Dear Friend Robert Merry: Letters from nineteenth-century children

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1840s: 184118421843184418451846184718481849

1850s: 1850185118521853185418551856185718581859

1860s: 18601861186218631864186518661867 • 1868 • 1869

1870s: 187018711872

About the Merry Cousins


Index & gloss


The Cousins’ Greatest Hits


[In the February issue (1868.1.75), the new editor of the Museum announced a change: ]

The letters of Eula Lee, Metacom, Sans Souci, Cousin Jennie, and others are received; but it has been decided that it is best not to publish any but communications of general interest. The circulation of the Magazine has increased; and to strangers the chat is neither intelligible nor interesting. Messages can be sent, and questions and answers given; but there is not room for letters unless peculiarly attractive.



A good while ago, may be,—indeed, long ago, I suppose, the readers of “Merry’s Museum” would esteem it; and yet it seems a short, short way to travel back, to me, in that beautiful time “when I was a little girl,”—I can remember some stray numbers of “Parley’s Magazine” about the house. Probably I was too young to know anything about them; the most I recall, is the look of some of their outline-drawing pictures, and the impression that they had no covers. Doubtless, I was, in those days, more engaged in expressing gooseberry cordial for my dolls, and putting away the wild strawberries I gleaned in the pasture behind the house into jam for them,—manufacturing packets of garments for paper babies (which, alas! babies, dresses, and a’, were, some unhappy times, washed in my dress-pocket!), than in any literary pursuit. I suppose, when school was done, I played, as little girls ought, and visited, at frequent intervals, the smallest kittens in the world, out in the deacon’s kitchen-chamber,—so beautiful and soft, in the basket with their purry mother!

But, after these small days, when the craving for stories began to develop, I well remember, one red-letter day, my father came home from the city, with a “Merry’s Museum” for me and my brother, and told us we were to have one henceforth every month.

Dear old “Merry’s Museum!”

Peter Parley and Robert Merry were henceforth heart-friends, one and indivisible, in my own mind; in whose proper existence thus blent, I had no more doubt, than of the good deacon’s across the yard, where we breakfasted Christmas mornings.

Those days, and their incidents and belongings, are all connected in my mind, and harmoniously,—although they may seem vague, and possibly fictitious; yet what I am recalling, is true to memory.

Then I had “The Girl’s Book,” and my brother “The Boy’s Book;” and we had “The Parent’s Assistant,”—its beautiful tales bound in yellow, with scarlet figures all over the covers, and on each, in the midst, inscribed “The Parent’s Assistant,” which sentence I could never understand,—although I loved all the rest of the book so,—and have studied it wistfully, and then wished it were not there! I believe Miss Edgeworth herself regretted it, as unsuitable.

We had “Frank,” too, in one volume, and “Harry and Lucy,” in two, each with fine steel vignettes. We followed these good children in many a wise experiment and invention; and I can recall some imprisoning, and mountainous snow-storms, when Harry and Lucy seem to be as real as ourselves. Then there was “Sanford and Merton,” my own; with my name inscribed on the bright yellow fly-leaf.

But “Evenings at Home,” I privately detested and despised in my own heart; and did not feel sorry when the thick, short book, “complete in one volume,” cracked midway, and Jehu was sent from the fellowship of fable, wisdom, and verse!

Then, from the Village Library came a few prized children’s books. Mrs. Howitt’s; Mrs. S. C. Hall’s; Miss Sedgwick’s; and wonderful, delightful “Swiss Family Robinson;” always on the wing, and never to be kept long enough, any of them.

One of our schoolmates—not too old to swing us, and play blind-man’s-buff and puss-in-the-corner, and help us make molasses candy, in our respective homes—took the “Youth’s Companion:” the most concerning which I remember, is, that he kept them in file, in a deep, square box, on the top of his books; and that when I held them, I thought they smelt very much like his father’s red and black cattle which W. used to drive to and from pasture. Perhaps I was a fastidious little miss, for my brother never appeared to think of the thing. [p. 116 ]

These are about all our reading I recall, as we come back to dear old Merry again; for I have not said my say concerning that, by any means. There was nothing to be compared to it in all the others; for it was new and fresh, and constantly recurring. It was the “golden mean,” the juste milieu,—meeting all the others lacked, and leaving all that was in them distasteful.

