Dear Friend Robert Merry: Letters from nineteenth-century children

How to use this book

1840s: 184118421843184418451846184718481849

1850s: 1850 • 1851 • 18521853185418551856185718581859

1860s: 1860186118621863186418651866186718681869

1870s: 187018711872

About the Merry Cousins


Index & gloss


The Cousins’ Greatest Hits



Parish of Point Coupee, La. Dec. 1, 1850.

Dear Mr. Parley:—I have now been one of your faithful readers for the last six years, and have never attempted to write to you until to-day, as I wish to introduce myself among your numerous friends and admirers. I am always glad when the mail arrives with my number, and I assure you it is welcomed by every one here. I think the stories of Thorwald the Norwegian, and the Wonderful Trees are very pretty, and hope you will continue them. My youngest sister has often asked me if I thought Billy Bump was really existing, or if he was a mere make-up, to which I told her I thought he was only an imaginary “Bump;” but I rely on your kindness to tell us all about him.

I live in Louisiana, on the banks of the great Mississippi, about 150 miles above New Orleans; and I hope if you ever come down here, you will favor us with a visit, for we would all like to know you; but if you ever do come, you must not be ceremonious, for my father hates ceremony, and always likes those who come to see him to make themselves perfectly at home. My father is very busy at present, as he is having his levee made, for last year the river was so high, and the pressure of water so great against it that it broke, and we had our whole plantation under water. There were at least two feet and a half of water in our dining-room, so that we could catch as many fish as we wanted with a hook and line from our galleries. There are a great many poor persons living back of our place, and they were all driven out of doors, and some even had their cabins washed away.

Your constant friend and reader,

Billy and Lucy Bump (in Robert Merry’s Museum; 1848-1850): characters in “Billy Bump in Boston” (1848-1849), “Billy Bump Off for California” (1849), and three “Letters from Billy Bump” (1850). In humorous letters between Billy and his mother at home in Sundown, country-bumpkin Billy describes his efforts to fit into the social and cultural life of his Boston relatives and to impress his cousin, Lucy. Billy’s adventures allow the author to comment on society and to teach the reader good manners and ethics. A raccoonskin cap given Billy by an old friend temporarily makes him an object of derision, but he gains the respect of his tormentors. He also gained the respect of his readers, who defended Billy’s blunders and his awkward attempts at poetry. When the family fortunes fail, Billy is off for the gold fields of California and for adventures that teach him and the readers the evils of greed and of immoral living.

Thorwald, the Norwegian Rover (in Robert Merry’s Museum ; 1850: eleven-part serial. Set during the 800s, the story follows young Thorwald as he searches for his father, first in Iceland, then in North America. His adventures allow the author to not only teach geography, but to comment satirically on human nature, European social customs, and the miseries of alcoholic intemperance

Wonderful Trees (in Robert Merry’s Museum ; 1849-1850), 10-part series of illustrated articles. Each article combines physical description with a discussion of the plant’s use by humans. Included were the baobab, willow, orange, maple, juniper, almug, plane, rubber, and cypress trees, as well as the aloe plant.


Fincastle, Nov. 14, 1850.

Mr. Merry, Dear Sir:—According to promise, I again write to you. In my former letter I promised to give you some account of our valley and people. I live about one mile from Fincastle. The town contains about 800 inhabitants, and is the county seat of Botetourt County, and of course has a court house, four churches belonging to different denominations, eight or nine stores, and a good male and female school. The Lynchburg and Tennessee railroad will, when constructed, pass through this county, and the James River and Kanawha canal will be completed from Richmond to Buchanan, in a few months; hence you will see that we have here in the backwoods a choice of churches and schools, and will soon be able to travel by railroad or canal as well as you people at the North.

I think, Mr. Merry, when I get a little older that I shall visit some of your large towns, and see for myself some of your institutions and big ships; but I will not do like some of our country people, wear our my shoes in running about to see large houses, but I will try and employ myself more profitably by having a chat with you, and visiting your schools and institutions for the improvement of mankind.

Yours ever,

Kanawha canal: canal opened in 1789 and upgraded between 1840 and 1850 to accomodate larger, horse-towed boats. It closed in 1880. [William E. Trout, and Harry A. Jaeger. “Vintage Canal Boats”, Archaeology. 51 (November/December 1998): 22.]


Liverpool, Dec. 13, 1850.

Dear Mr. Merry: I hope you will excuse me for venturing to write you a letter. I never saw you, and you never even heard of my name. Perhaps you never imagined that any boys and girls so far off as England ever read your books, but my father has lately returned from Boston in the steamer Europa, and has brought us a complete set of Merry’s Museum. My brothers and sisters, as well as myself, have read the greater part of it, and we are so pleased, that it has been agreed among us that I should write you a letter, and express to you our love and regard. We like the long stories very much. The adventures of poor Jacob Karl made us weep, and the story of Thorwald made us laugh. We hope you will long enjoy good health, and be able to continue your useful and instructive magazine.

Yours, ever,
Mary Dale.

Europa: wooden-hulled steamship of the Cunard Line. Built in Port Glasgow, Scotland, she was 251 feet by 38 feet, and 1834 tons; she had three masts and one funnel. Her maiden voyage, from Liverpool to Halifax and Boston, was in July 1848. With her paddle wheels, the Europa was capable of 10 knots. She was lost by stranding in 1874. [Eugene W. Smith. Passenger Ships of the World Past and Present. Boston: George H. Dean Company, 1978; p. 91.]

Jacob Karl (in Robert Merry’s Museum ; 1845-1847), protagonist of “Take Care of #1!”, a 21-part serial. Jacob learns from his father to take care only of himself. Events—including a stint on a tropical island—teach him that doing good to others is a better philosophy.


Asphodel, Oct. 4, 1850.

