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

How to use this book

1840s: 184118421843184418451846184718481849

1850s: 185018511852185318541855185618571858 • 1859

1860s: 1860186118621863186418651866186718681869

1870s: 187018711872

About the Merry Cousins

Appendix

Index & gloss

Sources

The Cousins’ Greatest Hits

1859

1859.1.60

Uncle Hiram:—While reading the Monthly Chat, I have often thought I should like to contribute a letter. I have therefore at last resolved to introduce myself to you. I have just arrived, dear cousins, at the age described by the poets as “sweet sixteen,” and consequently have the customary amount of silliness and romance appertaining to that age. I live in the country, near a beautiful lake, in the central part of New York, and, what is rather unusual with young girls of my age, I do not deplore the “fate which has cast my lot in this dismal land,” but think I am the happiest girl in America, and have the most pleasant home. Please forgive my haste, when I tell you how much I should like to see in the February number the name of

Orianna.


1859.1.61

Hartford, Wis., Nov. 5, 1858.

Dear Uncle:—I like to go down to the store in the evening, but as I am only ten years old my mother thinks that I had better stay at home. I like to look at your picture, and I wish I could see you too. I am practicing music. I can play “Few Days,” “Home Again,” and some others. I felt very bad the other day when I found Thomas Dydimus lying dead on the ground—that’s our old cat. My ma says that is a sad cat-astrophe. I looked at that picture on the Museum at the bottom of the page, and I wondered what that man was holding in his hand besides the shears.

Charley E. Wheelock.

“Few Days”: “Few Days; or, Our Country Now is Great and Free,” a song (Boston: Oliver Ditson, 1854). A Know-Nothing anthem, it urges fighting against “innovation” and “usurpation” and guarding the “ballot-box” from “foreign wiles and treason shocks.”

“Home Again”: song by Marshall Spring Pike (Boston: E. H. Wade, 1850). A traveler is home again from a foreign shore.

man holding shears: The cover in part pictures a man showing the power of a magnet by using it to lift a pair of scissors; he points to the scissors with one hand and holds the magnet with the other.


1859.1.62

Painsville, Nov. 13, 1858.

Dear Uncle Frank, Hiram Hatchet, Mr. Merry, and Aunt Sue:—If there are really as many as 20,000 nieces and nephews of yours, I do not see how you can make room for me. But perhaps you will move aside and give a place. I am an entire stranger here. I do not know as I ever took so nice a book or paper before. I have taken the Cabinet four years now, and if mother is willing, and Uncle Horace, too, will continue to take it longer. I was ten years old the 20th day of September. I go to school now, but have not been at it at all this week, because the weather was so bad. We are having a fine snow-storm now, and I hope that it will be good sleighing. Auntie has got a fine fairy bell in blossom. How is Nippinifidget and all the rest of your nephews and nieces? So good-bye.

Your niece,
Marina A. Carey.

P. S.—Please answer this soon.

fairy bell: probably Disporum maculatum (also Nodding Mandarin) or Disporum lanuginosum (Yellow Mandarin), members of the Lily Family native to North America. Its 1-inch-long flowers are vaguely bell-shaped; it flowers in April and May.


1859.1.92

Selma, Ala.

Dear Uncle Merry:—How are the other Uncles, Aunt Sue, and the 20,000 cousins? Tell Aunt Sue, if she will visit us she shall be welcome to many a good ride on my beautiful pony (Leona); and if it gives her as much pleasure, and improves her health as it has mine, it would be worth a trip this far. It may be I shall visit the North next summer, and if so, shall call to see my “Merry” Uncles. But with my best bow I make my adieu.

Eddie.


1859.1.93a

Tennessee.

Dear Uncle Hiram:—It’s been a long time since I wrote to you last, but I’ve read the Museum with just as much interest as ever. The fact is, I’ve been too busy to write, and doubtless you wish I were now! What a breeze I did raise by sending only my respects to my Northern cousins! I thought they would hardly receive them from such a pagan as some think all Southerners are. Where is Laura? I’m proud of her, as she is “one of us,” and an honor to us, too. I wish she’d revive again. And my friend Sigma? What’s become of her? Ugh! She’s got spirit enough for a dozen! I pity the man that gets her for a wife. The fact is, I’d as soon mate with a hornet or a snapping-bug as one of these Yankee girls! I pity Black-Eyes’ husband sincerely, and congratulate Willie Coleman on his escape from her.

Now don’t you say the Northern girls are “sour grapes” to me, for they aren’t. To be sure, I did have some dreams in which a pair of black eyes showed conspicuously, but I’m thankful now that I’ve escaped all danger. Give my love to Fleta Forester, if she is a Northerner. As for Laura, I prefer giving her my love in private. I’m glad you’ve got into Algebra once more. When Black-Eyes gave out her problem I was first beginning Algebra; but now, having “arriv” at Calculus, I can work in Algebra.

Yours from the South,
Tennessean.

snapping-bug: Mathews: “snapping beetle, any one of numerous beetles of the family Elateridae”; the earliest example is dated 1860. [Mitford M. Mathews, ed. A Dictionary of Americanisms On Historical Principles. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1951.]

Algebra: An algebra problem appeared in January 1859.

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.


1859.1.93b

Harpersville.