Then it was “our magazine!

There were not then, two for every week, and a satiety of choice, enough to make what was common despicable to an indulged race of juveniles.

Indeed, it is all the one I heard of then,—the best one, and the only one, in our world, at any rate; and its continued stories became happy families, in progressive existence, to us. We adopted them unquestioningly, and speculated upon their monthly visits to us in propria personæ, between whiles, discussing their deeds, and rejoicing in the world they saw and brought to us.

Three volumes, bound in calf, and fawn mottled paper, and some odd numbers unbound, remain to me of those bygone times. I have been looking at them today, and my judgment is the same the child’s verdict was. They are sensible, life-like, interesting, good.

Perhaps the good should have come first; I place it last, because it comprises all the others. Stories, Travels, Adventures, Fairy Tales, Descriptive and Miscellaneous Papers, Verses, Music, Correspondence, and dear mysterious little Puzzles. I see it is wise, beyond what our years then knew; and doubtless this was a great part of the charm to thoughtful childhood.

It would surely indicate that children’s masticating powers had deteriorated painfully, to judge from the infinitesimal mince their serial-makers now provide them; and its analysis, I fear, discovers nutrition in homoeopathic proportion. Or is it, that the youth has become dyspeptic in mind from the serial surfeit, and that kindness requires the fashionable diffusion to have been diluted?

Strong old Merry’s motto was—“Educate up.” He never stopped and stooped to explain a thing to death. In each of these volumes there is a score of papers, sensible, well constructed, thoughtful enough for an adult to thoroughly enjoy. And every time the child read them, his liking grew; for the fruit was ripening for him on the trees of knowledge old Merry had planted; and well wise Robert knew the principle of such growth, and goodly was the choice he made in his pleasant, profitable nursery.

Years have gone by since I held a number of “Merry’s Museum” in my hand. I do not even know if it has been sustained through them. My impression is, it has not, in unbroken issue. But yesterday, taking up “The Journal,” I saw the announcement of “Merry’s Museum” for February, new series, vol. i., No. 2, and it struck me very pleasantly; and, as I laid down the paper, it seemed but turning my head gently, to gain a happy retrospect of my childhood, and all that “Merry’s Museum” was to it and us.

I cannot but trust it still is to other children,—companion, playmate, story-teller, judicious friend; educating while delighting them, as is Nature’s world with wisdom developing their faculties by the law of growth.

Kind Peter Parley sleeps.

I was grave when he died, for I knew we had not looked upon his like. It is due to him, and to my own desire, to pay this tribute—true, and yet not full—to the old Museum; and to bid the present new God-speed among the children and youth.

May it be to you what the old one was to three children once, who have lived to appreciate it.

Most kindly yours,
May Hawk.

Parley’s Magazine: periodical (16 March 1833-1844), founded by Samuel Goodrich. A precursor to the Museum, Parley’s emphasized non-fiction, poetry, and moral fiction; articles covered geography, biology, astronomy, manufacturing, anthropology, and biography. Though the magazine ceased publication in 1844, its merger with the Museum was not officially announced until August 1845.

The Boy’s Book: probably The Boy’s Reading-Book; in Prose and Poetry, for Schools, by Lydia Howard Sigourney (New York: J. Orville Taylor, 1839). This collection of stories, essays, and poems seeks to teach lessons “of republican simplicity, of the value of time, of the rewards of virtue, [and] of the duties of this life”, interspersed with information about such subjects as trees, sea creatures, and insects.

Evenings at Home: collection of stories by John Aiken and Letitia Barbauld (British: N.p.: London, 1792-96; American: 2nd ed., Philadelphia: T. Dobson, 1797). Emphasizing ethics and practical information, the stories combine discussions of generosity and charity with information on such subjects as Russia, mines, and the people and exports of Spain.

