Dear Friend Robert Merry: Letters from nineteenth-century children

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1840s: 184118421843184418451846184718481849

1850s: 1850185118521853185418551856 • 1857 • 18581859

1860s: 1860186118621863186418651866186718681869

1870s: 187018711872

About the Merry Cousins


Index & gloss


The Cousins’ Greatest Hits



Elmira, Dec. 1st, 1856.

Mr. Merry:—

I saw her there—her dark brown* hair

Dropped down in wavy showers,

And wreathed her face—as a fairy place

Is wreathed with summer flowers.

A breeze passed by, and carelessly

(A mischievous fellow’s a breeze),

He caught up a curl with a merry whirl,

And e’en didn’t say, “If you please.”

The curl displaced, I (impudent) gazed

In the downcast face of the girl,

And saw with surprise her bright**-eyes,

Each filled with a liquid pearl.

“O! why this grief! Is there no relief?”

I quickly to her said.

“Are friends all gone? Are you alone

In the cold world, dark and dread?”

“Ah! no—“ she cried, and she gently sighed,

And her eyes with tear-drops swum;

“Not that! not that! but this—“ ”O! what!”

My Museum hasn’t come!

Now, Uncle Robert, I am not going to tell you which one of the Merry girls that was. So doing might make trouble for


*Or some other color. [footnote original ]

**Black, blue, gray, or hazel. [footnote original ]

[Editor: ]

No wonder, Dodt, that bright eye was shot,

No wonder the heart was glum;

Be so good as assure her, if you think it will cure her,

Her Museum shall certainly come.


City of Elms, Nov. 8th, 1856.

Dear Mr. Merry:—For some time past, I have watched with half jealous eyes the cosy chattering, and somewhat noisy, though agreeable private quarrels which have been going on around your “editorial table,” especially since the date of the “algebraic problem.” And this evening, unable longer to control my feelings, I have seized my pen, and in a fit of desperation to ask of you the unusual favor of an introduction all around. That is to say, to “Black-Eyes,” Alice, Laura, Nippinifidget, Willie H.C., Bay State, R.W.R., and all the other ladies and gentlemen, belligerent or peaceful, who make up your interesting circle of correspondents. Knowing your obliging disposition, I feel almost certain that my request will be granted.

Uncle Merry, do grant me just one favor more, and I will “evaporate immediately,” as the colored porter of Yale College here, once [p. 30 ] said, when some one of the professors accused him of a small theft—“Ah! massa! don’t you please say nuffin ’bout it, an’ I’ll sartin ’vaporate immediately.” But to return to my request; it is permission to tell Alice B. Corner how my brother and I served up ——— this afternoon. In the first place, we painted a “splendid photographic likeness” of the “identical gentleman himself,” making him as “black” as the niggers he loves so well, and then, having elevated him to a convenient height, with rifle and pistol (for it is a fact, Uncle Merry, that, although I am a girl—I should say a young miss—yet I am a pretty good shot with a pistol) we peppered him without mercy, and by the time our “good intentions” were satisfied, and the poor fellow had come out of the “mill,” his countenance much resembled “a pepper-box without a top,” or, what is much the same thing, “a sieve without a bottom.”

But “etiquette” admonishes me that “first calls should be short,” and having already overstepped the bounds of propriety, I will precipitately make my parting bow and retire, only stopping a moment at the door to say that the “Museum” having been a welcome visitor in our family for more than ten years (you may count, too, on a great many years to come, Mr. Merry), perhaps I felt a little too confident that the only letter I have ever written to its “merry editor” would not be slighted, and that I supposed the cordial invitation which he has so kindly extended to all his nephews and nieces, included me also.

But, “Good-evening,”


Tennessee, Jan. 2, 1857.

Uncle Hiram:—I’ll make a polite bow as a new-comer, and then to the point. Wonder if the point this letter is destined to arrive at is under the table, in that all-swallowing basket. I wish to inquire of “Sigma,” who was that gentleman she so generously provided with ball? The habit of loving “darkies” so much, as to put one’s self to the inconvenience of going into another State to “liberate” them, where their presence is neither needed nor desired, is common in these days of isms, and so the mere loving of “darkies” gives no light on the subject. If the gentleman came from below a certain line, he is, no doubt, much obliged for such kindness. I hope he is at least. A voice at my elbow says that Uncle Hiram is “anti” on the “goose question.” He won’t publish any thing as bad as this. But, I answer, that if he does not, that will not be [p. 60 ] the reason. I don’t want any Algebra, because I’m afraid of hearing the “female subscribers’ ” tongues again. I would much rather have politics—not R. W. R.’s, however.

In regard to the Prize Sentence, please tell me if it is lawful, or if we can make a sentence without any new words.

Your Southern friend,

[Editor: ] There, so much of politics, just for this time, merely to give our “Southern friend” a chance to decide how Uncle Hiram stands “on the goose.” The truth is, Uncle Hiram, like a sensible man, prefers turkey so much, that he never touches goose, when there’s a gobbler to be had. Now, if you don’t know on which side of 36° 30' Uncle Hiram stands, you must be a picture of a goose

36° 30′: Latitude set by the Missouri Compromise in 1820, north of which slavery was prohibited. It is probably the “certain line” Tennessean mentions in his letter.

“goose question”/ “on the goose”: Mathews, the “goose question”: “the slavery issue, any issue of great importance.” Mathews, “on the goose”: “An expression of unexplained origin first used during the struggle over slavery in Kansas with reference to those favoring slavery.” The earliest listing for both is 1855. [Mitford M. Mathews, ed. A Dictionary of Americanisms On Historical Principles. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1951.]

R. W. R.’s politics: see 1856.2.121

Prize Sentence: Contestants were to write a complete, grammatical sentence including the following words: gold, in, but, some, exactly, determine, true, friend, rise, result, time, well, when, this, so. Other words could be introduced, but two new words could not be used together in any part of the sentence. (Robert Merry’s Museum; January 1857)


New Iberia, La., Dec. 12, 1856.

Dear Mr. Merry:—I have read a great many pretty letters that different little girls wrote to you. Some told you about their uncles, aunts, brothers, and sisters. One said she had a little sister Mary. I have a little sister Mary, too. I live in New Iberia, Parish of St. Martin, Atakapas, Louisiana. You may think it funny to have such a long name, and wonder if you can get an envelope large enough to put your letter in, when you answer this. But you need only put New Iberia, Atakapas, Louisiana. This is a beautiful country—every person that comes here thinks so. The town is situated on the Bayou Teche, about two hundred miles from New Orleans. This is the greatest game country in the world. You can go out in the morning and kill ducks, jack-snipes, woodcocks, and almost any kind of game, in abundance. This is a great fish country also. There is a beautiful lake about three miles from here, where a great many fish are caught. It is called Lake Tasse. You must excuse all the mistakes in this letter, for I am but a little girl ten years old. Good-bye.

Your affectionate friend,

jack-snipe: perhaps the common snipe (Capella gallinago), which winters in the South.


Gratiot, Wis., Dec. 22, 1856.

Dear Mr. Merry:—Here I am, right on hand, for another year’s subscription; and now that peace is declared, you, maybe, will hear oftener from your Wisconsin subscriber.

I stand up for A. B. C.’s “darling hobby” (woman’s rights) to a certain degree, but not quite so far as to engage in open battle; and then if I had, I have not a pair of those dangerous weapons termed “Black Eyes.” “Aunt Sue,” I am puzzled about you yet. I am inclined to believe that you are not married, nor have any children, that is, of your own, neither do I think you an old maid, but a gay young lady.

This is my first letter to you, Mr. Merry. I have been quite long a subscriber. I have often thought I should like to write for the Museum, but thought myself incompetent. I am as green and verdant as the grass that grows on our prairies. I am a Westerner in every sense of the word, born and bred in Wisconsin. I love my Western home very much, but yet there are some very serious disadvantages we are obliged to bear. I sometimes go more than a whole year, not stepping my foot inside of a school-house, for it is only in the towns that there are good schools. I am a country girl, and now, Mr. Merry, I will sign myself “Prairie Girl.” Prairie Bird would be much prettier, but as there is nothing birdlike about me, it must simply be

Prairie Girl.


