Dear Friend Robert Merry: Letters from nineteenth-century children
Introduction

How to use this book

1840s: 184118421843184418451846184718481849

1850s: 185018511852185318541855 • 1856 • 185718581859

1860s: 1860186118621863186418651866186718681869

1870s: 187018711872

About the Merry Cousins

Appendix

Index & gloss

Sources

The Cousins’ Greatest Hits

1856

1856.1.29

Boston, Nov. 19th, 1855.

Dear Mr. Merry:—You don’t know how frightened I was—and still am—on taking up the last “Museum,” to find in it that terrible threat, made doubly so by the mystery and hidden meaning that enveloped it, as well as by the portentous shake of the head, which, I know, must have accompanied the writing of those words! Why didn’t you guillotine, (I “axe” your pardon,) “hatchet” me at once? As it is, I shall be kept a whole month in suspense, thinking of nothing but sharp blades and revolving grindstones!

You are quite right about guessing after election, it’s always the safest and surest way. But I hardly think that yours ought fairly to be considered a “guess.” Why, Mr. Merry, I thought that was a fixed fact. When a man’s native hills reject him with scorn, there’s precious little hope of preferment for that unfortunate from the nation at large.

Since X. wants to know what kind of a “stump puller” was used by Willie Coleman in extracting that root, I think it must be a near relation to the one, which, applied to a tooth, used to draw out the skeleton of the body completely!

Yours, truly,
Bay State.

“hatchet”: Because “Uncle Hiram Hatchet”—the representative of editor William Cutter—wielded an imaginary hatchet in order to trim subscribers’ letters to a manageable length, many Cousins took their chance to pun on and joke about the hatchet and Uncle Hiram.

“a man’s native hills reject him”: probably 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.

That Problem: appeared in February 1855. It seems simple enough: x2 + y2 = 8 (x = 2 and y = 2). The difficulty, however, lies in proving the equation; for months the Chat contained proof after proof—all pooh-poohed by the Museum’s 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. Reprinting the puzzle in Merry’s Book of Puzzles, the editor noted dryly, “If any choose to work this out algebraicially, it will be found to be no trifling puzzle. See Merry’s Museum for 1856.” (Those interested in the solutions should also see the following in copies of the magazine: 1855.2.95-96, 1855.2.124-125, 1855.2.153-155, 1855.2.185, 1856.1.56-58, 1856.1.90, 1856.1.124-125, 1856.1.189) In 2002, Matthew McIrvin pointed out that probably subscribers had difficulty solving the equation because there at least two solutions.

X: X. cast aspersions on William Hoyt Coleman’s solution to the Algebra Problem (see 1855.2.125a), which argued that x + y was the square root of x2 + y2: “ … I presume he will have no objection to telling us what kind of stump puller he employed to extract so remarkable a root.” (November 1855)


1856.1.31

Backwoods, Genesee Co., N. Y., Nov. 1, 1855.

Dear Robert Merry:—I am writing this letter to you on a smooth piece of bark, laid across an old stump, while I am seated on a fallen log, directly in front of a little shanty, which is, for the time being, our home. We are “Albany Boys,” and are spending a long vacation in these glorious old woods. You may think queerly of our notion, yet I assure you we have “prime fun.”

We have a neat little cabin, built of bark, and one of our little company is, at this moment, standing over a fire, cooking up “suthin good”—suthin which I shall help to disappear, as soon as I have finished this hasty epistle.

About a mile north of our cabin, is a beautiful little lake; and on the banks of it, all “solitary and alone,” lives an old hunter and trapper, who goes by the name of Uncle Ben. He is a perfect giant in stature, and, though well advanced in years, is seemingly as hearty and strong as ever. He still follows the chase for a livelihood, and we frequently go over to his cabin in the evening, and hear him “spin yarns” about his younger days, and the many exciting scenes he has witnessed. He has a canoe, or “dug-out,” and we frequently borrow it, to skim over the lake. Uncle Ben has a dog, seemingly as old as himself, and the quaint looking pair go out into the thick woods every day to hunt.

The other day, we saw Uncle Ben kill a deer; and a wild and exciting scene it was, I assure you. The noble animal was dashing along, a little south of Uncle Ben’s cabin, while he was standing in his door. He instantly raised his long rifle, which he keeps always ready, and taking deliberate aim, shot the deer through the head, and brought him to the ground. He then skinned him, and after taking all that he wanted for his own use, left the remainder to the hungry wolves, who prowl every night around the spot. Ben keeps all the skins he gets, and sells them in the “settlements.” He has a large pile of them in the cabin now, and they make a splendid bed.

But the boys are calling me to supper, and if I do not go soon, I shall not get any; so I shall close this letter here. We leave for home in a day or two, and shall drop this letter in some Post-office, on our way home.

With love for the Museum, I remain its friend,
Jack Wilson.

“dug-out”: in Bartlett 1848: “The name in the Western States for a canoe or boat, hewn or dug out of a large log.” [John Russell Bartlett. Dictionary of Americanisms. New York: Bartlett and Welford, 1848.]

“prime fun”: in Bartlett 1848: “Prime. Primely; in a first rate manner. This is one of the many English adjectives which, in our vulgar language, are transformed into adverbs.” [John Russell Bartlett. Dictionary of Americanisms. New York: Bartlett and Welford, 1848.]

“settlements”: Mathews: “Inhabited or settled areas, communities, etc., as contrasted with the wild country beyond the frontier”; the earliest example is dated 1737. [Mitford M. Mathews, ed. A Dictionary of Americanisms On Historical Principles. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1951.]

“spin yarns”: Bartlett 1848: “Yarn. A story. A word chiefly used by seamen. To spin a long yarn, is to tell a long or tedious story.” [John Russell Bartlett. Dictionary of Americanisms. New York: Bartlett and Welford, 1848.]


1856.1.58

[Editor: ] All will remember that in our September number of last year, page 94, we noticed the lamented death of little Bennie Tompkins, of Baltimore, Md., one of the brightest of the little company, that till then had enlivened our Chat. Here is a sweet little note from his sister, whose love for Bennie will never die:

Baltimore, Oct., 1855.

Dear Mr. Merry:—I feel very lonesome without my dear brother. He was reading an enigma in the “Museum” one day—it was: “What is the most difficult thing in the world?” And he said, “I think the most difficult thing in the world is, to get to heaven.” My aunt Maria, and aunt Sally were here last week—how much Bennie would have liked to see them. They both want the Museum, and I send their dollars. Good-bye.

Your dear little
Tina.


1856.1.60a

Buffalo, Jan. 2d, 1856.

Dear Mr. Merry:—The good old Christmas holidays are over, the evergreens are taken down, and the family band, who met, for the first time in many years, around the Christmas tree, are now in their own snug homes, perhaps never again to meet around the family altar. Christmas, with its pleasures and sorrows, has come, gone, and untried ’56 has pushed the grumbling old year away into oblivion forever.

A few days before Christmas, father, mother, sister, brother, “and all the rest of us,” left the noisy city for the calm, still country. The Old Homestead, as grandfather’s farm is called, is in a quiet spot. There we spent our holidays. Relatives and friends, many of whom were almost strangers, soon began to arrive. And when at last, our aged ancestor, in his quivering tones, asked God’s blessing over the Christmas dinner, a more numerous yet happy reunion can hardly be imagined. In the evening, the older persons got together in the chimney-corner, and told over the almost forgotten incidents of their early youth—talked over times forever gone, and wept over friends never again to be seen on earth. The younger portion circling around the cheerful old fireplace, with our plates of butter nuts and hickory nuts, and little mugs of cider, “told stories,” repeated all the jokes in the last Museum, unriddled all the riddles, ate and drank up all our nuts and cider, and then, after a game or two of “blind man’s buff,” in which we all succeeded in rapping our shins pretty hard, we adjourned to the company of the older folks, and heard them crack their jokes, and tell their quaint old stories of the by-gone days of their youth. When the old family clock struck nine, the “Big Ha’ Bible” was handed down, and grandfather, carefully wiping his best specs, read a chapter, and then, kneeling, poured out his heart to Him “who rules us a’,” thanking Him for once more allowing us to meet around our sacred family altar. Thus ended the day with prayer and rest, and here I will stop.

The Museum’s friend,
Mary A. Clark.

Big Ha’ Bible: Robert Burns, “The Cotter’s Saturday Night” (1784-1785) lines 102-103: “The Sire turns o’er, with patriarchal grace,/ The big ha’ Bible, ance his Father’s pride.”

blind man’s buff: also, “blind man’s bluff,” a game in which a blindfolded player must catch another player and guess her identity.


1856.1.60b

Murfreesboro’, Tenn., Dec. 28, 1855.

Dear Mr. Merry:—The * * * * came this morning. It is very good, but not near as good as the Museum. The Museum contains a great deal of instruction as well as amusement. We don’t get a long, dry article for instruction, and then another intended to afford amusement, but which fails to do it. A happy New Year to you, and may God spare your precious life for years to come, for the benefit of all.

Josephine Eaton.


1856.1.60c

Albion, N. Y.

Dear Mr. Merry:—I am saving my spending money to take your interesting magazine, which I take great delight in reading. It is a blustering winter’s day. The wind howls and whistles a dismal tune without, while I sit here by the fireside solving your enigmas. I have written one, which, if you think worthy a corner in your “Chat,” you will please insert.

Frank Marion.


1856.1.81-83

[printed as a separate article entitled “Willie H. Coleman’s Letter”: ]

New York, Jan. 9, 1856.

Mr. Merry:—I did intend to say a few words on a different theme, but the great snow-storm which has set New York crazy, precludes the possibility of so doing, as every idea on any other subject is most effectually “snowed under.” Therefore I shall resign my pen to the leading topic of the day, allowing it to bore you with whatever may chance to fall from its nib.