Frank: book by Maria Edgeworth (American: Boston: Cummings & Hilliard, 1813). In this collection of simply written tales, six-year-old Frank learns—and demonstrates—the values of honesty, of obedience to his parents, of observation, of logical thinking, and of perseverance.

The Girl’s Book: Lydia Maria Child (New York: Clark, Austin & Co., 1833), a one-volume collection of games, puzzles, crafts, poems, stories, and instructions in knitting, sewing, and mending. Child intended the book to help educate girls “to fulfil the duties of a humble station, or to dignify and adorn the highest.”

Harry and Lucy: book by Richard and Maria Edgeworth (American: Philadelphia: np, 1805). The story describes the activities of two ordinary children learning about chemistry, physics, and natural history, guided by experiments, by their parents, and by their reading; it is not only a lively explanation of science, but demonstrates a method of education.

The Parent’s Assistant: book by Maria Edgeworth (British: 1796; American: Boston: Monroe & Francis, 18—). This collection of tales—revised several times—emphasizes moral education, especially the values of honesty and hard work. It presents such characters as Rosamond and Susan, some of Edgeworth’s most realistic.

Sanford and Merton: a triple-decker novel by Thomas Day, published in England from 1785-1789. The story of city child Tommy Merton’s redemption at the hands of Harry Sanford’s bucolic family is filled with both intellectual and moral educational material. The novel has an unofficial (but well-earned—believe me) reputation as the dullest novel so far written in English.

Swiss Family Robinson: novel by Johann Wyss (Zurich, 1812-1813). Armed with ingenuity and perseverance, a family of Swiss emigrants shipwrecked on a lush island makes a new life. The work emphasizes the values of education, moderation, and obedience to God’s word, while introducing young readers to the flora and fauna of the area near Australia.

Mrs. S. C. Hall: Anna Maria Fielding Hall (1800-1881), British writer. The Museum printed a piece by her in 1845.

Mrs. Howitt: Mary Howitt (1799-1888): British writer. Beginning in the 1830s she translated stories by Hans Christian Andersen into English, and wrote a variety of works of fiction, poetry, and natural history; in all, she wrote, edited, or translated at least 110 works. The Museum published four pieces by her in the 1840s and 1850s.

Miss Sedgwick: Catherine Maria Sedgwick (1789-1867), American writer. In 1822 she began publish her very popular domestic novels using material from everyday life in her native Massachusetts; she was one of the earliest American writers to use American material in this way. The Museum printed two pieces by her in the 1840s.

Youth’s Companion: long-lived American children’s magazine (1827-1829). Founded by N. P. Willis, the Companion grew out of the children’s section of the Recorder, a religious newspaper. Under Willis, the magazine focused on religion. After he sold the Companion in 1857, the emphasis gradually shifted to entertainment, and it became one of the most famous family magazines published in the U. S., printing the work of the many important writers of the time. It absorbed the Museum in 1872.

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

puss-in-the-corner: game which usually involves at least five players and a lot of running: one player stands in each corner of a room, with one player—the “puss”—in the center. At a signal, the corner players switch corners, while “puss” tries to get into a corner first. [Lydia Maria Child. The Girl’s Own Book. New York: Clark, Austin & Co., 1833. (Repr. Old Saybrook, Connecticut: Applewood Books, 1992); p. 28.]

propria personæ: Latin: “one’s own individuality”

[In the April issue (1868.1.164), the editor announced: ]

Finding that a good deal of disappointment is felt by some of our readers at the discontinuance of the correspondence, we have decided to set apart a few extra pages for such letters as are printable.

The “Chatter-Box” will be devoted to the chatterers, with the hope that, in return for this accommodation, they will make their letters not only lively, but sensible,—remembering that such correspondences may be both instructive and agreeable, and that a magazine is not the place for trivial gossip or personal communications.


Dear Merry’s,—

My beloved cousins,

If I am permitted to come,

And find by your merry fireside

A welcome, and plenty of room—

Oh! give me a kindly greeting,

From your merry hearts and true,

And the same good feelings for me

That I shall give to you.