Honored and respected Sir—I am one of your little subscribers from Louisiana, Parish of East Feliciana. I have never been to school, and all I know I have learned from your books. I commenced making straight marks six months ago, and my greatest ambition has been to learn to write well enough to write you a letter, and tell you how much I love you, and how grateful I feel to you for the many interesting stories and good books you have written for our amusement. Your Museum affords me great delight and instruction, yet I have two grave faults to find with it; one is, it does not come often enough, and the other is, it don’t contain half enough. I was much disappointed in your last number, that you did not continue the adventures of Mr. Greytail; he must be taking a long nap. Is the story about Billy Bump true? I take the greatest interest in it. Father says, it is only a fancy sketch, but I believe that it is true, every word of it; and I can’t believe it is not until you tell me so. I think the young gentleman has been in California long enough to have made his fortune; at least, it is time we were getting another letter from him. You will please tell me where Sundown is; I have been through your Geography three times, and you did not say a word about any such place. I know where sunrise is, but Sundown is another matter. If you ever come to New Orleans again, you must be certain to let me know, and I will go to see you if I have to walk 10 miles.

With great respect, I remain your true friend,
M. W. F.

Greytail the squirrel: protagonist of “The Squirrel at Home” (in Robert Merry’s Museum ; July 1850), by A. A., which follows hard-working, generous Greytail through fall and winter, into spring. While the end promises another installment, none was printed.

“making straight marks”: “Straight strokes” and curving “pot-hooks”, the basic elements of handwritten characters, offered beginning writers practice in holding and controlling the pen before they went on to form letters.


Parish of Jefferson, La., Dec. 12, 1850.

Messrs. S.T. Allen & Co. Gentlemen:—I was delighted to receive your letter two or three weeks ago, with a specimen of your Museum, and the likeness. I shall have it framed with a glass over it, and keep it forever.

We have had a hard freeze within the last week; perhaps you would not consider it so, but it was a very hard one for us. The ice was one inch thick, and our sugar cane was all frozen, and my ears and nose ached with the cold. The ice lasted three days in the shade.

A great many wild geese and ducks are passing here now; I suppose that they are coming from your cold country. We are now making sugar. We have a large prairie back of our place, and the hunters are burning the tall grass, and killing game. The cinders from the grass are flying about in every direction, and every thing is black with them: they are very soft, and mash up very easily.

I like the specimen of the Museum you sent me very well, and would like to hear the rest of the Adventures of Thorwald, the Norwegian Rover, of which the eleventh chapter is in the specimen number. As regards the subscription to the Museum, I find that I have no numbers since “December, 1844,” which completed the eighth volume. I wish to have all the numbers from that time to the end of the present year, and also to become a subscriber for the year 1851. I therefore inclose seven dollars, the amount due for back numbers, and for the subscription of next year. You will please send them as soon as possible, and direct to the care of Messrs H. A. & G. W. Lee, No. 84 Canal St., New Orleans.

I wish you would ask Mr. Merry to write some wonderful adventures, as I like them very much. I am never tired of reading the Adventures of Thomas Trotter, Dick Boldhero, Philip Brusque, and The Siberian Sable Hunter. Every time I wish to have a good laugh, I get one of the Museums, for there are a great many funny things in them. One of your little friends sent you a story called The Adventures of a Snow Flake, which I think is very pretty. I wish I could find out who he is, and if he is a Yankee. I hope this letter will reach you, and by sending the Museum as requested, you will greatly oblige

Your friend and obedient servant,
William K.

likeness of Samuel Goodrich: A steel engraving of Samuel Goodrich was sent to subscribers who paid in advance for 1850; engravings of later editors were used as premiums as well.

H. A. and G. W. Lee: Henry A. (born c1824) and George W. Lee (born c1822), in 1855 commercial merchants at 124 Canal St., in New Orleans, Louisiana. [Cohen’s New Orleans Directory for 1855. New Orleans: Picayune, 1855; p. 142. • M432. 1850 United States Census; reel #237: 248.]

Dick Boldhero (in Robert Merry’s Museum ; 1844), protagonist in “Dick Boldhero,” a popular serial. Dick’s father dies after being bankrupted by an unscrupulous business partner, and Dick journeys through South America in search of his wealthy uncle. After adventures teaching the reader about the continent’s land, people, and wildlife, Dick realizes that those who do evil receive retribution. The serial was reprinted in book form in 1845 (Philadelphia: Sorin & Ball).

The Siberian Sable-Hunter (in Robert Merry’s Museum ; 1841-1842), a 14-part series. The son and daughter of a Russian exiled to Siberia work hard and succeed because of their goodness and patience. The story includes education on matters geographical and moral, punctuated by hair-breadth escapes.

Story of Philip Brusque (1841-1842): Poorly educated Philip doesn’t believe in government; but after a shipwreck he learns the value and weaknesses of several forms of government. The story was reprinted as A Home in the Sea; or, The Adventures of Philip Brusque (Philadelphia: Sorin & Ball, 1845).

The Travels, Adventures, and Experiences of Thomas Trotter (1841-1842) and “Travels and Adventures in Circassia, by Thomas Trotter” (1845-1846): fictionalized geographies which alternate adventure and humor with descriptions of the landscape and culture of Europe and of the Middle East.


[Editor: ] A very young correspondent sends us the following; which will please our very young readers.


I have a little kitten,

Such a merry little thing,

I wish that you could see her,

When she’s playing with a string.

She turns aside her head,

And looks so very wise,

With her tiny pricked up ears,

And her greenish little eyes.

She’s a graceful pretty creature,

And we call her little Lily;

And I love to watch her daily,

Though folks may call me silly.

Oh, she is so soft and gentle,

So full of mirth and glee,

That to watch her at her gambols,

Is a great delight to me!