My dear Uncle Merry:—Inclosed I send you $2 for the Museum; it is money that my parents gave to me for not drinking tea and coffee. I am a little girl, eleven years old. I have taken the Schoolfellow one year, and the Museum two. I have two cents a week.

Geraldine.

Schoolfellow: magazine published in Atlanta, Georgia, from 1849; it was absorbed by the Museum in 1857. †*†’s letter is the earliest indication that the merger 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.


1859.1.93c

Jerseyville.

Dear Uncles:—The advice given to one of my cousins encourages me to “call again.” * * * Somebody talks about having their first snow-storm. I will leave it to the present company to say if this does not make one long for a sleigh-ride. Here we are, in Southern Illinois, on the eve of New Year, and not a particle of snow to be seen—nothing but mud, mud, about so deep. I have a faint recollection of a good time we had sleighing long ago, when the snow was not measured by inches, but feet, but that was in a far different clime—the old Empire State. Don’t imagine from this that I am very old. My ma says I am not old enough to be—well, never mind the rest. Am I too long?

Louise.


1859.1.93-94

New Ipswich, N. H., Jan. 7, 1859.

Dear Uncle Merry:—I was not a little surprised to learn that so small a flower as the Mignonette had not escaped your notice. I find that the New Ipswich climate is rather severe, and I might have been completely withered ere this had I not been transplanted to the sunny side of the second story of the house. Two feet [p. 94 ] of snow have completely hidden all my sister flowers, and the whistling winds mournfully sound the knell of their departed loveliness. Your Museum came by the way of Santa Claus on Christmas, and it received a hearty welcome. Although the flowers have disappeared, their goddess Flora still lives, notwithstanding the depredations of old King Winter, and as soon as he makes his retreat, we may expect to see her arrayed in royal apparel, sitting in state and joyously presiding over the destinies of her beautiful subjects. Oh, yes, Uncle Merry, I long to see the ground dismantled of her white robe, for then my sister flowers can venture out without the fear of being buried alive. Yes, green suits my complexion better than white. Hasten, Miss May, and bring along with you the time for the singing of birds and blossoming of flowers.

From your niece,
Mignonette.


1859.1.94

T—, Feb. 16, 1859.

Dear Uncle Merry:—Thank you very much for the face of our good friend, Peter Parley. He looks younger than we expected to see him, and his head appears not much larger than any common man’s, which makes us feel like the rustics in the “Deserted Village”—

“And still we gaze, and still the wonder grows,

That one small head can carry all he knows.”

And so, Uncle, we are to conclude you are a bachelor—“free to love,” as you say. How delightful, especially when you have such a host on whom to expend the wealth of your affections.

We think we see your good-natured phiz directly before us, lighted up with a benevolent smile for everybody, but especially the little folks—a decided characteristic of these old bachelor uncles. We have also an equally clear conception of Miss Flibbertygibbet, alias F., alias—no matter—a little sprite of a humming-bird—a miniature lady—a second edition neither revised nor corrected, cause why, there’s no need of it. We don’t feel free to love by considerable. Young girls must be cautious. We used to make an entire sweep, but have grown older, and things have changed, etc. Hope the time will come when the range of your affections will be properly and delightfully curtailed; and when that time comes, please give our kindest regards to the very fortunate Mrs. M. Do be sure and get one who loves children, otherwise we shall never think of you again with the least feeling of satisfaction. Think of Aunt Merry not loving children, and Uncle Merry absolutely overflowing with affection—free to love not only his friends in N. I., but all the rest of us.

Your very affectionate
Minnie.

“The Deserted Village”: poem by Oliver Goldsmith on the depopulation of English countryside (1770). Minnie rewrites lines 215-216, in which the rustics admire the village schoolmaster: “And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew,/ That one small head could carry all he knew.” The section with these lines had appeared, with several illustrations, in the January 1859 Museum.


1859.1.123-124

City of Elms, March, 1859.

Dear Uncle Hiram:—I can imagine your brow contracting and your hatchet [p. 124 ] uprising as your eye rests upon my half-forgotten signature. But, since I have taken it into my head to write you a letter, I advise you to submit to the infliction with the best grace possible.

Well, in the first place, to ask the question every one else is asking: “Where, oh! where are the” “bright particular stars” that twinkled so brightly, not long since, on the horizon of the Chat? Our literary sky has become obscured, mayhap. Might it not be worth while to signal to the “old woman” who, it is well known, was once upon a time “tossed up in a blanket seventy times as high as the moon,” to look after a few of our “cobwebs?”

I am surprised that “Tennessean” does not yet seem to have got the fact through his decidedly thick “caput,” that Sigma and Fleta are one and the same person. Verily, if the above-named gentleman be a fair specimen of Southern brains and Southern gallantry, deliver me, say I, from all such! As for the “mating,” he speaks of, “chacun a son goût,” of course. If said “Tennessean” prefers a wife who would obediently wipe the dust from his feet with her hair, when commanded—instead of giving him a good, vigorous “shaking,” as he would deserve—so be it. I think, in that case, no “Yankee girl” would care to “waste breath” on him. Their indignation would be solely directed against the pusillanimous being who could thus tamely submit to be trampled upon. I can easily imagine the enormity of his condescension in making me an exception to the general rule—“respects, merely;” but he will pardon me if I remark, that I am unable fully to appreciate the honor he would do me, and beg that he will confine his patronage to such as can. [ … ]

Uncle Hiram, don’t be so sure of us Northerners giving spring such a hearty welcome. We have all had too glorious times this winter, wheelingthe light fantastic toe” on our graceful skates, to part with merry old winter otherwise than grudgingly.