I hear in my dreams sweet singing

Of your charming “Nightingale,”

The ripple of “Laughing Water”

Doth my spirits oft regale,

The notes of the “Silver Bugle”

Bring thoughts of the sweetest kind,

The songs of this pleasant dreamland

Of steals o’er my waking mind.

And when I sleep not, I’m dreaming

Of wand’ring in “Forests” cool,

And plucking the modest “Violet”

That grows by the limpid pool.

I turn; and lo! just before me,

Are a pair of “roguish” eyes,—

And “Kate,” with an honest greeting,

Comes forward in glad surprise.

“Oddity” joins in the laughter,—

“Jolly jingling,” free and clear.

Lo, the depths of the grand old forest

Is glad with the Merry’s cheer. [p.165 ]

’Neath a cloud of circling smoke-wreaths

Just borne by the breezes away,

Lo! “W. A. R.” smiles, smoking

His pipe of peace today.

“Bitter-Sweet” is an artful Merry,

But wiser than many the rest;

At first, he is bitter, distasteful,

But leaves for the last—the best.

I should know, by glancing at “Sigma,”

He is merry, but manly and true;

And “Euclid,” if you’ll be my cousin,

I’ll be a cousin to you.

There’s a shout among the merry cousins!

’Neath the boughs of a “Linden” tree

Standeth the form of a maiden,

And her name is—“Liberty.”

Slowly the evening shadows steal

Over the earth and sky,—

I dream of our dance, while the moon

Sits queen of the summer sky.

Our music is rippling waters and

Crickets and night-bird’s song;

Our lights are lit by the glow-worms,

In the emerald branches hung;

The flash of the fiery “Comet,”

And the darting “Shooting Star,”

Light with a flash our earthland—

From their home in the heavens afar.

Do you ever have dreams, my cousins?

And when they are pleasing to you,

Do you ask, as the little maiden did,

That your “dreams might all come true?”

If wishing could bring but a kind thought

From the depths of your hearts for me,

So I knew you welcomed the stranger

In truth and sincerity;

And Aunt Sue was my aunt, and “Merry”

Was my Uncle Merry, too,—

I would sign myself “Yours, merrily,”

And ever be true to you.

I am composed of 8 letters:

My 4, 2, 7, 1, 4 is an article of food.

My 8, 6, 1, 4 is what often brings good news.

My 3, 7, 5, 4 is Young America.

My whole is my Merry name.

[Transcriber’s note: signature is “Softsoap.”]


March 3d, 1868.

Dear Merry’s,—Shall I tell you of the great snow-storm of the season, as experienced in the country? Doubtless most of you have felt it, but not, perhaps, as I have.

When I arose on Monday morning, the snow was falling thick and fast, accompanied by a gale of wind. I made my way to the barn with some difficulty, and found things snowed under. No one passed all day, except (God pity him) a crazy man, called “The Old Traveller” by some, “Happy-go-lucky” by himself. He will not speak to any one, or accept aught but a crust of bread. He sleeps in barns. But passing over the storm proper, let me speak of the next morning. In front of the house, the walk was inundated to the depth of four and a half feet. Other drifts, larger and smaller, were to be seen in all directions. Promptly we did battle with the mementos of Boreas. Suddenly, we heard a shout, and saw an ox-sled coming toward us, engaged (that is, the sled, oxen, and riders) in “breaking road.” We instantly joined the party, and were soon digging in drifts over one’s head. Oh! it is glorious, this working in the snow! The exercise—the plunging, the bandyings of the men, the sudden pitching head-first into the snow when the oxen stop suddenly—is glorious, at least to a boy, and that is my profession. There was plenty of work, too, for all. But scarcely had we finished, when the wind again began its work; and tomorrow will doubtless bring more labor. Have I been tedious, Uncle Robert? If so, I will try to write a shorter letter next time.

How much the Museum is to me! I think its value is greatly enhanced by its improvement. Success to its [p. 166 ] editors and to its contributors, is the wish of



Parkville, Miss., Feb. 20th, 1868.

