What $1 still buys.A friend reports picking...


October 29, 1990

IT IS AMAZING what $1 still buys.

A friend reports picking up four volumes of writings by the poet Thomas Gray for $1 from the surplus table of the Loyola College library. It's a Macmillan and Co. edition, printed in London in 1884.

One of Gray's letters, from 1762, details his summer routine in a half-finished country house:

"We breakfast at six in the morning, and go to bed at ten. The house rings all day with carpenters and upholsterers, and without doors we swarm with laborers and builders. The books are not yet unpacked, and there is but one pen and ink in the house. Jetty and Fadge (two favorite sows) are always coming into the entry, and there is a concert of poultry under every window: we take in no newspaper or magazine, but the cream and butter is beyond compare."

In another letter, Gray comments on a clergyman-friend's marriage plans:

"I rejoice; but has she common sense? Is she a gentlewoman? Has she money? Has she a nose?

"I know she sings a little, and twiddles on the harpsichord, hammers at sentiments, and puts herself in an attitude, admires a cast in the eye, and can say Elfrida by heart. But these are only the virtues of a maid. Do let her have some wifelike qualities, and a double portion of prudence, as she will have not only herself to govern, but you also, and that with an absolute sway."

'nuff said.

* * * THE PRESTIGIOUS Wall Street Journal knows finance, but it sure doesn't know geography. Take this example from a recent story on the National Anthem: "It was on Chesapeake Bay outside Frederick that [Francis Scott] Key. . . wrote the poem that has become the anthem's lyrics."

Now, Frederick may have been Key's hometown. And the bay may have been where he penned the Anthem's words. But locating the Chesapeake outside Frederick?

It's like describing Harborplace as "outside Washington," or Connecticut as "outside New York City." It is a good hour's drive from Frederick to the Chesapeake. Realtors have yet to advertise property in Frederick with the amenities of a major estuary at its back door.

But then, what does a New York-based newspaper know about geography south of Staten Island? The hinterlands remain a mystery.

* * * NOR DOES TELEVISION know much about the Free State. Last week's comic episode of "Dear John" had two women rushing from New York to Ellicott City for quickie marriages, where there are "rows of wedding chapels."

They've got it wrong.

Decades ago, most couples eloped from New York for quickie marriages in Elkton. But this hasn't been legal in ages.

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