A Visit to Merry’s Museum; or, Social Values in a Nineteenth-Century American Periodical for Children, by Pat Pflieger (1987-2016)
About this text: Essentially, this is the text of my doctoral dissertation (University of Minnesota, 1987), the only study available of social values presented in Robert Merry’s Museum. It’s presented here with a few revisions and without page numbers, with some links to works mentioned in the text that are transcribed at this site.
Please remember that this is copyrighted material. If you wish to cite the actual dissertation, it is, of course, available from University Microfilm (or whatever they’re calling themselves now) and from the University of Minnesota, which I’m sure don’t get nearly enough requests for it.
This study of the social values promulgated by Robert Merry’s Museum is unique for several reasons. Though periodicals for children have abounded in the United States (at least 380 began publication before 1873), few scholars have chosen to study them. There are lots of reasons for this The periodicals were fearfully ephemeral, for they were read to tatters and then discarded. Few individual issues are available for study; researchers must be content with bound collections, most of which lack their covers—which, of course, contain valuable editorial information not available elsewhere. Several children’s periodicals are available on microfilm, which has its own limitations, among them incompleteness; the scholar may find herself scrambling for photocopies of issues missing when the periodical was microfilmed, or bartering with antiquarian booksellers for rare, sometimes overpriced, bound volumes. Issues often are missing; pages more often are missing from the issues one has. The print is small and the pages often so badly foxed that words can be difficult to decipher. The paucity of indexes and other reference materials on children’s periodicals also may limit the number of scholars willing to tackle the field.
The handful of studies which have been done either have contented themselves with tracing the history of children’s periodicals, or have concentrated on the major periodicals which flourished after the Civil War, usually the Youth’s Companion, Our Young Folks, or St. Nicholas Magazine. Betty Lyon’s “A History of Children’s Secular Magazines Published in the United States from 1789-1899” [Ed.D. diss., Johns Hopkins, 1942] is an exhaustive history of nineteenth-century children’s periodicals; it was superseded only recently, by Children’s Periodicals of the United States [Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1984], edited by R. Gordon Kelly, which consists of historical and evaluative articles by several authors, on a few hundred individual periodicals.
There have been only a few attempts to analyze children’s periodicals. Chief among these is R. Gordon Kelly’s Mother Was a Lady [Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1974]—based on his dissertation—which analyzes St. Nicholas, the Youth’s Companion, Wide Awake, and Our Young Folks in terms of the way the authors and editors promoted a “genteel” world view which they wanted their young readers to share as adults. One dissertation attempts to analyze such antebellum periodicals as Parley’s Magazine, The Juvenile Miscellany, Youth’s Companion, and Merry’s Museum; “Conceptions of Children in American Juvenile Periodicals, 1830-1870” [Ed.D. diss., Rutgers, 1977] discusses the changed perception of the child as reflected in 40 years of children’s periodicals.
Discussions of individual periodicals have tended more often to be anecdotal than analytical. Most studies consist of anthologies, with brief, interpretational interludes, such as John Morton Blum’s Yesterday’s Children (Cambridge, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, The Riverside Press, 1959)—selections from Our Young Folks—and Burton C. Frye’s A St. Nicholas Anthology (1969), and Lovell Thompson’s Youth’s Companion [Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1954]. There are fewer analytical studies. Fred Erisman, in “ ‘There Was a Child Went Forth’: A Study of St. Nicholas Magazine and Selected Children’s Authors, 1890-1915” [PhD diss. University of Minnesota, June, 1966], analyzes St. Nicholas Magazine as one of several literary influences on the children growing up in the late nineteenth century. Only one scholar has delved into the morass of Merry’s Museum; Dorothy Dechert, in “The Merry Family: A Study of Merry’s Museum, 1841-1872, and of the Various Periodicals that Merged with It” [M. S., Columbia University, 1942], presents an exhaustive bibliographic history of the magazine, and of the 13 children’s periodicals which eventually merged with it; because Dechert was able to study individual issues which contained important editorial information, her entertaining study still stands as the most complete bibliographic history of this periodical. (I have found a few errors and a couple pieces that weren’t available to Dechert, but her exhaustive study stands as a model of bibliographic description, by a researcher not immune to her subject’s charms.)
This does not mean that the Museum has been wholly ignored. Many of the references to the periodical provide a study in the dissemination of error. In “ ‘Uncle’ Peter Parley” (online), a nostalgic, condescending article appearing in St. Nicholas in 1925, William Oliver Stevens discusses some of the works of Samuel Goodrich, emphasizing Robert Merry’s Museum, which he had read as a boy. (Unaccountably, the illustrations for Stevens’ piece are from Parley’s Magazine.) One of his examples is the “Balloon Travels,” which Stevens uses to show the reader how geography lessons were sometimes slipped into the stories; he explains that Parley and four little friends go on a balloon ride, during which the children spout paragraphs about the countries they are flying over, as if they were walking geographies. The serial in question must have been Robert Merry’s balloon travels, serialized in the Museum, but Stevens—admitting that he was working from memory—did not remember that the journey was an imaginary one, and that Merry was the lecturer; the children, for the most part, were simply along to be lectured to. Frank Luther Mott’s article on the Museum in his five-volume History of American Magazines [New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1930-1938] further promulgated this bit of misinformation and, in the process, gave it importance; in Mott’s brief examination, he uses as his characteristic example the “Balloon Travels”—the details of which tally exactly with the details in Stevens’ article. Mott implies that this serial was the main feature of the periodical: the illustration he uses for the article is from the book which resulted from the serial. A handful of scholars using Mott in their histories of children’s periodicals also picked up this information and gave it more credence. The culmination is the entry in The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984]; here, Humphrey Carpenter and Man Prichard write of the Museum that “[i]ts principal feature was the serialization of stories by ‘PETER PARLEY’ … many of which describe Uncle Robert Merry taking a group of children on some improbably educational journey, such as a tour of Europe by balloon …. (349)”; they go on to quote Mott. Stevens’ faulty memory has taken on a life of its own.
Every researcher beginning a project quickly finds the limitations of her subject, her material, and herself. This researcher is no different. Bound copies of Merry’s Museum are part of the Children’s Literature Research Collection (University of Minnesota--Twin Cities), but they are missing their covers, and the collection ends in 1861, with 11 years missing; because the periodicals are in a rare book collection, they must be used in the reading room itself, which limits research to certain hours and to certain days. The Museum was microfilmed in 1972; while I obtained a hard copy of this microfilm, unfortunately, the illustrations did not reproduce well, which limited my material to only the articles and stories. Issues from the years 1862-1865 and 1872 were unavailable at the time the periodical was microfilmed; Interlibrary Loan and various Yankee antiquarian booksellers have proved so helpful in locating the missing volumes that, at the time this dissertation was first written, I’d located copies of all issues. (I’ve since added to my holdings.)
The impossibility of examining 372 issues totaling over 13,000 pages is obvious, and a method of examining random years, random issues, and random features was developed. Because so many editorial decisions were explained—or revealed—in the monthly letters column and because that column provides so much material about the periodical’s readers, each was examined. Rather than choosing random months to read, I decided to choose random years. Everything printed in the magazine during those years was read. If a serial was begun, carried on, or ended during one of these years, I read the entire serial through; if an article in an issue during one of the other years caught my eye or seemed to point up some particular idea, the article was examined. Twelve out of 32 years were read in their entirety, and these were chosen so that the first and last years, the years of changeover in editors, and the Civil War years were more or less covered: included in this survey were all the issues from 1841-1842; 1844; 1846; 1850; 1857; 1861-1863; 1865; 1868; and 1872. The result is that over 7,000 pages were read and had notes taken on them; it is unknown how many pages actually were read. This represents over half the total pages of the periodical. While reading, I paid close attention to themes and to social commentary which emerged. Access to a computer allowed me to compile a list of the subscribers who wrote letters to the periodical, along with their frequency and the places from which they wrote; analysis of this compilation has proven inconclusive.
As far as I was able, I also read some of the other works by the authors published in the Museum, in order to compare some of the themes and social values which appeared elsewhere with what appeared in the magazine. Other outside material included other children’s periodicals and books which were published at the same time as the Museum. Because children’s literature of any age hinges on adult views of the child and what she should learn, I did research on adult attitudes toward children and childhood. Some attempt also was made to correlate the attitudes and ideas promoted by the Museum with attitudes and ideas prevalent in the culture at the time; this has not been as thorough as I would have liked, simply because of the enormous amount of material involved.
What emerges is the picture of a periodical which changed drastically during the 32 years of its existence. Three distinct “eras” emerge in the Museum’s history: 1841-1856 —when Samuel Griswold Goodrich created the periodical and either edited it himself or hired people to do it for him; 1857-1867 —when John N. Stearns controlled and edited the periodical; and 1868-1872—when Horace B. Fuller owned the magazine, and it was edited by Louisa May Alcott and unknown others. Goodrich’s intent was to educate the child in intellectual matters as well as social; many of the works published in the Museum during his editorship concerned themselves with the meanings of civilization and democracy, though he also emphasized personal traits such as obedience to parents, hard work, education, and self-control. When Stearns edited the magazine, the emphasis was more on educating the soul, though articles also informed the reader on natural history and human history. Children became important as protagonists in the Museum. Stearns was a minister, and now appeared the child-redeemer and the child redeemed; though in Goodrich’s day, the heroes of his serialized works were adult males seeking their fortunes in an uncertain world, in Stearn’s time, the heroes of all of the pieces were children, learning and making mistakes. Stearns also used stories and poems by the subscribers themselves and these also emphasized children. Entertainment also became important during this time; though Goodrich’s stories rarely failed to entertain, he published few solely to entertain the readers. Not only did subscribers now contribute to the bulk of the magazine, they took over the monthly letters column; the Museum can be said to have belonged almost wholly to its readers. This changed under Fuller, and a sense of professionalism soon was apparent. The “Chat” belonged wholly to Robert Merry, and so did the contents of the magazine; no subscribers’ offerings were used. The tone of the periodical became crisper and more distant, and more emphasis was placed on entertaining rather than educating. Though a handful of educational articles on human endeavors and natural history were published, most of the periodical was dedicated to stories and poems. Moral education did not cease, however, and the traditional virtues were still important. However, the Museum betrayed a loss of faith in religion and the other traditional panaceas, and emphasized material success in this life as much as preparation for the next. Of new importance was the idea that children were to be cherished for themselves and were to “act like children.”
For the most part, the changes in tone and content during the 32 years were due to the changes in editors and their personalities On the other hand, they also were a response to changes in the way the child was thought of and to changes in the nature of children’s literature itself. Originally didactic to the point, sometimes, of the absurd, children’s literature became less so as the nineteenth century wore on, especially after the 1860’s, when the influence of such nonsense fantasies as Alice in Wonderland and of such mass wish-fulfillment as Beadle’s Dime Novels led to an emphasis on entertainment in children’s literature at large. Children’s periodicals proliferated after the Civil War, and Fuller was competing with a host of other magazines which devoted themselves almost wholly to entertainment. The change in children’s literature was at least partly due to changes in ideas about the child. At the beginning of the century, the emphasis was on the child as a young individual to be educated into an adult as quickly as possible; by around 1860, the child was seen more as a whole person with her own wants and needs, an individual to be protected and sheltered from the harshness of life; and images of the child changed, so that his innocence was emphasized rather than his innate desire to rebel against adult authority.
This thesis has 5 chapters. Chapter 1 is an overview, with synopses of the Museum’s history and of the histories of children’s literature and of childhood during the nineteenth century. Chapter 2 deals with the readers of the periodical—who they were and how they felt—and contains a history of the monthly “Chat”—the most popular part of the magazine. Chapter 3 covers Goodrich’s years at the Museum; Chapter 4 covers Stearns’ years; and Chapter 5 examines the Museum under Alcott.
As the guiding spirit of the Museum, Robert Merry took on a life of his own in its pages and in the readers’ imaginations, and they often wrote of him as if he actually existed. Because it is often impossible to credit his views and pronouncements to any one person, I have chosen to continue this tradition. I also have chosen to adapt the MLA’s parenthetical documentation style by using brackets to denote pieces from the Museum itself, and parentheses to denote documentation from other sources.
Every author likes to share the labor of her research, and I would like to acknowledge the following: the Children’s Literature Research Collection provided copies of some of the children’s periodicals used in this thesis; I can only hint at the debt I owe Chris and the rest of the staff of Interlibrary Loan, who toiled for two years to find copies of the Museum with covers; Nancy Howard, of Xerox Corporation, helped me to get copies from microfilm, which greatly aided my task; Tom Stotler, of Old Paper World in New Hampshire helped me to find missing issues of the magazine at bargain prices; J. Randolph Cox provided information about nineteenth-century American popular literature and invaluable information on reference works; Deidre Johnson answered all the other questions I had about nineteenth-century popular literature and children’s series books and provided the use of her Tandy 2000, computer programs, and her expertise on matters computorial; and she and Ellen Katsoulis not only plied me with references and original materials, but aided me in my quest for materials relating to Samuel Goodrich and the Museum. And, finally, I must acknowledge the valuable assistance of my original adviser, Dr. Chester Anderson, of my final adviser, Dr. Gayle Graham Yates, and of my very patient readers, Dr. Roland Delattre and Dr. Lawrence Mitchell. Inaccuracies in this text are not theirs but mine.
In February, 1841, with the first issue of Robert Merry’s Museum, first appeared Robert Merry himself: a peg-legged bachelor in his fifties, fond of children and eager to share with them the knowledge and experience he had gained in his years of traveling the world. Between 1841 and the Museum’s last issue in 1872, though he would not stay a seaman, a bachelor, or even one-legged, Merry would remain about the same age and would retain his love of children and of teaching them about the world. These were explosive years for the United States, which endured a civil war and periods of economic confusion, expanded its borders across the continent, and saw its population expand many times. The magazine changed as well, reflecting the tastes and interests of each of the three main editors who had charge of it, and reflecting, too, the changing attitudes nineteenth-century Americans held toward their children and their children’s literature.
Merry and his Museum were the creations of Samuel Goodrich, already famous as Peter Parley for lively, didactic fiction and non-fiction. Irritated by imitators and plagiarists seeking to capitalize on Parley’s popularity, Goodrich had killed off the old gentleman and perhaps thought to start anew with Robert Merry. Goodrich already had edited the first few issues of the 16-page, biweekly Parley’s Magazine in 1833, before ill health forced him to resign (Lyon, 109-11); now he took on the task of editing a 32-page monthly magazine full of pictures, stories, poems, songs, and articles on natural history, geography, and human culture. Writing as Robert Merry, Goodrich often directly addressed his readers—collectively and individually—and thus quickly created a bond between them and the imaginary editor. The magazine seems to have been popular almost immediately, attracting good reviews from its first issue (Dechert, 142) and 12,000 subscribers by February, 1843 (Dechert, 141). Plagiarism—that sincerest form of flattery for the nineteenth-century magazine editor—also occurred: in 1848, Merry castigated the “imitators” who used articles and illustrations from the Museum without credit, and the publishers of a rival periodical whose agents told would-be subscribers that the Museum had ceased publication [“Merry’s Museum and Parley’s Playmate United!” 16 (July 1848): 4]. It wan’t long before the Museum began to absorb its weaker rivals: at the end of 1842, the Youth’s Medallion merged with the Museum; in July, 1845, Parley’s Magazine was absorbed; and in July, 1848, The Playmate’s merger with the Museum was announced (Dechert, Figure I; “Merry’s Museum and Parley’s Playmate United!,” 16 (July 1848): 4). Goodrich edited the Museum until 1854, at which time S. T. Allen, who had purchased the magazine in 1852, took over.
In 1855, Allen gained two new partners: brothers Isaac C. and John N. Stearns, who published the magazine together after Allen left in November, 1855 (Dechert, 166). After Isaac moved to Minnesota in 1856, John was the primary editor. The Panic of 1857 caused the mergers of two more periodicals with the Museum: in April, Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet, and, in November, The Schoolfellow. For the most part, these mergers meant adding subscribers to those periodicals to the list of subscribers to the Museum, and the Museum’s subscribers now numbered around 20,000; this number remained traditional until the late 1860s, though subscribers to the Cabinet and the Schoolfellow may not have re-subscribed.
Between 1856 and 1866, the bond between Robert Merry and his readers was made even stronger than before, with much give-and-take occurring in “Merry’s Monthly Chat with His Friends”—a letters column which at times threatened to engulf the magazine. The readers and the editors saw the “Chat” as an imaginary parlor in which they sat and “conversed” with each other through lively, revealing letters; and they saw themselves as one large family, with the editors as the uncles and aunt, and the readers as the “Merry cousins.” The imaginary parlor became a real one at the end of 1865, when the Cousins met in a “Merry Convention” at the home of John Stearns; having exchanged photographs and worn special, identifying badges, the Cousins saw the meeting as a chance to cement their special relationships with each other and their magazine. The “Chat” retained its significance through the Civil War, though, as may be expected, the southern Cousins took no part.
The importance of the “Chat” did not change when the magazine was purchased in 1866 by Eugene Fales—a clerk in the Museum’s offices who caught the Cousins’ imaginations when he escaped from a Confederate prison and, in true romantic fashion, ended his adventure by marrying one of the magazine’s readers in Stearns’ parlor.
All this changed when Horace B. Fuller purchased the Museum in 1867 and appointed Louisa May Alcott as editor, beginning in January, 1868. Now, the “Chat” no longer published letters from its young readers; instead, the column contained improving letters by Alcott herself, and by other adults. The format of the magazine changed as well: it now numbered at least 40 pages and boasted a new cover; and, the first issue of 1868 was numbered volume 1, number 1 of a new series. Alcott edited the magazine until early in 1870, when chronic ill-health forced her to resign her position and travel to Europe. Who edited the periodical after this is impossible to determine; perhaps it was Fuller himself. Subscriptions seem to have fallen off by this time, to around 10,000 from 1869 to 1872 (Dechert, 141). (This isn’t as many as it seems; Dechert publishes statistics for four other popular periodicals for the same years: Oliver Optic’s Magazine averaged about 20,000 subscriptions each year; The Nursery, 30,000; Our Young Folks, around 40,000; and the Youth’s Companion [now coming into its own]—climbed from 50,000 to 82,000 [Dechert, xxix].) Though the Museum had survived the fire that destroyed its printers in 1860 and the one that destroyed its own offices in 1861, it did not survive the Boston Fire of 1872, which seems to have ended Fuller’s career as a publisher (Stern, “Persistence,” 58). The same month as the fire (the announcement is dated “November 1, 1872”), the Museum was quietly—and without much explanation to its readers—merged with the Youth’s Companion.
The magazine’s guiding spirit during its 32 years was, of course, Robert Merry himself. The Museum’s editors traditionally took on his persona and made their announcements in his name. As an editorial technique, his creation was inspired: he was someone whom the young readers could identify with their periodical, and for many—especially in the early years—he was a real person to be visited whenever they were in Boston and to be addressed affectionately as their “Uncle Merry.” In Merry’s voice, editorial pronouncements lost their hard edges; the editors’ repeated pleas for subscribers in arrears to pay their money became personal entreaties from Merry not to let him and the other editors go hungry [“Chat,” 30 (Sept 1855): 89]. His personality permeated the magazine. Merry’s personality changed over the years, as each editor came and went. Under Goodrich’s editorship, Merry was a distinct personality with a checkered past: having led an undisciplined youth, he had spent time in prison before going to war (fighting in the War of 1812—as Goodrich had) and, finally, retiring to New England to live the quiet life of an old bachelor. When Stearns took over, he gave the old man his own children and his own personality; though Merry always had taught the evils of alcohol, now—like Stearns—he belonged to the Sons of Temperance and rallied with others on behalf of the cause. The one-legged Merry pictured on the magazine’s first cover by now had two legs (he’d inexplicably found a new leg in 1844); and, when readers were sent a picture of the editor in 1862, Robert Merry had John Stearns’ face. When Alcott took over in 1868, however, Merry became an anonymity. A crispness entered his personality, though his love of children and of a good, moral tale remained. The Merry whom Alcott and later editors presented to their readers was a nonentity as likely to scold as to praise, with no discernible history or personality. Though he had been for Goodrich a way to communicate with his readers, now Merry was simply a name on the cover and at the head of his monthly “Chat.” After the Museum was absorbed by the Companion, Merry survived into the 1880s only as the supposed editor of collections of puzzles and rhymes which had earlier appeared in the periodical.
Merry did not edit the magazine alone, and, as the years passed, the others fared better than he. Having killed off Peter Parley before the Museum’s first issue, Goodrich resurrected him in 1845 to serve as “a regular assistant. [“To Readers and Correspondents 10 (Aug 1845): 256]” Readers were privy to chats between the two imaginary old gentlemen and were encouraged to address both in their letters. Whether or not Merry and Parley always represented two different people in the Museum’s offices is impossible to discern; but eventually Parley’s character seems to have been associated with Goodrich, and Merry’s with someone else. Parley’s character was absent from the magazine after Goodrich went to Paris to be United States Consul, and, when the magazine’s owner—S. T. Allen—went to France in 1854 to discuss the magazine with Goodrich, it was announced in the Museum that Merry was going to Paris to consult with Peter Parley [“Chat,” 27 (May 1854): 157]. With the first issue of the Museum under Stearns’ editorship in 1857, Merry announced that Parley had left “to flourish in a larger sphere” and would not longer be associated with the Museum [“Chat,” 33 (Jan 1857): 27]. Other editors soon took his place. In 1854, with Merry off to France, “Hiram Hatchet,” sharp of wit and of repartee took charge of the magazine, and he stayed on after Merry returned. The imaginary Hatchet seems to have been the persona of the very real William Cutter, sometime poet and part owner of the magazine (Dechert, 161, 166). He was joined in his editorial services by “Aunt Sue,” the kindly and matronly character assumed by Susanna Newbould, a wealthy New York matron fond of riddles and word puzzles who edited a puzzle column in Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet and came to edit the same column in the Museum after the Cabinet merged with it (Dechert, 165). Though “Hiram Hatchet’s” contributions to the Museum gradually ceased (Cutter died in 1869), “Aunt Sue” continued to edit her column until January, 1871, as well as an occasional column of anecdotes, puns, and tidbits of information called “Aunt Sue’s Scrap-Bag.” Other editors also came and went. Francis Woodworth, who had founded and edited Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet, appeared in the Museum’s pages—as he had in the pages of the Cabinet—as “Uncle Frank” until his death in 1859. After William A. Fitch became associated with the Museum in 1862, he, too, began to contribute and comment, as “Uncle William” (Dechert, 170), though not for long. In 1870, an “Uncle Miles” appeared briefly, though who he represented is undetermined (Dechert, 196). Though these minor editors contributed much to the magazine, the primary editor of the Museum always seems to have taken on the role of Robert Merry. All the editors were popular, and all eventually were pictured in the magazine, in engravings sent to subscribers when they renewed: Merry in 1850, Peter Parley (perhaps Samuel Goodrich) in 1859, Uncle Frank in 1860, Aunt Sue in 1862, Stearns as Merry in 1863, Hiram Hatchet in 1864, and Uncle William in 1865. (The portrait of “Robert Merry” that was published in 1850 may have been of Samuel Goodrich; the portrait I own appears as the frontispiece in a copy of the 1853 volume. It’s certainly the portrait referred to by a reader of the Museum in 1851.) The last six engravings were collected in one volume in 1867 and offered to readers for 25 cents. (The volume is currently unidentified.) These portraits undoubtedly added to the readers’ sense of the Museum’s editors as personal friends.
During the thirty-two years of the Museum’s existence, it wasn’t the only thing to change. The nation’s attitudes about children and about their literature changed as well. At the beginning, children were equated with raw material, to be shaped into good citizens of the republic through proper educational methods and proper messages in their literature; by the Civil War, children were seen as entities in and of themselves, to be kept separate and sheltered from the adult world and gaining maturity at the cost of their own innocence. This change in attitudes fueled a change in the literature provided for children. Always a force of socialization, literature shifted as the overt didacticism of antebellum children’s literature gave way in the 1860s to a more covert didacticism couched in works emphasizing entertainment. This shift was prevalent not only in novels intended for children, but in their periodicals; and the emphasis here moved from religion to more secular concerns, and then to entertainment. This period saw new competition for children’s books and periodicals in the rise of the dime novel and the family story paper, and authors, editors, and publishers seem to have responded in kind.
Put simply, the child who was to become an adult in the period before the Civil War had become the child who was to redeem the adult by the period following it (Wishy, 85). Seventeenth-century Americans had seen children as creatures born in sin and eager to exercise their sinful free wills; the child’s character was already formed, and it was up to the parent to break this immutable and stubborn little will and make the child recognize its own natural tendencies toward evil (Heininger in Century, 2; Calvert in Century, 60; Wishy, 11). As the eighteenth century began to consider sin more in terms of individual failing than primordial curse, adults began to see children as beings whose characters could be re-formed and molded into the proper shapes; this idea was reinforced by John Locke’s theory of the child as a tabula rasa to be shaped as the parent saw fit (Heininger in Century, 2). The change wasn’t universal, however; see, for example, Francis Wayland’s treatment of his rebellious toddler in “A Case of Conviction,” printed in 1833. For the most part, however, by the 1840s, children had begun to be viewed as beings with a natural tendency toward wickedness who could, nevertheless, be influenced through proper methods (Wishy, 18, 21). Sinful the child may be, but the parent —not just the sin—influenced the child’s future character, and the parent’s job was to “weed out” sin rather than break the child’s will (Wishy, 23). Child-rearing became a rational process, and parents were encouraged to believe that with the proper methods they could produce the proper individual: discipline and reason, with love, would result in an individual of good character (Wishy, 42; Miller and Swanson, 7; Sunley, 151). Nothing was too insignificant to be essential to the future character of the child. Thus, parents were encouraged to toilet-train their children early, for discipline of bodily habits was basic to discipline of the mind and spirit, and the child was to learn early obedience to its parents (Miller and Swanson, 7; Sunley, 157). Play, once considered a manifestation of the child’s depraved nature, now was seen as natural, though it was to be channeled so as to teach the child usefulness and virtue (Heininger in Century, 6). The central parent in child-rearing was the mother, not only because it was assumed that she would have the most contact with the child, but because by this time she already had been “enthroned” in her role as inspiring angel of the household (Kuhn, 35). Home—which came to be viewed as a warm, nurturing retreat from the outside world (Bridges, “Warm”)—was considered the proper environment for the child’s early years. Though the apprenticeship system of the eighteenth century, which had taken children outside the home to be educated, did not really decline until the 1880s (Kett, 145-52), from the beginning of the century, adults were concerned with providing special environments in which children could be influenced and educated in a protected environment: educators and reformers sought to “purify the environments of the young, to withdraw them from debasing community temptations, and to immerse them in networks of good influence.” (Finkelstein, 177) Gradually, the home came to be considered the appropriate place for children in their early years, a gently nurturing place where children would be safe in the family circle; when the children were age 6, the schools—equally protective, equally pure, and equally nurturing—were to take over (Finkelstein, 118-30).
Training the child properly was essential, for the future of the republic depended on the character of its citizens. Responsibility in the republic lay with each individual, so the morality of each was paramount; Horace Mann warned in 1845 that
Growing concern about urbanization and industrialization also made proper training and education of children important, for adults were fearful that traditional virtues and values were being swept away in a rapidly-changing society (Heininger in Century, 3; Wishy, 77-8).
The ideal product of this careful, rational nurturing was a child who was “at an early age a self-maintaining moral being” (Sunley, 162). Self-discipline was an important character trait throughout the century, but now it was linked with an active conscience and an awareness of all the events of daily life (Heininger in Century, 4). In a world where an individual’s every ideal and impulse was intrinsically either moral or immoral (Wishy, 111), parents were to form a being with an active conscience and a certain tendency to introspection, for only by weighing each action before it was taken could an individual be certain that it was correct (Heininger in Century, 4; Wishy, 56). Self-disciplined and able to govern her emotions, the child also was to be naturally obedient to parents, to other adults, and to God (Finkelstein and Vandell in Heininger, 77-8; Heininger in Century, 4). The character traits of the winner of a contemporary board game—“Mansion of Happiness”—were those of the winner in life as well, as were the attributes of the loser:
(That the game is almost impossible to win reinforces a notion that the correct way to live is difficult, but ultimately rewarding.) Independence also was prized—though not at the price of the child’s obedience—as was “usefulness,” and children were encouraged to “[b]e ever ready to deny yourself in all needful ways that you may make others happy, and that when you die, you may feel that you have not lived in vain.” (in Wishy, 25)
As the century proceeded, attitudes toward children gradually changed. In works on child-rearing and in periodical literature, the innocence of childhood began to be emphasized, and adults began to alter their expectations not only of what the child should be like, but of what should be expected of him. Concern began to be felt that children should not be overburdened by responsibility or by overwork, and “precocity”—whether intellectual, social, or sexual—became anathema (Finkelstein, 125). (See also Samuel Goodrich’s take on the subject in “Precocious Children.”] The author of what may be a satirical piece in 1856 blamed modern luxuries and “school-room steam-press systems” for the “deterioration” of physical stature among contemporary children: the acceleration of learning forced mere boys “to accomplish more processes in the text books of the sciences, than [had] ripe scholars of the past”; and the result would be that “each succeeding generation will grow ‘beautifully less’. Mountains will become mole-hills; mole-hills, atoms; till the souls of mankind are completely disembodied.” (Talmon) Teachers were urged not to overburden their pupils with study (Heininger in Century, 16; Wishy, 70).
By the late 1850s, children were seen as naturally innocent, enthusiastic, and loving, and adults were encouraged to appreciate them for what they were rather than for what they would become. Beginning in the 1830s was an emphasis on the loving aspects of God, and a growing idea that not only was moral righteousness the most important human attribute, but that a loving heart could lead one to salvation; and, as a result, the child began to be valued for its naturally-loving character (Heininger in Century, 11). Though some authors of periodical literature still emphasized the child’s natural depravity (“Address”), most writers viewed children as founts of innocence, sweetness, and spiritual inspiration. Taken by the “summer region of childhood,” they wrote in terms of the child’s “pure associations, which for many are the sole light that ever brings them back from sin and despair to the heaven of their infancy,” her “reveries of innocent fancy,” and her “moments of priceless idleness, saturated with sunshine, blissful, aimless moments, when every angel is near” (Higginson, “Murder,” 354-5). The “artlessness” of childhood was valued and was associated with the “artlessness” of nature; paintings of children often put them into sunshiny rural settings (Heininger in Century, 14; Fink, 72). Childhood was associated with freedom, especially for nineteenth-century women, who often equated puberty with the loss of liberty (MacLeod in Century). Though in earlier centuries the child was viewed as someone who improved as she got older, now, the maturing process became one of a loss of innocence (Calvert in Century, 60).
Especially popular after the Civil War was the image in child-rearing manuals of the child as a “tender bud” to be gently nurtured rather than forced (Bloom, 192), and parents were urged to develop the child’s natural propensities for goodness. The parent was to take into account the special nature of the child in decisions regarding him: “No longer were children blank slates awaiting parental and societal chalk. Rather, embedded in the nature of childhood were special needs for parents to discover and act upon.” (Heininger in Century, 16) Manuals encouraged parents not to expect too much from their children and to take into account their lack of maturity and experience; children were to be regarded as individuals with behavior peculiar to them because they were children, and their faults were to be blamed not on a natural tendency toward wickedness, but on immaturity. Though obedience to parents—along with the rest of the traditional code of conduct—was still of primary importance, parents were urged to be more lenient in their use of authority (Wishy, 96-8; Miller and Swanson, 5). Play was to be encouraged, for it was a natural activity for children and would lead them to become “wiser & better”: “instead of grafting the child’s pleasures onto the greater good of moral and academic instruction, the youngster’s innate propensity for play came first; learning was secondary and would follow naturally in time.” (Heininger in Century, 16) Crawling, viewed as “animalistic” by eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century adults, was in the 1870s finally accepted as a natural, and even endearing, activity (Calvert in Century, 35, 44).
As the period proceeded, there was a growing separation between children and adults, in their lives and their concerns. Regarded as individuals unspoiled by the world and in need of special environments to keep them that way, children and their world gradually came to be seen as separate from the rest of humanity. Representations of children in art emphasized a sense of timelessness and isolation, outside “the real world of causal events” (Fink, 71); and a stylized formula emerged which emphasized the child’s cherubic physical qualities (Heininger in Century, 23-4). Special furniture designed especially for children not only served to restrict their movements but to isolate them further from adults; a child safe in a special crib or high chair, or using specially-sized eating utensils, did not require as much direct supervision by parents (Calvert in Century, 43-4; Heininger in Century, 19). Children began to be referred to in nonhuman terms, as “pet,” “kitten,” “bunny,” “lamb,” and a host of other small and innocent creatures (Heininger in Century, 15). A widening split gradually developed between the duties children could perform and the duties considered important in adult life (Heininger in Century, 21), and parents were urged not to push their children into adult decisions and adult roles by “consulting” with them about dress or other matters (E., 366-7). By the 1870s, children were seen as completely separate from the rest of humanity, powerless, decorative, unspoiled beings who did not mix with the rest of the world, characterized as “gems and treasures, pets and plants—anything but people.” (Heininger in Century, 26) At the beginning of the century cherished for what they would become, by the end of the century, children were so valued for what they were that they were isolated from adult life as much as possible.
The change in attitudes toward children triggered a change in their literature as well. Throughout the century, children’s books and periodicals were considered a force for socializing the child, but the early emphasis on didacticism slowly shifted in favor of entertainment. Tales of adventure became popular for boys—though never without moral content—and equally-moral domestic novels for girls became prevalent. A flurry of story papers and dime novels—deplored by most adults—threatened to bury “respectable” literature for children, and fantasy novels —though not as popular in America as in England—began to appear.
Before the 1860s, didacticism reigned supreme in children’s literature. In calm, reasonable, and measured tones, authors presented to their young readers calm, reasonable, and measured works which taught the joys of self-control and submission, and the evils of ambition and discontent. There was a certain soberness about these works, for “[r]eading was considered a serious matter, and children’s books were expected to be above reproach.” (Kelly, Mother, 92) So influential was literature considered to be that “[o]nly books that imparted ‘useful knowledge’ and ‘strengthened character’ were considered appropriate for young minds.” (Boles, 514) No distracting fantasy or high adventure was allowed, and works were grounded in reality so that the reader could more easily apply the lessons therein to real life (MacLeod, 41), and so the child’s intellect would be tied to truth instead of to distracting and impractical fantasy (Wishy, 52). Often bluntly stated, the lessons each work was supposed to teach were readily apparent to their readers and so important that even the irreproachable Jacob Abbott—whose young creation, Rollo, has become symbolic of his age—felt the need to defend himself to adults perusing Rollo’s Travels because the moral code wasn’t baldly stated:
Rollo, as perfect companion to his readers, was to be contagious, and children were to emulate him by “catching the spirit of docility and gentleness which exhibits itself in his conduct and character.” (Abbott, n. p.) Works such as Samuel Goodrich’s Peter Parley books led his young readers through foreign lands and the history of the world via works like The Tales of Peter Parley about Africa, The Tales of Peter Parley about Asia, Parley’s Tales about Ancient Rome. with some Account of Modern Italy, Parley’s Tales about Ancient and Modern Greece, and Peter Parley’s Tales about the World. Parley also taught his readers about botany, wild animals, astronomy, and the Bible. However, for the most part, moral education took central importance, possibly because moral education seemed more necessary in a society with few certainties either in morality or in daily life (MacLeod, 26-8; Rodgers, 124). Moral education also was more important than was intellectual education in a republic, where the moral character of the citizens had serious repercussions in the governing of the nation. (MacLeod, 25-7, 39-40). In fact, moral education imbued all of children’s fiction before the 1860s, for “the chief target of fictional instruction was the moral character of the young” (MacLeod, 24). As he traveled the world, Peter Parley laced his geography lessons with comments on moral conduct; Jacob Abbott’s Rollo, as he grew up, wrestled with the problems of obeying, being polite, and controlling his emotions, as he provided the reader with an example of good behavior from which to learn. The few fairy tales, like those collected in Mrs. E. Oakes Smith’s The Moss Cup, were presented more for the morals they taught than for the entertainment they provided.
The moral code presented in literature for children was immutable and absolute; presenting in textbooks and fiction a moral universe where all had meaning, the authors provided their readers with moral certainties (Elson, Guardians, 338; Wishy, 61; MacLeod, 137). In works for children, all in life was to be judged in moral terms, for in God’s universe people and their actions were inherently moral or immoral (Elson, Guardians, 338; Wishy, 61), and all ethics and morals came from God (Elson, Guardians, 339). As a result, literature before the war was fairly uniform not only in purpose, but in moral structure (Kelly, Mother, 92; Wishy, 66). Of central importance in children’s books was individual character, for life was a trial, and youth a time to prepare for adulthood (Wishy, 58). Works of literature presented to its readers a world that was threatening and impermanent; even in the circle of family and home, the world was imperfect and life was unreliable: death could alter everything, and one’s happiness and fortune were impermanent; charity and social institutions were poor and uncertain refuges from the horrors of poverty (MacLeod, 55-67). Thus, it was up to the individual to be self-reliant so as to be independent of events (MacLeod, 67-8, 91-2). Moderation and self-control were primary, for the first sin was the beginning of a downward path (Wishy, 57). The ideal was a child who controlled her emotions, intent on living up to her parents’ standards, on developing a conscience sensitive to all she said or did, and on internalizing a rigid set of moral standards (MacLeod, 76-81; Wishy, 56). Impulse became anathema: “Child readers drawn into such stories found idleness locked in war with industry, desire set against patience, grandiose daydreams in contest with sober, everyday duties—all the temptations of impulse pitted against a code of habitual self- control.” (Rodgers, 123) Rollo discussed with his father all temptations to excess or improper emotions and was encouraged to reflect rationally on all that befell him. Sober, obedient, selfless, and submissive, the child in the storybooks was grateful to his parents and aware that his goal in life was to be “useful” to others (MacLeod, 71-5, 86). He also was to avoid such sins as selfishness, ambition, and discontent with where God had placed him economically and geographically (MacLeod, 84-5). Children’s books concerned themselves with duty rather than excitement (MacLeod, 41), and the child was to do the same.
Literature for children reflected, too, a world where America represented all that was good, a nation under God’s special care (Elson, Guardians, 341-2; Boles, 521; England, 196). Though poverty existed, it wasn’t the fault of the economic or social system, but of the poverty-stricken individual (Crandall, 5-6). The best anyone could do for the poor was to give them charity, for which they were to be properly grateful, and through which lay their only chance to help themselves; for those with means, charity was a duty (MacLeod, 99-100). In a nation where all—farmers, laborers, or merchants—were moral and good if they worked hard (MacLeod, 94-5), one was to be content with one’s station in life and not desire to be above where God put him: “Know thy place” was more important than “Know thyself” (Lindberg, 74). Few social issues made their way into these works, for few were uncontroversial enough to be safe; the temperance issue and anti-war sentiments were always deemed safe enough to argue in children’s books (MacLeod, 104-8). However, slavery wasn’t. Few works for children dealt with the subject (MacLeod, 116); Jacob Abbott, though anti-slavery, dealt, not with the institution, but with race relations (Quinlivan). Attacks on slavery—few as they were—ceased in the early 1850s when tension in the nation began to get grim; writers switched to pleas against sectionalism, urging their readers to consider compromise (Crandall, 17).
In the 1850s, there were the beginnings of a loosening in children’s books; moral advice was more deeply buried in stories that were more exciting than before (MacLeod, 188). Characters became more emotional—from the parents, who had been models of reason and calm, to the children; and sentiment and emotional attachment were emphasized in family relationships (MacLeod, 127-9). The works themselves were more sentimental and emotional (MacLeod, 132). Such moral but sensational popular literature as weekly story papers began to find their way into the hands of children—who were not the original audience, but who were recognized as part of it; and it wasn’t long before they had story papers of their own (Noel, Villains, 217-19).