Stillwater, Jan. 2, 1851.

My Dear Mr. Merry: Encouraged by your kindness in publishing so many letters from your little friends, I send you a short story for the Museum. If you think it worthy of a place in that interesting little paper, please insert it and oblige,

Your friend and subscriber,
Alick C. S.


The last rays of the setting sun were bathing the hill in a flood of purple light when I first sailed forth upon the summer air—a bubble. The soft sunlight painted my surface with a thousand tints, and a passing zephyr bore me rapidly away from earth. I danced along, delighting with my graceful form and airy motions, a band of happy children, who in their sport had given me existence. But the joys of earth are ever short. A rain-drop hastening down to the world I was leaving, touched me. In a moment my beauty was gone, and I slowly left the place to which I had so quickly flown. I became a dew-drop, and that night I slept in the bosom of a rose. Lovely resting-place! Why did I wish to leave it, and go forth upon an untried world? When the morning sun shone forth I saw around me a fairy scene. A wilderness of roses, sparkling with dew-drops, and filling the air with their soft perfume, surrounded me. Beautiful beings with robes as brilliant as my own had been, floated among the flowers. All was beautiful, and yet, when I left that garden, drawn up by a sunbeam, I did it without a regret. Soon, to my sorrow, I found that I had entered a stormy world. A strong wind soon carried me far from the region of flowers. The cold became piercing, when I again felt that a change was coming over me. I must leave the skies once more, not a rain-drop now, but a flake of snow. From this time I had so little life in me that I must leave somebody else to finish my story.


Wentworth, N. H., Jan. 1, 1851.

Dear Mr. Merry: My sister and I have taken your Museum only one year, yet I do believe that we think as much of it as those who have taken it longer than we have. I like the story of Thorwald, the Norwegian Rover, and am very glad that it comes out so well. We have received your portrait, and father has had it framed, and we think very much of it. When my little sister saw it she said, “See, he has got a little kitty in his pocket.” Only think, she mistakes your pocket handkerchief for Kitty!

I live up among the granite hills of New Hampshire, where I think it is very pleasant, in the summer and autumn, to run about over the hills and through the woods, picking the plums and berries and listening to the merry singing of the birds, and watching the nimble squirrel as he skips among the branches of the trees.

So, wishing you, Mr. Merry, “a happy New Year,” I am your

Young friend,


Lexington, Va., Feb. 10, 1851.

Dear Mr. Merry: The piano—my piano—has come. It was so long on the way that we thought it was lost, but it came safe and sound yesterday; and I thought I would let all the other little girls that read your paper know it, thinking that they would be pleased. I am sure I am pleased when any of them tells, in the Museum, of anything pleasant that has happened to her. It is a beautiful rosewood piano, made by Mr. Chickering in Boston. What a long way for it to come here, right in the midst of the mountains of Virginia! Father and mother say that they like it because it is plain, but it does not seem to me to be plain. I hope the Union never will be dissolved, but if it should be, I have got my piano any how. It is so sweet—I think if Miss Jenny Lind could see it, she would like to play on it. I have named the piano Jenny Lind. There is no need to give a piano a name at all, but father has two young sugar-trees growing in the front yard, and he calls one, Faith, and the other, Hope; and so I thought I would give my piano a name. It is mine—not just to call mine, but mine sure enough. Frank calls the double-barreled gun his, but father is the only person that shoots it; (brother Tom shoots the other gun, and that belongs to him;) and mother calls the horse that goes in the carriage, hers, but he works in the wagon, and the plough, and all that. But the piano is my own, indeed and indeed. Father says that if he should break, it could not be sold for debt; and if I should get married, and go away, that I could take it with me. Now I know that he can’t break, for he does not owe anybody money, and many people owe him, besides what he has got in land and other things; and he was laughing when he was talking to a little girl like me, about getting married—but what he meant by what he said, was that the piano was sure enough mine—and so it is.—Dear me, I am so happy!

Your constant reader,
P. A. P.

P. S.—I forgot to tell you, that I got a nice cover with it, and expect some day to get a stool like the one at the Academy.

father: John Thomas Lewis Preston (born 25 April 1811, Virginia; died 15 July 1890, Lexington, Virginia); co-founder of and professor at the Virginia Military Institute. See entry on P. A. P. for sources.

mother: Sarah Lyle Caruthers Preston (born Virginia; died 4 January 1856, Lexington, Virginia); she died in childbirth. See entry on P. A. P. for sources.

Jonas Chickering (1798-1853): American piano maker. In 1823 he and a partner formed a piano-making company which eventually he owned. Chickering’s claim to fame was in the improvements he made in manufacturing. In 1851 his factory was on Washington Street, in Boston; when it burned in 1852, he built elsewhere in Boston a factory that was at the time the second largest building in the U. S..

Jenny Lind: Accounts of Lind’s doings filled newspapers wherever she went, with one breathlessly describing the newly refurnished rooms Lind occupied during her first concerts in September 1850; among the furnishings was a piano from Chickering’s costing $1,000—considerably more than P. A. P.’s piano.

Frank: Franklin Preston (1841-1869) See entry on P. A. P. for sources.

Tom: Thomas Lewis Preston (born c1835) See entry on P. A. P. for sources.

academy: probably the Ann Smith Academy, which opened in 1807. It gave a basic education in reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and literature, as well as in French, painting, music, and embroidery before closing in 1910. [Henry Boley. Lexington in Old Virginia. Richomond, Virginia: Garrett & Massie, 1936; pp. 77, 80.]


March —, 1851.

Mr. Merry: We have taken your Museum for more than a year, and we all like it. I am pleased with the stories of Thorwald the Norwegian Rover, and Billy Bump, very much indeed, and so are my sisters.