Baltimore, Dec. 27, 1856.

Dear Uncle Hiram:—I should like to see you again very much, and I hope Uncle Merry will be at home, too, when I come next time. My little cousin Florence and I had a nice doll’s party, with eighteen dolls, on Christmas day; but it was not like last Christmas, when my other cousins, Freddy and Clementine, were here; nor like Christmas before last, when my brother was with us all. They are all in heaven, and I think they are happier than they would be here.

The Lord has sent me another cousin, and her name is Juliet. She is only a week old, and is a very sweet little thing.

I am so sorry I forgot to ask about Aunt Sue when I paid you that visit. I know your name [p. 63 ] now, and I want to know her true name, and her mother’s name. Is Aunt Sue’s mother your wife? Please answer this letter. I am very tired, but I must wish you a happy New Year.

Your little friend,
Tina T.


Hazel Dell, Jan. 2d, 1857.

Dear Mr. Merry.—I have long thought of writing to you, but never have until now; but now, as the battle is over, I hope you will allow these few lines a little corner in the Chat. I sympathize heartily with Pansy in her loss of her Watchie. She describes a little pet dog I once had by the same name, as well as I could myself. My Watchie was poisoned, and for a long time I could not speak of him without crying. For a long time I felt very lonesome; I thought I never could love another dog as well. But your rule says, Be short, and I am afraid of the basket under the table, so good-bye.


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


Columbia, Jan. 27th, 1857.

Dear Mr. Merry:—I know that nothing can be without a beginning, and since I am so presumptuous as to write to you, I too must begin. I will not, like some new correspondents, speak of my fear of the “basket,” since I am afraid of nothing. You can’t think how welcome your Museum was to-night. It is rainy and dull, no new books, lessons all learned, can’t bear to sew—what shall I do?—when here comes the Museum, full as usual, with all sorts of interesting articles.

There is one thing I forgot to say: Mr. Hiram Hatchet don’t know how many friends he has made by “Skating—Woman’s Rights.” He is perfectly right. I don’t see why a woman should not do just as she pleases.


“Skating—Woman’s Rights”: poem by Hiram Hatchet (Robert Merry’s Museum; January 1857). Six times he asks, “Why may not a woman skate?” and answers that there is no reason; skating is good exercise that strengthens the ankles and is “right good fun.”


Mr. Merry:—You are doubtless familiar with the pathetic song entitled “Hazel Dell,” which has long been so popular, and can perhaps explain a question which has arisen in my mind. Has “Nellie” become a contributor to the Museum, or has she mistaken it for the Spiritual Telegraph or Tiffany’s Monthly?

Her letter in the February number of the Museum reads like other letters, which induces me to believe that she is only a namesake of the original “Nellie.” But if not, I pray you, Mr. Merry, do not insert any further communications from her. It won’t do to let the Museum become “mediumized.” Will you clear up the mystery?


“The Hazel Dell”: Wurzel [pseudonym of George F. Root] (New York: Wm Hall and Son, 1853), song eulogizing Little Nelly, who has died: “In the hazel dell my Nelly’s sleeping.” Nellie dated her letter from “Hazel Dell.” (see 1857.1.63)

Spiritual Telegraph or Tiffany’s Monthly: actually, two separate periodicals devoted to Spiritualism: the Spiritual Telegraph (1852-1860?), a weekly magazine edited by S. B. Brittan and Charles Partridge; and Tiffany’s Monthly (1856-1859?), edited by Joel Tiffany and apparently published by Brittan and Partridge; it focused on to both “the investigation of spiritual science” and “the investigation of the science of mind.” [Frank Podmore. Mediums of the 19th Century. New Hyde Park, New York: University Books, Inc., 1963; vol i: 204.]


Feb. 11th, 1857.

Dear Mr. Merry:—Allow me to introduce to you, and the Merry family, Trip, who is too bashful to write to you himself, and yet writes very well; so I send you a letter which I received from him, and which describes very well how things go on at Robingrove. You will notice that he addresses me as his “Ex-Mistress;” he used to belong to me, but now he is my aunty’s dog; his handwriting much resembles that of my aunt, but that is not strange, as he has always studied at home. The ideas are so like Trip’s, that one can not mistake them. “Calamity and Misfortune,” of whom he speaks, are two cats.

Many thanks, Nellie; it is with pleasure that I think that some one feels with me how great was my loss.

Pray excuse the length of my letter, Mr. Merry.

Yours respecftully,

Robingrove, Dec. 21st, 1856.

My dear Ex-Mistress:—My aunty says I am a very ungrateful dog, to let your kind letter go so long unanswered. The truth is, I have a great deal to do this winter. I am obliged to play with Nep two or three hours a day; then I have to watch for all the dogs that pass here, and run out and bark at them. I always feel it my duty to follow my aunty every step she takes, particularly if she goes into the garret of an errand. Once a day I am obliged to give the barber’s dog a good whipping, for disrespectful conduct. And if I can privately, I torment Calamity and Misfortune a few moments out of each twenty-four hours. Added to all these duties, I go out with my aunty every time she walks or drives into the city, and quarrel with as many dogs, while there, as my time will allow.

It is surprising that, with all my labors, I grow fat and sleep soundly.

My aunty says I am growing grey; I told her I would send a piece of the fur off my back, to convince you of the contrary, but she says that will prove nothing, as the white hairs are around my mouth. I heard a young lady ask my aunty, yesterday, if I was an old dog? (How provoked I felt!) My aunty said, “No, only a pet;” which the young lady seemed to think an explanation of these white hairs I have mentioned. [p. 92 ]

I am going now with my aunty to dine with your uncle, and intend to whine all the time I am there, because I can not find Aunt C—, for I have always been of the opinion that she is shut up in her bed-room, instead of being with you. They say Carlo knows better than that, and is expecting her home on the cars one of those days. Poor little dog! he will feel foolish enough when she comes out of her hiding-place, and I shall laugh at him. I hope you will write again to me, and I will answer your letter sooner than the last, and tell you all we are doing.

Your affectionate,


[ … ] As for Tennessean, his or her inquiries will be of no avail. That terrible blank involves everything in a deep mystery. When the original epistle departed this city (not this world, as I feared), the name stood bravely at its post, but I half suspect when it arrived at its journey’s end, it fell through. If it did, you may conscientiously believe it has notgone where the good niggers go.” [ … ]


that terrible blank: The name of the figure “Sigma” shot in effigy was blanked out in the original letter.

“gone where the good niggers go”: Stephen C. Foster, “Old Uncle Ned” (1848): “No more hard work for poor old Ned, Hes gone wha de good niggas go.”


Columbus, Jan. 20, 1857.

To the dear Editors:—I can sincerely sympathize with “Dodt’s” fair mourner, for the general cry has been, “Why don’t the Museum come?” But to-day our eyes have been gladdened with the sight thereof, and our ears even now tingle with the sounds of the merry voices. Our thanks are due to good, pacific Aunt Sue for the introduction of her bill, for it opened a door of retreat for all the belligerents. You need not fear any malcontents under this new administration, unless it be that irrepressible, unexpressible, and undefinable Nip. Have out “the dog Noble,” then, Uncle Hiram. Nip, who, and what art thou? Don’t be vexatious; give over flirting, now that we have settled down into staid old citizens of this Merry Commonwealth. If that Dodt don’t stop punning on my angular name, I’ll change it, and take—his! However, sir, as you sit by me, we’ll fix that less publicly. In the mean time, here’s my vote on the algebraic motion—Ay!!

Cousin Frank, my ruby lips are just now pouting their sweetest, and I’m against all monopolies.