I like dearly to be out in a snow-storm. Let the wind blow as keenly as it may, and the driving flakes pour down, it suits me all the better. Accordingly, on Saturday, towards evening, when the storm had well set in, I sallied forth, “armed and equipped as the weather directs,” resolved to brave the wintry [p. 82 ] perils I might chance to meet. But alas, for my determination, I had scarcely gone three yards, when my onward progress was arrested by an insidious bit of ice, concealed from view by a treacherous coating of snow. I slipped—staggered forward—cast my arms above me in wild despair, and fell—fell with a crash upon the pavement, simultaneously wounded in body and mind. I arose a “sadder but a wiser” boy, and thenceforward took more heed to my steps. However it availed me but little. Again and again did I suddenly discover myself on the cold ground, until disheartened at my misfortunes, I retraced my steps homeward, when, unwarned by experience, I humbly bent my knee in suppliance to the Ice-King, on precisely the same spot which had been the scene of my first exploit. This was too much. I reached home, and with aching limbs sought my bed, hoping to obtain some rest.

But the storm was now raging so violently, that it was almost impossible to sleep. The shrieking blast swept wildly through the streets, whirling the snow in blinding clouds, heaping it up in huge masses, and playing all manner of fantastic tricks. It roared around snug dwellings, and down the chimneys, as if enraged at not gaining admittance; then it died away into a gentle moan, a soft whisper; then suddenly it roused itself and swept on with ten-fold vehemence. In the midst of the wild uproar, the hoarse clangor of the fire-bell boomed forth upon the air, its tones sounding strangely in accordance with the mad elements which ruled the sky.

At last I sank into an uneasy slumber, pursued even in my dreams by relentless fate. I thought I was being ground to atoms between two mill-stones made of ice, while a grinning fiend stood by, watching my writhings with demoniac satisfaction. Then the scene changed, and I found myself on a bed of ice, surrounded by mocking imps, who were rubbing my mangled body with a mixture of salt and snow, occasionally varying the operation, by pouring in a little vinegar. So passed the night. At last morning dawned. I arose and looked out. The tempest was over and gone, but its effects remained. Great drifts of snow lay along the street, blocking up the sidewalks and doorways, and shrouding the basements in total darkness. No trace of vehicle or human footstep was visible, and the white cloud-offspring lay in a broad unbroken sheet, beautiful to behold. However, it is impossible for New York to remain snowed up for any great length of time, and consequently the Shovel Brigade were soon out in full force, ready to clear the walks at (un)reasonable prices. It was quite a good day’s work to remove some of the drifts, and in many streets they were left as the wind had placed them.

Towards noon, I went out to observe the state of the city under its snowy covering. Broadway was as I have never seen it before. Immense snow-mounds lined each side-walk, between which ran narrow winding footpaths, scarce wide enough to admit of persons [p. 83 ] passing one another. But few sleighs were out on the usually well thronged thoroughfare, and, indeed, the whole scene appeared much more appropriate for a country village than for the largest city of the Union.

Having satisfied my curiosity, I was about returning, when just as I passed the New York Hotel, I suddenly felt a heavy pressure overhead, and immediately was enveloped in total darkness. Yielding to the force of circumstances, I sank to the ground, but recovering my energy I struggled upwards, blindly groping about me, and soon emerged into daylight, when I discovered that I had been pelted with a snowball of nature’s own making, from the roof above. Had this been all, I should not have cared, but, Mr. Merry, have you ever experienced that delightful sensation produced by a rivulet of melted snow trickling gently down your back? If you have, pity me.

Well, the snow-storm has been with us nearly a week, and has been productive of many a scene of mirth and jollity, as well as of want and sorrow. I might, if I chose, describe the incidents of the carnival which has reigned throughout the town, and especially in Broadway. I might mention the odd pranks and queer doings of different folks, or expatiate upon the miseries of omnibus-sleighrides, but this has been done and overdone so thoroughly by the newspapers, that I refrain.

But there is one thing I must speak of, and that is, the intense cold. Here we are, shivering over grates and furnaces, the water-pipes frozen up, ditto gas, mercury gone to parts unknown, or supposed to have done so, as nothing is seen of it, and everybody looking blue and frostbitten. The only person who seems to be in his element (if I can so call it) is the Brooklyn philosopher, who daily informs the public that it is extremely cold, gives a memorandum of the temperature of the preceding day, together with how the cold cycle progresses, and other valuable bits of knowledge, all of which said public knew perfectly before. However, if he enjoys the fun it is no affair of mine.

There, I think I have trespassed on your time and patience sufficiently for the present, so I will bring this letter to a close.

Yours truly,
Willie H. Coleman.

snowstorm: began on January 5; George Templeton Strong described the “great crowded sleigh-caravans that have taken the place of the omnibi” on the major roads. [George Templeton Strong. The Diary of George Templeton Strong, ed. Allan Nevins and Milton Halsey Thomas. New York: Macmillan, 1952; vol 2: 251]


1856.1.88

[printed as a separate piece entitled “Our Baby”: ]

[Editor: ] It would puzzle a wiser man than Hiram to say where this letter has been hid away, for nearly three years, and Hiram won’t undertake it. He is only pleased to give it as he finds it, and let those who can explain the mystery.

Providence, March, 1853.

Dear Mr. Merry:—I am one of the many little girls, who read your Museum. We have taken it, as many years, as I am old, and before I could read it myself, I used to be delighted to have some one read to me, the simple stories that I could understand. And now, when I do not know exactly what to do with myself, I go to the library, and take down one of the ten nicely bound volumes, and always find something useful and entertaining. There are six of us (big and little,) and all but the tiny baby boy, are very much interested in your Magazine. Mother often tells father, that the dollar paid for the Museum, every year, is money well invested. We live on a pleasant hill, overlooking the busy city of Providence, and I know of no one who would receive a warmer welcome, in our family circle, than our friend Mr. Merry. But as we cannot enjoy this pleasure, we were happy to accept instead, of the beautiful likeness of yourself, which you sent us in the January number. I one day asked my aunt Anna, to write some verses about “our baby.” In a few days she presented me with the following, which it would please me to have you insert in the Museum.

Oh! how we love the baby,

The little fair-haired boy,

Whose smile so bright and beaming,

Is the sunshine to our joy.

How graceful every motion

Of his tiny hand at play,

With the flowers upon the carpet,

Or the toys we throw away.

How we love to build the castles

He delights to overthrow,

The towers and mimic Babels

He levels with a blow.

Were he the heir apparent,

Expectant of a crown,

No more devoted homage

Could to a prince be shown.

He is a little tyrant,

We see it very plain,

And yet there’s not a rebel

In all his vast domain.

Whatever be the mischief

His little hands may do,

Tell mother it was baby,

And she smiles at mischief too.

Whatever be the service

His little voice commands,

’Tis done with fairy fleetness,

By willing feet and hands.

Are we ever rudely playing

When he wills to go to sleep,

We hush the gentlest whisper,

And breathless silence keep.

’Tis not by wand of fairy,

Or beauty’s magic spell:

Pray what can be the sceptre

With which he rules so well?

Oh! ’tis one which those far wiser,

I often wish would hold,

For it will turn to softness,

The heart of sternest mould.

In the eye so brightly beaming,

Is the love he cannot speak,

In the smile so sweetly playing

Upon his dimpled cheek.

Yours truly,
Minna Columbine.

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.


1856.1.90

Kalamazoo, Mich., Feb. 13th, 1856.

Dear Uncle Hiram:—O, this is such a pleasant day; it is quite warm, and the sun is playing “hide and seek,” showing his sunny face just enough to make one feel like singing, for it reminds us in such a kind way that sweet spring will soon visit us, laden (as she always is) with presents for us all. Yes, all; she loves the rich and poor, the good and bad alike.

What a spring this world would be if man were like her. Where she gives sunshine and flowers, let us give gentle words and smiles.

I know of two, at least, who are doing much, yes, very much good for young people. I mean you and Mr. Merry. You send your little messenger, the Museum, laden with instruction and amusement—gentle words, which cause many smiles.

When it peeps its merry face into our house, I always receive it with a friendly grasp, and it is not free until I have read all.

Annie, of Chicago, thinks “Aunt Sue” is an old maid; now I think she is a very pleasant married lady. I am intruding, I fear, in writing such a long letter. I hope you will excuse me if I have done wrong; and remember it was a kind thought I have for you, Mr. Merry, and Aunt Sue, that prompted me to do so.

Isabel.

“Annie of Chicago”: Annie E. Drummond: “ I know Aunt Sue is an old maid—I am sure of it.” (1856.1.59)

Aunt Sue: identity taken by editor Susanna Newbould.


1856.1.90-91

E. Windsor Hill, Conn., Jan. 26th.

Dear Mr. Merry:—I study arithmetic, read, spell, and study geography at school. In arithmetic I have advanced as far as to multiplication of U.S. currency, and in geography I am studying about Europe. It is splendid sliding down our steep hills here. When the ice was so thick on the ground and the trees at Christmas, that Santa Claus slipped down with all his load of presents, and came near stopping his travels for ever. The sidewalk has become so slippery, one can scarcely walk on it.

At Christmas, we had a Christmas-tree, and [p. 91 ] Santa Claus made us a visit in person, coming in at the back door and complaining of the houses being built now-a-days without fireplaces. Our tree was lighted up with tapers of all colors, which gave it a very bright, pretty appearance, showing all kinds of fruits, covered with glittering gold leaf. While a number of young men were waiting, in came Santa Claus, dressed all in shaggy furs, with a long ancient-looking cue hanging down his back, and with a great load of presents. He complained that he was getting old, and could not see without specs. Mother asked him if he would like hers, but he told her he would rather have her re-spects.

At New Year’s, we picked the tree, and among the presents I received were a flute, and an alarm clock. On my birth-day, I had a few presents too.

But I fear my letter is getting too long, so I must close.

Yours affectionately,
Alick.

cue: plait of hair worn down the back, often spelled “queue.”


1856.1.91

Mason Village, N. H., Feb. 7th, 1856.

Dear Mr. Merry:—This is the season of the year in which we boys have glorious times going to school. Although the snow is about four feet deep, and the weather is cold as Greenland, it is still rare fun to go over the drifts, and draw the little girls on a hand sled. We do up our ears to keep them from freezing, and then bid defiance to the north-westers, let them blow as fiercely as they please.

I think it is a good way to cultivate “spunk” and perseverance, to go out in this weather. I suppose that if we had no obstacles to contend with, in this world—no head winds to beat us back—unless we pushed resolutely on, that we should grow so weak and inactive, that we should hardly deserve the name of men. That is what our teacher tells us, and I believe it is about true.

I expect to visit New York city in a few months, and I think some of calling to see you, and Mr. Hatchet. What hours in the day do you receive company?