We paid in advance this year, but your picture has not come yet; we want to see you, how you look, very much, but we begin to think we never shall. Will you ask the publishers to send it with the next “Museum?” We shall not think it fair if they fail to do so.

Perhaps I ought to tell you that I am but eight years old, and not much accustomed to writing; but my older sisters, who want the picture as much as I do, were afraid to ask for it. So they told me to write this letter. I am not afraid of you, Mr. Merry, and wonder why anybody should be.

Your friend and subscriber,
who lives in Lexington Avenue.


Dec. 7, 1850.

My Dear Mr. Merry: It is with pleasure I sit down to address you, in regard to the Museum. I took it in ’48 and ’9, while residing in Monroe, and was delighted with it. I had one volume bound, and have read it over and over again. I put it by my bed, and read it in the morning as soon as it is light.

I am eleven years old, and have earned the money I inclose for the publishers, by being neatly washed and combed, and ready for breakfast, every morning for six months.

I am very anxious to hear again from Billy Bump. I am now living in the town of Brooklyn, surrounded by the most delightful hills, lakes and valleys in the world. Please have the Museum directed to Brooklyn, Jackson Co., Michigan, and much oblige your friend,

H. L. S.


Richmond, Va., March 3, 1851.

Mr. Merry: As father is about to send some money to Messrs. Allen & Co., for the Museum, I thought it a good time for me to write you a little letter.

The last number of the Museum reached us last evening, and I have read it with a great deal of pleasure. “Cousin Vedi’s” riddle puzzled me a good deal. His Dutch poetry at the bottom I read very easily. Here it is in English.

Come, boys and girls, with wits so bright,

The task I give will try your might,

You have the riddle plain and fair,

And now must tell us who we are.

Now, Mr. Merry, as you have been invited by your little readers to visit them, I hope you will visit Richmond. I should be greatly pleased to see the person who affords us so much amusement and instruction. We are all well acquainted with your partner, Peter Parley, and have about fifty of his books. I did not see him when he was here several years ago; but when brother Tom came running home almost out of breath, and told us he had seen Peter Parley, I very seriously asked him if he was a man, and had a lame foot—and a heap of other such questions. However, you must remember I was very, very young, then.

Your young friend,
Hattie W.

Cousin Vedi’s riddles appeared 1850.2.187; the “Dutch poetry” featured each word scrambled.

Parley’s tour: Samuel Goodrich toured the South in 1846.

Peter Parley: the extremely-popular character created by Samuel Goodrich; beginning in 1827, Peter Parley directly addressed young readers in books calculated to educate them about the world and its inhabitants. Children reacted immediately, loving the old man with the gouty foot so much that unscrupulous publishers appropriated Parley for their own works. Frustrated by the flood of counterfeit Parleys, Goodrich actually “killed off” his creation in Peter Parley’s Farewell, a study of metaphysics published in 1840, and announced his death in the Museum in 1841—to the surprise of several readers. Parley was “resurrected” in 1845, when Parley’s Magazine was absorbed by the Museum. He joined “Robert Merry” as a putative editor of the magazine.

brother Tom: probably Thomas W. White (born c1836, Virginia)


New York, Feb. 17, 1851.

Mr. Merry: I am pleased to see that you have begun a new story, called Gilbert Go-ahead. He seems to be a sort of Billy Bump, and I expect lots of fun in reading his adventures. It seems his travels are in very interesting countries, concerning which many of us have read very little.

That was a funny business about the clock at Singapore. Gilbert Go-ahead must look out, or he will get his head broke by those wild chaps—the Malays. They are very desperate sometimes. I have seen an account in one of your geographies, that they often chew opium, and make themselves half drunk: then they seize a knife, and rush through the streets, crying, “Kill! kill!” This is called running a muck.

Pray excuse me for venturing to write to you, Mr. Merry, and as this is my first attempt, pass by my imperfections.

Very truly,
J. D—

Gilbert Go-ahead: title character in “The Adventures of Gilbert Go-Ahead” (1851-1855, 1856). The quintessential Connecticut Yankee, Gilbert relies on shrewdness, pragmatism, luck, and a collection of aphorisms as he travels through Asia in search of trade. Adventures that include shipwreck, enslavement, escape (once, via hippopotamus), and philosophical arguments with those he meets teach Gilbert and the reader about geography, the value of education, and the evils of greed. Readers didn’t always believe Gilbert’s adventures—especially the hippo ride—but the 42-part serial was the most popular in the magazine’s history. It was reprinted as The Travels, Voyages, and Adventures of Gilbert Go-ahead in Foreign Parts (NY: J. C. Derby, 1856).


Pittsburgh, Jan. 20, 1851.

My Dear Mr. Merry: My mother reminded me yesterday that my subscription for your Museum was again due. I am not very rich, being only a little girl; I did not know what to do to have it continued. But my good uncle gave me a nice little gold dollar on New Year’s morning, and I just thought it was no use to have that laid up in my little miser box. So here it is for you, Mr. Merry; and I will write in the volume when I receive it, “Got with my uncle’s New Year’s present of a gold dollar.”

I am sure this will be far better than to buy candy, taffy, or gingerbread, and will not be at all so bad for my teeth. Do not you think so, Mr. Merry? So please send the Museum as you did last year, to

Your little friend,
F. S.


Alida, Stephenson Co., Ill., Feb. 30, 1851.

My Dear Mr. Merry: I am but a little boy of eight years. I live upon the broad prairie far from a good school—so I have not learned to write. My father writes this to you for the Museum for next year. May be you would like to know how I got the money to pay you.

Last year I saved some dahlia tubers, and giving them to a lady, she kindly sent to you for the Museum. We are very much pleased with it. So I have saved a great many flower roots, which I expect to sell next spring, to pay for the Museum, and to buy some books with. My father lends me the dollar until then. I think I shall like it better if I earn the money myself, and pay for it in advance. Don’t you think so, Mr. Merry?

