Page numbers in issues:1855.1.1-32; January • 1855.1.33-64; February • 1855.1.65-96; March • 1855.1.97-128; April • 1855.1.129-160; May • 1855.1.161-192; June • 1855.2.1-32; July • 1855.2.33-64; August • 1855.2.65-96; September • 1855.2.97-128; October • 1855.2.129-160; November • 1855.2.161-192; December
Cornwall, Nov. 14th, 1854.
Messrs. Merry & Hatchet:—Hereafter I shall address you not from New York as heretofore, but from “boarding-school.” Not one such as is so graphically described by Dickens in “Nicholas Nickleby,” but a school in which you are made to feel as much at home as possible, and receive good instruction besides. It is situated in Cornwall, on the west bank of the Hudson, about six miles below Newburgh, and commands a fine view up the river. Idlewild, the residence of N. P. Willis, is but a few rods distant, and the scholars are permitted to roam over his grounds, provided they do no mischief. Butter Hill, or the “Storm King,” as Willis calls it, rears its weather-beaten head nearly opposite the house, and a range of lesser hills, like a retinue of attendants, follow in his train. Altogether, the surrounding scenery is very fine, even so late in the season as this, and must be still more so in the spring and summer. The principal of the school is Mr. Roe, and both he and Mrs. Roe try to make every thing pleasant and agreeable to the pupils, and are much esteemed by them. The ground about the house embraces fourteen acres, affording ample room for recreation. Besides this, the river makes a fine place for skating in winter, and swimming and rowing in summer. But I think I have said enough for the present.
Willie H. Coleman.
boarding school: The Cornwall Collegiate School, established in 1853 by Alfred C. Roe. Purchasing a fairly large house in Cornwall, Roe added a schoolroom at the back. At first, the school emphasized a general education; gradually mathematics and civil engineering became the focus, with students surveying nearby land. Roe closed the school after fall, 1863. [E. M. Ruttenber and L. H. Clark, comp. History of Orange County, New York. Philadelphia: Everts & Peck, 1881. (Repr. Interlaken, New York: Heart of the Lakes Publishing, 1980); vol 2: 765-766. • Janet Dempsey, et al. Cornwall, New York: Images from the Past, 1788-1920. Np: Friends of the Cornwall Public Library, 1988; p. 23]
Mr. Roe: Alfred C. Roe (born 1823), American educator and clergyman. Educated in Cornwall, he had a school here before buying a larger building and establishing the Cornwall Collegiate School. In autumn 1863, Roe was ordained by the Presbytery of North River; he closed the school soon after and became a chaplain in the Union army. After the War, he did mission work in New York and Massachusetts. In 1877, Roe returned to Cornwall and established a school for young ladies. [E. M. Ruttenber and L. H. Clark, comp. History of Orange County, New York. Philadelphia: Everts & Peck, 1881. (Repr. Interlaken, New York: Heart of the Lakes Publishing, 1980); vol 2: 765-766.]
Idlewild: sixty-acre estate owned by N. P. Willis. In 1851 Willis visited Cornwall and became enamored of the area. On a rugged tract of land, he built a Victorian-Gothic “cottage” designed for the site and altered the landscape to emphasize its ruggedness and beauty; he moved into the house in 1853. While Willis was forced to shut out the hogs people let run wild, he welcomed beauty-lovers: “[T]o shut up a glen, or a waterfall for one man’s exclusive knowing and enjoying … would be an embezzlement by one man of God’s gift to all. A capitalist might as well curtain off a star, or have the monopoly of an hour.” In 1861 the boys at Alfred C. Roe’s boarding school practiced their surveying at Idlewild. [Lewis Beach. Cornwall. Newburgh, New York: E. M. Ruttenber & Son, 1873; pp. 83-96. • Janet Dempsey, et al. Cornwall, New York: Images from the Past, 1788-1920. Np: Friends of the Cornwall Public Library, 1988; p. 23]
N. P. Willis: Nathaniel Parker Willis (1807-1867), American writer and brother of Sara Willis Payson (“Fanny Fern”). N. P. established several literary journals, but is best known for his lyrical poetry. He bought land on the Hudson River and moved into “Idlewild” in 1853. Works like Out Doors at Idle-wild brought public attention to the wild beauty of the area. [Lewis Beach. Cornwall. Newburgh, New York: E. M. Ruttenber & Son, 1873; pp. 83-96.]
Memphis, Tenn., December 28, 1854.
Dear Mr. Peter Parley:—I had almost called you uncle Peter, but you see I didn’t, for I didn’t want to offend you. But my brother Pinckney, who has taken the Museum a great while, and has now grown so big as to wear a stiff stand-up collar and tights, and to study Latin and Greek, and novels, says he believes he will nominate me, his little sister, his “successor to your acquaintance;” and I wouldn’t have known what this meant had he not told me, as brother has got to talking so big lately. But I was very glad when he told me, and so uncle Peter, (there, it did slip out,) you will please now send the Museum to Imogen L. instead of brother Pinckney. And I have a piece of Christmas—pie, I know you have already said, but it isn’t, for it’s poetry—yes, a pretty piece of Christmas poetry to send you, sent me Christmas day by Santa Claus. Won’t you print it in the Museum? Do, good uncle Peter, for I want to read it in print, and keep it till I grow up. Santa Claus must be a good, pious old gentleman, because you see he says he couldn’t come out to our cabin Christmas eve, which was Sunday, to fill my stocking, as that, he said, “would be “shocking,” and so he wrote me a letter telling me he would come Monday eve, which he did, and I do believe he emptied half [p. 59 ] his wagon-load of presents down our chimney—my stocking wasn’t half big enough to hold them. And here’s the poetry he wrote me.
LETTER FROM SANTA CLAUS TO IMOGEN L., CHRISTMAS, 1854.
My little laughing Imogen,
How I wonder how you've been,
Ever since my Christmas last,
When down your chimney, without knocking,
I went plump into your stocking,
And flew out again as fast.
Then in the morning gray and early,
Ere the sun was bright and pearly,
How you scampered out of bed to see
If good Santa Claus had come,
With his Christmas gift and plum,
And you laughed with right good childish glee.
But you didn't know I crept
Sly and softly where you slept,
And from you took a little golden kiss—
No you didn't—but I did it;
If you had, you'd not forbid it,
You would not treat old Santa Claus amiss.
Now, my little pearl, don't cry,
'Cause you find no plum or pie
Dangling by the fire jamb in your stocking;
For yesterday you know
It was Sunday, and to go
To see my country friends, would be, O, how shocking!
So I send you this to tell you
Why this fortune thus befell you;
As I fear you were looking for me, too—
And a bird with silver wings
To your door this message brings,
One that chirps almost as sweetly, dear, as you.
