MICHAEL JOSEPH CANAVAN was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, September 5, 1848. His father, bearing the same name of Michael, was of New Hampshire birth, and his mother, Maria Peduzzi, came in her young girlhood with her sister Francesca from Como in Italy. The girls were well educated, and their volume of Dante is still in the family. In Mr. Canavan’s voluminous notes something may be found relating to his ancestry. From kings of course he came, as O’Hart’s Irish Pedigrees will bear witness. Peter Canavan, the miller in Lady Gregory’s play, The Canavans, came from Waterford in Queen Elizabeth’s time, and he might have said of Michael as he said of another:

    You are of our blood, a Canavan.

    In the Memorials of the Dead in Ireland the name does not appear until Volume VIII, and not once among the graduates of Dublin University. It cannot, then, be frequently found in Ireland. Little is known of Michael Joseph’s early years, nor is the significance clear of the first incident which left an impress on his mind. He used to recall that as a child of four in a plaid dress he stood at the gate of his father’s cottage and saw the approach of a terrifying flood. It may have been at the seashore of a summer, or, less understandably, in Somerville.

    From the Somerville High School Michael Joseph passed on to Harvard College (A.B. 1871) and to the Harvard Law School (LL.B. 1875), being admitted to the Bar in February, 1877. He was not conspicuous in college athletics, but in the eighties was a good tennis player. He spent two college summers abroad, one in walking through England and Wales, one in study in Paris. Two years of world adventure followed graduation, a winter at Göttingen, and sight-seeing in the eastern Mediterranean. He fell from a roof at Bethsaida, and for several weeks suffered from the unusual and wholly unexpected experience.

    Mr. Canavan married Charlotte Adelaide Pearson, of Dorchester, October 5, 1882, and soon moved to Lexington, where their daughter Ruth was born. Mrs. Canavan was a pianist, the head of the music department at Wheaton Seminary, and with her daughter frequented the Boston Athenæum all the later years of her life, interested in literature and music to an unusual degree. Mrs. Canavan died July 15, 1930.

    For a dozen years Canavan practised law, and then drifted into business. Meanwhile his modest fortune, invested in copper and railroads by a leading banking house, shrank to inadequate dimensions. He kept in touch with college classmates and had business relations with some who like himself were more acquainted with dreams than with realities. Finally, in 1918, he gave up the pursuit of the world, and retired to his favorite chair in the Barton-Ticknor room of the Boston Public Library where he had worked in leisure hours since 1895. There he wrote Ben Comee, a Tale of Rogers’s Rangers, 1758–59, telling for boys the romance of the French and Indian Wars; it was published by Macmillan in 1899. He made investigations of local places. In his crabbed, illegible hand facts of primary importance were written down in red ink, the lesser statements parading in black. He was much interested in Washington Street. This street was his Main Street. It summed up for him all the life of New England, and along that famous way the people of every race and of all the pursuits and passions of the world seemed to pass. If the great philosophers and musicians of world history did not appear in the flesh, they were kin with those who did, and he gathered them all within his sympathetic vision.

    But he was also the final resort to whom every searcher came in time for various facts of history and his interpretation of them. His spectacles would slide down his nose, his blue eyes with their kindly twinkle would come into view, and he would talk. Knowledge was a passion with him. His philosophy and humor bubbled over, but they were never riotous. Nothing about him disturbed his equanimity, unless it was an undated Boston view. Then he pronounced anathema on the photographer who did not record the year it was taken. He was always, says Miss Harriet Swift of the Library, “even-tempered but never Pollyannaish.” He enjoyed telling a clever joke and repeated it with gusto.

    Fox and Burke, Pitt and Lord North were “just folks” to him. They were passers-by on Washington Street, and he knew them more intimately than anyone else could know them. When he was a boy of eleven, he had talked with a soldier of Bunker Hill, and he had known the grandson of a man killed in the redoubt there. People and events were very real to him all his life. He had no illusions about them any more than he had about his own place in the community and the value of his work; he merely sat in the sun with his notebooks before him and enjoyed the days that were allotted to him. The urge of the antiquary was strong in him. He wrote down the folk songs that his grandmother, a Trefethen of some Cornish seacoast village, used to sing; and he frequented burial grounds to study the inscriptions. So great a lure was the cemetery that his little daughter, before setting forth with him for a walk, would often stipulate that the entire afternoon should not be passed in a survey of gravestones.

    Even in the days when he hunted and fished, topography was his especial delight, and he had wandered over every hill and marsh, examined every tree and spring, and followed the shore line of the Boston peninsula before he reached middle life. Mr. Canavan prepared two papers based on these exhaustive pilgrimages. This Society published one of them, Mr. Blackstone’s “Excellent Spring,” in the Transactions for April, 1907 (xi. 295–328). The Bostonian Society included in its Proceedings the other under the title, Where Were the Quakers Hanged? (1911, pp. 37–49) a controversial but convincing survey, based on an exhaustive investigation.565 Two other papers by him which were included in the Transactions of this Society bore the titles The Old Boston Public Library, 1656–1747 (xii. 116–132), and Isaac Johnson, Esquire, The Founder of Boston (xxvii. 272–285). In these papers he rarely ventures a personal opinion, but he does express his preference for Anne Hutchinson over the Reverend John Wilson, the nemesis that pursued her.

    A group of papers contributed to the Somerville Journal indicates an interest in his birthplace. Their nature is shown by the titles: First Settler’s Homestead (December 1, 1922); Gibbons of Gibbons’s Field (March 30, 1923); How the British Advanced (June 1, 1923); On the Night of April 18 (April 3, 1925); March through Somerville (April 10, 1925); Retreat from Lexington (April 17, 1925). The last paper tells how the British soldiers were harried as they passed through Somerville, and some of the claims for damages.

    Membership in the Colonial Society delighted him. He was too transparent and too honest to dissemble his gratitude for this recognition of his scholarship, and he did not hesitate to refer to it. After an enthusiastic description of one of the Colonial Society meetings which he attended he remarked to a friend ruefully: “I am afraid I talked too much, much too much.” This was a sure sign of his keen, happy enjoyment, for Mr. Canavan, although he liked to talk, was not an indiscriminate talker.

    Mr. Zoltán Haraszti, in the Boston Public Library publication More Books (vi. 21), says of him: “His mental vigor remained undiminished to the last. His short stature was becoming smaller and smaller with the years, but his blue eyes under the broad skull kept their keenness and zest.”

    Mr. Canavan died in Boston, January 21, 1931, aged 82, after a short illness. Services were conducted by the Reverend Frank Holmes, of Jamaica Plain, and his ashes were buried at Forest Hills.