To Bun­dle or to Tarry

New England Review - - Table of Contents - Re­dis­cov­er­ies Henry Reed Stiles

HENRY REED STILES (1832–1909), whose an­ces­tors em­i­grated from Eng­land to New Eng­land in the mid­sev­en­teenth cen­tury, was a physi­cian, ge­neal­o­gist, and his­to­rian. His post-sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion, in­ter­rupted by pe­ri­ods of ill health, be­gan at the Univer­sity of the City of New York, con­tin­ued at Wil­liams Col­lege, and con­cluded with de­grees in 1855 from the Med­i­cal Depart­ment of the Univer­sity of the City of New York and the New York Oph­thalmic Hos­pi­tal.

Af­ter un­der­tak­ing a med­i­cal prac­tice for a short time in New York and then in Illi­nois, Stiles was mar­ried to Sarah Wood­ward in 1856 and as­sumed a po­si­tion as ed­i­tor of the Toledo Blade. There­after he be­came a part­ner in the F. C. Brownell ed­u­ca­tional pub­lish­ing com­pany, un­til the state of his health pre­vented him from con­tin­u­ing such work and he turned his at­ten­tion to in­ves­ti­gat­ing his fam­ily lin­eage. He be­gan by search­ing the early archives of Wind­sor, Con­necti­cut, and in time this led him to com­pile a thou­sand­page record of that town's his­tory, which was first pub­lished in 1859; a re­vised and greatly ex­panded edi­tion ap­peared in 1891.

Over the course of his life, Stiles con­tin­ued to prac­tice medicine in­ter­mit­tently, and com­mit­ted him­self to it ex­clu­sively when he be­came head of the Dundee Home­o­pathic Dis­pen­sary in Scot­land in 1877, but af­ter four years his health com­pelled him to re­lin­quish this po­si­tion and he re­turned to New York; there he con­tin­ued to serve as a med­i­cal con­sul­tant, and from 1888 un­til his death two decades later he main­tained a sana­to­rium on Lake Ge­orge in New York.

In ad­di­tion to pro­duc­ing nu­mer­ous works con­cerned with fam­i­lies and places in Con­necti­cut, Stiles was in­volved in the edit­ing and 1895 pub­li­ca­tion of Letters from the Pris­ons and Prison-ships of the Rev­o­lu­tion. . . , as well as Jou­tel's Jour­nal of La Salle's Last Voy­age, 1686-7 (1906). His mag­is­te­rial three-vol­ume His­tory of the City of Brook­lyn— a rich repos­i­tory of in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing the life of that New York City bor­ough dur­ing its first two cen­turies—was pub­lished by sub­scrip­tion in 1867 and 1870. He first took no­tice of the in­ter­est­ing Amer­i­can prac­tice of “bundling” in his 1859 His­tory and Ge­nealo­gies of An­cient Wind­sor, Con­necti­cut, in which he re­ferred to it as “that ridicu­lous and per­ni­cious cus­tom which pre­vailed among the young to a de­gree which we can scarcely credit [and which] sapped the foun­tain of moral­ity and tar­nished the es­cutcheons of thou­sands of fam­i­lies.” This gen­eral ob­ser­va­tion dis­pleased quite a few of Stiles's read­ers, who de­tected in it “too much in­cli­na­tion to ma­lign, or at least ridicule, Con­necti­cut in­sti­tu­tions.”

In his prefa­tory re­marks to Bundling, Its Ori­gin, Progress, and De­cline in Amer­ica, brought out in 1871 by the Knicker­bocker Pub­lish­ing Com­pany in Al­bany, New York, Stiles as­sured his erst­while crit­ics that any such dis­re­spect had been the fur­thest thing from his mind. “I can­not but think,” he wrote, “. . . that those who have found, or think they have found, an in­im­i­cal de­sign in any pleas­antries in which I may have in­dulged while de­scrib­ing the cus­toms and man­ners of by-gone days—have be­trayed a thin-skinned­ness, and an ig­no­rance of the true glory of Con­necti­cut his­tory, when they imagine that her far fame can be se­ri­ously tar­nished by the fly-specks of cer­tain cus­toms—at no time without their vig­or­ous op­po­nents—and long since ren­dered ob­so­lete by the march of im­prove­ment.” The ex­cerpts be­low are taken from Stiles's brief but al­ways timely study.

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