And, my gentle peering daisy,
I don't want you to go crazy
When I whisper, before coming to a pause,
That as yesternight was Sunday,
So to-night it will be Monday,
When I'm coming, so good night,
Cornwall, January 9, 1855.
Mr. Merry:—Christmas Holidays! What boy or girl is there, whose heart has not leaped with pleasure at the sound of these well-remembered words, sweet as the music of silver bells, and fraught with so many pleasing remembrances! How anxiously are the days counted, and as each one glides away, it is, “One day less to Christmas.” Especially so is it to a boy away from home and friends. Hardly can he restrain his impatience till the hour of departure arrives. Then, who is happier than he? Christmas and fun occupy his thoughts to the exclusion of everything else. All his plans, projects, and schemes are directed to this one object. In one short week he compresses all the amusement of an ordinary month. And then on his journey home, somehow or other, the cars go unusually slow, and the steamboat merely crawls along. He gets home a dozen times on the wings of thought before his conveyance does. But everything must have an end, and so at last does his journey. And then his meeting at home—but it is needless to describe it. The Museum readers all know what it is. And Christmas eve, with its wonderful tree and pleasant old legend of Santa Claus, in connection with chimneys and stockings. Who has not experienced a thrill of delight, as in the grey light of dawn he examined the gifts which the good St. Nicholas had sent him? As he felt the various bunches and protuberances of his well-filled stocking, or the articles, too large for that receptacle, deposited on the floor beneath?
But I think, Mr. Merry, I have encroached on your time and patience long enough, and will therefore close.
Willie H. Coleman.
E. W. Hill, Jan. 29th, 1855.
Dear Mr. Merry:—I now live in a very pleasant town on the banks of the Connecticut River. I go to the academy and study Latin, ancient geography, and algebra. My little baby-sister, Anna, is now a year old, and is just learning to walk alone, and also to kiss, and she sends you one with many thanks in return for yours. I am growing more and more interested in your Museum. The first thing I do after its arrival is to turn to the Monthly Chat and see what puzzles there are. I should like to know very much who Mr. Merry really is. I have been in [p. 88 ] a great quandary whether it is Mr. Allen or Mr. Goodrich, or who it is. So if you please, will you put my doubts to an end, and solve the enigma to my satisfaction. I should like very much to try for one of the prizes, but am afraid, with so many better able to compose a sentence than I am, that I should not get it.
I should be happy to have you come and visit us, Mr. Merry, and Mr. Hatchet, too. Will you bring some of the Merry children with you, and then we will have merry times.
From your affectionate young friend,
academy: probably a school established by Professor Thompson in 1851, which was connected with the Connecticut Theological Institute. [Charles W. Burpee. History of Hartford County, Connecticut, 1633-1928. Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1928; vol 1: 389]
Anna: In 1865, she wrote to the Museum under the name “Memo.”
prize: A competition for “a good English sentence composed of just twenty-six words.” (Robert Merry’s Museum ; January 1854) To be eligible, contestants were required to pay their subscriptions in advance—a surefire way to get sometimes-lackadaisical readers to pay—and to get new subscribers.
Selma, Ala., 1855.
Dear Mr. Merry:—I am eight years old, and would like to know how it would seem to see myself in print. I should not quite dare to write if I did not have a bright gold dollar, which I earned myself, picking up waste cotton and selling at 5 cents a pound, which I want to exchange for the Museum for 1855. I did hope to be able to get several numbers of the bound volumes, but grandpa’s coal boat sprang a leak and I gave all my money to him to cork it with; for though he is not my own grandpa, I love him like one, and have not any other. So this time, the yellow boy must travel alone, and I reckon, or as my Yankee kin say, I guess he will reach you safely. Please, Mr. Merry, send me the December number, for it never came, and I want my last year’s bound. I shall commence school soon, and will try to get some of the boys to subscribe. Do you give back volumes for new subscribers this year?
[Editor: ] You are right, Eddie. Give our regards to grandpa, and tell him he is fortunate in having such a partner—the boy that is kind and generous will prosper. We give back volumes for new subscribers, if any prefer to send so, rather than try for the prize.
I like the Museum very much. I pay for it with my own earnings. I had all the back volumes, but they were burnt in the great fire in Ogdensburg last October.
Bridgeport, January 31, 1855.
Mr. Merry:—I have thought I would write to you a long time, but this is the first attempt. I think the Museum is very interesting. I took it when Mr. Parley was editor, a good many years ago. I have got a little sister six years old, who can read very well indeed. As soon as the Museum comes she seizes it, and hardly anything stops her until she has finished reading it. I have never tried to solve the puzzles until to-day. I am a little girl ten years old, and as there is no school this afternoon, I thought I should like to see my name in print, though I do not know as I shall. If you ever happen to pass through this place, we shall be very happy to see you at our house.
[Editor: ] Our little friend, Bennie Tompkins, of Baltimore, who is sending us lots of new subscribers, and is wide awake for the prizes, says, “Merry’s Museum is the best magazine in this world or any other world.” Pretty strong, but Bennie is a boy of excellent taste and judgment.
He says that Imogen is not the only one who received a letter from Santa Claus, for his cousin Freddy had one, and he himself had one at the same time from Kriss Kringle. Here they are:—
LETTER TO BENNIE.
Here I come! I come!
Is no one at home?
Ha! all are asleep,
And now I can peep
Into the playhouse
As still as a mouse.
But what do I see!
Things helter skelter,
Nothing’s in kelter.
I cannot bring toys
Or any such joys
To children who thus
Throw all in a muss.
Now this will not do,
My young friend and true,
And if all is not neat
When I pass up this street
On the next Christmas Eve,
I will just take my leave.
In the morning you’ll find
I’ve left nothing behind,
And too late you will see
You have not pleased me,
And you’ll feel your ears tingle
When you meet friend
Christmas Eve, 1854.
LETTER TO FREDDY.
So, so, little Freddy,
This stocking is ready [p. 92 ]
For you I perceive,
And so I must leave
A word of advice
As well as things nice.
I hear that you cry
And make a great noise,
’Twill surely prevent me
From bringing you toys.
Indeed you must cease
Kind mamma to tease,
For it is really sad
To see you so bad.
And you have other tricks
Which are kin to Old Nick’s,
Which, if you don’t cure,
Will ruin you sure.
But still I may hope
When I next take the rope
Down the chimney to swing,
You’ll be ready to sing,
“I now never bellow,
I am a good little fellow,”
And then I’ll be glad
To find a nice lad,
And you will have cause
Christmas Eve, 1854.
Murfreesboro, Tenn., Feb. 11, 1855.
Mr. Merry:—I send you a dollar for the Museum this year. I am very much pleased with it. It grows better and better every month. My father takes between thirty and forty publications, but there is not one so eagerly looked for, or so gladly received and read, as our Merry, both by old and young.
Brooklyn, Feb. 17th, 1855.
