Dear Friend Robert Merry: Letters from nineteenth-century children

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1840s: 184118421843184418451846184718481849

1850s: 1850185118521853185418551856185718581859

1860s: 1860186118621863186418651866 • 1867 • 18681869

1870s: 187018711872

About the Merry Cousins


Index & gloss


The Cousins’ Greatest Hits



[Editor:] A Merry Dog in Iowa City destroyed the September number of the Museum, and a little friend, in writing for another copy of the same, says:

That dog of ours is full of mischief; he has destroyed two grammars, “Comstock’s Philosophy,” and once got out “Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary;” and of course Merry’s Museum was in that line; besides that, he has destroyed any number of hats, caps, bonnets, boots, shoes, etc.

Comstock’s Philosophy: probably John Lee Comstocks’s A system of natural philosophy, in which the principles of mechanics, hydrostatics, hydraulics, pneumatics, acoustics, optics, astronomy, electricity, and magnetism are familiarly explained (Hartford: D. F. Robinson, 1830). This work went through at least 218 editions before 1860.


Eighteen Hundred Sixty-seven.

Another year has beamed into existence. The midnight bell, as it mournfully chimed the departure of the Old Year, heralded joyfully the dawning of the New. Like a hoary-headed old man, Eighteen Sixty-six left us; and Eighteen Sixty-seven tripped in as a young, buoyant child, wearing a snowy crown glistening with hail-stones. Smiling and singing he approached, yet rubbing his red, half-frozen fingers. Ring, bells, ring! and give the new-comer a merry greeting. Sing, maidens! dance, children! [p. 61 ] a glad welcome, as you clasp his gifts in your hands! Shout, friends! pray, all! for peace and prosperity during the twelve months’ race.

Not far have we advanced on our new path. We but stand within the thresh-hold, trying to peer into the future, yet seeing “as through a glass darkly.” Day by day our own life-experience will help us to unseal its hidden mysteries. “One by one” the moments and hours of the new year will come, yet giving us time to stamp them with patience, faith, and charity.


“half-frozen fingers”: “What a snow-storm, with various repetitions of the same, we have had! Splendid times for lovers of sleigh-rides, and sleigh-rides of lovers.”—Coy (1867.1.92)


Up Town, Feb.

I like the freshness and sparkle of this bright, Merry circle; and as the latch-string always hangs outside the door, there is no withstanding the temptation to peep in.

May I bring our little pet Gracie? a round, rosy-faced little four-year-old, all smiles and sunshine. You should see her—words can not paint the meek, gentle blue eye and love-harboring dimples.

One day I said to her, “Don’t do so, Gracie, you’ll get sick and die, and then we shan’t have any little Gracie.”

“Well,” she replied, in her thoughtful, deliberate way, “if I do, God can make another Gracie.”

Dear, patient, loving little sunbeam! but few such ever stray earthward to gladden life’s rugged way.

A new-comer, dear Annie May, says, “write to me.” How I’d like to. Wouldn’t I like to take “every mother’s child of you” by the hand? There’s always room in our Merry hearts and homes for one more, if our family is like the old woman’s in the shoe.

So come, come every one,

With words of love we’ll greet you,

With a smile and tear, and songs of cheer

Our Merry band will meet you.

Now, dear friends, all adieu.

Eula Lee.

old woman in the shoe: overburdened mother in a nursery rhyme: “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe,/ She had so many children she didn’t know what to do.” [Iona and Peter Opie, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rymes. Np: Oxford University Press, 1951; rhyme #546]


Richmond, Va., Jan. 29, 1867.

Dear Uncles, Aunts, Cousins, and all:—Please let me come into the “charmed circle,” too. Have I not listened to the Merry voices inside long enough to step in and take a seat in some quiet corner? For a year I have lived in “Virginny,” but I brought all my “Yankee notions” with me from the old Empire State, and keep them, too. I have been a reader of the Chat for many years, and love all the chatters—can’t tell who I love best. Good-bye for the present.