Mr. Merry, the Legislature this winter, for the first time, convenes in our grand new State House, and consequently the State of Ohio broke loose, and came here to warm it. The number of private individual furnaces, in that capacity, were variously estimated at from ten to twenty thousand. It was soon hot enough to satisfy the most cold-hearted, especially when a perfect maze of warming-pans, enchanted by the Apollo music, went floating through cotillions.

In short, Ohio “had gathered there her beauty and her chivalry,” besides quite a number that were not so chivalrous, as they ate up all the oysters and ham, and broke the dishes. In shorter, the people dedicated “the People’s House” in a manner worthy the occasion and House; for when completed, Ohio’s Capitol will far outrival Sister Capitols, only inferior to the Great House of the glorious Union itself.

Yours truly,
Alice B. C.

Aunt Sue had written: “Behold me approaching with my best pocket-handkerchief, blowing—(now, Mr. Merry, stop a minute, don’t be rash and jump at conclusions, I was only going to say—blowing) about in the breezes (not “me,” but the handkerchief), as it waves from the top of this elevated broom-stick—a flag of truce. Suspend your hostilites, dear belligerent little Merrys, and let us sign articles of peace. [ … ] Come now, let us shake hands all round, and take a fair start; who is agreed?” (Robert Merry’s Museum; 1856.2.156)

Nip wrote a saucy reaction. (Robert Merry’s Museum; 1856.2.185).

“dog Noble”: dog in a piece by Henry Ward Beecher which may have first appeared in the New York Independent. In this often-quoted work, the dog so intently pursues a squirrel that when it nips down a hole the dog earnestly watches the hole, unaware that the squirrel has escaped out the other end. Beecher used the anecdote to criticize the New York Express, which had printed what Beecher felt were lies about presidential candidate John C. Fremont. [“Henry Ward Beecher’s Dog Noble and the New York Express.” Supplement to the Courant (Hartford, Connecticut). 21 (16 August 1856): p. 155; via]

Dodt’s puns: Dodt requested “a seat near the Corner! By the way, Mr. Merry, a corner in a circle is rather a queer idea, isn’t it?” (Robert Merry’s Museum; 1856.2.185)

Cousin Frank commented on the fact that some subscribers responded on the same page to a letter from Aunt Sue, “There is one thing I do not understand, and that is, how Earnest, Nippinifidget and Co. came to have the answers all ready [ … ] [D]id they peep over Aunt Sue’s shoulders when she was writing?” (Robert Merry’s Museum; 1857.1.27)

State Capitol: begun in 1839. In 1857, some departments moved into the stone building, but the whole wasn’t completed until 1861.

“gathered there beauty and chivalry”: from George Gordon, Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812), canto 3, stanza 21, lines 182-4: “ … Belgium’s capital had gathered then/ Her Beauty and her Chivalry, and bright/ The lamps shone o’er fair women and brave men.”

[from “Proclamation: A Treaty of Alliance and Amity” regarding the merger of the Museum and Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet (1857.1.97-98): ]

To all to whom these Presents may come: that is to say, to the thousands of our well-beloved nephews and nieces, all over the land, Robert Merry and Uncle Frank send, cordially greeting[.] [ … ] [p. 98 ]

[ … ] We shall now combine our efforts to furnish the best, the richest, the most tasteful entertainment that can be gathered from all sources, and to make it as various and racy as the various tastes and talents of our united household may require, or enable us to procure. We intend to make it not only the best juvenile magazine in the world, but all that such a magazine should be, and to satisfy parents, as well as children and young people, that the dollar paid for it is not a dollar spent, but a dollar earned. [ … ]


[ … ] I’m very much obliged to “Sigma” for explaining herself. I understand perfectly, and in the name of his “aged relative” I thank her for her present. Poor fellow! Neither the praise and adulation of his Calhoun constituency, nor the slander and abuse of Yankee land disturb him now, for he has gone—no, I won’t say he has—perhaps he has not gone, as Sigma says, “where the good niggers go.”

He sleeps his last sleep, he has fought his last battle,

No sound can awake him to glory again.” [ … ]

Your nephew from the South,

“poor fellow”: probably referring to Preston 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.)]

John Caldwell Calhoun (1782-1850): U. S. vice-president, secretary of war, and secretary of state. He was vice-president of the U.S. twice, the second time under Andrew Jackson. As abolitionism began to take hold of the country, he became one of the South’s strongest advocates; when Congress worked to prevent the spread of slavery to the new territories, Calhoun argued that a citizen moving to those territories was entitled to carry with him any property he owned—even if that property were human.

“He sleeps his last sleep … ”: Leonard Heath, “The Grave of Bonaparte” (Boston: Oliver Ditson, c1843), lines 6-8: “He heeds not, he hears not, he’s free from all pain;/ He sleeps his last sleep, he has fought his last battle,/ No sound can awake him to glory again.”


Brooklyn, L. I., Monday, March 16th, 1857.

Dear Mr. Merry:—I have never written to you before, but I thought I would try today. At first I did not know what to say, but happening to look at our birds, I thought, maybe, you would like to hear about them. We have two birds, but one of them is very tame. Sometimes when we are all out of the room, but mother, he does all kinds of funny things. My mother sometimes takes her nut-basket and sits in the middle of the floor. But first she lets the birds out. Pretty soon Dick, as we call him, comes to her and stands on her lap waiting to be fed; or else he goes into the basket and gets them himself. Mother puts a nut on her tongue, and he flies up there and gets it. Soon as he gets it he flies down in her lap and eats it. [p. 120 ]

He will eat off of the hand of any of our family. Sometimes he flies on the top of my book when I am reading, and picks at it like a good fellow.

But “Be short,” rings in my ears, so I must stop now and write again. I suppose this will be cast into the “Basket;” but in hopes that it may not, I remain, yours truly,

Willie Whiteman.


Wauconda, Feb. 15th, 1857.

Mr. Merry:—I have never written to you before. I have taken your Museum three years, and this is the fourth. I am very much pleased with it, especially the Chat. I read every book over about a dozen times when I get it. I go to school at the Wauconda academy; I study Latin, and Adams’ Arithmetic, and Colburn’s Arithmetic. I have just began to read in Latin. The scholars have got up a lyceum, and sometimes I speak. The reason of my writing this letter so short is because I think that it will get into that terrible basket; so now good-bye.

Yours, forever,

Adams’ Arithmetic: Daniel Adams’ Arithmetic, in which the principles of operating by numbers are analytically explained and synthetically applied (Keene, NH: J. Prentiss, 1827); also titled Adams’s new arithmetic. A revised edition under the latter title was published by Phillips, Sampson, and Company, Boston, in 1848.

Colburn’s Arithmetic: Dana Pond Colburn’s Arithmetic and Its Applications; designed as a text book for common schools, high schools, and academies (Philadelphia: H. Cowperthwait & Co., 1855). It went through 10 editions between 1855 and 1871.


Elmira, March 1st, 1857.

Mr. Merry:—All the other little girls write letters to you, and so I thought I would. Mr. Merry, I love to read your stories very much. I like to read about going a chestnutting. I used to go a chestnutting when I was with my cousins.


article about chestnutting: “Chestnutting,” by Cousin Hannah (Robert Merry’s Museum; Feb 1857). Part of a continuing series of stories featuring the Hiram Hatchet family, this illustrated story follows them as they hunt for chestnuts.


Brooklyn, E. D., April 10, 1857.

Well, Mr. Merry, ’been getting married of late,

Without e’en consulting with me or with Kate!

Such conduct I’m surprised at, I am, Mr. Merry,

It is wrong—all wrong; it is very—very!

What excuse can you render, what apology give,

To all the young Merrys who so happily live?

Did not Willie, and Annie, and our own little Kate,

Treat you kindly and well in your lone, widow’d state?

Hadn’t all the young Merrys done all that they could,

To fill up your columns with matter so good—

Hadn’t Black-Eyes and Pussy, and Fleetwood and Fred,

And dear little Susy, and Lillie, and Ned?