Dear Uncle Merry,—I have finished reading your magazine for this month. I am always so glad when it comes. I love to read the letters which the other girls write, and I thought I would try tonight and see if I could not write you a letter, too. This is my first attempt. I am a little girl, ten years old, a Missourian. We had hard times here during the war; the rebels were very bad. My father had his printing-press thrown into the Missouri River, and he was driven from his home. Our town was robbed several times by the guerrillas. On the 7th of July, 1864, seventy of them came in here by daylight; they shot at my father, but he got away from them (God preserved him from harm). The guerrillas did look so savage, dressed in their red shirts with revolvers around their waists. They killed a good Union man, and wounded a man and his wife, in this town. My father, mother, and myself, with many other friends, had to leave our home, and camp out on the opposite bank of the river in Kansas. I tell you, dear Merry’s, our hearts did beat with joy when we saw the Federal soldiers coming into town. One of the officers gave me a dollar for a present, and I sent it for your good magazine in 1862; I think I have been taking it ever since. And now, Uncle Merry, hoping this, my first letter, may be interesting enough to publish, I will bid you a kind “good night,” as I am getting sleepy. Perhaps I will write again some day.

Cousin Missouri.

attack on Parkville: At least 80 guerillas were repulsed by the Missouri 82d Enrolled Militia, on duty in the District of Northern Missouri. Some Union soldiers—“Paw Paws”—joined the guerillas; the town endured several attacks during the War. [United States War Department. The War of the Rebellion. DC: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901; series 1, vol 41, part 2: 91-102, 133-134; • Frederick H. Dyer. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion. New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1959; p. 810.]


[Editor: ] From Cousin May, we have an anecdote of a little boy, who took, to amuse him, Miss Lamb’s Tales from Shakspeare and read the story of “Romeo and Juliet.” When he had finished, his sister asked him what it was about, and how he liked it.

“Well,” said he; “the Capulets had a party, and didn’t invite the ‘Montages.’ They were mad about it, and had a fight. I don’t think much of it.”

Tales from Shakespeare: by Mary and Charles Lamb, (London: Thomas Hodges, 1807), a collection of retellings of Shakespeare’s plays, ostensibly in language children could understand.


[Editor: ] Lula. Did you receive the missing numbers?

Lula, lives in Mississippi, and sends an interesting letter, in which she says, “I raised six beautiful chickens, intending to sell them, to get money to pay for Merry’s Museum for this year; but pa was so sick, that they were all taken to make soup for him; but ma says she will pay me for them as soon as she can spare the money. My dear pa is dead now, and we have no one to give us any money.

“I do wish you would send the missing numbers, for I want so much to hear all about ‘Little Pearl.[’]” Lula’s mother adds:—

“I am exceedingly anxious that my little daughter, who is not eight years old, should continue to take your magazine, which we all prize. But I am poor, and fear I cannot afford it. The war has reduced us from affluence to penury. Still, my child must be educated, and I prize your book as one of my helps. My oldest daughter took it before the war, and the numbers are often read by all the children.

“I enclose one dollar, which will pay something more than what is now due. If I can, I will renew Lula’s subscription before January. Do, please, send the missing numbers. She speaks of Little Pearl so frequently; and it would afford you real pleasure to witness the joy of the children when the Museum comes. We live sixteen miles from the post-office, and I write before day, having an opportunity to send.”

Little Pearl: 11-part story (Robert Merry’s Museum; January-November 1868). In this episodic tale, Agnes Marsh, Pearl’s sister, learns from her example to be patient and selfless. The story’s often-humorous episodes precipitated by four lively children take a serious turn that culminates in fragile Pearl’s death.

a flourish

How to use this book

1840s: 184118421843184418451846184718481849

1850s: 1850185118521853185418551856185718581859

1860s: 18601861186218631864186518661867 • 1868 • 1869

1870s: 187018711872

About the Merry Cousins


Index & gloss


The Cousins’ Greatest Hits

Copyright 2000-2024, Pat Pflieger

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