Letters from subscribers to Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet (1856-1857)
Portrait of Francis Woodworth (“Uncle Frank”)
Portrait of Susanna Newbould (“Aunt Sue”)
(January 1856; p. 38)
New York, Oct. 20th, 1855.
Dear Aunt Sue,—Do you wear very long skirts? If you do, and any one steps on them, and you want to annihilate the offender entirely, serve him as a lady served me the other day in Broadway. But let me tell you all about it. I must premise that I am fourteen years old, and very small,—an evil (if it be one) which I hope to outgrow. I was returning from school with my books under my arm, and a schoolfellow alongside of me. A lady with a long skirt had walked before us for some distance, when, in an unlucky moment, I set my foot upon her dress, and I’m afraid I heard some stitches giving way! In my dismay I dropped my books, took off my cap, and prepared to apologize. Did it ever occur to you what an amount of thinking can be done up in half a second? In about that space of time I thought, “Now I’ve done it! She will certainly kill me with her black looks. I’m very sorry; but confound such long skirts! everybody ought to step upon them,—it’s a duty we owe to society to abolish them, an inch at a time, if necessary. I wish I was in Guinea, or else that she were. I must make the best of it; here goes!” &c. Such were some of my thoughts; my feelings cannot be written. I fancied that I had braced my nerves to sustain almost any shock, even if she looked daggers! but I found I had not prepared myself for what did occur. She turned round, looked at me, and said, with the sweetest smile in the world, “It was my fault, dear; I ought to apologize!” Aunt Sue, can you fancy how I was “taken aback"? I wanted to say, “You are an angel;” but of course I did n’t say the first word. I wanted to step on her dress again, that I might hear her speak again. I wonder where she lives! What an embodied sunbeam she was!—a walking epitome of practical godliness! She did me good. I have been as amiable as possible ever since. When I find no buttons where buttons ought to be, I remonstrate with Maggie, instead of scolding like everything, as I used. I bumped my head against the window-shutter, and, instead of putting the shutter back with a slam, I replaced it just as gently as I could. In fact, she has done me almost too much good. The other day, when Carlo jumped up, and left the tracks of his muddy paws on my “Sunday-go-to-meetings,” I told him so calmly to get down, that he took it for an invitation to come up again, the which he accepted on the spot. Biddy wanted to know what had made me “so good na-thred.” I told her I had seen an angel. “Och! thin, Mas-thr Elly, it’s myself would like to see that same.” I only hope I may see her again. Will you publish this, Aunt Sue? If you do, she may see it, and the knowledge of my sentiments may atone for my carelessness. I make no apology for intruding upon your time, for I think the circumstances ought to be made known to every one.
So do I, “Mas-thr Elly.”
(March 1856; p. 98)
[Grand Rapids, Michigan]
What about that magic flute, Uncle Frank? I wonder if Francis Forrester did n’t mean to play a joke upon us boys. I got a good sound cork, and tried to play on it with two fork handles, just as he said, but
Fol, de rol, de rol, de riddle!
’Twas n’t so good as a cornstalk fiddle.
By the way, Uncle Frank, do you know how to make a cornstalk fiddle? I guess you do, for you tell us you used to live in the country, when you were a boy. If you don’t, I will tell you. Take a joint of cornstalk, when it is green, about ten inches or a foot long, and with a sharp-pointed knife lift a broad piece of the outer skin from end to end, nearly. Split this into fine threads, but be careful and not break them or pull them off from either end. Then strain them as tight as they will bear, by putting a wedge under at each end. Call this the fiddle part. Make a bow in the same way, and then fiddle on it. I am sure I can get more music out of it than Forrester can out of his magic flute.
(March 1856; p. 98)
Uncle Frank,—Your numerous little friends (some of whom are not so little, after all) seem to be much interested in “stories about animals.” I was so much interested in one, which has certainly the merit of being true, that I will leave it at your disposal. Colonel T— owned a very “knowing horse,” as the little ones called him. One day, in plowing out corn, one of the workmen noticed that the horse had lost a shoe, and that he did not seem to like to tread on the stones. He turned him out into the pasture at noon, and after dinner found him missing. After looking for him for some time, he saw him coming from the blacksmith’s shop, nearly half a mile off. On going to the shop he learned that the blacksmith found him in his usual place waiting to be shod, and that after the shoe was set, the horse very quietly started for home.