Fleta Forrester.

“old woman … tossed up in a blanket”: English nursery rhyme:

There was an old woman toss’d in a blanket,

Seventeen times as high as the moon;

But where she was going no mortal could tell,

For under her arm she carried a broom.

Old woman, old woman, old woman, said I!

Whither, ah whither, ah whither so high?

To sweep the cobwebs from the sky,

And I’ll be with you by and by.

A popular variant substitutes “basket” for “blanket.” [The Annotated Mother Goose. Ed. William S. Baring-Gould and Ceil Baring-Gould. New York: Clarkson N. Potter Inc., 1962; p. 50. • Iona and Peter Opie, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rymes. Np: Oxford University Press, 1951; rhyme #545]

“chacun a son goût”: French: “Every man to his taste.”

“light fantastic toe”: John Milton, “L’Allegro” (1631) lines 31-34:

Sport that wrinkled Care derides,

And Laughter holding both his sides.

Come, and trip it as you go,

On the light, fantastic toe.

Tennessean’s wife: This was not the only “talking to” Tennessean got on the subject. Clio was equally stern: “ ‘Tennessean,’ I don’t know as it will “pay” to refer to your brave slur on the Northern girls, but as “one of ’em” has spoken for the Yankee girls, I’ll say a word for the Buckeyes. Rest assured that we will do our best to save you from the horrible fate of mating with a “yellow-jacket” by giving you a good sound letting alone.” (1859.2.28-29)


1859.1.124

Norwalk, Conn.

Dear Uncle Hatchet:—Will you be so kind and obliging as to allow another correspondent to introduce himself to “Our Circle?”

The smiling visage of the Museum is hailed with delight in this ancient town, and we are impatient to have the month pass, that we may have another copy to devour.

Father brings home the “Eclectic,” “Harper’s,” “Atlantic,” Reviews, etc., etc. We youngsters can’t digest such literary matter as yet; and I’m glad brother “Will” is so thoughtful and kind as to send us the Museum every month, as it affords us much pleasure and profit.

Harry Harsin Williams.

Eclectic: probably The Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature, Science and Art (1844-1898), a monthly periodical.

Harper’s: Harper’s Weekly (1857-1916, 1974-) or Harper’s monthly magazine (1850-).

Atlantic: probably the Atlantic Monthly (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Co., 1857-), which published works on literature, politics, and art.


1859.1.125a

Ann Arbor, Jan. 19, 1859.

Here I am, dear Uncle. Now, please, open wide your eyes, and look sharply at me over your spectacles, and tell me did you ever see this wild little niece before? Don’t scold because I present myself so unceremoniously before you. I found the door open, and having a great desire to look upon your kind, sunny face, I could not resist the temptation to run right in, and confront you in the very heart of your “sanctum,” as the printers say, notwithstanding I am bare-headed, and my curls have not yet been put in order.

I have a dear, kind Aunt Fanny, my own aunt, who is not claimed by all the little children in the world. And what did she do but make me a beautiful present—New Year’s present—nothing less than the Museum for the coming year. Isn’t she a sensible, generous aunt? Now, I know you will not think me an intruder, for I am fairly and regularly enrolled on your long list of subscribers, as my certificate will prove.

Your loving niece,
Ada.


1859.1.125b

Finewood, Jan. 25, 1859.

Dear Uncle Hiram:—I have been a Merry boy for a year, and I would like to be introduced to the Merry circle. I am but a little fellow; but I think you will let me come in, especially as I have earned a dollar for my subscriptions to the little Schoolfellow. I should like to bring my little two-year-old sister Mary with me. She is a little lady that thinks very highly of her own attractions. One day she was visiting grandmother, when Uncle Eddie proposed taking her to the chicken-house. “Oh! that will be nice,” she exclaimed; “then the chickens can see me, can’t they?” They might well be glad to see her; she is such a pretty little thing. How I should like to see all the Merry boys together! Wouldn’t that be fun?

Wolverine Boy.


1859.1.125c

Mt. Morris, N. Y., Jan., 1859.

Most worthy Aunt Sue,

My first bow to you,

For your finely-spun tales,

And humorous catering,

And pleasant chattering,

Sent forth through the mails[.]

And you, Uncle Frankey,

Accept a kind thank ye.

Your Cabinet’s teaching

And good moral preaching

Proclaim you a genuine Yankee.

Next, our friend Hiram Hatchet

What a name! Who can match it?

With that your pen can hack and hew,

And line your pages black and blue,

With rich instruction, old and new,

For boys and girls to catch at.

And last, though first of all the four,

A reverent bow to Parley-ing Peter,

That Merry old gentleman of three-score,

Sure none can write better or neater,

Whose juvenile volumes, some dozens or more,

With knowledge in richest profusion pour,

In sparkling prose and meter.

Thus comes the Cabinet, seeking its patrons

’Mong boys and girls and maids and matrons.