The 1860s saw a veritable explosion in children’s books, and for the first time entertainment surged to the fore, though moral lessons still provided the structure. Authors were cognizant that children—though to be envied their innocence and enthusiasm—were still adults-in-training and needed to be taught about the duties of life and about correct social behavior (MacLeod in Century). However, stories with amusement and adventure as their primary features began to gain acceptance and were published by the score. Beadle’s dime novels apparently led the way in 1860 with the popular Malaeska, by Anne Stephens (which was reprinted from a much earlier gift annual), and Seth Jones, by Edward Ellis. While not originally intended for children, these little works in salmon-colored covers soon found a place in the pockets of boys who eagerly devoured the adventures—especially of Seth Jones, the quintessential Indian-slaying frontiersman. At about this time, a split began between works aimed primarily at boys and works aimed primarily at girls, with tales of action and adventure on the one side and family stories of domestic life on the other. “Oliver Optic” [William Taylor Adams], whose “optical delusions” Louisa May Alcott deplored in Eight Cousins, began issuing his boys’ adventure novels in 1858, and it wasn’t many years before adventures by John Townsend Trowbridge and Horatio Alger were published and found almost immediate success. In 1863 was published the first of the amazingly-popular Little Prudy series, by Sophie May [Rebecca Clarke], which was aimed primarily at an audience of girls. Four years later, Elsie Dinsmore began her soggy saga in the first of 28 volumes by Martha Finley; and, of course, in 1868 was published the first half of the classic work for girls: Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott.
This period saw the publication of other works, too, which appealed to both boys and girls. Fanny Fern began to write for children in 1857; and Hans Brinker; or. The Silver Skates was published in 1865 by Mary Mapes Dodge, whose stories already had delighted the readers of the Museum. Fantasies and fairy tales, such as Jane Andrews’ The Seven Little Sisters Who Live on the Round Ball that Floats in the Air (1861), Una Savin’s The Little Gentleman in Green (1865), and Mary Mann’s The Flower People (1865) also began to appear; the American publication of Charles Dodgson’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865 spurred the publication of a few works of fantastic fiction, though the genre did not gain much acceptance in America until the twentieth century. Such groups as the Ladies’ Commission on Sunday-School Books deplored the exciting, sensational literature many children read, blaming even “thrilling” Sunday-school novels for children running away from home (Literature/ Sunday-Schools,” 458) and bemoaning the “plethora” of literature available, calling “promiscuous” reading “unwholesome” (“Ladies,’ ” 710). However, other reviewers celebrated the change: “We have ceased to think it the part of wisdom … to insist upon making of [children] little moralists, metaphysicians, and philosophers,” wrote one (Osgood, 725); “It is not very long since that all the juvenile books seemed conducted in the principle of definition of duty, ‘doing what you don’t want to,”’ wrote another, “for the books that were interesting were not considered good, and the ‘good’ ones were certainly not interesting” (in Kelly, Mother, 7); and a reviewer of the children’s books of 1866 sighed with nostalgia, remembering earlier works, but emphasized that children really needed a mixture of fancy with their fact and implied the importance of adventure novels by giving “the first place” in the review to works of this sort (Higginson, “Children’s”).
In all these works, the moral code traditional in antebellum works still operated, though with some exceptions. The importance of religion, of hard work, of generosity, and of selflessness were still stressed; but there was a decreased emphasis on introspection and self-control. Anger and emotional outbursts were considered inappropriate; and characters such as Alcott’s Jo March and Alger’s Ragged Dick learned to curb their impulses to anger and extravagance. However, though the protagonists in works of this period learned a certain amount of moderation in action and emotion, the deep, detailed introspection of earlier works like Abbott’s Rollo books was missing. The tone of these works was different, too. There was a new lightness, and humor was as emphasized as more serious concerns. The children in these works were portrayed more realistically than were children in works of earlier years. The hero of Thomas Bailey Aldrich’s Story of a Bad Boy revelled in his mischief; the protagonists of Hans Brinker and of Little Women were sometimes petulant and quick of temper; Alger’s Ragged Dick was rough-talking but good-hearted. Though the child-protagonist of earlier years was valued for her restraint, the heroes of the later period were more impulsive—and more successful because of it (Rodgers, 125, 127). Realistically portrayed, the children in these works made mistakes but—unlike the protagonists of earlier years—they could recover from them: while in earlier works wickedness often led the protagonist to ruin, now mistakes simply paved the way to a clearer understanding of herself and to a strengthened character. Important themes in these works included the loveable, but erring child, the pure child misunderstood by those around her, and the pure child whose example redeemed those around her (Wishy, 93). Probably because the moral certainties in works of the past had not proved to be the key to the utopian future adults had envisioned, they were muted, and social problems were now blamed less on faulty individual morality than on the society which caused them (MacLeod, 138). This lack of moral certainty and the emphasis on entertainment, however, seem to have bred a new tension in children’s books: one between the demands of instruction and of entertainment. Children were to play, but they also were to build character. They were to be self-reliant, but were urged to look to the home for what they needed in life. Above all, they were not to upset the traditional social order by trying to imitate the heroes of sensational literature (Kelly, Mother, 103-6). Such works did not “refine” the senses as did “good” literature (Kelly, Mother, 95), but “threatened to upset the balance and self-discipline that formed the psychological core of the gentlemanly ideal”—that ideal of restraint, morality, honor, fortitude, temperance, and courtesy promoted by the authors and editors of children’s periodicals. Sensational literature “excited” the reader into activities “threatening to the gentry definition of social order.” (Kelly, Mother, 93) Literature could teach the child independence, but it wasn’t to make him “precocious” and eager to get on with life.
These changes in children’s books were true for children’s periodicals as well. Periodicals for children have a long—if somewhat uneven—history in the United States, beginning in 1789 with the Children’s Magazine. Though this offering lasted only four issues, other periodicals soon followed—and succeeded, or, more often, failed—in large numbers. (See the bibliography of periodicals begun before 1873 at this site.) For the most part, periodicals published before 1841 echoed children’s books in a devotion to soberness and to an emphasis on religion. Education, narrowly defined, was of great importance, and, beginning with the Children’s Magazine, almost every periodical devoted itself in some way to the “instruction and amusement of youth.” (Lyon, 21-2) Anonymous articles on natural history, biography, astronomy, geography, and history abounded; Parley’s Magazine even provided lessons in drawing and exercise (Lyon, 22-3). But, most instruction was devoted to religion; the Youth’s Companion, founded in 1827, was much different from what it was when it folded in 1929, for its emphasis at the beginning was mainly religious, as its prospectus shows:
The most important protagonist in the pages of these periodicals seems to have been “children lisping hymns as they expired at the tender age of six” (Lyon, 28); even Parley’s Magazine couldn’t resist printing a macabre little poem in which a young boy hears angels as he dies in the cold grip of his dead sister, not far from the cot where lie his dead mother and her dead newborn (Mrs. Larned, “The Dying Boy,” 7 (Jan 1839): 12-13).
The Museum represents the different emphasis in periodicals published from 1841 to 1865. Though the stress on didacticism remained, there was a decrease in “religious morbidity,” and the dying, virtuous child was replaced by the child preparing for a successful life: “Emphasis was not so much on preparing children for an early death, as on teaching them how to live successfully.” (Lyon, 157) More important was emphasizing the importance of education, hard work, honesty, and obedience (Kelly, Mother, 6). Articles in the periodicals were more polished than before, for there was an emerging “appreciation of the importance of a literature designed for children” and of the labor involved in producing it (Lyon, 155-7). Articles were more likely to be signed, for editors understood the value of a famous name in the periodical’s pages; and “writers hard pressed to make a living were provided with an additional market for their work.” (Kelly, Mother, 7) The reader, too, gained new importance, as letters columns sprouted in such periodicals as the Museum and Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet. Such columns allowed readers personal communication with the editors and allowed them to scold—and to be scolded (Lyon, 160-1).
After the Civil War, the emphasis in periodicals shifted —as it did in children’s books—to entertainment. Improvement of the printing process made more, and cheaper, periodicals possible, and the number of periodicals made available to children increased dramatically. Secular concerns—which had become more important before the War—now predominated, though there were many religious magazines; one, The Juvenile Instructor, founded in 1866, is still being published, albeit with a changed name. There were many specialized magazines, for farmers’ children and for the very young, as well as a multitude of amateur publications (Lyon, 252-8). Dozens of dime novels and cheap pulp periodicals earned not only the children’s allowances but the approbation of adults (Lyon, 258-68). Though didacticism was buried in tales of excitement and adventure, a moral code was still in force, and “high standards of conduct were inculcated indirectly in the better magazines, while even the pulp magazine stories always had the villain receive his just deserts.” (Lyon, 269) Though many periodicals—such as Our Young Folks and Riverside Magazine for Young People, —were associated with publishing houses, most of their editors were associated with a sort of well-educated, gentry elite which saw in these periodicals an opportunity to mold the next generation according to a “code of the gentleman” which emphasized “maintaining social order under democratic conditions” and stimulating “a sturdy self-reliance without threatening the stability of the community.” (Kelly, Mother, 11, 31, 51-2) Despite its outward emphasis on amusement, action, and entertainment, the periodical for children still sought to control its readers and teach them what adults felt they needed to know about the world.
Throughout its lifetime, the Museum reflected the attitudes in the world around it and changed its emphasis to reflect the new patterns in childhood and in children’s literature and periodicals. Everything from the anti-Catholic tenor of the times to the nation’s pride in its progress and itself found voice in its pages. As America was the symbol and the bastion of freedom and of democratic perfection in the textbooks and works of fiction aimed at children, so it was a beacon of hope for the oppressed in the Museum. Temperance is a recurring theme not only in the children’s books of the time but in the Museum as well. Slavery, rarely mentioned in children’s books before the 1850s and dropped in favor of pleas against sectionalism thereafter, is mentioned only once or twice in the pages of the Museum, and only during the 1840s; even during the Civil War, slavery is noted only as an evil which was distant in place and time. The War itself is treated in the Museum much as it was in other magazine fiction of the same time. At the beginning of the conflict, stories for adults which dealt with the war used it mainly as a device to create tension and featured the “absorption of pseudo-war materials into the pervasive form and tone of the sentimental romance.” (Cohn, 362, 356) In much the same way, the War provides background tension in “Philip Snow’s War,” serialized in the Museum during 1863; as the War, its battles unrealistically described, mostly served as plot device in adult stories, so here, too, it serves mostly as a way in which the protagonist can prove his superior virtue and find the father who abandoned him, in suitably dramatic surroundings.
Most importantly, however, the Museum reflected the changes in children’s literature and in attitudes toward children. During its history, the magazine passed through three distinct stages: under the influence of Samuel Goodrich, from 1841 to 1856, the Museum emphasized education appropriate for the young citizen who would inherit a great republic and concentrated on presenting to its readers the broad range of the entire world from which they were to learn; under the editorship of John N. Stearns, from 1857 to 1867, the magazine emphasized education for the young soul intent on heaven, and the scope of the Museum’s world-view narrowed to the concerns of home and the family; and, under the influence of Horace Fuller and Louisa May Alcott, the Museum shifted its emphasis to entertainment, with lessons well concealed by excitement and humor. To some extent, these stages represent the interests and concerns of the changing editors of the magazine; but, just as much, they represent a shift in children’s literature itself, and in what adults thought a child should concern herself with. In its early years, the magazine placed great emphasis on moderation in all things from emotions to actions to religious thought, as did children’s books; the ideal character in both children’s books and the Museum was introspective and self-controlled, able to recognize and restrain inappropriate actions and emotions. As did other children’s periodicals of the 1840s and 1850s, the magazine emphasized secular virtues more than religious ones, though the code of moral conduct was tied to an emphasis on God and Christianity. The shift in children’s literature toward entertainment did not really penetrate the Museum until Fuller—perhaps more commercially-oriented than Stearns—purchased the magazine. Exciting tales like “Mink Curtiss,” humorous stories like “How a Good Dinner was Lost,” and fantastic fiction like “Jedidiah’s Noah’s Ark” still taught their readers a code by which to live, but the morals of the pieces were de-emphasized in favor of their entertaining qualities. By this time, religion was no longer the panacea it had been in earlier years—in either children’s books or the Museum. Religion was still the source of morals and virtue, but loyalty to God no longer guarantees peace of spirit: Elsie Dinsmore, in the novel of the same name, suffers for her spirituality, and the good do not necessarily prosper in Horatio Alger’s Bound to Rise (Wishy, 87- 90, 86-7); in the Museum, an author apologizes for presenting a praying hero in “Knocking About,” and the power of religion is down played in favor of the power of journalism in the first of a series of articles entitled “Our Great Powers.”
The image of children in the Museum changed as attitudes toward them changed in society. While children were regarded as beings to be urged into adulthood as soon as was plausible, the heroes presented in the Museum were white males older than the readers, living enviable, active lives in the broad world. As perceptions changed, and the child was valued more for itself than for what it would become, the heroes of the pieces were, for the most part children themselves, struggling with the duties and responsibilities of life and providing inspiration for those around them. The child’s innocence and sweetness was emphasized; the epistolary lectures of Robert Merry, traveling through Venice, are upstaged by a precious letter written by his six-year-old niece [“Uncle Robert’s Letters,” 55 (March 1868): 108-111]. Children inspire adults to spiritual purity in works like “Mike Smiley” and “Little Jamie”. The child’s circle of influence and action were narrower now than formerly—not just in life, but in the Museum as well. “Precocity” in social matters and matters of fashion were frowned upon in the real child and in the fictional child of Alcott’s “An Old-Fashioned Girl,” serialized in 1869. It was, perhaps, with an eye to squelching “precocity” that the editorial decision was made in 1868 to stop printing letters and pieces sent in by the Museum’s readers; but, this decision also points up the widening split between what children could do and what was considered important in adult society that prevailed at the time (Heininger in Century, 21). Safe and protected at home, real-life children were to be content to stay there, according to adults: Robert Merry’s last essay in the “Chat” urges boys not to emulate the adventures of Dr. Livingstone [62 (Nov 1872): 240]; and the perils of running away are detailed—and subtly mocked—in Charles Barnard’s “The Voyage of the Salt Mackerel,” in 1872.
Goodrich could not have known that his creation would outlive him when he invented Robert Merry in 1841; and he might not have recognized the magazine he founded when it was absorbed by the Companion in 1872. But, in change, perhaps, lay the key to the Museum’s success. Outlasting most of the other antebellum periodicals, the Museum reached what—for a children’s periodical —is a ripe, old age not just because it inspired fierce loyalties from its readers, but because it was able to incorporate new attitudes and ideas into its pages. Its history is not just the history of a periodical, but the history of its times.
Much of the information in this chapter has been superceded by my later work on the Merry Cousins and the way the Chat works. Please see
“Dear Friend Robert Merry”: Letters from 19th-century children for a selection of letters from the Chat.
“An ‘Online Community’ of the Nineteenth Century” (2001) explores the psychology of the Chat.
“Robert Merry’s Chat with His Friends,” a monthly letters column that sometimes threatened to engulf the magazine, allowed the readers to tell each other about themselves, and to bicker with and tease one another. In letters addressed to the editor, to “Cousins All,” or to “The Twenty Thousand”—traditionally, the number of subscribers to the Museum—readers wrote of their daily lives, talked about their families and pets, and pointed out the obvious personal failings of other letter-writers. As the years passed, the readers began to think of themselves as members of one, gigantic “Merry family”—cousins, with Robert Merry, Hiram Hatchet, Peter Parley, William, and Sue as their uncles and aunt; and all the Cousins eager to talk with one another in the imaginary parlor of the Chat. In their letters, as one reader reminded Robert Merry, “I told you where I lived, and what I did, and who I was.” [19 (June 1850): 190] Another reader, 15 years later, saw in the column the link between many lives:
The column took several years to develop, for there seems to have been no precedence for a major children’s periodical to publish the letters of its readers. Though Parley’s Magazine (1833-1844) published puzzles, conundrums, enigmas, and occasional letters by its readers, the Museum seems to have been the first American children’s periodical to print letters from subscribers in a regular column.
The first letter to be published in the Museum was almost a tiny advertisement for the periodical:
This cautious family sent only enough money to take the Museum for eight months: “ … if it proves equal to our expectations we will take it much longer.” All the children of the family worked to earn money for the subscription, and Robert Merry hoped “the example here may be followed by many other black-eyed and blue-eyed friends”—though he left unclear whether he was praising their industry, their discretion, or their payment in advance.
Publication of this letter must have encouraged others; by March 1842, Merry was receiving not only letters from his readers, but original works as well, and he thanked them in the March issue [3 (March 1842): 95]. Two puzzles he had received were printed in the issue, with the letters their creators sent, and it wasn’t long before other readers sent answers, and puzzles, and letters of their own.
In April, Merry began to publish the letters more regularly, at the back of the magazine, in a column called “To My Correspondents.” [3 (April 1842): 127-28] Here he not only published letters, he addressed the readers, reminding them to pay postage on the letters they sent, thanking them for the letters, and occasionally commenting on the contents. If he edited the letters, it was done silently. The length of the column grew rapidly: the April letters column was about 2 pages long; the May and June columns were around 3. Occasionally, the column skipped a month, but by 1843, it was well established, appearing regularly at the end of the issue, in a separate section entitled “Correspondence,” or “Our Correspondence.” Goodrich probably edited the column himself, for later gaps in its appearance correspond with traveling he was doing at the time. Readers in 1846, looking in vain for the column in the March and April issues, learned in the May column that Robert Merry had been “down South” [11 (May 1846): 158]; so had Goodrich (Goodrich, Recollections, 2: 322). No letters were published in 1847, for Robert Merry was in Europe and could not receive or answer letters from his readers [13 (Feb 1847): 64]; at this time, Goodrich was in Paris (Goodrich, Recollections, 2: 449-50).
After May, 1848, the column was a regular part of the Museum, though its name changed almost monthly. In June, 1848, the column was called “A Chat with our Readers and Correspondents”; in July, it was entitled “Robert Merry’s Chat with his Friends”; in September, the heading became “Merry’s Monthly Chat with his Friends”—a name which stayed for 24 years over a column which came to average at least 5 pages a month of tiny print with much less leading than the rest of the magazine. The Cousins had found a place in which to settle.
At first, many of the letters to Robert Merry were a bit diffident: the prose—probably in keeping with the style of letter-writing considered appropriate at this time—seems formal and a bit stilted, and the writers occasionally apologized for being so forward as to call Merry their “uncle,” or even to write to him at all. Soon, however, the letters in the Chat became more casual, and so seems to have become the attitudes of the letter writers. Some jokes and teasing began to slip in, much of it aimed at Merry himself. In 1849, Merry complained about getting a bad joke in the mail, though his concern seems to have been less with an assault on his own dignity than with the quality of the joke he received; he proclaimed that if his readers were going to “April Fool me again, let it be neatly done. A middling joke is a poor thing.” [17 (April 1849): 123] One reader was probably inspired by Merry’s announcement that, since he received too many letters each month to print, and since he wished to encourage good letter-writing, he never printed “a letter that comes in bad handwriting; that has bad spelling; or that has bad grammar; or that is badly punctuated.” [17 (May 1849): 160]; in August appeared a letter dated June which stated:
Robert Merry printed it with nary a comment. Other letters also arrived, some of which teased Merry for leaving unfinished a serialized story. The readers were willing to be patient, but there are limits, and two readers soon reached theirs and sent letters satirizing the serial’s “roundabout character” while asking for the end of it. [21 (May 1851): 159] One letter took a column and a half to reach its point after much trailing through the underbrush of personal anecdote and of apology for appearing rude in this request [20 (July 1850): 32]; the other, having looped its way around the subject, sharpened the point by including “Madame Bedott’s Table Talk”—probably from a magazine article by Frances Whitcher (Hart, 142)—in which a garrulous widow rambles at length through a pointless anecdote about her late spouse [21 (May 1851): 159-60]. Merry admired the latter letter, but the serial remained unfinished. Still other readers—inspired, perhaps by the sometimes-tall-tale adventures of Gilbert Go-ahead which were being serialized in the Museum at this time, and by a letter from “Peter Parley” in which he explained that it was so cold that “I see by the Canada papers, that they have heard the Aurora Borealis there … ” [17 (Feb 1849): 59]—sent Merry tales of radishes so large that they would feed a whole family [17 (May 1849): 152-60], of chicken eggs so large that they would hatch kittens [20 (July 1850: 32], and of sturgeons so thick in streams that a man could catch all he wanted with his bare hands [23 (April 1852): 125-8]. Merry seems to have taken all this in stride, saying only of the kitten-hatching eggs that, “I do not believe that any hen lays eggs which will hatch kittens—though I admit that some folks’ hens are doing very queer things.” [20 (July 1850): 32] In this way, the Chat became more of what its title implied: rather than merely being a column for letters, it was a place for a certain amount of give and take, and—as later readers pointed out— it became the most popular section of the Museum.
The Chat’s increasing casualness and popularity probably was due in part to the relationship between Robert Merry and his readers. From the beginning, Merry was a fully-realized character whom the readers knew well; it was he who addressed them in the magazine’s prospectus in the first issue, and his detailed, picaresque biography was serialized during the first two years. (See Chapter 3 for more about “Robert Merry.”) Merry also spoke directly to his readers, usually in the Chat, and often by name: gently and humorously, he cautioned “my little friend, Cornelius W ----, of Newark, New Jersey,” who had forgotten to pay the postage on his letter, that
In the same column, he teased J. W. P., whose enigma “is ingenious— but the name itself is a puzzle. Here it is: ‘General Diebitsch Sabalkansky.’ Why, this name reminds me of a stick that was so crooked it could never lie still!” In May, 1845, appeared a little poem called “Alfred Poole,” published at the request of Alfred’s sister, “for the pleasure of her brother Alfred, and of all other children, who, like him, have just learned to read.” [9 My 1845: 187] Merry also made it clear—especially in the Museum’s beginning—that he did not demand his readers’ respect, but that he wanted to be their friend; in the prospectus and in the closing editorial for 1841, Merry asks the indulgence of his readers, and hopes that they will think kindly of him. Though he is old and they are young, he hopes they will love him as he loved an old, knotted walnut tree in his youth, for the old are as full of stories as the tree was of nuts; and “I hope that young people, instead of running away from me, as a crusty, crabbed, one-legged old chap, will treat me as I did the old walnut-tree—give it a shake, and see if the nuts do n’t rattle down!” [“To the Black- ey’d and Blue-ey’d Friends of Robert Merry,” 2 (Dec 1841): 187] Merry made sure that his young readers knew that he liked them and appreciated their efforts, thanking them for their letters and gifts, as in the closing editorial for 1841:
In later issues, Merry was scrupulous about listing somewhere in the Chat the names of those whose letters were not published—perhaps with a word or two about their handwriting or about the contents of their letters. And, he credited the letters with keeping him in good cheer and with helping him to forget his troubles:
Not only did Merry speak personally to his readers, he also allowed them a voice through the medium of imaginary readers who helped him with the letters, advised him on the contents of the magazine, and allowed him to advise them on their conduct. Richard, Henry, James, Jane, Anne, Susan, Bill, Mary, Ben, and Peter first appeared in January, 1845, gathered in Merry’s office and advising him of what they wanted him to publish in the coming year. Generic names attached to generic personalities, they represented the general readership and may have made Merry seem even more responsive to the needs of his readers. They also offered the opinions of the Museum’s editor in a way that the real readers may have better accepted and understood. These imaginary readers were amazingly candid and offered their opinions with charming ruthlessness; in 1848, they informed Merry that, in their opinion, the Museum had “fallen off” during his travels in Europe. Susan took him to task for not printing letters from readers in 1847; James thought that “the articles are too long. I like trite, short pieces. I always go to sleep over a long story”; and, Henry longed for the days when the Museum had plenty of humor [15 (June 1848): 189]. As in 1845, the imaginary readers were content with Merry’s reply that he would take their words to heart and try to provide something to suit every reader. That the opinions of the imaginary readers jibed with Merry’s own wasn’t as important as the fact that they had expressed them.
Once “Peter Parley”—and, later, “Hiram Hatchet” and “Aunt Sue”—“joined the staff” of the Museum, readers were allowed to “hear” some of the discussions they had and “see” editorial decisions being made. In 1848, when the Museum merged with Parley’s Playmate, at the end of the announcement of the merger was printed a picture of Peter Parley and Robert Merry, obviously in genial discussion about the future of the Museum. After that, readers were sometimes treated to dialogs between Merry and Parley, who were blunt, but polite with one another, though they did not always agree. Much later, readers had a ringside seat at the punning battles between Hiram Hatchet and Aunt Sue. These glimpses of the editors joshing and jibing with one another, together with the personalized, directed addresses to their readers, combine to give a sense that all of the editors, but especially Robert Merry, were real people who truly loved the readers of their magazine.
[a note about Goodrich and pseudonyms: Goodrich ran into some puzzlement about lame Peter Parley during his visit to the South in the 1840s: “I received many a kind welcome under the name of the fictitious hero whom I had made to tell my stories. Sometimes, it is true, I underwent rather sharp cross-questioning, and frequently was made to feel that I held my honors by a rather questionable title …. My innocent young readers … did not suspect me: they had taken all I had said as positively true, and I was of course Peter Parley himself.” (Goodrich, Recollections, 2: 322)
Later, some Southern readers of the Museum remembered Goodrich’s trip to the South and remembered also, with chagrin, their confusion of him with Peter Parley. Hattie, writing from Richmond, Virginia, invited Merry to visit, and explained that her whole family knew of Peter Parley: “I did not see him when he was here several years ago; but when brother Tom came running home almost out of breath, and told us he had seen Peter Parley, I very seriously asked him if he was a man, and had a lame foot—and a heap of other such questions. However, you must remember I was very, very young, then.” [21 (April 1851): 128]
The readers seem to have responded quickly and warmly. Subscriptions rose steadily, and so did the number of letters Robert Merry received. In the beginning, more than a few Cousins seem to have been convinced that Merry was a real person. Some knew that Robert Merry and Peter Parley were the same person, or that both were pseudonyms of Samuel Goodrich; “I have found out three of your names, Parley, Merry and Goodrich,” one very young reader informed “My Dear Mr. Merry” in 1843 [6 (July 1843): 64], while another was amazed at the number of pseudonyms one man adopted: “How many names you have! Robert Merry, Peter Parley, and did you not at one time call yourself ‘Robert Rambler’?” [10 (June 1845): 223] (Though “Robert Rambler” isn’t listed as one of Goodrich’s pen-names, “Robert Ramble” was a character in Parley’s Magazine in 1836.) But other readers weren’t so sure. One reader, who evidently had seen Goodrich and been told he was Merry, was unsure of the identification, because the man he saw had two good legs, while Merry, of course, had a wooden leg [8 (Aug 1844): 633]. Another distrusted his father: “My father says that Peter Parley and Robert Merry are all one; but, if so, ’tis a greater puzzle than the Siamese twins. However, I don’t think they are the same, for old Parley wrote in a simpler and easier way than you do.” [11 (Feb 1846): 633]
By the 1850s, the editors were attempting to clarify the situation. A confused reader in 1854 got capsule descriptions of Merry, Peter Parley, Hiram Hatchet, and Samuel Goodrich—the editor making sure to keep the personalities separate and real [28 (July 1854): 224]. Goodrich, by this time, had ceased to edit the magazine, and S.T. Allen had stepped into the persona of Robert Merry; Hiram Hatchet seems to have been a pseudonym adopted by yet another editor; the detailed descriptions given of these three probably were taken from life. Parley, however, was described physically in much vaguer terms. In 1855, the fictional natures of Peter Parley and Robert Merry were made clear for all time:
Many of Merry’s early readers seem to have been familiar with Peter Parley and his works, and extended their allegiance to Robert Merry almost as if it were a given. Franklin B., wondering if Merry and Parley were related and making clear his allegiance to Parley, informed Merry that “I doubt not, that I shall soon begin to think as much of you, particularly if you happen to be related to him.” [9 (May 1845): 190]
Whether they “knew” Peter Parley or not, readers soon seemed to regard Merry as an old friend. “Pray excuse me, Mr. Merry, for being so free with you; but you seem so free and sociable yourself, that, although I have never seen you, it appears to me you are like an old and familiar acquaintance,” one wrote in 1845 [9 (May 1845): 190]. Other readers seem to have felt the same way, including Rosannah, who sent Merry an enigma to print and who assured him that
I have read “Merry’s Museum” so long, and studied Peter Parley’s books so much, that I feel quite well acquainted with you, though I know you never heard of Rosannah before.
I am persuaded by the familiar manner in which you talk to Anne, and Susan, and Mary [imaginary Cousins in the Chat], that you will not be offended at me for introducing myself to your acquaintance … [16 (Oct 1848): 127],
and eleven-year-old Sarah, who invited Merry and “ ‘My uncle Peter’ ” to her Long Island home for Blue Point oysters [17 (April 1849): 125]. Several readers wrote the first letters of their lives to Robert Merry. Five-year-old Ellen wrote at the instigation of her mother, to thank Merry, who had “taught me to love to go to school and learn to read”; her mother held her hand to help her form the words [22 (Nov 1851): 160]. To other writers, the letter they sent was viewed as some sort of reward: one young boy “spoke at school last week, ‘You’d scarce expect one of my age,’ &c.; and now pa says I may write you a letter, and punctuate it myself, so you must forgive mistakes” [19 (April 1850): 127-8]; the mother of another “told me I might write this letter when I was nine years old. To- day is my birthday, and I was in such a hurry that I began it before breakfast.” [11 (June 1846): 190] Some readers even dreamed about Robert Merry; though Fannie’s dreams merely provided her with a poem sung by the “dream” Robert Merry, which she sent to the “real” Robert Merry [11 (June 1846): 189-90], one of W. A. C.’s dream had a little lesson in it: after being snubbed in his dream by Merry and by Billy Bump, a popular character in one of the Museum’s serials,
One reader apologized for not visiting Merry when he was in Boston: “ … I thought you would be disappointed if any of your subscribers went there without visiting you But I only staid two days.” [11 (June 1846): 190] Yet other readers wrote asking for advice: Merry noted somewhat wryly in 1850 that one reader had asked for advice about marriage, though no mention is made of what advice the reader got [19 (May 1850): 160]. Other readers—apparently thinking, as one boy did, that Robert Merry was the best person to help him understand his schoolwork—asked specific questions about things they did not understand: James got an explanation of why climates are different in different parts of the world [20 (Nov 1850): 158-60], while J. N. T. received a detailed description of how nutmegs were grown [24 (July 1852): 31-32]. As the years passed, Merry’s relationship with his readers remained close, though readers also felt close to some of the other editors, especially Hiram Hatchet and Aunt Sue.
Nowhere in the Museum was it revealed who “Hiram Hatchet” really was; but William H. Coleman—a reader who “grew up” with the magazine and was acquainted with John N. Stearns when he was editing the Museum—revealed in 1895 that it was William C. Cutter (Coleman), a minister whose poor health forced him to turn to literature (Dechert, 161-20). Born in 1801, in the 1840s he wrote two children’s biographies of Generals Putnam and Lafayette, and in May, 1854, he stepped into the Chat, presumably while Robert Merry went to Europe to “consult with Peter Parley” about the Museum. (The trip probably coincides with a trip which publisher S. T. Allen took to France, to consult with Goodrich, who was no longer editing the magazine, but who was still in charge of it.) Hiram gleefully wielded an imaginary hatchet to cut the ever-longer letters from the Cousins and to “chop out work for” Merry and the readers [28 (July 1854): 222]. He was a master of the subtle art of the pun, and the Cousins quickly matched him pun for pun; in September, with Merry presumably returned, Hiram tried to bow out, but he was back the next month, and he remained popular among the Cousins for many years to come.
“Aunt Sue” seems to have been the pen-name of Susanna Newbould, a London-born Brooklyn matron whose wealthy husband was a wholesale hardware importer (Dechert, 95-6). She was very fond of enigmas, conundrums, and puzzles, and in 1848 she began to send solutions to the puzzles printed in Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet (Dechert, 87); in 1852, she took over that magazine’s enigma department while the editor went to Europe to recover his health (Dechert, 93-4). In 1854, she became the Cabinet’s assistant editor (Dechert, 95). By this time, she also was contributing letters, puzzles, and solutions to the Museum: two letters from “Aunt Susey,” postmarked Brooklyn, NY, appeared in 1851; in 1854, bouncy, irreverent letters from “Aunt Sue” began to appear almost monthly. When the Cabinet merged with the Museum in 1857, “Aunt Sue’s Puzzle Drawer” became part of the Museum, where it remained a popular column almost to the last issue of the magazine. In this column, after 1860, she began to print answers to letters she had received, as well as the puzzles and solutions sent to her by the readers. Though Fleta Forrester, a long-time reader of the Museum, took over the Puzzle Drawer for a time in 1864, Aunt Sue edited the column—and, sometimes, the Chat—without pay [53 (Feb 1867): 58] until she resigned from the magazine in January, 1871 [59 (Jan 1871): 51], perhaps to run the family business (Dechert, 194-5).
By the 1850s and 1860s, the image of the “Merry family” and the “Merry parlor” had come to the fore, as the Chat became an imaginary gathering of “Cousins” in an imaginary parlor. Hiram Hatchet first used the image, when he took over the Chat during Merry’s trip to Europe; in August, 1854, he greeted the readers with:
When Merry returned, he was graciously offered his old easy-chair by Hiram, and made Hiram a definite part of the Chat by offering him “a peg for your hat, and … a seat by the table … ” [28 (Oct 1854): 310] The Cousins readily took up the image, asking to “sit” beside certain other Cousins in the “parlor,” and offering chairs to each other: “Commodore, there is an empty chair on this side of the room, if you are not too bashful to sit among the girls. Sailors are not generally troubled with timidity,” Sallie offered in 1858 [35 (April 1858): 127]. Despite Robert Merry’s repeated assurances that the walls of the “parlor” could stretch to receive all comers, one boy wasn’t sure he would fit: “I am a sick boy. I should like to see all my cousins in their snug parlor, and have an introduction; but as I would have to take my bed with me, I fear there would not be room; so I must postpone the visit … ” [35 (April 1858): 126] The image of the parlor refined itself until, in 1860, a reader could present so detailed a description that it almost took on physical reality; Variable-Eyed Josie’s long, overripe description so cowed Hiram that he printed it in full, with a veiled warning about the next time:
In the rosy terms of the true romantic, Josie speculated about the physical attributes of some of the more popular members of the Chat:
On a less florid note, in 1862, Jennie B. D. found that she could come home from school on a “dreary, rainy afternoon” when she had a cold, find the Museum waiting for her and, opening it, immediately find herself “in the Chat, listening to the voices of old and new Merrys.” [43 (June 1862): 188]
Like cousins everywhere, the Cousins of the Chat bickered with and teased each other. In 1852, a Latin fight began between G. of Keene and D. G. M., with each sending to the Museum a phrase or poem in Latin, to be translated by the other. However, it was later “Merrys” who fought the boisterous, hard-won “Merry wars”. The first revolved around what came to be known as “That Problem,” an algebra problem sent by Black-Eyed Mary and printed in the February, 1855, issue. Hidden among the other puzzles sent by readers of the Museum, the problem looked innocent enough: Mary asked Willie Coleman—then 15—to solve the equation x2 + y2 = 8, where x + xy = 6; and, he was to show his proof. Willie tried. But, though he came up with the answer (x = 2; y = 2), his proof was scorned not only by Mary but by other Cousins as well. By November, many solutions had been offered up and demolished by Willie and the other Cousins; the November issue alone contained 5 proofs, none of which were considered adequate. In January, 1856, 6 more proofs were published, and even more proofs in February; in March, Uncle Hiram declared an end to the algebra question, but the Cousins insisted on sending more proofs, which were published in the June issue. By this time, personalities had become part of the algebra problem, with Cousins heaping scorn on each other and on each other’s algebra skills, and winging each other with well-aimed puns and wit. Finally, Aunt Sue declared peace, backed up by Uncle Hiram, and the first Merry war was over. Other wars were to follow—such as the “p. g. war” of 1862-1863, in which the Cousins exchanged cartes de visites in an attempt to discover which part of the nation had the most “pretty girls”—but they were not nearly as fierce. That Problem changed forever the tone of the Chat, as Willie Coleman pointed out later in his retrospective series on the Chat:
After this, the Chat was livelier, brisker, and longer, with the Cousins exchanging personal messages, jokes, and puns.
The Cousins saw the Chat as a place to form friendships —in and out of the magazine, and the readers themselves echoed Merry and the other editors in their politeness to one another. Readers whose letters were being published in the Chat for the first time almost always mentioned by name Willie Coleman, who was a great favorite; he, in turn, was careful always to answer them by name in his next letters. Some of the Cousins may have known each other socially outside the confines of the Chat; several times over the years, readers mentioned that their friends or classmates also took the Museum. However, other Cousins seem to have exchanged letters directly with one another, as well as sending messages to each other in the Chat; in 1862, Aunt Sue offered to publish in the Puzzle Drawer the addresses of those who wanted other readers to correspond with them [43 (March 1862): 96]. The editors also offered to forward letters to other Cousins, if the letter-writers enclosed enough postage. In the late 1850s and early 1860s, as cheap photographic portraits became available in the form of tintypes and cartes de visite photographs, the Cousins began to send their likenesses to each other and to Uncle Merry and Aunt Sue, both of whom soon had full photograph albums. The exchanges of letters and photos became especially brisk during the Civil War, when male Cousins who joined the army asked for letters and photographs “to cheer my lonely hours,” as one wrote [43 (April 1862): 123]; and one concern of a Union sailor in the squadron blockading the harbors of the South was to find a place to have his picture taken so he could send it to the readers at home [45 (Jan 1863): 27]. Some of the female readers asked Aunt Sue’s advice about the propriety of writing letters to the male readers in the Army; Aunt Sue replied that she approved:
In at least one instance, Cousins who had met through the Chat visited each other in real life: on New Year’s Day of 1863, Josie was visited by three male Cousins on leave from the Union army, and she suspected that Merry had given them her address [45 (Feb 1863): 59-60]. The culmination of this fraternizing seems to have been the marriage of Eugene Fales—a veteran who had been a clerk in the Museum’s offices—to Hattie Lee, a subscriber to the magazine, in 1865 [“Adventures of a Merry Boy,” 49 (Feb 1865): 53].
Death also came to the Cousins—their own, and those of members of their families. In both cases, the Chat was a place for comforting words, as Merry and the other Cousins reminded the bereaved that the dead were merely waiting for their friends in another place. In the case of readers who had died, the details of their deaths were sent by relatives because the subscriber had so loved the Museum, as in the case of Bennie Tompkins, whose aunt wrote to the Museum because Bennie had always thought of Merry as his friend [30 (Sept 1855): 94]; among the last words of another reader was a request that Robert Merry be told of her death [50 (July 1865): 23]. Relatives hearing from other subscribers also realized that other Cousins wanted to know what had happened, as in the case of Lizzie Tipton; her father wrote in response to a query in the Chat the month after she died [52 (Dec 1866): 192]. Both the readers and Merry were quick to take lessons from the deaths: that one should be ready for death, and that those who died were waiting for their friends in another, better place. In a way, the “parlor” seemed to extend itself to Heaven; in the first issue of 1866, Robert Merry reminded his readers that
The Cousins, too, verbalized this lesson, and told each other not to mourn. Having learned of the deaths of two popular readers in 1864—Wilforley, from illness, and Henry Danker, when his ship was sunk—Pontiac took a lesson beyond his immediate grief:
Kruna echoed this in her lines on Wilforley and Henry Danker: “We mourn them; they rejoice; our tears may fall,/ Yet shall we not look up and seek their rest?” [49 (Jan 1865): 25] The deaths of other readers seem to have struck the Cousins especially hard, and the Chat received several letters each time a death was announced; this was especially true during the Civil War, when three of the most popular letter-writers died When readers wrote about deaths in their own families, it usually was Uncle Merry who comforted them, reminding them to think of Christ, and that those they mourned were awaiting them in heaven. Tina Tompkins, Bennie’s sister, visited the Museum’s offices and felt free to write to Hiram Hatchet about the desolate Christmas following the deaths of several family members: “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.” [33 (Feb 1847): 62] The image of the “Merry family” was important in the editors’ efforts to comfort the bereaved readers, as they reminded them that they were not alone— that they had a large family in the Chat, as in Aunt Sue’s answer to Winifred, who despaired over her mother’s death:
When a relative of another reader died on the battlefield, she knew that she would find sympathy in the Chat:
This long-distance intimacy led to the Cousins devising ways to identify each other in real life, as when one reader asked those visiting White Mountain to write “M. M.” after their names in the hotel register, so that they could meet [46 (Aug 1862): 61]. This led to the creation of the Merry badge, in 1865, which the Cousins could wear and thereby identify each other. The design of the badge came from a reader, and showed an open book with a capital “M” on each exposed page; the circumference of the badge was decorated with an ivy wreath. The boys’ pin was circular, and smaller than the girls’ pin, which was oval; the boys’ badge, in gold, was $6, while the girls’, also in gold, was $9. They also could be earned as premiums, for 8 new subscribers, and 12 new subscribers, respectively [49 (Jan 1865): 28]. How many badges were actually sent out is impossible to discover; in later years, occasionally, readers complained that, though they wore their own badges in public, they never saw another being worn. The design of the badge also was used on notepaper, which the publisher of the Museum made available to the readers; it was imprinted with either the boys’ round design or the girls’ oval design [52 (Oct 1866): 126].
