We keep finding Burton Stevenson books! They’re tucked into corners and under stairs and in boxes throughout the library. Mr. Stevenson was our long-time librarian (1899-1957) and a prolific editor and writer. In addition to a scholarship endowment for local youth, he left behind an enviable bevy of books. His personal collection of his own titles were gifted to the library, many with his signature in them.
For years the library has kept a display cabinet with some of his books and other ephemera (currently in the Annex’s hallway). The collection on display, however, is a small part of the total. Staff have always been instructed–rightfully so–to never discard a Stevenson book. As a result, stray copies and boxes are periodically unearthed. Just yesterday, three boxes were pulled from under a desk. Most of the contents were simply duplicates or alternative publications of his better-known reference books, but this one from 1923 was unfamiliar to me:
Famous Single Poems and the Controversies Which Have Raged around Them, Together with Notes on Some Familiar Quotations. If that isn’t a provocative title, I don’t know what is. It’s hard to imagine in today’s age that any poem would spark a controversy, much less a rage!
Unsurprisingly, most of the poems are long-forgotten by modern readers. A few stick out, though: “Casey at the Bat” and “A Visit from St. Nicholas” are still oft-recited. In his essay on “A Visit from St. Nicolas,” Stevenson alludes to the question of Moore’s authorship. That question was finally answered for me in Don Foster’s 2000 book, Author Unknown. The poem was undoubtedly written by Henry Livingston, Jr.
Another poem, “If I Should Die To-Night” may ring a bell to some. In the accompanying essay, Mr. Stevenson delved into some regional politics from the nearby town of Jackson, Ohio. Apparently, in 1890, the Jackson Standard newspaper published the poem and attributed it to local attorney and Congress member Irvine Dungan. However, the poem first appeared in print in 1873 and was prescribed to Ben King, though the writer was likely Arabella Eugenia Smith. Mr. Stevenson’s account delves into Mr. Dungan’s rivalry with another politician, Colonel William Betts. To get the whole story, you’ll have to track down the essay.
Burton Stevenson is buried at Grandview Cemetery and a biography has been previously published in the Historical Society’s cemetery guide book and on the library’s website: https://www.crcpl.org/a-chillicothe-renaissance-man/. Stop by the Main Library Annex (the old Central School building) to see some of the library’s Stevenson collection.