H. A.


New York, March 14, 1851.

My Dear Mr. Merry: I am one of your young readers. I was very much interested in the story of Thorwald the Norwegian Rover, and wished it had been continued a longer time. I commenced taking the Museum when I was seven years old; I am now eleven, and have got all the volumes except two. I chose one of the back volumes for a New Year’s present, rather than any other thing my father could give me, and I hope before long to have the set complete.

I have got your portrait framed and hung in my room, and my grandmother says it is a very good likeness of you. I like the Museum very much, and hope to read it a great many years yet. I must now close my letter.

Yours affectionately,
W. H. C.


Paris, June 12, 1851.

Twice before I have had the pleasure of writing to you, Mr. Merry, though long ago; and as I find you so kind in the reception of my letters, I again venture to address you, hoping that you will not scruple to tell me if I trespass upon your valuable time too often.

Pray, have you ever visited the famous “Garden of Plants?” or at least since it has been so much improved? I went there with father a few days ago, and I was so pleased with it that I wanted as many to enjoy it with me as possible, so I am going to tell you about it, and if you think your correspondents would like to read it, I shall be happy to see it published.

The view as we entered the garden was charming. The trees were all in their brightest dress, and “leafy time” reigned supreme. Long arches of tall, majestic horse-chestnut trees, were still in blossom, and the large tufts of flowers, some white and some pink, looked to great advantage against the back-ground of very dark green. Beneath the arches sat, or promenaded, ladies and gentlemen, mothers and children, workmen and soldiers, nurses and babies. All faces wore a most happy and contented look, and no wonder, for who could look otherwise in a place where all nature lay basking in the sunshine, and where the smile of God seemed to beam so brightly, where the only shadows that fall are the grateful ones of long verdant branches loaded with flowers?

The plants and botanical curiosities are brought from all quarters of the world, and one is amazed at the varieties of leaf and blossom that here meet the eye. To persons fond of botany here is an inexhaustible fund for study and improvement, and weeks might be spent here, and still many rare plants be neglected, many beautiful spots remain unvisited.

But the plants, trees, and shady groves, are not all that attract the attention, for, hark! as I sit under the shade of a wide-spreading palm, a loud fierce roar falls upon the ear, and not far from where I am a lioness vents her useless rage upon the strong iron bars of her prison-house. She is a magnificent creature, tall and commanding, with a face anything but cruel in its expression, and a sleek coat of light yellowish brown. There is an admiring audience around, who, spite of the secure cage, tremble when she roars, and once in a while a terrified child is carried screaming away from the neighborhood. [p. 64 ]

A little farther on, within an enclosure, an uncouth hippopotamus is running around, upon which one gazes with wonder, and if any person can discover for what purpose he was made, they are brighter than I. His skin lies over in folds, exactly like the ancient style of armor, and we imagine him to be some great giant, going forth to fight.

For your benefit the docile but enormous elephant will open his mouth, that you may have the pleasure of seeing its interior; or spout dirty water out of his trunk, and for his own benefit will eat as much bread and cake as you may please to give him.

Monkeys, in a very large cage, cut all sorts of capers, and keep a laughter-loving crowd continually around them. One great baboon-faced fellow delighted in ringing a large bell, which set all the rest scampering as hard as they could go, chattering and making such comical faces!

Birds of every hue, size, plumage and form are collected here—from the eagle, peacock, and golden pheasant to the gull, the common rooster, and the chipping-bird.

Anacondas, vipers, rattlesnakes, and adders squirm beneath heavy blankets; green lizards and brown, large lizards and small, run in and out among damp green moss, while a melancholy-looking chameleon changes color at the sight of so many wondering faces gazing at him through his glass window, while his eyes stand out from his head as if fixed upon a pivot, and unceasingly go “up, up, up, down, down, down; backward and forward, and round, round, round.”

What a grand place for children who are learning geography! Why, there is scarcely a country that is not represented here, and among the gentler animals, their habits in their own homes are kept up as much as possible. Deer browse in mimic forests, while wild goats leap frantically from rocks three feet high, and come tamely to the end of the enclosure to eat bread. Bison look as calm as if the prairie and the Indian were unheard of; and bears growl or climb poles as wildness or cake moves them. Ducks waddle in large ponds, while peacocks spread their tails with pride, storks look as if they felt inclined to commit suicide, and ostriches quarrel with little sparrows, who are looking eagerly after the crumbs that fall from the mouths of their antagonists. Yet while all this is going on, French is being sputtered at your side, and lemonade and bread, brandy and cake, are sold for two sous! But I might as well attempt to tell all I saw as to try to see all at one time, so I must bring my long epistle to a close, and wish that all your little readers may be able as soon as possible to visit that interesting place, the “Garden of Plants.”

[Lizzie] —. [Transcriber’s note: Originally printed as“Izzie.”]

“leafy time”: probably from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner (1797-1816) part V, stanza 18, line 370: “In the leafy month of June.”

chipping-bird: probably the chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina ).

Garden of Plants: the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, France, a collection of natural history libraries and exhibits founded in 1635. In 1851 it consisted of a botanical garden with greenhouses; galleries with zoological, botanical, and mineralogical exhibits; an animal menagerie; a natural history library; and an amphitheater for free public lectures. [Galignani’s New Paris Guide for 1851. Paris: A. & W. Galignani & Co., 1851; pp. 469-473.]


Virginia, Loudon Co., 1851.

It has been a long while since I wrote to you last, my dear Mr. Merry, but I can’t resist the desire I feel to bid you a happy New Year, with the hope that you may live a thousand years, and your shadow never grow less; and if the first wish be granted, the second will follow of course; for the shadow of your fame must continue to spread, so long as there are children to read your books, and such famous correspondents as I to proclaim your praises. But it was not for this exactly that I began this letter, but to tell you an odd story I heard the other day.