My Dear Mr. Merry:—I take the liberty of sending you my first efforts in the way of enigmas. Mother says she likes geographical enigmas because they are instructive as well as amusing, and send the children to their maps. I have never written to you before, but mother says I need not be afraid of you. She has seen you, and wasn’t scared a bit. Hoping you will not wish that I may never write to you again, I am yours, respectfully,
Wellsboro, March 7th, 1855.
Mr. Merry:—How well your name must fit you. I always imagine you looking like Santa Claus in the picture just going down the chimney.
Now my name is White, but I am anything but a white boy, being as brown as a nut.
Geneseo, Henry Co., Ill., Feb. 26th.
Mr. Merry:—I am not a very large boy, and I live away off almost on the very brink of the great Father of Waters, but little boys want good reading out here as well as in the East. I love the West. We have not been here long. We used to live in the Empire State, but my dear dear papa wanted to preach the Gospel to the people out here, but he only lived long enough to make the people love him very much, and then God took him away from us. I helped my dear mother, and she kindly gave me a dollar to pay for the Museum, and I am so glad every time it comes. It is near three years since my father died, but I remember much instruction he gave me, and my mother has tried hard to keep us from being dependent, and God has helped us.
Charles H. Ward.
Cornwall, March 6th, 1855.
Mr. Merry:—Spring has come, and old Winter, wrapping his snow-white mantle around him, has retired to his icy dominions in the north, and in his place, sweet Spring comes tripping over the earth, scattering flowers along her path, and diffusing joy and gladness all around her. Spring has come. The brooks, released from their frosty chains, dance merrily along in the clear sunshine, rejoicing in their freedom. The birds carol gaily among the trees, the fresh-grown grass gives forth a sweet odor, and all Nature wears a gladsome aspect.
Spring has come. In the city, even it is peeping out from crack and crevice, showing itself in every accessible place. The pale seamstress, poor though she be, still cherishes her simple flowers, and carefully sets them on the narrow window sill, that they may enjoy the warm sunshine.
The thoroughfares are alive with crowds of happy people, tempted out by the beauty of the day. The canaries warble melodiously from their wired prisons, and the half-dead trees show incipient signs of life.
Yes, Spring has come, stern Winter has fled, and all his attendant train of evils. Hoping you may live to enjoy many Springs, I am yours,
Calais, March 12th, 1855.
Mr. Merry:—I have taken your interesting Magazine for four years, and have not found any fault whatever with but one number, that is [p. 159 ] the December number for 1854; those flags are a little more than we downeast boys, who are “true Americans,” can put up with. As to putting British flags into an American magazine, I think it is too much. I think the Museum is excellent, but I have heard a good deal said about that one thing here in Calais, and I thought I would give a hint—you know when the heart of an American gets hot, it begins to flame; but I am afraid I shall fill up too much space; if you will please insert this you will very much oblige a
[Editor: ] That’s the true grit. Sebastopol may be taken, but Yankeedom will not be while such boys flourish.
But who said that was an American ship that we launched in the December number? Don’t they build ships in England and launch them too? When we launch an American ship won’t we have the stars and stripes? If we don’t, then put on.
New York, May 1st, 1855.
Mr. Merry:—The top of a barrel and the edge of a wash-board form the best accommodation for writing that I can procure, under existing circumstances, for it is moving day—that memorable occasion on which every one is expected to turn his house and family topsy-turvy for the sake of change. If, therefore, you should find sundry strange slips and vagaries of the pen, you will know what to attribute them to.
I have lately become quite interested in a little kitten kept in my father’s store. She is no great beauty, but her playfulness renders her a pet with every one. Her color is white, with black caudal appendage, and a spot over her left eye, suggestive of a black patch, and her eyes are a sort of can’t-be-described color. On the whole, she is a homely specimen of the feline race, but atones for it by her vivacity. When any one enters the office, she makes it a point to run up his pantaloons, and sometimes to mount his shoulders and give him a hearty kiss, after her fashion. She’s not at all bashful. The other day she performed the exploit of catching her first mouse. The devoted victim was small, and evidently had not long experienced the joys and sorrows of this world. Kit spied him crouching in the middle of the floor, and springing upon, bore him into the office, and displayed him with as much pride as a mother shows with her first baby. After playing with him awhile, she put [p. 187 ] an end to his existence; and, having now tasted mouse, was fierce for more. Emboldened by success, she bravely attacked a huge rat; but, alas for kitty’s pluck! Rat showed fight, and gave her such a severe nip on the nose, that, thinking “discretion the better part of valor,” she ingloriously fled, with piteous cries. Since then, she has confined her exploits to the mouse family. But enough.
Willie H. Coleman.
Dear Mr. Merry:—
I am a little girl not yet quite seven,
Though I can read as well as most at eleven.
I will not boast of what I can do,
But I wish to write a letter to you.
I like your Museum very much and mean to pay for it next year.
Your little friend,
[p. 188; Editor: ]
Dear Jennie D., ’tis clear to me
That you will prove a treasure,
For don’t you say, you mean to pay
For what affords you pleasure?
My Dear Mr. Merry:—The Museum is here again. With it I welcome the gentle May. I love this month, although it is not my favorite. Oh no! I love the stern, cold, old Winter. Don’t you love to gather around the blazing fire and whisper to yourself, “We are all here?” I always feel like weeping when the fire is put out and the grate hid from sight. Still it is pleasant to go out into the woods and crown our queen, and there establish our mimic kingdom. And oh! Mr. Merry, we have such grand old hills here, and rocks so covered with great towering oaks that you can scarcely see them. I do love the woods. I wish, Mr. Merry, you would come out here and see how happy we are at our picnics. Won’t you ever come and see what a “pleasant retreat” we have? I have got the answers to the most of your enigmas, but will not send them, as many others will send. I hope there will not be any of the subscribers angry with the prizes awarded this time.
Your grateful friend,
Mr. Merry:—I have never written to you before; but I hope you will not despise a letter from a new subscriber. I study your History and like it very much. I suppose, from this, that I should like you, too, if I knew you; for a man, they say, is known by what he does.
“rained like guns”: Lighter: usually “great guns”: violently or energetically, usually referring to wind; the earliest use listed is dated 1780. [J. E. Lighter, ed. Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang. New York: Random House, 1994-2012.]
Allies: France, Britain, and Turkey, during the Crimean War were allied against Russia, which had invaded Turkey. The Allies engaged the Russian army in 1854. In September 1856 the Museum printed a section from “Balloon Travels Around the World” in which—in their imaginations—Robert Merry and his friends drift over the scene of battle and are captured by the Russians.
Dear Mr. Merry:—We are much pleased with your Museum, away up here among the hills of New Hampshire, and have many a merry laugh, guessing the riddles, while boiling the maple sugar, and that reminds me we should be very happy to have you come and help us eat this maple sugar.