(April 1856; p. 135)
January 30, 1856.
Dear Aunt Sue,—Did you ever see a company of country children get to school on a cold winter morning?
About eight o’clock we gather in the clean, warm sitting-room. Such a row of thick shoes and boots around the stove! Every chair full of hoods, cloaks, shawls, comforters, and mittens! Mamma helps bundle us up, and packs such a great basket of dinner.
If we are to ride, we jump in the sleigh and cover up with the buffalo. Dolly goes so fast, she makes the snow fly, and her breath freezes around her mouth. Martin gets to cold riding, he jumps out and runs with the lines in his hands. “Jack Frost" bites his nose, and freezes his fingers and toes. Sometimes he gets a tumble and roll in the snow, and we, all snug and warm, laugh, and he jabbers Dutch as fast as he can, and forgets that Dolly can’t understand Dutch. When we get to school our good teacher comes in the hall and makes us come right in by the stove, and helps us off with our things, and rubs the little boys’ hands if they are cold.
Emily F. H.
(May 1856; p. 165)
I like the place where we live, very much. It is rather wild yet, though; there is plenty of wood and water, beautiful meadow, good land, and all that could be expected of a wild place. The bears and wolves, and all other wild animals, are very thick. We saw two bears the other day in front of the door, about as far as it is from your house to the stable. The girl and one of the men, Frank and I, all ran after them. They bounded over the brush, I can tell you, as if they were used to it. Christine and I went to the spring last Sunday. We were sitting down on the ground, talking rather loud, when we heard a loud noise in the brush. We knew it was a bear, for if it had been a deer it would have been frightened and run, and there were no cattle near there; so we got our pail of water and came back to the house without stopping to see what it was, though we knew very well. We told one of the men that there was a bear out at the spring, and for him to take a gun and go out and see, but he did not think it was any thing, so he would not go. But after a while Mr. Bear came down from the spring, and made himself known in the door-yard.
I have got so I can shoot as well as most men, and I think there is need of it.
(August 1856; p. 56)
Grand Lake, Ark., July 2, 1856.
Dear Uncle Frank,—I love the Cabinet dearly. It has seen many changes in our family. When I first took it we lived on the banks of the Mississippi. How often I have taken it, and seated myself under the branches of an old oak that grew on the banks of that noble stream, and, surrounded by negroes, old and young, read aloud its contents. And the negroes soon learned to think that there was no person like Massa Frank; but at the present time we are living about twelve miles from the river, in the forest, among the singing-birds and wild flowers. I want to take the Cabinet as long as I live. You must excuse this letter, for I have to plow and hoe, and my hands are quite stiff. Your portrait created quite a sensation among the girls here.
I remain your affectionate nephew,
Oscar Z. Mathis.
(August 1856; p. 56)
Mobile, Ala., May 12, 1856.
Dear Uncle Frank,—We live in the country, in the western limits of our beautiful little city. All around us, for about five miles, is like one flower-garden. We have a very large garden, two acres of which are devoted exclusively to flowers. We have almost every splendid rose that you can mention. My mother is so fond of flowers, that she is never as happy as when she is in the garden. O, Uncle Frank! I wish you could see our garden. Right across the road from our dwelling is our vegetable garden, in the middle of which is a large well, or cistern, in which there is a force-pump. Every evening my brother Frank takes some of the boys and goes over to water the flowers and vegetables. They screw on about one hundred and fifty feet of hose; then one of the boys pumps, and it is real fun to see them. We have two of the drollest little negro boys. They do no work. We just play with them. We have named them Didascon and Faust.
Your affectionate nephew,
(August 1856; pp. 56-57)
Waukesha, Wis., June 14, 1856.
