This leisurely and enjoyable salute to the 19th century eminence of the Appletons of Boston makes copious use of their letters and journals -- a happy decision, since the children of Nathan Appleton, the merchant, Congressman and ""Loom Lord,"" are attractive and witty observers. Mary scrutinized President Jackson: ""He reminds me of an armadillo, for he had a tattooed look. His hair stands off his face in a most horrent attitude. He had the courtesy to spit tobacco juice in the fireplace instead of using the Spittoon."" Fanny survived a Margaret Fuller tutorial on Transcendentalism: ""It was all so intellectual the air turned blue."" And Tom, immortalized by his famous nosegay to a Boston suburb ("". . . with all the quiet of the grave but none of the peace""), visited London and observed the dashing toffs of Hyde Park ""riding as if in a sort of gaudy funeral."" The author follows the considerable fortunes of Nathan, founder and owner of the Lowell Mills whose bootstrap career reflected a genius for invention and riding the mercantile current when it served -- and Fanny's marriage to the poet Longfellow and her tragic death are briefly chronicled. The family's fortunes and history encompass a Beacon Street view of commerce, travel, society and intellectual pursuits, at a time when yeoman energies eased into a lively and not-yet-staid community -- where shining hours were meant to be improved and darker times surmounted with a stoical grace.