My dear Mr. Merry:—For once I write to you away—far away from the sacred precincts of my own loved home—my cherished “Pleasant Retreat.” I am now in the noisy, bustling city, where, not for an instant, can you gain a moment of quiet. Even the solemn even time, which is always to me so sacred, is here profaned by the endless din of the rattling drays and flying omnibuses. But you, who are always in the city, cannot appreciate me when I say it seems so strange. O! much sooner would I be the careless country girl than the heartless coquette, or the spoiled pet of those who kneel to the gilded shrine of mammon. I have got the answers to a few of your questions, &c.
Your true friend,
[Editor: ] Give us your hand, Mary. We do appreciate you and your love of rural life. We have enjoyed it, too, and even now it is associated with all that is beautiful and sacred on earth. Be happy in the boundless freedom of your country home, and commiserate, if you choose, those who are confined to brick walls and artificial modes of life, but do not think for a moment that city girls are all coquettes, or that city people all bow to the shrine of mammon. There are noble natures and generous high-minded souls here as elsewhere. Beautiful flowers and noxious weeds grow together in field and garden. Go where you will, beauty and deformity are everywhere contrasted, and we are inclined to think are more equally distributed over every part of our land than many suppose.
Oak Bowery, Ala., May 16th, 1855.
Dear Mr. Merry:—I live in one of the prettiest villages of the fair South. The white cottages beneath the shade of the tall oak and hickory could scarce be made more lovely. I think the sun shines brighter and the birds sing sweeter than they do anywhere else. All is life and happiness, and let me assure dear Mr. Merry, your nice Museum adds much to our enjoyment. I have often thought of entering my name among your list of little friends, i. e., with your permission. I do not know whether this attempt will prove successful, for it is about the tenth time I have commenced a letter to you. You do not like long letters, so I close; but if you have no objection, I will be glad to write again. All my little brothers and sisters who read the Museum send their love.
Cleveland, June 12th, 1855.
Dear Mr. Merry:—I will write a letter to you, and then, if it would be proper, I dare say I shall see it in print. How I should love to see you, and hear you tell some of your famous stories about your travels in Europe. I read them, but it would be so pleasant to hear you tell them. Oh, I love to hear of foreign countries, and customs, and grand old castles and towers—indeed, every thing you would tell. I think you must have had a pleasant time visiting some of the most renowned places in the world. We did not suffer, though, for want of instructing reading matter during your absence, for our Museums abounded with everything to please. Many of the “young Merrys” “set their brains to work” to help to make the Chat instructing, not as Mr. Hatchet seems to think, to “puzzle him” and “blunt the edge of his hatchet,”—at least I hope so. Please tell him if he will banish all thoughts of “beating a retreat,” I, for one, will be very careful and give him only “plain blunt English.” May his “hatchet” never become dull, or his eye-sight dim. I send a few answers.
E. W. H., June, 1855.
My dear Mr. Merry:—I have not written to you for some time, but I have been very busy. I attend the academy still. I am reading Virgil and Cæsar, and studying arithmetic. In three weeks the term will close, and we shall have a vacation of eight weeks. We have a good many flowers here, quantities of wild honeysuckle, smiling wake-robin, anemone, wild geranium, and uvalaria paucifalia. In berry time there are berries of all kinds—raspberries, strawberries, (wild,) blueberries, blackberries, &c. My little sister is growing fast. She is learning to talk, also, and can speak a good many words. She sends you a kiss, and one to Uncle Hiram. I think your Museum still improves every month. What will you do when you can not improve it any more?
Your affectionate friend,
Dear Mr. Merry:—I like your Museum very much, indeed, and I should like it if it came every week. I have a little baby sister, and she was born on my seventh birth-day. I shall be very glad when you come to see us. I think we shall have fine times. Will you please tell Uncle Hiram Hatchet, if he comes with you, and if he has any children, I should like to have him keep them pretty far away, because, perhaps, they may cut me. My little sister Annie is a darling sister, and I love her very much, indeed. She is full of mischief, tipping over pitchers of water, and getting the ashes out of papa’s stove all over his study floor.
Westbrook, Me., June 10th, 1855.
Mr. Merry:—Upon looking over the last No. of the Museum, I see that you have a great many correspondents, and a great many who write letters very superior to mine, so that I am almost afraid to try. I am very much pleased with the Museum; it is a great pleasure to me to look out the enigmas—also to read the letters from your correspondents. I am a Yankee by birth, but have lived in the city of Baltimore for the last ten years. I am now at school at Westbrook, a beautiful little town, situated about two and a half miles from the city of Portland. We have a very good school. Our teachers are very kind, and we enjoy ourselves very much. This is one of the most healthy villages in Maine. It is a beautiful place in the spring, when the flowers begin to bud, and the trees unfold their leaves, and the birds sing so sweetly, and everything looks so pleasant.
Louis M. W.
Terre Haute, June 6th, 1855.
Dear Mr. Merry:—You can’t imagine what strange weather we are having, and I suppose you never will know unless some one tells you. We have had plenty of rain, and it is because it is raining to-day, and I am kept from school, that I write to you. Three weeks ago we had very pleasant weather; since then it has been very cold and very warm alternately. We sit by a fire a day or two, and then we are glowing in summer heat. To-day we are shivering over fires, with winter clothes on. Some very early risers say there was a slight frost lately.
Your hoosier friend,
My dear Mr. Merry:—I am home once more in my dear little “Pleasant Retreat.” Your respected jury and I agree admirably. Most sincerely do I congratulate the successful competitors. I wonder if the charge of partiality will be used now. O! I want the next number to come so bad. I hope the next task will be an easy one, so that I can compete for what I know will be a desirable prize. I know, Mr. Merry, that there are “noble natures and generous, high-minded souls” in the city. But then, are not our natures much more apt to become vitiated in the city than in the country, where everything is fresh and sweet, pointing us always “from Nature up to Nature’s God?”
Your constant reader,
[Editor: ] Mary, if in adverse circumstances persons do hold on in a lofty career, is not their character proportionably ennobled and perfected? It is true that the charming serenity of rural life favors the formation of a virtuous character, and many are very good there, who amid stronger temptations would go astray. On the other hand, some, by the very effort to resist the counteracting currents, are made stronger and better. Perhaps in a city there may be greater extremes of character, but we must remember that we can be good, and true, and kind, everywhere. It is not place, so much as the manner in which we act in our place, that makes our character, or that constitutes our enjoyment.
jury for contest: judges of a prize sentence contest announced in Januart 1855, for a sentence of 26 words, each word beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. Prize sentences were listed in May. A jury of nine pared the list; a committee of five pared it further. A committee consisting of the Rev. Dr. Storrs, of Brooklyn, and of the editors of the New York Evangelist and the Home Journal made the final decision. The winners were announced in July.
