The Stier family, Belgian entrepreneurs fleeing the Frenc Revolution, in 1795 rented Strawberry Hill, near Annapolis. Soon Rosalie Stier married George Calvert, of the proprietary family. They settled on a Prince George's estate called Riversdale. Napoleon's rise enabled the other Stiers to go back; Rosalie stayed, on to her death at 43 in 1821 -- bearing nine children, busily helping run a slave plantation, associating with the haut monde ("Tommy Jeff," "Frank Key") and writing to her relatives, in French.
Mrs. Calvert's letters, translated and edited by Margaret Law Callcott of College Park, are now available in full for the first time ("Mistress of Riversdale," Johns Hopkins University Press; illustrated, $34.95). They are marvels of daily-grind detail ("we could cross the Potomac on horseback" in a hard winter) and upper-class attitudes. Landing originally in Philadelphia, the Stiers had brought along an art collection finer than anything in the new republic's experience. They were, after all, descended directly from Peter Paul Rubens. Soon Mrs. Washington came calling.
Mrs. Callcott also is the author of "The Negro in Maryland Politics, 1870-1912."
* The several dozen Baltimoreans whose words make up the main part of "Cry of the Invisible" (Michael A. Susko, editor; a Harrison Edward Livingstone Book/Conservatory Press, Baltimore, $19.95) represent two groups: the homeless and former patients of psychiatric hospitals. Many give their names. They know violence only too well, and their testimony is smeared with pain, especially in passages of childhood recall. Some, by now, are no longer alive.
Yet here and there, the words light up. "So far I believe things look promising. I'm no longer a nonentity that no one looks at or cares for. At last I'm able to lead a normal life. . . ."
* If you were 10 and a boy rowing along on a Chesapeake Bay inlet, and if a large marine beast, unknown and friendly, rose up alongside, how would you react? Chessie, indeed; and young William Constable and his friend Tommy have a problem -- an evil grown-up sets out to trap her.
Margaret Meacham's "The Secret of Heron Creek" (Tidewater; paperback, $7.95) is the perfect book to hand to your kid when, on vacation, it rains.
* The man who is still the most famous of Maryland-native painters was born (near Chestertown) 250 years ago this month. "New Perspectives on Charles Willson Peale" (University of Pittsburgh Press; 103 illustrations, $49.95) is a celebratory set of 15 scholarly essays written since the 1969 life of Peale by Charles Coleman Sellers.
Leading off, Robert J. H. Janson-LaPalme of Washington College reconstructs the benefaction by 11 Annapolis patrons to a 26-year-old former saddler: the London trip for art training that gave Peale his start.
* Just before the publicity starts for his 1991 novel, "The Sum of All Fears," Tom Clancy will be at Johns Hopkins, addressing the undergraduate commencement, May 23. He's a Loyola College man himself.
* The Maryland-California tug-of- war for the poet Lucille Clifton seems to have a winner. Instead of being on leave from the University of California, Santa Cruz, Ms. Clifton now is Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary's College, St. Mary's City.
Ms. Clifton, whose book "Quilting" is due out later this year, will be the speaker at May 15's Baltimore Writers' Alliance meeting, 7:30 p.m. at Grace Methodist Church, Charles Street and Northern Parkway.
* The United States has encouraged the Kurds to rise, only to stand idly by as once again the rebels are slaughtered. So an armed Kurdish guerrilla has arrived, incognito. He is looking for the president.
News headline? No, a novel's plot. Stephen Hunter, The Sun's film critic and author of 1982's thriller "The Second Saladin," says disgustedly, "Nine years too soon."