Dear Friend Robert Merry: Letters from nineteenth-century children

How to use this book

1840s: 184118421843184418451846184718481849

1850s: 185018511852 • 1853 • 185418551856185718581859

1860s: 1860186118621863186418651866186718681869

1870s: 187018711872

About the Merry Cousins


Index & gloss


The Cousins’ Greatest Hits



Mr. Merry:—I live in Tewksbury; it is a quiet country village; I have not lived here long, but I have more business to attend to than when we lived in the CITY, and I don’t know but more fun too. I have to take care of the [p. 36 ] horse and cow, besides chickens, ducks, pigeons, &c. I love to roam in the fields, sail on the pond, and set snares for partridges and rabbits. I take time, however, to read Merry’s Museum, and solve the enigmas. I send you the answer to the charade, which is, “St. Petersburg.” The first enigma is, “Electrobiology;” the second is, “If you owe for the Museum, pay up.” This last does not apply to me, as I pay in advance.

Yours, with respect,
H. P. L.

“electrobiology”: from C. A. D. (1852.2.159)

“if you owe … ”: from Charlie (1852.2.160)


I got up at 3 o’clock Christmas morning and found lots of presents, and among the rest a dollar bill, which I send for the Museum, or, as my little sister calls it, “Merry’s Amusements.” I do not quite know what my father thought I would do with the money. He told me to use it in a way most in accordance with my judgment of a proper use of it. I thought of nothing that would afford so much amusement and pleasure as the Museum.

E. L. Starr.


Mr. Merry:—I like the Museum very much indeed, and that in which I take most interest is the letters from your juvenile correspondents. I have seen letters from the East, from the West, from the extreme North and South, but none has Old Rip Van Winkle sent. Although our exports remain the same as in old colonial days, yet if you could spend this merry Christmas with us, you would find that our productions are not confined to Pitch, Tar, and Turpentine, for we have fine roast Turkeys, barbacued Pigs, sweet Potatoes, and a rich variety of other eatables. Our soil too is rich in minerals, and in internal improvements we are within sight of other states. Neither are the inhabitants heathen, for though Rip Van Winkle has slept and snored, and snored and slept, we are not so far behind the age in literature, but that we take Merry’s Museum, and have various other sources of moral and mental culture. I hope some of the readers of Merry’s Museum will visit North Carolina, and see for themselves. She will be happy to extend the rights of hospitality to any who will visit her. I derive much pleasure in solving the enigmas which I find in your Museum, and have sent you a charade. I hope that [p. 67 ] you and all the readers of the Museum have spent as merry a Christmas as I have.


My first is a near relation.

My second a common nickname.

My third is a habitation.

My whole a work of great fame.


“barbacued”: Mathews lists a 1733 reference with this spelling; Bartlett 1848 lists “barbecued” as a Southern term. [Mitford M. Mathews, ed. A Dictionary of Americanisms On Historical Principles. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1951. • John Russell Bartlett. Dictionary of Americanisms. New York: Bartlett and Welford, 1848.]

Rip Van Winkle: title character in Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” published in The Sketch Book (1819). Relaxed about life, Rip wanders into the Catskills and falls under the influence of some strange little men—and their supernaturally strong liquor. He sleeps 20 years, waking to return home when he is “at that happy age when a man can do nothing with impunity.”

charade: The answer is “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”


Burlington, Iowa.

Dear Mr. Merry:—My brother has taken your Museum three years, and I generally read it over two or three times. I like the Adventures of Gilbert Go-ahead very much, but I think that Gilbert Get-into-trouble would be a more appropriate name. I hope you will go all around the world in your Balloon before you stop. I live in the city of Burlington, formerly the capital, and now the metropolis, of Iowa. It is situated on the west bank of the Mississippi River, and contains between 6 and 7000 inhabitants. Eighteen years ago the Indian wigwam, with its red-skinned tenant, was the only sign of habitation, where now rises the fair city of Burlington. The surrounding country affords an abundant supply of choice fruit. It is thought we excel the older states in apples. At the annual exhibition of our Horticultural Society, in October last, one fruit-grower had seventy specimens of choice apples. The grape is also grown with good success, and in such abundance as not only to furnish a fair supply for the table, but wine is being made in considerable quantities. There was a fire last Sabbath morning, which destroyed the Library, and specimens of the Iowa Historical and Geological Society, a loss that cannot be repaired.

I remain your friend,

Balloon Travels: “Balloon Travels Around the World” (1851-1856). Imaginary balloon trips—Robert Merry felt too old for the real thing—took Merry and five representative readers around the world. At each point, Merry told the children about the region’s history and geography. He also gave advice on morality, economics, and the glories of America. It was reprinted as The Balloon Travels of Robert Merry and His Young Friends (NY: J. C. Derby & Co., 1855).