From your friend,
James S. S.

“spunk”: Mathews: “courage”; the earliest such use is dated 1834. [John Russell Bartlett. Dictionary of Americanisms. New York: Bartlett and Welford, 1848.]


1856.1.122-123

Union Square, March 13, 1856.

Dear Uncle Hiram: It is a fine day. The sun shines warm, and it would look very much like spring if there were not so much snow on the ground. It is one vast snow drift for miles around. We can just see the tops of the highest fences around here. I take two papers besides the Museum. One of them is the Little Pilgrim, and I think that he is a fine little fellow. I find plenty of fun in the Museum, and that is [p. 123 ] just what I like. I have solved a few of the questions in the last number.

From your affectionate name-sake,
Hiram W. S.

The Little Pilgrim: magazine (October 1853-April 1869) edited by Sara J. Lippincott (also known as Grace Greenwood). Publishing stories and poems, it also included contributions from readers and a page of puzzles.


1856.1.156

LINES
Written when thinking of Rosie, by a little girl of eleven years.

Love met a fair child,

Tripping lightly along:

With a look meek and gentle

She warbled this song—

“O Birdie, O Birdie,

That sits in a tree,

I often do wonder

What’s Sunday to thee.

“Your voice is so sweet

All that holy day long,

That it oft makes me think

There is praise in your song.”

Love threw down his quiver—

He caught the sweet maid;

And now both together,

They sit in the shade.

Pansy.


1856.1.157

Carlinville, Ill., March 28th.

Uncle Robert Merry:—We have just got settled again, after a long trip from old Tennessee to Illinois; the former being my native State, the latter, destined to be my future residence, provided nothing turns up to change my present views. We had quite a pleasant trip down and up the rivers, and over the railroads. Fine scenery presented on either side of the rivers, and vast prairies on either side of the railroads, extending as far as the eye could reach. If I were a poet, I think I could give you a nice piece of poetry about our trip, etc. Nothing lacks to complete my happiness but the Museum, so please change my address, etc. Watch, Uncle Hiram, I’ll send you a barrel of apples next fall, that will make you a great deal sharper.

Your Illinois friend,
W. P. McMillan.


1856.1.158

Mt. Carroll, Ill., March 14th.

My dear Mr. Merry:—I am eleven years old, and take the Museum, and think I shall like it as well in eleven years more. Long may it live! We have had busy times in our little town of Mount Carroll, preparing for our school examination. My mind has been terribly exercised between two great things—my lessons and my new broad cloth suit (in which I was to flourish on the occasion)—but my mother says she hopes I will pass a good examination, as it would be disgraceful to be dressed finely, and not know my lessons. She says it would look as though more attention had been paid to the outer than the inner man. So, to prove to you that my arithmetic has not suffered in consequence of the new suit, I will send you the answer to Miss Mary T.’s question. I cannot sign myself by the romantic title of “Black-eyed,” “Blue-eyed,” or “Hazel-eyed,” as my eyes are of the indescribable color of a boiled gooseberry.

I therefore remain your ardent admirer,
Gooseberry-eyed James.

“Miss Mary T.’s question”: one of five mathematical puzzles submitted by Mary T. (1856.1.95)


1856.1.186

Lexington, November 17th, 1856.

Dear Mr. Merry:—Have I at last found courage to write to you? Yes; here I am snugly tucked away in a warm cosy corner, picturing in my imagination a venerable old gentleman, with silvery locks, dressed after the fashion of olden times—short pantaloons and knee buckles. I expect you will smile at my quaint, pen-portrait of you. I own it is not very flattering, and if you were not so good natured, or if you belonged to that class styled “dandy,” I should expect to see an angry wrinkle sour that merry face of yours.

Ever your friend,
Tema.

You have hit him exactly, Tema. When Uncle Robert reads that he will think he is looking in a mirror, or in your own bright eyes, and will ask to look again.

H. H.

“dandy”: Lighter: “a man who dresses fashionably and ostentatiously”; the earliest use listed is dated 1780. [J. E. Lighter, ed. Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang. New York: Random House, 1994-2012.]


1856.1.186-187

Memphis, Tenn., March 4, 1856.

Dear Mr. Merry:—Some time has elapsed since I wrote to you; you may think I have forgotten you, but I have not.

As I have never studied Algebra, I cannot take part in your Algebraic problems. It is raining to-day, and as I could not go out doors, I thought I would write to you. My little brother is as fine a little boy as ever you saw. He calls me daughter.

When are we going to hear about the sugar and May parties?

I got some beautiful new books on Christmas-day. [p. 187 ] I am so fond of reading, they call me the book worm, but I do not care for that.

And now, Mr. Merry, I must bid you good bye. My respects to Mr. Hatchet, and believe me, your sincere friend,

Imogen L.


1856.1.187

Boston, May 2, 1856.

Dear Uncle Hiram:—I wish you could have seen the fun on the “Boston Common” yesterday. May day was celebrated in good style, and good humor was “the order of the day.” It would be vain to attempt a description of the scene, and even to name over the various sports, in which boys and girls, and young men and maidens, were occupied, would be making too long a letter to be admitted into “the Chat.” Suffice it to say—“the pond” was alive with miniature boats; the air was alive with kites, balls, music, and the walks, avenues and velvety lawns were alive with youth and beauty, mirth and frolic, health and happiness. If Willie Coleman had been there, he could have given you a better account of it than I have done. By the way, tell Willie, if “Russian salve” don’t sarve the purpose, Fetridge’s “Balm of a Thousand Flowers,” is just the thing. It will “curl his hair” to a turn, and “leave him bright and glossy.” It will soothe and soften the outer man, as “a harp of a thousand strings” will the inner.

Yours,
Zadock.

Russian salve: a basic medicinal ointment in 19th-century America.

Fetridge’s: a liquid soap developed by Dr. Le Fontaine in 1846; because it contained honey, he named it the “Balm of a Thousand Flowers.” Honey was replaced by sugar after the recipe was sold to W. P. Fetridge & Co., but the name remained, and Fetridge sued several manufacturers who attempted to use it. The perfumed mixture of palm oil, lye, alcohol, and sugar was sold in a bottle wrapped in a paper of instructions and of extravagant claims of efficacy. [Fetridge v. Wells, 4 Abb. Pr. 144 (New York Super. Ct. 1857); Fetridge v. Merchant, 4 Abb. Pr. 144 (New York Super. Ct. 1857)]

“harp of a thousand strings”: Isaac Watts, “Hymns and Spiritual Songs”, Book 2, hymn 19: “Strange! that a harp of a thousand strings/ Should keep in tune so long.”


1856.1.187-188

McConnelsville, O., April 15, 1856.

Dear Mr. Merry.—As the Magic Square comes on swimmingly, and needs not artificial heat, or any other species of premature development, to perfect it, I will proceed to that which interests the subscriber more, viz., the Algebraic questions; and forthwith I would here advise you, that the famous Black Eyes’ last perpetration, has effectually baffled all my efforts towards a solution as yet.—But my motto is, “never say die;” so I don’t despair of coming out “right side up,” with particular care after all.—

Well, as I was going to remark, and didn’t, Willie Coleman, “Bay State,[“] R. W. R., and all the rest of the conceited (it is a habit Young America unconsciously adopts,) male Algebraists of the Merry family, must learn not to sneer at the weak efforts of the feminines to compete with them, and finally quietly submit to being totally eclipsed by the superior brilliancy of “female genius.”

You must know, dear Mr. Editor, that the hackneyed and much abused subject of “Woman’s Rights,” is a darling hobby of mine, (being “a chip of the old block,”) by which I rise to splendid ærial castles, where, before my bedazzled vision, float spectres of future fame and glorious renown; though in what particular [p. 188 ] line, I am still in unblissful ignorance—still, that I shall have a “call” for something, I no more doubt than I do my own identity.

Could not you, Mr. Merry, sage and philosopher that you are, suggest something in the famous way for a young aspirant like unto me? Miss Nightingales, Fanny Ferns, Mrs. Southworths, &c., are too common; this age of the world, the spirit of Young America wants novelty—something unique.

I am rejoiced to know that the Buckeye girls have such a gloriously able representative, in that distinguished and honorable body, the Merry family, as Black-eyed Mary; and I would gladly claim a low seat among such literati.

Yours truly,
Alice B. Corner. [Transcriber’s note: Originally, the signature was “Conner.”]

[Editor: ] There, we are completely cornered. “Woman’s Rights?”—what shall we say?—we, who think woman is always right, and who always do our best to get on her right side. We are the sworn champion of woman, and of children. Alice, there is our glove. If you mean to insinuate that woman is not right now—right-minded, right-hearted, in her right place, in her right sphere, and exercising her right influence in society, and, in all respects, just as right as right can be—then—we must quarrel outright, and you may go right back to the nursery, and ask your mother to put you right on this matter.

As to that “call,” Alice, every day and hour calls us to some duty. Answer these, as they come along, and you will have something better than fame for a reward.

Magic Square: a complex puzzle in which readers were to place the numbers from 1 to 36 in a square of 36 cells, so that each row—vertically, horizontally, and diagonally—would equal 111 and every square of four numbers would equal 74: “We are not sure that it is possible to accomplish the latter part perfectly—so that every square of four shall equal 74. But we know it can be done very nearly.” (1856.1.28) The solution appeared in June 1856, though the editors conceded that the winning squares weren’t perfect.

“Young America”: Mathews: “An American youth, or American youth collectively. Orig. a political name or slogan used with reference to a wave of expansionist sentiment beginning in the 1840’s and culminating in a movement within the Democratic party characterized by desire to spread American ideals and institutions and to extend American influence.” [Mitford M. Mathews, ed. A Dictionary of Americanisms On Historical Principles. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1951.]

Nightingale, Fern, Southworth: Nightingale: probably Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), whose pioneering nursing work during the Crimean War (1853-1856) made her famous. Fanny Fern: Sara Willis (1811-1872), American writer, the sister of N. P. Willis. Widowed and fleeing a bad remarriage, Sara turned to writing to support her two children; she was tremendously popular. Southworth: E[mma] D[orothy] E[liza] N[evitte] Southworth (1818-1899), American author of over fifty novels. Lush with sentiment, incident, and exclamation points, the works sold millions of copies.


1856.1.188

Charleston, Tenn.

