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Sunday, March 20, 2016

CLARI; ossia, la fanciulla di Milano

Speranza

For years, visitors to the "Home Sweet Home" "cottage", just a few  blocks
west of East Hampton’s fancy shopping district, have been told:

-- that this 1750 saltbox was the birthplace of Payne, and
-- that it was the house he had in mind when he wrote the lyrics to what 
would become one of the most famous drawing-room ballads of the 19th  century
(from "Clari; ossia, la fanciulla di Milano"): Victorian/Edwardian 
withdrawing-room ballads needed the right provenance (if pre-Victorian, like 
"Clari", the better).

The verse would be sung by homesick Civil War soldiers:

be it  ever so humble,
there’s no place like home

as they turned to the refrain that never features the collocation of the 
title, "Home, sweet home":

home, home
sweet, sweet, home
There’s no place like home, oh,
there’s no place like home.

The story of Payne’s connection to the house in this scenic village on the 
East End of Long Island is almost as sentimental as the emotions expressed
in  the song, which the museum was founded in 1928 to celebrate.

There’s just one problem, to use Popper's terminology.

It’s not true.

Payne wasn’t born there.

He never lived there.

On top, the cottage was not the inspiration for the song.

Talk about Putnam's 'causal constraint'!

Payne is actually thought to have been born in the Upper East Side of 
Manhattan, the sixth of nine children born to William Payne, who was from 
Massachusetts, if you need to know.

His mother, the former Sarah Isaacs, grew up in East Hampton -- "So his 
mother may have been the inspiration", Geary guesses.

The institution’s original premise was based on local folklore perpetuated 
in the late 19th century -- etymythology, as it were, when the opera aria
sung  by Clari was still well known.

One reason it gained currency is because Payne did have some legitimate 
East Hampton connections.

His father taught at The Clinton Academy, across the street from the "Home 
Sweet Home" cottage, before Payne was born. (The academy is now a museum, 
too.)

And one of Payne's aunts may once have lived in the house.

A few years ago, two historic preservation consultants, combed  through two
centuries’ worth of land ownership and census records, and  determined (or
'corroborated', as Popper might prefer, but never  'falsified') that
although the home might have been sweet for someone, that  someone was never Payne.
This was a singular, not a universal, discovery.

Documents uncovered by the East Hampton preservation consultants suggest 
that the house was NOT the inspiration for the operatic aria, in particular 
an angry letter from Payne’s grandnephew to The New York Herald Tribune when
the  museum first opened, decrying "the whole story as a fiction". Curtius
would be  amused, for following Toynbee, he conceived of all _history_ as
fiction.

So, the Popperian problem becomes: what does a museum do when it turns out 
that its longstanding narrative is wrong?

Home Sweet Home has been rearranging its exhibits and refocusing its 
interpretive tours, following American Alliance of Museums standards to present  “
accurate and appropriate content.”

The site is now less about Payne and his operatic aria, and more about 
Gustav and Hannah Buek, a wealthy couple from New York who purchased  the
cottage in 1907.

The ironic thing is that the Bueks purchased this summer cottage because 
they were charmed by the “Home Sweet Home” legend.

In one letter to her sister, Mrs. Buek writes, "Gustav BELIEVES the story: 
I just like the location", with a ps., "And admittedly, it is an EASY (too
easy)  aria to play and sing!"

When Gustav Buek died, the village bought the house from Hanna  Buek, and,
as it was amply furnished with all sorts of the operatic aria  paraphernalia
that the couple had collected, turned it into the "museum."

It was a hit with a generation old enough to recall the operatic aria, 
which had been one of Abraham Lincoln’s favourites -- and he could whistle. "I 
can whistle two tunes: one is Payne's "Home, Sweet Home"; the other ain't",
he  used to joke.

East Hampton no longer relies on the myth of John Howard Payne having been 
born in East Hampton.

East Hampton is a place to _summer_, not to be born at!

But, for what is worth, the myth is why the Bueks bought the cottage in the
first place.

Relying on an insurance inventory from 1916, museum administrators have 
restored the house to the way it was during the Colonial Revival period of the
early 20th century.

Now visitors see Mrs. Buek’s extensive collection of lusterware dishes and 
a dining room table set for dinner.

The original Georgian paneling from 1750 has also been restored to 
reinforce architectural authenticity.

Original objects or artifacts are viewed as inherently trustworthy, said a 
senior consultant for the museum research and development arm of Reach
Advisors,  the firm in Quincy, Mass., that conducted the survey.

Some applaud the efforts of museums like "Home Sweet Home" to set the 
record straight.

Mary Busch, a full-time East Hampton resident (but once only part of the 
summer colony) who has been visiting Home Sweet Home since she began spending
summers in the area, likes the museum’s new emphasis.

As for the "reinterpretation" "playing down" the Payne connection, she 
said:

"I’m not sure you have to deny the connection to Payne or the operatic 
aria.

Admittedly, it would be hard for the cottage to disengage entirely  from
Payne or the operatic aria. A colossal bust of Payne (if not the  operatic
aria) greets visitors at the entrance.

The bust proved too large to move.

East Hamptonians, alla Popper, now can proudly say that they (via this 
Mass. firm) pretty much proved (or 'corroborated') that Payne never lived  here.

But, figuratively, East Hamptonians, can still implicate, via a figure of 
speech, that they still got his "head."

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