A friend of mine has recently gone into a new house, through which, while being built, the fowls had free range. After getting established it was observed that one of the hens continued to come into the chamber, and though driven out she would regularly slip in every day, and deposit an egg behind the bed. Her mistress concluded to let her have her own way, and would spread a piece of drugget on the floor to receive the egg. At length, the hen would walk into the room, and not finding the drugget in its place would go out, hunt about the house for her mistress, and follow her until she went into the chamber and put it down for her, when she would lay her egg, and disappear. Nor would she allow any other member of the family to wait on her. This continued till the hen took a notion to go to setting, when, not fancying her as a permanent room-mate, her mistress was obliged to eject her forcibly.

It looks and feels something like “Boston” with us to-day. The old year is wrapping himself in a snowy shroud, to go decently to his last rest. Kind old fellow! I, at least, am sorry to part from him, for he has brought me only comforts and blessings.

May the coming year prove as kind to you is the wish of your young friend,

Fanny B. C.


Paris, July 8, 1851.

I am so fond of writing to you, Mr. Merry, that without waiting to see if my last letter was published, I continue my Journal Sketches of Paris, as if I were sure they would meet with a kind reception. If I were to restrain my desire for communing with my blue and black-eyed compatriots until I knew certainly whether the letter on the “Garden of Plants” was read by them, I should have to take in a new stock of patience, and wait until it crossed the water, was criticised and approved, printed and published, and had made a second voyage over the Atlantic, and gratified my longing eyes with a glimpse of my own thoughts and feelings in print!

Before, I asked them to wander with me midst strange plants and savage beasts, now I beg them to join me in an afternoon spent at the Tuilerie gardens, midst gay pretty children, and brilliant toilettes.

We will enter by the large gate upon the Rue de Rivoli, and with a crowd of other promenaders, wend our way toward the long avenues of trees, beneath which are lines of chairs, many occupied, but some still free—so let us sit down and look at the scene around us. What a perfect panorama of black coats and shining boots, elegant silks and gauzy bonnets; large round hats, wide sashes, and embroidered pantalets! The frame of tall dark trees, the long lines of occupied chairs, and the façade of the uniform hotels of the Rue de Rivoli, remain the same, but the picture is ever changing, bearing upon its face bright, gay, and cheerful colors. Notwithstanding the many people here, one of the old women who lets the chairs for two sous apiece, has seen us, and even had we any desire to escape paying for our seats, it would be almost impossible to elude the sharp eyes of the owners. I don’t know how they remember who have paid and who have not, but certain is it they never call upon the same person to pay twice, though they [p. 93 ] always visit you once, bearing off their trophy of sous, and going in search of some other new comers.

Coop, coop!” Oh, look behind our chairs, there are three little girls hiding from another whom I see looking for them. Don’t move, she is looking at us rather suspiciously. Here she comes—run! run! See, there they go, like a flock of birds, and have got safely to goal, before the chaser; she, however, does not care, but hides her eyes again, while the rest scamper away as fast as they can. Aie! my bonnet—do see what a bend it has received from that great ball which came at it as if having some injury to revenge. Do bend it out for me, or some little Rosamond may take a dislike to me because I have a pinch in my bonnet. Ah, here comes the owner of the ball; how like a lady she begs my pardon, and promises that her refractory plaything shall be less familiar in future.

Here comes an old soldier with two crosses and decorations upon his coat—poor man, they console him for the loss of a leg, and show people that he has been a brave and honored soldier in his younger days. But what is he smiling at with such apparent pleasure? oh, I see, here come eight or ten little fellows, with a drum, a horn, one or two whistles, and several swords. Marching along with a most martial look, and blowing from their instruments the shrillest of music. They have passed him, but he has turned too, and while he is following them I can almost read in his eyes the words of the song

“I would I were a boy again,

When life seemed formed of sunny hours.”

In that bare space among the trees is a large group of children skipping rope, while quite a crowd collect around them, and applaud their graceful actions and the variety of their steps in jumping. Look at that little deformed child, how expressive her face is of suffering, how melancholy her large eyes, and yet she is joining in the game, and perhaps gaining health and strength. Some would perhaps think that among such a collection of bright, happy children, she were out of place, and a blot upon the page of the fair scene around; but were the blot a great deal larger, and more evident, I would not wish it removed.

How very industrious the French ladies are! all around me they are sewing, making me almost ashamed of my idleness this afternoon, and I feel as if I ought to do something better than stare about and make remarks aloud or in my own mind.

Out of the reach of intruding balls and officious skipping I see a number of gentlemen reading the daily papers, which they have hired for a cent an hour, at the little round booth just behind us, and others deep in some very interesting book.

The weather has been so very changeable lately that I have been amused at watching the constant variations in the dresses of the ladies. Yesterday I was here, and the air was very cool, and the gardens, from rain the day before, were rather damp. The ladies were dressed in dark thick dresses, with sleeves closely protecting the wrist, and bonnets that recalled the past winter—to-day with bonnets of the thinnest material, dresses floating lightly, mantillas dropping off the shoulders, and sleeves wide enough to hide more oranges than “my mamma’s maid” could ever have stolen, the ladies inveigh against the heat for which yesterday they were so anxious.

Before the Republic was declared, no one carrying a bundle, no man in a blouse, or no one unless well dressed, was admitted into this “enchanted ground,” but since then they are allowed to enter. They very seldom, however, repeat their visit a second time, for they feel uneasy, and out of place, midst the elegantly dressed and aristocratic crowd assembled here.