Dear Mr. Merry:—Thirteen bright, golden summers have passed over my head, and yet I still linger with pleasure over the Museum, and am always first to read it. Yet never before have I thought of writing a letter for it. This evening, as I was sitting in the calm twilight, and pondering over the beautiful stories that I had been reading in the Museum, the thought of writing a letter for it, filled my mind. Then I thought, perhaps, Mr. Merry will not publish it. But any way, I’ll try, and so here I am writing away as though my life depended upon its being written. Please hide it away in some cozy corner of the Chat, just to let me know that I have written a letter, and that it has been published. Hold your ear down close to mine, Mr. Merry, and I will tell you something. Almost ever since I could remember, there has been a “still small voice” way down in the deepest recess of my heart, which has seemed to cry for knowledge, and I have so wished that I could write something beautiful and good! And yet, when I got the paper, pen, and ink, my thoughts have all flown away, and only leave a dark, deep, sadness, where all was light and joy before. But, O! Mr. Merry, I am really frightened. What have I done? written such a long letter, that I fear you will be offended with me for so doing. Yet please excuse me, and I promise never so to do again.

Yours truly,
Bella Bassett.

“still small voice”: Bible, 1 Kings 19:12: God appears before Elijah, accompanied by wind and earthquake; “and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.” A number of later poets used the phrase.


1856.1.189-190

Blakely, April 24, 1856.

Mr. Merry:—I am summoned

Out into a broad arena—

Merry’s Museum ’s broad arena;

While it scarcely is vacated,

By the problem’s vain combatants;

Those who fought so long and bravely,

Yet were utterly defeated.

Should you ask me, whence the challenge,

That thus brings me forth to battle—

Whence it came, and what its grounds were;

I should answer, I should tell you,

That your friend, our Uncle Hiram,

Whom I long have thought my ally

Now has introduced his nephew—

His modest, down-east, Yankee nephew,

Who has thrown his iron gauntlet

In the lists, that I may enter,

And thence prove to all the Merrys,

That to cane him has been threatened—

That he has been caned already.

Forth I step unto the contest—

Unto the unequal contest;

Coping with the valiant “Bay State”—

Coping but to be defeated?

How my sapient Uncle Hiram

Ever had the heart to do so,

Introduce his warlike nephew,

With such belligerent purpose,

Passeth my weak understanding.

How to cope with valiant Bay State,

Fills my heart with fear and trembling—

How to turn his sharp repartees,

How to foil his edged weapons,

I, so simple; I am puzzled.

Here I lift the iron gauntlet,

And accept the proffered challenge.

All ye Merrys now be candid,

Hear my plea, and then pass judgment

On my untaught speech, and simple.

This I say, to my opponent;—

“Have I said, that Hiram caned you?

Truly speak and answer, whether

Aught I said that proves he caned you. [p. 190 ]

For the threat, yourself have proved it

In the January number:

You have said, ‘that you were frightened;

Frightened at the threat portentous!’

See! I can refute it partly;

Can refute your groundless challenge.

If I’m wrong, then you are, also;

For your letter proves the question.

Now take up my glove and answer;

Answer that most valiant “Bay State.”

Mr. Merry, now bear witness;

I appeal to all the Merrys,

If my statement is not truthful.

I hope they all are sympathizing

With me, in the dire dilemma,

As I sympathized with “Bay State,”

Who returned it with a challenge.

Mr. Merry, come and see us,

While the lovely spring is flushing;

Flushing in its verdant beauty;

While the birds and bees and flowers,

All are merry, all are happy—

Happy in their joyous freedom.

Your constant reader,
Black Eyed Laura. [Transcriber’s note: Originally, the signature was “Lama”; the typo became a recurring joke.]

The inspiration for Laura’s poem is self-evident; The Song of Hiawatha was published in 1855; the poem is in response to an earlier poem by Bay State.

Bay State and “caning”: Actually, she mentioned only Hiram’s threat to cane him; after Bay State’s letter (see 1856.1.29), Laura commiserated: “Tell Bay State, I can sympathize with him. … Uncle Hiram has … threaten[ed] to ‘cane’ him and ‘box’ me.” (1856.1.93) Bay State’s reply—in the rhyme scheme of The Song of Hiawatha—took her to task for having the “presumption, most unblushing,/ To declare that I’m unhappy,/ Having had a cane held o’er me/ … I, been caned by Uncle Hiram!” (1856.1.122)


1856.2.26

Bloomfield, N. J., June, 1856.

Dear Uncle Hiram:—You recollect that some six weeks since, having occasion to go to New York, I made a call at 116 Nassau Street, for the purpose of seeing Uncle Hiram and Robert, and gave you to understand that I intended shortly to move to Newark, which I did in about two weeks. Arriving in Newark, and not being able to find a good school, I was sent back to Bloomfield, where I now am. This accounts for my letters being dated at different places. I would like to know if it is too late to raise a club of subscribers. Some day I will send you a description of our beautiful school—the Bloomfield Institute.

Your humble, yet affectionate nephew,
Carolus Piper.

Bloomfield Institute: a private academy established by the Rev. Ebenezer Seymour; it was open from 1847 to 1860. The academy had separate departments for young men and women and attracted students from the U. S. and abroad, many of whom went on to college and to the ministry. William H. Shaw, comp. History of Essex and Hudson Counties, New Jersey. Philadelphia: Everts & Peck, 1884; vol 2: 869.]


1856.2.26-27

My dear Mr. Merry:—Here is the Museum, and I haste to send my warm congratulations to the successful six. May they feel all the honor conferred upon them; and in the excessive height of their glory, I most humbly beseech them not to look contemptuously on one who could not pass the post reached by Cousin Hatchet. But in the Museum just arrived I find an old letter of mine written several months ago, and which I had supposed was, long ere this, committed to the flames by Uncle Hiram’s hand. You know he does every thing against, and but very little for, me. “Tema” says she has not flattered you. I think it flattery itself. I do love just such persons as she has described. How thankful I am that T. Augustus Simpson don’t happen to [p. 27 ] be Aunt Sue’s husband. May Day in Boston and May Day out here weren’t altogether alike. Here it was celebrated by a regular resurrection of woolen shawls, comforters, etc. And even as I write, on the eve of the last day of May, a roaring fire serves partly to light my page. Oh dear! Tell Alice B. C. to please not to say any thing more about Women’s Rights. They have enough to do now without getting all the Republic to attend to. What would they do with Kanzas just now? And if Alice were the governor of that rather agitated Territory, what would she do? Tell us, Alice. You may serve Governor S. greatly. Tell that Empire State down in the corner there, that I may as well bring up the dead as Prof. De Greth, Dr. Ayers, or any body Bella Bassett welcomes. You say “at thirteen years of age you still linger over the pages of the Museum.” Why, I look for it as eagerly as any one, and—now I won’t say how old I am, but I know, unless Bella is remarkably large for her age, she would not come to my shoulder. I have heard that “still, small voice,” too, Bella, and it was but very lately that I could distinguish what it said. I can a little now. Listen attentively, and you will hear such sweet things. Just listen to W. F. O. Mercy!! There, that’s all only abuse of Longfellow’s inexpressibly sweet poem. Such things can not be called other than abuses, can they, Mr. Merry? When shall we know what the next prize is to be?

Yours truly,
Black Eyes.

“successful six”: winners of the Magic Square contest.

Cousin Hatchet: In commenting on entries for the Magic Square contest in March 1856, the editor commented that, “One of the young Hatchets has arranged one, which has 21 squares right.” (1856.1.90)

“old letter of mine”: 1856.1.186 (not included here)

T. Augustus Simpson: friend of Susanna Newbould. When subscribers speculated on Aunt Sue’s marital status, he wrote: “If I was Aunt Sue’s husband, I wouldn’t let her have anything to do with the Merry family, for they are such an inquisitive set. They ought to be thankful for having such a valuable friend, without calling her an old maid.” (1856.1.187)

Governor S.: Wilson Shannon (1802-1877): American lawyer and politician. While a member of the U. S. Congress, he voted for the Kansas-Nebraska Act which provided that the territories of Kansas and Nebraska would to choose whether to be admitted as slave or free states. In August 1855, he was commissioned governer of Kansas Territory. At first, Shannon was friendly toward the pro-slavery Missourians, but soon he realized he could not control them or the situation; they pillaged the town of Lawrence while he was governor. Realizing that his attempts to keep the peace in Kansas were doomed, he resigned in August 1856 and never again sought public office.

Kanzas: a common nineteenth-century spelling.

Empire State: “Peace!”, requesting—in verse—the end of he discussion of That Problem: “And unto black eyes I would say,/ … ‘Don’t black-eyed Mary, don’t,’ again/ Bring up that problem dead.” (1856.1.188)

W. F. O. claimed to have solved the algebra problem in under four minutes and had some bold words about Black-Eyes: “Black Eyes have charms, especially when they propose, and willingly do I send a solution to her problem.” (1856.1.189)


1856.2.27-28

Gouverneur, June 3d, 1856.

Mr. Merry:—Really, what can have become [p. 28 ] of all your Northern subscribers? are they all asleep? or (very improbable) are there no bright wits among them? or (still more improbable) have you none? What can be the reason that they never write to you? You have “Down-East” nephews and nieces in abundance, and plenty of Western and Southern friends. What a pity that there are no Northern ones! I am sure there must be some, and I would like to have you throw some such bomb among them as an Algebraic problem. Then what a scattering there would be! But I think it would rouse them to their senses, so that they might let you know what they have been about this long time. I am sure they ought to have some interesting stories to relate. By the way, Mr. Merry, I wish to ask you if Cousin Sue is not some relative, or at least namesake, of our beloved Auntie? Be that as it may, she seems to be possessed of a similar power of guessing in a wonderful degree.

Your lowly Northern friend,
Ellen.

P. S. I see that you have another Ellen in the Merry family, who has gained some distinction in the discussion of the last prize problem, and with your sanction I will hereafter substitute Violette, that I may not appear to wish to clothe my feeble efforts with the mantle of her superior glory.

Ellen.

[Editor: ] Cousin Sue must answer for herself. We are not posted up in this department of genealogy. As to Northern boys and girls, we have among them many of our best correspondents; but they consider themselves as belonging to the country, and not to any part of it. Therefore they assume no sectional names.