No juvenile monthly is better or cheaper,

So here goes the dollar from

Frank H. Sleeper.


1859.1.154-155

Lecovia, March 12, 1859.

Uncle Hi:—In the name of mud-puddles and wet feet, what do you let it rain so much for? It is nothing but splosh, splosh, splosh, all the week long. It has spoiled all of the sleighing. Good-bye to sleighing for this winter. I have been trying on that Prize Puzzle, but I have finally given up all hope of conquering. Oh, but I had almost forgotten to ask permission to enter your Merry family. Now please have some sympathy for a bashful nephew like me.

My home is very pleasant, being embosomed in hills and dells, and a river runs along so calmly and quietly in front. I have many pleasant times with my dog Carly in the woods, chasing the rabbits and squirrels. [p. 155 ]

My love to Aunt Sue, and all the rest of the Merry family.

From your loving nephew,
Wild Willie.

“that Prize Puzzle”: A complex puzzle consisting of a charade, an enigma, and a conundrum. (1859.1.26-27) The solution appeared in October 1859.


1859.1.156a

Merwinsville, March 19, 1859.

Dear Uncle Frank:—I am a little boy ten years of age. My older brothers and sisters have taken the Cabinet sixteen years, and it has always been a very welcome visitor in our country home. Although the Cabinet is a great favorite of ours, yet we like it very much since it has been united with the Museum and Schoolfellow. I have got two little nieces, and I feel very proud to be called “Uncle Hiram.” Give my love to Uncle Robert and Uncle Hiram. Remember me to all the cousins.

Your affectionate nephew,
Hiram Graves.


1859.1.156b

North Carolina, Feb. 12, 1859.

Dear Uncle Frank, Auntie, and all of the good Uncles and Aunts, together with the 20,000 Nieces and Nephews:—I have a great desire to become a link in the chain of your correspondents.

I never have taken the Cabinet before this year, but have, from time to time, had the pleasure of reading it as the property of a class-mate at school, until the names of Uncle Frank and Aunt Sue are almost as familiar with me as mamma and papa. Two years ago, I remember we took your picture from the December number (sent out, I believe, as a Christmas present to the little folks), and tacked it high upon the wall of our school-room; and, of course, looked at, and talked of it often, each wondering if Uncle Frank was as good-looking as his picture. I am yet a school-girl, Uncle Frank, and wish much to become a bright star in our literary world. Can you tell a body how to ascend the hill of science without so much hard study? But I must bear in mind the proverb of Uncle Hiram. My warm regards to Uncle Merry.

Fannie A. E. D.

your picture: Steel engravings of Francis Woodworth and Susanna Newbould were included several times in issues of Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet.


1859.1.156-157

New Ipswich, N. H., March 15, 1859.

Dear Uncle Hiram:—May I write you again? I have written you ever so many times on my slate. Mother says, “Now school is done, you had better use ink.” So here,

Dear Uncles, one and two,

Cousins all, and Aunt Sue,

I am trying to do as my dear mother thinks best.

I work, read, write, skip, and play;

Sing and practice every day.

I am making an effort to earn money that I may buy “Rollo’s Tour in Europe.” [p. 157 ] If I succeed I will tell you about it. Aunt Sue’s Puzzler mother will get for her trio group, I think. My love to Minnie—tell her I have spent many happy hours with my dear aunt Merry. She is a darling merry Auntie, making every one happy about her, even the little children. What has become of Hoosier Annie? I will remember her. Mother often tells us interesting stories about the Hoosier children that she used to visit when dear father was living, and they were in Indiana.

Only think! I am nearly sixty-seven years younger than the oldest cousin in the Chat. You will—please do this time—spare the hatchet from

Flibbertigibbet.

Aunt Sue’s Puzzler: Aunt Sue’s Complete Puzzler (New York: T. W. Strong, 1859), a 118-page collection of word puzzles, was advertised in the March 1859 issue of the Museum. Under various titles—including The Santa Claus’ Book of Games and Puzzles (1864)—it was reprinted into the 1880s.

Rollo’s Tour in Europe (Jacob Abbott): a 10-volume series, “Little Rollo in Europe,” which took its young protagonist across the Atlantic through the countries of western Europe, giving young readers education in geography, history, and propriety. It was advertised in the March 1859 issue of the Museum, which also reprinted two sections from the series.

oldest Cousin: Josiah Cary: “I suppose I am the oldest cousin in the Chat—not quite 76 years old.” (1859.1.92)


1859.1.189

Painesville, April 6, 1859.

Dear Mr. Merry:—I have never yet had the pleasure of being introduced to the “Merry family,” but beg to have that pleasure now.

I live on the shores of blue Lake Erie, but spend my winters in New York. The past winter I spent in Cleveland, at boarding school. I was very homesick and cold. The lake winds were so penetrating.

Give my love to Aunt Sue and all the merry cousins, and believe me your very affectionate niece,

Augusta.


1859.1.189-190

Brooklyn, May 5, 1859.

My dear Uncle Hiram:—

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind?”