Gilbert Go-ahead: title character in “The Adventures of Gilbert Go-Ahead.” It was the Museum’s longest-running serial (1851-1855, 1856). The quintessential Connecticut Yankee, Gilbert relies on shrewdness, pragmatism, luck, and a large collection of aphorisms on his journey 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 the lands through which he travels, the value of education, and the evils of greed. Not every reader believed Gilbert’s adventures—especially the hippo ride—but the serial was the most popular in the magazine’s history.

Horticultural Society: While the Des Moines County Agricultural Society was organized in 1852, it did not hold its first fair until fall, 1853. [The History of Des Moines County, Iowa. Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1879; p. 589.]

fire: a fire on 16 January 1853 started in A. Moore’s hardware store on the first floor of a building on Main Street and burned the whole building, including the Historical and Geological Institute on the third floor. [The History of Des Moines County, Iowa. Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1879; p. 505.]


Midway, Ky.

Mr. Merry:—I like the Museum very much. I think that Gilbert Go-ahead has rather a hard time of it. I like the Balloon Travels very well, and I think the king was very wicked in serving Roderick his best friend in the way he did. I live in a pretty little village, situated on the Lexington and Frankfort railroad, half way between the two places, and hence the name Midway is given to it. My father is principal of the Female Orphan School in this place, a home for little orphan girls, where they are clothed, boarded, and educated. We are now making additions to the present building, and when it is finished it will be a beautiful building, about one hundred and twenty-five feet long in front, and will accommodate fifty or sixty persons.

Your friend and subscriber,
T. B. Dawson

Roderick: character in a story told in “Balloon Travels” (January 1853). Roderick, the son of peasants in the Pyrenee Mountains, serves a wicked king. After the luxury-loving king spends a bad night at the village where Roderick grew up, he orders the village burned; Roderick dies trying to save his parents. The story exemplifies one of the Museum’s enduring themes: the inherent evil of monarchy.

“my father”: John Dabney Dawson (born 1808, Danville, Kentucky; buried 19 July 1892, Missouri). John was ordained a minister of the Disciples of Christ; he was the first superintendent of the Kentucky Female Orphan School (1849-1857) and a professor at Christian (now Columbia) College, Columbia, Missouri, for three years before retiring to a farm near Louisiana, Missouri. [Harry W. Mills, comp. Dawson Family History. 1941.]


Milwaukie, Feb. 8.

Mr. Merry:—Would you like to receive a letter from a Wisconsin girl, who lives on the banks of the Kinnekinneck river? It is very cold here; the thermometer was at zero this morning; we have had some snow this winter, and I have had some nice sleigh rides. My brother has taken the Museum a year, and I have had a great deal of pleasure in reading it. The stories of Paul and Virginia, the Galley Slave, and Balloon Travels around the World, are very interesting, but I think that the extracts from Ancient History are better than all.

The music in the August number of last year I play and sing, and I think it is very good. I should be glad if you would publish more. I send you the following conundrum:

Why should the Editor of the Museum be contented and happy?

From your young friend,

“The Galley Slave”: a two-part story (Robert Merry’s Museum ; 1852). Years after he ran away to sea, a young man is condemned to the galleys on a minor infraction; he seizes an opportunity to escape, helps his family and wins his freedom through his virtuous actions. It was reprinted as “Edward Maleen” in Parley’s Present for All Seasons (NY: Appleton & Co., 1854).

Paul and Virginia: Paul and Virginia: An Indian Story: by Jacques Henri Bernardine de Saint-Pierre (Brit.: 2nd ed. London: Vernor & Hood, 1796; Amer: Baltimore: Bonsal & Niles, 1800). Their childhood on Madagascar is simple and idyllic; when Virginia’s mother tries to ensure her daughter’s wealth, the result is tragic. In 1852 the novel was abridged in the Museum in three parts as “An Interesting Story.”

Ancient History extracts: In 1852 and early 1853, the Museum ran individual articles on various ancient subjects, including the Phoenicians, Darius, and the army of Xerxes.

music: “Those Evening Bells” (August 1852). The bells peal, though those who have heard them are gone.


Brooklyn, N.Y.

Mr. Merry—Dear Sir:—A few days since, a little sister of mine, in looking over the library, found an old copy of your Magazine. She became much interested in the many “nice stories,” and coming to me, said, “Sister, I am not too little to take a Magazine, am I?[”] Upon telling her she was not, she said, “I must get the money right away—’tis such a nice book.” She has just raised the amount required, and now comes to me, and with her large eyes, as dark as midnight, beaming upon me, says, “Sister, you are not too sick to write me a note, are you?” I cannot resist the appeal, and I sit down to write you.