Cousin Sue: In May 1856, Cousin Sue solved many of the puzzles that had been submitted.


1856.2.29

Palmyra, May 1st, 1856.

Dear Mr. Merry:—How differently the country and city child welcome the first of May! Moving is the mode of celebrating the first of May in the city. There is one May day which I hope never to forget—it is a day somewhat saddened by mournful associations, yet nevertheless sweet to think of. That day we celebrated by a May party at the Town Hall; we chose our May Queen; she was my first playmate. We had been to school together as long as I could remember. How we enjoyed ourselves at that May party! But in five months our “May Queen” was slowly winding to the cemetery, not far from the village.

Hattie Hart.


1856.2.30

Carthage, May 1st, 1856.

Dear Mr. Merry:—For a long time I have been desirous to write you a few lines. We are having merry times up this way. I have been making a visit to grandpa’s. When I was coming home, I met a man who was so drunk he could hardly sit on his horse. I wish you would say a word to the little folks about temperance and the Maine law. I have taken your Museum two years, and I have a bonny brown colt, a cherry red calf, a little poodle dog, a pair of snow-white twin chickens, not because they look alike, but because they both came out of the same shell, and I like your Museum the best of all. I expect you will throw this letter into your kind of a basket under the table, where I suppose you put a great many; but I wish to let you know I like your Museum very much.

Yours, with esteem,
H. H. R. Waite

[Editor: ] About temperance, we have had our say, a few pages back, under the head of “Cold Water.” We would put in another word here, but shall have to wait till you tell us more about “two chickens from one shell.” Barnum will be after you, when he sees this.

“Maine Law”: Mathews: “A law forbidding the sale or manufacture of intoxicating liquor in Maine, enacted in 1851. Also any state or local law enacted with similar provisions;” earliest example dated 1852. [Mitford M. Mathews, ed. A Dictionary of Americanisms On Historical Principles. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1951.]

basket under the table: The editors wrote of a basket kept under the table for subscribers’s letters that were unpublished; the letters were used as scrap paper.

Cold Water: The earliest use of this term to refer to the temperance movement listed in the Dictionary of American Regional English is 1830. [Dictionary of American Regional English, ed. Frederic G. Cassidy and Joan Houston Hall. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 1985-2012.]

Barnum: P. T. Barnum (1810-1891), great American showman. In 1842, he opened the American Museum in New York, New York. Barnum was a natural showman, masterfully promoting Jenny Lind—a woman he’d never heard sing—and keeping an elephant at his house in Connecticut, to pull a plow whenever a train passed on the nearby railway. In 1871, Barnum opened a circus that became world famous.


1856.2.57a

Dear Uncles Merry and Hiram:—I am so afflicted, that I come to you for sympathy in this most trying hour. I have lost my little kitten—the darling one! Oh! how she would look up into my face with her mild blue eyes, and seem to say—“I love you, for you give me such nice fresh milk to drink, and stroke your soft hand across my back so gently;” and then she would purr away, and close her little eyes so lovingly, that I did love her; Uncle, I couldn’t help it. She would follow me all the time, from room to room, and all around the house. Sometimes, when I was busy with my brothers and sisters, I would look up, and see the bright eyes peeping out from under the lounge, or from behind the door, waiting to see if I was not going to leave off petting them, and take her. How I tried to make her contented and happy—for she was very young, and had but lately been given to me by a kind friend. But Uncle Isaac did not like to have her in the house, he said she kept him awake nights, and Aunt Fanny wouldn’t let her stay in the kitchen at night, so I made a nice bed on the broad stairway, away from them all. This morning, when I got up, my poor little kitten was gone, no one could tell where, and I am so lonely; Uncle, don’t you pity me? If you don’t, I don’t know who will. I have a little brother, Johnny—“a wee bit of a thing”—as you would say, if you could see him, who says that he will be my pussy. Now, I love Johnny very much. I promised our minister the other day, when he was here, that I always would love him. But he don’t seem to me as my little kitty did. Oh! Mr. Merry, I do feel so bad. Please give my best love to “Pansy,[“] for her “Plea for Cats,” in the May number, and tell her I shall always love her for that, and hope she will always continue to plead for those who are not in a position to help themselves.

Good-bye, Uncle—my heart is heavy—I don’t feel as if I could sleep to-night—but must try—as it is late.

Mattie.

[Editor: ] A hard case, Mattie, but it might be much harder. Just suppose that Johnny had gone, instead of puss. I verily believe you would not like to exchange him for her. Love him more than ever, and make yourself happy by trying to make him so.

Pansy’s “Plea for Cats”: (Robert Merry’s Museum; May 1856), a piece asking readers not to break their pets’ trust by treating them harshly.


1856.2.57b

To Mary ——

Mary, you are my childhood’s friend,

And, Mary, may you be,

When I am grown to womanhood,

A woman-friend to me.

May the gardens of our hearts, Mary,

Flourish happily and long,

Like bright well-cultivated gardens,

Never choked with weeds of wrong.

And if in me you see, Mary,

An angry passion rise,

Think ’tis a little cloud, Mary,

And clouds soon pass from skies.

Let us be true and faithful,

For we may not linger long—

(Now I hope, my Merry cousins,

You will like my little song.)

Pansy.

Mary —— : probably Mary Woodruff or Mary Titus, of Auburn, New York [Patricia Carley Johnson. “Sensitivity and Civil War: The Selected Diaries and Papers, 1858-1866, of Frances Adeline [Fanny] Seward.” PhD diss. University of Rochester, 1964; p. 45.]


1856.2.58

Hartford, July 11, 1856.

Mr. Merry:—I had thought of giving you a prolix description of the multifarious doings on the glorious Fourth, in this rare old town. Of how it rained, and rained, and rained, till the clouds apparently, and the patience of individuals in reality, were exhausted; and curses, both loud and deep, were uttered against the weather. How it finally cleared up, and the sun and the “trainers” came out in their “gorgeous array,” along with the firemen “so gallant and gay,” and the arts and trades with specimens of their manufacture, et cetera, and so forth. How, in the afternoon, everybody went down to the river to witness the regatta, and how everybody came back again, tired, happy, and satisfied; and, again, how everybody went down to the Meadow, in the evening, to see the fireworks; and yet, again, how everybody came back again a little more tired, not quite so happy and tolerably satisfied.

Such, and many like topics, it was my intention to dilate upon, had I not recollected that a year or two ago I favored you with a similar epistle, and therefore concluded that neither you nor your readers desire to be troubled with the subject a second time.

Moreover, is it not all recorded in the journals of the day? Therefore, I will say nothing more concerning it.

I hear that our old friend Peter Parley is going to write a biography for us “little folks.” Is it so?

I’ve nothing else in particular to say, unless I might venture the remark, that one or two of the woodcuts in the last Museum look very much like old acquaintances.

Yours, truly,
Willie H. Coleman

“trainers”: in Bartlett 1889: “the militia when assembled for exercise.” [John Russell Bartlett. Dictionary of Americanisms, 4th ed. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1889.]

Peter Parley’s biography: Samuel Goodrich’s Recollections of a Lifetime was published in 1856 (New York: Miller, Orton, and Mulligan), but at two volumes of over 500 pages each, it was hardly for “little folks.” An abridged version for children, Peter Parley’s Own Story (New York: Sheldon and Company), was published in 1864.

woodcuts reused: Like many periodicals of its day, the Museum reused material. At least one illustration in the issue had been reprinted: the picture of a little girl giving money to a begging monkey that accompanied “Something About Monkeys” illustrated “The Monkey Beggar” in 1848.


1856.2.61

Lake-Side, Madison, June 23, 1856.

Dear Mr. Merry:—I have taken your Museum three years, and enjoy it very much. I wish to take it another year, for which I inclose one dollar. I am living at Lake-Side Water-Cure, a beautiful place about two miles from Madison, Wisconsin, situated on the beautiful Lake Menona, or Fairy Lake. If you will come and visit me, I promise you as many baths, as much cracked wheat, Graham bread, and hominy, as you can eat.

From your friend,
Blanche L. Delaplaine.

Lake-Side Water-Cure: medical spa built by the company of George Delaplaine—Blanche’s father—in June 1855. Ninety-two by 40 feet, it was four stories and could accomodate from 80 to 100 guests. Steam heat warmed the spa and heated the water for its many baths (one two-story wing was mostly bath rooms). The spa was not a success; it was made into a popular public house and by 1874 had become a summer hotel. [Daniel Durrie. A History of Madison. Madison, Wisconsin: np, 1874; pp. 241-242.]


1856.2.61-62

Easton, Pa., July 3d, 1856.

Dear Mr. Merry:—I have taken the Museum but for a very short time, but in that time have learned to regard it as one of the “necessaries” of my existence. Why, I would as soon think of doing without my breakfast on the morning it arrives, as to do without the Museum now! But my object in writing was to thank Cousin Hannah, through you, for writing the “May Party,” and to tell her, with your permission, how here, in Easton, on the 30th day of June, A. D. 1856, hundreds of miles away from where her admirable description of the “May Party in June” was written, we, the scholars of West Ward Academy, had a Flower-Queen coronation, in which Cousin Hannah’s description was closely followed. But to my story. Be it known, then, to young and old, grave and gay, that we have a teacher in our Academy who has taken the Museum for years, a young man who has the best interests of his pupils at heart, and who, to judge from the manner in which his scholars and their parents speak of him, has his labors appreciated. He, along with us, read Cousin Hannah’s account of the Floral Queen, and resolved to have a “crowning time” at our annual picnic. Preparations were accordingly made. The long-looked-for day arrived. The scholars of the Academy, numbering about three hundred and fifty, headed by martial music, with their own, and the “star-spangled banner” fluttering gayly in the breeze, paraded through the principal streets of West Ward, till they arrived at the residence of Charles McIntire, Esq., where they halted, while a beautiful wreath, and a large and handsome [p. 62 ] cake, with the donor’s name iced on the top, was presented on behalf of his son, Charles McIntire, Jr. A few remarks were made by Mr. McIntire, and then the line of march was taken up for the woods, which we reached pretty well tired out. After dinner came the crowning of the Queen (Miss E. H.), a beautiful young lady. No description of this is necessary, as we repeated, as far as in our power, incident for incident, character for character, Cousin Hannah’s order of exercises. The occasion was honored by the presence of most of the clergy and their families. More than one thousand persons, including scholars, were present, and not one accident occurred to mar the joy of the assembled multitude. The instrumental music by Masters P. and S., of the High School, was excellent, as was also the vocal music, under the direction of Prof. E. Clark. Suffice to say, that we had a splendid time, for which our thanks are due, first to Cousin Hannah, for giving us the idea in the Museum, and next to our kind teacher, for carrying her ideas into practical use.