Dozens of photographs had been exchanged between readers, and Uncle Merry had filled almost two photograph albums when Jasper suggested, at the end of 1865, that the readers of the Museum should meet together in a real parlor. The “Merry Convention” was held in Brooklyn, NY, on the evening of December 27, 1865, at John N. Stearns’ home. Cousins and editors gathered for an evening of song, conversation, and very bad jokes—all reported in the February, 1866, Chat. Many of those unable to attend sent letters; those who did attend agreed that it was memorable:
Variable-Eyed Josie’s vision of the Merry parlor in 1860 had become reality.
By 1867, the letters in the Chat had become so full of messages from Cousin to Cousin, that there was some concern that the letters should contain more of general interest; one reader suggested that correspondents should write about their daily lives [53 (April 1867): 121]. A handful of readers complied, but most letters still contained little but messages from one reader to another. In 1868, however, Horace B. Fuller, having purchased the Museum, appointed Louisa May Alcott editor, and the Chat virtually disappeared. A new professionalism seems to have entered the magazine, one which determined that “a magazine is not the place for trivial gossip or personal communications” [55 (May 1868): 164], so the old-style letters were no longer printed; Merry announced briskly in the January issue that
Such letters as were deemed “peculiarly attractive” usually were those written by Alcott herself, under the name “Cousin Tribulation,” or reminiscences by the older readers of the Museum—who praised the magazine and spoke of what it had meant to them as children—most of which letters had “a little moral” [55 (June 1868): 247]. These may have been considered as being published in the “Chatter-Box,” an untitled section of the Chat set apart by the editor in response to the “good deal of disappointment … felt by some of our readers at the discontinuance of the correspondence”; these letters were to be “not only lively, but sensible,” for “such correspondences may be both instructive and agreeable” [55 (May 1868): 164]. The Chat, which had become the property of its readers, so to speak, was reclaimed by Merry himself, to be filled with little sermons and editorial announcements. In return, the Cousins seem to have shifted their allegiances to Aunt Sue, whose Puzzle Drawer had remained intact; she had always printed “Notices to Correspondents” in a special section behind the puzzles and answers to previous puzzles, and, in September, 1868, this section of notices began to grow noticeably longer. In earlier years, the Puzzle Drawer had averaged about 3 pages, where the Chat had averaged 5 pages; from September, 1868, to January, 1871, the proportions were reversed, with the Puzzle Drawer averaging between 3 and 5 pages, and the Chat—when it appeared—only once longer than 2 pages.
By this time, the Chat had also become an advertising medium. Merry had begun in the 1850s to add a few paragraphs after the letters, as if announcing some newsworthy item; these items ranged from the routes of steamship lines to the publication of new books and new music sheets—which publishers seem to have sent to the magazine. P. T. Barnum also seems to have known a good thing when he saw it; “Commodore Nutt,” an attraction at Barnum’s Museum, apparently sent his photo to Merry in 1862—which Merry duly put into his album “by the side of the rest of the great little folks” and announced in the Chat that, “We shall have to accept the Commodore as one of our Merry family, and commend him to the friendship of all the Merrys. Go and shake hands with him at Barnum’s.” [43 (May 1862): 157] Barnum also made sure that Merry had tickets to both Tom Thumb’s wedding and the reception afterward, in 1863—for he “knows that we love to be where the ‘little folks’ have a good time”—and Merry announced this in the Chat and recommended that his readers visit the Museum [45 (March 1863): 95). Under Horace B. Fuller, more advertisements for books than for anything else appeared in the Chat—especially if these books were published by him. In 1869, advantage was taken of Merry’s absence in the Chat one month to reprint part of Alcott’s Hospital Sketches, making sure that the readers knew who published the work.
The Chat was important to its young readers because it was a way for them to “communicate” with each other in a time when instant communication was just a dream. But, these lively letters also provide a peek into the minds of their writers, even 100 years after they were written. The letters published had to conform to certain standards which may have tended to limit the letters which were published to those by the more literate readers. Also, letters of a handful of readers were published quite often. As a few other readers were quick to point out, this meant that letters from the less popular were less likely to be published, though Merry tried to make clear that all the letters received from the “stars” were not printed [31 (Feb 1856): 54-64]. Despite these limitations, the letters which were published come the closest anything ever may come to informing us about who read the Museum.
The actual number of subscribers is difficult to discover: the few statistics we have are from a mishmash of sources which include directories of periodicals, the covers of the Museum, and hints gleaned from the Chat and from editorials printed in the magazine; as such they may be exaggerated. The increase in the number of subscribers seems to have been fairly steady. By the Museum’s fourth issue in 1841, the number of copies sold was 7,000 (Dechert, 140): by 1843, it seems to have been about 12,000 (Dechert, 141). The number of subscribers seems to have been mentioned first in 1850, when Merry announced that 3,000 subscribers had been added in that year, making the total 13,000 [20 (Dec 1850): 186]. The number of actual readers was estimated in 1854 at 25,000, in Merry’s New Year’s Address; probably this estimate included not only the number of subscribers, but the number of readers who borrowed copies of the magazine, and the number of children in any given family who might have read the magazine [“A New Year’s Address,” 27 (Jan 1854): 3]. In 1854 appears the first mention that the Museum was sent to schools, where bound volumes became part of the school library and were read by many more children [27 Ap 1854): 127]. The traditional number of subscribers—20,000—began to be used after the Museum merged with Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet and The Schoolfellow, in 1857, but, as another has pointed out, a number of subscribers to the Cabinet or the Schoolfellow may not have resubscribed to the Museum (Dechert, 141). 20,000 was the number used for several years more, though in 1857, Merry’s address mentions “every separate Merry of the forty thousand band”—again, perhaps an estimate of the number of actual readers [51 (Jan 1866): 1]. Where this number came from is impossible to determine. However, in 1869, the number of subscribers had dropped to 10,000, where it stayed until the magazine’s demise in 1872 (Dechert, figure 29).
Readers wrote to the Chat under a variety of pen-names. In the 1840s, letters printed were usually signed with initials, or with first names followed by last initial; whether this reflected an editorial decision, journalistic tradition, or requests by readers is unknown. By the 1850s, those readers who were not writing under their real names, such as Willie H. Coleman or Henry A. Danker, or initials, such as W.A.R. or C.F.W., used pen-names that fell into several categories. Some readers using “real names” turned out to be using pseudonyms, as in the case of “Bess,” a long-time reader of Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet who, Aunt Sue finally learned after many years, was really “Wilforley” (William Forrest Oakley), an unrepentant teenaged boy. Other readers took “family” names, such as Cousin Sally, Cousin Kate, Aunt Clara, Uncle Joe, and Auntie. Some readers took “typographical” names: !---! and *; 1/20000 obviously represented one of Merry’s 20,000 readers. Other readers took their names from the geographical region in which they lived, either from the state— as in the case of Bay State, Buckeye Boy, Keystone, and Tennesseean—or from the part of the nation from which they came—as in Southerner, Southern Girl, or Southron. Northern readers were more likely to take pen-names from the state in which they lived than Southern readers, who seem more likely to mention the part of the country in which they lived; one Southern reader who noticed this in 1856 was told by Uncle Merry that he had many Northern correspondents, “but they consider themselves as belonging to the country, and not to any part of it. Therefore they assume no sectional names.” [32 (July 1856): 28] Because the Museum originally was addressed to Robert Merry’s “black-ey’d and blue- ey’d friends” in 1841, some readers took descriptive names, such as Black-Eyes, Blue-Eyed Sid, Gray- Eyes, Gooseberry-Eyed James, Hazel-Eyed Annie, Golden-Haired Effie, and Black-Eyed, Curly-Haired Lucy. “Personalities” constituted some names: Minx, Flibbertigibbet, Nippinifidget, Knippeniphidgette #2, Roguish Kate, and Saucy Nell may have described their characters—or what they would have like their characters to be—in their names; Mustard may have considered himself or herself “sharp.” Female readers may have been more likely to take flowery names like Pansy, Moss Rosebud, Daisy Wildwood, Wild Rose, Hyacinth, and Anemone; they also may have taken “literary” pen-names such as Minnehaha and Fanny Fern Marble—the latter probably referring to the popular writer, Fanny Fern. During the Civil War, a handful of writers took military names: Monitor and Merrimac took their names in 1863 from the two ironclad ships which had dueled in 1862; Union Boy made his allegiance public knowledge. A child-like love of word-play was revealed in such names as Uno Hoo, Double-you-see, and Bob White. Once a reader took a name, it was used by no other, but occasionally readers changed their names; for example, Homely Face changed her name to Ma Hitub; Lillie Linden was forced to change her name to Rubie Linden in the 1860s after a newspaper columnist began writing under the former name.
Ages of the readers ran from age 5 to age 74, with the bulk of the readers between 8 and 13. Readers took the Museum for years: Willie H. Coleman began to read it in 1847, when he was 7 years old, and the magazine followed him to boarding school, when he was 15, and back home, until he became a nurse in the Patent Office hospital during the Civil War and mustered out in 1864, at age 24. Some readers were aware that one day they would be too old for the magazine—most seem to have put this hoary age at about their teens—but some took the Museum even after they were married—for themselves and for their own children: Black-Eyes took the magazine in 1846, before she got married, and still enjoyed it afterward; when her two daughters were born, she still took the magazine, this time, for them. Many readers seem to have been parents, who may have looked on the Museum as a family magazine, or who took it for their children and became fascinated with it themselves. In the magazine’s prospectus in 1841, Goodrich made it clear that the Museum was intended for the whole family, not just for the children, and evidence shows that readers took him at his word. Carolus and his siblings read the Museum to their mother while she sewed [11 (Jan 1846): 30]; the family of Robert A. Parker, Jr., read the magazine aloud in the parlor at night:
In 1872, one man and his wife spent an evening perplexed by the puzzles in the magazine [61 (June 1872): 64]. Other parents took the magazine while their children were growing up, so it would have been available to such children as were interested: Eight-Year- Old’s father had begun to take the Museum when it first came out in 1841, and the family was still taking it in 1859. Many readers mentioned that their younger siblings read the magazine which they themselves subscribed to, and a few were delighted to report that their older brothers and sisters deigned to sneak a read as well.
It is difficult to tell what proportion of the readers were male and what proportion female, since many pen-names are fairly neuter. Also, one remembers the irrepressible Wilforley, who masqueraded as “Bess” for several years. As one reader wrote after Wilforley was “unmasked,” other Cousins may not have been what they seemed:
However, there appears to have been an equal mix of male and female readers.
Most of the readers seem to have been white; at least, no race is mentioned. But the Museum also had a handful of Native American readers as well—many of them connected with missionary schools in some way. Merry began to hear from his Native American readers in 1852, when a Choctaw girl sent him a gift; he then began to receive occasional letters from others. Some made a point of being “a straight, black-haired Indian, … yes, a real copper-colored boy of the woods.” [23 (May 1852): 159] The boys bragged about their athletic skills, as any boy would: “I can ride a mustang, throw a lasso, shoot a gun, bow, or anything else that will go off,” one boasted [18 (Aug 1849): 60], while another wrote that he was “a hunter, and shoot well with the bow and blow-gun, play ball, climb trees, and shoot the deer, bear, wolf, elk, or buffalo, with the long rifle.” [23 (May 1852): 159] Though some white readers claimed to be interested in Native Americans, they were not particularly responsive to the real thing, never mentioning them in their letters; the Native Americans did not contribute regularly to the Chat.
The geographical range of readers was wide. In early years, some readers lived in Canada, though there were not many. One other reader, a transplanted American, subscribed from Paris, France. But most lived in the United States, mostly in New England; most of these came from New York or Massachusetts. Before the Civil War, there were many subscribers in the South, particularly in Georgia and Tennessee; after the War, only a few of the pre-War Southerners returned, though there were a handful of new subscribers. Merry also had readers who lived on the frontier—in Wisconsin Territory, in California, in Oregon. Early readers on the frontier depended on the magazine, for there were few books to read: “Now, Mr. Merry, you know we cannot get as many books to read as the children who live east, so we depend upon the Museum, for both pleasure and profit, more than many of your black-eyed and blue-eyed readers,” two children wrote from Illinois in 1844 [7 (Jan 1844): 30]. Frontier readers experienced problems other readers did not: Lucy, in Santiam, Oregon, received her copy of the magazine two months after it was mailed; one boy in Michigan had to barter for his subscription, for “we live in a new country, and father has so many ways to use all the money he can get, that I cannot have it yet,” [17 (May 1849): 153] so he sent some poems his mother had written. Readers living in undeveloped areas were proud of themselves and where they lived, and of the “improvements” they were making in the land, as Kate was of her Wisconsin home:
Some readers bought their Museum at bookstores. Most, however, had subscriptions, which they got in different ways. The subscription may have been a gift, usually from relatives—parents, grandparents, uncles, or aunts—or from their teachers. Some children bought their subscriptions with money they were given as gifts for Christmas or New Year’s Day; after the Civil War, one child used money she was given by a Union officer after the Union army had retaken her town [55 (April 1868): 166]. As has already been stated, parents subscribed for their children and the rest of the family—sometimes for years. Readers also earned money themselves to get their subscriptions. Some earned it by doing chores—such as washing dishes, overseeing a servant’s work, or picking up chips for their mother. Others had parents who used the promise of money for a subscription to teach their children good personal habits or as a reward for an accomplishment: three readers earned their subscription money by giving up tea and coffee; others earned it by writing a letter to Merry, by being dressed and ready for breakfast every morning for six months, by studying the Bible, or by getting the highest mark in Latin for two months. Still other readers earned their money by selling things—usually things they had raised themselves. These included everything from a pet lamb to chickens and eggs, to dahlia bulbs, chestnuts, waste cotton, and “what we call Pop or Snap corn” [21 (March 1851): 94].
Readers also borrowed copies of the Museum—a practice which Merry encouraged. School library copies were regularly read by some readers too poor to take the magazine themselves, though one reader, having seen a copy of the Museum at school, decided to get a subscription. One teacher read the magazine aloud to her class [26 (July 1853): 31-32]. Some new subscribers had borrowed the magazine from friends or relatives and liked it so well that they got subscriptions of their own; one reader exchanged her copy of Our Young Folks with a friend for copies of the Museum [53 (March 1867): 91-4]. Another subscriber found out about the magazine after a fight: the friend of one subscriber was taking a rival, unnamed, magazine and bragged about it until the subscriber had had enough and fought him; the subscriber’s father made him send the other boy one of his own issues of the Museum, and, out of spite, he sent one with an exciting chapter of a serial in it, which the other boy liked so well that he decided to get his own subscription [23 (Feb 1852): 63]. The merger with Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet and The Schoolfellow brought even more subscribers. As has been shown, readers depended on the Museum to get them through long winter evenings—and their parents depended on it to keep their children from driving them insane during long winter evenings, as one child wrote:
Income levels of readers are almost impossible to gauge, but they probably were wide-spread. Some readers mention having governesses or tutors, or going to boarding school. Some readers mention that their fathers were farmers, others, that their fathers were ministers—usually, these were given the adjective “poor.” A handful of readers worked, themselves—in the general store of an older brother, as a telegraph operator, or in a mill—though it is impossible to discover whether these were adults or children.
Merry’s readers were very much aware of public events; they went to hear Jenny Lind, or wrote of the events after the death of the Charter Oak in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1856 [32 (Oct 1856): 122]. Several of Merry’s female readers were avid believers in women’s rights. A few, in fact, break the twentieth-century’s stereotype of the prissy Victorian maiden; they caught the horses in their fathers’ pastures and rode them bareback, and one was a good shot. “I am not a young lady yet,” wrote one. “Mamma sighs, and says I never will be …. I hope I am not un-ladylike, but I dread the thought of becoming a ‘young lady.’ ” [42 (July 1861): 23- 24] When it was revealed that Black-Eyes, one of the most popular female readers, was married, several other female readers expressed concern that her husband would curtail her activities in the Chat and make her act the proper matron; she counseled them otherwise:
A handful of other female readers were more vocal on the subject, and they made it clear that they would back down to the boys on nothing—especially after the algebra war; as one girl wrote,
Another girl, whose attempts at Latin had been sneered down by one of the boys, defended herself with a little anecdote of how she had misinterpreted a conversation because one of the speakers used a word with a Latin root which she did not understand; it was a calm and reasoned answer to which she added a sting by referring to the “DOGYtype” he had evidently sent her [34 (Aug 1857): 57-8]. Yet another refused to lionize one of the most popular male Cousins:
These readers came in for a fair amount of squelching by Robert Merry, who often reminded them that, if a woman “should … do just as she pleases,” as one girl wrote, that this was good, “provided she pleases to do just what—is right. That is the true theory of ‘Woman’s Rights,’ and man’s too.” [33 (March 1857): 90] To a reader who in flowery terms spoke of her desire for “future fame and glorious renown” and of her “ ‘call’ for something,” Merry responded that
All aspects of the Civil War seem to be reflected in the Chat. As the 1850s progressed, the growing tension in the United States was reflected in the Chat, though in ways that only a child would voice it: “I hope the Union never will be dissolved, but if it should be, I have got my piano any how,” P. A. P. wrote in 1851 [21 (April 1851): 127]. In 1856, a Northern girl—later identified as Fleta Forrester—shot in effigy an abolitionist whose name Merry censored [33 (Jan 1857): 30]. The Southern Cousins applauded her efforts, though they demanded—and did not receive —the name of the “gentleman.” Sectionalism began to grow in the Chat, with the Southern readers beginning to greet one another to the exclusion of the Northern readers. This sectionalism combined with that age-old battle between adolescent boys and girls, with the male Southerners arrayed against the female Northerners; Hawthorne and Tennesseean constantly made hash of the Northern girls, declaring them boisterous and proclaiming their pity on the Northern males who eventually had to marry them. The girls responded just as hotly, declaring that all a Southern man wanted was “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 … ” [37 (April 1859): 124] Tennesseean seems to have had that pleasant ability to put his foot directly into it; he precipitated much of the furor in 1858 by sending “Love, to my Southern cousins; respects, to my Northern ones.” [35 (Feb 1858): 57] He it was who insisted that “I’d as soon mate with a hornet or a snapping-bug as one of these Yankee girls!” [37 (March 1859): 93] Hawthorne sprang to his defense and, in 1859, wrote a letter that had to be cut because he, Merry wrote, “seems rather ‘put out’ at the ‘Yankee girls,’ and says some things not very complimentary about them” [38 (Aug 1859): 60]; Hawthorne later thanked him, having visited some friends in the North and changed his mind about “the ‘Yankee Girls’ ” [38 (Dec 1859): 185].
Once secession began, the Northern readers begged the Southern readers not to secede, and the Southerners loyally swore that they never would, even if their own states seceded from the nation: “ … although I belong to the Confederacy of the Seven Stars, I hope I am not yet lost,” Hawthorne wrote. “ … Although my State [Mississippi] has withdrawn from the United States, I have not the slightest idea of seceding from the Merry Union.” [41 (May 1861): 154] Events, however, proved otherwise, and when war was declared, the Southern Cousins were gone. The reaction of the Northern Cousins seems to have been that the Civil War could go on, as long as the Southern Cousins remained in the Merry family; several readers suggested a raid on the Confederacy to bring back the Southern readers.
During and after the War, the Cousins seem to have been embroiled in almost all aspects of the conflagration. Several male readers enlisted in the Union forces almost immediately, and their letters provided the others with fleeting but graphic descriptions of war. Tommy and Jasper —brothers—enlisted in the Union navy and became part of the squadron blockading Southern ports; “I can not say that I love to be fighting, as the sights are too horrible to look at,” Tommy wrote, “ … I can never forget the sight of our vessel after the engagements; the decks were one mass of blood and brains, while here and there lay the dead and wounded, with any quantity of splinters strewn around the decks; may I never witness such a scene again!” [44 (Aug 1862): 59] Oliver Onley, in the army, sent images of slogging through Virginia mud, and of the camps along the Rappahonock just before the Second Battle of Fredericksburg:
Adelbert Older and Eugene Fales—the latter a clerk in the Museum’s offices—were both captured and spent time in Confederate prisons—Eugene, for a time, in the infamous Libby prison. Eugene escaped with the aid of Southerners loyal to the Union; Adelbert died in prison. Another cousin—myopic Wilforley—bought a substitute, while Willie H. Coleman became a nurse in the Patent Office hospital. Charley F. Speck experienced the Confederate advance into Pennsylvania and wrote of it with surprising humor:
Like the population at large, the Cousins began the war with bravado and excitement, using military metaphors in their letters and picking lint to send to hospitals; but soon they turned to other concerns. The “p. g. war” of 1863 may have been a reaction to the stresses the war entailed. However, the soldier Cousins often were mentioned in their letters
In the Chat, the end of the War seems to have come as an awakening from a bad dream. Tennesseean, the first Southerner to write after the War, was eager to learn what had happened in the Chat in his absence and spoke of the years of his absence as his “Rip Van Winkle Nap” [49 (April 1865): 121]; Aunt Sue longed “to have our Southern cousins wake out of their unpleasant nightmare and come back to our sheltering arms.” [49 (June 1865): 185] This image seems to have been used outside the Chat as well; Clara sent a “pleasant good-morning” to the readers of the Chat and echoed her brother, who received the news of the end of the war while he was in North Carolina: “ ‘Hip, hip, hurrah! War is done, and I am going home to see how rebs look by daylight, for the night is past, and the morn doth appear.’ ” [49 (June 1865): 187] The Southern readers seem to have returned bloody but unbowed, though timid; Tennesseean represented “a large circle of cousins” who wanted to resubscribe, “But they are rebels …. Can you make room for a band of ‘rebs’ if they will get into a quiet corner and behave themselves, and ‘not touch nothing?’ ” [49 (April 1865): 121] The other Southern readers stayed away from politics in their letters, so their sentiments are not known, but Tennesseean stayed rebellious; his sentiments were not appreciated by the Northern readers. Once again, he started a furor, this time by asking if the Cousins would “excuse us if, when the hurrah goes round for the Stars and Stripes, we hang our heads and think sadly of the gray-haired man who in his lonely dungeon is suffering so terribly for our misfortunes or sins, call them which you will?” [50 (Sept 1865): 87-92] Cousin Jennie, whose beloved brother had died in battle, viciously attacked this statement and declared that she still said, “ ‘Never! never!’ to the proffers of friendship from all who are yet rebels at heart.” [50 (Oct 1865): 120] The apology he sent, which was printed in the November issue of the Chat, was more humble than he had intended, having been cut by the editors; “I take the hint …. I am not to ‘ ’spress my ’pinions’ so publicly,” he wrote in the next issue [51 (March 1866): 90]; it was the last letter of his printed in the Chat.
By the Museum’s demise in 1872, a generation of readers had spoken through the Chat to its editors, to each other, and to readers a hundred years later. Most important to these letter-writers was the sense of belonging the Chat gave them: they belonged to the magazine, and thus they belonged to a “family” several thousand strong. For the price of a subscription—postage stamps extra—Robert Merry’s readers found entertainment and friendship in the pages of the Chat, as “Softsoap” expressed in 1868:
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. [55 (April 1868): 165]
In February, 1841, magazine readers were introduced to Robert Merry. He had made his debut a year earlier: in 1840, Samuel Colman published two little gift annuals with his name on them. Robert Merry’s Annual was a standard overdecorated collection of stories and poems, introduced by a nonentity. Robert Merry’s Miscellany, however, included material written by Samuel Goodrich, by then a major force in American children’s books. The Miscellany may have been planned as the first of a series: Merry’s autobiography—based on Goodrich’s own childhood—is “to be continued.” It appears not to have been.
In 1841, Robert Merry began his long career in a periodical. Pictured at the top of the cream-colored cover of Robert Merry’s Museum, he sat surrounded by children, a genial man whose “Address to the Reader” was modest and forthright:
Merry promised nothing which would lay “upon the marble table of the parlor, by the side of songs, and souvenirs, gaudy with steel engravings and gilt edges”; instead he would offer a plainer publication with “anecdotes, adventures, tales, travels, rhymes, riddles, songs, &c.—some glad and some sad, some to make you laugh and some to make you weep.” [“Address to the Reader,” 1 (Jan 1841): 1] The thirty-two pages of the first issue included articles about birds, a poem on Napoleon, an explanation of the Hebrew antecedent of “The House that Jack Built,” a fable, the first four chapters of Robert Merry’s autobiography, anecdotes, the start of a serial about government, an essay on truth, and “Jack Frost, A Song.” In its variety, it was a fitting introduction to a periodical which would run continuously for thirty-two years.
The magazine’s founder was Samuel G. Goodrich, already famous as the author of a number of popular children’s books. Goodrich owned the Museum only until 1854, but his influence lingered in the periodical until the end of 1856. In the variety that was the Museum during these years, its readers found entertainment, but also education; its stories and poems and songs promulgated a set of rules and social values calculated to help their readers to become model citizens in a great republic. Didactic, as mainstream antebellum children’s literature was didactic, the Museum emphasized intellectual and moral education; even in tales of adventure, the main character always seemed to find time to lecture on geography, government, society, or morality. In the view of the Museum—and in the view of the society it served—the young readers were expected to want to learn to act as adults as quickly as possible, and the periodical was intended to aid in this process. In its pages, its readers were assured that they lived in a glowing land of promise in a world of unlimited opportunities, where each person was responsible not only for his own destiny, but for the destiny of the nation. In a theme familiar to readers of antebellum children’s literature, self-control and self-introspection were emphasized; the successful individual concerned herself with the morality and effects of her own actions and was conscious of the need to control them. The Museum also emphasized moderation: not only in individual action and thought, but in the governing of nations. If the moderate individual was the successful individual, so was a government neither tyrannical nor anarchical. Espousing a moral code directly based on Christianity, the magazine nevertheless asserted the importance of the individual will. The Museum’s readers were expected to learn in its pages the values of humility and submission to the will of God, but also the importance of persistence and strength of will in a world with much to offer and to explore.
Samuel Griswold Goodrich, Robert Merry’s creator, was already famous as the creator of another fictional American: Peter Parley, an old man lamed by gout, who first appeared in Tales of Peter Parley About America, in 1827. Rarely dull and always informative, Parley’s tales about distant lands and time and about the homely and familiar were popular almost immediately and educated and entertained a whole generation, as did Parley’s Magazine (1833-1844) “Parley” wrote not only what can only be called “fictional geographies”—in which he describes his adventures in other lands, with much attention to geographical description—but also textbooks, straight geographies, and works on natural history. Parley’s popularity was both a boon and a bane to Goodrich; both British and American publishers quickly brought out their own “Parleys”—none by Goodrich. Goodrich’s discomfort seems to have increased, until, in 1840, he published Peter Parley’s Farewell, a discussion of Christian theology which signaled both the end of the Parley books and the end of Parley himself; Parley, Goodrich revealed in the December, 1841, issue of the Museum “is no more,” his life shortened by people who were “palming off trumpery works of their own as Peter Parley’s.” [“To the Black-ey’d and Blue-ey’d Friends of Robert Merry,” 2 (Dec 1841): 184] Parley survived in Parley’s Magazine—by this time published by others than Goodrich. But, Goodrich’s aim from the beginning had been to “improve” books for children by offering readers “truth,” “in place of fairies and giants, and mere monsters of the imagination” (Recollections, vol. 2, 168); Robert Merry seems to have offered him a way to start afresh.
From the beginning, the Museum reflected Goodrich’s concerns about childhood education and about children’s literature. In Fireside Education, published in 1838, he warned parents about the influence of works of fiction, which “imparts, to those who commune with it, either good or evil …. [F]or there is a magic in print which gives it a great authority over the mind of the reader.” (Fireside, 361-2) Because fiction was “usually fascinating” to children, parents were to restrict their reading of it; “[t]hose works which deal in facts, as geographies, histories, biographies, travels, &c., are the safest for young minds.” (Fireside, 363-4) Fairy tales—which had shocked Goodrich in childhood with their violence (Recollections, vol. 1, 166-71)—were the most subversive, for many rewarded lying, cheating, and stealing, while introducing children to horror, violence, and monstrosities. As a child, he had simply thought Mother Goose silly, and his opinion of the rhymes didn’t change as he grew up (Recollections, vol. 1, 166-7; vol. 2, 311-18); they also might tend to give children “a low idea of the purpose and meaning of books, and to beget a taste for mere jingles.” (Recollections, vol. 2, 318) Peter Parley’s fictionalized geographies seemed, to Goodrich, to strike the right balance between indulging the child’s taste for amusement and educating her mind and soul. Pure nonfiction, too, could be made entertaining and educational. And, all literature for children—especially if it were to educate—must show the child what was being discussed, for children learned through their senses; thus, the introduction of Peter Parley was accompanied by his picture, and a discussion of a lion opened with a woodcut of the beast, “to have the child start with a distinct image of what I was about to give an account of.” (Recollections, vol. 2, 311)
All these concerns were carried over to the magazine. There is some conjecture about who actually began the magazine; Goodrich listed it among his other publications in his Recollections (vol. 2, 543), but, in 1843, the Museum’s publishers also tried to take credit, implying that they had hired Goodrich for the job:
It may have been a joint endeavor from the beginning (Dechert, 135). Goodrich certainly served as the Museum’s first editor, from its beginning to 1854 (Recollections, vol. 2, 545). Travels abroad because of his health and because he was appointed United States Consul at Paris necessitated Goodrich’s sharing the responsibility, first with Samuel Kettell—from September, 1847, to March, 1848—and, later, with the magazine’s new owner, S. T. Allen, who acted as a sort of “home editor” from 1851 until the periodical came under the control of the Stearns brothers in 1856. However, until the end of 1856, when the serials Goodrich had written ended, the Museum reflected Goodrich’s philosophies about children’s literature.
As a result, the Museum was more richly illustrated than other children’s periodicals of the day. It included poems and songs on nearly every subject imaginable, anecdotes and fillers, philosophical and moral essays, short stories, long serialized tales, and articles on the sciences, on natural history, on geography, and on world culture. There was some emphasis in the Museum on keeping the reader informed on important events of the day. The “new” custom-house in Boston and the “new” patent office in Washington, D. C. were described and pictured in 1841; when the Smithsonian Institute was finished, it, too, was described. The presidential elections were discussed in the November issues every four years, and the results of those elections were always announced. The visit of Hungarian patriot Louis Kossuth in late 1851 and early 1852 prompted an article on him and his struggle in January, 1852. The careful reader of the Museum would not only learn about the past but would better understand the present. Yielding to pleas from the younger readers, the editor printed “Little Leaves for Little Readers”—a section of simple little pieces in simple language—in 1843.
Though there was much straight nonfiction in the periodical, such as articles on animals, the weather, foreign countries, and historical persons, and serials such as “Sketches of the Manners, Customs, and History of the Indians of America” and “Peeps at Architecture,” many of the longer pieces were fiction. Most serials were fiction, usually in the vein of Peter Parley’s tales: fictionalized geographies in which the main character—always a young male seeking his fortune—travels through well-described foreign lands. “The Siberian Sable-hunter” (1841-1842) follows its hero through Russia; Thomas Trotter explored Europe (1841-1842) and the Middle East (1845-1846). “The Adventures of Dick Boldhero” (1844) took its hero to South America, while the travels of “Thorwald, the Norwegian Rover” (1850) were along the east coast of North America at the time of the Vikings. The hero of the “Story of Chicama” (1846-1847) was one of Pizarro’s fighting men in the jungles of South America. Though Michael Kastoff’s adventures were limited to Japan (1846-1847), the hero of the “Adventures of Gilbert Go-Ahead” (1851-1856) galloped through Singapore, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Cambodia, Siam, southern China, Tibet, Iran, and Persia. Through all these works, episodes of danger and humor alternate with detailed descriptions of geography and culture of other lands. In other fiction serials, the educational emphasis is on the hero’s internal journey toward morality. In “My Own Life and Adventures” (1841-1842), Robert Merry’s harum-scarum youth leads to a quiet, respectable old age. “Take Care of Number One!” (1845-1847) is the story of a youth who learns not to be selfish; during Billy Bump’s adventures in Boston and California (1848-1850), this country bumpkin grows in learning and sophistication. This does not mean that a hero’s adventures could not both teach the reader about the world and teach the hero about himself: in “The Story of Philip Brusque” (1841-1842), the hero clarifies the basic tenets of government after he himself learns them; Chicama, fighting with Pizzas, eventually turns his back on the “false” religion he has been taught from his youth and lives the “true” religion of a secluded Indian tribe. Though occasionally a story with no obvious educational value slipped in—such as “Limpy Lumpy,” which details the hilarious slapstick that results when an over-indulged child asks to “ride” the saddle of mutton on the family dinner table [4 (July 1842): 9-11]—the stories and serials, songs and poems usually are morally or intellectually educational. No nursery rhymes ever appeared; in the August, 1846, issue, Goodrich demonstrates his suspicions about the effect of nursery rhymes, as a young boy exposed to them can think of—or say—nothing else (“Nursery Rhymes,” 12 (Aug 1846: 52-4]. As a rule, fairy tales were not printed, either: in 1846, the author of “Fairy Stories” found that, if such tales were a source of “interest and innocent pleasure,” they could be a good moral influence [11 (May 1846): 142-5]; and, in 1847 appeared an original—very moral— fairy tale and two tales by Hans Christian Andersen which had recently been translated into English (Meigs, 190). Dechert credits the publication of such stories to Samuel Kettell, but the tales were printed in the numbers just preceding his editorship; on the other hand, no fairy tales appeared after Kettell left off editing in 1848.
Most of the pieces printed in the Museum during the 1840s were unsigned. Contributors included, of course, Goodrich, who wrote over 30 serials of various lengths, as well as poems and shorter pieces. Samuel Kettell also contributed to the periodical; S. T. Allen credited him with some short pieces, with “Adventures in Japan, by Michael Kastoff,” and with the “Adventures of Thomas Trotter”—either “The Travels, Adventures, and Experiences of Thomas Trotter” or “Travels and Adventures in Circassia, by Thomas Trotter”—it is unclear (Goodrich, Recollections, vol. 2, 545). (The first Thomas Trotter serial appeared in 1841 and 1842; the second appeared from 1845-1846 and ends in the issue before Michael Kastoff begins his adventures in Japan. Goodrich may have written the former Trotter adventure and Kettell the latter, or Kettell may have written both.) These were probably plotted by Goodrich himself and then rewritten by him; for at least some works, he apparently planned them out and then hired others to do the writing, possibly due to his damaged eyesight: “In my larger publications, I employed persons to block out work for me; this was read to me, and then I put it into style, generally writing by dictation, my wife being my amanuensis.” (Recollections, vol. 2, 281) Thus, it is impossible to attribute authorship exactly, but almost all of what was published first in the Museum and then in book form under Goodrich’s name—whether actually written by him or reworked by him—may be attributed to him. Even Goodrich’s work for the Museum generally was unsigned; though, in 1848, a few pieces were signed “P. P.”—Peter Parley—no other Goodrich pieces were signed until 1851, when poems by “S. G. G.” began to appear; in 1852, the serials “The Adventures of Gilbert Go-Ahead” and “Robert Merry’s Balloon Travels,” which had been running since 1850 and 1851, respectively, began to be signed “S. G. G.,” though not consistently. This was about the time Goodrich was a consul in Paris; they may have been the only pieces by him to appear in the Museum at this time. Most of the signed works appearing in the periodical until the mid 1850s probably were reprinted from other sources. These included poems and very short pieces by such popular authors as Mrs. Hemans, Jane Taylor, and Hannah F. Gould. Other pieces were reprinted from such sources as Knickerbocker, The Juvenile Miscellany, various newspapers, and books by Goodrich; much of Robert Merry’s Miscellany, for example, was reprinted in the first issues of the Museum. Such printing and reprinting was common practice at this time. In turn, many of Goodrich’s works which first appeared in the Museum were reprinted in book form: several of the biographies in Lives of Celebrated Women (1843) earlier appeared in the Museum, as did many of the sketches in Right is Might (1846) and in A Tale of the Revolution and Other Sketches (1845). The fiction serials in the Museum later were published in book form; if The Adventures of Gilbert Go-Ahead (1856; serialized, 1851-1856) is a good example, few changes were made—either to clear up inconsistencies or to smooth out any rough spots in the prose. (For example, in the course of his adventures, Gilbert shrinks from six feet, four inches, to six feet, two inches—a wearing trip, indeed!)
After 1845, Merry didn’t edit the Museum alone; he had the help of an old friend, Peter Parley, whose magazine had just merged with Merry’s. Parley is a literary revenant: a character who dies and is then resurrected to suit the author’s purpose. Having announced Parley’s “decease” in the Museum in 1841, Goodrich printed some stories found among the old man’s “effects”; several readers mourned Parley’s passing in letters printed in 1842. Then, in 1845, Parley sprang to life again, hale and hearty and ready to help Merry edit the Museum, now that Parley’s Magazine had merged with it. No editorial comments mentioned or explained his sudden resurrection, and only a handful of readers seem to have noticed it. Probably the turnover of subscribers was so great that few who read the magazine in 1841 were still reading it in 1845; most of the few who noted Parley’s sudden life were older children whose comments were passed along to Merry by younger-sibling letter-writers. There may have been some literary feuding between Goodrich and the editors of Parley’s Magazine over their handling of Parley (Dechert, 146-49); Goodrich may have been glad to get back the old gent, though no Parley books were published after Parley’s Farewell. When Goodrich left the Museum in the early 1850s, so did Peter Parley.
In a sense, in Robert Merry—the supposed editor of this panoply —Goodrich had recreated Peter Parley. Both were old men who loved children and loved to tell them stories about their world travels; both were eminently practical men who emphasized a practical education—both intellectual and moral. Both old men were physically disabled in some way, which, perhaps, “explained” why they could devote their time and energies to entertaining children instead of working at other jobs. Just as readers loved and believed absolutely in Peter Parley, so they loved and believed in Robert Merry.
Merry is a fairly three-dimensional character, a man with crotchets and gripes and weaknesses: whose wooden leg sometimes itches [“Chat,” 3 (June 1842): 189]; who—because he has been in prison—pleads with his readers not to capture and cage birds [“Chat,” 23 (March 1852): 95]; who complains that his rheumatism prevents him from romping with children as he would like [“Chat,” 20 (July 1850): 29]; who gets grumpy with Parley’s incessant moralizing [“Chat,” 19 (Feb 1850): 60-1]; who becomes irritated with the chattering, clattering children who accompany him during his “Balloon Travels”; but who is unfailingly kind to the children who write to him, and never fails to thank them for their presents and for cheering him with their letters. When “portraits” of Merry were distributed during 1850, he was dubious about this honor, remembering his reaction as a boy when he was presented with the portrait of another author [“Chat,” 19 (March 1850): 96]. Merry’s complaints about rheumatism, the blues, and weariness allowed the editors to present little sermons on being cheerful under painful circumstances, looking on the bright side, and the importance of hard work; but they also made him seem more real to his readers. Merry’s direct addresses to the readers on matters of subscriptions and the contents of their letters, as well as the printing of his autobiography in the Museum also added to a sense that Merry was a real person speaking through the magazine. And, readers responded, addressing letters directly to “Mr. Merry,” signing them “Your friend,” and praising some efforts, while sometimes taking Merry to task about others.
Not much of what went into the Museum was of what we would call real literary quality, but most of it sufficed for Merry’s readers. Most enjoyed the serials best, especially those which were the fictionalized travels of one character: of the 217 titles mentioned in letters over the years, over 160 were serialized adventures. The longest running—the adventures of Gilbert Go-Ahead—was the most popular, with 47 readers mentioning that they enjoyed the work; Billy Bump’s adventures were mentioned by 33 readers; next came Merry’s balloon travels, mentioned by 22 readers, and the adventures of Thorwald, the Norwegian explorer, mentioned by 12. Readers, however, had their doubts about Gilbert Go-Ahead and Billy Bump; two readers took Merry to task for publishing Billy’s letters, which contained a good many grammatical errors and little that was obviously uplifting. So many readers cast doubts on the veracity of some of Gilbert’s tall-tale adventures that Merry defended him several times in the Chat—insisting that such things really could happen—and Gilbert, himself, was forced to defend himself at great length in the text of the adventure. Robert Merry’s readers were not going to allow themselves to be taken in by anybody—even Merry himself.