Boston, March, 1867.
Box 3,279 Boston P.O.

About two years I have been a reader of Merry’s Museum and of Merry’s Chat with his Friends. I have become familiar with the names of all the Cousins, such as Shooting Star, Roguish Kate, Gipsy Girl, Saucy Nell, Sans Souci, Sid, Jolly Jingle, and a host of other correspondents. I will acknowledge that “the charming circle” of which I read a great deal in the Chat, has a certain attraction to me, and many times have I intended to write a few lines, but feared—in fact, often believed—that all the little “Chats” were made up, in other words, written by one person. Now, please have patience with me for a moment. I thought I had some reason for believing as I did. However, I will acknowledge at once that I know better now; in fact, I have seen such proofs since, that I am fully convinced the large and little Cousins and their letters are a reality and not a myth.

Now, Cousins of all ages, the reason why I believed that all the Chat originated from one person was simply this: All the correspondence bear such a similarity to each other—in fact, the same words and general expressions are used in nearly all the letters, that I could hardly believe that twenty or forty different correspondents should adopt almost the same style.

True, there have been a few exceptions; the Chat for the month of March contains a good deal of original, spicy matter, which I am pleased to see.

I will repeat again, that I am fully convinced that Gipsy Girl, Saucy Nell, and all the others are really in existence, therefore I would suggest that some of the Cousins (provided the man with the scissors gives this letter a space in the Chat) would write for the May number on some little different subject—as, for instance, thus: Tell us, Cousins, how do you spend your Sabbath day? What is your work, occupation during the week? name every day. I do truly believe it would be of general interest to all the readers of the Chat if the Merry Cousins would give us a true insight of their life, as far as occupation is concerned; some other time it might be pleasant to hear what amusements you prefer, what books you read or like most, etc. But I fear I have trespassed as it is—I ought to say no more. Nolens volens, I must leave you, but hope to return again, if you will let me.


Cousins give an insight into their lives: Jolly Jingle approved of the suggestion “heartily and wholly”—and did not take it immediately. (1867.1.155) A. N. agreed with Herman, noting that “for the past two or three years the chat has been more like a photograph saloon,—an ancient hand-organ grinding o’er a few old tunes, or a boarding-school ‘hash,’ than the pleasant interchange of idea, sentiments, opinions, personal experiences, ‘quips and cranks,’ &c., that it ought to be.” (1867.2.126) However, Jennie Enwood disagreed: “Let Herman tell all about himself, then perhaps some other Cousin will ditto.” (1867.1.156)


Dear Merrys:—One of the Cousins, in the last Chat, confesses that he has really fancied us all a myth, we of the grand Merry circle! Well, if that isn’t cool, then I wouldn’t say anything! Aren’t we somebody? I guess so;—come and see.

Away up town, within walking distance of Central Park, is our abiding-place—a pleasant street and cheerful home. Now take a peep within.

There’s pictures and books and a modest musical instrument or two. Then there’s a small easel with pencils beside it, and our pen and ink; but these are only for leisure hours, to fill up the gaps between more important duties, for our house has a kitchen, and we make frequent visits there. One must have wholesome, digestible dinners; and if you wish a thing well done, do it yourself—that’s our motto.

Did you ever think that undigested food makes half the clouds, real and imaginary, that hover over us? Now, all one has to do, to make the acquaintance of dyspepsia, and all its train of tormenting fiends, is to leave all table arrangements to Bridget, and you won’t have long to wait; and it’s ten chances to one if she doesn’t invite hard times. “A word to the wise is sufficient,” girls.

Well, besides all that, there is our sewing-machine, the sweetest “Singer” of all. I love its music, for [it] sets a lively tune to “seam, gusset, and band,” giving us leisure for something better.

There’s no drones in our hive—we love the song of labor.

A myth, indeed!—not a bit of it!

Yours, indignantly,
Eula Lee.

P. S.—One word more, to Theresa, just to say how glad I am to make her acquaintance, or shall be. To be sure you are welcome. We like new friends as well as the old, so “dinna forget.”