Yours,
J. R. C.

Cousin Hannah: Hiram Hatchet’s “niece”. Between 1855 and 1864, she published at least 22 pieces in the Museum, including the popular “Holidays at Uncle Hiram’s” (1855).

“May Party in June”: Uncle Hiram—who publishes a children’s magazine—organizes the celebration (Robert Merry’s Museum; June 1856). Because in New England it is often too cold to celebrate outside on the first of May, the party is in June, and they crown a “Flower Queen” instead of a May Queen.

May Day celebration: celebration on 30 June 1856. As reward for “their diligence the past year,” about 300 to 350 students from West Ward Academy attended a picnic held in the Bethlehem woods. The children enjoyed swings and a lunch, and then held their ceremony. A welcome speech by Willis Bixler preceded a procession: “A number of girls then came forward, bearing flowers, and ascended a stage which was erected for them, and tastefully ornamented with an arch of evergreens, flowers, &c. The queen, Miss Emily Hackett, was then conducted on the stage by the guards of honor, and the knights, where she was received by the girls, and presented with a wreath, crown and sceptre, and other ornaments.” After the music and a speech by Emily, there were “various delightful sports” and the children had supper. A good time was had by all—including the editor of the local paper, who received a cake from those organizing the picnic. [“Pic Nic”. Easton Daily Express [Easton, Pennsylvania]. 1 July 1856: p. 2, col 2.]

West Ward Academy: private school built in 1854. A sturdy brick building 60 feet by 40 feet and two stories high held eight classrooms. In 1856, ten teachers taught seven schools, from Primary to the Grammar School which prepared students for High School; about 400 students attended. In May 1856, the boys in the school competed with the girls to see which could create “the neatest and nicest flower-garden.” The result was that “[o]n the east and west sides of the Academy are nicely planted flowers, box, &c., arranged in beautiful positions.” [Leonard S. Buscemi, comp. 1995 Easton-Phillipsburg Calendar, issue #7: Schools. Easton, Pennsylvania: Buscemi Enterprises, 1994. • “West Ward Academy.” Easton Daily Express [Easton, Pennsylvania]. 6 May 1856: p. 2, col. 3.]

“star-spangled banner”: Francis Scott Key, “Defence of Fort McHenry” (1814): “Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave/ O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” Soon renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner”, this patriotic song was a standard at Independence Day celebrations, and its tune was borrowed for presidential campaigns, such as the one in 1856.

High School: public school inaugurated in September 1854 and perhaps built by Charles McIntire, sr. Twenty-six students studied under the direction of Mr. R. L. D. Potter. At first, the school was all-male; in 1857 a female department was instituted. [Basic Education in Northampton County, ed. Estoy Reddin. Two Hundred Years of Life in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, vol. 6. Np: Northampton County Bicentennial Commission, 1976; p. 42.]

E. H.: Emily Hacket. After being crowned, she “delivered an address, which was very creditably done.” [“Pic Nic”. Easton Daily Express [Easton, Pennsylvania]. 1 July 1856: p. 2, col 2.]

Charles McIntire: names of father (c1816-1890) and son (c1849-1899) in Easton, Pennsylvania. Charles, sr, was an architect and surveyor who may have built the first Easton High School; in the 1860 census he was listed as having $3700 in assets, $3400 of it in real estate. [M653. 1860 United States Census; reel #1147: 418. • Jane S. Moyer, comp. Marriages and Deaths, Northampton County, 1885-1902: Newspaper Extracts. Easton, Pennsylvania: np, 1976; vol 12: 50.]


1856.2.93

Chicago, August 5, 1856.

Mr. Merry:—The last relic of the old Indian troubles in Chicago has been destroyed, viz., Fort Dearborn. Destroyed because it was a hinderance to the building of a bridge. It is too bad; I, for my part, would rather (if I could) swim the river twice a day, than to have had it done. When I saw the workmen sending log after log thundering to the ground, how, for once, I wished to be rich, so that I could buy it and have it removed to some public place.

Old Block House! how many times have I stopped to count the bullet-holes and hatchet-marks upon your venerable walls!

Poor Old Block House! you have gone, and your mourners, which should be many, are few.

Josephus.

Fort Dearborn: built in 1803 on Lake Michigan, near the abandoned trading post of Jean Baptiste Point Sable. It was burned in 1812 and rebuilt in 1816. The city of Chicago sprang up around this fort.


1856.2.93-94

Columbus, O., August 5th.

Dear Mr. Merry:—Well, I must come out boldly and vindicate myself, if possible, before the honorable body of Merrys and Hatchets, for I am assailed on every side; all the opprobrium of a Woman’s Rights character heaped upon me; accused of an anti-lady-like, pugnacious spirit; called upon to restore peace and good-will to Kanzas, etc.

In the first place, Miss Black Eyes, if the supreme power of this nation were vested in me, I would chain Pierce, Douglass, Shannon, Stringfellow, Atchison together by the heels, and ride them on a mill-wheel, taking care that there was sufficient water to give them a good ducking; and after settling everybody till they attended to their own business, I’d resign in favor of John C. Fremont and his redoubtable Jessie—the only ones fit to succeed me.

Secondly—Master (I beg pardon), Mr. R. W. R., instead of your kindly advice washing off a part of my thick coat of conceit, it only adds a new one; for it is amazingly flattering to see that such a genius as you deigns to notice my pitiable composition. And as to not having “enough skirts to clear,” I only observe that they are remarkably voluminous, and that I trundle my hoops through the capitol city of Ohio (apropos, Mr. Merry, to which city my father removed some three months since, when the most of my school days were spent), quite equal to any thing your unsophisticated eyes ever beheld. Mr. Merry, I [p. 94 ] see you are all bent on making me out an Irishman, a scion of the noble house of Connor, while I am virtually a K. N., and answer to the call of Corner; and to make it more plain to that degenerate “Buckeye” out East, I take my cognomen from the identical spot where Jack Horner sat.

If I were not opposed to Mormonism, I opine the best punishment for those mutinous rebels would be to marry every one of them, then if “woman’s weapon” (the broomstick) grows worm-eaten, it will not be from disuse. But I crave pardon, dear Mr. Merry—the next rule No. 1 will be, “Be short-er.”

Yours truly,
Alice B. Corner.

Connor: a reference to a typographical error in the signature to an earlier letter.

Wilson Shannon (1802-1877), American lawyer and politician. While a member of the U. S. Congress, he voted for the Kansas-Nebraska Act which provided that the territories of Kansas and Nebraska would to choose whether to be admitted as slave or free states. In August 1855, he was commissioned governer of Kansas Territory. At first, Shannon was friendly toward the pro-slavery Missourians, but soon he realized he could not control them or the situation; they pillaged the town of Lawrence while he was governor. Realizing that his attempts to keep the peace in Kansas were doomed, he resigned in August 1856 and never again sought public office.

David Rice Atchison (1807-1886): lawyer and U.S. senator from Missouri (1843-1855). Fervently pro-slavery, he fought to neutralize the Missouri Compromise and was influential in passing the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In 1855-1856, he led Missouri border ruffians into Kansas Territory; in Texas during the War, Atchison supported the Confederacy. After the War, he returned to Missouri and became a farmer.

Frederick Douglass (1817?-1895): American anti-slavery crusader. Born into slavery as Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, he fought his enslavers and escaped in 1838, taking the name “Douglass.” A laborer in the North, he became an agent of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and in 1845 published the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, going to Great Britain to avoid possible repercussions. He returned to the U. S. two years later to buy his freedom and to establish a newspaper for African-Americans; both actions sparked differences between him and white abolitionists. During the War, he helped to recruit the 54th and 55th Massachusetts black regiments. Douglass remained active until his death, lecturing on women’s suffrage.

Jessie Fremont (1824-1902): American writer. Bright, lively Jessie was conversant in three languages and worked with her explorer husband, John, on reports that made him famous. She also wasn’t averse to taking matters into her own hands, resorting to subterfuge to ensure that Fremont set off on a planned expedition after he received a summons to Washington, DC. She lived an active life as the wife of an explorer and senator, in Washington, California, and Missouri. When John ran for president in 1856, her charm was exploited—the first time a woman was featured in a political campaign—and Jessie became as popular and well known as he. For the first time, women began to swell the crowds at political gatherings, and some worked actively for the Republican cause.

John Charles Fremont (1813-1890): American explorer and politician. Handsome, daring John developed a taste for exploration when he served in the U. S. Topographical Corps; expeditions west of the Rocky Mountains in the 1840s led to reports written with his wife, Jessie, that made him one of the celebrities of his day. Fremont’s career was rocky: he was court martialed after the war with Mexico; his penalty was remitted by the president, but Fremont resigned and moved to California; a year later he became a U.S. Senator. A national hero, he was the Republican candidate for president in 1856, losing to James Buchanan. [Pamela Herr. Jessie Benton Fremont. New York: Franklin Watts, 1987; pp. 259-263.]

K. N.: “Know-Nothing,” a nineteenth-century American political party seeking—among other things—to restrict immigration to the U. S. and to keep Roman Catholics out of politics.

Stringfellow: John Henry Stringfellow (1819-1905), doctor and politician. He settled in Kansas as one of the proslavery forces, editing the Squatter Sovereign in 1855. That year he also was elected to the territorial House in Kansas, elected Speaker by his colleagues. When the Civil War broke out, Stringfellow was living in Virginia; not unsurprisingly, he served in the Confederate army. [Charles F. Ritter, et al. American Legislative Leaders, 1850-1910. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989.]

R. W. R.’s letter: “Uncle Robert, with fear and trembling I say—we ‘gentlemen contributors’ to the ‘Chat’ are hen-pecked! … ‘Conceited!’ I think Madame Alice would to well to clear her own skirts of the charge (if she has enough skirts to clear—I shouldn’t wonder if she was a Bloomer).” (1856.2.60)—a reference to efforts by Amelia Bloomer and others to modify women’s dress and eliminate the sometimes-dangerous sweep of petticoats and long skirts.