Robbie Burns seemed to think an answer to this question almost superfluous, deeming it one of that kind which answer themselves in the asking. And so I think. Did not your kind heart reproach you when you spoke of the “empty chair at the family gathering?” No doubt you were thinking sadly of your willful niece, whom you had to send out of the room because she would write such long letters. Of course I feel badly about it, but it is some consolation to hear that you miss me, and “expect” me “soon back again!” And now, having stayed out for a year or more, and being “severely let alone” all the time, may I come in, on condition that I will be a good girl and not do so any more? I think I see you trying to keep the corners of your mouth firmly set [p. 190 ] as you sternly shake your head, but that forgiving smile will come, and that says just what I had hoped to hear.

I am happy to see that double “blessedness” leaves our friend Black-Eyes just as “sparkling and bright” as it found her. The idea of her being “grave and matronly!” So Aunt Sue has taken to poetry; let her beware! Does she remember what a flaying I received for making an effort in the same line, and in which she “had at” me, too? But we must all learn for ourselves; and how she catches it at the hands of Willie H. Coleman, Esq., critic-in-general! It is hers now to exclaim, “Save me from my friends!” The gentleman aforesaid has added hugely to his already towering fame by his masterly critique upon the poem in question. But, “Let him that thinketh he standeth,” etc.

Probably we shall hereafter have a few drops of the concentrated extract of wisdom, wherewith to flavor our monthly dish of Chat, now that “Grandma Sapiens” is one of us.—and a new Auntie, too! Surely, the Chat is a realization of the fabled fountain of youth, for it seems to restore the youthfulness to those of its members who are stricken in years, while it keeps young those who are so already. Cousin Adelbert, perhaps, is an exception, as nothing seems of avail to prevent him from being older and yet older continually. Thank you for your inquiries after me Cousin A. (though not for calling me saucy); I remember you of old, as a staunch supporter of the Cabinet, and now that we have grown older (you, I believe, have a family), we seem still to sail in the same boat.

I think somewhat of writing Uncle Frank a letter, “way down” in St. Augustine, and if any of the cousins which to send any messages by me, I shall be most happy to accommodate them. But Uncle Hiram is beginning to frown again, and—“Is that a ‘hatchet’ that I see before me?” Au revoir.

Bess.

P. S.—Any news from Nip?

B.

“should auld acquaintance”: Robert Burns, “Auld Lang Syne” (1788), lines 1-2: “Should auld acquantance be forgot/ And never brought to mind?”

Aunt Sue’s Poem: Editor Susanna Newbould offered a long poem in October 1858, answering several riddles; she replied to a subscriber’s criticism of her poem with a worse one: “One would think I had been perpetrating something like this:

‘In that spasmodic region, where mankind

Are deeply synchronous and vaguely blind;

Where elemental anodynes prevail,

And Stygian carboys ventilate the sail; … ’

Now, have I ever done anything as terrible as that?” (1859.1.123)

Robert Burns (1759-1796): Scottish poet. His poetry was full of rustic images and dialect, often beautiful and sometimes very funny. The Museum included two articles on him and reprinted “John Anderson, My John.”

“Let him that thinketh he standeth”: Bible, 1 Corinthians 10:12: “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”

“empty chair”: Uncle Hiram: “I hope we are thankful to the kind Hand that keeps us, and that brings us together, month after month, around this social table. An empty chair at a family gathering is a sad sight. The absent, how we miss them, even when we expect them soon back again!” (1859.1.153)

Grandma Sapiens and the new Auntie: “Grandma Sapiens” and “Aunt Patsie” introduced themselves in May 1859.


[from “A Time to Weep” (1859.2.22-23): ]

Dear children of the Cabinet, the Museum, and the Schoolfellow; yes, and parents too of all that numerous company that is gathered monthly about our social table, we come to you in tears, in deep grief and mourning, knowing that you will all weep as we weep, and mourn as we mourn.

UNCLE FRANK IS DEAD!

Dear, kind, genial, gifted, faithful, universally beloved and esteemed Uncle Frank has gone to his rest. [ … ]


1859.2.60

[Editor: ] Here is a “regular team,” hailing from Texas. Became acquainted with the Museum one evening, fell in love with it same night, procured five subscribers for it next morning, sent five dollars same day, and expressed his sentiments at the same time; unfortunately, they were expressed on both sides of the paper, so we can only give the public the benefit of the last half.

* * * I can ride a mustang, throw a lasso, shoot a gun, bow, or anything else that will go off, and try mighty hard to keep my head up in any kind of a team I choose to pull in, unless it be a literary one; and if the future only fulfills its promise, why, then, maybe I shall see you, Uncle Hi, and some of my Northern cousins; and, perhaps, get to be as good a writer and as knowing as anybody. Your new nephew is a Chickasaw Indian, black-haired and bright-eyed; said, by them that know, to be right—well, guess the rest; and I now give the cousins, Clara and Aggie, Little Fishey, and the rest of the tribe, a fair warning to look out for the hunting-shirt and moccasin; ’twill be around as sure as time.

I don’t exactly like the spirit friend Tennessee shows—I thought better of his pluck; fie, man! the wilder the filly the greater the sport. Whose afeard?

Yours, in fun,
Wild One.


1859.2.60-61

[Editor: ] Our friend Hawthorne seems rather “put out” at the “Yankee girls,” and says some things not very complimentary about them; so we must use the scissors rather freely. Here is what is left: [p. 61 ]

Mrs. B. E. surely must have a weak, quiet sort of a husband. I paid a flying visit to the “Star State” a few weeks since, and became fascinated with a pair of black-eyes—smile of the Great Spirit. I was in your city not long since; I am acquainted with several persons there. I live about one hundred miles above, on the river, in Mississippi. I noticed an error in the September number of the Museum—in the Monthly Chat, at the bottom of the second column—who’ll find it out. My love to all the cousins.