Then why should you marry? say why in a pet

Have you rushed to the arms of an old Cabinet?

Was there no source of joy, no fountain of mirth,

Save that to be found in the arms of Woodworth?

When divorced from your first love, I own I had fears

That you’d be caught by some old maid, ere many years;

But now that you’ve taken another helpmeet,

I suppose that you feel pretty neat, neat, neat!

But pray, don’t go crazy, though you’ve had the good luck

To get a new wife—you may find she’s got pluck,

For marriage, you know, is a ticklish thing;

Some it makes crazy, and some it makes—sing.

But who is this Woodworth you’ve thus rashly wed?

Is she handsome and witty, and is she well bred?

Can she cook up your dinner, and make up your bed?

Is she gentle and kind? or is her hair red?

As one of the Merrys, most sad should I be

To hear that a mishap had fallen on thee;

That friends now so loving should fail “for to get”

The blessings all hope for in the new Cabinet.

Then welcome, friend W., to the fam’ly of Merrys,

And bring, if you please, your whole Cabinet of Jerrys,

Bring Fleta and Lizzie, and Bush and Marquette,

We’ll welcome them all, and so will Violette.

And now, Mr. Merry, if it was’nt for you,

I’d pay my respects to our old friend Aunt Sue:

But for fear you’ll be jealous and call me a ninny,

I’ll keep all my love till I meet my sweet Minnie.

But why this new union should require a new Cook*,

And one of our Merrys should be “put in the book,”

With a big “chair of state,” and a broom handle too,

’Tis partial—’tis dangerous—it will never do!

To talk about “kisses,” “ten thousand or more;”

And to say she now loves them, and lov’d them before,

Is a public confession which you must well know

Must shock all our feelings, though it be “ex officio.”**

Then pray, Mr. Merry, take care that Aunt Sue

Don’t spoil our friend Charley, nor Hatchet, nor you;

But quietly sit, in her new “chair of state,”

Administering justice, both to little and great.

While you, then, Sir Merry, and you, Mistress Sue,

And you, Mr. Frank, with your Cabinet too,

And all the young Merrys, as well as old folks,

Unite their best wits to crack their best jokes,

The new Merry Museum will certainly be

As lively, as witty—as any need see.


See page 126, April number. [footnote original ]

See page 126, April number. [footnote original ]


Park Hill, Cherokee Nation, March 20th, 1857.

Are you a priest, Uncle Frank? Whether you are or not, I think you will be obliged to come to the confessional this once. To tell the truth, father confessor, I was conscience-smitten when I saw that you set me down as a little girl. I am not a child, though I do not think myself very aged. I have been an invalid for more than two years, and during that time have frequently amused myself with the enigmas, puzzles, etc., in your magazine. I have considered myself a child in strength, and almost in mind, though not in years. This is all that I have to confess. And now that I have made this frank acknowledgment, may I be forgiven, and permitted still to reckon myself one of your nieces? I think your other nieces would say yes. About that unsolved enigma—I might have known that if “Aunt Sue” had given it up, I need not undertake it; but I have spent a good deal of time over it vainly. Please permit me to subscribe myself still,

Cousin Sally.

a little girl: referring to a comment in the November 1856 issue of Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet:

A little girl living in the Cherokee Nation, has several times sent answers to enigmas; but they have always come too late for insertion. She lives so far off, that it takes a long time for her letters to get to me. Still, she must not stop writing. I want at least one representative at my table from the Cherokees. Several answers in the August number are correctly given by this far-off correspondent, who styles herself Cousin Sally. [“Uncle Frank’s Monthly Table-Talk.” Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet. 1856.2.153]

“unsolved enigma”: see Appendix and 1857.1.190


Joy, March 31, 1857.

Dear Aunt Sue:—I have just been writing to Uncle Frank, and I thought I would write to you; you see I hail from a Joy-ful place. My father is a Presbyterian minister. For the last few years we have moved about every three years, and at last have moved to Joy. Since I wrote you last, I have lost a sister; out of a circle of eleven brothers and sisters, she was the first one taken. She died of consumption, after a long and very distressing illness. We miss her much, and yet we would not call her back, for she was willing to go, and we feel that she has gone to heaven. Many years ago she was one that took your Cabinet, and during her sickness she has enjoyed hearing it read very much. She was sick about six weeks. But I beg pardon for writing a long letter composed of things that do not interest you at all, and so I will close.

Yours, etc.
C. Holcomb, Jr.


Nellie” hopes †*† will not worry himself into a fever about “mediumizing” the Museum. [p. 186 ] She is not the “original Nellie,” but a namesake, and seventh cousin.

[ … ]


Sigma” congratulates “Tennessean” on the relief he appears to experience since the timely explanation, etc. “I saw, the other day,” says this same Sigma, “the somewhat unusual sight of several effigies hanging to a tree—they having grown there. I leave it to science to discover the probable cause of this strange freak of nature.” Tennessean will please take notice that the “real victim of our exploit, unfortunately for the effect of his touching tribute, does not ‘sleep his last sleep.’ ”


Francis C. Woodworth, Esq.: My dear Sir—I inclose to you, from my little boy, the answer to the enigma.

Perhaps the manner of his finding it out may not be uninteresting, as it shows what perseverance can do, even at twelve years of age. My son is not always ambitious, but he sometimes has fits of it; and no sooner did you hold forth the prize to your young friends, than he announced that he was determined to win it. That was half the battle in his case. He has been always very fond of reading—and of useful reading. History and Biography have been his delight, and particularly Natural History. Very shortly, then, after looking over the enigma, he made up his mind that “the fleet racer” must be of the ostrich tribe; and, looking through various works upon birds in the library, he came at last to Brooks’ Ornithology, and soon found the description of the Touyou answering almost verbatim to that contained in the enigma. A shout from the library announced his success. “It is the Touyou; now I have it!” But the whole victory was not yet. Day after day, out of school hours, in moments snatched from his play, his meals, and even from his sleep, he toiled on, and with but little result. At last, he came to the conclusion that the “celebrated jurist” was the only key that could unlock the mystery—especially as the Touyou indicated the sixth letter. So he went to a legal gentleman of high standing, near us, and begged him to mention to him all the distinguished jurists he knew whose names were composed of seven letters. Thurlow and some others were tried, but with no apparent success. A day or two after, his friend told him that that jurist’s name, he thought, was Bracton; because it was one which would be very little apt to be thought of, and had, probably, been selected on that very account. A wise man, was he not! So Bracton was tried, and seemed not out of place, although it did not decidedly reveal anything.

As the Touyou had pointed out one letter of the fourth item in the enigma, that was tried next; and it was made out at last by a most persevering application to the Dictionary, and a thorough examination of every word of six letters whose third was a t—a trial quite enough to exhaust the patience of Job. The reward came at last in notion, which seemed to answer very plainly to the description, and to take its place, not inappropriately, in the enigma. It required now no great skill at guessing to conclude that the hero’s Christian name might be Nicolas, his title Count, and his family name something riny; and presently I saw the whole Encyclopædia coming down, volume after volume, for A-riny, B-riny, C-riny, etc., etc., the “Encyclopædia Americana” being preferred as more easy to handle than the others: and at last, at the very last letter, we had it!—Nicholas Zriny, Ban of Croatia!

Being fairly wearied out with his toils, and sure that he now had the whole in his power, my little boy waited a few days to investigate thoroughly the separate items; and not a few works had to be consulted before he made out even them, to his satisfaction. It was a fair fight to the last.

[a parent of Edward Winslow Paige ]

Brooks’ Ornithology: Charles Brooks’ Elements of Ornithology (Boston: J. Munroe & Co.; New York: C. S. Francis & Co., 1847).

Encyclopedia Americana: Originally, 13 volumes edited by Francis Lieber and E. Wigglesworth (1829-1833), by 1857 it was in its second edition, at 14 volumes.


