Eli Harrison Lee’s copybook (1850s?)

Eli's name

Copybooks tend to be staid records of explorations in the mastery of handwriting or master works of penmanship. Eli Harrison Lee’s copy book leans toward the former: on most pages, someone evidently set a line of copy for him to follow. Early on, he followed it carefully. Soon, however, Eli began to add his personal touches, varying handwriting, adding his own text (often, his name). (The “A. B. C. O. dear me.” he added to one page probably reflected the feelings of many young students.)

The phrases Eli copied (and copied and copied) probably were generic phrases from a penmanship book. They’re in alphabetical order in the exercise book, as in other copybooks. The phrases not only allowed Eli to practice his penmanship, but gave him phrases to live by.


Eli’s exercise book was commercially produced by the L. S. Learned company. The front is printed with a woodcut showing various forms of transportation: a wagon labeled “L. S. Learned” is pulled past a large building with the words “CONGRESS MILL.” above it; below, a steam engine pulls several cars, and a steamboat chugs past a schooner and a clipper; “L. S. LEARNED, Paper and Blank Book Manufacturer and Dealer.” appears between these last two illustrations. “The Property of [blank]” is printed on the cover, with “Eli H. Lee” written in the blank.


The back has a woodcut of Samoset inside an elaborate border, which also includes the following:

THE ELEVENTH OF DECEMBER, ever memorable in the history of New England, was now come, and this was the day of the LANDING OF THE PILGRIMS. A place upon the inhospitable shore had been fixed upon, and was this day taken possession of, and never again deserted. The ship, until then, had been their permanent abode, which they now gladly exchanged for the sandy shore of the Bay of Cape Cod.

WELCOME ENGLISHMEN! WELCOME ENGLISHMEN! are words so inseparably associated with the name of SAMOSET, that we can never hear the one without the pleasing recollection of the other. These were the first accents our Pilgrim Fathers heard, on the American strand, from any native. We mean intelligible accents, for when they were attacked at Namskeket, on their first arrival, they heard only the frightful war-whoop.


The pages are pale blue, with almost invisible lines for the student to follow. Eli uses the long s throughout (I’ve modernized it for easier reading). His handwriting is not especially decorative—though there’s a visual pleasantness in the way the handwriting slants differently every few lines. What’s most interesting are the phrases Eli was expected to copy—and the ways he varied his academic routine.

Eli Harrison Lee’s copy book (1850s?)

[Phrases appear here in the order in which they appear in the copybook, with variations noted.]

A man is always known by the company he keeps

Brave men hate meanness. Book B

Commandments ten God gave to men

Do as you would like to be done by

Envy no man his good name.

Follow the examples of the wise and good

Great men are not all good men. G. G. G.
[Halfway down the page, the “G. G. G.” is replaced by “Grammar. Good”]

Honor thy father and mother.
[After three lines, the phrase is followed with “Eli H. Lee Brattleboro”]

Idleness and ignorance are the parents of many vices. [No example to follow is written at the top.]

Judge not hastily the actions of others

Kings command and subjects must obey

Live so that you may be loved. Eli
[At the bottom of this page, Eli practiced his capital letters.]

Many men of many minds. Eli H. Lee
[Eli filled half the page with this phrase, then scrawled some flourishes and added

“North and South East and West
Many man of many minds”

followed by his name and “Battleboro” with some HUGE, page-filling capital B’s.]

Never do evil that good may follow. E. H.
[At the end of the page, Eli added, “eli h lee brattleboro Vermont”]

Occupy your time in useful doings.

Punishment is the reward of crime.

Questions of importance require slow answers.
[After two-thirds of a page of this phrase, Eli practiced his capital letters and added

Eli. Harrison. Lee. West. Brattleboro.
Windham. County Vermont amen
A. B. C. O. dear me., a. b. c. dear. me.]

[The next page, Eli wrote a few lines without a sample to follow:]
Maine. New. Hampshire Vermont Massachusetts. Rhode island and Connecticut are the six New England States [followed by capital letters]

Runninghand. Remote. Runninghand. [Eli wrote this three times.]

[The rest of the copybook is blank.]

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