Your nephew, from down South,
Hawthorne.”

error in the Chat: The error lies in a sentence in a description of the Pennsylvania railroad: “Two ridges, the Blue Ridge and the Alleghany, traverse the entire breadth of [Pennsylvania], … extending through Virginia, North Carolina, and West Tennessee, into Georgia and Alabama” (1858.2.91); the Appalachian Mountains, of which the Alleghany Ridge and Blue Ridge form a part, cross east Tennessee. None of the other subscribers appear to have noticed.


1859.2.61

Ogdensburg, June 14, 1859.

Dear Uncle Merry:—I want to give you a description of a party I attended last Saturday. The beautiful grounds of George Parish, Esq., were opened in the afternoon, for the admittance of all the schools in the city. The place was beautifully decorated with all kinds of flowers. Just as you enter the grounds, you behold an arch trimmed with evergreens and flowers, with this motto on it: “Welcome, children,” and as you turn to go out, you see another motto: “Love one another.” In the center of the grounds there were six or eight tables set, and at the appointed hour they were loaded with all the delicacies of the season. Mr. E. H. Olds, the daguerreian artist of the place, was present, and took a daguerreotype of all the children as they were. I think it must have made a splendid picture as there were nearly 1,000 men, women, and children assembled on the grounds, about one half being children. They had swinging, jumping, and climbing there, which amusements most of the children enjoyed. At six o’clock, all the children retired to their homes, well satisfied with their fun.

Give my love to all the Uncles, Aunts, and Cousins.

I remain yours, etc.,
Geo. B. Higbee.

party: Actually hosted by George Parish’s mistress, Madame Maria Helena Amerigo Vespucci (died 1866), who left the town soon afterward. Refreshments included oranges and bananas—exotic treats for the party-goers. The party was one of the most memorable events in 19th-century Ogdensburg. [ [St. Lawrence Republican. 14 June 1859. • Gouverneur, New York. City Clerk’s Office. Return of Town Clerk: Births in the Town of Gouverneur … 1850.]

E. H. Olds: In 1857 he had a “Daguerreotype, Ambrotype & Photographic Picture Gallery” at 8 Eagle Block, Ford St., Ogdensburg, New York; he advertised that he did not “intend to keep any but the best of material nor let any but First Class Pictures go out of his gallery.” [Ogdensburg directory: James, Hopkins & Foster. Ogdensburgh Business Directory, 1857. (Repr. Ogdensburgh (New York) City Directories. Woodridge, Connecticut: Research Publications, 1980-1984); p. 18.]


1859.2.92

Fond du Lac, July 7, 1859.

Dear Uncle Hiram:—Will you please give me a place among the “20,000 Merry Cousins?” If I am ’way out in Wisconsin, you mustn’t suppose that I am anywheres near the “jumping-off place,” or that we are all savages out here, not by any means. I live in the city of Fond du Lac, which contains about 8,000 inhabitants. We have some very nice stores here, and a great many pretty dwelling houses, and we have also quite a number of churches and schools. We have one high school, which I attend, and I have very excellent teachers.

But I declare I have almost forgotten how you look, for I have not seen you for nearly two years. I remember that one evening when you were at our house in Brooklyn, you took me in your lap, and that you were very benevolent-looking, and were very fond of children.

I like your Museum first-rate, and especially the “Chat;” and I have fine times trying to puzzle out those enigmas and conundrums. But I must stop, or the next thing I know, the “hatchet” will be flourishing around me.

Prairie Chicken.


1859.2.92-93

Ann Arbor, Mich.

May I come in again, Uncle Merry? You surely have not forgotten your wild little niece, with the half-frightened eyes and tangled curls, who, not long ago, presented herself before you without an introduction. Ah, no; I see by the genial smile on your good-humored face, and the kindly extended hand, that I am welcome, and, with a bound, I am by your side. Now let me nestle close at your feet, and lay my hand confidingly in yours. Mamma said I might come, please sir, and don’t you see how nicely she has wound my curls over her finger, and parted it evenly on my forehead—and this bright gingham frock was made for the occasion. My heart beats a little to find myself among so many strange faces; but I hope the cousins will not feel jealous of the attention my good uncle bestows upon me. My father, dear Uncle Hi, has a large library of choice books, in elegant bindings; but there is not one among them all I prize more highly than the Cabinet. When that gem reaches me, I sit down and feast upon its pages, feeling much, when done, as though just returned from a real visit with you all, with your good instructions still sounding in my ears, and your good-bye kisses still lingering on my lips. Ah, dear Aunt Fanny, I love her more and more for her beautiful gift. Its letters are so refreshing, its instructions [p. 93 ] so elevating, its stories so interesting, and then, it has been the means of giving me a place in the heart of a new uncle. But I see I am taking up too much time, so let me slip away and give the rest a chance.

Ada.

“her beautiful gift”: Ada’s Aunt Fanny had given her a subscription to the Museum as a New Year’s gift. (1859.1.125)


1859.2.93

Tuscaloosa, June 25, 1859.