What Merry’s readers got—besides adventure, humor, introductions to odd people and creatures, and descriptions of far-off lands —was a set of rules and social values calculated to help them become valuable members of a shining republic. Pieces in the Museum provided the means for injunctions against the private sins of the individual—such as lying, cheating, stealing, drinking, and sabbath-breaking—and put them into a larger context; in the periodical, a person’s faults are anything but small matters, for they affect not just the individual but society as a whole. Individual injunctions fit into a larger pattern of social values, one which stresses moderation and individual control, in which each person is in charge of his own destiny and own misfortunes, and in which humility, submission, and hard work lead to the greatest good.
The Museum constantly stresses the importance of individual will, for each person is responsible not only for her own education, but her own destiny and soul. God put variety into the world to stimulate our curiosity; therefore, curiosity which is directed to a “useful object” is good and should be indulged [“Thomas Trotter,” 1 (March 1841): 44-5]. By observing and by asking questions, even the uneducated can learn, as Robert Merry proves in his autobiography, and Alexis, the Siberian sable-hunter, does when he is forced into a world he has not been educated for [“Sable-hunter,” 4 (Aug 1842): 50-4). And, “keeping your eyes open” is advice that can lead not just to enrichment of the self, but of others, for “the whole world may be indebted to [an individual] for digging from the rubbish of obscurity a gem to enrich mankind.” [“Keep Your Eyes Open,” 31 (Feb 1856): 41] The individual will is just as important where the individual soul is concerned. The main argument against phrenology is not only that it is an inexact science, but that it degrades “our notions of the human soul,” for it “seems to make the mind the slave of the organs, and overcomes that free choice, that power of willing freely, and without influence, of which every one is conscious.” [“Phrenology,” 11 (April 1846): 127] As Merry explains during his imaginary balloon travels, we are each responsible for the content of our own soul. It is not religion that makes us good, but individual conscience, to which we must listen in order to perfect ourselves [“Balloon Travels,” 29 (March 1855): 83-4). Each person’s soul is like a garden which should be kept free of weeds:
As a result, each person is responsible for her own fortunes and misfortunes. Reputation—which can be controlled by the individual—is crucial, for, like the wolf in a fable, if one has a bad reputation, he may be punished for another’s crime and is, therefore, still to blame [“The Wolf that Pretended to be Robbed,” 2 (July 1841): 7]. Robert Merry learns this when he is jailed by mistake; his bad reputation has grown from the willfulness that kept him from a formal education—and on which he blames his subsequent bad luck [“My Own Life,” 4 (S 1842): 68]. Disobedience also can make us cause our own misfortune: a left-handed boy too stubborn, “careless,” and disobedient to use his right hand does everything backward as a result and comes to grief [“Left-Handed Billy,” 20 (Dec 1850): 174-5]; Cornelia’s disobedience leads to her being lost in the forest during a snowstorm, in which she almost dies [“The Snow Storm,” 19 (Feb 1850): 37]. Giving in to one’s own natural inclinations also leads to misfortune. Jacob Karl, imprisoned for fighting, realizes that his lack of self-control has led to this result [“Take Care of Number One!,” 14 (July 1847): 5]. “Gilbert Go-Ahead, having gone to the Orient to seek his fortune, constantly rebukes himself for his love of adventure, on which he blames the difficulties he has endured; because he is “a crooked stick” that “can’t lie still” [“Gilbert Go-Ahead,” 22 (Sept 1851): 67], a “careless, headlong, break-neck fellow,” he tells himself,
Misfortune not only grows from our own actions, it is also used by God to make us see ourselves as we really are and to become as we should be; as Robert Merry learns, poverty and sickness teach us and are therefore good [“My Own Life,” 4 (Sept 1842): 71-2; 4 (Dec 1842): 165). All the devil-may-care adventurers who appear in the serials—Billy Bump, Gilbert Go-Ahead, Robert Merry, Chicama, and Jacob Karl—realize the error of their adventurous ways after being physically humbled by illness or abuse; though each goes on afterward, he begins to realize the importance of home and being settled, and he travels more cautiously. Self-centered Jacob Karl, marooned on a bleak island symbolic of his own social isolation, watches the seabirds struggle against each other and realizes the limitations of his philosophy of selfishness; he has been led here by God [“Take Care of Number One!,” 13 (April 1847): 100]. Even nations may bring their own troubles down upon themselves, as is pointed out in “The War in Florida”; the oppression of the “poor” Seminoles by white settlers has brought about its own punishment: “We shall soon possess their lands, but they have cost our country many millions of dollars, and far more than they are worth … [E]ven an Indian tribe, small though it be, if it bears hatred in its bosom, founded upon acts of oppression, may become the instrument by which that oppression is punished.” [3 (Feb 1842): 58]
In everything from individual desires to the ruling of nations, the Museum demonstrates the importance of control and of moderation. If each person shapes her own destiny, then whatever influences the individual is of prime importance, as are discipline and self-control.
One can’t be too careful, according to the magazine, for anything from books to thoughts can influence us for good or evil. Habits are crucial, for they not only demonstrate character, they help form it. Once we do a thing, it is easier to do it again, and something done once is likely to stay with us for life: “ … it is more easy to adopt habits than young people are apt to imagine. I have seen a boy become permanently cross-eyed, by imitating another cross-eyed boy a few times—a child that has been used to tell fibs is very likely to go on from one step to another, till he becomes a habitual liar.” [“Look to Your Habits,” 19 (May 1850): 157] One of the men whom Robert Merry meets in prison has become a hardened criminal because he ignored “the dangers that lie in the first fault” and committed a petty theft [“My Own Life,” 4 (Sept 1842): 69-71]. And, the “correct” habits lead us to happiness [“Habit,” 2 (S 1841): 73] and prove character, for “a person with a good set of habits is of course good: a person with a bad set of habits is of course bad.” [“Look to Your Habits,” 19 (May 1850): 157] Both actions and thoughts can become habit and therefore must be winnowed and controlled. Each person is in constant danger of not acting virtuously, so all actions must be scrutinized for that fatal misstep:
No failing is too small to be unimportant, for, as a stone thrown into a pond sends ripples over the entire surface of the water, so do “every thought, every word we utter, every action” affect the soul [“The Stone in the Pond,” 28 (Nov 1854): 325]. Outside influences are just as important to the individual. Companions should be good, for we should emulate our superiors, not our inferiors [“Advice to Youth, Gratis,” 32 (Nov 1856): 155]. Literature also may influence us for good or evil, whether it is the nursery rhymes that so enchant a young boy that he loses interest in such “sensible” works as Watts’ hymns and repeats the “coarse” nonsense of the nursery rhymes like an automaton [“Nursery Rhymes,” 12 (Aug 1846): 52-4]; the “good” books which “exalt and refine our minds [“Balloon Travels,” 22 (Oct 1851): 110]; or, the satires which may so pervert the reader’s tastes that the “sense of the true and beautiful” may be “extinguish[ed] altogether.” [“Balloon Travels,” 23 (Feb 1852): 38]
Because even the smallest thing may make a great difference, the watchwords are control and moderation—in religion, government, the individual, and the world. The Museum advocates a combination of discipline, duty, and mistrust of the easy which applied directly to the individual, but also extends to the nation as a whole. As we shall see, white, Protestant Yankees were—in the Museum—the culmination of civilization in a bright nation on a hill; therefore they must avoid the excesses that beset Indians, blacks, foreigners, Catholics, and the other “lower orders.”
The philosophy of moderation extends to everything from medicine to government. An individual must be moderate in appetites, temperament, expectations, and religious fervor and beliefs. A government must be balanced between the two extremes of anarchy and tyranny, allowing its citizens to exercise free will while making sure that the weak are not ignored or abused. All these are important and intertwined, for as the individual influences the government, so is the government responsible not only for the individual, but for the agricultural fertility of the nation.
Moderation in individuals involves temperance in appetite and in emotion. A constant theme in the magazine is the abolition of alcohol, which smothers the conscience, so that one can carry out nefarious deeds without remorse, and which can lead drinkers to early deaths. The thief whom Robert Merry meets in prison steels himself with alcohol before each job; a character in another serial drowns the remorse he feels after an escapade as a pirate, until he is as conscienceless as his companions [“My Own Life,” 4 (Sept 1842): 71; “Philip Brusque,” 3 (Jan 1842): 24]. Merry’s liquor-selling uncle dies in a fit, insolvent, because of his “intemperate habits,” as does Merry’s childhood friend [“My Own Life,” 3 (June 1842): 181; 4 (Dec 1842): 164-5]. This sort of immoderate behavior is as dangerous to society as it is to the individual who indulges in it: in the village where Merry grows up, the schools are very bad, for all the liquor sellers—who “naturally” have great influence —are against education, not wanting their customers to be “improved”—perhaps because they would lose business [“My Own Life,” 1 (May 1841): 130-1]; taverns provide their own kind of education, for it is here that youths learn to drink, to smoke, and to swear, and it is from here that the boys stagger out on drunken sprees to do mischief in the village [“My Own Life,” 2 (July 1841): 17-20]. Gluttony also is to be avoided; in several pieces, the more gluttonous of two creatures is killed by a farmer disgusted by its greed, while the moderate creature is spared [“The Greedy Robin,” 12 (Nov 1846): 145; “The Greedy Fox,” 12 (Dec 1846): 188].
Self-control is stressed throughout the Museum, especially in the biographies presented to the young; a famous person often is an example of what to emulate or to avoid. Napoleon’s great failing, according to the magazine, is that he could not “conquer himself” [“The Re-entombment of Napoleon,” 1 (Feb 1841): 27-8]; Tecumseh, the Native American chief, never overcame the desire for revenge that led him to his death in battle [“Tecumseh,” 11 (May 1846): 153-4]. Elizabeth I was an extravagant and jealous woman, but, by learning to control herself, she became an excellent ruler [“Queen Elizabeth, of England,” 1 (May 1841): 103-7], while Socrates demonstrated an enviable control of his temper [“Socrates,” 8 (Dec 1844): 185]. As may be expected, George Washington is an important example of self-control in the Museum, which celebrates the way that he overcame a quick temper by heeding his mother’s advice [“Washington a Teacher to the Young,” 2 (Oct 1841): 167]. This self control becomes, by extension, reflective of a democratic soul in an “Anecdote of Washington,” where his natural politeness persuades a carter to make way on a bad road, after the rudeness of a fellow officer has failed; Washington thereby demonstrates “[h]ow much more noble, and how much more successful, is a mild and courteous manner, than a harsh and dictatorial one.” [7 (Feb 1844): 47] Self-control could lead one to success of almost any kind.
Extremes in religious fervor and beliefs are also to be avoided. In its early years, the Museum evinced a distrust of non-Protestantism that echoed American culture at large. Religion, as Merry tells the young friends who ride in his balloon, is basic to all civilization [“Balloon Travels,” 26 (Nov 1853): 142]; but it soon becomes apparent to the reader that some religions are better than others. Unbelievers are more or less dismissed out of hand, for only the weak of mind or those of ill-balanced judgment become unbelievers; great men never do [“My Own Life,” 4 (Aug 1842): 35). The scientific man who persists in his unbelief is triumphantly shown the error of his ways by his eight-year-old daughter, and his repentance is immediate [“The Philosopher Rebuked,” 8 (Aug 1844): 39-40]. “Heathen” religions such as Buddhism and Mohammedanism are little better, for their followers are hypocrites, and their leaders are interested only in power. At the very least, these beliefs are not really religions at all, but only empty rituals. Native Americans, according to the Museum, may have some concepts which lead us to think they have a religion, but it is not really one, for their concept of God and of the afterlife is that neither is much different from what they experience in daily life [“Pictures of Various Nations,” 7 (F 1844): 58; 7 (April 1844): 116). When “Gilbert Go-Ahead wakes in a ruined Asian temple, he thinks he sees the ghosts of Buddhist monks still praying; he soon realizes that they are only apes mimicking the rituals they have seen [“Gilbert Go-Ahead,” 24 (Aug 1852): 59-60). At best, non-Christian religions are rituals with no meaning. At worst, they are a form of tyranny in which a unbelieving minority rule and bilk a guileless, uneducated majority which may not even believe what it has been taught to believe. The priests of the ancient Druids used their knowledge and the superstition of the people to keep themselves in authority [“The Druids,” 1 (Feb 1841): 34-6). The Buddhist priests whom “Gilbert Go-Ahead meets during his travels are interested only in their own power and their own luxury. Though the priests are superstitious enough to have lost their common sense, they don’t really believe the religion they peddle: that is for the people who must bow to the priests’ religious authority, to whom they sell charms and images, from whom they exact tribute. The hypocritical priests view the people as “sand and gravel,” fit only to “feed the roots of the tree” of the Buddhist religion [“Gilbert Go-Ahead,” 25 (June 1853): 189]; pretending poverty, they are interested only in whatever money they can get from their followers; claiming to be above earthly appetites, they get so drunk with Gilbert that they fall out of the niches in which they meditate. The common followers may not be much better, for they may have lost all faith: the followers of Mohammed whom Gilbert meets in the Middle East don’t believe the tenets of their faith, for “ ‘that is not our business. The priests believe it for us.” [“Gilbert Go-Ahead,” 27 (March 1854): 92]
Only Christianity will do, for only Christianity keeps its followers from being “degraded,” and only Christianity teaches mercy [“Pictures of Various Nations,” 7 (F 1844): 58; “Madagascar,” 1 (June 1841): 170]. However, in the Museum, only Protestantism is true Christianity. Catholicism is presented as is Buddhism: a system of flat rituals in which rapacious priests dupe an uneducated public. It is a false religion of violence, not even as good as the belief system of the Incans whom it had decided to convert. The priests who accompanied the Spanish into South America in the seventeenth century are presented as power-hungry monsters who persecute those who stand in their way; the soldiers who follow them look forward to being allowed to “ ‘murder, ravish, and plunder, as we please, and lay claim to reward for good service in the cause of religion, to boot.’ ” [“Story of Chicama,” 11 (March 1846): 93] By contrast, the natives are peaceful, gentle people who follow a true religion; to them, God represents peace and love, and “he would have us spend our lives in making one another happy …. Tell me not that Christianity is of God; for its ministers are robbers and murderers.” [“Story of Chicama,” 13 (April 1847): 121] The Catholic ceremonies—which are described in one article as an anthropologist would describe the mysterious rites of some alien culture [“Catholic Ceremonies,” 11 (June 1846): 176-8]—are hollow mockeries of a system of beliefs, empty rituals with no meaning. Even the deep- dyed villain of one serial, faced with death, rejects these “mummeries” with eloquence:
In a bit of reverse conversion, Chicama, a Spanish soldier sickened by the violent excesses of his own religion, leaves his people and joins a secluded tribe in the Andes.
The most damning piece of evidence against non-Protestant beliefs seems to be their undemocratic natures: they don’t take into account the responsibility of each individual for her actions and her soul, nor do the leaders of these religions view their followers as anything more than dupes and pawns, and all seek a kind of theocracy in which the common people have no thought or voice, either in this life or in the next. When Gilbert Go-Ahead taxes Butter-Pate, a Buddhist priest, with not believing his own religious tenets, the priest is amused by his outrage and quick to agree that he follows his religion only because it puts him above the common people: “You will see that all the wealth and power of the country are in the hands of the priests. The mass of the nation are poor, ignorant, and degraded; do you think I will sink myself to their level?” [“Gilbert Go-Ahead,” 25 (June 1853): 187] Unlike his followers, Butter-Pate is free to cheat and to act against the tenets of his religion, for he is controlled by no laws, being above them all; the people, however, educated by the priests, are under their control:
Catholic priests have the same amount of control over their parishioners, for they, too have power over them after death; the narrator of “Talks and Walks” is hard put to explain Purgatory to the children who accompany him, and equally hard put to explain the system of indulgences, through which the priests “control” their parishioners in this life with promises about the next [“Talks and Walks,” 14 (July 1847): 15]. As one Spanish priest explains to the Incan he is torturing, the common people can have no real freedom of either religion or thought, for that has no part in God’s plan:
Protestant beliefs are never formally explored in these pieces. In his arguments with Butter-Pate, Gilbert Go-Ahead represents Christianity, not just a branch of it, and the only opposition to the Catholicism of the Spanish priests is the religion of the native tribes they persecute. “Catholic Ceremonies” presents its subject as a series of curiosities, with no description of Protestant rituals [11 (June 1846): 176-8]. Protestantism is the invisible norm by which all other belief systems are measured and found wanting.
Moderation and discipline are inseparable in the pages of the Museum, for moderation depends on self-discipline. From the periodical, the reader learned that doing one’s duty is integral to happiness; and duty includes obedience, industry, submission to God, and being content with what one has, making the best of all that happens.
As may be expected in a periodical intended primarily for children, much emphasis is placed on the child’s obedience to the parent. Children may like sweets and luscious fruits, one piece comments, but mother’s advice is better than these, and one shouldn’t dislike or avoid it [“Mother’s Advice,” 5 (April 1843): 123]. Children who persist in disobeying parents suffer for it directly and physically, in a sort of cosmic punishment: the child who ignores her father’s weather advice is lost in a snowstorm and nearly freezes [“The Snow Storm,” 19 (Feb 1859): 33-8]; the little boy who ignores his mother and goes barefoot steps on a thorn and is crippled for three weeks [“The Thorn,” 6 (July 1844): 5-6]; the girl who disobeys her mother’s advice and tries to get something off a high shelf falls and gashes her forehead [“I Don’t See Why,” 2 (Oct 1841): 120]. Obedience to parents in matters of education is equally crucial, for education itself is all-important. Robert Merry blames his lack of character and his bad luck to his lack of education [“My Own Story,” 4 (Sept 1842): 68], but education—or lack of it—can also directly influence one’s material standing in the world. Selfish Jacob Karl has not learned to read, so he can’t read his father’s will and does not know that he is due for an inheritance until well after an unscrupulous lawyer has taken it from him [“Take Care of Number One!,” 11 (May 1846): 148]; when two Arab boys are captured by an enemy, their freedom comes to depend on being able to read, and the poor lad—who has been educated so he will be successful—tutors the rich boy—who has ignored education because his father’s wealth will make working unnecessary [“Wit and Wealth,” 7 (June 1844): 185-7]. Education teaches us our duty to God and man [“The Walk and the Talk,” 19 (April 1850): 122] and allows us to work and thus avoid being “idle” and “bad” [“Importance of Attention,” 1 (June 1841): 176]; there are two paths of life, one of which leads from education to a respected old age, while the other leads from lack of education to dissipation and an unmourned death [“The Two Paths of Life,” 29 (April 1855): 105-6]. Here, too, there is a direct correlation between disobedience and its consequences: Harry, who hates work and school and ignores his father’s advice to study diligently, is fit for nothing better than hard, menial labor after his father dies and the family is left bankrupt, and for the rest of his life he regrets having ignored his father’s advice [“Harry Know-Nothing,” 31 (Jan 1856): 8-9].
Probably because the Museum was intended primarily for children, education often is linked to being industrious and working hard. Education leads directly to a good job, but education also is the child’s labor; the little scholar who dislikes study and wishes to be lazy like the birds and insects is reminded that the creatures themselves work hard, as he must [“Grandmother’s Scholar,” 8 (Aug 1844): 62-3]. Hard work is important, for all property comes from work, and “ ‘[t]is industry supports us all.” [“About Labor and Property,” 1 (Ja 1841): 3-4; “Industry,” 12 (Oct 1846): 105] Each person must work to support himself and to better his life; many of those who have become great once were poor and worked hard to better themselves [“Professions and Trades,” 1 (April 1841): 94; “Fruits of Industry,” 3 (March 1842): 68]. Work and enjoying work take on more than a tinge of morality: God makes sure that the hard worker’s wants are satisfied [“Professions and Trades,” 1 (April 1841): 95], for work is part of His plan. Humans have been given “speech and thought” to praise God and do His labor, “And we do not his laws obey/ In wasting time that flies … ” [“Grandmother’s Scholar,” 8 (Aug 1844): 62] Work is real happiness, and the boy who hates work and study is as foolish as the child who “when asked what he deemed the highest state of happiness, replied—‘swinging on a gate, with one’s mouth full of molasses candy’ ” [“Peter and the Pig,” 7 (June 1844): 176] Even a Native American hunting technique that makes hunting easier is suspect, for dressing in a deerskin and pretending to be a deer is unfair and too easy:
Submission to God is as important as submission to parents, in the Museum, and linked with this is the idea that one must make the best of all that happens, for all is for the best. As we have seen, God uses misfortune to teach a lesson to those who need one; misfortune and pain are also presented a part of God’s mysterious, all-encompassing plan—especially when death is involved. In most pieces, the death used to point this up is that of a child: when Charles’ sister dies, his mother explains that, painful as the ordeal is, it is better for the mother that things happen thus, for the death is part of God’s plan [“Charles and His Mother,” 2 (Oct 1841): 124-6]; one little girl reminds her grieving mother not to mourn her brother’s death, for God has simply taken back what He had given [“The Mother Counselled by Her Daughter,” 5 (April 1843): 121-2]. There are few instances of the “beautiful death” at this time in the Museum, but one is linked to the idea that all things are for the best because all things happen according to God’s plan. A blind boy and his sister, who look for the “secret good” in all that happens, are both killed in a dreadful accident; before he dies, the boy praises God’s foresight, for he wouldn’t have been happy had he grown up [“The Blind Boy,” 11 (April 1846): 106-12]. This philosophy is summed up in a quatrain that makes it clear that the death of the young may be a blessing because their innocence will thereby be preserved:
Ere sin could blight, or sorrow fade,
Death came, with friendly care,
The opening bud to heaven conveyed,
And bade it blossom there. [“Epitaph on an Infant,” 11 (May 1846): 145]
Submission in smaller matters is stressed, too: a kitten with a lame leg makes the best of its situation and becomes not only popular but famous as a result [“The Story of Limping Tom,” 5 (March 1843): 90-1]; the philosophy of “Cheerful Cherry” is that because all that occurs is part of God’s plan, then all is right and one must make the best of things—and she achieves a measure of material success [“Cheerful Cherry,” 3 (Feb 1842): 48-56]. Even the worst times are not completely dark, for “The gloomiest day hath gleams of light; … / And twinkles through the cloudiest night/ Some solitary star, to cheer it.” [“Lights and Shades,” 11 (March 1846): 75]
All of this fits into the larger picture of doing one’s duty. Duty to parents requires obedience; duty to God requires obedience, submission, and a cheerful heart; duty to oneself requires working hard so as to take every advantage to better oneself intellectually and materially. Lack of a sense of duty can cause one to fail. Robert Merry comes to realize that the duty of a child is to go to school and to use that opportunity well, and he blames himself for not taking every advantage to learn from what is clearly an impossible teacher in a school where it is impossible to learn [“My Own Life,” 1 (April 1841): 66; 1 (May 1841): 131-3]. In a Mongolian legend, the poor peasant impressed with a sense of duty before he undertakes a difficult mission succeeds, where the rich prince sent out for “success and glory” fails—having not had the peasant’s advantage of being raised without luxury [“Sable-Hunter,” 4 (O 1842): 115-16]. Knowing and doing one’s duty can make one more perfect in adversity, as a Polish gentlewoman demonstrates after her family has been driven into exile. Patient, cheerful, industrious, and humble, she acts from a sense of duty and has become more worthy of admiration as a result; her father writes that
This paragon demonstrates, also, the importance of modesty, humility, and staying in one’s place in society. Though at first glance the idea of remaining in one’s social standing seems alien in a nation which was beginning to pride itself on erasing social strata, in the Museum, it is a function of humility, which, the periodical advises, is necessary for both the rich and the poor. Perhaps it is more important to the rich, for wealth is likely to make one proud and ambitious, while poverty gives one the “advantage” of being naturally humble.
Pride and ambition not only leave one open to ridicule, but actually can be dangerous. The British officer who boasts of the might and professionalism of the British navy before the War of 1812 is humorously twitted about this by the Americans after the first British ship is captured [“Naval Anecdote,” 19 (May 1850): 155]. The humble are often of more use than the proud, and they also know it. A diamond which sneers at a coal and is haughty about being “related” to it is quietly reminded by the coal that the diamond is useless by comparison, for, the coal replies, “I know I boast a double praise,/ As I can warm as well as shine.” [“The Coal and the Diamond,” 20 (Sept 1850): 78] In the same vein, a boastful pebble can only look on as a modest acorn grows into a tree [“The Pebble and the Acorn,” 12 (Nov 1846): 147]. Ambition and pride can actually be dangerous, for setting oneself above the rest means that one is open to destruction. The oak proud of its strength is uprooted by a wind which does not touch the hidden reed [“The Oak and the Reed,” 2 (Sept 1841): 80-1]; the weed which grows high is cut down by the gardener, while “those sweet flowers of genuine worth,/ Inclining toward the modest earth” are left intact [“The Ambitious Weed,” 12 (Nov 1846): 152]. A flower which as grown hidden between two stones provides a lesson, for it has
In the world-view of the Museum, only the hidden and the low survive.
In part this attitude may stem from the idea that wealth is dangerous and bad, for it fosters an unnatural pride and negates the ethic of hard work. In the periodical there are many examples of young men growing up amid luxury who don’t discipline themselves because they know that they won’t have to work; these proud young men are always humbled by circumstances and forced to rethink their attitudes and their lives. Money has the power to corrupt, in the Museum: a hermitess who has hoarded a cache of Continental dollars since the American Revolution gives it all to Robert Merry because the money would only “feed her pride” [“My Own Life,” 4 (July 1842): 27]; of course, the money is worthless. The partner of Dick Boldhero’s father is not equal to the temptation presented by a large amount of gold, and he steals it, bankrupting Dick’s father [“Dick Boldhero,” 7 (Feb 1844): 38-9]. Money also can make one greedy and ridiculous. Tom Trudge, a poor peddler, finally earns enough to buy a little house and finds himself beset by ambition and envy, which make him unhappy: “Envy made him feel a sort of hatred toward people who were richer than himself. Ambition urged him to make every effort to be rich ….” [“The Lottery Ticket,” 7 (Jan 1844): 14] Finally, he spends all his money on a lottery ticket, but after he wins, he and his family are even more miserable: Tom, now rich, is unhappy because he has nothing to do; Bridget, his wife, becomes more ambitious, spiteful, and ridiculous trying to be a fine lady. The ludicrous figure she cuts at church when she tries to dress up, her attempts to nurture “jinnysyquaw” in her bewildered family, her confusion of “pianny” (piano) with “pianny” (peony), and her difficulties with the servants, who resent her haughtiness, culminate in Bridget’s attempt to be “elegant” and install bells in the house, as the rich people have:
When they were at last arranged, she attired herself in a splendid satin dress, took a bottle of hartshorn, reclined luxuriously upon a sofa, and then pulled the bell-rope, which was near. She waited a little, but no one came at the summons. She pulled again, but there was no answer. At last, she gave the cord an imperious twitch, which nearly sundered the wires. In a few seconds, the chambermaid popped her head in at the door, and said spitefully to her mistress, “You may pull and pull till you are gray, Miss Trudge; the more you ring, the more I won’t come.” [“The Lottery Ticket,” 7 (May 1844): 142]
Extravagance finally bankrupts the Trudges, and they go back to their little house and their old way of life, content with what they have. Even if wealth does not make you ridiculous, it can bring you dangerously close to forgetting your duty to God, for wealth and refinement
Billy Bump, having found $10,000 in gold and jewels during his adventures in California, feels a change occur in himself, now that he is rich:
Immoderate wealth can trap the unwary, but once one has learned to be humble, it is a proper reward: having lost all his money gambling, Billy proves that he has learned his lesson and gets it all back [“Billy Bump,” 20 (Dec 1850): 185]; Jacob Karl, having conquered his selfishness, comes into an inheritance of $11,000.
The idea of survival of the modest may also stem from an idea which can only be called “muscular modesty” and which is linked to the importance of hard work. Modesty, Billy Bump’s teacher tells his pupils, keeps us continually striving:
Modesty may be important in and of itself, but it also may be the means to an end.
As the sufferings of Bridget Trudge demonstrate, trying to live above one’s “station” is wrong. Pride and ambition may tempt us to try to be better than we really are, but this is folly, for each person has been put into a certain place in God’s scheme. A goose discontent with its place in life tries to be with the swans and is laughed at for its pains [“The Ambitious Goose,” 11 (April 1846): 121]. Flowers in a garden despise the forest flowers and think that they are happiest—and vice versa—and both are right, in a sense, for all are happiest where God has put them [“Fresh Flowers,” 3 (June 1842): 162-4]. Though the Museum teaches that each person must make the best of what she is, with what she has, it also teaches that it is essential not to forget who she really is.
The Museum also teaches a certain mistrust of the easy which probably is linked to the idea that hard work is important. Pleasure and the imagination are not really trustworthy; the easy way is not the best way; and even paradise can be dangerous. As we have seen, the Museum taught that all influences—especially books—could be important; allied with this is an idea that the imagination is not to be trusted. After Robert Merry is almost killed by a panther, he “sees” all kinds of imaginary animals as he goes to bed that night—all of them ready to pounce; if one “indulges” his imagination, Merry muses, it will make him see all kinds of things that are not really there [“My Own Life,” 3 (March 1842): 79-81]. Such imaginative literature as fairy tales and nursery rhymes are suspect, for they lead the mind astray and can fill it with gibberish [“Nursery Rhymes,” 12 (Aug 1846): 52-4] or lead the child “to turn out a liar, or perhaps a murderer, in after life”; even Homer’s works are dangerous, for “he encourages too much a warlike spirit,” and perhaps Alexander the Great, had he not read the Iliad, would “very likely had been a good king, staying at home to bless his people, instead of bursting forth with his armies, like a torrent, to conquer and desolate the world.” [“Balloon Travels,” 27 (Feb 1854): 48-9] On the other hand, Merry has learned from experience that the stories he tells which are based on real life are more popular than the ones he makes up [“My Own Life,” 1 (Jan 1841): 9]. And, one does not need to go to imaginary castles or lands to find wonders, for the statistics of what is produced from America’s factories “are ample materials for exciting the sentiment of wonder,” and the lives of the people these factories employ provide “abundant occasion for the indulgence of the deepest and liveliest sympathy”; for proof, the Museum reprints a detailed account of how needles are made [“Romance of Manufactures,” 11 (Ja 1846): 4-12].
Pleasure can be bad, for it may distract us from the real purpose of life, but if it is “proper” and “innocent” and allows us to work, it can be good. The horse who takes pleasure in the bells on its harness works better, so the pleasure is good, for it does not interfere with the “sober business of life,” but helps [“The Horse and the Bells,” 1 (June 1841): 178]. When an angry lion about to go to war is distracted by the dance of a tiny mouse and forgets its anger, this pleasure, too, is good, for the mouse’s dance is innocent and distracts the lion only from its fury [“The Lion and the Mouse,” 2 (Aug 1841): 38].
As we have seen, in the Museum, hard work is important; one reason the author of “Deer Hunting” deplores the method used by the Native Americans is that it is too “easy” and doesn’t give the deer a chance to escape [19 (May 1850): 133]. In the same way, easy wealth may also be bad. It’s all right to work hard and better yourself and thus become well off, but it’s something else to come by the money without work. Whang, a poor but avaricious miller, following the example of a neighbor who found gold where he had dreamed he would, happily digs at the foundation of the mill, where his own dreams have indicated, finding treasure just before the foundations collapse and leave him with nothing [“Whang, the Miller,” 12 (Oct 1846): 177-18]. Whang’s avarice is punished, but so is his lust for easy money. The money that the Trudges win from a lottery also causes them misery. Billy Bump, attempting to restore the family fortunes in the California gold-fields, loses all the gold he finds there; one can’t simply pick up money off the ground.
In a minor theme, paradise itself is dangerous. Spiders, which in the north “are kept under by human assiduity,” so that they are “small and harmless,” are “a more terrible tribe” in the warmer, more inviting climates [“The Spider,” 20 (Sept 1850): 84]. Gilbert Go-Ahead becomes enamored of the lush forests of Sumatra, which teem with wildlife: “It really seemed as if I were in fairy-land, and I thought to myself—how charming it would be to spend a whole life in this valley!” But scarcely does the thought enter his mind before he is menaced by a crocodile and a tiger, and then an enormous, almost unearthly serpent:
In the world of the Museum, even Paradise is suspect. (Many adventures later, Gilbert comes to the site where “no doubt was the garden of Eden,” now barren and desolate [“Gilbert Go-Ahead,” 29 (June 1855): 171-2]; paradise has been lost.)
This mistrust of the easy extends to the easy climate as well, as does the ethic of moderation. Climate, almost more than anything else, according to the Museum, has determined not only the course of civilization but the character of individuals as well. “True” civilization, according to the periodical, can develop only in temperate climates, for extremes of heat or cold either encourage of force the inhabitants of a given area to remain in a state of “savagery.” Even among “civilized” areas, too mild a climate can have a deleterious effect, for it can encourage the people to be lazy and unproductive; only a moderate climate alternating between warmth and cold can keep people truly civilized.
In the Museum, civilization may be generally defined as however the European inhabitants of the United States live. A formal form of government, formal education, a revealed religion, an economy based on agriculture, and fixed settlements are the basis of all “real” civilization; and, in a vague sort of way, so is a sense of intellectual adventure, a willingness to look beyond daily concerns to a vast world of ideas about the world and about humanity’s place in it. The real basis for being civilized is being able to speak; as a girl who had grown up wild in the forests of France learns to speak, the memory of her old life, as well as the emotions which drove her during that time disappear, and she sheds her “savage” facade [“Wild People,” 12 (July 1846): 9-14] The ancient Tartars were like “most savages,” not cooking the food they ate, or seasoning it, never living in “houses or cabins,” leaving the task of farming and herding to the slaves they took in battle, and having no written language [“Hungary,” 20 (Sept 1850): 87]. The Native Americans of North America may be changed by trade with white settlers, but they still are not “civilized”: they “maintain their wild independence and savage customs …. [T]hey are still hunters and warriors, are still without books, or a settled government, or fixed habitations, or extended agriculture, or any of the leading features of civilization.” [“Pictures of Various Nations,” 7 (March 1844): 88] Equally damning is that
“Real civilization” is always open to progress and improvements in the stuff of daily life. The Chinese have “a civilization of their own,” but it is a stagnant one:
The barge in which the emperor of China rides is good, but it can’t compare with an American steamboat; though it “shows some taste, some ingenuity, and no little industry,” it is “clumsy” and “ineffective” by comparison: “The Chinese emperor can go, by dint of rowing, three miles an hour, while we go fifteen. This is about the difference between the energy of the Chinese and the civilized people of Europe and America.” [“The Emperor’s Barge,” 11 (May 1846): 129] Civilization, probably because it has its basis in agriculture, improves the fertility of the land. In a philosophy very much like that which decreed that “rain follows the plough” (Smith, 179-82), the Museum extolls the “improvements” made in the land by the European settlers in the New World: the settlers built villages and towns, and cultivated fields where only forests had been; New Haven, Connecticut—where Goodrich lived as a young man—is held up as a symbol of all that civilization is capable of:
True civilization can develop only where there is a temperate climate. One which is too harsh forces the people who live there to concentrate on survival at the expense of all else; one which is too mild can encourage them to be lazy and unprogressive. Thomas Trotter comments that the climate of Sicily is so mild that its people have become lazy [“Thomas Trotter,” 2 (July 1841): 11]. If people don’t have to work hard to feed themselves, they’re likely to become lazy and “degraded”: Russians who live where it is important to grow wheat also have much game to eat, “[t]hus these people are supplied with an almost perpetual feast; and they consequently have sunk into a state of lazy, drunken sensuality.” [“The Kamtskadales,” 12 (July 1846): 27] Climate has been responsible for the different races of humans—those who lived where it was hot have become browned by the sun and their hair has crinkled from its heat, while those who lived where it was cold have become light-skinned and fine of hair because they have had to keep themselves covered [“Balloon Travels,” 28 (D 1854): 361-2]—and it has been responsible for the fact that some are “civilized” while others are not. The Eskimos are “dwarfs both in body and mind” because the long periods of cold where they live don’t allow them to cultivate the land, and force them to concentrate on survival to the exclusion of all else [“The Change of the Seasons,” 20 (Nov 1850): 130-1]. On the other hand, in the warm countries, where “[t]he earth brings forth her increase unasked, and the inhabitants have nothing to do but to pick and eat” [“The Change of the Seasons,” 20 (N 1850): 131], the people are tempted to be lazy and not try to improve themselves. “The main spring to exertion in this world, is the necessity of obtaining a livelihood,” the Museum informs us, “and in a land where everything is ready made to one’s hand, what motive is there to induce one to labor?” [“The Change of the Seasons,” 20 (Nov 1850): 132] Robert Merry is blunter: “ ‘It is not in the mild, tranquil regions bordering on the equator, that we find the most civilized and powerful nations. A soft climate makes a soft people.” [“Balloon Travels,” 25 (June 1853): 170] Though Egypt, Greece, and Rome once had the greatest civilizations on earth, this was because “after the flood,” people naturally congregated where “the means of subsistence [were] most easily obtained”; since then, the original inhabitants have been scattered, “the lands and territories they occupied passed into a comparative state of barbarism,” and these lands have become “degenerate.” [“Balloon Travels,” 25 (June 1853): 170] In warm climates, there is no incentive to improve “the arts and social refinements of life,” and so the great cities of the world are all found in or near the same climatic zone:
The change of seasons encourages people to plan ahead and to develop care and prudence, for they must grow enough during the warm months to feed them during the cold period. It also encourages commerce, for “[t]here are many things which do not grow in the temperate zone, but which the inhabitants nevertheless need. They must therefore go and get them, for there is nobody to bring them from the tropics here.” [“The Change of the Seasons,” 20 (Nov 1850): 132-3] The scientific discoveries which are the mark of civilization have been made to improve commerce. Moderation in climate is, like moderation in all things, a supreme good: “In climate, as in everything else, a medium between the two extremes will be found most conducive to happiness, contentment, and advancement[.]” [“The Change of the Seasons,” 20 (Nov 1850): 132]
The concept of moderation extends to government as well. A good form of government is a moderate form of government, for the extremes of anarchy and totalitarianism neither encourage nor allow the people to develop to their fullest capabilities; democracy, not surprisingly, is the government of choice. Absolute liberty does not exist, for all human beings have a natural sense of right and wrong, and truth and justice are intuitive to all peoples [“Liberty,” 4 (Dec 1842): 184]. Instead, people have come up with various forms by which to govern themselves and each other, and, in the Museum, the best is that which allows all males a voice. These concepts, along with the pros and cons of other forms of government, are made abundantly clear in one of the first serials printed in the periodical “The Story of Philip Brusque” (1841- 1842). Philip, an uneducated young Frenchman, has decided that government is unnecessary and joins the French Revolution. Disillusioned by the Reign of Terror, however, he flees the country and is shipwrecked on a small tropical island, alone. As more people come to the island, Philip—and the reader—learns of the necessity of government, and the basic tenets by which a successful government is run. In the course of the story, Philip progresses from absolute freedom to a sort of willing servitude which may be seen as a form of monarchy, and thence to a primitive government with a set of laws guaranteeing the rights of all; when a constitution is proposed on the model of the American constitution, it is voted down, and rule is by the strongest, with anarchy as its result; then, after an absolute but benign monarchy, the people on the island draw up a constitution which guarantees self government on the island, and all are happy.