Jack Horner: hero of a nursery rhyme:

“Little Jack Horner

Sat in the corner,

Eating a Christmas pie;

He put in his thumb,

And pulled out a plum,

And said, What a good boy am I!”

[Iona and Peter Opie, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rymes. Np: Oxford University Press, 1951; rhyme #262.]

Mormonism: While polygamy was sanctioned by the church only under certain conditions, it became the practice best known to non-Mormons; when the merger between the Museum and Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet was announced in 1857, Harry Dale also used the theme, pointing out that Aunt Sue now had “three Bridegrooms,” which would make them all “out of place” in Utah. (1857.2.25)


1856.2.94a

Washington, D. C., July 19, 1856.

Dear Mr. Merry:—Have you ever visited Washington? If not, you should do so, as soon as possible. You would have plenty to do for three weeks in going to see the public buildings, etc. Every Wednesday evening there is music at the Capitol, and every Saturday evening at the President’s grounds. If you love children, as I suppose you do, you would find a plenty at either of the places to amuse you. I like the Museum very much, especially the Chat, though I think some of the correspondents are rather quarrelsome.

Yours respectfully,
Julia B. D.

music: After 4 July 1841, on Wednesdays the marine band played at “the President’s garden”, and on Saturdays at Capitol Hill. These concerts were a popular entertainment for the fashionable, who went to see and to be seen; when storms came up during the musical evenings, the President invited listeners into the shelter of the White House. [Elizabeth Fries Lummins Ellet. The Court Circles of the Republic. Hartford, Connecticut: Hartford Publishing Co., 1869. (Repr. New York: Arno Press, 1975); p. 309]


1856.2.94b

All about Eyes.

So many of the young Merrys have eyes of one color or another, that we feel an interest in having the character of each fixed by authority:

Blue eyes are tender,

Blue eyes are true,

Blue eyes are lovely—

Their smiles ever new.

Brown eyes are merry,

Brown eyes are mild,

Brown eyes are beautiful

As a fair child.

Brown eyes are dazzling

When their orbs roll;

Brown eyes speak volumes

Deep from the soul.

But black eyes are witching,

Black eyes are bright,

Black eyes are the index

Of the soul’s light.

Black eyes are glancing,

Black eyes are sweet,

Black eyes keep dancing,

When other’s they meet.

Ichabod.


1856.2.94-95

Noses.

Noses are so nearly related to eyes, that when the ayes don’t get it, the noes do. The eyes are bright and poetical—the noses are plain prose. Perhaps some of our subscribers will sign by the nose:

Little stumpy noses, it is said, indicate weakness of mind or imperfect moral development.

Short, thick noses indicate a strong sensual disposition.

A turned-up nose, with wide, open nostrils, is a certain sign of empty, pompous vanity, and belongs to men most truly called “puffed [p. 95 ] up,” who lack that charity which vaunteth not itself.

Large nostrils generally pass as an indication of strength, pride, and courage, as small show fear and weakness.

A large, strongly marked nose is rare in the fairer sex, and when found is a sure sign of masculine temper, or undue development of the less refined sensations.

Know-Nothing.


1856.2.95

Mr. Merry:—Your correspondent !—! has evidently put on his “high-heeled boots,” mounted his “high horse,” and run a tilt at your unprotected head. I hope you will bear it with “resignation.” I surmise that he hails from that State where it is the common boast of every native that he is “half horse, half alligator, with a leetle touch of the snapping turtle; can whip his weight in wild-cats, swim the Mississippi, jump the Ohio, and chase a streak of blue lightning up a thorn tree without getting scratched.” Am I right?

†*†

“high-heeled boots”: in Dictionary of American Regional English: “to be full of pride or to be unrestrained:; the earliest use listed is dated 1859. [Dictionary of American Regional English, ed. Frederic G. Cassidy and Joan Houston Hall. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 1985-2012.]

“half horse … ”: Kentuckian: “[T]hose men who, ‘half-horse, half-alligator,’ were supposed to race around in the American West,” Moritz Busch called them in 1851. The term occurs in Samuel Woodworth’s song, “The Hunters of Kentucky” (1822); farcical Kentuckian Nimrod Wildfire called himself “half horse, half alligator, a touch of the airth-quake, with a sprinkling of the steamboat” in James Paulding’s The Lion of the West (1831). [Moritz Busch. Travels Between the Hudson and the Mississippi, 1851-1852, translated and edited by Norman H. Binger. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1971.]


1856.2.121

Syracuse, Sept. 1, 1856.

My dear Mr. Merry:—What shall I do? Miss Corner’s last has completely annihilated me. Such cutting sarcasm, it seems to me, should have some tremendous effect. If I am found suddenly dead, will Miss C. give me decent burial in that “Christmas pie” in the Corner?

The grammar of one sentence in Miss C.’s last is certainly “quite equal to any thing my unsophisticated eyes ever beheld.” That wasn’t the style when I lived in Columbus. (The above is my last expiring squeak!)

But if they (you know who) will let me, I would like to live long enough to see Glorious Fremont and his beautiful wife in the White House. I can express my sentiments on that subject without fear, for the women are all Republicans.

I suppose Willie Coleman will write to you soon about the Charter Oak. He sent me a leaf of it a few days ago, solely, I think, because I had the desperation to take up the cudgels on behalf of the gentlemen contributors of the Chat. I am everlastingly obliged to him. I shall keep it carefully, and bring it forth when I read the Museum, so that if those ladies get savage, I may have something to fan myself with!

But Willie must have spunk enough to fight for himself. As for me, I shall now retire in submission and grief; and R. W. R., of Syracuse, promises never to bother you more.

Good-bye—what a pity you can’t deliver us boys!

R. W. R.

Charter Oak: Connecticut’s charter was hidden in an oak tree on 31 October 1687 after the governor of Massachusetts demanded it in a bid to extend his power over all of New England and New York. The oak provided souvenirs even before its death: “Some of its pressed leaves,” Lydia Sigourney noted in 1844, “or small articles made from a supernumerary branch, in the form of boxes, letter-folders, &c., are found to be acceptable gifts both to the antiquarian, and the patriot.” [Lydia Howard Sigourney. Scenes in My Native Land. Boston: James Munroe & Co., 1844; p. 81.] Willie Coleman’s “sketch” was published as “The Charter Oak” (Robert Merry’s Museum; November 1856).


1856.2.122a

Hartford, Sept. 8, 1856.

Mr. Merry:—I am inditing this epistle with a pen of Charter Oak. Whether it will have any effect on the subject-matter, I know not. It certainly is suggestive enough, and in another’s hands might be productive of many glowing passages. A letter, however, is not the place for what is technically called “splurges,” and you will not require them of me.

It was a gloomy day in Hartford when the old Charter Oak bowed its aged head before the blast and died. The citizens felt as if they had lost a dear friend, and all day long, and days after, might be seen crowds of visitors to the Oak, each anxious to secure a relic of departed greatness. At noon, a dirge was played over the prostrate tree, and the church bells tolled the sad news at sundown. I have sent you a little sketch of the Oak, and therefore will not enter into details here.

Yes, Miss Laura, I still hold to my original assertion, regarding your “murderous propensities,” etc. Your own remark confirms it, for you threaten to open the artillery on me if I do not hold my tongue. Very well, madam, open ahead. I wasn’t “born in the woods to be scared by a” Lama.

O dear, Mr. Merry, is this quarreling and fighting never to cease? Not but what I shall be ever ready to “repel boarders,” but is the incessant turmoil in the Merry camp to exist forever?

Willie H. Coleman.

“born in the woods to be scared by a” Lama: in Bartlett 1848: “Too much used to danger, or threats, to be easily frightened.” The line is part of a nursery rhyme originally published in 1833 in Mother Goose’s Melodies (Boston: Munroe & Francis):

“Jemmy Jed went into a shed,

And made of a ted of straw his bed;

An owl came out and flew about,

And Jemmy Jed up stakes and fled.

Wan’t Jemmy Jed a staring fool,

Born in the woods to be scar’d by an owl?”

“Lama” plays on the typographical error in Laura’s signature on a poem. [John Russell Bartlett. Dictionary of Americanisms. New York: Bartlett and Welford, 1848.]

“murderous propensities”: Letter from Black-eyed Laura (1856.2.93), in which she defends herself from attacks by the boys that escalated after her poem of 1856.1.189-190.


1856.2.122b

Robin Grove, N. Y., August 19.

Mr. Merry:—I had written a description of a pet dog of ours, who was poisoned during my absence at W——. It was a dog plea which I had hoped to send to you for September; but it has been mislaid, and as it will soon be too late for next month, I dare not wait longer, so I send you a piece of poetry (I found it in a very old book), which seems somewhat applicable to him. If I find “Our Watchie” (which I hope I shall), I will send it to you. If not, I will send it to you copied from memory, and thus let the Merrys see what a good dog he was. As the person who wrote the poetry lived almost a century ago, it can not be expected to be an exact description of him.

[Editor’s note quoting the last lines of the poem referred to: ] NOTE.—“Content t’ have gained all that thou now canst have—thy master’s plaudit, and a peaceful grave.”

I’m not sure that that was “all.” There was a soul in Watchie’s hazel eyes. Tell Mattie I thank her for her kind wishes. I have a little kitten here, and if she will come to “Robin Grove,” she may have it. Forgive me for being unmindful of the Rules, but I had so much to say.

Yours respectfully,
Pansy.

W——: Washington, DC

“Our Watchie”: The piece was published in the December 1856 issue.

a piece of poetry: “On a Good House-Dog Called ‘Watch’ ” was published in that issue of the Museum ; its author is still unidentified.

the Rules: “Be short”


1856.2.122-123

Madison C. H., Fla., Sept. 9, 1856.