Six or seven years ago, when I was a “little girl,” I took the Museum, and I can remember how I perused its interesting pages with ever fresh delight, and it is with joy that I find my little sister so eager to have it. I am very sorry that I have so long forgotten the book which was to me in days of yore an inexhaustible source of amusement and instruction.

I remain your old friend,
Charlotte’s Sister.


Jericho, Vt.

Mr. Merry:—Mother commenced taking the ——, but we did not fancy it much, and we requested her to exchange and take the Museum for us, which she did, and I assure you we gave it a hearty welcome. I do not think she will exchange it again for any other Magazine very soon. I am happy to know that Gilbert Go-ahead still continues his Adventures. I think he wished that he never had seen the baby when he had so much trouble with it.

I send you the following puzzle:

There is a word of seven letters, the first 2 signifies man, the first three signifies woman, the first four signifies a great man, the seven a great woman.

Edward S. Whitcomb, Jr.

puzzle: Answered in 1853.1.130-131


Dear Mr. Merry:—The Museum is always a welcome visitor in our family. We are all very fond of reading about Gilbert Go-ahead, and hope his letters will be long continued. They will always be read with pleasure by us as long as he keeps his stories within the bounds of probability. Now, Mr. Merry, when I say this, I do not mean to cast any slur upon Gilbert’s character, and hope, if he should ever see this, he will not be offended; but I really do think some of his “yarns” are rather fine spun, [p. 100 ] for instance, his ride on the hippopotamus, and adventure with Grin. Another feature of the Museum which we all admire is, the Monthly Chat with your Young Friends. I have always had my doubts whether the letters you publish are really the productions of your young correspondents, or of your own fanciful brain. I enclose an


I am a word of five letters. Take away my first, and I am the name of what adorns the estate of many of the nobility of England. Take away my first and second, and I am the name of a place where all the world was once congregated. Take away my last, and I am the name of a beautiful mineral. Take away my two last, and I am the name of a fashionable place of resort. I am small in stature, but capable of doing a great deal of mischief, as I once did in London in the year 1666.

Yours truly,
R. N. John.

Grin: orangutan befriended by Gilbert Go-ahead, in “The Adventures of Gilbert Go-ahead.” After several adventures, Gilbert sends mischievous Grin as a gift to his maiden aunt, hoping thus to ensure that she leaves him her fortune. She leaves Gilbert six cents.

enigma: Answered in 1853.1.130-131


New York, March 12.

Mr. Merry:—One of your correspondents in the March number seems to think that the boys are rather remiss in contributing to the Museum. If he will look at the list of those who sent puzzles and answers, I think he will find a goodly portion of them boys. They have redeemed themselves fairly in my estimation. The answer to Charade in the last number is the Dog. To E. S. W.’s puzzle, heroine. To R. N. John’s, Spark. To Willis’s, “Captain Forbes and his forces, went to the West Indies.” I send you a Charade, which you may publish, or not, as you please.


My first is a very uncomfortable state,

In cold weather it mostly abounds.

My second’s an instrument formed of hard steel,

That will cause the stout foe to stagger and reel,

And when used, is a symptom of hate.

My whole is an author of greatest renown,

A name that will last for ages to come.

I must tell you an anecdote, Mr. Merry. A physician in this city employs a negro boy, named Jim, to take care of his horse, and do sundry jobs around the house. The other day the doctor’s little girl observed him chasing a kitten around the yard, and from there over the fence into the neighbor’s. Fearing that it was her pet kitten, she asked him whether it was all of one color. “Why, yes, sorter all of one color,” he [p. 131 ] replied, “de tail was different, and de rest was all striped.”

Yours affectionately,
Willie H. Coleman.

“one of your correspondents”: Gay, of East Windsor Hill, Connecticut: “But, Mr. Merry, are not the boys rather remiss in contributing to the Museum? So it seems to me. All the enigmas in the last number were from the girls, as well as most of the letters published.” (1853.1.98)

“The dog”: Enigma from Willis (1853.1.100)

“Captain Forbes”: 1853.1.100.

charade: The answer is “Shakespeare.”


New Orleans, Feb. 1853.