Basic to the concept of government, in the Museum, is the idea that all people are not virtuous, and that the weak must be protected from the strong. Absolute freedom is possible only when there is only one person, but liberty is useless without companionship, as Philip discovers. When a fisherman is also stranded on the island, Philip serves him eagerly, but the man soon takes advantage of him, and Philip’s life becomes miserable; they draw up a set of laws to protect the rights of both. Without laws, the rights of all can’t be protected. Depending on “natural liberty” does not work, either, in the Museum, for natural liberty is based on the survival of the strongest; though certain actions—such as murder—are punished, the rights of the weak are ignored or trampled on by those who are stronger [“Liberty,” 4 (D 1842): 184]. On Philip Brusque’s island, when 70 people who have been the prisoners of pirates are stranded and all forms of formal government are voted down, anarchy ensues, and all suffer. A handful of strong men force the weaker people to give up their property, and the women, especially, suffer: because women are physically weaker than men, they must be the men’s servants, and they don’t have the security they need to raise their children [“Philip Brusque,” 2 (Oct 1841): 85-8]. Even the fertility of the island is affected, for no one rations the fruits which grow naturally here, and no one tills the land because what they grow may be taken from them; as a result, the amount of food on the island declines [“Philip Brusque,” 2 (Sept 1841): 88]. Men are tyrants where there is no law, the Museum asserts [“Phillip Brusque,” 2 (Nov 1841): 132]; finally, one man tries to make the others submit to him, and violence results. The love of power is natural, the periodical admits, but it is selfish and apt to lead to evil because the person who wants it enough to fight for it obviously is not fit to rule others [“Philip Brusque,” 4 (Sept 1842): 80]. The would-be tyrant is killed. Thus, despotism is not the answer. Neither is aristocracy, for in this system, the peasants are “servants and slaves” of the aristocracy, who keep them “in ignorance and poverty” so that they will support the aristocrats’ magnificent lifestyle [“Balloon Travels,” 23 (F 1852): 35]. “Wherever you find a great lord, with a rich and splendid estate,” Robert Merry tells us, “you find him surrounded by a numerous and ignorant peasantry. Their degradation is necessary to his splendor.” [“Balloon Travels,” 22 (Dec 1851): 185] On Philip Brusque’s island, a man who finds an iron axe and becomes “rich” as a result makes a comic attempt to become the island’s sole aristocrat and throws the axe away in his humiliation [“Philip Brusque,” 4 (Nov 1842): 151-4]. Communism may seem like a viable alternative, but it is against the nature of man and of God. Clothes, good houses, furniture, and other material goods are essential to being civilized, for without them people naturally “sink into a state of nature” and become savages, having lost their refinement and love of order [“Philip Brusque,” 4 (Sept 1842): 83]. People have a need to own things—a need which comes from God—so to hold things in common is to go against God and against human nature; the result is that the individual becomes “a reluctant drudge, or an indolent savage.” [“Philip Brusque,” 4 (S 1842): 82-3] Capitalism is the ideal, then, for those who labor must be allowed to keep what they have earned. There may be a vast material difference between those who are “ ‘sharp-witted and industrious’ ” and those who are “ ‘simple, and careless’ ”, but it is natural: those who work hard can naturally become wealthy, and—by extension—those who don’t work hard deserve their poverty [“Philip Brusque,” 4 (Sept 1842): 82-3]. For a time, however, monarchy of a sort is the only alternative on the island, for one person must lead the others to rebuild their resources. The islanders choose as their “governor” a wise old man beloved by everyone; the Museum equates him with George Washington, who “never strove to get that high office, and … only accepted it, in the hope that his government might bless the nation.” [“Philip Brusque,” 4 (Sept 1842): 80]; he is contrasted with Napoleon, who became an absolute ruler because he desired to be. The word “monarchy” is never used, but Mr. Bonfils has absolute rule of the island until his death; though some sort of absolute rule by someone seems to have been the only viable alternative for a time, Goodrich may have been reluctant to advocate a system he had deplored in many of his Parley books. (This comparison seems to have been almost entirely lost on the readers of the Museum; several wondered in their letters whether the island’s ruler “was a good king”; Robert Merry did not answer; he may have been sorry he ever brought it up.) Under Bonfils’ benign rule, the people and the island prosper, but before he dies, he asks them to adopt a constitution and govern themselves. A constitution modeled on the one for the United States had been earlier proposed and rejected; the implication is that this is the constitution which finally is adopted by the inhabitants of the island.
Having the right form of government is important, for on the government rests the happiness of the people and the fertility of the land. Under a good government, the people are well-educated and hard-working [“Thomas Trotter,” 4 (Nov 1842): 139-40]; the beggars of Italy wouldn’t exist, if the government helped them as it should [“Balloon Travels,” 25 (June 1853): 171-2]. Thomas Trotter lists “a better organized system of government” among the requirements for the Circassians he visits to “attain a high degree of proficiency” in mechanical skills, though the role of that government is left unsaid [“Thomas Trotter in Circassia,” 11 (Jan 1846): 28]. A poem equates “a happy people” with “a well-governed state,” and both with peace, agriculture, prosperity, religious faith, and no criminals [poem, 11 (Jan 1846): 23]. As “rain follow the plough,” so does it follow, too, the type of government which has been adopted. A tyrannic form of government discourages its people from working the land, for “what avails human industry or enterprise under the sway of [a] … despot, who, by a single stroke of his pen, or word from his … lips, can command the field to lie untilled, and cover the land with barrenness and desolation? Such are the fruits of tyranny.” [“Thomas Trotter in Circassia,” 11 (June 1846): 164] The papacy and bad government of Italy, Thomas Trotter informs us, keep the people from making the fertile soil near Naples to flourish [“Thomas Trotter,” 3 (May 1842): 142]. Where “spades grow bright” and “barns are full,” there are “a happy people, and well-governed state.” [[poem], 11 (Jan 1846): 23]
Along with the ethic of moderation is one which presents the American white male as the ideal. Women, blacks, and Native Americans are presented ambivalently, at best; not surprising, in the Museum, the American way of life and government are the best. In all of the serialized fiction printed in the periodical during this period, the main character is male—usually adult, and almost always an American.
In the Museum, women are more usually the acted upon than the actors; they are secondary characters in every serial and in almost every story. One exception is Lariboo, an African woman taken by slavers; but in the course of her three-part story, she is the victim of circumstance and fate, rather than the shaper of her own life [“A Story of the Desert,” 10 (Sept 1845): 271-3; 10 (Oct 1845): 303-6; 11 (March 1846): 69-74]. Several biographies of famous women were printed in the magazine, but in the stories and essays women are assigned much more traditional roles. Girls must learn to be good housewives, one author asserts, for then they will be better able to manage the servants and the home, and home will be a happier place [“The Kitchen,” 3 (May 1842): 138-9]; another piece urges young women to rise early and get to work, assuring them that by doing so they will avoid developing wrinkles [“Wrinkles,” 12 (Nov 1846): 143]. Kathinka, in “The Siberian Sable-Hunter,” is patient and obedient and works more to please others than to please herself—certainly the ideal daughter, according to the Museum, and perhaps the ideal woman as well [“Sable-Hunter,” 4 (Sept 1842): 50-1]. Robert Merry himself is a bit contradictory about the role of women in the world: in 1856, he is squelching a female reader of the Museum who desired fame [“Chat,” 31 (June 1856): 187-8); just two years earlier he was condemning modern civilization for expecting women to remain happy and content at home [“Balloon Travels,” 28 (Nov 1854): 328]. The Robert Merry of the “Chat” was John N. Stearns; the Robert Merry of the “Balloon Travels” was Samuel Goodrich. Goodrich already had denounced society’s traditional view of women in his Lives of Celebrated Women, in 1844; in 1854 he is equally blunt. In discussing the seclusion in which Turkish women are kept, Merry makes comparisons with American society:
This was Goodrich’s parting shot, for Stearns now owned the periodical.
The Museum is equally ambivalent about Native Americans. As we have already seen, they are most often presented as barbarians and savages—examples of what to avoid. However, pieces in the periodical make a distinction between the natives of North America and those of South America, and it becomes clear that the only good Native American is a distant one. Natives of the North American continent are almost consistently evil, “ferocious and crafty,” and just as likely to harm their friends as their enemies [“Lovewell’s War,” 8 (Sept 1844): 75]. The killing of a young women in the eighteenth century by her paid Native American escorts is illustrated and graphically described [“Murder of Miss Macrea,” 20 (Aug 1850): 44-5]. “In their warfare, every species of cunning and cruelty is practised, and all the ferocity of a savage nature breaks forth,” the Museum asserts [“Sketches of the Manners, Customs, and History of the Indians of America,” 4 (Sept 1842): 75]. Because they have no written language, they have caused trouble with the white settlers who have paid “a valuable consideration” for the lands they occupy: “ … the memory of such transactions is soon lost among people who possess no written records. The Indians easily forget the sales made by their ancestors, or imagine that such bargains are not binding upon their posterity.” [“Lovewell’s War,” 8 (Sept 1844): 76] By contrast, the gentleness of the natives of South America is stressed—especially when their life before the Spanish conquistadors is described. In “Sketches of the Manners, Customs, and History of the Indians of America,” Washington Irving’s history of Columbus is quoted to present the natives as innocent and child-like, naively welcoming Columbus as a god [1 (April 1841): 117-18]; the inhabitants of the South American continent are generous, “simple, harmless, and happy,” “kind-hearted,” and “ignorant” [“Sketches,” 1 (My 1841): 140-4], especially the Incas [“Sketches,” 2 (Aug 1841): 54-60]. In the periodical, the farther north one travels, the more cruel and bloodthirsty are the Native Americans: the natives of Mexico are cruel, with a cruel religion and a despotic government, and the people glorify war [“Sketches,” 3 (June 1842): 165-73]; the periodical asserts that “[i]f we begin at the southern part of North America and go north, we shall find that the farther we proceed, the Indians will be fewer in number, and more barbarous and ignorant” [“Sketches,” 4 (July 1842): 17]. It may be that the cruelty of the Native Americans of the North American continent is emphasized because they are the ones most “in the way” of the European settlers. Violent contacts between North American natives—particularly those in New England—and white settlers would be of more importance and fresher in the memories of the Museum’s authors. The Seminoles, far away in distant Florida, are accorded the same sympathy the Museum gives the Incas: they are “poor Indians” who can’t make up their minds to leave the place of their forefathers, and the amount of trouble they are giving the United States government may be just reparation for the oppression they have suffered [“The War in Florida,” 3 (Feb 1842): 56-8]. On the other hand, the natives of South America are contrasted most often with the Spanish who conquered them, and an important theme in the Museum’s pieces on these Native Americans is the vast cruelty of the Spanish; the periodical’s anti-Catholic stance has already been discussed—perhaps any who stood up to the Catholic conquerors and their religion deserved the magazine’s sympathy.
Blacks are not presented often in the periodical, and though the magazine is clearly anti-slavery, the slavery itself is never an issue. This may have been a concession to the Museum’s Southern readers, and it probably reflects Goodrich’s position as a moderate abolitionist; in an article in the New York Evening Post, Goodrich writes that, though he is opposed to the extension of slavery, he is not in favor of attacking the slave holders or the institution itself (Goodrich, “Who Are the Aggressors?” New York Evening Post 15 Oct 1856: 1). Certainly, slavery is never directly attacked in the pages of the Museum, and the only truly anti-slavery remarks concern the slave trade in Brazil and Africa. The sufferings of an African woman enslaved by Africans are graphically portrayed, as she and the others stumble across a burning desert; and the slavers throw her baby onto the sand and force her to leave it, because it is a burden [“A Story of the Desert,” 10 (Sept 1845): 271-3; 10 (Oct 1845): 303-6; 11 (March 1846): 69-74]. Graphic, too, is the description of the harsh treatment of Congo, a slave in Brazil, who is shot and lashed for being slow to obey [“Dick Boldhero,” 8 (Sept 1844): 78-9]; the black slaves, who have escaped from their masters and set up a village in the remote jungle, are kinder and more gentle to the hero of the story than are the whites who owned them [“Dick Boldhero,” 8 (July 1844): 22- 4]. This may have been a reaction to the slave uprisings in Brazil in the 1830s, as the author may have reasoned that the slaves there had revolted because they received harsher treatment than did the slaves in the United States. Certainly, slavery in the United States is rarely mentioned, and it is not presented as harshly as is slavery elsewhere. In the only story read for this study which mentions slavery, the only sufferings of the slave are emotional, though very real: her husband is sold and she grieves, for, the author points out, she does have a heart, “despite her complexion.” [“The Story of Cotton-Wool,” 7 (March 1844): 82-4] If the periodical were going to attack slavery in any way, probably it was safer to attack distant slavery than that practiced by a portion of its readers.
In the case of both blacks and Native Americans, the “natural” superiority of whites is made clear, and white supremacy is justified by “legends” of both races. The “superior genius and bravery” of Captain John Smith “rendered him very dangerous to the Indians,” and so they tried to kill him; at his almost-execution, the natives watch in silence, “with sensations of awe at the spectacle” as he goes quietly to his death [“Pocahontas and Captain Smith,” 20 (July 1850): 14]. Whites are naturally stronger than Native Americans, the Museum informs us, and “[i]n a personal conflict, where strength and energy of purpose are required, the white man will generally overcome the Indian.” [“Pictures of Various Nations,” 7 (Ap 1844): 114] At the beginning of 1850, the magazine presented two “legends” which justify white supremacy. In both the “Ashantee legend” and the story told by a Native American, the actions of the whites are justified as part of God’s plan, in an acknowledgement by the “inferior” races that this is the way it should be. Blacks themselves make a wrong decision in the African “legend”:
In the Native American “legend,” the invasion of the Europeans is a punishment for a “weakness” which reinforces the natives’ vaunted ferocity; Manitto gave this pleasing and fair country to the Native Americans because “they were the bravest of the nations in battle,” but the men began to prefer peace and “indolence,” and
[t]hus was Manitto’s favor changed to anger, and thus the ruin of our fathers approached.”
A people came over the sea, from regions which give birth to the morning, the sun, the moon, and the stars. And the light was in their veins, and the ruddy dawn glowed in their cheeks, and they came with weapons which hurled the thunder and the lightning upon their enemies, and our fathers were slain in many battles …. Manitto fled, and, cursing the land, left it in judgment to the pale faces. [“The Indian’s Story,” 19 (Jan 1850): 34]
The Europeans are not so much a conquering enemy as they are a force of nature, naturally taking what is due them and exterminating all who oppose them as a storm sweeps all before it—a theme vaguely asserted in the “Sketches,” which had been published years before. That these tales appear so soon after the push by whites to the California gold-fields may be significant; any tension about whether or not whites were justified in expanding their settlements would likely be resolved if the oppressed peoples acknowledged their superiority. This type of justification does not reappear in the Museum.
Throughout the Museum, America is held up as a land of promise, a strong Utopia with strong, industrious, well-educated people. This young, bright nation is a beacon for the oppressed of an old and weary Europe—a place where even the poor are well-off, and a place which nurtures men superior in energy and industry to any the rest of the world has to offer.
The travelers in the Museum’s fictionalized geographies constantly comment on the “ancient” aspect of the cities and landscapes of Europe and Asia. Whether it is Thomas Trotter or Gilbert Go-Ahead gaping at ruins in the Middle East, or Robert Merry and the children in his balloon, sailing over the cities of Europe, to all, the “Old World” is indeed old, weary, and in ruins. The cities of Italy have an “old, worn-out, decaying look. … The people even seem like the wreck of other days.” [“Balloon Travels,” 26 (July 1853): 1] Rome, filled with ruins, is no longer interesting of itself, but because of its history [“Balloon Travels,” 26 (Oct 1853): 102]. No longer new from the hand of God, altered and recreated by humans, the land has lost its grace and freshness:
The sunsets and storms are better in the United States than in Italy, Thomas Trotter remarks wistfully, and he misses the fresh scent of America’s woods and “virgin soil.” [“Thomas Trotter,” 4 (Sept 1842): 95] In the course of the Museum’s fictionalized geographies, the reader gets a sense that Europe and Asia are but barren lands and ruins; the lushness of the jungles and forest which Gilbert Go-Ahead describes lies to the west, in lands which, he constantly reminds us, have not yet been exploited for commerce—a “virgin territory” for capitalism.
By contrast, the United States is a bright, young nation on a hill, a beacon to the rest of the world. Americans may not realize it, but they are blessed, for they can depend on the strength of the nation to keep them from losing what they have through war [“The Minute Man,” 19 (April 1850): 113], and Americans can earn much more than can the citizens of other nations. Thomas Trotter muses as he walks through a Middle East village plundered by Russian soldiers on
The poor of Europe, the Museum asserts, can’t be as happy as the poor of the United States, for the poor here can earn much more than those of other nations. The miseries of the poor in France are elaborated upon and contrasted with the richness of the United States, where a boy can earn several times more than would a French boy or woman [“A Scene in France,” 11 (April 1846): 113; “France,” 6 (Aug 1843): 59]. “There are few countries in which the people, at large, are so happy as in our own country,” the Museum states. “ … Should we not be thankful that a good Providence has cast our lot in America?” [“France,” 6 (Aug 1843): 59]
Thus, it is not surprising that the United States has not only become a refuge for the poor, but a force for change in the rest of the world. Because the Irish can get no relief from their government or the British, “[h]undreds and thousands are flying from this doomed island; the greater part of them are seeking our shores. The stars and stripes speak to them of a land of liberty and bread.” [“The Famine in Ireland,” 14 (Aug 1847): 56] And, people all over the world look at the freedoms America has to offer and come here to share them [“Balloon Travels,” 24 (Nov 1852): 140]. Because American citizens have been blessed by God, they have a certain obligation to help the poor of other nations:
Simply by virtue of its existence, America is exerting a slow, but steady, force for change in the rest of the world. As the oppressed learn that in the United States they can find a place of freedom and leave their old homes, the rulers of the European lands feel the pressure to grant more freedoms and lessen the tyranny they exercise. As Robert Merry tells his young friends,
This gradual lessening of oppression is part of God’s plan; as the creation of the world was a gradual generation of life, so is the freedom symbolized by America part of
The freedom of the United States is also an obligation, for “[i]f we enjoy liberty, independence, prosperity, denied to others, we should take care to let our light so shine as that others, seeing our good works, may glorify our Father which is in heaven.” [“Balloon Travels,” 24 (Nov 1852): 140]
The citizens of this strong, superior, and energetic country are themselves represented as strong, superior, and energetic. Throughout these years of the Museum, the “American type” is the Yankee—practical, industrious, ingenious, and thrifty as the day is long. Europe may have picturesque shepherds, but few are to be found “in our busy, bustling Yankee-land,” for few here have the patience for it [“The Scottish Shepherd,” 12 (July 1846): 30]. If an American boy were to take a job as a cowherd, unlike a French boy, he wouldn’t be content just to watch the cow: “Our boy would have a penknife in hand, and would be trying to invent a new steam- engine, or, perhaps, perpetual motion; or he would have a book, and be improving his mind. The care of one cow would not satisfy the genius of a Yankee boy.” [“A Scene in France,” 11 (April 1846): 113] In Sicily, Thomas Trotter informs us, the inhabitants have only a mule path to get them places; an American would have built a railroad [“Thomas Trotter,” 2 (July 1841): 8]. In the same vein is a piece on the emperor of China’s barge, in which the slowness of the oar-driven barge is contrasted with the swiftness and ingeniousness of an American steamboat [“The Emperor’s Barge,” 11 (My 1846): 129].
In the heroes of the serials which the Museum printed, we find the Yankee hero personified. In almost all, the main character is Yankee to the core: practical, ingenious, and adventurous. Even Michael Kastoff, the Russian sailor, tries to sell the Japanese on the practicality and ingenuity of using prefabricated homes on their earthquake-plagued island [“Michael Kastoff,” 13 (April 1847): 115]. When Thorwald, the Norwegian Viking explorer, courts a lovely maiden in Iceland, they go berrying—just, as the author points out, similar couples do in the United States [“Thorwald,” 19 (April 1850): 120]. But in the American characters, such as Thomas Trotter, Dick Boldhero, and, especially, Gilbert Go-Ahead, we find the ingenious Yankee typified. Gilbert, as he is fond of telling us in “The Adventures of Gilbert Go-Ahead in Foreign Parts,” is the quintessential Yankee. Simple and practical, he is a charming combination of business and boast, bigger and brasher than everyone he meets. Armed with a New England education and with 200 clocks which are his sole profit from an investment in a clock-making business, Gilbert sets out for China to make his fortune. Gilbert is a practical man who never skimps the details or the plans; plotting the progress of his soon-to-be-earned fortune, he is careful about everything:
He is equally generous with details as his journey progresses, giving the reader not only the prices of everything he buys, sells, or thinks of buying or selling, but a running account of all he possesses; when Gilbert is shipwrecked, he has nothing but “a two-bladed knife, … a box of wet matches, three fish-hooks, about half a New-York Herald, a gimblet with a split handle, and a locket around my neck, containing a daguerreotype likeness of one of my friends at Sandy Plain.” [24 (Aug 1852): 58] Gilbert constantly tries to “improve” the way the natives he meets do things; on Sumatra, he tries to introduce the use of bellows among its gold-workers:
The “improved” wagon he builds in Cambodia gets out of control and destroys the marketplace and half the village. When Gilbert trades, he becomes the quintessential silken-tongued Yankee peddler. Seated before the King of Lampong, he sells him a clock thus:
Gilbert’s education stands him in good stead: in his debates with a Himalayan priest, Gilbert holds his own—perhaps standing as a good example of the benefits of a free education—and he constantly uses aphorisms to keep up his spirits. Deciding whether or not to enter a native village, Gilbert debates with himself: “ ‘Faint heart never won fair lady.’ ‘None but the brave deserve the fair.’ ‘Courage and luck are trumps that win every game.’ ‘In short,’ said I … ‘as there’s nothing else to be done, I’ll march upon the village, and take it by storm.’ ” [21 (May 1851): 139] For Gilbert, the direct approach is the best approach; when he gets unfair judgments in foreign courts, his reaction is simple and swift: in one case, he finds out how much the judge would fine someone for knocking down a judge, pays the fine, and takes his revenge [27 (May 1854): 153-7]. Relentlessly proud of his nation, Gilbert becomes one of the earliest of a long line of arrested Americans to inform the authorities that they can’t be doing this to him:
Constantly beset by misfortune, Gilbert, nevertheless, rises above it all, losing his clocks but still ending up with a fortune.
These heroes symbolic of Yankee ingenuity and energy are, nevertheless, examples of moderation as well. Each man begins the story adventuresome and devil-may-care, and all “reform.” Physically humbled by illness and abuse, each comes to realize that there is no place like home, and all return as quickly as they can, cured of their love of adventure. Their reward is material, as well, for each has a fortune at the end of the adventure, but this fortune is never earned by sweat, but by moral. Dick Boldhero regains the family fortune by accident, as does Alexis, the Siberian Sable-Hunter. Billy Bump, having lost a fortune by gambling, repents and, having proved his repentance, gets the money back from the wealthy eccentric who had cheated him out of it in order to teach him a lesson. Gilbert, having earned and lost several fortunes, finally manages to keep the one he “earns” by accidentally teaching a Persian merchant a lesson in morality. Even Jacob Karl, once he has learned not to be selfish, ends his adventure with a new character, a bride, and $11,000. The basic pattern of these adventures is that of the hero leaving society, learning, and being readmitted to society. These rascals reform and are readmitted to society, but the readmittance is rarely dwelt upon; more important to the point of the story, perhaps, is the lesson, rather than the reward.
In the pages of the Museum under Goodrich’s editorship, its readers got valuable lessons about the place of the individual and the American nation. Here, every person is in charge of her own destiny, and moderation in beliefs and in all aspects of an individual’s life is important, for, controlling one’s environment and one’s fate, one must first be able to control oneself. This is especially important in a republic, where each person not only has rights, but obligations, and must sometimes give up her own wants and desires in order to accommodate the common good. The editors of the Museum gave their readers a picture of themselves and their nation as the best the world had to offer, though still capable of whatever improvements were necessary. Ingenious, certain, and self-controlled, the Museum’s young readers were ready to take their places in a world progressing toward freedom.
In January, 1857, Robert Merry announced to his readers that Peter Parley had left the Museum “to flourish in a larger sphere” [“Chat,” 33 (Jan 1857): 29], though Merry would keep them updated on Parley’s doings. Thus readers learned that Goodrich was no longer connected with the magazine. Though officially he had left in 1854, his influence lingered into 1856, when two of his serials ended. John N. Stearns had taken over Merry’s periodical—and his persona, which he would retain until the end of 1867.
With the change in editors, a change in emphasis also entered the magazine. Though Goodrich had offered his readers a huge world in which they were to be important players, Stearns presented a world narrowed to the confines of home and the community. Though the education of the future citizen was important in early years, now the importance shifted to educating the soul and making it fit for God and heaven. Charity—and its rewards—was emphasized, and a newly-important character was the child who—through artlessness or persuasion—acted as an influence for morality. The Museum of this period showed a certain mistrust of the world at large: cities were presented as soul-searing wastes where danger and temptation lurked, and a new theme in the magazine was the persecution of the virtuous. The importance of the individual lay not in her future consequence in the world, but in her present state of usefulness to God and readiness for heaven.
When Stearns took complete control of the Museum, he already had taught school, worked his father’s farm, been an agent canvassing for Mark Forester’s Boys’ and Girls’ Magazine, and edited both the Mother’s Magazine and the Museum (“Noble,” 5-10). Stearns and his brother, Isaac, had published the Museum with S. T. Allen beginning in 1855 (The author of “A Noble Life” dates the beginning of Stearns’ association with the Museum to December, 1853 [p. 9], but there is no evidence that this date is correct.). When Allen left in November, 1855, the brothers carried on alone; after Isaac went to Minnesota at the end of 1856, John was primarily responsible for the periodical, though his brother had been bought out by William Cutter—alias “Uncle Hiram Hatchet” (Dechert, 165-6). During Stearns’ stint as Robert Merry, the magazine absorbed two of its major competitors, survived two fires and a civil war, and fostered a new intimacy with its readers, pulling them together as members of a “Merry family” and printing many, many of their stories, essays, and poems.
1857 not only saw a new Robert Merry, it also saw the Museum’s annexation of two of its competitors—which, perhaps, were unable to survive that year’s economic panic. The Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet, an early anti-slavery periodical which had been published by Francis C. Woodworth and his brother since 1846, was absorbed by the Museum in April, 1857; in November, The Schoolfellow, which had been published since 1849, was absorbed. This would be the last periodical merging with the Museum before the Museum merged with the Youth’s Companion.
Merging with the Schoolfellow meant merely adding its subscribers to the ranks, but the merger with the Cabinet also meant new editors and renewed emphasis on the reader. Woodworth’s periodical had matched the Museum in printing readers’ letters and puzzles in separate columns, and in fostering intimacy between the readers and the editors. “Uncle Frank”—Woodworth himself—answered letters and conducted “conversations” around an imaginary “table”; “Aunt Sue”—Susan Newbould, who also had written for the Museum—had her own “cabinet” in which appeared letters and puzzles. When the two magazines merged, “Uncle Frank’s Table-Talk” and “Aunt Sue’s Cabinet” became monthly columns. The “Table-Talk” ran until Woodworth’s death in 1859, but Aunt Sue’s popular column lasted until the beginning of 1871. Subscribers welcomed the merger, for many seem to have taken both periodicals for several years.
Though informational pieces were still printed in the Museum at this time, there were not as many as in earlier years; most pieces were fiction or poetry. Many serials still were printed—at least two a year—though few ran concurrently, as had been the case in the magazine’s early years. These serials were much shorter than the earlier ones had been: all but one serial ran for twelve issues or less; though six of 26 serials ran for twelve issues, the average lasted for five or six. Almost all of the serials featured young boys or girls as their protagonists. The protagonists of “Mike Smiley” (Nov., 1857-April, 1858), “Carl; or A Story Without an End” (Nov., 1857-April, 1858), “Silver and Gold” (1862) , “Philip Snow’s War” (1863), “Elva Seeking Her Fortune” (1865), “Wild Oats” (1866), and “Hawthorn Blossoms” (July, 1866-June, 1867) are all children learning their places and responsibilities in the world. In Jacob Abbott’s “Pistols and Bravery” (Jan.-Aug., 1861) and the Reverend W. W. Hicks’ “Story of Ike Cottle, the Tin-Washer” (1867), the reader is presented with young examples of superior integrity and morality. Those serials which didn’t feature young protagonists, such as “Uncle Hiram’s Pilgrimage” (1857-1860), “Uncle Frank’s Rambles in Holland” (1857), and “Geographical Sketches” (1867), were much shorter and usually emphasized a mixture of intellectual and moral education.
Unlike Goodrich’s serials, the serials in the Museum at this time rarely were published in book form; only Hicks’ “Ike Cottle” was published, in 1868, by the Board of Publications of the Reformed Church. However, collections by “Aunt Sue” and by “Robert Merry” of puzzles, songs, and rhymes were published in bright covers—perfect for giving a child as a gift.
During these years, the magazine did not lose its timeliness. Though the emphasis had shifted from informing the reader about the world to developing the reader’s conscience and morality, the Museum still informed its young readers about events of the day. The newly-marketed sewing machine rated several articles in the magazine, as did the triumphant laying of the telegraph cable across the Atlantic Ocean. As may be expected of a periodical published in New York, when the Civil War broke out, the Museum was firmly on the Union side; and it reflected the War in articles designed to inform the reader, but mostly in fiction and poetry. An article—with a half-page portrait—praising Major-General George McClellan appeared in October, 1861; and Aunt Sue gave her readers tips on how to discriminate the different ranks of the different services and a lively discussion of the difficulties of planning battle strategy [“Major-Gen. George B. McClellan,” 42 (Oct 1861): 115-16; “Aunt Sue’s Scrap-Bag,” 42 (Oct 1861): 117; “Aunt Sue’s Scrap-Bag: A Line of Battle,” 44 (Sept 1862): 88-9]. Authors of fiction were quick to make their works contemporary: “Renny’s Uniform,” printed in March and April, 1862, takes place in autumn, 1861, and concerns the war-play that many young readers probably indulged in. Other works with other concerns often mention in passing the War and the problems associated with it: in “Dreaming and Doing,” one reason the heroine must learn to care for her clothing is that each person must ration luxuries; two boys in “The White Rabbit” liken a dog which bites off the tail of their pet rabbit to a rebel spy [Mrs. N. McConaughy, “Dreaming and Doing,” 46 (Dec 1863): 166-8; “The White Rabbit,” 45 (June 1863): 181-3]. In “Philip Snow’s War,” the battlefield becomes the testing ground for the hero, who, having learned to discipline himself, now is an inspiration to his men [“Philip Snow’s War,” 46 (Dec 1863): 161-5]. None of these pieces glossed over an aspect of war which was soon a nightmare to those who endured these years: the pain of a loss of a loved one in battle. A boy whose father has fallen on the battlefield goes home “to his mother to tell the story—‘the story,’ must it be told near every hearth-stone—must it be heard going, mid shot and shell, down into every woman’s heart in the nation?” [“Renny’s Uniform,” 43 (April 1862): 107] Poetry published in the magazine usually concerned itself with just this sorrow. “Re-Enlisted” records the author’s pain at her brother’s re-enlistment in the army; when the news of a subscriber’s death in a Southern prison was released, the Museum devoted an entire page to a poetical memorial to him [V.L., “Re-Enlisted,” 49 (Feb 1865): 44; memorial to Adelbert Older, 49 (March 1865): 87]. The end of the war was celebrated in the July, 1865, issue with both a poem and a song—separate pieces—entitled “Victory at Last.”
Most of the pieces which appeared in the Museum at this time were signed, and the contributors during this period may be divided into professionals and amateurs. Many pieces were signed by “Hiram Hatchet,” “Aunt Sue” and “Uncle Frank”. Other professional authors included Meta Lander, whose books included biographies of missionaries and works on children; Julia E. McConaughy, author of several works published by the National Temperance Society; and Catharine Maria Trowbridge, author of several works for children. A few more famous names also wrote for the Museum. Jacob Abbott had already achieved fame with his Rollo books; his brief serial appeared in the periodical in lieu of the traditional premium the editors usually sent to the subscribers. Two authors wrote for the Museum before their success took them elsewhere: Rebecca Sophia Clarke, author of several series books for girls, and Mary Mapes Dodge, who in 1872 founded one of the most important of American periodicals for children: St. Nicholas Magazine. (She paved the way with an article describing her ideal children’s magazine.) Clarke—writing under her popular pseudonym, “Sophie May”—began to contribute to the magazine in 1861, after the publication of her Christmas Fairies in 1860. Her contributions were steady until February, 1867; the prolific Clarke wrote for the periodical at least two serials and innumerable short stories, until her Little Prudy series—to which she had contributed six volumes in two years—made her a wildly popular author of children’s books. Dodge, writing as “M. E. D.,” contributed several stories to the Museum in 1863 and 1866, and a serial in 1864, and was familiar enough with the Museum’s readers to josh each by name in a poem in 1866 [“The Merry-opticon,” 51 (Jan 1866): 25-6]. After the publication of Hans Brinker; or, the Silver Skates in late 1866, she no longer contributed to the magazine. Perhaps once both authors became popular outside the confines of the Museum, they could command more money than the magazine could pay.
Whether certain other contributors were paid or not is open to speculation. Many, many of the pieces which appeared in the Museum at this time were contributed by such subscribers as Mattie Bell, Eula Lee, Jolly Jingle, Fleta Forrester, Laura Elmer, Black-Eyes, Buckeye Boy, Adelbert Older, Henry A. Danker, Ellian, Willie H. Coleman, Carolus Piper, and Wilforley—whose father also contributed a piece. They sent stories, poems, and informational pieces: Henry Danker wrote a series of articles about common birds; Eula Lee and Adelbert Older contributed poems; Wilforley described a trip east in a three-part series; and Willie Coleman wrote a nostalgic retrospective series on the history of the Museum. Fleta Forrester not only wrote stories for the magazine, she also took over the puzzle section for a time in 1864. A handful of these writers achieved modest fame later on in life: Kruna-Julia Perkins Pratt Ballard—began to publish temperance tracts while she was writing for the Museum and also contributed to the periodical The Child at Home (one piece printed there was reprinted in the Museum), and Laura Elmer went on to contribute poetry to newspapers. Most of the subscriber-authors, however, went on to a well-deserved anonymity. They may have been paid for their contributions to the magazine, but, more likely, they were not, and even if they were, it may not have been at the professional rate; during the earlier years of the Museum, the editors occasionally published a piece by a subscriber, and Stearns may have used this tradition to his advantage, filling the pages of the magazine cheaply. It worked to his advantage in another way, too, for by this time the “Chat” had become more-or-less the core of the periodical and of the readers’ loyalties to it. Almost all the subscribers who took the time to praise the magazine’s contents limited that praise to the “Chat”—perhaps in unconscious reaction to the poor quality of the magazine’s contents. But, by publishing the literary efforts of his readers, Stearns renewed and repaid their loyalty, and made the link between the magazine and its readers stronger than ever.
As Goodrich had before him, Stearns brought to the job a set of attitudes and opinions that would color the world-view the Museum presented to its readers. Having first signed the temperance pledge at age seven, Stearns had grown up working for the temperance movement; when he left the Museum in 1866, it was to edit the Temperance Advocate and the Youth’s Temperance Banner, and to lecture and labor in the cause of temperance (“Noble,” 17, 38). Perhaps because he had only a basic education, Stearns was concerned with the education of others, serving on the Brooklyn Board of Education for three years (“Noble,” 15). At the time he published the Museum, Stearns also was involved in church work, teaching Sunday-school and acting as a Sunday-school superintendent for almost 30 years (“Noble,” 12). The portrait which emerges in a memorial volume by his friends after Stearns’ death is of a man deeply concerned with children and with morality.
All of these concerns are apparent in the Museum, which at this time took a strong stance against alcoholism, and a stronger turn toward religion and personal morality. The Museum of this period celebrates moderation, hard work, humility, and charity, as well as pride in American progress, but it also betrays an uneasiness with modern life: a sense that something is wrong in society—especially in the cities—and that the views the magazine espouses may not be shared by all. Persecution of the good becomes a minor theme, as do the dangers of the city and the helplessness of the urban poor—who for the first time in the magazine’s pages become objects of charity. The world-focus of the Museum has narrowed: as it had concerned itself primarily with fitting its young readers to be good citizens of a republic that had a mission in the larger circle of the world, now it concerned itself primarily with educating its readers to be good individuals in the smaller circle of the family and the community and to fit them for heaven. Moderation is still key, but it is moderation with a new purpose: to fit the soul to serve God and man. Trust in God is a primary theme. The narrow focus of the magazine extends to the central protagonists of the pieces published in the Museum at this time: instead of the world-traveling Yankee fortune-seekers of Goodrich’s time, they are children learning about life and its responsibilities at home. Home is central in all these works—as is the family and, especially, the mother. Though the magazine cautions its young readers about the difficulties of achieving moral perfection, it holds up to them young models of faith and decorum. This period saw the heyday of what can be called the “effective child”. that child who—through artlessness or invincible morality—affects the lives of those around her, acting as moral example or persuading them into morality. Though perfect children had appeared in tales during Goodrich’s editorship, a new consciousness seems to imbue the Museum during Stearns’ editorship. Influenced, probably, by a newer sense in the culture that children were pure souls to be valued as they are, the magazine seems more self-conscious about its presentation of them, making them the protagonists of almost every serial, poem, and short story. Some of the magazine’s uneasiness may have been due to its emphasis on religion—the reader gets a sense that true Christianity is nearly impossible to achieve; but it may also have been due to a growing concern about the cities—which now dominated a land traditionally agrarian—and to a growing sense that the values espoused by the “genteel” class which, R. Gordon Kelly has pointed out, dominated nineteenth-century literature, may not have been shared by the rest of society.
Though the emphasis of the Museum in its early years had been on educating the child’s mind, the emphasis now was on perfecting the child’s inner being. Serials and stories published during this time are basically adventures in the life of the spirit, as their protagonists learn valuable lessons in morality. As one scholar has pointed out, “The Museum became more and more a medium for Sunday school stories and songs, and temperance tales.” (Dechert, 176) This perfection of the soul is important, for, in the Museum’s world-view, each person is in control of her own character, and of her own success or failure. The individual is constantly building and refining her character, the magazine reminds us, and the only sure foundation for anyone’s life is Christianity [“The Builders,” 37 (Jan 1859): 6-7]. If our characters are in our own control, then so is our failure or success, for success depends on habits and personality. Those whose luck is bad have only themselves to blame, for if one does not take care or think ahead, bad luck is sure to follow; the carpenter who rejects advice to drive in an extra nail is badly injured when his scaffolding collapses [“Tim Broadax,” 33 (April 1857): 110-12]. Success depends on hard work [“Dreaming and Doing,” 46 (Dec 1863): 166-68], but also on such character traits as virtue, temperance, and “a high moral estimate of the true aims of life” [“Mike Smiley,” 35 (Jan 1858): 19]: “Temperance, industry, virtue, and the fear of God, are all a capital on which no young man ever failed to win the highest reward.” [“Mike Smiley,” 35 (April 1858): 116]
Education is important, too, for one difference between the rich and the poor is “a well-directed intelligence” [“Mike Smiley,” 35 (Jan 1858): 19]. Study may be dull, but it is a necessary foundation even for the imagination. Carl Bedenker, who would rather play with his dog all day than go to school, dreams of a beautiful fairy named Fantasia and of an old man named Studiosus —both of whom will teach him the wonders of nature. But Carl must, reluctantly, go with Studiosus before he can be trusted with Fantasia; the fact must go before the fantasy. That night, Carl sees his studious grandfather as in a dream, with Studiosus behind him and Fantasia whispering in his ear as he reads—perhaps the perfect balance between fact and imagination [“Carl,” 35 (Feb 1858): 50]. It is the child’s duty to “love.. books as well as.. play” [“Away, Away to School,” 35 (Jan 1858): 10], but learning is real happiness, and God has made sure that all of creation has something to teach us; even after death, we can learn through all eternity [“The Young Philosopher,” 38 (Aug 1859): 46-7]. Education, in the world of the Museum, makes us superior: the man who hires a boy to be his groom and educates him soon realizes that keeping the boy a servant would “be doing him a great injustice,” for “the attempt to hold him in a subordinate situation could not have been long successful, if it had been made” [“Mike Smiley,” 35 (Jan 1858): 19). It also has monetary value, for, after a series of very convoluted figuring, one realizes that an education is worth about $4 for every day spent in school [“Who Wants $4 a Day?,” 43 (March 1862): 83-4]. (An educated man can make $1,000 per year, and an uneducated man can make about $313—a difference of $687. To get this amount each year would be equal to having $11,450 in the bank, drawing 6% interest; therefore, education is worth $11,450; and since one probably spends 2,860 days in school in a lifetime, education is worth $4 per school day. Only in America.)