Dear Uncle Frank,—Oh, if you were only here now! The woods and garden are full of flowers. You can’t think how much more beautiful the country looks than when you were here. The trees are full of leaves, and every thing is so bright and green. The beds that were being made in front of the house are now all set out with beautiful perpetual and China roses, fuschias, heliotropes, and verbenas—a dozen different kinds of each—besides a great many other things that I can’t re-
member; and mamma has planted a great many choice annuals, and I expect we shall have a fine show of flowers.
Papa has a new horse. It is an Indian pony, though very large for that kind of a pony, with a heavy shaggy mane. It is very kind and gentle, and so easy of motion that it will be a fine one for us to ride horseback, though we have no side-saddle yet. Mamma thinks when she gets more acquainted with it she can drive any where in the buggy with it. Then I expect we shall have some of the nice rides we used to have before mamma was so afraid of Dolly. Dolly threw her, and almost killed her. Uncle Robert Hanford, from New York, is here. This afternoon he is going to take us all up to the pond for an excursion, and to fish, I believe. The other day pa told Henry to set a trap in a certain place where the corn was all scratched up, and what do you think he caught? An old hen? Henry caught a young woodchuck. He chased it, and it could n’t get away. He said, “Ma, I do feel so bad to catch any thing that in’t old enough to fight. But they do so much mischief, I don’t know as pa would like me to let it go.”
Julia I. Hanford.
(October 1856; pp. 124-125)
Pomeroy, O., August 15, 1856.
Dear Aunt Sue,—When little girls are in trouble, I suppose that it is natural for them to want to tell their aunts and all their friends all about it. “What now?” you will ask. “Has some little girl broken her doll?” A great deal worse than that, Aunt Sue. Two whole squares of the town in which we live, including my father’s store and dwelling-house, with all our furniture and clothing, were last Friday burned to ashes. Our family is now scattered about among our friends. Forty-two houses were burned down, and twenty-
six families left houseless. Aunt Sue, if you had been here, you would have seen a little girl eleven years old almost frantic when she saw her home, with the many things she loved, enveloped in flames. We lost almost all of our clothing, but I do not care so much for that as for the many nice books and some other things which can never be replaced, among which was dear mother’s likeness, which I shall never look upon again. My brothers had preserved all the numbers of the Cabinet, intending to have them bound. They, also, are among the things that were. Pa says he will have to discontinue some of his papers and magazines, but I mean to try hard to earn money enough to continue the Cabinet. I would not like to do without it or the Ladies’ Repository. Please excuse all mistakes.
From your affectionate niece,
Julia C. Stiver.
(November 1856; pp. 149-150)
Sheffield, Ill., September, 1856.
Dear Uncle Frank,—I have been thinking for a long time that I would like to write to you, but I was afraid I could not write any thing that would be worth reading; but now I have a good subject, I thought I would write. It is about our Sunday school excursion. We were invited to go to Buda, which is about four miles from here; so we all went over last Friday morning, which, by the way, was my birth-day—I was eleven years old. We arrived there in time to meet the Sabbath-school from Kewana, which came in on the cars. We then marched down to a beautiful grove, accompanied by the band. There were seats nicely arranged for us. We had several speeches, and the children sung some very pretty pieces between them. Then we had our dinner on two long tables covered with all
sorts of nice things, among which were some of those nice watermelons you told us about in the last number of the Cabinet. I wish you had been there. I think you would have enjoyed it.
Your affectionate niece,
Helen A. Ruthven.
(November 1856; p. 151)
[Editor’s note:] The next letter is from a place called Marquette. I doubt if many of you know where this place is. You might be ignorant of its locality, and still be a pretty good scholar in geography. It was scarcely known until within a few years. It is situated in the northern part of the State of Michigan. It is outside of the peninsula which is most known, away up in the region of copper, and iron, and ice, and snow. Welcome to the representative from the State of Superior, as some think this northern country ought to be called.
Marquette, September, 1856.
Dear Uncle Frank,—I read in your Cabinet last night that perhaps you would come up to Lake Superior. I hope you will come soon. I should like to see you very much indeed. There are a great many strangers here in warm weather to see our curiosities, and breathe our cool air. I came to Lake Superior seven years ago, when I was four years old. I was the first little girl that ever had a home in Marquette. My name is Ellen Josephine Harlow.