“from Nature up to Nature’s God”: Alexander Pope, “An Essay on Man” (1733-1734) epistle 4, lines 331-2: “Slave to no sect, who takes no private road/ But looks through nature up to nature’s God.”
Cornwall, July 9, 1855.
Mr. Merry:—I fear J. T. D. will think that I have backed out in relation to that problem, as there is no reply from me in the July number. I sent a letter containing reasons why I could not answer it at present. Perhaps you did not deem it best to insert it; if so, James must call on you for an explanation. I suppose most of your boy-readers have often experienced the pleasure of swimming. We certainly do up here; but it sometimes happens that our sport is varied by an unlooked-for occurrence. Such a case “came off” not long since. We were enjoying ourselves, as usual, when an ominous-looking cloud arose, and low mutterings of thunder could be heard in the distance. We came out, and were in the midst of dressing, when the big, round drops began to fall fast and faster, till, whew! it poured in a perfect torrent. We ran for the shelter of the nearest tree or bush, but it was of no avail—all were soaked to the skin in a trice, and harder and harder came the rain, till you could see but a few feet before you. Every now and then the hoarse thunder pealed through the air, and the lightning flashed, seeming as if a fierce battle were going on above. Suddenly the storm ceased, the sun came forth from behind the dark masses of cloud, a beautiful rainbow spanned the sky and river; mountain and plain threw back a golden light. ’Tis but a step from the sublime to the ridiculous; and as I turned my eyes from this enchanting scene, I felt the truth of the old adage. The boys were emerging from their different coverts, like half drowned rats after a freshet—some searching for missing articles of clothing, others fishing theirs out of the numerous impromptu brooks which were rushing down on all sides. Some were lifting up in dismay their boots, half filled with sand and water, or lamenting the disappearance of a necessary article. But it were long to tell of our various adventures—of our row home, and how we run aground, and had to pull the boat to the dock, it being low tide; what an appearance we presented along the road, and how, in our sad plight, we skulked home. Suffice it to say, it was not so pleasant as it might be.
Willie H. Coleman.
“that problem: appeared in February 1855. Created by Black Eyes, it seemed simple enough, but the difficulty lay in proving it to the satisfaction of other Cousinly critics: for months the Chat contained proof after proof—all pooh-poohed by other readers. By the time “That Problem” was solved, the tone of the Chat had changed, and the column had been taken over by its readers.
“came off”: “took place”; the earliest such use listed by the Oxford English Dictionary is dated 1805.
Fall River, Mass.
Dear Mr. Merry:—I like the Museum very much, but have never ventured to tell you so before. I have solved some of the questions, and send one of my own. I have travelled a great deal, and expect to go to Europe and the Holy Land before long, and I am studying French, for you know Thomas Hood says:
Unless you know the lingo.”
I was at the World’s Fair in New York. I think I did not see you, but I saw many other kindly-looking faces. Were you at the Crystal Palace in London? I should not have known you there if I had seen you in such a crowd of strange faces. Mr. Merry, I claim the privilege of writing to you again, as you claim your privilege of “printing or pitching under the table.”
Buffalo, New York.
Dear Mr. Merry:—I have just returned from a very pleasant trip, and father wants me in a brief way to describe it. He says he wishes me to be a good letter writer. He had business in St. Louis, and told brother and me one morning, that if we could get ready by the next morning we might go with him. We bustled about, and packed the “old brown trunk” full to the lid, not forgetting a bound volume of Merry’s Museum, with which to amuse ourselves in odd moments. Next morning early, we took the cars, and were whizzed out of town to Black Rock, where we crossed by the ferry-boat to the Queen’s dominions, and proceeded by the Canada railway westward to London, where we stayed all night, and were off again before sunrise next morning, and by nine o’clock we were in the “City of the Straits,” so called from its position. Detroit is the residence of Gen. Cass, whose house was pointed out to us by the conductor of the train on which we left Detroit. We were soon passing through a delightful country, the villages, lakes, and forest streams all looked very beautiful, and I should not wonder if the Museum had many readers in the trim little farm-houses we saw there. About nine in the evening we reached Chicago, and started next morning over those broad plains which lie near Chicago, where, for miles and miles, nothing was to be seen but smooth lands swelling like the waves of a sea, here and there a herd of cattle or a train of emigrants. We passed the place where last winter a train of cars was blocked in the snow, and had to burn up parts of cars to keep from freezing. About midnight we entered Alton, a town built on a high bluff and low valley. We were shown in the dusky moon-light, the old stone building from which, years ago, Mr. Lovejoy was shot by a mob. We were soon on the boat that was to take us to St. Louis, and in two hours were landed on the Levee of the “Mound City.”
The next day, while father was busy with his affairs, Charley and I sauntered about the city, and found plenty of beautiful sights to occupy our attention. After staying a few days, we started for “home, sweet home.” This time we crossed Niagara river on the suspension bridge, just below the Falls. It is a magnificent work, and there is no more jar with a train on it than on a solid floor. An hour after we were safe home, and very glad to get there, and Biddy, the girl, and Hector, the dog, were glad to have us come—one smiled out her joy, and the other wagged his tail with great gusto, which meant the same thing.
Mary A. Clark.
Black Rock: village four miles north of Buffalo, New York. [Samuel Griswold Goodrich. A Pictorial History of America. Hartford: House & Brown, 1848; p. 232.]
“City of the Straits”: Detroit, Michigan. The earliest use of this term listed by Mathews is 1845. [Mitford M. Mathews, ed. A Dictionary of Americanisms On Historical Principles. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1951.]
General Lewis Cass (1782-1866): Cass bought 500 acres near the mouth of the Detroit River and received 1200 more as a bounty.
“Mound City”: St. Louis, Missouri. Mathews: “so called from the Indian mounds that once occupied its site;” the earliest example listed is dated 1846. [Mitford M. Mathews, ed. A Dictionary of Americanisms On Historical Principles. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1951]
Mr. Lovejoy: Elijah Parish Lovejoy (1802-1837), American abolitionist. Liscensed as a Presbyterian minister, in St. Louis Lovejoy edited a Presbyterian weekly paper which he used to attack slavery and intemperance. Protest caused him to move to Alton, Illinois, to edit the Alton Observor ; here, in spite of protests, he published anti-slavery pieces. By Oct 1857, outraged mobs were destroying his presses. In November, an armed mob gathered to destroy a newly arrived replacement press. Lovejoy was shot to death trying to keep the building from being set on fire.
“Home, Sweet Home”: song with words by John Howard Payne and music by Henry Rowley Bishop (1822). The first line sums it up: “ ’Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,/ Be it ever so humble there’s no place like home!” The phrase “sweet, sweet home” appears in the chorus.
Bayou Sara, La.
