvard University, the New York Historical Society, and the Archives of American Art provided copies of Marsh correspondence in their collections for us to transcribe and publish. The Vermont Historical Society allowed us to reproduce photographs in their collection.
Connell Gallagher, head of the Special Collections Department, and Dr. Elizabeth H. Dow, created the project; Dr. Dow acted as Project Director. Ellen Mazur Thomson was Project Manager.
Faculty and staff members of the Special Collections Department gave us specialized and expert reference: David Blow, Ingrid Bower, Sylvia Bugbee, Karen Campbell, Sylvia Knight and Jeffrey Marshall.
Dr. Robert H. Rogers of the Classics Department, transcribed and annotated many of the Greek and Latin phrases used in the letters. Dr. Ralph H. Orth translated German materials, Ellen Mazur Thomson translated those in French.
Dr. Ralph H. Orth, Professor Emeritus of the University of Vermont, created the transcription protocols for the letters. He transcribed most of the Powers and Norton letters and provided notes for their correspondence with Marsh. John Thomas transcribed Marsh's letters to Baird and Jacob Colie transcribed the Peirce letters. Eileen N. Brown contributed notes.
Ellen Mazur Thomson selected the letters, designed the [original] web pages and wrote the introductory text.
Related Archival Collection
- Rebuilding the Vermont State House (1857-1859)
In the winter of 1857 the Vermont State House was gutted by fire and a special session of the legislature convened to discuss rebuilding. The legislators appointed three commissioners and a superintendent of construction. George Perkins Marsh of Burlington, Norman Williams of Woodstock and John...
In the winter of 1857 the Vermont State House was gutted by fire and a special session of the legislature convened to discuss rebuilding. The legislators appointed three commissioners and a superintendent of construction. George Perkins Marsh of Burlington, Norman Williams of Woodstock and John Porter of Hartford were named to the commission; Dr. Thomas E. Powers of Woodstock was to act as superintendent. A young Vermont sculptor, Larkin G. Mead, Jr., was commissioned to design the statue to top the dome.
Thomas William Silloway, a young Bostonian who had trained under Ammi Young, creator of the previous State House, was appointed architect. Silloway consulted Marsh, the most knowledgeable of the commissioners on design issues. However, Silloway and Powers were soon at odds. Their disagreements led to Silloway's resignation which he quickly rescinded. In the interim, however, Powers appointed another architect, Joseph Richards, to redesign several key features of the building. At Silloway's behest, a House investigation concerning the dispute was held to examine Powers's charges that Silloway was incompetent. The trusses supporting the dome, the portico columns, and the heating system came under particular scrutiny. Silloway was vindicated by the House committee but construction had proceeded too far to restore his design. Powers then published a pamphlet with his own defense. The State House re-opened in October 1859. Since it had been completed with due speed and under budget ($150,000), most observers declared it an unqualified success.
The letters in the University of Vermont Collection date from March 11, 1857, when Marsh was first appointed to the Commission, and continue to the end of 1859, when the legislature moved back into the building. Most of the letters were written by Silloway to Marsh and discuss his ideas and the problems he faced, both technical and personal, in implementing them. In addition, we include selected published reports that document the original intent of House members and spirited defenses by Silloway and Powers justifying their actions.
For a detailed history of the 1858 reconstruction, see Daniel Robbins, The Vermont State House. A History & Guide (Vermont Council on the Arts, Vermont State House Preservation Committee, 1980).
- Selected Published Works
- State House Statues by Larkin Goldsmith Mead, Jr.
Larkin Goldsmith Mead, Jr. (1835-1910), was a prominent American sculptor in the nineteenth century. The son of a successful attorney, Mead grew up in Brattleboro and at the age of eighteen went to work as a studio assistant to the sculptor Henry Kirke Brown of New York City. He first drew...
Larkin Goldsmith Mead, Jr. (1835-1910), was a prominent American sculptor in the nineteenth century. The son of a successful attorney, Mead grew up in Brattleboro and at the age of eighteen went to work as a studio assistant to the sculptor Henry Kirke Brown of New York City. He first drew national attention when in 1856, on New Year's Eve, he and some friends surprised Brattleboro residents by creating an eight foot snow statue called "Snow Angel." The incident was reported in the national press and immortalized by James Russell Lowell in his poem "A Good Word for Winter."
While still a young man, Mead was chosen to design "Agriculture," a monumental female figure, to top the Vermont State House dome. As these letters show, Mead conferred with George Perkins Marsh, one of the three State House Commissioners, about the design and symbols for the figure. In sending Marsh three alternate sketches he wrote, "I wish you would inform me what you think will be the most proper design, for I should prize your opinion more than any ones else from your thorough experience in all pertaining to Art.
Responding to Marsh's suggestions, Mead produced a more finished drawing: "Your letter was received this morning and I have made a sketch, trying to introduce proper symbols of Agriculture. Also the scroll (or Laws)."
Johann Henkel, a German-born woodcarver living in Brattleboro, carved the original statue in pine. By 1938 "Agriculture", now badly decayed, was replaced by a copy.
In 1858 Mead also submitted a design for a statue of Ethan Allen to be placed at Allen's grave in the Green Mount Cemetery in Burlington. In a letter to John N. Pomeroy of Burlington, head of the Statuary Commission, Mead included a drawing of the figure representing Allen demanding the surrender of Fort Ticonderoga "in the name of the Continental Congress and the Great Jehovah." At the time, Burlington residents were unable to raise enough money to pay for the monument, but the Legislature appropriated the necessary funds in 1859 and it was installed on the State House portico in 1861. A replica of the original took its place in 1941.
In addition to his work at the Vermont State House, Mead is best known for the series of figures he designed for the Lincoln Memorial in Springfield, Illinois. A variation of his "Ethan Allen" is in Statuary Hall in the Capitol at Washington, D.C. In 1862 Mead emigrated to Florence, Italy where he became a permanent member of the American expatriate community.