Your affectionate niece,
(November 1856; pp. 153-154)
Galena, Ill., Oct. 6, 1856.
Dear Uncle Frank,—It is a beautiful Indian-summer day, and the house being still, I thought I would spend a little while
with you, as I believe you are always ready to receive visitors. I wish you could see the West at this time. The trees are all putting on their autumn robes, and these of the most beautiful colors. I don’t think our western country ever looks more beautiful than in this month. September, with us, was a strange month—mornings and evenings frosty, though the days were clear, about three weeks, then during the last week they grew cold, and on Tuesday, the 30th, it snowed all day. Can you boast of a snow-storm in September? Then, too, we have been living on game, which is very fine now. One member of our family is a great hand for hunting, and for the past three weeks we have eaten little else but game; large mallard ducks, small wood-ducks, blue-winged teal, quails, and pigeons and squirrels, have been daily our bill of fare.
Your affectionate niece,
(December 1856; pp. 184-185)
Cameron Mills, Oct. 9, 1856.
Dear Aunt Sue,—I received the Cabinet for October last Monday. I think that there were some very good pieces in it. I have read what you said about Trenton Falls. I have never been there myself, but my father was born at Trenton, and my mother has been there many times. She freely indorses your opinion of the beauty of its scenery. Father has gone
to California, and mother and myself board with Aunt Adelia, who has a dear, sweet little boy, nearly three years old. We call him Georgie, and think that he is very cunning. One pleasant moonlight night, about two months ago, there were no clouds, except a few fleecy ones here and there. We went to take a walk, when suddenly a little fleecy cloud passed over the moon, just as it was passing. Georgie cried out, “See, George; see, the moon smokes—the moon smokes!” which made us all laugh.
George F. Sly.
(January 1857; p. 29)
Ann Arbor, Mich., Nov. 25, 1856.
Dear Uncle Frank,—As the rest of the cousins are writing to you, thought I would write too; though I feel a little afraid when I think I am writing to a gentleman whom I have never seen; but when I think it is only Uncle Frank, who talks so pleasantly to us in his Table-talk, and who understands all about boys and what they like, I am not at all afraid. Now I would like to tell you about two beautiful young fawns my brother and I had presented to us last spring. They look almost exactly alike, and their names are Fleetfoot and Flight. They were caught in the wilds of Michigan. I wish to ask your opinion about making a team of them, as they do of the reindeer in Lapland. I have learned a great deal about deer and their habits, since we owned ours, but can not hear that they are ever used for a team in this country. If you ever come to Ann Arbor again, please come and see us.
Your affectionate nephew,
[Editor’s note:] … I don’t know what to say about yoking up those pretty fawns of yours. If you get them pretty tame, I should think there could be no difficulty in making a team of them. I would try the experiment, by all means, but not too soon. Let them learn to be intimate with you and love you, first of all. And Marl, you’ll not task their strength much, will you? I would not try to make them draw heavy loads.
(February 1857; p. 62)
Jacksonville, Ill., Jan. 5, 1857.
Dear Uncle Frank,—I have never written you before, though you have had letters from this place. John Lathrop wrote you about a large farm, owned by Jacob Strong. He is a great cattle-dealer. Beside his home farm, he has a good deal of land away from here, amounting in all to 33,000 acres. Mr. Strong got a medal at the World’s Fair, as being the largest practical farmer in the world. Jacksonville is situated on a rolling prairie, and is celebrated for its college, academies, and many schools. It is often called the “Athens of the West.” If you would come here, I would show you some pets. I have a mocking-bird which my grandpa sent me from New Orleans, and three canary birds. I had two beautiful black squirrels which my aunt brought me from Michigan; but they are now dead. One night they got out, and in their frolic they ran up in a tree, where there was a robin’s nest, and frightened the old one away, and she never came back, and the young ones died. I will tell you a story about these robins. One day last spring they commenced to build their nest close by our sitting-room window, and we would throw out cotton, and they would get such a load that they would have to rest from limb to limb, on the way to their nest. When the nest was broken up, we found two lace collars that my aunt had missed for a long time.
C. M. Eames. [Charles M. Eames]