The Museum at this time still extolls the value of hard work, but it allies with this concept the idea that time is a precious commodity: the reader is urged not just to avoid procrastinating, but to make good use of every moment. “The idler is a sponge on society and a curse to his own existence,” the Museum assures its readers [“Do Something,” 41 (Ap 1861): 103]. Work is the natural order of things, for, as an idle young girl learns as she walks in the woods, all the plants and animals of creation work hard, helped on by “God’s thoughts,” in the shape of little people who look “ ‘[a]s if they could do something … [a]s if they would finish what they began … [a]s if they’d never sit down and say, “Oh, dear, I’m tired’[.]” [“The Working Fairies,” 39 (April 1860): 107] “ ‘God does not bless lazy people,’ ” a farmer informs his nephew [J. E. McConaughy, “Blessings of Work,” 45 (May 1863): 150]. Work is good for us, for it not only allows us to provide for ourselves and our families, but it keeps us healthy in mind and body: “ ‘A fine education is an excellent thing,’ ” the farmer goes on, “ ‘but it is of little account unless you have a sound body to match it, and there is nothing like exercise to make a man’s mind strong and healthy as well as his body.’ ” Thus, the boy is not to complain about doing chores, for they have provided exercise and given him a good appetite for supper [J. E. McConaughy, “Blessings of Work,” 45 (May 1863): 150-1]. Work also teaches the qualities necessary to make one’s way in life. By the time Lizzie finishes her patchwork guilt, she has learned not only sewing, but thrift, taste, and how to use her free time constructively [“Lizzie’s Patchwork,” 37 (Jan 1859): 19]. For Elva, lost in fantasies cribbed from romantic literature, her “disagreeable” job as a nursemaid is almost an exorcism, for here she has no time to be “absent-minded or indolent,” and thus she can’t indulge herself in daydreams; she becomes again the quiet, self-denying child she was before she began to dream [“Elva Seeking Her Fortune,” 50 (Nov 1865): 144-6].
Both girls have learned another, equally-important lesson as well: not to waste the precious commodity of time. Though procrastination is a sin which the Museum had tried to eradicate from its first issue, now time is a substance not to be squandered. One can’t begin too early to cherish the value of hard work, for
If one wants to accomplish anything, he must always keep in motion [“Always Busy,” 41 (Feb 1861): 35]; but keeping busy is important in and of itself, as well: readers are urged to
Press on! You’re rusting while you stand;
Inaction will not do.
Take life’s small bundle in your hand,
And bridge it briskly through. [“Press On!,” 44 (Aug 1862): 55]
However, just as important is keeping busy in the right way. The future president, the Museum assured its readers, woudn’t be the boy who played during his leisure time, but the boy who learned about the world by reading the newspaper [“The Future President,” 53 (April 1867): 196-8]. Frivolous activities are as dangerous to the individual’s future as they are useless, for they don’t lead to success. When Frank teaches his sister’s kitten tricks, his uncle warns him against this bad use of his time, citing the story of another boy who taught a poodle to dance, while his friend studied, invented useful machines, and thereby earned a fortune; the lazy local handyman, the uncle points out, had learned sleight-of-hand as a boy, instead of a “useful” trade, and now is a bad worker [“Hawthorn Blossoms,” 52 (Sept 1866): 65-7]. Time is meant to be used to improve one’s future prospects.
Obedience is still of major importance in the world of the Museum: obedience to parents, to experienced adults, and, especially, to God. “Ah, it is a dangerous thing to cast off the restraint of those who are older and wiser than we!” exclaims the author of a story about two antelopes who stray from the mandated grazing area and are killed by a lion [J. E. McConaughy, “The Truant Antelopes,” 50 (Sept 1865): 74]. Punishment for disobedience is swift, appropriate, and physical—not imposed by someone in authority, but a natural outgrowth of the disobedient activity. There is a sense of cosmic inevitability about the outcome of disobeying. The boys who disobey adults and go sliding invariably fall through the ice into freezing waters and almost die [“Stolen Pleasure, and Its Fruits,” 36 (Dec 1858): 171-4; “The First Slide,” 49 (April 1865): 106-8]; a little boy with a cold teases his mother into letting him play in the snow and almost dies of pneumonia [“ ‘Mamma Knows Best’,” 45 (Jan 1863): 22]. Willie persuades his mother to let him go to the circus despite her objections that it is not “ ‘a nice place for boys’ ”; and, dazzled by the acrobats, he tries to stand on his hands, falls, and breaks his arm—all just punishment, according to the author: “ ‘Poor Willie! As he suffered from the pain of having the bone set, and the weariness of staying indoors for weeks, he often thought that ‘mother knew best’ after all. [“Willie and the Circus,” 49 (May 1865): 130]. The last two examples underscore a minor theme of obedience: that, even when they are persuaded to change their minds, parents still know what is best, and it is better to heed their first decrees. Willie’s mother says nothing about having been right from the beginning, but the mother of the boy with the cold takes herself to task for giving in to him and resolves to stand firm in the future [“ ‘Mamma Knows Best’,” 45 (Jan 1863): 22]. Even when the parent is not present, God is, inflicting punishment on all who err—including, if it must be so, the indulgent parent.
[a note about “Willie and the Circus”: Lest we take comfort from thinking that we wouldn’t be so foolish as to break our arms and so could safely go to the circus, the author hastily informs us that “although the other children who attended the circus met with no such accidents, I am quite sure not one of them learned anything that was of any use; and I know that the improper language that some of them heard, and afterwards used, did them more harm than even a broken arm, for that would heal quickly; but a hurt to the character is hard to cure.” (130)]
For, indeed, the child’s obedience must extend from the parent to God. In the world of the Museum, God is a stern parent who knows what is best and who punishes the disobedient, but who rewards and indulges the obedient. One must be careful to do good and—more importantly—to have faith, for a stern but loving God will work out everything for our ultimate good. As the hart searching through a drought-stricken land and finally finding an ever-flowing stream, so is the soul searching by “a thousand springs of pleasure” which finally finds an “everlasting spring” in God [J.E. McConaughy, “The Hart and the Water-Brooks,” 50 (Nov 1865): 132-3]; even those not actively seeking God are influenced by Him: the ancient Greeks and Romans, one author asserts, were being gently led to a consciousness of the one God, who taught them to worship Zeus not as a greedy tyrant, but as a loving power [Reverend George Cox, “Mythology,” 54 (Oct 1867): 106-11]. In the Museum, God is a loving parent whose ways are just. When Bessie’s father, who has been working in the dark cellar, calls to her to jump down through the trap door to him, invisible in the darkness, she does so unhesitatingly, following his voice and trusting that he will catch her; God, the author of the piece asserts, is our Father, and, though we can’t see into “the darkness of the future,” we must trust and fearlessly “follow” His voice, and we will end up in His arms [“Little Bessie,” 49 (Feb 1865): 55]. God watches over all and cares for all, the reader is assured; two little girls frightened by a noise one night wouldn’t have been had they “asked God, believingly, to watch over and keep them from harm, and lain down with a perfect trust in loving care,” for “the angels” watch over all, and “there is nothing you need fear save your own deceitful, sinful hearts.” [Eula Lee, “Children’s Fears,” 53 (Feb 1867): 46-7] When a girl decides to make “a real up-and-down fool” of someone on April Fool’s Day, she unwittingly enacts part of God’s plan to protect her family, for her actions cause the family to sleep in the one part of the house not destroyed in a freak accident; this incident shows that God protects us all, and that “the foolish thoughts in a little girl’s brain help to work out His wise and loving plans.” [Sophie May, “All-Fool’s Day,” 45 (April 1863): 112]
However, the parent must not only protect, but discipline, as well, and, in the world of the Museum, God’s chastisement is as important as His protection. As it did in the early years, now the Museum assures its readers that even misfortune is good for them and comes from God. As a parent takes away a child’s toy to discipline and control the child, so God may take away what He has given us, to discipline and control us [“The Penitent,” 37 (April 1859): 106-7]. Such punishment may be the loss of material goods, but it also may be something more tragic. One must be good, the magazine warns, else God will take a brother or a sister, to bring on repentance [“The Penitent,” 37 (April 1859): 107]. Speaking of a blind child, one character tells her niece that the boy’s disability is punishment: “ ‘It certainly is some form of wrong —some broken law of God—that has caused Benny’s blindness’[.]” [“Philip Snow’s War,” 45 (April 1863): 105] On the other hand, supposed misfortunes may only be part of a larger plan to give us a greater good. Florence becomes angry when her aunt keeps a secret from her, but the secret is a magnificent birthday gift the aunt is making for the girl: the aunt has seemed “unkind” because she was acting from love, and “ ‘[s]o it often proves in God’s dealings with us. When he seems to hide his face from us we turn away grieved, and it may be rebellious, and then after a time we find that only blessings were being prepared for us.’ ” [Kruna, “Little Florence’s Curiosity, and How It was Cured,” 43 (Feb 1862): 42-5] If one has the proper amount of faith, all will come out right, as a poor widow realizes one Christmas when she has “mistrusted” God but still received enough food and warm clothing to brighten her family’s holiday [“Mrs. Gray’s Christmas,” 50 (Dec 1865): 182]. Three tiny streams which follow different routes all suffer in their journeys to the sea. While the streams which go forth boldly to get ahead or to cheer others along the way are polluted and degraded by human beings, the stream which trusts itself to God suffers the most pain—as it is filtered through the earth—but it achieves the greatest beauty; when they come together in the sea, all three agree that “ ‘He doeth all things well.’ ” [“The Three Rivulets,” 44 (July 1862): 11-13] Though miserable, orphaned Daisy Lee puts her faith in fairy tales for a time, it is God who brings one of her father’s old friends to find and adopt her: “The fairies had not brought him, but one of God’s great storms gathering in its might and riding over the prairie had brought him[.]” [“Daisy Lee’s New Year,” 49 (Jan 1865): 4] Even if faith does not bring such dramatic rewards, simple happiness will follow if one will only “leave to-morrow’s fare/ To thy heavenly Father’s care.” [Kruna, “The Brightest Side,” 42 (July 1861): 14]
Such emphasis on trusting in the will of God leads naturally to an emphasis on control and moderation in the individual which would have been familiar to the reader of the Museum in its early years. But, whereas the earlier Museum had stressed the individual’s relationship with the nation, now it stressed the individual’s relationship with God. Moderation had been an important characteristic of the good citizen of a shining republic; now it was an important characteristic of the heaven-bound soul. The “passions” of Native Americans may have led to their repression by the whites and thus made them good examples of what immoderate behavior could mean to the nation [“Why Have the Indians Disappeared?,” 43 (Jan 1862): 21-2], but this aspect is not dwelt upon; rather the emphasis is on the individual’s personal need to practice control and moderation in order to become a better person. Lucy, who daydreams about the heroine of the adventure novel she is reading and who longs to “ ‘fight battles, and win victories’,” is gently told by her grandmother that to gain “ ‘a victory’ ” over herself would “ ‘be a greater triumph than all the ten-cent story- books ever recorded’ ” and takes tremendous pride in “overcoming the faults of Lucy Wilson, and making her a good girl.” [“Lucy’s Victory,” 50 (Sept 1865): 82] Moderation in expectations is important, so that the individual won’t be disappointed [Meta Lander, “Guess What!,” 36 (July 1858): 18-19], and one must learn not to be vexed by what can be helped or by what can’t be helped [Catharine Trowbridge, “The Two Rules, and How They Worked,” 38 (Aug 1859): 39]; but controlling temperament and actions receives the most attention of all, for these things affect future prospects. Edward, who looks forward to the end of school so he can do as he pleases and smoke, go out at night, and “have a jolly spree with the boys,” is reminded by his sober friend, Henry, that he has a body and a soul which he is to “improve or ruin” and, therefore, he should take Henry’s moderate approach to life and become as happy, healthy, and strong as he is [“A Finished Education,” 43 (March 1862): 82-3]. Curiosity, the magazine tells its readers, is a good thing, but only if “rightly directed”; a boy who is too curious finds some gunpowder, and, in trying to explode something with it, almost loses an eye [The Old Major, “A Boy with Too Much Curiosity,” 40 (Nov 1860): 167-8]. Not controlling oneself around others can have even more disastrous consequences; though the Museum’s emphasis on moderation would seem to be aimed at making the reader better able to relate to others, the lessons still emphasize that better actions lead to a better soul. The protagonist may err and thereby harm someone else, but the lesson does not end there; the focus becomes the erring hero’s repentance. In the first few pages of a two-part story, Eddy, in a flash of temper, hits his younger brother in the eye with a stone, making him go “BLIND!” The rest of the tale recounts Eddy’s repentance and struggle to earn the money needed for an operation to restore his brother’s sight; after resisting the provocation of a bully and paying for the operation, his redemption is complete, as he prays and “ ‘[t]he recording angel dropped another tear’ ” while recording the prayer, and “the angels in heaven rejoiced over another victory won.” [Aunt Sue, “Govern Your Temper,” 39 (March 1860): 70] Frustrated by the antisocial behavior of a friend, Nathan taunts him instead of helping him when the other boy is in what becomes a life-threatening situation; Nathan’s repentance and redemption are the focus of the rest of the serial [“Silver and Gold,” 44 (Aug-Dec 1862)]. Pranks and teasing also must be eradicated. Edwin, mimicking a crippled boy, Charles, is suddenly, sickeningly aware that the other boy is watching; and Charles is so shocked and horrified that he becomes ill, to recover only when a repentant Edwin begs forgiveness; Charles’ illness “cures” Edwin “of his sinful habit of indulging in heedless conversation and giving way to exaggeration.” [D. M. T., “Idle Words,” 54 (Aug 1864): 52-4; italics original] Jack, almost hyperactive in his fondness for pranks, so startles a sickly, gentle boy that he falls into some water, catches a fever, and dies, looking forward to heaven and asking his mother to “ ‘Tell Jack to be a good boy and love Junesus, and by-and-by he will come, too, and not be naughty any more.’ ” After this, Jack is more “thoughtful,” blaming himself; perhaps he has “given up his naughty ways.” [Pearl Peveril, “Jack the Teaser,” 52 (Oct 1866): 101-3]
There is an inevitability in all of these pieces which teaches the reader that nothing is important, for all unworthy actions may lead to disaster. One must be careful from the very beginning, for small faults grow and multiply. A bad habit is like a tiger cub, “harmless and comely,.. even beautiful …while its tusks and claws are not quite grown,” but untameable, and, thus, dangerous when it has grown up. Like the tiger, the habit must be kept at a distance to avoid harming anyone [“The Leopard and Tiger,” 45 (Feb 1863): 49]. As sailors who “cross the line” of the equator may see no difference in the water but now must reckon by different stars, so “crossing the line” with the first indiscretion leaves little impression but requires new reckoning, an old sea captain warns: “ ‘The first cigar, the first glass of liquor, the first oath may leave you in south latitude. From that time your course may be down, down, forever!” [J.E. McConaughy, “Sea Breezes--Crossing the Line,” 49 (Jan 1865): 10) That softening “may” does not appear in other tales; in most pieces, after the first step, the course is “down, down forever,” in conclusions almost as inevitable as death or taxes. The boy who does not try to correct his bad habits now because he will leave off these habits when he is a man ruins his chances in life, for his habit of slouching leaves others thinking that he is “a careless, lazy lad, with little energy of character, and but poor prospects of success in life,” and makes him unhealthy, for his rounded shoulders cramp his chest [“ ‘Such a Little Thing’ ”, 50 (Dec 1865): 181]. The young clerk who accompanies another to a saloon orders only ice cream, but just going into the saloon so disgusts him with himself that he loses his self-respect—and starts to drink the next time [Uncle Frank, “The First False Step,” 37 (Feb 1859): 42-3]. Caroline Thorpe’s practical jokes have so alienated those around her that she is expelled from school; inevitably, she elopes with “a foreign swindler,” and that is the last anyone hears of her [Sophie May, “Caroline Thorpe,” 45 (March 1863): 77-9). The boy who robs a bird’s nest grows up to be a murderer, and boys who fish on Sunday end up in prison in an almost natural progress [Uncle John, “Who Stole the Bird’s Nest?,” 50 (Aug 1865): 39; “First Step to Ruin,” 52 (Nov 1866): 140]; gambling for a shilling, Ike Cottle warns his friends, leads invariably to heavier gambling, which leads to hard drinking and then prison or hanging [“Ike Cottle,” 53 (May 1867): 147]. Even the indulgent father who pays $5 for “a Frenchified toy, that a philosophic Yankee baby will pull all to pieces in five minutes” will probably come to know the real value of a dollar— or his widow will [“Don’t Be Extravagant,” 33 (Jan 1857): 11]. In the world of the Museum, even the smallest moral misstep may be fatal.
Linked with the emphasis on moderation is the theme of humility. During the years of Stearns’ editorship, the Museum became, in effect, a celebration of humility, assuring the reader of the joys of patience, of self-denial, and of contentment with whatever little one has, and emphasizing that suffering can be ennobling, that pride and wealth can be pernicious, that only the humble are good and safe, and that the poor can provide a model of morality. Charity becomes an important concern, with the benefits of giving reverberating to the giver.
In the world of the magazine, patience and self-denial are important virtues to cultivate, not just because they are good to have in and of themselves, but because they may lead to greater rewards—often material. Practicing these virtues promotes the happiness of the individual and of others, and almost may lead to material rewards. The reader is to learn the patience of a crocus waiting under the snow to bloom [H. F. Gould, “The Crocus’s Soliloquy,” 35 (May 1858): 130], but mostly so that greater things will come. Smoke joyfully tumbling from a chimney is reaping the reward of centuries of patience: first through the slow conversion into coal, then through the long years before that coal was mined; it counsels a despondent kite to “ ‘Be patient and humble; learn something from everything … and when next we meet you will be happier!’ ” [“The Smoke and the Kite,” 35 (March 1858): 83-5] God may seem to turn from us, Florence’s aunt tells her, but we must have patience, for “ ‘after a time we find that only blessings were being prepared for us.’ ” [Kruna, “Little Florence’s Curiosity,” 43 (Feb 1862): 45] Self-denial does not just help promote the happiness of others, but brings rewards to the one who practices it. By forming “a resolution to make [each] day a happy one to a fellow-creature” and giving to the poor, offering “a kind word to the sorrowful [or] an encouraging expression to the striving,” one not only makes 365 people happy each year—14,600 in 40 years—but can find happiness oneself [“A Recipe for Happiness,” 34 (Dec 1857): 179]. In other pieces, however, self-sacrifice on the part of the protagonist brings material rewards as well as a sense of virtue. After Barbara helps the disabled boy competing with her to be the best scholar at school, he wins a rosewood desk as a prize—a desk she receives in turn two years later, after he dies [Sophie May, “Barbara Blythe,” 42 (Aug 1861): 44-7]. Though a poor girl and her brother have been looking forward to a school picnic as a chance to revel in luxury for a day, the girl willingly stays home to care for their sick mother. A teacher has the picnic’s leftovers gathered and brought to the family, and their neighbors begin to look after the family: the girl’s “self-denial,” the author asserts, probably brought this result, for “filial piety has an especial promise of reward even in this life.” [J. E. McConaughy, “Jessie’s Victory,” 46 (Nov 1863): 139-42] Both pieces also emphasize the glow of well-being the girls feel as they make their sacrifices; in a way, the magazine hints, self-denial allows one to have one’s cake and eat it, too.
Self-denial is important in the world-view of the Museum, for pride and wealth can be inherently evil. Most of the characters in the Museum’s stories are comfortable, but not especially wealthy; they are contrasted favorably with those characters whose wealth is made a point of. In many pieces in the magazine, wealth is presented almost as something unnatural: getting it is an abnormal activity, and having it may cause us to act unnaturally. The getting of wealth is an activity almost separate from those of a normal life, in the Museum; readers are exhorted not to follow the example of a man who had concerned himself with making money and died just on the verge of success, for it is better to “live rich” than to die rich [“Died Rich,” 46 (Sept 1863): 77]. Those who wish to become wealthy, Mrs. Barbauld warns, should be prepared to lead a life of spiritless “drudgery” far different from ideal:
Even more damning is the way wealth makes its owners act, for great wealth leads to great trouble. The easy-going sailors who fish up gold dumped by smugglers begin to gamble and to quarrel over it and finally throw the gold into the sea [J. E. McConaughy, “Sea Breezes—The Smuggler Boat,” 49 (Feb 1865): 47-8]; the wealthy boys at a boarding school drink wine, bribe the servants, and get into debt and other trouble which includes framing an innocent, middle-income scholar [Sophie May, “Wild Oats,” 52 (Oct 1866): 104-10]. Having wealth may lead a young man to become too proud to work, and “[m]any a young man’s prospects for life have been utterly blasted by having an estate left him.” [J. E. McConaughy, “Blessings of Work,” 45 (May 1863): 15] Wealth can lead to elegance, which may lead to misery. The repressed rich children whose mother does not want the girls to freckle or the boys to get their clothes dirty quarrel and hit each other in boredom and frustration as they ride in a handsome carriage, contrasting with poor children who happily shout and swing on a gate, freckling and muddying their clothes [M. E. D., “The Two Rides,” 46 (Oct 1863): 105-9]. The elegant Wendeline’s elegant mother goes insane, convinced she is Queen Victoria and obsessed with “ ‘dancing steps and attitudes, and you can’t make her think of anything else.’ ” [Sophie May, “Elva Seeking Her Fortune,” 50 (July 1865): 7] More dangerously, wealth can lead one to become so proud as to forget God: the husband of a poor woman once was rich, but he soon “forgot that he was but a steward of God’s mercies,” became proud, and went on to lose first his fortune and then his life by drinking [W. W. Hicks, “Ike Cottle,” 54 (July 1867): 3].
The evils of pride are illustrated in pieces which preach against it, but also in numerous pieces which extoll its opposite. In the Museum, the humble are always right, be they humble flowers, humble children, humble invalids, or the humble poor. This idea wasn’t new to the magazine’s readers—the virtues of humility had been trumpeted since the first issue—but now the virtue takes on cult status. Pride can be dangerous, for it makes the individual feel better than others; the “haughtiness” of the South was one cause of the Civil War, the Museum informs its readers, for this pride made the region think it could rule over the entire nation [“Independence Day,” 46 (July 1863): 26] The humble, on the other hand, are happy, successful, and “safe.” Quiet and unambitious, content with being “lowly” and with influencing only the small circle around them, the humble live modestly and in elemental purity, obscure—but indispensable. They are naturally virtuous, for they are unimpaired by the temptations of pride and wealth: the “state of innocence” which is the only route to real happiness is available only to the humble, for
Girls who earn what they need by working are better than “those who do nothing but sigh all day,” for working girls have “cheeks like the rose, bright eyes and elastic step,” and they “have no affectation—no silly airs about them. When they meet you, they speak without putting on a half dozen airs … and you feel as if you were talking to a human being, and not to a painted … angel.” [“Working Girls,” 46 (Oct 1863): 113] A farmer, whose few wants are supplied by the land and who does not crave luxuries, the Museum tells its readers, is happier than a king [“The Farmer’s Song,” 49 (May 1865): 138]. Ike Cottle, whose family struggles for its hand-to-mouth existence, learns to pity the rich, who have not his advantages [W. W. Hicks, “Ike Cottle,” 53 (Feb 1867): 41].
In what may seem a curious reversal, humility and modesty are presented as the paths to success. Though such success may occur in the realm of the outside world, it is the “unseen influence” that the magazine extolls—success in the smaller realm of home and community. The Museum gives few examples of success in the wider world. A young violinist who so loses himself in his music and in the memories of his humble upbringing that he catches the emotions of those who hear him play may become a great musician [Fritz, “Paul Goldschmeid,” 40 (N-D 1860)], but few other protagonists follow his lead. The magazine may assert that the cottage is good training ground for great men because here they learn to persevere and use their ingenuity, but few examples are given [W.W. Hicks, “Ike Cottle,” 53 (March 1867): 68-9]. On the other hand, anyone who believes, as one boy does, that “ ‘a blacksmith can’t be anybody’ ” because he is not “genteel,” is bound to fail in the world, for he “will be quite likely to try some profession which he has not ability enough to fill.” [“The Blacksmith,” 43 (May 1862): 144] It is, instead, success in a narrower realm that is emphasized. The best ambition, the magazine advises, does not take us far from home; it
“Usefulness” and “influence” are prized, and the truly successful person often achieves her measure of usefulness unacknowledged by the rest of the world but not unimportant for all that. “Usefulness” is key in the Museum, and that which is somehow useful is also that which is good. The “working girls” the Museum extolls are active and productive [“Working Girls,” 46 (Oct 1863): 113]. “ ‘It is a curious fact,’ ” one character assures his nieces and nephews, “ ‘that the most useful things in nature are usually of humble appearance. Iron is not so handsome as gold, yet it is worth far more to the world.”’ The humble dirt is not beautiful, but is necessary; the prettiest clouds don’t bring rain, nor do the loveliest birds sing sweetest [“The Home Society,” 45 (June 1863): 163]. The vicissitudes of a tea-leaf which is—after brewing tea—used to sweep a carpet and then put on the ground to nourish a rose, show that “even a little tea-leaf can be of some use … if it has a desire to be.” [“Story of a Tea-Leaf,” 53 (March 1867): 82] One may best leave a mark on the world, in the Museum, by not seeming to influence it at all Just as the smallest cowslip, the tiniest dewdrop, or the slightest breeze are important in the workings of the world, so may be the least action of a child [“Deeds of Kindness,” 41 (April 1861): 105]. A rose hidden in an obscure valley influences the world unseen and unknown, its sweetness spread by the breeze; so, in obscurity, “The virtues too may grow;/ And, noiseless, round a world in need/ The choicest blessings throw.” [The Old Major, “The Rose in the Vale,” 37 (April 1857): 105] Sending out lovely thoughts, Amy’s father tells her, is as good as taking an action, for, “ ‘There are angels on the earth.. and you do not know how ready these are always to fly with messages of love, and pity, and comfort. The poor child that goes in rags … feels not quite so ragged, if, when you meet in the street, you love and pity her’,” because the ragged girl’s angel will know and tell her. However, these kind thoughts lead Amy to kind deeds, which make a difference in the world, though “not so many knew it here”; like the rose, Amy influences the world in obscurity [“The Working Fairies,” 39 (April 1860): 106-10].
Along with the virtues of humility, the Museum extolls the virtues of being content with one’s lot—or with less, if that is possible. Because God “knoweth best what is required by each of his creatures,” one must be content with what she has been given, and use it to help others; to feel otherwise is to be “ ‘rebellious.’ ” [Aunt Lovicy, “The Twilight Vision,” 49 (May 1865): 150] “ ‘Great wealth you have got,’ ” a hen clucks to her chicks, “ ‘If content with your lot.’ ” [“The Home Society,” 44 (Sept 1862): 75] If possible, one should try to be content with even less: the boy who only wants a marble, the Museum warns, then needs a ball, then a top, then a kite, and still is not satisfied; and the man who only needs money to be happy then wants a house, then land, then a coach, and still wants more. The only way to be truly happy is to “[b]e content with little, for much will have more, all the world over.” [“Be Content,” 46 (S 1863): 84]
Being content with what one has is linked with being cheerful, for one must realize that all is for the best. Like the sundial that marks “only the hours that shine,” we should dwell on the cheerful, not the somber, on what we do have, not on what we do not [“ ‘I Mark Only the Hours that Shine’,” 35 (May 1858): 132; Uncle Frank, “The Bright Side and the Dark Side,” 36 (Oct 1858): 102). Even that which may seem to be bad may be good: Aurora’s life of troubles and misfortunes ends in happiness, and she realizes that all her problems actually have been blessings [“Aurora,” 50 (April 1865): 45-9]. In the Museum, troubles may discipline the spirit and lead it to heaven. Ike Cottle’s father has an accident which leaves him lame and unable to work, but it disciplines his soul, and it allows him to sit by the road and remind passers-by about religion and God [W. W. Hicks, “Ike Cottle,” 53 (Jan 1867): 19). Disappointment, in the magazine’s world-view, leads to heaven, for, by taking from us our material goods, it makes us travel “the freer and the faster,” and the “thorny paths” we are led down strengthen the soul [poem, 45 (March 1863): 116].
In this emphasis on the virtue of the humble and on being content with what one has, suffering can be ennobling, and the poor and the disabled can be models of morality. The beauty of patient suffering is expressed in both fiction and in biographical pieces. Minerva, paralyzed on one side since infancy, personifies patience and saintliness in a brief biography, as does Abby, who—hurt in a fall—becomes partly paralyzed, then deaf, dumb, and blind [Aunt Mattie, “Aunt Minerva,” 39 (May 1860): 147; S., “The Patient Sufferer,” 33 (March 1857): 79-80]. Such saintliness is natural, in the view of the Museum, for a disability precipitates the kindness of others, and keeps the disabled from the temptations of the world. Blinded by a stone thrown by his brother, Eddie is “ ‘much happier than I was before I was blind; every one is so kind to me.” [Aunt Sue, “Govern Your Temper,” 39 (Feb 1860): 39] The isolation of the other two sufferers is emphasized: Minerva lives in one room, sewing and reading her Bible and her copies of Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet and the Museum; Abby’s pain is such that she can’t be moved, and, locked in a dark world of silence, she is free of the temptations of the world, communing with God. In several pieces, the poor, too, are models of morality. Seemingly untempted and untouched by the luxuries of others, they are happy with their lot, free of the cares that beset those with means. Ike Cottle’s family is so perfect and happy in its cottage that he pities the rich, for they are so open to the temptations that money can bring that they don’t have his spiritual advantages [W. W. Hicks, “Ike Cottle,” 53 (Feb 1867): 41]. When poor and rich children are compared in the pages of the Museum, it is the rich who suffer in the comparison. The rich—but repressed—children who ride in a carriage quarrel and fight, while the poor children are loving and happy swinging on their gate [M. E. D., “The Two Rides,” 46 (Oct 1863): 105-9]. Santa Claus, invisibly visiting two families, notes the way that the rich children fret and quarrel over their rich gifts, each wanting what the others have, but not willing to share, while the poor children lovingly share the homemade gifts they have been given [Kruna, “After the Holidays,” 49 (March 1865): 81-3]. In the pages of the Museum, generally the poor are simple, good-hearted, and loving, spiritually pure and grateful for charity. A girl with no dress good enough to wear to school is so grateful for the gift of a calico dress that the child who gives it is ashamed of wanting rich clothes for herself [Catharine Trowbridge, “Nellie’s New Dress,” 43 (Feb 1862): 48-52]. Another poor girl works hard for three months to get enough new subscribers to the Museum that she can earn a premium—a Grover & Baker sewing machine—for her mother [M. E. D., “The Daughter’s Gift,” 44 (Dec 1862): 50-1]. In his travels through New York City, Uncle Hiram Hatchet dispenses charity to the deserving poor and records—modestly, it must be admitted—their gratitude [“Uncle Hiram’s Pilgrimage,” 37 (May 1859): 140-1; 38 (Dec 1859). 170-1; 39 (Feb 1860): 36-7]. This celebration of the humble emphasizes, too, the glories of heart and home. The reader is counseled to trust in mother, trust in the instincts of the heart, and trust in the circle of home, for the world outside is a dangerous place. The veneration of motherhood is evident at first glance, for the Museum is filled with illustrations showing sweet-faced mothers and their sweet-faced children in loving companionship. Several poems are nothing but paeans to motherhood, to a mother’s “pure, deep, and truthful [love], springing from no improper or selfish motives, … always ready to make any sacrifice however painful for the pleasure of the object of its affections.” [“Mother,” 46 (Nov 1863): 151) A “good” mother is of inestimable value, for her influence is enough to keep those around her from moral error. By sending an erring boy to boarding school, his mother makes a mistake, for her “influence” would save him [Sophie May, “Wild Oats,” 51 (March 1866): 73]. A convict whose father died broken-hearted and whose brothers died in prison or as suicides has his mother to blame, for “[a] bad mother brought the family to ruin”; however, “[t]housands of us can say with thankful hearts, ‘Our good mothers have saved us from so sad a fate.’ ” [“Be Thankful for a Good Mother,” 45 (Feb 1863): 52]
[a note about Abby: It’s for the cynical twentieth-century reader to wonder about Abby’s affliction. Her blindness is problematic, for she wrote letters, signing them “ ‘Your D. D. B. (deaf, dumb, blind) friend, Abby.’ She could read common new print, and readily distinguish different colors by the feeling.” A pincushion she embroidered with her good hand was exhibited at the county fair. I’ve been unable to discover what size “common new print” was; it might have been readable if someone had very bad eyesight. It’s clear that as her disabilities increased she received more attention and more wonder was expressed by others at her saintliness and courage; one wonders if all of her disabilities had physical origins.
A mother’s influence extends beyond the grave; when orphaned Daisy Lee is frightened by a dream of fairies, she then dreams of her mother and is comforted by the mother’s reminder that, if Daisy is good, they will meet in heaven [“Daisy Lee’s New Year,” 49 (Jan 1865): 4]. Readers are exhorted to love such mothers in poems like “I Ought to Love My Mother” [38 (Sept 1859): 96]. They are to emulate George Washington, who is held up as a model of the tender son devoted to his mother; Benedict Arnold, on the other hand, “very likely” was a bad son who did not try to be quiet when his mother had a headache [Laura Elmer, “The Sailor Boy,” 36 (July 1858): 10, 12]. Emulating the tenderness George Washington must have shown his mother, the reader also is to trust implicitly in mother. Elva’s troubles, the author of her adventures hints, wouldn’t have overwhelmed her if she had trusted in her mother instead of in her best friend: if Elva had told of her down-heartedness, all would have been well, but “lately she was not inclined to make a confidante of her mother. And why not? Oh, because she had a bosom-friend! Dear, bewildered little Elva, have you then a bosom-friend who is truer than your own mother?” [Sophie May, “Elva,” 49 (June 1865): 163]
Trusting in the pure love of a mother, the reader is urged to trust, as well, in the instincts of the heart, which are never wrong. Love, in the Museum, animates the universe and makes the world tolerable. There is love in every small bit of nature, and
If love were fled, all life, all mirth,
From Nature’s heart were riven;
Love is the only charm of earth
That likens it to heaven! [L. M., “Love in Nature,” 45 (March 1863): 82]
One should never ignore the “impulses of [the] heart, for in neglecting these there is always unhappiness”; when two girls receive birds as gifts, one neglects hers and accidentally lets the cat get it, while the other—following her heart—sets hers free and is happy in the knowledge that the bird is happy [“The Two Birds,” 42 (July 1861): 15-16]. Love has its rewards, too. Marie, who saves a dove from some boys and tames the bird with love is saved by it in turn, when it knocks from her hand a glass containing poison, which she is about to drink [“Marie and Her Dove,” 44 (S 1862): 65-6]. Following the heart, whether or in charity or love, rarely goes unrewarded.
The cult of humility, the cult of motherhood, and the cult of love lead to a cult of domesticity where the circle of the home and family is the only safe place, for the world outside is dangerous. Most of the stories in the Museum take place in the home, and few protagonists are tempted to go out into the world. Under Stearns, the pages of the Museum saw no Gilbert Go-Aheads or Thomas Trotters, forging a way across unknown lands in search of fortune; instead, the protagonists forge their way across the unknown territory of human relationships, safe amid family and friends. Those who do leave home quickly regret it. Sent to boarding school, away from home and from his mother and “her gentle influence day by day,” John Merry is soon in so much trouble that it is no surprise to the reader that he is finally tried for stealing [Sophie May, “Wild Oats,” 51 (March 1866): 73]. Back home, John spends one night away from his family with a group of boys and gets into trouble again; this time, he can be saved only by leaving the purity of home for the discipline and purity of a local farm [52 (Dec 1866): 165-70]. Adolescent Elva, unhappy with her adoptive parents and dreaming of finding excitement and her real—and, she supposes, wealthy—parents in the city, finds, instead, confusion and pickpockets; robbed, she must earn her living by being a drudge. Finally safe at home, Elva stays there and works hard with a will, “feeling that she could hardly do enough for her excellent parents. Not a word of fault did she henceforth find with her lot. The remembrance of her Boston experience was enough to check all murmuring. One’s true place is at home, Elva—and the reader—discovers, and here is the place to find one’s destiny; Elva grows into “a ‘real lady.’ But you may be sure that only once in her life did she ever run away to seek her fortune.” [Sophie May, “Elva,” 50 (D 1865): 177]
This emphasis on the importance of the humble and of love, together with an insistence on the basic innocence and goodness of children, culminates in the theme of the effective child—the child who, through action or moral example, influences the world by acting as a force for good. This theme wasn’t new in the Museum: under Goodrich’s editorship, in two tales a young girl converts her father by turning his logic back on him, and a son’s “noble firmness” in his determination not to allow his father to drink “instantly” cures the father of alcoholism [“The Philosopher Rebuked,” 8 (Aug 1844): 39-40; “New Way of Curing a Toper,” 32 (Oct 1856): 12]. But, under Stearns, the effective child reaches almost cult status: innocent and beautiful, these children save their parents from alcoholism, keep other people from death, and act as an elemental force against the evils of the world. Just as the smallest thing can have a great influence, so can children make some sort of impact on the world. “There is no little child too small/ To work for God,” the Museum tells its readers [“Work for Little Ones,” 50 (Nov 1865): 148], and it gives as an example the story of Neddie, a poor boy who earns money for missionaries by selling “door-stones”; all children can be such “closet missionaries” if they will only so choose [“ ‘Neddie and Me’ ”, 50 (Oct 1865): 112].
And, many of the children who appear as protagonists in the Museum do so choose—whether consciously or not. Some protagonists in the magazine’s tales consciously work to convert those around them to temperance or religion, but even more exert their influence unconsciously. Like Ike Cottle, Mike Smiley persuades those who hear him into temperance and is rewarded by the redemption of not only his own father but of
Ike Cottle also persuades others into religious conversion, as does a boy who, having been converted, helps with revivals in his village and converts his younger sisters [W. W. Hicks, “Ike Cottle,” 53 (June 1867): 176-78; “The Brother,” 36 (July 1858): 20-1]. However, in their innocence, a score of other children effect change either by their own pure example or by their artless words or deeds. Little Jamie, so pure as to be reminiscent of the young Christ, is an inspiration to the soul of the narrator “To win my wayward spirit/ Unto love and purity.” [“Little Jamie,” 42 (Aug 1861): 35] In the same way, with the fervor of his patriotism and courage, a drummer boys inspires the soldiers of his regiment before he is killed in battle [“The Boy Soldier,” 44 (July 1862): 6-10). Righteousness guides other children into effective actions. Through her innocent insistence on absolute truth, a little girl who is a witness for the prosecution in a court case exposes the defendant’s lying testimony and “[breaks) the cunning devices of matured villainy to pieces like a potter’s vessel” [“Truth—The Bible-Child in Court,” 37 (May 1859): 151-2] overhearing his daughter pray for him to “ ‘forsake his bad ways’,” an alcoholic weeps and becomes temperate [“The Little One’s Prayer,” 36 (Aug 1858): 48]. Dolly, who has taken her favorite pet chicken with her on an ocean voyage, has nothing but that to give for an auction to raise money for several shipwrecked men; so inspired are onlookers by her generosity, that the chicken is sold for $50 [“Dolly Wren’s Pet Chicken,” 49 (May 1865): 139-41]. The superior morality of such children not only allows them to escape from danger unscathed but offers them up as effective models to those around them; Harry Babcock steps between two brutal bullies and is instantly the master of the situation:
The loving hearts of these children are also effective across distances. Maggie sends a “comfort-bag” to a soldier whose arm has been amputated and who is cheered by the gift and by the realization that those at home were thinking of such as he [Eula Lee, “Maggie’s Comfort-Bag,” 49 (Jan 1865): 14-16). More dramatically, Minnie sends her soldier-brother a pincushion in the shape of a rabbit like the one he left her, which, in the best fiction tradition, he kisses and puts into his breast pocket; in a pattern as old, perhaps, as war itself, the pincushion stops a bullet while he is on picket duty [“Minnie and Her Rabbit,” 49 (Feb 1865): 38-40].
The theme of the effective child may be a natural outgrowth of the way children were increasingly regarded in the nineteenth-century: pure and inexperienced, they were seen not as tiny adults to be educated into their place in the world as quickly as possible, but as people in their own right, with their own way of seeing and dealing with the world (Heininger in Century, 10). And, indeed, a certain kind of self-consciousness seems apparent in the Museum; many of the pieces contributed by subscribers themselves present children as beautiful and innocent and effective, in what may be an aping of patterns of adult literature, or in unconscious expression of their own desires. The effective child is an important child, for she influences everyone around her, and all heed her; there is more than a touch of self-consciousness in the vision of one converted boy who realizes that he can reform his degenerate parents:
This theme also may show the reader that he can make a difference in the world and influence it for good, for the magazine at this time seems to betray a certain ambivalence about modern life which had not been apparent in its early years. Nature always had been held up as ideal, but now it is even more sharply contrasted with an urban society that is coarse and alien, where the streets are filled with the helpless poor. Progress is gloried in if it eases the human burden, but machines may be ugly and soulless, and modern life doesn’t have the richness or morality of the life of the past. And, in a theme new in the pages of the Museum, the virtuous may find themselves persecuted for their goodness.