Dear Mr. Merry:—I have been wishing a year to take Merry’s Museum, having seen it in the Public School Library of this place. I see that you have a monthly chat with your little friends, and I will write you a letter. I like to read about Gilbert Go-ahead and his clocks, and the history of Little Muck, and to get the answers to the Enigmas. This is a very large city, extending six or eight miles along the river, and from one to two miles back towards the lake, and is also spreading in every direction. The population of New Orleans in the winter is 150,000. There are a great many languages spoken here, the German, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Italian. Even little children under four years run about talking French and English. The streets run down from the Mississippi river on a gradual descent towards lake Ponchartrain, five miles off, so that when it rains, those streets that run at right angles with the river are flooded, but the draining machines drain them off quickly. There is a road here made of muscle-shells, which you would call a turnpike in your State. It leads through the cypress swamp to the lake. There are groves of orange trees, on which oranges grow as large as the Cuba oranges. A few Chinese live here, who make kites in the shape of butterflies and sell them to the boys.

Yours truly,
R. W. North.

“The History of Little Muck”: four-part fairy tale (Robert Merry’s Museum ; 1853). Little Muck, a dwarf, learns much about human perfidy when he seeks his fortune.

“muscle-shell”: variant of “mussel shell” used from the 1500s to the 1870s.


The town in which I live is Damariscotta, named from the river upon which it stands. The river, I believe, was so called from an Indian chief of that name. The town is noted for the great number of fine ships that are built here. I am ten years old, and I have a little sister five weeks old. When she gets old enough I shall read to her stories out of the Museum.



New Bedford, April 29th, 1853.

Mr. Merry:—Dear Sir,—You cannot imagine with what joy I greet the arrival of your interesting Museum and peruse its pages. I have taken it a long time; I have a little sister seven years of age, who also likes the stories very much. I am eleven years old. I see letters from little boys and girls from all parts of the Union, some younger and some older than I. I have paid for the Museum in advance, and take more pleasure in reading it and in solving the enigmas and conundrums when I think I do not owe for it. My father gave me fifty cents at Christmas, and I saved that and my New Year’s money to pay for the Museum another year.

Grace Maria Linton.


Wood Lawn, July 20th, 1853.

Dear Mr. Merry:—I suppose you think little Bessie is rather late in sending her dollar; but I think if all your subscribers had to earn their money as I do, you would be all the time complaining. My mother gives me a dollar a month to see that the servant keeps the parlor nice and clean, and pays me every six months, so you now see why I have not written until July. I have received all my numbers but the one for March, will you please send it to me? In your next trip in your balloon, please call and take me with you. I imagine Ellen must be very happy up there in the air. Good bye, dear, good Mr. Merry; don’t send your excellent Museum any longer to Elizabeth, but to

Miss Bessie Harris.

Ellen: Imaginary subscriber who accompanied Robert Merry on his “Balloon Travels.”


New Haven, Conn., August 17th, 1853.

Dear Mr. Merry:—I have been wishing to write to you for a long time, but I never knew exactly what to write about. I saw Peter Parley four or five years ago. He came to see us. All I recollect of him is that my sister and I gave him each a splendid golden pippin. He put them in his pocket and told them to lie still. I send you a few Anagrams, which if you think worthy, I wish you would publish for Willie Coleman to solve.

Claims Arthur’s seat.

No, appear, not at Elba.

Truly, he’ll see war.

These are not original.—Now, dear Mr. Merry, hoping to see this published, I subscribe myself, your affectionate friend,

Florence S.

Peter Parley: In this case, Samuel Griswold Goodrich, who made a tour of the South in 1846.

anagrams: “Claims Arthur’s Seat”: “Charles James Stuart”; “No, appear not at Elba”: “Napoleon Bonaparte”; “Truly he’ll see war”: “Arthur Wellesley”

Willie Coleman: William Hoyt Coleman quickly became one of the most popular contributors to the Chat, with subscribers often addressing comments directly to him.


Buffalo, September, 1853.

Dear Mr. Merry:—I live in the city of Buffalo. Last New Year’s night, when my father came home, he called me to him and gave me a package, I took it, and what was my delight, upon opening it, to find that it was the January number of Merry’s Museum. He informed me that he had subscribed for it for one year. I was so glad I hardly knew what to do. And now as each succeeding month rolls around, it is one of my greatest pleasures to go down and get my number, and then read it through. I like the stories very much, especially that one of Gilbert Go-ahead, but I think that I had rather look over the Monthly Chat, than all the stories.

Yours, truly,
Mary A. Clark.

I am composed of 13 letters.

My 4, 5, 7, 10, is a wild animal.

“ 9, 3, 1, 2, is a boy’s name.

“ 9, 11, 13, 11, 2, is a girl’s.

“ 9, 11, 4, is a useful tool.

“ 9, 2, 12, 13, 1, is an article of wearing apparel.