May 29, 1857.

Dear Uncle Frank:—I was exceedingly pleased to find something in the Cabinet about Holland, my own dear native land. Amsterdam is the great city where my mother lived in her early years. It is a very beautiful city, I know. I often hear her speaking about it. I hope you will soon favor us again with something more about Holland. I hope you enjoyed yourself while you were there. My parents could probably have given you a great many letters of recommendation to their relations in Amsterdam. My mother has three sisters and one brother living there.

I am getting along very well with my studies. Oberlin is such a sweet little place! [p. 28 ] I have been there now one term, and it seems to me as if it were but a few weeks. Oh, how short does life seem! We will soon pass away and fade like a leaf.

This life is but a breath,

And warns us of our coming death;

Oh, then, let us prepare

In that eternal bliss to share,

That we may feel when our hour’s come,

That we are going to our eternal home,

To share a Saviour’s love,

And reign with an eternal God above.


Your affectionate niece,
C. D.

about Holland: “Uncle Frank’s rambles in Holland” (Robert Merry’s Museum; May 1857), a description of Francis C. Woodworth’s trip through the Netherlands.

Oberlin: college and town in Lorain County, Ohio. In the 1830s the colony and school were founded together, both to have a Christian emphasis. The school’s name was changed to Oberlin College in 1850. [History of Lorain County, Ohio. Philadelphia: Williams Bros., 1879; pp. 170, 172]


Charlestown, June 27, 1857.

Dear Mr. Merry:—I thank you for your kind welcome. You shall hear from me often. The 17th here was rather dark, but the procession was very large, notwithstanding. The military formed a grand feature in the display. Since then, one of our companies has resolved to adopt a new uniform, exactly like the “Washington Greys” of your city. You say you have already had one correspondent, “Bay State,” so, with your permission, I will sign myself

“Bunker Hill.”


Queen City, June.

Dear Mr. Merry:—I am glad to find there is room for one more. I used to put in a word now and then, at the Cabinet colloquy, but so many new cousins came in at our last meeting, that I felt much like the Frenchman, when one of his guests remarked, that he had not chairs enough, “Plenty of chairs,” said he, “but too much company.”

Aunt Sue, did you hear one of the boys speaking impatiently to me? I do not wish to make trouble in our happy family, so I will not tell his name out before the cousins. But I must tell you what he said. “Lillie Dale, I do not see what is the need of your studying Latin. I wonder what use it will ever be to a girl?” I wish I could send his dogytype, just to show you how he turned up his nose at the word, girl!

Now I mean to tell the whole family how I came to study Latin.

One day, as I was skipping home from school, [p. 58 ] I observed a young lady, very beautifully dressed, in conversation with a gentleman. I wish I could get a glimpse of her face, thought I. I wonder if she is as pretty as her dress! Just then, I heard her companion say, “And how is your papa, miss?” “I thank you, sir,” she replied, “he is convalescent.” I never heard the word before, and I wondered what kind of a disease he had, and whether he was suffering as much as little brother did with the scarlet fever. The lady had the sweetest voice imaginable, and I lingered along with the hope of seeing her. But when I heard her break out into a merry laugh, and her poor father confined at home with a convalescence, I thought I should not love her if she was as beautiful as her dresses. I felt very indignant at such a heartless being.

Well, what had that to do with my studying Latin? I am going to tell Aunt Sue in a letter, and if she thinks proper, she may bring out the whole subject at our next meeting. So many of our Merry girls are studying Latin, that no one will suspect that the subject was started by your modest little


dogytype: slang for “daguerreotype”; probably referring to a carte de visite.


Winfield, June 8th, 1857.

Mr. Merry—Dear Sir: I wrote you last spring about my twin chickens. They are just as white as ever, and look so near alike you can not tell them apart. I think they would make a fine addition to Mr. Barnum’s happy family. I have a rooster, of the Cochin China breed, perfectly white, with a singularly formed comb. He is very proud of his lady hens. They now have chickens. Mr. Chanticleer seemed so pleased with them, and paid them so much attention, I thought I would let him try his hand at bringing them up. So I shut up mother hen for a few days, and, if you will believe it, father chanticleer makes one of the best of mothers. He scratches for them, clucks to them, broods them, and seems very attentive to all their wants. He is the funniest fellow I ever saw. I think he deserves the premium, for I am sure his like can not be found in Herkimer County.

Yours with esteem,
H. H. Waite, Jr.

Barnum’s 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. [A. H. Saxon. P. T. Barnum: The Legend and the Man. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989; p. 137.]


Aberdeen, Miss., July 8th, 1857.

Dear Uncle Frank:—We think the Cabinet has improved by its union with the Museum, and no doubt it will become more popular when it is better known. We live in a fine town, and our place would please you, I know it would; its name is “Evergreen.” Cedars, and pines, and varieties of the box, wild peach, live oak, cape, jessamine, oleander, etc., with many kinds of perpetual roses and choice fruits, make it a very sweet home. I do wish you would come and bring Aunt Sue to see us. O how we would all be pleased!

Your little niece,
Mary W. P.


Ogdensburgh, July 10, 1857.

Dear Mr. Merry.—We had a great turn-out here on the Fourth. The number of visitors was estimated at from twenty to twenty-five thousand, besides our own population. The immortal Terribles, composed of the Young America of this place, were the greatest attraction of the day. They marched through all the principal streets, presenting the most ludicrous appearance imaginable. Toward the close of the afternoon, most of the people assembled around and on top of the St. Lawrence Hotel, to hear an oration by Professor Windengaser, the orator of the Terribles. Heads peered from every window, all anxious to hear the great speech.

Yours truly,
Geo. B. H.

“Terribles”: the “Frontier Terribles”, whose capers entertained everyone in Ogdensburg, New York, “from grand sire to babe.” [“The Fourth of July.” St. Lawrence Republican. 7 July 1857: p. 3, col 3.]

St. Lawrence Hotel: Lippincott’s Pronouncing Gazetteer: “Among the hotels, the St. Lawrence Hotel has a front of 132 feet on State, and 94 feet on Ford Street, and contains, besides public halls, parlors, &c., 86 sleeping apartments.” [Lippincott’s Pronouncing Gazetteer, ed. J. Thomas and T. Baldwin. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1855.]


School-Room, July 7, 1857.

Messrs. Stearns & Co.:—Inclosed is my prize money for having the greatest number of perfect lessons at school. I thought I would put it out at interest by investing it in the Cabinet.

Very respectfully,
Schuyler McA.


Santiam, Oregon Ter., July 2d, 1857.

Dear Uncle:—Permit me to introduce myself as one of your affectionate nieces. Although Oregon is remote from any of the other States and Territories, it is as nice and pleasant a country as any one could wish. I suppose you have never (I think I can safely say I know you have never) crossed the plains? Well, it is a long and tedious journey from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean; but there are some grand scenes on the road. I would tell you about some of them if I thought you would like to hear of them; but I think I can see you gravely perusing this letter, and saying, “Tut! good for nothing.” I don’t mean to say that this is the fate of all your letters; yet I feel that it will be the fate of mine. Give my love to all the good folks that prepare such a rare treat each month for us.


[Editor: ] Let us hear about those grand scenes, Lucy dear. You know how “distance lends enchantment to the view,” and you are far enough off to be superlatively enchanting. We never expect to cross the Rocky Mountains, but doubt not we shall have a large family of nephews and nieces there soon.

“distance lends enchantment to the view”: Thomas Campbell, Pleasure of Hope (1799), pt. i, lines 7-8: “ ’Tis distance lends enchantment to the view,/ And robes the mountain in its azure hue.”


Rocky Point, August, 1857.

Mr. Merry:—In this lovely spot, with the sun pouring his mellow beams through the giant elms that spread their leafy boughs over my father’s mansion, with the rose-bud and [p. 92 ] honeysuckle twining their delicate branches around the window, I sit and write these lines, the first which have found their way to the Museum from this rocky shore, where the waves their tribute pay, and the sea-nymph reigns.