In the world-view of the Museum, progress is good when it frees the human burden, but feelings are ambivalent about the modern age itself. The “backwardness” of such nations as China serve as examples of what unprogressive tendencies can cause. Though the Chinese “have made very considerable advances in the arts and sciences, in some of which they have shown ingenuity and skill far beyond that of Europe,” their “self-conceit and jealousy of foreign ideas” have prevented them from accepting the inventions and improvements of “a higher civilization.” [“Something About China,” 35 (May 1858): 139] The Museum celebrates such events as the laying of the Atlantic telegraph cable and such inventions as the sewing machine as improvements in the human condition. The telegraph is a “bridge of thought” [“The Atlantic Telegraph,” 36 (Oct 1858): 104; italics original], which allows people to communicate so freely as to preclude the possibility of war, “for if anything seems to be going wrong, and like to make a quarrel, the blessed cable will tell back and forth, till all is explained, and good friends again.” [Laura Elmer, “The Telegraph Cable,” 36 (Nov 1858): 148) The sewing machine comes in for the most praise, for it relieves the massive burden of clothing a family and provides time
Having listened as a grandfather regales his incredulous grandchildren with tales of the days when cloth was woven by hand, the reader is urged to marvel at the speed with which cloth is woven now, and with which clothes may be made up on a sewing machine: “The entire spring and fall work of a family may be done up in one rainy week, and not an hour lost for out-of-door exercise and health”; one man fascinated by this speed “made several night- gowns, three or four pairs of pants, and two skirts, all in one afternoon, and then, like Alexander of old, cried out for more.” [Margaret, “Old Times and New,” 36 (Aug 1858): 49-53]
But not all of modern life is so good. Life in modern America would disgust the founders of the nation; on the site of an old college, now gone, Uncle Hiram seems to see the ghosts of the great men educated there—Washington, Adams, Junefferson, and others—and,
Life in the factories and mills is coarse and hard, and life in the cities is equally bad. In the Museum, factories are dehumanizing, because of the coarseness of those who work there and because the mills themselves are suffocating in their unaesthetic qualities. The moral protagonists in two serials, forced to work there, are shocked and appalled by what they find. Ike Cottle, looking for work, goes to a coal mine where the workers are but slaves ordered about with oaths and blasphemy [W.W. Hicks, “Ike Cottle,” 53 (Feb 1867): 41); when he finally gets a job, it is in a tin mill where the men drink, swear, and brawl [53 (March 1867): 66-7]. Philip Snow’s reaction to working in an iron mill is shock and repulsion: “ ‘I work in the mill, with the greasy, black machinery, and the oily boys and men; mother, you don’t know how I hate mills—they make me sick.’ ” [“Philip Snow’s War,” 45 (June 1863): 172] When he does go to the mill, it is suffocating, deadening, hot, black, and dangerous, an almost animate thing which seems to advance and swallow him up:
Especially during the early years of this period, the cities are presented as noisy and uncomfortable places where human values are lost. By this time, the explosive growth of American cities had become of concern. Between 1790 and 1830, the population of New York had increased 548% (Jackson and Schultz, 99); 120,000 in 1820, the population by the time of the Civil War was over 1 million (Carroll and Noble, 150). In consequence, reformers and others seem to have become alarmed; in literature, the city became an evil place where individuality and Christianity could be subsumed (Glaab and Brown, 57-67) and which acted as the focus of the growing “poverty problem” in the United States (Bremner, 238-46). In his “Pilgrimages,” Uncle Hiram’s New York is a place exotic, bizarre, and dangerous, as much a wilderness as Asia was to Gilbert Go-Ahead. Here the ragged and the elegant mingle in a cacophonous, never-ending parade in which individuals are lost, going nowhere in particular, and ignoring both fire alarms and the crimes going on around them [“Uncle Hiram’s Pilgrimages,” 35 (March 1858): 76]. The only images of nature he can call up to describe the city are bleak: it is “a wilderness of brick and mortar” which disheartens the inhabitants with its size, “for, to a social heart, there is no desert like a crowded street.” [35 (June 1858): 174; 34 (O 1857): 117] Cities are dangerous places where crime abounds: arriving in Boston, Elva quickly has her pocket picked; another girl is kidnapped from her front door by people who make her beg for them [Sophie May, “Elva,” 50 (Sept 1865): 70; “Pilgrimages,” 39 (March 1860): 81]. What is worse is the effect of the cities on the human heart. “Those who have lived long shut up in brick, stone, and mortar seem to have imbibed a little of the stony dust,” the Museum laments, “and thus always present a hard surface to the stranger.” [Fritz, “Paul Goldschmeid,” 40 (Dec 1860): 165] The inhabitants of these places are coarse and almost alien, from the tasteless man who puts a pair of showy bronze lions in front of his house—“ …they are out of place in this cold climate. Lions belong to the torrid zone, and could not live exposed through our winters.”—to the laborers who accost Hiram on all sides with “barbarous yells.” [“Pilgrimages,” 34 (July 1857): 14] The laborers at the dock are “Border Ruffians” who “assault” Hiram as if they were savages; they and the street peddlers speak a kind of patois: “’Imevourmanser!’” and “Izepokefustser!’” the men shout, while a newsboy pipes, “’HeesetheExeHell-onvtusants-horblax’nlosserlife!’ ” [33 (Jan 1857): 9-10; 34 (July 1857): 14]
“Sin and misery meet us everywhere as we walk through this world,” Hiram tells us, “and nowhere do they glare upon us with more hideous faces than in the proud thoroughfares of great cities.” [38 (Dec 1859): 9] In several pieces, the miseries of the urban poor are clarified. For the most part families headed by women, they seem lost in the clamor of city life, desperately eking out a hand-to-mouth existence. The city seems to have hardened many of the poor, who become brazen enough to seem unashamed of their poverty:
Others, however, are quieter and more unassuming, and these are the proper objects of charity. Though the men Hiram meets seem to have earned their poverty through laziness or drink, the women and the children get his help. In the pages of the Museum, it becomes clear that the deserving poor need only an impulse in the right direction. A crippled peddler needs only help to get medical assistance, and he goes into business and lives the rest of his life in prosperity [“Pilgrimages,” 39 (Feb 1860): 36-7]. Another family, once helped, is able to leave the city for the serene country, in “the very cottage, on the banks of the Connecticut, where the mother was born.” [“Pilgrimages,” 37 (My 1859): 141] In the Museum, rural is ideal, and its style of life is healing. The city family prospers in its cottage, and a boy in trouble learns “real virtues” on the farm to which he is sent [Sophie May, “Wild Oats,” 52 (Dec 1866): 169].
The Museum’s ambivalence extends to the place of goodness in the modern world. Though kindness, humility, and the effective child are celebrated throughout the pages of the magazine, a new theme—the persecution of the good—emerges; and charity, while good for its own sake, becomes a way to profit materially. That the virtuous are persecuted seems almost a given, according to the magazine: “It is not enough that you are praised by the good; you have failed somewhere in your duty if you are not cursed by the bad.” [filler, 49 (March 1865): 75] In several pieces seemingly aimed at boys, the virtuous protagonist becomes the focus of the hatred of those around him, not so much because they are villains but because he is so good. A newsboy who goes to Sunday school and now avoids swearing and “low company” is jeered at and assaulted by his former friends; one man threatens to set his dog on the boy if he does not swear. Though the man is only indulging in malicious fun, the dog attacks and the boy is badly mauled; his moral courage attracts the attention of a merchant who gives him a job after he recovers [“A Brave Boy,” 45 (Jan 1863): 21-2]. Ike Cottle’s moral conduct is “a constant rebuke to the evil-doers around him” at the mill where he works, though they only tease him [W.W. Hicks, “Ike Cottle,” 53 (April 1867): 100]; the boy who reads a newspaper instead of wasting his time as his friends do is verbally abused by the boys [“The Future President,” 53 (April 1867): 196-8]. August, in Jacob Abbot’s “Pistols and Bravery,” is often jeered at by other children because of his own superior moral integrity. In none of the tales with a female protagonist is the virtuous protagonist a focus of malice; the Museum’s world-view does not seem to admit the possibility that female virtue is not a given, while in boys it is so unusual as to cause not only comment but challenge. The potency of peer pressure is a theme which crops up occasionally in the Museum; these tales not only recognize it but make victory over it into an adventure. A certain tension seems inherent in the way charity is portrayed. In the Museum, the good feelings engendered by giving to the needy are apparent, but these feelings are not the only reward; there is material reward as well. A boy who gives his Christmas money to a beggar girls wins the prize of a bible from his father, while a girl who gives money she has saved for a doll to a poor woman to buy medicine, receives from the woman’s daughter a gold ring and from her own father $5 “as a reward for her kindness to the poor and needy.” [May Fullerton, “Generosity Rewarded,” 33 (Jan 1857): 13- 15; G.L. Cranmner, “The Plain Gold Ring,” 45 (Feb 1863): 50-1] Renny, who wants a real army uniform like his father’s, insists that the money for the uniform be given, instead, to clothe a poor boy; a week later, his father sends him a small duplicate of his own uniform [“Renny’s Uniform,” 43 (March-April 1862)]. As we have seen, self-denial allows one to be virtuous and to win a material reward as well. Such tales bring to life the idea of casting one’s bread upon the waters, and they show in a tangible way that kindness and generosity are rewarded. But they may also betray a certain tension: in a world where virtue is cursed, it is not enough to tell the reader that charity is rewarded in heaven, one must also persuade her that it is also rewarded on earth.
Ambivalence also marks the ways in which blacks, Native Americans, and women are portrayed at this time. For the most part, non-white non-Americans are objects of condescension: “Joggo,” a Hindu boy, and his friends, talk “ ‘gibberish’ ” and are bored with the beautiful landscape around them, “being nothing but heathens”; the Chinese, who are “a very sagacious sort of people after all,” might be just as good as “we” are, “if they had had all our advantages.” [Sophie May, “Joggo at School,” 66 (D 1863): 171; “Some Matters and Things in China,” 41 (March 1861): 85] American minorities, on the other hand, are a different matter. During this period of the gathering of the force of war and of the war itself, slavery is lightly condemned the few times it is mentioned, but it is slavery oddly removed from the lives of blacks, who are most often comical figures. Africans, the Museum assures its readers, may look strong, but “ ‘they can by no means compare with even moderately strong Europeans’ ”; they are also ugly: “ ‘Why, they’re black!’ ” exclaims a little girl examining a picture. “ ‘How can they be pretty?’ ” Reminded that her brother’s black pony is pretty, she sees no correlation; “ ‘Never mind, pussy,’ ” her uncle says, laughing, “ ‘you are not the only one that has the same opinion.’ ” [“Home Society,” 44 (Sept 1862): 78] The few black Americans who appear in the pages of the magazine are dialect- ridden servants who serve as objects of charity or as comic relief: a former slave is taught by a young Northern girl to read the Bible, which teaches her “ ‘de way to live to die’ ”; a servant decides that the best way to use a little fuzzy poodle is to tie it to a stick and use it to wash high windows [“Sarah’s Reward,” 45 (April 1863): 119; “Good for Something, After All,” 34 (Dec 1857): 172]. Perhaps in an attempt to temper the divisions between North and South, even during the war the Museum rarely mentions slavery, and when it is mentioned, it is slavery far removed from the American South. The Southerners loyal to the North in “Left on the Field” in 1865 have slaves, but this word is never used, nor is “servant”; it is almost as if the blacks have attached themselves to the family out of loyalty, and when one goes north, he is not escaping slavery, but is leaving the evil Confederacy to join the Union army and bring a speedier victory [“Left on the Field,” 50 (Oct 1865): 134-5]. In two pieces, the anti-slavery stance is very clear, but it is softened by distance and time. In the strongest anti-slavery statement in the Museum, though someone’s body may be owned by another, “His soul, ye have not bought—/ … ’Twill to its Maker soar / When from earth’s frail clay set free!” [“Selling Joseph,” 46 (Aug 1863): 33] However, this piece concerns itself with the Biblical selling of Joseph by his brothers, while the other’s use of alliteration makes it into an intellectual exercise, and it takes place in Sardinia, where Sappho sees Scipio “striking savagely six Spanish slaves.” [“Selling Joseph,” 46 (Aug 1863): 33; “Aunt Sue’s Scrap-Bag,” 43 (April 1862): 120] In the Museum, slavery is a distant evil.
The female protagonists in the magazine are submissive, sweet- tempered, and pure of heart—or learn to be. But here, too, there is a certain ambivalence. For the most part, the magazine champions submission and sweetness of spirit in women. They are advised to “sew buttons on your husband’s shirts; do not make up any grievance; …plant a smile of good temper in your face; and carefully root out all angry feelings, and expect a crop of happiness.” [“Gardening for Ladies,” 46 (Nov 1863): 146] The ideal girl is “elfish” and almost hyperactive as she greets her parent, plays the piano and sings—unasked—and “casts herself at one’s footstool and clasps one’s hand, and asks eager, unheard-of questions with such bright eyes and flushing face … ” [“What is a Darling?,” 44 (Oct 1862): 111] Those unhappy with the place of women in society are wrong, for
On the other hand, girls who earn their own living are prized, for they are better than the languid girls who don’t; they are “above them in intelligence, in honor, in everything, as the heavens are above the earth.” [“Working Girls,” 46 (Oct 1863): 113] And a filler wryly comments on the expectations society has of women’s intelligence and the proper use of it: “The young lady who can sing three songs is ‘accomplished.’ … [B]ut the young lady who has an opinion of her own on matters of philosophy or history, or who thinks beyond whalebone and camelias, is an ‘unfeminine creature.’ ” [filler, 50 (Nov 1865): 131] Generally, however, in the magazine, the ideal woman knows that her place is submission and duty to others.
The greatest ambivalence in the magazine is reserved for Native Americans. Though in earlier issues of the Museum the natives of South America are presented fairly sympathetically, while North Americans are savage, in the years of Stearns’ editorship, all Native Americans are savage or child-like, except for the fictional ones, who are uniformly noble savages. In factual pieces, Native Americans are presented as “scarcely more than a superior order of mere animals” [“Why Have the Indians Disappeared?,” 43 (Jan 1862): 21], uncivilized, though capable of it: “Some tribes, it is true, have gradually become civilized, or partly so, at least. But there are others who have resisted all the efforts that have been made to civilize them. They seem like some wild animals, incapable of being tamed.” [“Wild Indians,” 34 (July 1857): 12-13] Their brutality is emphasized in such pieces as “The Hunter’s Escape,” in which a band of hunters is captured and killed [Edward W. Davison, 42 (Sept 1861): 78-9]. In many of the fiction pieces in the magazine, however, the Native Americans are noble savages, and there is a distinctly elegiac tone. The basic pattern involves contact with whites, after which the generic natives, “obliged to yield to the superiority of the civilized over the savage,” gracefully move on to death or deeper wilderness [Aunt Sue, “Pukkwana,” 35 (April 1858): 109-13]. Sentiment prevails: “The Legend of the White Canoe” purports to be a native legend, in which the only daughter of a stern chief is chosen to be sacrificed to the spirit of Niagara Falls; unable to face life without “the only joy to which he clung on earth,” the father joins her, and “the eyes of father and child meet in one last look of love, as together they plunge over the thundering cataract into eternity!” [“The Legend of the White Canoe,” 45 (May 1863): 152] Another Native American, having adopted a kidnapped white girl, gives her up to her biological father and then gracefully bows out by moving west with the rest of his tribe [Cousin Hannah, “The Indians’ Captive,” 38 (Nov 1858): 138-43]. Three tales by subscribers express a sort of wish-fulfillment, as the Native Americans leave behind some special gift for a favored European girl before departing: one girl, raised by the tribe but now living with her biological parents, receives from a heartbroken childhood sweetheart a beautiful wooden box containing a simple, heavy gold cross before he and his tribe disappear west [Madge, “Unella,” 49 (June 1865): 171-3); while two other girls, in separate pieces, prove their worth to Native American men, who present each with a pet deer before either disappearing or dying [Martha G., “The Grateful Indian,” 44 (Aug 1862): 33-5; Kruna, “Jessie and Her Fawn,” 46 (Jl 1863): 1-7]. In their exotic simplicity, these gifts seem to symbolize their givers; genteelly pretty, they represent natives just as genteel and prettified, spiritually one with the European girls who befriend them. The gifts are cherished by their receivers, who mourn beautifully. Removed in time and distance from the natives who lived in New England, the subscribers of the Museum could safely sentimentalize them; these tales allow their authors to identify with the noble Native Americans and prove their own worth, before the natives fade gracefully—and safely—into distance or time.
On one aspect of modern life, the Museum shows no ambivalence. Though it does not get as much mention as it did in the magazine’s earlier years, America is still presented as God’s redeeming nation, its flag “[t]he last hope of mortals” all over the world [Laura Elmer, “Our War-Worn, Fulgent Flag,” 45 (May 1863): 145]. The Civil War seems to have only strengthened this idea, for the victory of the North over the South renews, for the rest of the world to see, the nation’s commitment to freedom: “Freedom and Liberty, purchased by the best blood of our Revolutionary fathers, has been repurchased and consecrated anew by the noble heroes who have freely died that their country might live.” [“Chat,” 46 (July 1865): 23] Throughout the War, the magazine presents the conflagration as a heart-rending crusade against tyranny, in the course of which even children can make a difference. The Museum never came out strongly against the South, mindful, perhaps, that most of its readers still had familial and emotional ties there, and that such a stance wouldn’t be in keeping with the magazine’s emphasis on moderation, kindness, and religion. But, in passing, almost, the South is presented as “haughty” and tyrannical, trying to impose its will on the rest of the nation; and the struggle of the North with it is for freedom and for the right [“Independence Day,” 46 (July 1863): 26]. Because America’s political system provides a voice for every citizen, “[r]ebellion in such a country as this is the highest of crimes, because without excuse, and we all fervently desire to see it put down by every means.” [“The Home Society,” 45 (June 1863): 164-5] But the emphasis in the magazine is not so much on the preservation of the political system as it is on the preservation of the country, and the Union soldiers are equated with the heroes of the American Revolution: a memorial to a young captain records that he died in “ ‘the holy cause, and ascended on high to join the immortal Washington and his compatriots.’ ” [“The Young Captain,” 49 (June 1865): 180] A poem in a one-page memorial to a popular subscriber who died a prisoner of war urges,
God of our fathers, our freedom prolong,
And tread down rebellion, oppression, and wrong!
Oh! land of earth’s hopes, on thy blood-reddened sod
I die for the Nation, the Union, and God! [poem, 49 (March 1865): 87]
By contrast, the single Confederate soldier whose background is mentioned in the magazine is one who has been forced by the tyrannical South to join its army, having waited too late to flee north [“Left on the Field,” 50 (O 1865): 99]. The readers of the Museum were to emerge from the nation’s conflagration with a deeper sense of America’s fitness to be the “land of earth’s hopes,” and, perhaps, with a modicum of sympathy for the people of the South: though the Confederacy is mildly condemned, such pieces as “Left on the Field” and “Adventures of a ‘Merry’ Boy”—the true story of Eugene Fales’ escape from prison —leave the reader with a picture of individual Southerners loyal to the Union but overwhelmed by the tide of Confederacy. Though the Confederate neighbors of one loyal family make sure the family’s house and property are destroyed, and a fleeing Confederate soldier is shown turning at the sound of a drummer boy playing “Yankee Doodle” and shooting him, these portraits are tempered by the good will of the people who help Eugene Fales to escape, and the gentleness of the family which helps wounded Union soldiers in “Left on the Field” [“Left on the Field,” 50 (Nov 1865): 136; “The Boy Soldier,” 44 (July 1862): 9]. The celebration in the magazine at the end of the War is not just a celebration of victory but of the reunion of the two halves of the nation.
If there is one all-encompassing theme in the Museum of this period, it is the spiritual perfection of the individual. Though beset by the coarseness and dehumanization of modern life, each person is to remake herself in the image of Christ [Rene, “Forgetting Self,” 40 (Sept 1860): 86-7] and thereby prepare herself for heaven. Moderation, humility, and self-denial reward the person who practices them not only in heaven but on earth. In this emphasis on the child’s self- denial, obedience to the parent and to God, and humility, an element of control is apparent: an obedient, self-sacrificing child is a child more easily controlled by an adult. And, many an exhausted parent may have envied the parents of all-but-invisible ideal children, who are, like the trailing arbutus, “retiring in their manners—to be sought for, to be called upon, when they should be seen and heard.” [A.C.M., “A Word to the Children,” 39 (May 1860): 149] If, during the editorship of Goodrich, the Museum offered its young readers a view of the entire world ready for their influence, during Stearns’ editorship, it offered them a view of the way into the graces of God and humanity.
To readers picking up the January, 1868, issue of the Museum for the first time, it must have been immediately apparent that their magazine had changed. The cover, by E. B. Greene (Stern, Imprints, 56) featured four daisies with stems intertwined, and a simplified title: Merry’s Museum: An Illustrated Magazine for Boys & Girls; for the first time in the magazine’s history, neither Robert Merry nor his readers are pictured on the cover. The cover also boasted that this was volume 1, number 1, of a new series, published by H. B. Fuller, of Boston. Inside, other changes were apparent: the magazine had grown to 48 pages and dropped the borders around each page, giving the Museum a sleek, modern look. Those readers diving for the back pages and the “Chat” must have received a shock, for no letters from subscribers appeared; instead they found a two-page letter from “Cousin Tribulation,” detailing a New Year’s day years ago, when a family of little girls gave their good, hot breakfast to a family of starving German immigrants. The front cover was emblematic of the shift toward professionalism now occuring the magazine’s pages: the readers have been removed, and Robert Merry has become a nonentity. The Museum had changed hands and now had not just a new publisher, but a new Robert Merry as well.
It also had a new world-view. Though the magazine of earlier years had not lacked entertainment value, now entertaining the reader was key. This did not mean that a certain moral code wasn’t still emphasized in the Museum: the values and virtues of humility, submission to God, and a certain amount of self-control still held true. But a new practicality had crept in; these virtues did not simply mold the individual soul, but had a certain amount of practical use as well. Practicality was also stressed in daily life, as readers were enjoined to use their time and resources with an eye to future economic success. While, in the Museum’s early years, it was important that the child be readied for its adult role as quickly as possible, now the child was valued for what she was at present—so much so that readers were urged not to grow up and take on adult burdens too soon. The narrowed world which Stearns had presented to his readers was re-emphasized in the narrowed field of influence which Alcott and Fuller presented to theirs.
Fuller purchased the magazine in 1867 ([announcement of purchase]), but, except for the inclusion of a piece in the December issue by one of his new authors—L. M. Alcott—he made no real changes in the format or content until January of the new year. (Eugene Fales, the office boy who had bought the magazine after mustering out of the Army in 1865, was by 1867 experiencing the health problems that led to his death in 1868.) By this time, Fuller’s association with publishing and with children’s literature was well established. At age 20, he had clerked for a publisher specializing in schoolbooks; in 1864, he joined Walker, Wise and Company, which published works on theology and abolitionism, as well as many works for children. Fuller’s rise in the field was rapid, for he became a full partner a year later and, a year after that, formed his own publishing company when the first one failed. Fuller’s new company published juveniles, works by Horace Mann, and some theological works from 1867 to 1873, when the company failed—probably because the offices were destroyed in the Boston fire of November, 1872 (Stern, Imprints, 46-57). (The magazine failed first: the announcement in Museum was dated November 1.)
For Fuller, the Museum was an ideal advertising medium; in the advertising section at the back of the magazine, he could announce the publication of new works. Fuller shrewdly played his book-publishing enterprise against his magazine-publishing enterprise: books published by his company were offered as premiums in the magazine, and not only were books excerpted in the Museum, but the Museum provided works which were then reprinted in book form. The chapter from Driven to Sea, reprinted in the June, 1870, issue probably whetted appetites for the book itself, which was published by Fuller and offered as a premium for the magazine. Mary G. Darling’s Battles at Home, published by Fuller in 1871, had been serialized in the Museum the year before; when its sequel also was published in 1871, a chapter from it was reprinted in the magazine. The four-volume Dingo series, published by Fuller in 1870, included Famous Dogs, by “Cousin Alice”—which had appeared in the Museum in 1869—and The Loggers, Mink Curtiss, and Alcott’s Will’s Wonder Book—all of which had appeared in 1868 (Blanck, vol. 1, 32; Stern, “Louisa’s,” 387-9). In Alcott’s case, she may never have known that the Wonder Book had been reprinted: it was published anonymously while she was in Europe (Stern, “Louisa’s,” 389). Not every serial printed in the Museum was reprinted in book form by Fuller; Alcott’s “An Old-Fashioned Girl,” serialized in 1869, was expanded by Alcott and published by another publisher in 1870 (Stern, Alcott, 350).
To edit the Museum and to adopt the persona of Robert Merry, Fuller hired Louisa May Alcott, a young writer who already had authored Morning-Glories. and Other Stories, published by Fuller in 1867 ([announcement of purchase]). Alcott’s enthusiasm for her new job was somewhat less than keen, as a diary entry reveals:
September, 1867—Niles, partner of Roberts, asked me to write a girl’s book. Said I’d try.
F. asked me to be the editor of “Merry’s Museum.” Said I’d try.
Began at once on both new jobs; but didn’t like either. (Cheney, 152)
The “girl’s book” was Little Women, about which Alcott probably learned to be more enthusiastic; editing the Museum seems to have remained more of a chore, valued—in the entries in Alcott’s diary—for the $500 it earned her each year (Cheney, 159). But, as early as February, 1868, Fuller was having difficulties paying Alcott’s salary (Cheney, 166); and, “Merry is not what I wish it was,” Alcott complained in a letter to her uncle, and “ … Fuller mildly suggests that I should write the whole magazine, which was not in the bargain.” (Stern, “Persistence,” 57) Ill health forced her to resign her position in early 1870; the success of her “girls’ book” made possible a much-needed rest. When she was hired by Fuller, Alcott already had published another juvenile—Flower Fables, published in 1855. In the interim, she had written not only the popular Hospital Sketches, in 1863, but— secretly—some equally-popular thrillers of passion and betrayal for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and Flag of Our Union (Stern, Behind, vii-xxviii). Alcott wasn’t the magazine’s only Robert Merry between 1868 and 1872. Weakened by overwork and by the lingering effects of mercury she had ingested as part of a cure for typhoid during her stint as a hospital nurse in the Civil War (Elbert, 231), Alcott resigned her position in 1870, to go to Europe for her health. It is impossible to tell who edited the Museum after Alcott, for no editor is listed. Perhaps it was someone employed in Fuller’s company, or Fuller himself.
Alcott and the other editors presided over a Museum quite different from the magazine of earlier years. In its last years, the magazine emphasized entertainment more than ever; stories and poems dominated its pages, though publication of songs stopped. Probably this was in response to a combination of increased competition and a changed emphasis in children’s literature in general. The publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in England in 1865 and in the United States in 1866 fueled a new emphasis on entertainment in children’s fiction, as did a culture which valued children for what they were more than for what they would become; entertainment—though never without a certain morality —became a more acceptable goal for children’s literature. Dime novels, though at first intended primarily for adults, and weekly story papers such as Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper—which were intended for the whole family—provided their readers with action and humor—and few moral insights. The late 1860s saw, too, a tremendous increase in the number of children’s periodicals (Kelly, Children’s, xxii). All of this changed the expectations Robert Merry’s readers had of what their magazine should include, and they seem to have demanded—and gotten—an emphasis on light entertainment. When a subscriber asked for articles on chemistry and physics in 1872, he was told by Merry that such pieces would not be of general interest, for “most readers, I suppose, would prefer to have the pages of Merry filled with stories, or other light reading.” [“Chat,” 61 (Feb 1872): 98-100]
As a result, the Museum included many works which have as their main thrust humor and entertainment. Works such as “How a Good Dinner was Lost” and Alcott’s “My Fourth of July” and “Our Little Ghost” are humorous accounts of the “naughty” child with no real moral emphasis [59 (June 1871): 149-53; 56 (July 1869): 324-27; 55 (Nov 1868): 456-7]. In several adventure tales published in the Museum, the emphasis of the piece is on action and suspense, though the tales retain a sense of morality; their heroes act virtuously, but their virtues are not made much of, and the moral of the works is simply that good will triumph. “Mink Curtiss” (1868), a simple adventure tale of two boys and a good-hearted backwoodsman captured by Sioux, was the first. Exciting tales of the quelling of a drunken, mutinous crew, of the resourcefulness of a group of castaways, of a real-life escape from a Siberian prison, and of a pious and clever hunter’s escape from an ice chasm soon followed [“Mutiny Aboard,” 55 (Feb 1868): 65-70; William H.G. Kingston, “Cast Away on a Sand Bank,” 60 (Aug 1871): 89-94; “An Escape from Siberia,” 60 (Dec 1871): 274-80; “Under the Ice,” 55 (Nov 1868): 425-33]. Historical adventure serials such as “Walter’s Escape” (1870)—set in the 16th-century Netherlands—“The Young Shepherd” (Feb.-April 1871)—set in 18th-century France—and “The Drummer Boy of the Grand Army” and “The Drummer Boy in Russia” (Nov. 1871-March 1872)—set in Napoleonic times—also appeared. Mink Curtiss’s adventures could have appeared as part of almost any dime novel series; Charles Barnard’s hilarious “The Voyage of the Salt-Mackerel” (May-June 1872), with its simple, staccato, deadpan style, parodies the boys’ story papers popular at the time.
Few of the contributors to the Museum at this time are remembered today. A few former subscribers, such as Kitty Carroll and Sara Conant, also were contributors, but the magazine used few works by subscribers, and the subscriber-authored pieces that were used are much more polished than most earlier pieces. In the emphasis on professionalism, Robert Merry critiqued his reader’s manuscripts instead of publishing them. As it had for Dodge and for Rebecca Clarke, now the Museum served as a place for new writers for children to practice their craft before becoming famous. Alcott is one example; Lucretia Hale—who would become famous in the 1880s as the chronicler of the hilarious adventures of the hapless Peterkin family—contributed a two-part serial in 1869. Less famous authors also contributed to the magazine before their works appeared in book form. Edgar Fawcett’s poems appeared in the Museum; he later published in other periodicals (Mott, vol. 2 & 3) and, from the 1880s on, wrote several books. Harriet Miller—“Olive Thorne”—contributed several pieces to the magazine before launching a long career as an author of books. Mary N. Prescott contributed many works to the magazine before her collection of short stories appeared in 1873. Many contributors also were associated with Fuller’s book publishing in some way. Alcott already had published a book with Fuller; Lucretia Hale and Sarah West Lander had both published several works with Walker, Wise, and Co.—later, Walker, Fuller, and Co. At the time that Mary G. Darling contributed stories to the magazine, Fuller was publishing her novels.
The emphasis on professionalism also is reflected in the “Chat.” Merry’s monthly column, which had been taken over by his readers under Stearns, was retaken by Alcott, who refused to print their letters and who substituted little moral pieces of her own, often as “Cousin Tribulation”—the name taken from the “Tribulation Periwinkle” pseudonym under which Hospital Sketches had been published. Few readers’ letters—and none that did not have some little moral or lesson included—were published in the “Chat” after 1868; instead, the young readers’ loyalties and letters seem to have gone to Aunt Sue, whose column remained inviolate until 1870. Then, a touch of professionalism seems to have crept into it as well: traditionally, the column had printed the names of subscribers who had sent in answers to the puzzles, crediting them with the numbers of the problems each had answered correctly; now, Aunt Sue announced in January, 1870, “some folks” thought the column was too long, so only the names of subscribers and the number of puzzles each had gotten correct would be printed; in January, 1871, when Aunt Sue announced her resignation from the column, even this practice was dropped, and no subscribers were credited; in July, 1871, the editor of the “Puzzle Drawer” announced that few of the puzzles sent by readers would be used [60 (July 1871): 49). Unconsciously, perhaps, the reader was slowly being edged out of the periodical—except as a consumer.
It is difficult to determine to what extent Alcott’s ideas were reflected in the Museum; some of the ideas one may associate with her outlasted her editorship. Perhaps they were more the ideas and ideals of the age than those of just one person. Alcott’s childhood certainly made her different from the Museum’s other editors: the daughter of deeply-spiritual but financially-precarious Bronson Alcott, she was acquainted with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller (“I had a music lesson with Miss F.,” Louisa wrote in her diary at age 10. “I hate her, she is so fussy.” [Cheney, 25]) and a hapless participant in the spiritual experiment at Fruitlands. Alcott’s pragmatism when she grew into an adult was almost immovable—not only because necessity forced her to support the rest of her family, but also, perhaps, in unconscious rebellion against her father’s dreamy nature. The 23-year-old author of the delicate Flower Fables had renounced fairy tales by the time Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag first appeared when she was 40.
However, from her father Alcott learned several concepts which influenced her writing. The innate virtue and perfectibility of the individual, the importance of the individual will, and an emphasis on Christian ideals were emphasized by the father and later were emphasized by the daughter. Bronson’s theory of education was that it should develop the spirit, and all information “ ‘contributed to the realities of social living in accord with the Christian idea.” (Hamblen, 91) The child was an individual with innate virtue which needed only to be brought out and trained. Divinity existed within each child, for Bronson—as it did within each individual for the Transcendentalists; education was to make the individual conscious of this divinity and to help her develop it: “If children’s minds could be turned inward, if they could become conscious of their own spark of truth, then they might become truly good.” (Elbert, 29) Thus, self-discipline was paramount, as was individual will and independence; according to Bronson,
The individual was to look within and to conquer personal faults, for the spirit was to reign supreme (Hamblen, 84). Bronson implemented his ideas in the education of his daughters. Louisa’s childhood diary entries are a succession of introspections and insights, of descriptions of faults and of failures to correct them: “ … we find again and again the looking within, the trembling of a conscience sensitive to the point of excess, the despairing sense of ‘bosom faults’ which must be conquered. Certainly no Puritan felt more poignantly the power of worldly evil ….” (Hamblen, 83) She also records his use of Socratic dialog and a Pestalozzian unconcern for information from books (Hamblen, 84-7). For Bronson—and, later, for his daughter—though books were useful, the child was to learn from experience and insight.
These concepts and concerns are reflected not only in Alcott’s novels (see Hamblen and Elbert), but in the Museum as well—not only during Alcott’s editorship, but after; perhaps they were not simply the ideas of one editor, but also of the society around her. A certain aura of practicality has crept in. During this period, the magazine continues the emphasis on Christian ideals and morality that Goodrich had established when he founded the magazine, and the emphasis on perfecting the inner being that Stearns had advocated; but, now, the perfected individual is ready for the kingdom of heaven only after a childhood of innocence and growth, and an adulthood of usefulness and success. Religion is still important, but there is a new ambivalence here; it is not the panacea that it had been under Goodrich and Stearns. The good individual still is to cherish traditional spiritual values, to trust in God, and to yearn for heaven, but a successful life on earth also is stressed, and religion is of limited influence in the world. There is a new emphasis on independence and the importance of the individual. Ambivalence, too, about modern life is evident. Though the city still is a place of evil compared to the country, the urban environment is more accepted than it had been under Stearns; instead of the soul-searing wilderness, it is merely a place where temptation lurks. Modern life is even more lacking in spiritual values than it had been earlier, and in a few pieces, death is presented as preferable to life in an imperfect, uncaring world. Equally alarming, for the Museum, is a modern tendency to allow children to grow up too fast and to mimic adults before they have reached an adult age. The child is still emphasized, but now it is an independent individual separate from the concerns of adult life and content to remain so. Under Goodrich, the flawed child was to learn to be a perfect adult; under Stearns, the imperfect child was to perfect itself for the kingdom of heaven; under Alcott and Fuller, the child is to be cherished for who it already is, and to look forward to the adult it will become, but to be reluctant to assume that adult’s role. In the Museum, the child is still the parent of the adult—and the moderation, prudence, charity, perseverance, humility, and devotion to duty and hard work learned in childhood are to benefit her as an adult—but she is not to become an adult too quickly. Safe in the circle of family and home, she is to be content with being a good child before she grows up to be a good adult.
As it had from the beginning, in its last years the Museum emphasizes a system of moderation, hard work, perseverance, and control; but these virtues are to be tempered less by any moral concerns than by practicality. The spoiled rich boy who can’t control his temper or his anger toward his stepfather is expelled from one boarding school after another, until the only solution is to apprentice him to a carpenter, since he refuses to be educated [J. C. F., “Step by Step,” 59 (May 1871): 216]. When Lillie learns that her brother has been captured by Confederate forces, unable to control the terror she feels for him, she takes to her bed and goes into a physical decline; the housekeeper scolds her out of this, reminding the girl that her actions will help no one, and Lillie’s health gradually improves. Once she is better, she joins her brother’s fiancee in ministering to the poor—which helps her to bear her fear and helps others at the same time [Mary G. Darling, “Battles at Home,” 58 (Oct 1870): 157-8). Lillie’s cousins are urged by their father to learn self-discipline, for their uncontrolled urges are a nuisance to others: Arthur, who can’t control his impulse to give in to peer pressure, runs up a gambling debt with his wild friends and needs his brother’s help to pay off his debt; the brother, Bob, can’t control his temper when his grandfather asks about something to do with the secret debt, and the whole family is made uncomfortable as a result [Mary G. Darling, “Battles at Home,” 57 (Aug 1870): 59-63).
In the magazine, education makes the individual a better person, but hard work is essential to get ahead. The well-educated boy who spends six months with loggers in Maine is more alive than they to the wonders around him [“The Loggers,” 55 (May 1868): 181-3]. However, education seems to give few other direct advantages to those who possess it, though the role of education in the effort to ensure success is always implicit. Hard work, on the other hand, leads directly to material success This is not its only advantage; work, the teachers of an energetic young girl agree, is the only practical way in which her energies may be channeled and controlled, and she must “have work to do all her life, or she will be in mischief, she has so much power of brain and body. She is like a steam-engine, which must be kept at work, or run to waste.’ ” (“Hollywood,” 56 (Sept 1869): 423] For the most part, however, in the magazine the most important advantage of hard work is the material success it brings. The way to succeed, one piece assures the reader, is to learn to do things for oneself and not lean on others; and no physical labor is beneath anyone’s dignity [William M. Thayer, “Help Yourselves,” 58 (Oct 1870): 184]. When a despondent sailor takes a friend’s advice to concentrate on working hard, his cheerful willingness to labor makes him indispensable to a wealthy passenger who hires the sailor at a high wage and helps the man get his younger brother out of the workhouse [“Working is Better than Wishing,” 59 (March 1871): 113-15]. After Philip Phinney must redo almost all of a hard day’s labor after work one Saturday night, he is offered a better job by his impressed boss [Mary B. Harris, “Knocking About,” 59 (May 1871): 281-2]. Work is essential, the author of a poem cautions the male reader, for only this way will he be ready to take his father’s place when it is time [Kate Cameron, “Up and Doing,” 58 (July 1870): 17-18].
In the pages of the Museum, the practical aspects of perseverance and not wasting time are also stressed. This connection is clear in the titles of a few pieces: “Perseverance Brings Success,”,” one assures the reader, and “Perseverance and Energy Insure Success,” asserts another [59 (March 1871): 127; 59 (April 1871): 156]. The young peasant in an “Arabian legend” who believes that “He that seeketh findeth, and to him who knocketh the door shall be opened” is so persistent that finally he wins as a bride the daughter of a caliph [“Perseverance Brings Success,” 59 (Mr 1871): 127]. Nothing is impossible, the magazine tells its readers, to anyone with persistence, for “to act with wisdom, energy, and perseverance, is to insure success.” [“Perseverance and Energy Insure Success,” 59 (Ap 1871): 156] The career of engineer George Stephenson is a good example, for, born in poverty, he persevered in his quest to educate himself and eventually patented the steam-engine in 1818 [Cousin May, “George Stephenson, the Engineer,” 55 (April 1868): 153-6].