E. L.

Singer sewing machine: Isaac Merritt Singer began his business in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1851. He made a number of improvements in the basic machine, including adding a treadle and a motor.


St. Louis, March 25, ’67.

Dear Merrys:—I have just returned from a trip to what was once known as the “sunny South;” but at present the name is a misnomer, for the true name is the “famine-stricken South.” And not only are the people in a starving condition, but are so deluged with water that they will hardly be able to raise anything this season; indeed, with perfect truth I can say that at one place between here and Vicksburg the river has risen to such an extent, that it is sixty-two [p. 156 ] miles from dry land to dry land across the river, and there are only three landings between Memphis and Vicksburg which are not under water.

Roguish Kate and Pertine, I have answered your letters.

But I have already written so much, that I will close by saying farewell for about four months, as I am off for Fort Benton, Montana Territory.


Fort Benton: Originally a fur post, Fort Benton was built in 1846 as Fort Clay; it was called Fort Lewis in 1847 and named Fort Benton in 1850. It lay at the junction of the Missouri and Teton rivers. 1867 saw a lot of steamboat traffic up the Missouri to the fort; Cis may have been on board the Waverly, the first boat that year, which landed 120 passengers on May 25. [Joel Overholser. Fort Benton. Fort Benton, Montana: Joel Overholser, 1987.]


Dear Merrys:—Who does not love a bright, cheerful, beautiful home? (Have patience now—this is one of my hobbies.) And when I say beautiful, mind you, I don’t mean splendid; not Wilton carpets, and damask curtains, and rose-wood, and velvet, and marble—not I! These are well enough gilded with home sunshine, and so are plainer things. But what I want is neatness, brightness, and a certain kind of dainty tastefulness that will enliven and beautify the plainest room.

Choose warm rich colors for carpets, and cheerful pictures; make tidies for chairs and mats for tables, and rags for doors, and what-nots and brackets for the wall. These things don’t cost much, and they make a home seem so cosy and inviting.

But, last of all, don’t forget the sunshine. If Mrs. Grundy says it will fade everything all out, tell her you know better, for you mean to wear them out, and have the good of them—that your things are meant for use. Very likely she will hint something about extravagance, and wonder “where any more are coming from.” But never you mind; only take as good care of your business as she does of other people’s, and it will all come out right, I’ll engage.

Then there’s more ways than one of “letting in the sunshine.” Do as little Grace said: “Please, Allie, won’t you get me a drink of water?” she pleaded one morning at the breakfast-table.

“Oh, never mind now—I guess you can wait,” returned Allie, going quietly on with her breakfast.

Grace looked up in her face, in a calm, quiet way, and said, softly, “Can’t you do a little deed of kindness?”

Allie’s face relaxed at once; there was no resisting that appeal.

That’s it: do little deeds of kindness; for it’s trifles that make up the sum of human comfort. Oh, if we all would but remember this, what a bright sunny world this would be!

Yours, hopefully,
Eula Lee.


June 6, 1867.

Dear Uncle Robert:—I have rarely seen anything in the Chat that pleased me more than Herman’s proposal. I consider it very sensible, and desire to second the motion to the extent of my ability.

Cousin Herman, if I had written this epistle a month ago, I should have said, “I am a school-girl still;” but in that short time the fates have metamorphosed me into a teacher. If you could look into a certain school-room, every morning from eight to one, you would behold me in my chair of state, keeping guard over a multitude of young damsels, sometimes explaining, sometimes scolding, and sometimes—alas! far too often, [p. 30 ] I fear—laughing with them. “O! when shall I be sober?” is my frequent cry.

Eula Lee’s story about Grace’s reply reminds me of a similar one my little cousin Arthur made. Arthur was playing one day, when Georgie came up and said, “Let me do it, Arthur; let me show you how.” “No, Georgie, I want to do it myself,” said the little one, frowning. But Georgie persisted, smiling, “I can show you a real nice way; let me do it.” When Arthur unexpectedly rejoined, “Oh, well, Georgie, you may do it—I didn’t know you would speak to me in such a pleasant voice.” That tells the story.