Dear Uncle Merry:—I would like you to be here, and see how you liked Tuscaloosa. I am going to school in the country, to a Frenchman. We had a large examination on the 23d of June, and it is now vacation. How I would be delighted to form an acquaintance with Aunt Sue and Uncle Hiram, if I knew how! I wish I could join the circle of little cousins, but as I am a little girl of thirteen, I will not dare to ask.

Annie E. S. Wedgworth.


1859.2.126a

Sugar-plum Hill, Wilmington, N. C.

Dear Uncle Hatchet:—I do wish that you were here now. This is properly called Sugar-plum Hill. I am a visitor here, and just imagine, my dear uncle, a susceptible young man of twenty, surrounded by three beautiful young sugar-plums, from the ages of fifteen to twenty, with the sweet, fresh tints of the cochineal (?) just springing from their budding lips. Will you publish me now, Uncle Hatchet? If so, I will try and write you again. The sugar-plums all send their love to such a good, nice, dear old man as Uncle Hiram Hatchet must be.

Your affectionate nephew,
Tommy Hawk.


1859.2.126b

Anoka, Min., Aug. 23, 1859.

Dear Uncle Merry:—I am a little girl, eleven years old, so please excuse anything that needs excuse. Tell Aunt Sue that we have some pretty wild flowers in our fields, and if she will come out here we will pick her just as many as she wants. We came out here to Anoka six years ago, and at that time there were but two log houses here, and now there are over a hundred. Anoka is situated on both sides of Rum River, near the mouth. Rum River empties into the Mississippi, eighteen miles above St. Anthony’s Falls. At the time we came out here there were a great many Indians; their dress was a blanket, and they wore moccasins on their feet; they painted their faces, and wore money in their ears; they carried tomahawks or hatchets, that looked pretty sharp—and if Uncle Hiram’s hatchet is any sharper, it might cut off half of my letter easier than the Indians take off scalps, so I will stop writing. Love to all.

Your affectionate niece,
Emma M. Shaw.


1859.2.126-127

Aug. 18, 1859.

I’ve been agoin’ to write to you ever since I received the last number of the Museum, but in some inexplicable manner I have kept putting it off until now has come and I will write. My principal say is to Aunt Sue, but I’ll send a few wee messages to some of my cousins, in the order in which they stand.

Louis B. Moore, that’s my opinion—that Aunt Sue is Mrs. Hiram Hatchet, and that they would write their name Mr. and Mrs. J. P. Please, Auntie, don’t I guess right? [No, little Mr. Bee—well, doesn’t B. E. spell bee?—not by a [p. 127 ] very long way.—A. S.] By the way, concise Louis, Mr. B. E. returns his compliments.

Nay, Lizzie G., I’ll not congratulate you. The happiest days of life are before we grasp that coveted scroll—that document that exiles us from the school-room. But we may make all our lives happy, if we will. Alas! how few will.

Good for you, Emmie. Let me answer your question with an emphatic no. I would never have married if I couldn’t have smiled afterward, and had to draw out my words, and talk about the weather and the fashions. No, dear, people can get married and be just as free, just as easy, just as saucy, and just as wild as they were before, especially if they are sure to get husbands who like just such wives.

Fleta, Fleta, where have you been to get so wild? But we’ll forgive your harem-scarumness, if you’ll promise to come just so again.

“Hawthorne,” I aint got a weak husband. You just come over and see. [ … ]

Has Alice retired from the corner? Or, why don’t she say something? Will you be to the Buckeye State Fair this fall, Al? It’s near you, and I’d like to catch a glimpse of you, an’ I go, and can find you.

What’s become of Uncles Rob and Hi? Maria, who told you to keep still?

Love to all. Have I said too much?

Black-Eyes.

Louis B. Moore: “Madame Black-Eyes, present my regards to Mr. Black-Eyes.” (1859.2.58)

Lizzie G.: “I have arrived at that period of life called by ignorant people ‘stopping school;’ I have graduated! Congratulate me, all ye 20,000!” (1859.2.58).

Emmie took a subscriber to task about supposing that, since she was married, Black-Eyes would become “sobered down”, and asked, “[B]ecause a lady chooses to marry, must she necessarily become as dignified as a judge?” (1859.2.59)


1859.2.155-156

Minden, La., Aug. 29, 1859.

Christmas night I hung up my stocking and I got a dollar (I suspect my [p. 156 ] brother-in-law put it in), and that I sent for 1858. My dollar accompanies this for ’59, and I procured it as follows: My father bought me an Indian pony for sixty dollars, which, as it could not pace, I sold for seventy-five, making fifteen dollars by the “operation,” as Wall Street-ers would say. My father and brother-in-law are engaged in the manufacture of cott[o]n-gins, spoken of by Uncle Frank in the February number, I think. If the hatchet does not cut this up, I may tell the nephews and nieces how cotton-gins are made.

Yours truly,
Hazel-Eyed Johnny.

on cotton-gin: “Something About Cotton,” by Francis Woodworth (February 1859). A description of cotton and its harvest praises the cotton gin, developed by “a genius sprung up out of obscurity.”


1859.2.157

Baltimore, Sept. 4, 1859.