Before we return to our respective homes, we must partake of an entertainment peculiar to the Tuileries. Here, just in time, comes a woman with an apron full of cakes in the shape of a large trowel, as thin as, and of the color of yellowish brown paper, and of the consistency of wafers. These are called plaisirs (pleasures), and like almost all pleasures they are ephemeral. They are very satisfying, and three is as many as I could eat at once, though, from their appearance, twenty would scarcely make a good sized seed cake. I see, however, by your grimaces, that you prefer more substantial and endurable pleasures than these, and I acknowledge that it is an acquired taste, but you would soon learn to consider them an essential accompaniment to an afternoon in the Tuileries. Hoping, dear sir, that your readers will peruse this with pleasure, I shall, if you say so, continue from time to time, to recall to your notice your young friend,

Lizzie G.

“enchanted ground”: probably from George Gordon, Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-1816) canto 3, lines 526-529:

“The river nobly foams and flows,

The charm of this enchanted ground,

And all its thousand turns disclose

Some fresher beauty varying round.”

“I would I were a boy again”: Mark Lemon, “O, Would I Were a Boy Again” (1840?), ln 1-2: “O, would I were a boy again,/ When life seemed formed of sunny years … ” Lemon (1809-1870) was a British writer; the song was printed in New York in 1840 as by F. Romer (NY: Firth Hall & Pond, 1840).

“my mamma’s maid”: orange thief in a nursery rhyme:

“Dingty diddlety,

My mammy’s maid,

She stole oranges,

I am afraid;

Some in her pocket,

Some in her sleeve,

She stole oranges,

I do believe.” [Iona and Peter Opie, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rymes. Np: Oxford University Press, 1951; #316]

Republic declared: February 1848, when King Louis Philippe was overthrown and the Second Republic was established.

game: probably “I spy,” a game in which a player who is “it” searches for others who have hidden, shouting, “I spy” and the player’s name, at each sighting. “It” then chases the player to an established goal, trying to “tag” him or her with a touch. As Lydia Maria Child described it in The Girl’s Book in 1833, the players called “Whoop!” to announce that they were hidden. [Lydia Maria Child. The Girl’s Own Book. New York: Clark, Austin & Co., 1833. (Repr. Old Saybrook, Connecticut: Applewood Books, 1992); p. 55]

Tuilerie Gardens: gardens laid out in 1665 near the Tuileries Palace. In 1851, the flower gardens, statues, fountains, and groves of elms, limes, and chestnut trees spread over 67 acres. It was a favorite place for Parisians, who gathered near a terrace where orange trees were set every year: “On Sunday afternoons, … the alley of orange trees frequently forms a compact mass, presenting every variety and colour of dress …. The garden … is also the favourite rendezvous of children … [who] come come there for exercise and air.… ” [Galignani’s New Paris Guide for 1851. Paris: A. & W. Galignani & Co., 1851; pp. 167-70.]


Marietta, Ohio, June 14, 1851.

Dear Mr. Merry: Although I am a Buckeye yet I possess a due share of that Yankee quality called curiosity, which induces me to write you a letter and see if you would publish it; that being the only method I could devise to discover whether the numerous letters you publish are really from all the black eyes and blue whose names are attached to them, or whether they are the productions of your own fanciful brain.

I have got all the Museums, except 1848, ever since they were published. I have had the numbers to ’47 for some time, but have not had the others until this spring pa got ’47, ’49, ’50, but could not get ’48, but I expect it soon. Pa has tried several times before, but never succeeded in obtaining them until now.

Before he started east he gave me my choice—to go to Cincinnati and hear Jenny Lind sing, or to have the rest of the Museums. Now you must know that it was a great temptation to hear Miss Jenny sing, so I deliberated a long while, but I at last concluded in favor of the Museums.

Which would you have chosen, Mr. Merry, the Museums or the singer? I think I’ve chosen that which will give me pleasure the longest, for I’ve received a great deal already. I think the Museum is unequalled by any periodical ever published.

I like the story of “Thorwald, the Norwegian Rover,” very much, but I would like to know why you took English words and half-disguised them by such queer spelling as char-kole, beeze-wacks, krok-o-dyle, and wedding-kake?

I think that P. A. P’s. feelings, as described in her letter on receiving her piano, quite natural, judging from what I experienced when I received mine.

I live, as you see, in the “Pioneer city:” although it was the first part of Ohio that was settled, yet it has not been first in improvements, or the most enterprising, but it is now awaking from its lethargy, and has already several factories, among which the woollen factory stands prominent. We have also quite a number of good schools, a college, academy, seminary, institute, and Union schools. I attend the high school, which, in my humble opinion, is the best.

Marietta, I presume you know, is considered “the pleasantest city” on “La Belle Rivere.” The mound is thought by strangers to be the great wonder of the place: it is situated in the graveyard, and commands a view of the greater portion of the city; on the top are some seats, and it is quite interesting to look at the initials that are cut in the wood.

As yet the Museum has come very punctually, and I hope it will continue to do so. I am very much interested in “The Tale of a Tulip,” and I wish you would tell me “how it is going to end.”

Give my best wishes to Mr. Peter Parley, and tell him I hope he will return to America in good health and spirits.

Now, Mr. Merry, if ever you should come to Marietta I hope you’ll not fail to visit

Blue-Eyed Mary of Ohio.

Jenny Lind: Mary could have heard her in one of five concerts in Cincinnati, Ohio, April 14-21, 1851. Since tickets cost between $1 and $7, ignoring the expense of the trip from Marietta to Cincinnati, the four bound volumes of the Museum—about $5—cost Mary’s father rather less than the concert. [W. Porter Ware, and Thaddeus C. Lockard, Jr. P. T. Barnum Presents Jenny Lind. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980.]