Yours truly,
Walter Grey.


Dear Uncle Frank:—I have never written you a letter yet, though I have been one of your nephews for a pretty long time. We live in the country in summer time, and have two cows and two horses—one named Billy—and one pony, and we have a nice little farm, too, and a man who I call Jemmy, but father calls him James. I have a nice little boat to sail on the pond—for we have a big pond and a river, and sometimes my brother takes me out on the river in a big boat. I wish I could see you, and have a good talk with you. I must now bid you good-bye. Give my love to Aunt Sue.

I remain, as ever, your affectionate nephew,
R. H. M., Silver Lake.


Ashtabula, O., April 13th, 1857.

Dear Uncle Frank:—I have thought a good many times I would like to write to you, begging to be one of your nieces, but then have feared to, lest I should be deficient somewhere. But I have been looking at your kind face which came to us in the magazine. I think it says, “Don’t be afraid, child; there is no harm in trying.” One time in particular—it was last summer—I got my pen and paper all ready to tell you about some wonderful “water-spouts,” which were rising from the lake (for my father lives on the very bank of Lake Erie), but I could not describe so grand a scene, and could only wish you were here to wonder with us.

Your niece,


St. Joseph, Mo., April 6th, 1857.

Dear Sir:—I inclose one dollar for the current year, in payment for the magazine. Every number is received and read by all the household, I believe. At any rate I read with pleasure every number; for I am old enough to be a second boy (near 74).

Yours very respectfully,
Josiah Cary.


Dresden, July 30, 1857.

To Good Aunt Sue:—

Please, Aunt Sue,

May I come in—

Say how d’y’e do

To every one?

I’m ’way up here,

In Southern Maine,

Where half the year

Doth winter reign.

Our pleasant June,

And warm July,

Pass all too soon,

E’en now gone by.

Still many a pleasure

Is yet in store;

If I had leisure

I’d tell you more.

Lest you say fie,

My dear Aunt Sue,

I’ll say good-bye,

From Mary Lou.


Copenhagen, Sept., 1857.

Dear Uncle:—I have been a subscriber three years. I am eleven years old, have never written many letters, except to father when he was away from home. I was highly pleased with the Cabinet and am with the Museum, and very much want that prize, but dare not hope where there are so many competitors. I was about giving up writing, but father says: “Try—you can never do any thing without trying.” So I got my elder brother to help me, and resolved to try. But I am a farmer’s boy, and know how to milk cows and hoe potatoes much better than to write. I send conundrums and questions. If they are not worth any thing, you know where to put them. Please introduce me to your brother editors, for I dare not call them uncles, till we are better acquainted. I must not write any more for fear of that Hatchet. But I want those books very much. Yours affectionately.

From your bashful nephew,


Franklin, Conn., Oct. 3d, 1857.

Dear Mr. Merry:—My teacher told me to write a letter to Uncle Merry, for a composition, to-day. I am happy to do it, for it no longer seems a task, but a pleasure. I have long wished to be a member of the Merry Family. I have occasionally had a bound volume of the Museum. Aunt and black-eyed Flora visited us last spring; since then I have had the pleasure of reading it every month. I was very much pleased to find three of my favorite books united in one. Aunt Flora is staying here, with black-eyed Flora and Charlie, and little blue-eyed Georgie—my favorite. Flora has a great many pretty papers and magazines from her dear uncle, whom she loves very much. Yesterday, about three o’clock, Georgie and Charlie were out playing. Little blue-eyes saw something high up in the air, and said, “Oh! what is that?” Charlie said, “Oh, it is a balloon!” We all ran out when we heard it, and, sure enough, there was a balloon. Its ascension commenced at Norwich, nine miles from here. We enjoyed it very much—such a scampering of little feet all over the yard. Pierpont climbed a large, [p. 154 ] tall tree in the yard, and tried to speak to the man in his moving house. But he was not satisfied with this elevation, so off he ran to find a still higher tree. I wish I knew what the men in the balloon would do if the balloon should come down on the ocean.

Your affectionate niece,
Blue-Eyed Josie.

Flora: subscriber Flora P. S.

Charlie: probably Charles Cummings Stearns (born 10 December 1850, Vermont; died 23 May 1924, Claremont, California) Brother of subscriber Flora P. S. Married 20 September 1875, Sophie Dickerman Seymour (born 20 September 1852); father of five children. Charles became a minister. [M653. 1860 United States Census; reel #672: 62. • Robert Harry McIntire. Descendants of Philip McIntire, rev. ed. Baltimore, Maryland: Gateway Press, Inc., 1982; pp. 110, 202. • Mrs. Avis Stearns Van Wagenen. Genealogy and Memories of Isaac Stearns and His Descendants. Np: np, nd; vol 1: 541, 543.]

Georgie: probably George Milton Stearns (born 12 April 1852, New Hampshire; died 10 June 1927, Los Angeles, California) Brother of Charles Cummings and of subscriber Flora P. S. Married 26 November 1877, Annie McArthur Thompson (born 18 January 1850; died 12 February 1931); father of three children. He graduated from Yale and was a professor of Greek at Washburn College, Topeka, Kansas, from 1877 to 1883; George held several jobs in private businesses. [M653. 1860 United States Census; reel #672: 62. • Robert Harry McIntire. Descendants of Philip McIntire, rev. ed. Baltimore, Maryland: Gateway Press, Inc., 1982; pp. 110, 202-203. • Mrs. Avis Stearns Van Wagenen. Genealogy and Memories of Isaac Stearns and His Descendants. Np: np, nd; vol 1: 541, 543. • Who Was Who in America. Chicago: Marquis-Who’s Who, nd; vol 1: 121.]


Columbia, Sept. 7th, 1857.

Dear Uncle Merry:—Please don’t begin to talk of warm weather. I never was so tired of hearing the same subject discussed in my life! If you meet a friend, all he has to say is, “It’s very warm,” or “How warm it is!” and sometimes it seems “the stretch of politeness” even to get that out. Now, Mr. Merry, don’t you agree with me? And won’t you keep it out of the “Corner?” If people can’t do any better, let them follow the example of Fuseli. He, once heartily disgusted with the “small talk” of those around him, exclaimed: “We had pork and beans for dinner!” “Why, my dear Fuseli, what a strange remark!” said one of the gentlemen. “I consider it as sensible as any that has been made for the last half-hour,” was the reply.

I think “Black-Eyes” ought indeed to be envied. It would serve her right for tantalizing the other members of “the Chat” with [p. 155 ] her good fortune. Why, it is very hard to “keep hold of” one Museum! Everybody wants it, and everybody at the same time.

Tell Lu I am very much obliged to her, but I couldn’t think of letting her tell me Aunt Sue’s name: ’twouldn’t be fair to betray confidence in that manner. I mean, though, to find my way to the “down-east corner,” for I wish to see Lu very much. How much is “very much and as well again?” I don’t know what to think of “T. M. H.” wanting Aunt Sue to tell her name. That would be fine! Spoil all our fun of guessing.


Fuseli: Henry Fuseli (1741-1825), intellectual and painter. The anecdote Maggie retells appeared in slightly different form in October 1853 as a “Mirror of Apothegm, Wit, Repartee, and Anecdote,” in the Ladies’ Repository.

Black-Eyes to be envied: “Scarcely had the month of August peeped in upon us, when there came, to bless me with stores of wisdom, fun, and romance, two Museums! There; wan’t I lucky?” [Black-Eyes, 1857.2.90]

T. M. H.: “Ever since I first saw the name of Aunt Sue, I have been wondering who she was. I wish she would come right out and give her name.” (Robert Merry’s Museum; 1857.2.92)


New York, October 1st, 1857.