My Dear Mr. Merry:—You are very kind to publish a periodical expressly for your little friends, for when we see “Graham’s Magazine,” “The Ladies’ Book,” etc., come to our “grown-up” sisters, we should feel very jealous if we had not something of the kind just for ourselves. Will you send me all the numbers of the Museum since January.
Ladies’ Book: Godey’s Lady’s Book (periodical; 1830-1898). Founded and edited for years by Louis Antoine Godey, the periodical offered stories, poems, articles, needlework patterns, and plates illustrating the latest fashions.
Graham’s Magazine: Graham’s American Monthly Magazine of Literature, Romance, Art, and Fashion (January 1826-December 1858), periodical edited for a long time by George Rex Graham (1813-1894); Edgar Allan Poe edited it with him for a year.
Dear Mr. Merry:—Here, in the western part of Connecticut I live, in a small village. I do not like to live here; I want to live in a city, and to be a great man. I like your magazine very much. I think the man that went with Mr. Catlin must have found it pretty hard to keep cool and not spill the gravy when the tiger was behind him.
[Editor: ] Willie, if living in a city would make boys great men, we would go and bring all the Connecticut boys down here, and not leave one behind to raise potatoes or make clocks, but it so happens, that the smartest boys are raised in the country, and if you really want to be a great man, and are willing to try for it, you have a better chance there than you would have here.
article about Catlin: “Keep Cool and Don’t Spill the Gravy” (Robert Merry’s Museum ; August 1855), one of the “Anecdotes of Catlin”: traveling with Catlin in Brazil, the author of the piece is cooking over a fire when Catlin says, “Now I want you to keep perfectly cool, and don’t spill your gravy—there is a splendid tiger behind you!” The author must stay completely still while Catlin crawls to their boat to retrieve a rifle and shoot the tiger.
E. W. Hill, Ct.
Dear Mr. Merry:—My cousin Charley is here visiting me. One morning I went out and found him walking on a pair of stilts, which we found last summer, which somebody had left. They were too high, so he cut them off at the bottom: now we have learned to walk nicely on them. To-morrow we expect to go on a boat-ride with father.
Dear Mr. Merry:—You see I am determined to be in season this time. I can’t afford to solve twenty-three riddles, and read two hieroglyphical rebuses, and get no credit for them. However, I had the satisfaction to find that my answers, with a few exceptions, agreed with the printed ones. Sister Bell wants me to tell you that she has named her canary bird Merry, and she thinks if you could hear him warble, and see how cunningly his black eyes twinkle, you would not feel dishonored.
sister Bell: Isabel Electa Kellogg (born 1 June 1844)[Timothy Hopkins. The Kelloggs in the Old World and the New. San Francisco: Sunset Press, 1903; vol 1: 468.]
Perry, New York.
Dear Mr. Merry:—This is the third letter I have written you, but the other two must have gone to that mysterious “box under your table,” which like the daughters of the leech continually cries, “Give, give,” for I never heard of them after they left my parental care: whether this will share the same fate and be written to blush unseen amid the unworthy pot-hooks of some of the juvenile Merrys is quite impossible for me to determine.
Do you know anything of our village? It is embosomed mid the hills. We are surrounded by wild and beautiful scenery, made glad by rippling brooks and foamy waterfalls; now dashing with liquid music over the rocks, or more ambitiously attempting to make artificial thunder. To be sure we have no opera, and probably neither Jenny Lind or Kate Hayes knew such a place was in existence, but all around the wild birds warble, far surpassing either vocalist. You may say this is a definite description, for [p. 94 ] what place has not trees and flowers, and brooks and birds? but you should know that though the flowers be no brighter, and the brooks be no clearer or flow softer, it is “Sweet, sweet home,” and who can help boasting of its beauties.
“box under your table”: The editors kept a box into which they threw letters not included in the Chat to use as scrap paper.
daughters of the leech: Bible, Proverbs 30:15: “The horseleech hath two daughters, crying, Give, give.”
Kate Hayes (1825-1861): vocalist. After studying in Dublin, Italy, and Milan, in 1851 this soprano began a tour of at least two years in the U. S.; she then traveled to South America, Australia, and elsewhere before returning to England in 1856.
Jenny Lind: the “Swedish Nightingale” who mesmerized America in the 1850s. Hearing of Lind’s popularity in Europe—though not hearing her sing—P. T. Barnum choreographed a concert tour in America that resulted in a Lind-mania that began before Lind set foot in the country.
Dear Mr. Merry:—My mother gave me a gold dollar on my ninth birth-day, and I know of no way to use it more for my pleasure and improvement than to send it for a bound volume of the Museum for 1851. Please be kind enough to tell me how much all the volumes up to 1851 will cost. I am determined to take the Museum as long as I live. Do you know that your printer made me say I gave all my money to grandpa to caulk his coal-boat with, when I only gave my cotton? No, no, money is too scarce for that in this part of the country. Since I wrote you before, I have been very, very sick with the cholera, and my darling little sister, who was taken the same hour, died the next day. I know she has gone to Jesus, but I do miss her so much.
Baltimore, July 24th, 1855.
To the Editor of Merry’s Museum.—Dear Sir:—I write at the request of my sister, Mrs. Tompkins, to call your attention to the notice of the death of her little son, Bennie, contained in a copy of the National Intelligencer, sent at the same time with this letter. The event was unexpected, although the state of his health for several years had been so delicate, that it was evident to all but those who watched over him, that he was gradually fading away. After some days of intense agony from ileus, which is supposed to have been the origin of his ill health, he was relieved of pain for a few hours, and breathed his last calmly, and with his mind perfectly clear. I write these particulars, because our little Bennie felt that Mr. Merry was his friend, and we feel as if you must be interested in knowing the cause of his death. His mind, as is not unusual with children of so delicate organization, was far in advance of his years. He never went to school, and was only occasionally, in intervals of apparent returning health, instructed by his mother; and he always surprised her by having learnt in some way more than he had been taught by her. Only a few days before his death he became very much interested in geometry. Throughout all his attacks of illness, he would count the weeks, then the days, which must pass before his next Museum could arrive; and said frequently that as soon as he was well enough, he meant to write a letter to Mr. Merry. He read every article in the Magazine as soon as it came, and delighted in puzzling over the enigmas. After he had been seized with spasms, a few hours before his death, a lady entered the room, whom he had asked to subscribe; he reminded her of it, by saying “Merry’s Museum, Mrs. A.” At some future day, I hope to have it in my power to write a sketch of his life.
Very respectfully yours,
Anne E. Schliecker.
[Editor: ] The following is the notice above referred to:
Died, in Georgetown, D. C., on the 13th inst., after an illness of three days, Benjamin Latimer Tompkins, aged eight years and eight months, only son of Juliet L. and the late Benjamin G. Tompkins, of Mathew’s county, Va.
