THE LIBRARY has recently acquired, or one could say reacquired, an interesting relic from Dartmouth's past. Laus Deo! The Worcester Collection of Sacred Harmony. In Two Parts . . . 'printed, typographically, at Boston, by Isaiah Thomas and Ebenezer T. Andrews' (fifth edition, 1794), would seem a worthy acquisition in itself, as the Library has a notable collection of Isaiah Thomas imprints, many of them given to the Library by Thomas himself in 1819. 1
This particular copy, however, is inscribed as 'No. 57, Musical Choir, Dartmouth College.' The front and back paste-downs 2 are filled with many contemporary manuscript annotations, including the inscription on the back paste-down, 'Property of the Choir, Dartmouth College, Presented by Ezra Carter, 1797.'
Who was Ezra Carter? A quick check in the Dartmouth College General Catalogue of 1940 tells us that Carter was a 1797 graduate of the College who was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He was born in Concord, New Hampshire, on 15 February 1773, was a teacher, and died in Peacham, Vermont, on 10 October 1811.3 Carter was also granted an A.M. degree from Dartmouth in the then-customary way ('the degree [was] . . . automatically conferred on payment of $5 "on graduates of three years' standing who had sustained good characters and been engaged in literary pursuits."') 4 Chapman's Sketches of Alumni notes that Carter had been 'the successful preceptor of the Acad.' at Peacham from 1797 to 1804.5 He had two wives and a son, William Chamberlain Carter, an 1821 graduate of Dartmouth. 6
Now that we know that Ezra Carter was a student at the College, can we assume that he took the Laus Deo! with him when he left the College? Was it his personal copy? If it is labeled 'No. 57,' why have we no notion of where the other fifty-six, and maybe more, copies of this book may be found? Did the students purchase the books individually? Did the College purchase the books for student use? It looks as if we can trace the book at the College until at least 1801 through another inscription of 'Musical Choir, Dartmouth College 1801.' We can safely assume, therefore, that when Mr. Carter left Hanover for Peacham upon his graduation, he did not absent-mindedly take this piece of College property with him.
The other names written on various parts of the back paste down -- Alex. Beach, Dunham True, and Jim. (?) Dalrymple -- are not alumni of Dartmouth. After Mr. Beach's name is the year 1807. Other than scribbled graffiti, there are no other clues.
A call to John Lubrano of J&J Lubrano, dealers in rare books and manuscripts specializing in music, dance, and theatre arts, who was kind enough to call our attention to the existence of this item and made it available to us, caused our search to stall. Mr. Lubrano had acquired the book from another dealer who, in turn, had acquired it also from a dealer. It seems that the search stops here. If only it had come from an alumnus or his family, what a wonderful story it would have made! It would have been interesting to have been able to trace the 190 years of travel of this book, beginning at Dartmouth and ending at Dartmouth.
At any rate, this marvelous piece of Dartmouth's history has come home. It is currently awaiting proper cataloging, and will ultimately reside in the Rare Books section of Special Collections at Baker Library, where it can be viewed, and where the ghost of Ezra Carter 1797 can look down at it and hum an occasional tune.
1. The Isaiah Thomas Donation (Hanover, N.H.: Library of Dartmouth College, 1949) 5. There is some disagreement among bibliographers concerning the title: Is Laus Deo (Praise the Lord) meant as part of the title or as a pious command to the choristers?
2. 'The paste-down is that half of the ENDPAPER wich lines the inside of the cover (its other half is often called the free endpaper ).' John Carter. ABC for Book Collectors, 6tb ed. (London: Granada. 1980), 154.
3. Dartmouth College and Associated Schools General Catalogue (Hanover. N.H.: Dartmouth College Publications. 1940) 87.
4. Ibid., viii.
5. George Thomas Chapman, Sketches of the Alumni of Dartmouth College . . . (Cambridge, Mass.: Riverside Press, 1867), 87.