Dear Uncles:—Although I have wished very much, for a long time past, to visit you, I have never dared to do so. It always frightens me to have so many bright eyes turned toward me as I enter the room. I always imagine their owners are “criticising my appearance,” and planning some mischief to show off my awkwardness and foolishness. So, if you will please open the door softly, and allow me to hide myself in a corner until I can recover from my bashfulness and excitement, you will oblige me very much. There is another reason why I dread to pass through an introduction. In my bewilderment I reply, “if you please,” to expressions of pleasure on making my acquaintance; and say “good-morning” when I should say “good-evening,” and answer “yes, sir” to a lady, or make some other mistake just as ridiculous. Besides, I can not remember who is John, and who is James, and can not distinguish Mary from Susan. It is so much pleasanter to take my seat quietly, and become acquainted with the company from observation.

I hope, therefore, you will take compassion “on my bashfulness,” and allow me to visit you without having to make myself “conspicuous and ridiculous.” I do not see how your other nephews and nieces can possible manage to work out the sums and enigmas spread on your table before them from month to month. It almost distracts me to look at them. I can not see any sense and reason in “A’s” and “X’s,” and “Z’s,” and “+’s,” and “S’s,” and “√’s;” but perhaps I may learn, if you will permit me to come often enough, and will explain them to me. As soon as a thing is explained so that I can understand it perfectly, I never forget it. But I must bid you good-bye. Please remember your nephew,

Jerry Miam.


Tennessee, Aug.

Dear Uncle Hiram:—Allow me to trouble you once more. “Sigma,” it seems, says I have guessed wrong about her “peppered” friend, which, instead of abating, increases my curiosity. Who it could have been I can’t imagine. Do use your influence with her in my behalf. Ask Laura, if you please, to assist me in my endeavor, as she, too, is from the “Sunny South,” and has been “introduced” to her.

Tell Lillie that the opposer to girls learning Latin can’t be a boy—he can’t belong to the same species with me. Down this way the girls study Latin, Greek, and French, and expect, when they get a teacher, to study Hebrew and German, and more, they beat us boys at it, too! [p. 156 ]

But as “Brevity is the soul of wit,” and as I am witty (!), I suppose I must be brief.

Your Southern friend,

“brevity is the soul of wit”: William Shakespeare, “Hamlet” (1600-1601) act 2, sc ii, line 90: “Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit.”


Mt. Vernon, Iowa.

Dear Uncle Frank: (I hope you will let me call you so)—I begun to take your magazine when I was seven years old, and have now taken it five years. I am always glad to get it, and would not like to do without it; but since we came to Iowa, I don’t get it quite soon enough to suit me—seldom till the last of the month. That was really a funny-looking picture you gave us of Santa Claus, in the January number. I didn’t know before that he used tobacco. I don’t like him any better for that, but I would rather he would use it than I. I hope he will leave his pipe and tobacco at home when he comes to our house. Next time I write, perhaps I will tell you something about Mt. Vernon.

S. E. Boles.


New Haven, Ct.

Dear Uncle Frank:—After considerable hesitation I have concluded to send you some more waste paper to kindle your fire with. If it should not prove acceptable, just give me a hint, and I will learn to keep such articles at home. As it is, I had a “clearing-up time” in my portfolio the other day, and numberless “efforts of a similar character” were consigned to the glowing bosom of the library grate. May their ashes rest in peace!

As to your question whether I am sensitive or not in certain particulars, S—, I won’t finish that, however. I only want you to bear in mind when you condescend to polish up any of my unworthy productions—no, that won’t do either. Well, then, you may do any thing you please with my “efforts;” I would think you did it solely out of mercy if you were to alter every other word. There is one point on which I am “sensitive,” however, which is, that both you and Aunt Sue called me “Miss.” I am still a girl, and not a young lady. I don’t think that I deserve the appellation. I don’t believe my recently entered “teens” will admit of it. I’ve not yet passed the bounds of fifteen—no, not by a great deal. But how foolish in me to tell you this! If it were not so late, this letter should be revised, and the half of it struck out. But, if you ever reach this point, I wish you to know that this letter is not intended for publication, and I don’t want it printed. I have been so frightened at Aunt Sue’s comments that I am half afraid to send this. She may call me “Fleetest” if she chooses. I know very well that I can outrun any one for miles around, especially if danger is at hand.

Your affectionate niece,
Fleta Forrester.

“ ’teens”: used since 1673 to signify an age ending in “teen.”


Tallahassee Mission

Dear Uncle Frank:—I have never seen you, but would like to very much. I live at the Mission, among the Creek Indians. We are bounded on the west by what is called the Grand Prairie, extending to the Rocky Mountains. On the north of us, about two and a half miles, is a large pond, which we call a lake, but you would call it a pond. It is about a mile in length, and a quarter of a mile in width. It is a pleasant place to visit, because it borders on the prairie, and is a nice place for fishing. There is a beautiful grove on one side. In summer it abounds with two kinds of pond lilies, and in winter with wild fowl. On the south of us, about two and a half miles, runs the Arkansas. Most of the time it is very low, so that it can be easily forded. But nearly every spring it rises very high, so that steamboats can come up; on the other side of it, about a mile, is the Creek Agency. This is not a very large place; but there is a blacksmith’s shop, a tailor’s house, and several stores, besides several dwelling-houses. [p. 157 ] On the east of us, about ten miles, is Fort Gibson. Between here and there are two rivers; their names are Verdigris and Grand. I noticed that premiums are offered for new subscribers. I have received twelve. Their names are on another paper.

From your off-nephew,
Robert [H. Loughridge].
[Transcriber’s note: Originally spelled “M. Longhudge”]

Creek Nation/Agency, Tallahassee Mission: Presbyterian mission in the Creek Nation, in what is now Wagoner County, Oklahoma. Having earned the respect of the Creeks, Robert McGill Loughridge was given permission in 1848 to establish at “Tullahassee” a boarding school and mission for Creek children. Eventually the Mission included several missionary families, as well as the Creeks. Robert, jr, may have considered the nearby lake a “pond”, but his missionary father had high hopes for it, hoping to seine it for much of the Mission’s food. [Robert McGill Loughridge. Robert McGill Loughridge papers, Office of Presbyterian History, Presbyterian Church (U. S. A. ), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Repr. American Indian Correspondence. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1978.]


Moline, Aug. 14, 1857.

Uncle Frank:—Make room for one more, if you please. Though a new subscriber, I claim my seat at the Chat. I think Black-Eyes, W. H. Coleman, ![—]! and, in fact, all of your contributors, do honor to the name of Merrys. Now, Uncle, if you come to this part of the West, give us a call. We live only three miles from the Great Mississippi Railroad Bridge, which crosses the river at Rock Island City. You will find this a right smart country.

Yours truly,
Enoch R.


Chili, N. Y., July 13, 1857.

Dear Uncle:—I am anxious to tell you how happy I am this morning, having just succeeded in finding my way through the Labyrinth, and all alone, too.

It will be five years in September since my mother died, and, my father being an invalid, two brothers, a little sister, and myself were left to the care of strangers. But it is almost two years ago since they laid sister Ella to rest on Mount Hope, too.

My home has lately been in the country, among the free birds and wild flowers, the wide fields, with the broad, blue sky above all. And I have my pets, too—chickens, kittens, and lambs—but they all die.

Yours affectionately,
Anna Elsie D.

Labyrinth: puzzle by “Pennsylvania Friends” (Robert Merry’s Museum; July 1857)

mother: probably Catherine Doran (born 12 February 1826, Ireland; died 3 September 1852, New York, of cholera) father: probably David (born 1823, Ireland; died 29 October 1859, New York, of consumption or of a liver disease) sister Ella: probably Ellen/Ella Doran (born c1848, New York; died 12 September 1855, Rochester, New York, of fever) Another sibling—Frances E., age 6—died of “brain fever” 6 July 1857. [[M432. 1850 United States Census; reel #531: 273. • M653. 1860 United States Census; reel #784: 109. • Richard T. Halsey, transcriber. Tombstone Inscriptions from the Old Section of Mt. Hope Cemetery, Rochester, New York. Rochester, New York: Richard T. Halsey, 1987. • Mortality Schedule, 1870 census: New York, St. Lawrence County, Oswegatchee; p. 116. • “Mount Hope Cemetery Interment Books.” vol. 1, May 1837-July 1860; vol 1.]