My Dear Mr. Merry.—I have often been tempted to write you; but you seem so well supplied with correspondents, that I did not dare to do so, and to save you the trouble of pitching at least a dozen of my letters under the table, I have placed them there myself. It is now more than a year since we took your Museum, and I have always found it such a pleasant companion, that last winter’s long evenings (now, if you scold me, I’ll never write you again) I used to read the Chat instead of studying chemistry, physiology, etc.; and I believe your stories have done me more good, for I can remember them, while all such branches as the above named are not of the slightest use when we leave school; nevertheless, for fashion’s sake, we are obliged to throw away part of our precious time on them.
I am afraid I am intruding on your patience, and will therefore close, trusting you will cast an approving glance at my sentence. I would so much like to get one of your beautiful volumes.
[Editor: ] We have something to say to you, Mattie, about the utility of studying physiology and chemistry, but lest we frighten you off so that you won’t come again we will keep still till we are a little better acquainted. You must have had a poor teacher if you studied those sciences above named without seeing any practical advantage in them. It can’t be that you preferred the stories because they required less study; you are too good a scholar for that.
Mr. Merry:—I have read the September number through, and found it very interesting; the story of Ralph and his chickens I think is good and useful; the children kept their promise faithfully, and were well rewarded for their labor.
The wild-fowl shooter was in an awkward situation; I don’t think I should like it myself. I think he must have felt very glad when he got on dry land.
I see that you have been out in the country two weeks; I hope you enjoyed yourself, and I should like to have you come up and spend a few weeks with us. I live in an old stone house, with a garden in front, and surrounded by fruit trees and flowers. We have a large walnut tree on the north side of the house, which makes delightful shade, and while the weather is warm it is pleasant to sit and read under it. Year before last, we had about thirteen bushels of nuts from it, this year there will not be as many. One thing more and then I will close; you will have another subscriber added to your list. A friend of mine wrote, a few days ago, for all the back numbers of the Museum, since January. I hope the next number will be along in time, and I will be in readiness to receive it. Good bye.
“Ralph and His Chickens”: story reprinted from the Playmate (Robert Merry’s Museum ; September 1855). After Ralph persuades his father to buy him a rooster and some hens, he learns to take care of them and earns not only money, but the ability to work and to persevere.
wild fowl shooter: “An Awkward Situation,” paraphrased from a work on British birds (Robert Merry’s Museum ; September 1855). A hunter on mud flats is caught by an abnormally high tide. Jamming his gun into the mud, he clutches this anchor for several hours as the water rises to his neck and then recedes.
Cornwall, N. Y.
Mr. Merry:—At last I am enabled to send a solution of that problem which should have been answered two months ago, but under existing circumstances, has been delayed until the present time. I hope it will satisfy Miss Black Eyes; if not, I will try again. “Perseverantia omnia vincit,” as the old motto says.
x2 + y2 = 8
x x xy = 6} Separating the first equation into factors, and forming a proportion, extract the square root of the consequents, and multiply extremes and means, which gives an equation of the first degree, giving the value of y.
Substituting the value of y in the other equation, and completing the square, &c. as follows, gives x = 2,
Having found the value of one unknown quantity, it is easy to find the other.
Is it possible, Mr. Merry, that there is danger of the Museum stopping in consequence of delinquent subscribers! This must not be. Come, Museum readers, show your interest in its welfare by paying what you justly owe it. Don’t let it be said that the oldest Magazine, for youth, in the United States, was obliged to stop on account of the unpaid subscriptions of its young patrons. Send on your dollar immediately.
It is sad to think that our friend Bennie Tompkins is gone! Another member of the Merry family has left us forever. Another link has dropped from the bright chain. His death will be lamented by all, for although unknown to us in body, yet in spirit we were friends. May we meet him above.
Willie H. Coleman.
E[ufaula], Ala. [Transcriber’s note: Originally, “Enfanta”]
Dear Mr. Merry.—I wrote to you some time ago, and sent a dollar for the Museum. When it came I looked all over your Monthly Chat to see if my letter was there, but I could not find it. I am sure that I did not forget the postage, for I remember putting on the stamp; but I suppose you had so many letters to print that you never thought of mine. I live in old Alabama, where perhaps you have never been, and where there are plenty of figs and grapes. We have a college here, a very pretty building for this place; but I suppose that it cannot compare with your magnificent buildings in New York. It will do very well for a country town like this. I shall not attend school this winter, so I will have plenty of time to solve enigmas. I wish you would have easier ones. Now you must be sure every time you print the Museum, to send one of your numbers to me. I have been reading some of your volumes that are bound, which I like very much. I want you to print this letter. Now be sure to send the Museum, and you will much oblige and please your little friend,
college: The Union Female College was organized in 1853 and opened in Jan 1854. The large building was built of lumber from trees grown in Barbour County and sawed at a mill near Eufaula. On the roof of its chapel stood a statue of Minerva, carved from a pine tree four feet in diameter by a Philadelphia artist. The building later served another college and the public school before being torn down to make way for an infirmary. [Mattie Thomas Thompson. History of Barbour County, Alabama. Eufaula, Alabama: np, 1939; pp. 262-263.]
My Dear Mr. Merry:—Please find below the answers to Nos. 266 and 267.
Cannelton is quite a dull place. The only thing that keeps it alive, is a large cotton factory and the Ohio river. There are several coal mines here, and the coal is about four feet high; quite a low place to work in, some of your readers will, perhaps, say, yet the coal miners here are healthier than other persons generally, and prefer to work under the ground rather than outside. The coal is brought out in cars drawn by small mules, and then carried to the river and put on tow boats, for the use of steamboats. Sometimes as many as twenty or twenty-five boats pass here in a day; so you will have an idea how much freight passes up and down the Ohio.
Pay my respects to Mr. Hatchet. I will be very happy to see either or both of you. So good bye.
New York City.
My Dear Mr. Merry:—After a very pleasant vacation of three weeks I have returned to this close, pent-up city, and have commenced my academical course of study at the New York Free Academy, which is one of the noblest institutions of our city. It is very pleasant to be here, but I like the country, where you can obtain any amount of fresh air gratis, and pure, cool, spring water. When I came home, one of my first cares was to inquire for my Museums that I prize so much. If you will allow me, I would like to send you a little sketch of the place where I spent my vacation.