“ 2, 11, 1, is a covering for the head.

“ 10, 12, 9, 2, is an article of food.

“ 7, 11, 4, is what many persons resort to.

My whole is what is now attracting a great deal of attention.

puzzle: answered in 1853.2.187b.


Washington, D. C., Nov. 20, 1853.

Respected Sir:—I have had the pleasure of reading some numbers of Merry’s Museum that you kindly sent to our school in Washington, D. C.

I have read with delight an account of Isabella, Queen of Spain, who aided Columbus in getting his outfit for the discovery of America. I have also read “The Balloon Travels,” and “The Little Boy that wanted to be a Hermit.” When his mother consented, he went away to live alone; but when the storm arose and night came on, he thought of his quiet home, and the cheerful fireside, and gladly returned home. This shows us how our minds, if not properly controlled, will lead us to do many things that are foolish.

Since I have been reading Merry’s Museum, it has increased my fondness for reading. I did not like to read before, but now I like to read every thing that helps me to think rightly. God has blessed us by sending kind friends to teach us to read, and we thank you for sending the Museum each month to bless us with its light, love, and knowledge.

Yours truly,
Nancy Haugh.

“Little Boy Who Wanted to Be a Hermit”: “Truman Lane; and All About What He Wanted to be, and How Well He Succeeded,” story reprinted from the Youth’s Casket (Robert Merry’s Museum ; December 1852). Truman wants to be a hermit, but homesickness and bad weather soon drive him home, and he learns to think through his whims before acting on them.

article about Isabella: “Isabella, of Spain” (Robert Merry’s Museum ; July 1852), an illustrated biographical article.


Woodville, Miss., Nov. 1st, 1853.

Dear Mr. Merry:—I have been a delighted reader of your magazine ever since I was a little child; and now that I am in my teens, I am not willing to give it up. I saw Peter Parley in New Orleans seven years ago, and heard him address the children in Mr. Clapp’s church. I did not know then that Peter Parley and Mr. Merry were the same person; but I have since found out that they and Mr. Goodrich are all the same. I have often thought of writing to you, just to see if you would publish my letter; for I half suspect you write most of the letters yourself. When I saw you in New Orleans, and they told me you were Peter Parley, I said you did not look like the old man I had seen on the picture books. I live in the vicinity of Woodville, and would like very much to have one of the bound volumes you offer for a new subscriber; but as the yellow fever is in town, I cannot go there to see any of my friends, to ask them to subscribe; but, Mr. Merry, I have preserved with a great deal of care, all the numbers I have received, and wish to have them bound; and will be much obliged to you if you will send me the missing numbers, of which I send the list. I have paid for the Museum up to July, 1854, and I send in this letter a gold dollar to pay for the missing numbers, and four postage stamps to pay the postage of the package. If you cannot send the missing numbers of the Museum, please take the dollar and send me the Mother’s Magazine, and a bound volume of the Museum for 1853, according to your proposal; though I would much rather have the odd numbers of the Museum. I amuse myself very much in solving the puzzles and enigmas, and now send the answer to the enigma in the Oct. No. It is “The World’s Fair.”

From your friend and subscriber,
C. T. B.

Mr. Clapp: the Rev. Theodore Clapp (1792-1866), popular American clergyman. Coming to New Orleans in 1822 as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, he became a Unitarian in 1834, but kept most of his congregation when the church was re-organized. The church that C. T. B. visited was owned by Judah Touro, a Jew who gave Clapp use of it free. Ill health forced Clapp to resign in 1857. [Francis Drake. Dictionary of American Biography. Boston: James R. Osgood & Co., 1872. Supplement; p. 188.]

yellow fever epidemic: apparently spread to Woodville, Mississippi, from New Orleans. On 6 September 1853 a quarantine went into effect at the Woodville Factory; by 18 October, there were 168 cases and 9 deaths in the area. Woodville had a warm autumn that year, and in November, doctors warned those from the country not to come into town, where one to two new cases occurred every day. The epidemic ended in December, after some hard frosts. [The Woodville Republican, comp. O’Levia Neil Wilson Wiese. Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Book, 1992; vol 3: 173, 174, 177, 181.]

Mother’s Magazine: a periodical with a cloudy publication history (1833-?). The periodical focused on child-rearing and Christianity.

a flourish

How to use this book

1840s: 184118421843184418451846184718481849

1850s: 185018511852 • 1853 • 185418551856185718581859

1860s: 1860186118621863186418651866186718681869

1870s: 187018711872

About the Merry Cousins


Index & gloss


The Cousins’ Greatest Hits

Copyright 2000-2024, Pat Pflieger

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