Mr. Hatchet:—How are “times” in the Museum? This is the important question. In these crashing days every one desires to know the state of his own and his neighbor’s pocket, and it is with trembling anxiety that I ask how you “stand it.” Any danger of the firm of Museum, Cabinet & Co. suspending? Can you meet your (correspondents’) notes? Does Uncle Merry look sad, and has Uncle Hiram a long face? Has that wild animal, the Panic, broken into your office? Do relieve my anxiety as soon as possible.

What a terrible monster is the Museum, devouring its kindred, big and little, without mercy. First, down went the Playmate; next it swallowed a Cabinet, which had already made way with a Mentor (what animal is that?), and now it has eaten up a Schoolfellow! I hope its digestive powers are good.

The story of Mike Smiley promises a rich feast. I think I see traces of a hatchet about it.


The Mentor: a 32-page monthly magazine (July 1850-December 1851?) edited by Horation Hastings Weld and published in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; it was absorbed by the Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet.

The Schoolfellow: magazine (January 1849-September 1857) published in Atlanta, Georgia, from 1849; it was absorbed by the Museum in 1857. †*†’s letter is the earliest indication that the absorption took place; the Museum’s title did not expand to read Merry’s Museum, Parley’s Magazine, Woodworth’s Cabinet and the Schoolfellow until 1859.

Mike Smiley: title character in “Mike Smiley”, a six-part serial by William Cutter (Robert Merry’s Museum; 1857-1858). Observing the misery around him as a result of alcohol, Mike—and the reader—learn that hard work, temperance, and perseverance are the key to success.


Niagara Co., August, 1857.

Mr. Merry:—How do you suppose it would affect some of your young nieces and nephews to have a country boy like me to step in among a “Circle” some day and quietly and coolly take a seat? Who would be the first to say, Who is that? look at his hair, his coat, elbows, etc. Oh, sir, you better believe I am right here, just here. Oh, Miss B. E., how are you? Excuse me, Mr. B., how are you this evening? etc.

The Countryman.

[Editor: ] Nobody hurt, we hope—nobody gone into hysterics. The truth is, we are nearly all country boys and girls, and know how to behave.


Milwaukee, Sept. 14th, 1857.

Dear Mr. Merry:—I have just returned from a trip down in Ohio, thence in a Lake Superior boat from Cleveland to Superior City, and home by the way of St. Paul’s. While in Ohio I ventured into the quarters of two of your fiercest feminine correspondents, but did not encounter either one of them, a fortunate circumstance, that can probably be accounted for by the fact that “they didn’t know me, and I didn’t know them.” I plead “not guilty” to the charge of Adelbert Older. I have traveled considerably in Illinois, and I have as yet to meet a young hicker whom I am afraid of. Are they two species A. O.?

Yours as ever,
Badger State.

“I plead ‘not guilty’ ”: Twitting Badger State about some saucy remarks he had made, Adelbert warned from Illinois: “Please tell Badger State that ‘young suckers’ are dangerous. He need not be afraid of me, though, for I was born in Wisconsin, and am, therefore, his fellow Badger.” (Robert Merry’s Museum; 1857.1.91)

“hicker”: unknown; perhaps long for “hick”, an unsophisticated country bumpkin


October 3d, 1857.

Dear Trio:—Your Museum is just received, and seeing little mention of myself, conclude that I am likely to be forgotten, a misfortune I earnestly desire to avert. C. H. I. only has remembered me; he receives my hearty thanks, and as for his mistake, it is nothing. He is not the first who has mistaken me for one of the “genus homo.” Willie, where are you? I sing “Willie, we have missed you” (we do miss you), on the receipt of every “Chat,” when you, of all, are absent! Misery, do make your appearance. I have been traveling; sailing on noble rivers, riding in rickety stages, and last, but by no means least, gazing on the wondrous beauty of Niagara! How intensely charming those great, leaping, dashing waters are! I spent hours there, never tiring, and only sorry when night forced me to my hotel. I would tell you of their great beauty, their sublimity, but of that my poor pen and poorer ideas are not capable. A night on the Hudson, too. That I spent, not in my state-room, as my less romantic sister did, but on the deck, the upper deck, with a pleasant companion by my side (!). The moon was at its full, and the lights and shadows were exquisitely lovely. Here, the water glimmered and flashed in the full light of the moon; there, it lay dark and cold, under the high banks, causing a shiver, whether of apprehension or gloominess I know not, to run over me.

Now, my Merry Cousins “forget me not.”


Trio: some combination of Robert Merry, Francis Woodworth, Hiram Hatchet, and Aunt Sue.

“Willie, we have missed you”: “Willie We Have Missed You”, by Stephen C. Foster (1854), a sweetly sentimental song about the return of a husband to his family.

C. H. I.: Actually C. W. J., who wrote: “ … when am I to hear from Nipp? I am in a great fidget to hear from him; he is one of the best subscribers to the Museum in my eyes. I wish that I were as good as he is.” (Robert Merry’s Museum; 1857.2.59)


Texana, Oct. 1st, 1857.

Dear Uncles, Aunts, and Cousins:—I have for some time neglected to write to you, because I live so far off that my letter could not reach in time for my name to be placed among those that have solved the enigmas, etc. Besides, I have sent two or three enigmas, and that terrible basket under the table has received them. Hoping it will escape this time, I will try again. Tell Willie H. Coleman that I have a great mind to have him hung for forgery. (Hung, did I say? I beg your pardon—jailed, I should have said.) Ask him what H. stands for, that I may tell my neighbors, who have come to me, and asked who Black-Eyes [p. 185 ] was, that I should be arguing with her so much. I told them I was not the author of the letters, and they would not believe me. I, for one of the cousins, want to know who Aunt Sue is.

From yours truly (without forgery),
Willie Hayden Coleman.

P. S.—Please, Uncle Merry, introduce me to my cousins, and receive me as one of the happy Merry family.

W. H. C.

[Editor: ] It is a pity to live so far off, Willie. What if we should get up a petition to Congress, to have Texas moved up this way—say somewhere north of Mason and Dixon’s line? Perhaps you would not like our winters, and some of our “notions.” But, we will see about this, when we get the whole family together.

Those enigmas you sent us, we have never received. So it was not our basket that swallowed them, but Uncle Sam’s.

Hanging! Jailing! Indeed, things look darker than we suppose they ever would in our hitherto quiet family. But, let us see—Uncle Hiram comes in as a pacificator, and suggests that Texana signs himself W. H. C. South, and New York W. H. C. North. We shall thus know that, in the Museum, at least, if not in Congress, the North and South are harmonious and brotherly. What say you?

Mason and Dixon’s line: Surveyed by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon (1764-1767) to solve a decades-old boundary dispute between Maryland and Pennsylvania, the line traditionally marked the boundary between the southern and northern states.


Chicago, Sept. 25, 1857.

Dear Mr. Merry:—I have been in Wisconsin all summer, and have had an elegant time wading in the streams and riding on horse-back. In one of my rides I saw a prairie wolf; it stopped and looked at me—it was not at all afraid. I chased it for a while; of course it wouldn’t touch me. I don’t like to come back to Chicago much. It seems to me it is more noisy and busy than ever. They say it is the greatest wheat and lumber market in the world. I wish I could go to Oregon, to make that country and Lucy a visit. Walter Grey never was in earnest when he wrote that letter.

Annie E. Drummond.

a flourish

How to use this book

1840s: 184118421843184418451846184718481849

1850s: 1850185118521853185418551856 • 1857 • 18581859

1860s: 1860186118621863186418651866186718681869

1870s: 187018711872

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