About forty miles from New York, by railroad, is the pleasant little village of Dover, N. J. It has a population of about one thousand. There are three churches, two schools, and large iron works, situated on the Rockaway river. There is a bank there, known as the Union Bank. The village is almost entirely surrounded by beautiful mountains, the highest and most pleasant of which is about half a mile from the village. At little more than half way up the mountain, is a place known as the “Haunted Dell.” There is a cart-road leading up to it, but it is very slippery on account of the leaves having [p. 127 ] collected there. There is a legend about this place. There was an Indian chief, who resided in Dover, long before the whites settled New Jersey, and he had a daughter who was loved by a man named Edward Langdon, a pale face, living in the settlement. The place where they held their clandestine meetings was in this Haunted Dell. The chief disliked Langdon, and the girl knew it. One night when he came home he missed his daughter, and inquired for her but did not receive a satisfactory answer; he went in search but could not find her. The next evening he watched her departure, and followed her, taking with him another Indian, and his bow and arrows. They hid themselves behind a tree, and saw the girl and Langdon when they met; but no sooner did the chieftain hear the voice of the hated pale face, than he fired, and wounded Langdon mortally. The girl fled from the spot. Shortly after her body was found in the Haunted Dell, she having committed suicide. To this day, it is said, by the superstitious, that her ghost haunts the dell; hence it is called “The Haunted Dell.” The place is said to have a mysterious influence over all who approach it, for all go down faster than they come up. The reason is, the descent is so steep it obliges them to run.
W. H. Belden.
New York Free Academy: school established in January 1849. Designed to offer a “Collegiate course” to male students over age 13, the school required each student to pass rigorous examinations in writing, geography, elementary bookkeeping, U. S. history, and elementary algebra, among other subjects; students then pursued one of three five-year courses of study. It was literally free: No tuition was charged, and all books and supplies were provided by the school. The Museum gave the readers a detailed and illustrated description of the school in May 1855.
West Randolph, Vt., Sept. 29, 1855.
Dear Mr. Merry:—I have been one of your subscribers for the last four years, and I can assure you, it is not a want of love for yourself which has so long deterred me from writing you a friendly letter. I have a great aversion to being considered less smart than others, and I notice that many of your young friends, seven, nine, and ten years old, write nice little letters, which I cannot excel, or even equal, though I am older.
I like very much to read your “Monthly Chat with your Friends,” and am fond of getting out Riddles, Charades, Enigmas, etc., but have not yet been able to originate one I deem worthy of publication.
You must know that I am a “Green Mountain boy,” and that my home is very pleasantly situated in “White River Valley,” and that my father is a farmer, and that about half the year I “hoe, and rake, and hold the plough,” and that the other half I am in school, exercising my mind as hard as I toil with my hands while out of school.
If you, dear Mr. Merry, should come and visit me, I should show you three pretty sisters, and two brothers younger than myself, and my mother would give you some of her nice bread and butter, and I know you would think there was one pleasant place even in Vermont.
But I am getting too familiar, and writing too long a letter for the first one. Please remember your friend,
“Green Mountain boy”: Mathews: “a Vermonter; originally a member of an informal militia organized c1771 to protect the settlers occupying the New Hampshire grants from claimants holding New York grants.” The earlist use to refer to Vermonters in general is dated 1811. [Mitford M. Mathews, ed. A Dictionary of Americanisms On Historical Principles. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1951]
sisters: Delia Annette (born 11 March 1842; died 4 June 1858), Emeline Amelia (born 14 December 1848), and Alice Camilla (born 6 March 1851; died 23 january 1870). brothers: William Chandler (born 11 April 1845) and Tullis Aiken (born 27 June 1855; died 29 July 1878) [George Chandler. The Chandler Family, rev. ed. Worcester, Massachusetts: C. Hamilton, 1883; pp. 1196-1197.]
Boston, October 13, 1855.
Dear Mr. Merry:—I feel obliged to disagree with you, when you say, “a good musician will play well on a poor instrument;” for I doubt much, if you would be content to hear Alfred Jael[l] play “the Carnival at Venice,” on a shaky, wiry, horribly-out-of-tune old piano, notwithstanding his proficiency. The notes would be [p. 158 ] all right, but there would be no melody. However, in spite of all discussion, you and I probably, will both adhere to the same opinions we advanced at the beginning; so I leave it for you, sir, to say the last word.
Bye the bye, Mr. Merry, who is going to be president, next term? You, of all persons, ought to be able to tell, for you are a proverbially good guesser. How would it look to see, at the beginning of the Chat, a huge flag, with the words, “Stubbs and Stebbins,” “Doephace and Fauner,” or any other political nominations, in conformity with your opinions? It is a wide field to make a guess in, with much hope of hitting the mark; still, as you’re not confined to one trial only, you may, like R. W. R., in his wonderful solution, strike the nail on the head with stroke number twelve.
I just now think of a story, which is quite apropos at the present time. A middle aged lady had just lost her spouse, and was mourning over her loss, when a friend stepped in, to say that his spirit had found its way into the next house, and wished greatly to communicate with her. The medium wrote down the words of the defunct, and proceeded to read them aloud to the company: “Wife,” it began, and the table nodded, at once familiarly and majestically, “wife, if you wish to have my bones repose quietly in their sepulchre, and my shade cease visiting this earthly sphere, neglect not to settle that bill of my printer, which my sudden demise prevented me from doing.” These words having been uttered, a terrible thump shook the table, the room, and the old lady, to such a degree, that the latter, thoroughly convinced, lost no time in performing her husband’s injunctions.
Come now, readers of the Museum, be honest, and pay your debts!
[Editor: ] We must let “Bay State” have “the last word,” to-day, for we have not time to answer him. But—next month—well, we don’t like to threaten, but—next month, we may have something more to say. As to the next president—we are, it is true, not given to politics; but we are given to guessing. And we guess the next president will be—not—Franklin Pierce. That you may set down for stroke No. 1. So, our banner is out, but we prefer not to put the full name on it, till after election. In politics, we have always found it easier to guess right after election, than before it.
“good musician play well on poor instrument”: Robert Merry, commenting on a letter in which Bay State explained why he found some of the pictorial rebuses illegible: “Sharp eyes will read obscure and rude pictures, just as a good musician will play well on a poor instrument.” (1855.2.124)
Alfred Jaell (1832-1882): Austrian pianist and composer. He toured the U. S. in 1856.
“Carnival at Venice”: “Carnival of Venice,” an 18th-century Italian folksong that was a 19th-century concert staple; among those who put words to the tune was Thomas Moore.
Franklin Pierce (1804-1869): 14th president of the United States. A lawyer, he was United States Representative from New Hampshire (1833-1837) and U.S. Senator (1837-1842). In 1842 he resigned from the Senate to practice law, but in 1850 he returned to politics and was elected president in 1852. Pierce respected states’ rights and tried to ban sectionalism from his government, but his attempts to act on his policies failed, and many in the North felt he sympathized too much with the South. After his presidency, Pierce lived quietly in New Hampshire; his opposition to Abraham Lincoln’s administration made him unpopular.
Stubbs and Stebbins, Doephace and Fauner: parody politicians. A “doughface” was a Northerner with Southern sympathies; “fawners” still find their way into American politics.
R. W. R.: His detailed explanation of his solution to the Algebra Problem was printed in October 1855.
Copyright 2000-2016, Pat Pflieger