Dear Mr. Merry:—As soon as I received the September number of the Museum, my eye chanced to fall on the letter of one of your correspondents, who seems to be rather pugnacious. I mean Miss Alice B. Corner. Alas! what are we to come to? Men must now retire and give place to the fairer sex! Buchanan, Fillmore, and the others, must soon retreat. They are sure to be defeated! They can not long withstand such a terrible opponent! R. W. R., I think, is perfectly right when he says, “I think Madame Alice would do well to clear her own skirts of conceit.” Why, she is a perfect Amazon! She “would tie Pierce, Douglass, Shannon, Stringfellow, and Atchison together by the heels, and ride them on a mill-wheel!” A novel punishment, though she never included [p. 123 ] Brooks in the list. Ha! ha! And, besides, “would resign in favor of J. C. Fremont and his redoubtable Jessie,” if she were President. Now I am inclined to think that Miss Alice is a member of the “Jessie Circle;” and, further, that she surely has one of those large, strongly-marked noses, rare in the female sex, which, when found there, indicate masculine temper, etc. So may the awful event of her elevation to the Presidency never happen. There’s such a great probability of it, isn’t there, Mr. Merry? But here I will close. “Be short,” admonishes me. Others abler than I have enlisted in defense, as R. W. R. says, “of us ‘henpecked gentlemen’ contributors to the Museum.”

Yours truly,
Alonzo.

Preston Smith Brooks (1819-1857): rabidly anti-North U. S. senator from South Carolina (1853-1857). Brooks took issue with remarks by Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts, and, on 22 May 1856, physically attacked him with a cane on the floor of the Senate. Sumner was permanently disabled, but a measure to expell Brooks failed to pass with a two-thirds majority. During a later heated debate with a Massachusetts senator, Brooks challenged him to a duel in Canada, but failed to show up, as he would—in his words—have had to “pass through the enemy’s country” to get to the duel. Subsequently mocked in a poem, Brooks resigned; his constituents unanimously re-elected him. [Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, ed. James Grant Wilson and John Fiske. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1888. (Repr. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1968.)]


1856.2.123

Auburn, Mississippi.
August 17, 1856.

Dear Uncle Merry:—I love to read your Museum very much, but I can’t read much of it. I love to look at the pictures. I am six years old. I have been going to school, and can read and spell, and I spoke at examination. I am going to speak again next session. I shall get my speech out of the Museum. It is about sunshine; another is about roses. I am a Southern boy, and I am going to vote for Fillmore. I am named after cousin Frank Snow, and he lives in Buffalo. My sister wrote this letter, but I told her what to write, and I am going to write again.

Your little friend,
Frank A. Snow.

article about roses: “Voices”, by W. C. (Robert Merry’s Museum; March 1856): one of three sets of lyrics (another is “Sunshine”) which could be sung to the same tune. Beginning “Listen to the roses”, it lists natural “voices” which speak of God’s nearness.

article about sunshine: “Sunshine,” by H. H. (Robert Merry’s Museum; March 1856), one of three sets of lyrics (another is “Voices”) which can be sung to the same tune. All is sunshine when one’s lips speak kindness and one’s heart is full of love.

Millard Fillmore (1800-1874): U. S. Congressman and thirteenth president of the U. S. (1850-1853); as Zachary Taylor’s vice president, he stepped into the role of president on Taylor’s death. An anti-slavery moderate, Fillmore was more concerned with preserving the Union than with settling the slave question. As a result, in presidential race of 1852 he was supported by Southern Whigs; however, he failed to win the nomination. In 1856 Fillmore was the presidential candidate of the Know Nothing Party.

cousin Frank Snow: Francis M. Snow (born 2 March 1829; died 28 September 1861, Buffalo, New York); married 1856, Julia F. Miller (born 4 July 1832, New York, Buffalo; died 16 March 1911, Buffalo, New York); their son was Francis Albert. Frank was a dealer in dry goods by 1854. He died of typhoid. [George Burwell Snow, comp. The Richard Snow Family. Np: np, 1923; p. 293.]

my sister: Lora C. (born c1827), Mary V. (born c1839), or Eveline (born c1841) Snow. [M432. 1850 United States Census; reel #372: 217.]


1856.2.124

City of Dust, Gotham, Monday, Aug. 18th, 1856.

My dear Mr. Merry:—I have just returned from a pleasant visit of a week and four days (always be particular, Mr. Merry) to the enterprising town of Kent, Conn., and as I was quite pleased, both with inhabitants and scenery, I intend to give you an account of some things. This village is near Kent Plains, Litchfield Co. The Housatonic flows by the base of a beautiful range of mountains on one side, and the meadows, orchards, etc., of Kent along the other. On one of these mountains there are some remains of the aborigines, of the tribe of Seaghticoke. Poor Indian! how have these undoubted owners of this soil been driven away by Christoval Colon’s successors! There is one thing positively remarkable there—the gentleness of the horses; their playfulness is perhaps “too much of a good thing,” for one of them gave me a slight token of his regard by imprinting his hoof in my back, which kept me in the house three or four days. Seldom do you meet (I say you, Mr. Merry, for every one knows you have traveled over the U. S. at least) with such pleasant inhabitants as the Kent folks. But your Rule here admonishes me, and I will make my letter short—I would advise you, sir, to take care of that “Be short.” A gentleman went to a very loquacious barber to cut his hair; the barber commenced one of his interminable tales. “Cut it short,” cried the old gentleman, meaning the story; but the barber misunderstood him, and saying, “Yes, sir,” went on again, till the old gentleman, worn out with keeping still a long time, cried, “Cut it short.” “I can’t cut it any shorter, sir,” cried the barber, “for it’s all cut off!” Up rose our Job, and beheld, to his utter dismay, there were only a few stumps left “in the place where the wool ought to grow.”

Yours with much respect,
“Irænus.”

“place where the wool ought to grow”: Stephen C. Foster, “Old Uncle Ned” (1848):

Dere was an old nigga, dey called him Uncle Ned,

Hes dead long ago, long ago!

He had no wool on de top ob his head,

De place wha de wool ought to grow.

Christoval Colon: explorer more commonly known as Christopher Columbus.

Seaghticoke: misprint for Scaghticoke. A village in Connecticut was established either by a Paugusett in 1730, or by Potatuck hunting groups previously. Native Americans of various groups came to live there; by 1744, some lived near the Housatonic River, while others lived on 2,000 acres in the mountains. The number of people and amount of land they controlled dwindled drastically in the face of white encroachment. [Bruce G. Trigger, ed. Northeast. Handbook of North American Indians. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1978.]

Job: Old Testament individual who proved his faith by enduring appalling trials.


1856.2.125

Chicago, July 19, 1856.

Mr. Merry:—Evanston is a delightful place of 200 inhabitants, situated on the banks of Lake Michigan, 11½ miles north of Chicago. Yesterday several of the Chicago Sabbath-schools assembled there, to have a picnic under the fine old oaks.

Some of the children took rambles in the woods; some gathered the wild roses and other flowers, which grew in profusion near by; others sat down on the grass, under the friendly shade of some old oak, and sang our Sunday-school songs.

Several pleasure-boats were there, in which we were allowed to ride. The “Lone Star,” of Evanston, was the largest of the boats. Several persons got into this, and when they were some distance from shore it capsized. The other boats went immediately to its assistance, and all were brought safely to shore. This accident cast a shade over the spirits of all for a time; but when they saw the rescued safe on shore, cheer after cheer greeted them, and then all dispersed to their play, and were soon as merry as ever. At seven o’clock in the evening we were in Chicago. How homesick I felt to leave almost a paradise for the noisy, busy, bustling Chicago!

From your little friend,
Willie Wildwood.


1856.2.157

My dear Mr. Merry:—What a squabble the Merry family have got into, to be sure! Where did they get their bringing up? They can’t have seen “The Happy Family” at Barnum’s Museum, I know; for it they had, they would certainly have taken lessons of them. Why, Uncle, they have all kinds of animals there, almost, in a cage together, and they are so happy, and live in such quietness, that I wish all the Merrys could see them. Here, the birds and beasts, which by nature devour each other, live together in peace and harmony. I move that all our family go there, and learn a lesson of love.

J. N.

Happy Family: exhibit in P. T. Barnum’s American Museum in the 1850s; he purchased it in England in 1844. It was described in the Museum in January 1858: in one cage were displayed a variety of animals, including cats, dogs, mice, birds, monkeys, an ant-eater, and snakes and toads, all apparently living peacefully together. !—! suggested that, were Barnum to learn of the final “submission” of the Merry cousins after the algebra war, he would wish to exhibit them: “I think I hear the showman: ‘Here, leddies and gen’lemen, is one of the greatest nateral cu’osities of the age! The “Merry Family,” consistin’ of critters as wiolent and antagonistic as ever you see, but by great care and patience reduced to their present state of civilization. Walk up, gen’lemen, and don’t be afeard of the hanimal with “black eyes.” She’s perfectly harmless now, though she does look savagewus.’” [Robert Merry’s Museum ; 1857.1.59. • A. H. Saxon. P. T. Barnum: The Legend and the Man. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989; p. 137)

Barnum’s Museum: The American Museum, owned by P. T. Barnum, advertised in the Museum; a description of it appeared in the magazine in 1857 and 1858. An especially devastating fire in 1868 closed the Museum forever.


1856.2.186

University of Miss., Oct. 24, 1856.

Dear Uncle Merry:—My brother and I take your Museum, and like it very much indeed, and I thought I would write to you and tell you so. I live at the University of Mississippi. It is pleasantly situated, just one mile from the pretty village of Oxford. There are now nearly 250 students here. I expect to go to college when I am old enough. I am preparing for it now, studying at home with my parents. I study Cæsar, the class book of etymology, geography, history, arithmetic, and English grammar. I like Latin better than any of my other studies. As this is one of the first letters I ever wrote, I will not be surprised if it is thrown under the table. I am a little boy, and hope you will excuse my letter if it is not a good one. Good-bye, Uncle Merry.

Your little friend,
George.

University of Mississippi: founded in 1840. In 1855, under A. B. Longstreet’s presidency, it had 134 students and 6 instructors; the library contained 2,450 volumes. [Lippincott’s Pronouncing Gazetteer, ed. J. Thomas and T. Baldwin. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1855.]

a flourish
Introduction

How to use this book

1840s: 184118421843184418451846184718481849

1850s: 185018511852185318541855 • 1856 • 185718581859

1860s: 1860186118621863186418651866186718681869

1870s: 187018711872

About the Merry Cousins

Appendix

Index & gloss

Sources

The Cousins’ Greatest Hits

Copyright 2000-2016, Pat Pflieger


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