Mahlon Day was a Quaker, publisher of children’s books, printer, and bookseller who resided in New York City. He was born in Morristown, New Jersey on August 27, 1790. By the age of 26, he owned a printing shop at 35 Beaver Street. Mahlon Day was one of two printers who dominated the New York City children’s book publishing scene in the early 19th century (the other leader being Samuel Wood). He even went on to expand his business, gathering multiple partners and shops along Pearl Street in lower Manhattan.
Day published entertaining and educational children’s books that, like most others at this time, focus on piety, virtue, and morality. The Patricia D. Klingenstein Library holds some of the children’s books printed by Day, such as The Pineapple, which include stories such as “Politeness,” and “Come when you are called,” and Poems for Children which include “Why Boys Should Learn Their Lesson,” and “Lessons of Wisdom.” Day also printed his own Almanac, Day’s New-York Pocket Almanac, and various other projects including periodicals and commissioned works, many of which are also held within our Library’s collections. Mahlon was an influential and important printer, and even some Alexander Anderson engravings appear in a few of Day’s books, such as Rhode Island Tales.
In November 1840, Mahlon Day set sail aboard the Camilla for a tour of the West India Islands. He was accompanied by Joseph John Gurney, an English philanthropist, minister, and writer. Day kept an account of his journey through the West Indies and the Caribbean in his diary, named within our collections as Journal of a voyage among the West India Islands,1839 Nov. 11-1840 Apr. 20. Leaving from New York Harbor, he chronicled his experience both onboard the ship and on the various islands he visited.
In Tortola, Day wrote:
5th Day 1 mo. 2d. 1840
Early this morning our kind friend had us all mounted on five ponies to ride about the island. There are no roads suitable for wheel carriages… We have to ride pretty much in Indian file on the rough winding paths from estate to estate… we wound up a steep path, zig-zag and precipitous. You may easily conceive our view was one of surprising interest. It seemed as if we were suspended in the heavens, for our sight was extensive and exceeding beautiful. The village lay at our feet, while afar were numerous islands, and in the distant view, that of St. Croix, where we had spent lately is many pleasant hours.”
[Journal of a voyage, page 49.]
They traveled to Santa Cruz, St. Thomas, Tortola, St. Kitts, Antigua, Dominica, Jamaica, and Cuba before ending their six-month trip in Savannah, Georgia. Day and Gurney were particularly interested in education, religion, the infrastructure of the islands, and the conditions of the local populations still living under slavery. Sprinkled throughout the diary are also poems and rhymes composed by Gurney.
The Golden Edged Cloud
A dark cloud was skirting the edge of the sea,
A frown on the brow of the west.
And nature was shrouded with earnest to me,
As she sank in the ocean to rest.
But the sun that was wrapped in this mantle of woes,
His radiance begins to unfold,
And the veil that was darkening the billows below,
Is fringed and embroidered with gold.
The scene is a token of mental relief
While it charms and refreshes the sight,
It bids me believe that the cloud of my grief,
Shall soon wear a border of light.
The gilding of hope and the beaming of love,
Victorious o’er sorrows and fears,
Are heralds of mercy from heaven above,
To illumine this valley of tears.”
[Journal of a voyage, page 9].
The Golden Edged Cloud was written within the first few weeks of their voyage, after the crew, Day, and Gurney gathered at 4 o’clock in the morning to watch the sunrise. The comforting optimism that Gurney conveys seems particularly poignant during the current crisis.
Mahlon Day died at sea, aboard the Arctic when it sank off the coast of Canada on September 27, 1854. The ship had experienced intense fog and collided with a French steamer ship. Mahlon Day, his wife, and two daughters were listed as missing. Only 24 passengers out of 250 were saved, and the story was followed fervently by The New York Daily Tribune.
This post is by Gina Modero, Reference Librarian for Printed Collections