Together with persevering, the reader is urged to waste no time and to use leisure carefully in order to ensure success. One reason is that the habits one learns in childhood often last for the rest of one’s life; the boy who learned to waste time grows into a man who becomes a beggar [“Don’t Kill Time,” 59 (June 1871): 254]. Another reason is that the proper use of leisure can help one educate oneself and thereby ensure later success. And the proper use of leisure is reading good and useful books. No boy can be “noble,” one writer warns, if he “believes in and covets IDLE HOURS,” and the only practical use of spare time is to study the proper books: by devoting an hour a day to reading, one eventually will have read 91 duodecimo, 400-page books, which, if these books are histories and biographies, will leave their reader with a lot of useful knowledge. Many successful men had adopted this plan in their youth; one of these had lived in a boarding-house where an hour after dinner was devoted to quiet and where those who studied during this hour were successful in later years, while those who went out “to a man, became bankrupt in after life, not only in fortune. but in reputation ….” [“Chat,” 57 (Feb 1870): 96; italics original] Mark, who likes to read “ ‘nonsensical romances’ ” or join his friends during his spare time, is clearly headed for a bad end, his father worries; however, once he is given a good book on carpentry, he learns from it “how he could make his spare hours profitable” and uses the book to become a master carpenter, later going into business for himself [“A Quiet Study,” 61 (May 1872): 215-17]. If one is going to read during leisure, the only proper books are practical ones, for fiction can be dangerous. Reading the adventure tales in the “Youth’s Banner” inspires two boys to take a dangerous trip down a river on a raft: “ ‘That paper—that Youth’s Banner —it has fired their young hearts with a desire for travel and adventure, and they have run away’ ”, one father realizes [Charles Barnard, “The Voyage of the Salt Mackerel,” 61 (June 1872): 246]. The novels Mark has been fond of reading leave him “excited” and do him “more harm than good, for many a time, while at work, wild scenes from the idle tales he had perused so eagerly would come into his mind and make him absent or careless.” [“A Quiet Study,” 61 (May 1872): 217] Those who get into the habit of “reading to forget,” the Museum warns, will learn that “such a habit is fatal to any very high position in life.” [“Books and Reading,” 59 (Jan 1871): 38]
Practicality colors discussions of other virtues as well. Prudence, it is implied, can lead to success; Aunt Sue cites the example of a successful man whose father had taught him not to play until his work was done, and not to spend money until he had earned it [“Aunt Sue’s Scrap-Bag: A Good Rule,” 55 (Oct 1868): 414]. Thrift, too, has practical applications which are stressed more than are any moral considerations. The girl who takes care of her dresses always has tidy clothes and thus has no need to spend more money on clothes [J. E. McConaughy, “Take Care of Your Dresses,” 62 (Sept 1872): 136]. Saving one’s money can allow one even greater pleasures than would be possible otherwise. Saving money for “ ‘some useful purpose, instead of spending it on trifles that are gone in a moment’ ” can be of great benefit: a little girl who has earned 10 cents realizes that by saving her money eventually she will have enough money to buy the palm leaf fan she has wanted; her aunt tells her about a young boy who saved up for a wooden cart he had coveted [J. E. McConaughy, “Lula’s Palm Leaf Fan,” 58 (O 1870): 189-90]. In the Museum, too, it is better to act than to speak: an architect in ancient Greece who reacts to the possibility of building a great temple by lecturing on architecture to the men who will hire him loses the job to a man who says that what the first has said, he can do [“Deeds Better Than Words,” 60 (Oct 1871): 169].
In the world of the magazine, even charity can have practical concerns for the giver, for the recipient, and for the community. Joseph Mason, given $200 to spend in a way that will prove that he is the “most worthy” boy in the village, spends it on charity and earns the fortune left by wealthy eccentric; he uses part of this money to build schools and an asylum for the poor which benefits the entire village [“Father Michel’s Will,” 59 (March 1871): 105-10]. As was true in Stearns’ time, the rewards of charity are not just spiritual but material. Charity and love bring to the giver “content, and joy, and peace” [L. M. Alcott, “My Doves,” 55 (March 1868): 100], but it also brings material goods. A poor boy who gives the people of his village all the potatoes they need after their potato crops have failed is given by them in return a magical Noah’s ark in which the figures come alive [Lucretia Hale, “Jedidiah’s Noah’s Ark,” 56 (Nov 1869): 508-11]; a little girl who gives the money she has saved for a subscription to the Museum to buy toys for a poor child gets the subscription anyway, when her aunt swaps her story for it [Cousin Dora, “Nellie’s Pennies,” 56 (D 1869): 559-62]; a poor girl who picks up an injured bird and takes it home to nurse despite the advice of others is observed by a wealthy man who brings the family the wood and food it desperately needs [Louisa M. Alcott, “Tilly’s Christmas,” 55 (Jan 1868): 1-5].
In these years of the Museum, however, charity is not just a virtue which leads to spiritual and material reward, but, in a minor theme new to the periodical, it is also a duty. The reader is to follow the several models of charity presented in the magazine because it is the duty of those with means to help those without. Doing one’s duty is essential, for “[w]e have no right to stop and calculate losses and gain when we are plainly told what our duty is. It is selfish as well as dangerous to do so. We are to do God’s will promptly, and leave events to Him”; to prove this, the author uses the example of a rich man who gives pastries to a wistful boy—a count who, coming into his estate, hires the man —who has lost his fortune—as manager of the estate [Robert Handy, “The Best Policy,” 58 (Sept 1870): 121-3]. Another rich man whose family has died that year hears the children of a poor family discussing their plight and “realizes” that God wants him to take care of them, now that he has no family [Margaret Field, “How Sweetie’s ‘Ship Came In’,” 59 (Jan 1871): 30-36]. In a poem addressed to rich children, the author makes clear their obligation to the poor girl dying because “While you were so gay, in your beautiful dress,/ With music and laughter, and friends to caress,/ She was always at work, with no moment for play.” There are many like her, and
You can, if you will, from the place where you stand,
Reach downward to help them; the touch of your hand,
The price of one jewel, the gift of a flower,
May waken within them, with magical power,
A hope that was dying … [Ellen M. H. Gates, “Rich and Poor,” 58 (Nov 1870): 202]
Just as the importance of charity is still stressed, so is the importance of religion, especially Protestantism. The reader is still advised to trust in God, and duty is linked to religion and to the harmony of all creation; but there is a new ambivalence about the role of religion in the world: important it may be, but it has lost some of its all-encompassing influence and prominence. Religion is important because it makes us trust in God and act in charitable ways. Nature and reverence have combined in Mink Curtiss to make him one of “nature’s noblemen,” equally at home in the paths of the forest and in the paths of moral virtue; having learned to “ ‘look up from nature unto Nature’s God’,” Mink is “[a] man versed in all of wood-craft—a humble and reverential man … and one as certain to choose the path of truth and light, as his bullet was to hit the mark—a thing it seldom failed to do.” [“Mink Curtiss,” 55 (June 1868): 216] His simple reverence —as does the equally-simple reverence of an ibex hunter trapped in an ice cave—stands him in good stead when danger surrounds him: about to be burned at the stake, Mink and the boys he guides sing a hymn and are subsequently rescued; the ibex hunter prays, and the hole he is chipping in the ice is enlarged by a sudden warm rain, so that he escapes [“Mink Curtiss,” 55 (Nov 1868): 448-55; “Under the Ice,” 55 (Nov 1868): 431-2]. Trust in God also helps the daughter of the leader of a besieged city, who tries to give her life for her father’s but who is saved by the people of the town, and a starving match boy who is inspired by a story about Christ to make his needs known to his teacher—because the teacher tells his class, this was the way Christ had planned that the boy get food [Christian Byrde, “The Brave Maiden of Nancy, 61 (March 1872): 114-20; “Tim, the Match Boy,” 60 (July 1871): 29-32]. Trust in God, in the Museum, may be less spiritual use than it is practical.
Christianity, not surprisingly, is still the religion of choice, for, as one character points out, it is the only religion which teaches forgiveness: a seventeenth-century Turk who has abused a Christian knight goes through a lightning conversion when he realizes that the knight’s religious tenets preclude retaliation; having ingested poison to escape his fate, he declares that he will die a Christian [“Forgiveness,” 55 (Feb 1868): 70]. Under Stearns’ editorship, the Museum was more or less non-sectarian, but now it again makes it clear that Protestantism is the only viable sect. It is, the magazine asserts, the “pure” religion held by the seventeenth-century French Huguenots whose slaughter on St. Bartholomew’s Eve is described in detail [Cousin Alice, “Pictures from French History,” 56 (July 1869): 318]. Goodrich had emphasized that Catholic leaders led a duped and powerless flock; this theme is repeated under Fuller and Alcott. Among the exemplary deeds in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England, the Museum explains, is John Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible into English, and the “checks” on Papal power brought about through his attacks on the Papacy [Cousin Alice, “Milestones in English History,” 55 (Dec 1868): 506]; at least part of the greatness of the French king Saint Louis lay in the fact that he was “[a] servant of God … , but no slave of the Pope; nor would he, though he loved the church, commit any injustice to please the priests.” [Cousin Alice, “Pictures from French History,” 56 (Feb 1869): 72] The teachings of the church are also suspect; the Venetians pray to St. Mark, a traveling Robert Merry writes to his niece, but, “I do not think this is right, for they can have no one but God to help them.” The cathedral they pray in is filled with objects “stolen” from other lands. [“Uncle Robert’s Letters,” 55 (March 1868): 109]
Duty and religion are inexorably linked. Doing one’s duty in life cheerfully and well does not simply make one happy, as an orphan girl bound out to a farm family discovers [L. M. Alcott, “Becky’s Christmas Dream,” 57 (Jan 1870): 32-9], but it adds to the greater harmony of creation as well, for each person’s duty comes from God. Young Rhoda, hearing church bells as she wakes one morning, realizes this: “ … with the sound of the bells, each striking its own note, but all making part of the harmony, a little sense of the truth came to her, that each one doing his own appointed work in the place God puts him is making part of the harmony sounding in the Lord’s hearing … “ [Mary E. Pratt, “Rhoda,” 62 (Sept 1872): 123] It is, the magazine assures its readers, “selfish as well as dangerous” to hesitate to do our duty, for “[w]e are to do God’s will promptly, and leave events to Him. [Robert Handy, “The Best Policy,” 58 (Sept 1870): 122].
Though the essential importance of religion is emphasized, a new ambivalence is evident. Looking to spiritual concerns and having faith in God’s will are important, but there is some new hesitation in assigning to them in an all-encompassing prominence and influence. When Philip Phinney is inspired by a camp meeting to become a Christian, the narrator records his conversion almost apologetically: “Perhaps some of our readers will think our story is becoming a little solemn, and better adapted to a Sunday school library than to a Merry magazine,” he writes; but the “true historian” must record all that happens, and Philip’s conversion is part of his history [“Knocking About,” 60 (Aug 1871): 60]. This hesitation to chronicle a religious moment may be attributed to a sense that the periodical is intended to entertain, but it also may betray some qualms about the role of religion in everyday life. The villagers who are to choose the most worthy boy in the village commend the boy who gives all he has been given in charity, for he has simply done what the children have been taught is right to do in Sunday school, but they also call his views “extreme.” [“Father Michel’s Will,” 59 (March 1871): 108] In a series of articles designed to inform the Museum’s young readers about the business of journalism, the author fires a leveling blast at the power of religion in daily life: listing it with “the School, … the Lyceum, and the Press” as one of the “great powers” of America, he nevertheless assigns the greatest importance to the press, for the school “only lays the foundation of education,” the lyceum “is only in its infancy to-day,” and the pulpit “deals only with things eternal, and exercises, therefore, a strictly limited power.” On the other hand, newspapers and magazines are read everywhere, at any time [“Our Great Powers,” 57 (April 1870): 184]. Religious values and trust in God may lead one to material success, but, in the last years of the magazine, they may not be enough.
Linked with this new ambivalence about the influence of religion may be the Museum’s new stress on the importance of the individual’s independent will. Independence is a virtue to be developed, for it leads the individual to success. God has given each person the capacity for independence, and this is to be developed and used so that each person may live successfully by his own principles and ideals. Independence, as we have seen, infuses the arguments against Catholicism; the Protestant heroes honored by the Museum are those who had refused to be “slaves of the Pope.” We are not to be the slaves of God, either, as one character points out to his brother. Having prayed that his fear would vanish when he coasted in a dangerous spot, the boy had panicked, lost control of his sled, and broken his leg in an accident; puzzled, he complains to his brother. Receiving all we ask for, the brother explains, does not extend to feelings, for
Much of the process of growing up in the pages of the Museum’s stories is devoted to learning to think and act independently, in accordance with individual ideals. Arthur, in “Battles at Home,” must learn to ignore peer pressure, as his younger brother, Geoffrey, is to learn not to lean on the other boys. Polly’s independence in Alcott’s “An Old-Fashioned Girl” is to be treasured, for it allows her to resist most of the temptations that beset her cousin and to act as a moral example. Independence and common sense allow Milly, a southerner, to take over the cares of the household when her mother is ill, and to not only deflect the questions of a Confederate officer about her father—in the Union army—but to be instrumental in the capture of the officer’s regiment. Being independent is essential for material success as well, for depending on others does not teach anyone how to succeed: “Many boys and girls make a failure in life because they do not learn to help themselves,” the author asserts. “They depend on father and mother even to hang up their hats and to find their playthings. When they become men and women, they will depend on husbands and wives to do the same thing.” Conversely, the boy who consistently hangs up his own hat becomes an orderly, successful man [William M. Thayer, “Help Yourselves,” 58 (Oct 1870): 184].
This emphasis on independence is appropriate, for the concern about the ineffectiveness of virtue which was a theme of the magazine in Stearns’ time was extended to the magazine under Fuller. Independence is essential if the individual is to be effective in a world where virtue may be made little of. We already have noted the new ambivalence about the role of religion in the modern world; connected with this is the idea that life is a constant battle. This idea, absent in the magazine edited by Goodrich, was verbalized in several pieces in Stearns’ time; under Fuller, it becomes the main theme of an eleven-part serial. The “battles at home” that the four protagonists fight are with themselves and their lack of self- discipline and control—a theme not uncommon in Goodrich’s time. But where under Goodrich the individual’s lack of virtue could be overcome simply with the right application and control—and the right lesson taught by God—now one lesson is not enough, and the effort to be virtuous is constant and conscious The boys’ father reminds them to “ ‘never despond if the battle be a hard one. Life is a battle, you know.’ ” [Mary G. Darling, “Battles at Home,” 58 (Nov 1870): 208] In part, this constant effort may be a reflection of the theme—introduced in Stearns’ time—of the evils of the modern age. For the Museum, modern times are not the best times in which to live, for virtue is rare. Describing a scene on a train in which a boy gives up his seat to an old man, one writer asserts that
In these times, one of Alcott’s characters complains, “ ‘modesty has gone out of fashion.’ ” [L. M. Alcott, “An Old-Fashioned Girl,” 56 (July 1869): 303-4] The villagers judging the “worthiness” of a boy in competition for a fortune remark on the “extreme” views which underly his giving what he has in charity [“Father Michel’s Will,” 59 (March 1871): 108].
The modern city, too, is an area of concern in the magazine under Fuller, as was true of the magazine under Stearns. Though criticism is not as sharp as it was under Stearns, the city is crowded, noisy, and uncaring, a place where the poor are ignored; by contrast, life in the country is virtuous and good. Several stories in the magazine at this time deal with the plight of the urban poor—who are often neglected and helpless, as are many of the street arabs roaming the city, scraping a living by peddling newspapers and matches. The Lawson family and a family of Italian immigrants must each depend on the charity of those more wealthy, for they can’t provide for themselves [Margaret Field, “How Sweetie’s ‘Ship Came In,’ ” 59 (Jan 1871): 30-36; L. M. Alcott, “Tessa’s Surprises,” 55 (Dec 1868): 469-79]. Nino, a young Italian street musician, prospers only after he is adopted by a wealthy family, while Tim, a match boy, starves on the busy streets, helped only after he speaks up [Sara Conant, “Nino,” 62 (Sept 1872): 137- 42; “Tim, the Match Boy,” 60 (July 1871): 29-32]. Without the help of those with money, Alcott tells the reader, these young businessmen must “sleep forgotten in the streets at midnight, with no pillow but a stone, no coverlid but the pitiless snow, and not even a tenderhearted robin to drop leaves over them.” [L. M. Alcott, “Our Little Newsboy,” 55 (April 1868): 141] The evils of the city are made clear mostly by comparison with the virtue to be found in the country. Mink Curtiss, because of his association with the pure influence of nature, has a natural virtue that is deep and unshakable [“Mink Curtiss,” 55 (June 1868): 216]. In “An Old- Fashioned Girl,” Polly, the girl from the country, is a model of innocence and good-heartedness who helps to convert her cousins, corrupted by the temptations of the city. Hard-working as Philip Phinney is, he does not really begin to prosper until he leaves the city and finds a job in the country [Mary B. Harris, “Knocking About,” 59 (May 1871): 220-8]. Though the contrast is not as strong as it was in Stearns’ time, in the country is still the heart of virtue.
Of new concern in the Museum is the modern child. Though the thrust of the magazine always had been the need of its young readers to be improved, in its last years it voices a new kind of concern: that children—imperfect as they are—should remain children as long as possible. As Heininger and others have pointed out, late in the century, children began to be valued “simply for what they were—or what … adults perceived them to be.” (Heininger, in Century, 10) Though adults still imposed their values and concerns on children, there was a new emphasis on allowing children to be “child-like,” and on seeing the child’s “natural” qualities as legitimate and precious. The Museum echoes this preoccupation after 1868 in many stories and poems. Some authors celebrate the child’s apparent innocence and purity, asserting that she is ideal as she already is. Mrs. A.M. Wells likens a child to a hummingbird—neither of whom can or should be controlled [“The Little Captives,” 55 (May 1868): 173-4]. Edgar Fawcett would keep his lovely child “always as now”; and he addresses the readers directly, praising their “fresh, unworldly feelings, your hearts so fond and true,” and their songs, which “soothe the harassed spirit when troubles thickly press … “ [“ ‘Always as Now’,” 57 (June 1870): 272-3; “The Children’s Song,” 58 (Oct 1870): 189]
This is not to say that the Museum does not think its young readers can use some improvement. Toward this end, the magazine presents its readers with models of obedience and decorum, and with ideals to live by. The children’s New Year wishes, Alcott informs them, should be for “gifts that last”: “cheerful hearts,” “willing feet,” “gentle tongues,” and “tempers sweet.” [L. M. Alcott, “Wishes,” 55 (Jan 1868): 16] Many of the model children presented in the Museum possess these qualities. Sam, a young boy with a deformed back, is patient and loving and happy in spite of—or, perhaps, it is implied, because of—his ailment, and his cheerfulness is one of the “beautiful lessons” that such as he can teach [L. M. Alcott, “Sunshiny Sam,” 55 (Dec 1868): 493-7]. The self-titled “Royal Bengal Tiger” is a charming, energetic boy who proves his claim to the title by being obedient to his parents, cheerful, bold, and uncomplaining [Cousin Alice, “The Story of a Royal Bengal Tiger …,” 55 (Aug 1868): 319- 21; 55 (Sept 1868): 342-47]. Augustus, thrust into the center of the Napoleonic Wars as “The Drummer Boy of the Grand Army,” remains polite and kind to all he meets and manages thereby to win the respect of soldiers on both sides of the conflict; these qualities also help him to survive the ghastly retreat from Moscow. Examples of charity are also held up to the magazine’s young readers, such as Jennie Gray—a young girl too poor to have a pair of good shoes, who collects contributions to get shoes for another girl who is barefoot and now nurses the sick and gives to the poor out of the fortune her father has earned—and Ben and his sisters—who labor hard and long to earn money for the people left destitute by the Chicago fire [Anne Moseley, “Neither Shoes Nor Stockings,” 60 (Oct 1871): 167-9; Sara Conant, “What Ben and the Twins Did for Chicago,” 60 (Dec 1871): 284-7].
Though the basic thrust of the magazine is still to improve its readers, there is more tolerance now in the presentation of children in its pages; in earlier years in its stories, the child was either good and held up as a model for the reader, or she was bad and made to suffer for it in the course of the story. Now, however, the children in the Museum’s tales may whine, get crotchety, or act willful and bad —but still be considered basically good. Ellen Lee’s campaign to be very, very bad is correctly understood by her mother to be a reaction to hearing from those around her that the good die young [Sarah P. Brigham, “Bumps and Bruises,” 58 (Dec 1870): 274-7]; the “naughtiness” the narrator of “My Fourth of July” gets into that memorable day is the stuff of humor, not heartbreak [L. M. Alcott, “My Fourth of July,” 56 (July 1869): 324-27); and though the Midgett children are clearly the kind of holy terrors that mothers blanch at the thought of, neither they nor their young, disobedient victims are punished very harshly [Fannie Benedict, “How a Good Dinner was Lost,” 59 (June 1871): 149-53]. The children in the magazine’s pieces act with a greater naturalness than had the children of earlier years. Agnes, the oldest in a family of motherless children in “Little Pearl” is as intent on getting her younger siblings out from under her feet as any oldest child ever has been; Clara mourns the death of her much-loved horse more than she does the death of the stranger who rode him into battle [M.F. Burlingame, “Clara’s Sorrow,” 57 (April 1870): 145-49); the house of the Midgett family so fascinates its young neighbors because they are forbidden to visit it—so they do [Fannie Benedict, “How a Good Dinner was Lost,” 59 (June 1871): 149-53].
Obedience is still stressed in the magazine, and disobedience is still punished: in a tale of ancient Crete, Glaucus drowns in the honey-barrel he has been forbidden to touch and never touches it again after he is brought back to life with a magic herb, having learned that “disobedience is always visited with its due punishment”; Allie takes off her shoes and stockings in spite of her grandmother’s orders and pays for it later, after she has walked through a patch of poison ivy; the main thrust of “Step by Step” is its protagonist’s downward path after he begins to disobey his parents [F. H. V., “The Story of Glaucus,” 55 (Oct 1868): 382; C. Alice Baker, “The Doctor’s Little Girl,” 58 (Nov 1870): 232). However, “naughty” children are presented in the Museum with tenderness and humor. The boys who journey down-river on the “Salt Mackerel,” the young scamps in the Midgett family, and the little child too energetic to sleep until it has had its fill of bouncing on the bed are presented sympathetically, and the humor of their situations is stressed [Charles Barnard, “The Voyage of the ‘Salt Mackerel’,” 61 (My-Je, 1872); Fannie Benedict, “How a Good Dinner was Lost,” 59 (June 1871): 149-53; L. M. Alcott, “Our Little Ghost,” 55 (Nov 1868): 456-7].
There is, however, a certain element of control evident in the magazine. Children are to act the way adults expect them to, and they should not try to be adult too soon. In a periodical which had concerned itself in its earliest years with preparing the child to be a responsible adult as quickly as possible, this is a new concern, fueled by the culture’s new view of the child. In several pieces, the “modern” child, concerned with fashion and with mimicking adults and their actions, is contrasted with the “old-fashioned” child, concerned with enjoying herself innocently in a manner adults see as appropriate. The Museum’s traditional injunctions against vanity and pride and its celebration of modesty and humility become inexorably linked with the new ideal of childhood. In the stories of the magazine, the ideal child is naive, honest, enthusiastic, straightforward, loving and kind, unworldly, and basically unconfident—with the emphasis on “unworldly.” The greatest sin a child-protagonist can commit is to take too great an interest in adult behavior, with an eye to imitation; and, as was true under Stearns, the good child is also the shy and unassuming one. Joseph, in a contest of “worthiness” against two other boys, is embarrassed by his own “inferiority” as he compares himself with the others, whose confidence in themselves seems to be their main feature: “Paul looked like a self-complacent trader; James had almost the conceit of a man assured in consequence of his great merit. They were no longer boys; they were young gentlemen.” [“Father Michel’s Will,” 59 (Feb 1871): 60]
In Mary E. Pratt’s “Rhoda” and, especially, in Alcott’s “An Old-Fashioned Girl,” children also are not to act like adults too soon. “Too soon” in both pieces is age 15 or 16, and both pieces seem aimed especially at adolescent girls, though adolescent boys come in for some preaching as well. For both authors, being concerned with fashion and fashionable clothing and with boys and adult relationships with them are considered inappropriate. Proud and fashionable Fanny Folger’s interest in Rhoda begins only after it is revealed that Rhoda has rich relatives; Rhoda, who has admired Fanny’s wardrobe, quickly finds her and her friends frivolous and dull and is secretly amused by the over-dressed girl and her over-elegant “beau” [62 (Nov 1872): 216]. The overriding theme of “An Old-Fashioned Girl” is Polly’s simplicity and goodness contrasted with her cousin’s fashionableness and aping of adult behavior. Polly is the “old-fashioned” girl from the country, unaware of herself, of fashion, and of the attractions of boys; she dresses like “a little girl,” in a simple dress, sturdy boots, and short hair [56 (July 1869): 298]. She is respectful to her grandmother and affectionate toward her uncle, and Polly’s idea of entertainment is playing with her younger sister and enjoying physical exercise; she sings “sweet old tunes” and enjoys a concert with such innocent pleasure that the rest of the audience enjoys watching her [56 (July 1869): 300]. Polly’s morality makes her embarrassed and uncomfortable at the “fashionable” play to which she is taken, and she is chagrined by the secrets her cousin keeps from her father, for Polly tells her parents everything [56 (July 1869): 302; 56 (Aug 1869): 347]. Fanny, her cousin, is a cool and elegant young lady of 15 who dresses more for fashion than for warmth [56 (Aug 1869): 341-2] and has a not-so-harmless secret flirtation with a boy. Ignoring her father, her moral grandmother, and her vapidly fashionable mother, Fanny reads blood-and-thunder novels, gossips with her friends, and has learned to enjoy the type of play which embarrasses Polly. She and her friends are titillated rather than shocked by the scandal which occurs when a friend “runs away” with her Italian teacher [56 (Aug 1869): 342]. Fanny’s young sister, at age 6, has a good start on the same behavior, for she is spoiled and “ ‘fwactious’ ”, and she and her friends are already concerned with “sweethearts,” parties, and clothes [56 (July 1869): 199; 56 (Dec 1869): 541-2]. In the course of the story, Polly’s loving simplicity wins over the family and is proven more valuable than their wealth. Whether or not Alcott’s carefully-conceived contrasts and injunctions were effective is open to question, for the point seems to have whizzed past some of her readers; though she does not print the letters, Alcott received several which expressed a hope that Polly and her male cousin would marry or flirt—letters to which Alcott replies in the Chat that the letter-writer obviously does not understand “why the story was written” and that it would do the reader good to think as she read [Chat, 56 (Oct 1869): 484]. The authors of the Museum may have had their own ideas about appropriate behavior for children, but they could not completely alter the interests of their readers.
This concern that children act like children seems to extend only to those who can afford to do so, for the street arabs in the periodical are presented as little businessmen who may deserve our pity but who deserve our business more. The narrator of one piece may pity a newsboy whom she finds on her doorstep one freezing night, but the message of the piece is that we must help them help themselves:
In the last years of the periodical, the interests of its young readers seem separate from those of adults. Few contemporary events are mentioned in the magazine at this time. Alaska, purchased by the United States in July, 1868, rates a mention in “Aunt Sue’s Scrap-Bag” in December of that year; and the disastrous Chicago fire of October, 1871, is the basis of a story in the December issue [“Aunt Sue’s Scrap-Bag: Fossil Ivory,” 55 (Dec 1868): 507; Sara Conant, “What Ben and the Twins Did for Chicago,” 60 (D 1871): 284-7). While an editorial and a declamation on the Fire appeared, they’re less about the event than they are about the need for charity. However, for the most part, it is as if the Museum’s young readers are expected to be uninterested in keeping up with the events of the world around them, content to be separate from adult concerns.
The Museum separates, too, the interests and concerns of girls from those of boys. From the beginning, as we have seen, the magazine had emphasized a different code of behavior for girls than for boys, but in the last years of the periodical, some literature is aimed specifically at boys, while other pieces seem aimed at girls. The home stories have girls as their main protagonists and stress family relationships, while the tales of action and adventure feature boys. This is, to some extent, reflective of children’s literature in general, for, late in the century, books for boys began to be separated from those for girls (Meigs, 214). The pieces for boys emphasize not only action but “manliness” and success. Of the two ways of being manly, the wrong way, boys are told, is to rebel against one’s parents, imitate adult dress, learn to smoke, and torment those who are weaker; a father who says, when his son is brought home drunk, that “ ‘Boys will be boys’ ” ignores the fact that they also can be noble and manly—that is, obedient, respectful to others, and kind to equals and inferiors [F. W. A. P., “Two Ways of Being Manly,” 55 (Jan 1868): 6-8; 55 (Feb 1868): 45-8]. In other works, boys are encouraged to not waste time and to take advantage of all opportunities, in order to be successful later in life [“Don’t Kill Time,” 59 (June 1871): 254]; boys are also encouraged to work hard, for they soon will be men, taking their fathers’ places in the world [Kate Cameron, “Up and Doing,” 58 (July 1870): 17-18].
Literature featuring and aimed at girls still stresses such traditional values as home and family, but there is a new emphasis, as well, on courage and equality. The traditional, self-denying girl content to remain at home is still present, but girls in the stories are more likely to act independently of others and to show more physical courage than had been the norm. The girls in “Little Pearl” roam the countryside as freely as any boy. One serial presents as its heroine a girl raised by her physician father to be “ ‘strong-minded’ ” and educated as boys are: she is taught sewing, piano-playing, and cooking, and also riding, Latin, rowing, swimming, and driving, for he means her to be, he tells his scandalized neighbors,
His death not long after this speech strikes the modern reader as a way for the author to negate such rhetoric, but it soon becomes clear that little Allie is very much her own person, “wholly unlike most girls of her age, and her mother often despaired of taming her down into their ways.” [57 (June 1870): 273] The rest of the serial is a character study of a well-meaning, but strong and courageous little girl who defies the labels others would put on her. She is, however, the Museum’s only example of female emancipation.
She is not, however, its only example of female courage, for courage becomes an important theme in stories about girls. During the magazine’s last years, the effective children are more likely to be girls than they are to be boys. Though the boys in the several historical adventures are effective in the realm of action, girls not only exercise the moral influence of the true effective child, but are influential through physical courage, too. In several home stories we find the sweet, affectionate, loving child who influences those around her to change their ways. Polly’s old-fashioned notions about love, respect, and proper sibling behavior influence her cousins to respect each other and their parents before she goes home; long-suffering little Pearl’s influence stretches from beyond the grave as her heartsick older sister reflects on “how selfish, thoughtless, she had been; how unkindly she had often treated her dear sister; how naughty she had been, in very way, since her mother had died” and vows that she “ ‘never shall be wicked any more … ’ ” [“Little Pearl,” 55 (Nov 1868): 440-1] The daughter of the governor of a besieged town helps to win the lives of its inhabitants through her example of “courage, calmness, and resignation to the will of the Creator.” [Christian Byrde, “The Brave Maiden of Nancy,” 61 (March 1872): 120] However, the effective girl now influences those around her through physical action as well. Milly, a southerner loyal to the Union, softens the Confederate belligerency of a young officer with her sweetness and her good-heartedness; but she is more effective when she sends her pet dove with a message that gets the officer and his men captured [L. M. Alcott, “Milly’s Messenger,” 56 (May 1869): 197-202]. Kate Lunt’s stamina and her knowledge of morse code help her to save the people on a passenger ship when the mechanism on the fog-bell in her father’s lighthouse breaks down [Charles Barnard, “The Fog-Bell,” 62 (Sept 1872): 106-17]. Courage becomes an important theme in such stories about girls; though the courage of the boys in their stories seems taken for granted, that of the girls in theirs is played up. The Museum seems to have entered a new era in its views about the place of women in the world.
One thing which has not changed is the place of America in the world. In the Museum it is still the land of freedom and the “home of the world,” but there is some ambivalence about the place some of its inhabitants are to occupy. As in Goodrich’s time, the place of America is smack in the center of the world, acting as a beacon to those seeking freedom and prosperity. One author links this with the Gargantuan power of the press, for “it is only in the countries that speak the English tongue … that the editor is wholly unfettered to-day. By and by the journalist will be a freeman [sic] everywhere. Then, one by one, all the wrongs that the people have endured for ages will be swept away, and not till then.” [“Our Great Powers,” 57 (April 1870): 185] For the first time, the periodical speaks of the United States as “the home of all the world”—and it says it proudly [Lucy St. John, “The Chinese in California,” 57 (Feb 1870): 71]. But there is more than a little ambivalence about this new title, and about what it actually means.
The Museum’s view of Native Americans loses its ambivalence in this period. Savage in Goodrich’s time, savage and noble in Stearns’ time, in Fuller’s time they are savage and noble and few. The narrator of “The Loggers” sees Native Americans in general as lacking in civilization and energy: “The settlement at this ‘Point’ has long been made, and yet there is no progress in agriculture …. [H]alf barbarous as [“the red man”) is, but little suffices, as he has no artificial wants, and but few ideas of what constitutes comfort or neatness.” He is frustrated by their “peculiarity of concealing all emotion” while around whites [55 (July 1868): 261]. The natives who capture Mink Curtiss and the boys in “Mink Curtiss” are noble, but are deluded by heathen religion. Trusting what “Manitou” tells them, they are swayed by the “medicine” to kill their captives; however, when they learn that there has been a truce with the whites, though in the middle of trying to burn the trio, they halt the proceedings. The noble, but vanishing, savage of the magazine under Stearns becomes the frightened, culturally-vanishing boy by the end of the periodical’s run. Lendall Soo, who has come with his mother back to her birthplace, is sympathetically described during his first terror-stricken day at the local school. Literally thrust into the classroom by the man who keeps the poorhouse, Lendall keeps his back to the teacher and never says a word, finally taking refuge in the school’s attic until he is coaxed down by one of the boys; because he still won’t acknowledge the teacher’s presence, Lendall must be taught by the other boy. Throughout the piece, the author stresses that Lendall is not much different from the other children, only shyer and less companionable [A. Perry, “A Young Savage,” 58 (Nov 1870): 227-9]. The vicious, uncivilized barbarian of the magazine’s early years has dwindled to a frightened child being tutored in white culture.
In the last years of the magazine, blacks, never prominent in its pages, were vanishing as well; in only two pieces read for this survey do black characters appear, and one is a black doll. The Museum’s treatment of blacks has changed, for little or no condescension is apparent. The black doll is presented with sympathy and, though he is a minor character, the story ends with him as, after years of gladdening the hearts of children, he is put in a place of honor on the parlor mantel, there to enjoy conversations of others in comfort and warmth [E. M., “The Adventures of a Worsted Boy,” 55 (Jan 1868): 26-29). Equality of blacks and whites is stressed in Alcott’s piece on one of the reform school ships in Massachusetts; here, she stresses, black and white boys mingle freely, and this is right, for “all were alike there, as they are in the eyes of the Father of all. The black sheep and the white were taken into the same fold; and the good work will prosper the better for the truly Christian spirit which makes room for all.” [L. M. Alcott, “A Visit to the School-Ship,” 56 (March 1869): 119]
If there is no condescension in the presentation of blacks, this is more than made up for in the way that immigrants are presented. America may be “the home of all the world,” but the magazine is ambivalent about the world once it gets there. Accounts of the Japanese, of snake-charmers in India, and of Icelanders are very neutral; the author of the piece on snake-charmers seems convinced that the men are performing some sort of trick, but he is awed by the cleverness with which the trick is done and a bit amused because he can’t figure it out [Marie C. Ladreyt, “The Japanese at Home,” 62 (Aug 1872): 85-8; W. H., “The Snake-Charmers of India,” 62 (Sept 1872): 131-2; “Iceland and Its Inhabitants,” 61 (May 1872): 220-2]. But neutrality fades when it comes to describing immigrants to the United States. A piece on Italian immigrants in Boston emphasizes their “picturesque” qualities and the fact that the families don’t really belong here; many look forward to returning to Italy, which they associate with warmth and plenty to eat, and the piece ends with the pathetic tale of a young Italian artist’s model who dies of illness brought on by overwork and deprivation [Stella, “Young Italy in Boston,” 57 (Jan 1870): 30-2). The basic purpose of the piece seems to be to get sympathy from the reader for the immigrants, but the melancholy end makes it clear that they are out of place. A piece on Chinese immigrants seems to end on a note of sympathy, as well, but the rest of the piece is as racist and condescending as one can imagine. “John Chinaman” is almost subhuman, lying, cowardly, thieving, ridiculous to look at, and possessing gross habits and silly beliefs. “One can hardly help laughing at the strange race, they seem such a queer sort of patch in the mottled quilt of California life,” the author asserts. “They do everything in such a comical way!” But, the author explains, they deserve as much consideration as any other immigrant, for they have done much good work for “us,” and they are eager to do more; in their capacity for exploitation, they must be regarded as are all other immigrants:
In “the home of all the world,” all may come, but not all fit in.
At the end of its life, the Museum concerned itself with the problems and complexities of the world into which its young readers would move, as it had from the beginning; but it was a different world, and the magazine’s editors had different ideas about how their readers should see themselves and what their readers needed to understand Samuel Goodrich might not have recognized the magazine he founded when it was absorbed by the Youth’s Companion, which had been its rival from the beginning. Lost was the magazine’s sense of optimism about the world and the reader’s place in it, and a sense that growing into adulthood was an adventure leading one to greater adventures still, in a world of boundless opportunities; instead, Fuller presented a world where children were to grow reluctantly into adulthood in a world where virtue is disregarded. Goodrich would have recognized the dominant system of moderation, hard work, perseverance, and self-control that was still emphasized in the Museum’s last years; but he might have been puzzled by its insistence on the practical, worldly applications of this system, and by the notion that religion was of limited influence in the world. Most important, however, Goodrich wouldn’t have understood the magazine’s attitudes toward its readers. The child whom his Robert Merry tried to usher gently, but firmly, into adulthood via moral tales and warm, instructive answers to its published letters had become the child whom Alcott’s Robert Merry valued for its childishness and sought primarily to entertain, but who was kept in the background of the Museum, as an unheard—and, sometimes, unheeded—consumer. All the editors of the Museum were products of their times, and the magazine was no different, changing as the times changed. Though Goodrich might not have understood the world-view his magazine promoted in its last years, the Museum was still responding to the culture that informed it.
Why the Museum died is problematic. Certainly the Boston fire of November, 1872, which destroyed Fuller’s business, may have been a reason, though the announcement of the merger was dated November 1. The magazine simply may have outlasted its age and died a natural death hurried by the fire. Certainly the 10,000-subscriber circulation must have been disappointing to Fuller, for it was nowhere near the circulation the magazine had in its glory days, and other children’s periodicals averaged many times that (Dechert, xxix). Competition from the myriad of periodicals, dime novels, and story papers may have helped in its demise; the demise of the “Chat” may also have helped. Robert Merry had died first: possessed of his own personality when the magazine was edited by Goodrich, possessed of Stearns’ personality while the magazine was edited by him, under Fuller, Merry was an anonymity—sometimes scolding, sometimes not—who refused to allow his readers a voice in the magazine. The “Chat” had been the center of the magazine since the column was instituted, and a few readers writing to their faithful Aunt Sue mourned its demise. Certainly the magazine’s format didn’t contribute to its death, for it featured the same mixture of fiction and fact, poetry and puzzles that would make St. Nicholas—founded by Dodge, one of the Museum’s former writers—and had already made the Youth’s Companion publishing phenomena.
However, the periodical, which had survived two fires, a civil war, and an economic panic, did not survive the Boston fire. At the end of 1872, it merged with the Youth’s Companion, which absorbed the Museum without a ripple.
Rev. of Beadle’s Dime Books. North American Review 99 (1864): 303-309.
William H. Coleman. “The Children’s ‘Robert Merry’ and the Late John N. Stearns.” The New York Evangelist 16 May 1895: 19.
Barbara Finkelstein. “Casting Networks of Good Influence: The Reconstruction of Childhood in the United States, 1790-1870.” In American Childhood, ed. Joseph M. Hawes and N. Ray Hiner. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985. pp. 112-152
Samuel Griswold Goodrich. The Travels, Voyages, and Adventures of Gilbert Go-Ahead in Foreign Parts. New York: Sheldon & Company, 1864.
Rev. of Parley’s Cyclopedia: The Animal Kingdom. The Maine Monthly Magazine 1 (1836): 48.
Rev. of Robert Merry’s Museum, ed. S. G. Goodrich. Brother Jonathan 16 Apr. 1842: 437.
Daniel T. Rodgers. “Socializing Middle-Class Children: Institutions, Fables, and Work Values in Nineteenth-Century America.” In Growing Up in America: Children in Historical Perspective, ed. N. Ray Hiner and Joseph M. Hawes. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1985.
Carolyn Scott. “Nineteenth-Century Children’s Civil War Literature: A Study of Accepted and Popular Books for Children About the American Civil War, 1861-1900.” Unpublished paper, University of Minnesota, 1976.
Madeleine B. Stern. “The Persistence of New England Transcendentalism: James P. Walker & Horace B. Fuller, Transcendental Publishers.” Imprints on History. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1956.
Robert Sunley. “Early Nineteenth-Century American Literature on Child Rearing.” In Childhood in Contemporary Cultures, ed. Margaret Mead and Martha Wolfenstein. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955.