Tale of a Tulip: five-part serial printed in 1851. Set in Holland during the tulip-madness of the seventeenth century, the story is built around the development of a black tulip; the reader learns not only history, but the evils of vanity. It was reprinted in Parley’s Present for All Seasons (NY: Appleton & Co., 1854).

“Union schools”: in Mathews: “A school serving two or more contiguous school districts”; the earliest example is dated 1851. [Mitford M. Mathews, ed. A Dictionary of Americanisms On Historical Principles. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1951.]

he will return to America: Samuel Goodrich was at this time American consul in Paris, France.


Perry, July 25, 1851.

Mr. Merry: Sir—I have taken your Museum nearly one year, and like it very much. The story of Gilbert Go-ahead is very amusing, and instructive too, for he tells about countries little known.

I like your Monthly Chat with your Friends, particularly. I have seen many letters in the Museum from little girls I should think no older than myself, so I venture to write.

I live in the town of Perry, in the county of [p. 95 ] Wyoming, in the State of New York. Perry would be a very pleasant village if we had plank walks. There is a small lake about a mile from the village; its outlet empties into the Genessee river. Its banks are so high in some places that they are called the High Banks. They are from 200 to 400 feet high. One place is called the Devil’s Den. The lake is so pure and sparkling that it has the name of the Silver Lake. The men and boys catch an abundance of white fish here.

I believe that Peter Parley is Mr. Merry, and that Mr. Merry is Peter Parley. I noticed some time ago a statement that the government was going to send you to France to live, and I was very sorry for it indeed. But I am quite content now, for I find that Robert Merry is at his post in New York, taking charge of the Museum, and that Peter Parley writes him letters from Paris.

Yours truly,
Louisa A. C—d.


Fall River, Mass., July 10, 1851.

My Dear Mr. Merry: My brother and I have taken your Museum since last September, and we are so much interested in it we would not give it up for a great deal.

My parents lived in Burmah, not very far from Sumatra, where Gilbert Go-ahead had so many strange adventures. I was born there, and till recently always lived there. People, here in America, call me a Burman, but I think, that as my parents are Americans, I am American too.

The most I knew of America before I came here, I had learned from Peter Parley’s Histories and Geographies; and one of the first things I remember is the picture of Peter Parley telling stories to children.

Gilbert Go-ahead tells some big stories. If he should visit Burmah he might relate some very interesting and true stories about the tigers and elephants there.

Yours respectfully,


Detroit, Mich., May, 1851.

Mr. Merry: Dear Sir—You remember that I wrote you a letter which you very kindly published in your May number of last year. My father and all our family were much pleased to see one of my juvenile productions in print, and so was I myself. Since that time I have continued to take the Museum, and have been greatly entertained with it.

I have taken some interest lately in the habits and manners of Canary birds. I will give you an incident of them which may be amusing to your readers. One little bird has a curious manner of putting itself to sleep. It gets upon a swing, which is placed in its cage, about five o’clock every evening, and continues to swing till we go to bed. Probably it keeps swinging all the night. My Canary birds, like all others, are very cleanly, and never fail to wash themselves well every day. They also seem to know all the separate members of our family.

Spring is now come, with all its enjoyments; the flowers and the trees are in full bud, and it is very refreshing to see them after the long, cold winter we have had here.

I was very much interested and amused with [p. 96 ] the story of Thorwald, and gratified by its happy result. I liked, also, that of Billy Bump, and hope he will not forget, while in the golden regions of California, to write us some more of his charming letters. Gilbert Go-ahead is a great fellow, but I do not like to say more of him yet.

Now, Mr. Merry, I have made but a poor attempt to write you, but if you think this letter is not worthy to appear in the Museum, you will burn it.

I remain, sir, yours sincerely,

“cleanly”: “clean, free from dirt”; the earliest use listed in the DARE is dated 1807. [Dictionary of American Regional English, ed. Frederic G. Cassidy and Joan Houston Hall. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 1985-2012.]


Roxbury, July 1st.

My Dear Friend:—My mother is holding my hand, so that I can write you my first letter. She says you have taught me to love to go to school and learn to read, and that the first time I try to make a letter, I must thank you for all the good you have done me; and so I do very much. I am five years old to-day, and I have got on a new dress that father bought for me in New York, and a black silk apron, that I made myself, with small stitches in it.

I have got two big dolls, a dog, and a kitten. My dolls are named Lucy and William Bump, the dog is called Playfellow, and my little kitty, Lily. Father thinks the dolls are nicely named, for he says their heads get hit very often, and so they do, but they can’t feel, I know, or else I should cry.

I go to school, where I study and sew. I am going to make a bed-quilt for my dolls. I get a peppermint for every good lesson, but when I miss, my head is rapped with a big brass thimble. Please answer my letter, and


[Editor: ] Little “Ellen” has begun early to write us, and we are much obliged to our little friend for her kindness, and for not being afraid of us, as some appear to be. We thank her mother also. We like everything in her letter, except “the big brass thimble.”

Playfellow: an heroic dog belonging to Henry in “Mother’s Plan is Best,” by Minnie (in Robert Merry’s Museum ; June 1851). When Henry has no one to play with one half holiday, he finds Playfellow a good companion; the dog later rescues two boys who fall out of a boat and is yearly honored as a hero.

a flourish

How to use this book

1840s: 184118421843184418451846184718481849

1850s: 1850 • 1851 • 18521853185418551856185718581859

1860s: 1860186118621863186418651866186718681869

1870s: 187018711872

About the Merry Cousins


Index & gloss


The Cousins’ Greatest Hits

Copyright 2000-2024, Pat Pflieger

To “Nineteenth-Century American Children & What They Read
Some of the children | Some of their books | Some of their magazines

To “Voices from 19th-Century America
Some works for adults, 1800-1872
To Titles at this site | Authors at this site | Subjects at this site | Works by date | Map of the site

Talk to me.