Dear Uncle:—I send you answers to riddles 24, 26, 27, 28, 30, and 31, and to the rebus. Mattie Bell never sends any more poetry to the “Schoolfellow.” What has become of her? I have had the Museum bound in three handsome volumes. I have learned to play and sing the song of the “Snowbird,” and I am now learning “The Temperance Life-Boat,” duet. I want to tell you I find the answers to the charades, etc., in your magazine, with the help of my brother. Much obliged for the acceptance of my enigmas. But enough (I fear too much). Remember me to the 20,000 cousins and Aunt Sue.

Good-bye,
Bessie Johnston.

Mattie Bell: Beginning in 1858, Mattie published around 20 poems in the Museum, 12 before 1859.

“The Song of the Snow-Bird” (Robert Merry’s Museum; January 1858), accompaniment by S. N. (perhaps Susanna Newbould), words and air by Francis C. Woodworth. A chickadee sings merrily despite the cold, for God has given it what it needs to stay warm. The song had already appeared twice in Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet.

“Temperance Life-Boat”: song reprinted from The Temperance Melodist (1859). Temperance workers “ply the oar” across “life’s glittering waters” to “save/ Brothers from filling a drunkard’s grave.”


1859.2.158

Ogdensburg, Aug. 16, 1859.

Dear Uncle Merry:—I met with a sad misfortune last week, that has deprived me of many enjoyments, which I would otherwise have enjoyed. Walking out last Thursday, unconscious of any harm, I happened to step on a nail, with the point up, which penetrated nearly through my foot. Fortunately for me, the nail, being quite large, did not break, for if it had it would probably have crippled me for life; but as it is, I will think myself well off if it does not. It has kept me limping about ever since, and probably will for a week to come. Inclosed please find a few answers. Give my love to all the aunts and cousins, and accept a large share for yourself.

I remain yours, affectionately,
George B. Higbee.


1859.2.184

Paris, Place Vendome.

Now for a delightful chat with my Merry cousins this rainy afternoon. Here I am in Paris, many miles from the place where I dated my last letter. Do you think, my dear cousins, that I am going to bore you with a long rigmarole about what’s to be seen here, as if I thought you’d never, any of you, read a book of travels in your life? If you do, I assure you you’re very much mistaken. I will only inform you that I did not leave the United States as early as I had expected—had a tolerably pleasant voyage to Havre, am now in Paris, where I expect to spend the winter. I am traveling with my uncle, aunt, and cousin.

Having now made known my whereabouts, I will turn a cold shoulder to the “hatchet,” and have a little confidential talk with the 20,000. (Understand, I don’t mean the proprietor of the hatchet, but the implement itself.) So Adrian has no penchant for bumble-bees! Very well, my dear, when you visit my bower, some honey shall have attracted them all to a far distant wood, and there shall be no impediment to hinder you from feeling quite at home. Lizzie G., I shall be delighted to see you; when shall I expect you?

My dear cousins feminine, I have a word or two for your ears alone. I think we are all in great danger of spoiling W. H. C. Every fair cousin sends him a message—one and all agree in calling him “a bright particular star,” while it’s my private opinion he is only a meteor, or falling star. If the rest of you were so well acquainted with the species as I am, you would know that men in general are altogether too apt to have a good opinion of themselves, and instead of being assisted in their upward flight, they need a gentle pull to make them remember that though they may consider themselves the “lords of creation,” yet they are not demigods, and must not claim a seat among the stars.

Ever yours,
Sybil Grey.

P. S.—Tommy Hawk, is it the fashion in North Carolina to call boys of twenty “young men?” or are you only called so by courtesy at “Sugar-plum Hill?” Is the “Son of the Evening Star” any relation to “Lucifer, Son of the Morning?”


1859.2.185a

Rose Villa, October, 1859.

Dear Aunt Sue:—I address you again, to thank some of the cousins for their congratulations. “Black-Eyes,” I did not mean for you to congratulate me on having graduated, but on having passed through that trying ordeal, public examination. If it had been in my power, I would have stayed at school for two or three years longer, for I dearly loved school.

J. L. Pierrepont, my congratulations will be ready when you arrive at the period of graduation.

Lizzie G.

J. L. Pierrepont: “Lizzie G., I congratulate you most heartily on account of your safe exit from the ‘stuffing school,’ and hope you will return the favor when I get to that happy period.” (1859.2.127)


1859.2.185b

New York, Sept. 5, 1859.

Dear Uncle Hiram:—In my last letter, which was written from home, I spoke rather severely of the “Yankee Girls.” But my sojourn at the North this summer, and the many pleasant hours I have passed in the society of some of them, have completely changed my opinion respecting them; and I now beg leave to return to you my sincere thanks for kindly chopping off that part of my letter which would have rendered me unpopular with my Northern cousins. However, here’s my hand for good friends again, and I hope Fleta will not be so severe on my fellow-Tennessean again. Aunt Sue—I know a young lady from your place, and I guess she knows who you are. Where does Rose-Bud hail from? I met a Miss Rose Budd this summer—wonder if they are not one and the same? I will leave in a few days for the South. Adieu.

Your nephew,
Hawthorn.

a flourish
Introduction

How to use this book

1840s: 184118421843184418451846184718481849

1850s: 185018511852185318541855185618571858 • 1859

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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