One word more to the Cousins—a word of love and welcome to Blue Bird and Snow Flake.

If you will write, Moss Rosebud, I will answer, gladly.

Jennie Enwood, you ask where is Charlie F. Warren. It is almost two years, Jennie, since our Cousin fell asleep on earth to wake in heaven. Though his voice can never greet us more, I love to think he is with us still—that all the dear ones of our band who live on high see us and care for us.

Daisy Wildwood.


What has become of the Merrys? The parlor is “like some lone hall, deserted.” I look around, and there’s only Daisy W., and Dolly W., and a little “Blue Bird.” Won’t somebody “In the Corner” speak? Has “W. A. R.” ceased? (to exist). Perhaps you are all ruralizing, and are unspeakably happy. Well, if so, just lift the curtain a “wee bit,” and give us less favored ones a glimpse of the beautiful far-away.

When the Museum comes, we turn to the Chat as one does to letters from far-off friends.

Have you ever looked for letters that never came? Well, then, that’s how we feel.

Now, Dolly Win, suppose we compare pets. Mine is a fat, jolly little elf, but very decided withal.

“Come, Gracie,” says Charley, “let’s go and play in the back-yard.”

“No,” she replies, pleasantly; “it’s too sunny.”

“Yes, do, Gracie,” persists Charley, teasing, in boy-fashion.

Gracie turns to him in her resolute way and said, decidedly, “When I say no, I mean no, don’t I, Charley?”

Charley “subsided” at once, to use one of his phrases.

Nearly every household has its pet—dear, thoughtful, observing little creatures; and this thinking our own the nicest is quite natural and pardonable, Dolly.

Laugh on, Daisy Wildwood; if you can win children’s hearts, it’s a short road to their minds, and you’ll surely find the key.

You’ll make a good “school-ma’am,” I know. Please give us another story; there’s more where that came from, as true as you live.

Hoping to hear from half a score of you next month,

I remain yours, believingly,
Eula Lee.

Dolly Win: Perhaps a letter which passed privately between the two.


Garret-Stairs, Top Step, July 17, Tea-time.

Oh, dear! how they stick—the flies. Shake, twitch, slap—away goes the pesky thing, for a moment—comes again, and bites like a hungry alderman. Don’t know why, unless it’s to show their bad taste; and “the patter of their little feet” on our devoted head is anything but pleasant, as we indulge in a “fighting cut” during hot weather. One is tempted to say “darn those flies,” unless he has an amiable disposition—and “you may bet” that’s not me. However, they have awakened me thoroughly; and one of them, looking over my shoulder, says, Time flies—write to the Chat. Now, that’s a yarn, you’ll say. And speaking of yarns, why can not we bring once more together our old time-honored Cousins and bind them in a monthly social by means of yarns. Kings, Queens, and “sich” are “played out,” and we can make the Chat a source of amusement and profit by relating simply “yarns”—some of our adventures, or some occurrences with which we are familiar; not that I advocate the gratification of an idle curiosity, by relating every-day affairs, but the good old-fashioned times when we used to get in a ring, and all take turns and tell a good, healthy story.

What say you, Merrys, shall we yarn it, or continue this twiddle-twaddle? Many of my correspondents express themselves as tired of the nonsense, and as we all owe the Museum much in return for all the kind friends we’ve made by its means, let’s rally round the Chat, shouting the battle-cry of yarns.

Come, Merrys, wake up! or I’ll set some of my dear little pet flies at you—let’s have your opinions of the subject and suggestions of something better.

Those of you who receive my photo, please bear in mind I don’t make any condition of an exchange; but all who will favor me in that line will be most gratefully remembered. My reason is this: each succeeding year brings its changes. The circumstances of life and death make sad inroads in our Merry circle; is it not well, then, to exchange these mementoes of our social intercourse, so that, in days to come, when age and space forbid this our monthly greeting, we can, by gazing on these remembrances [p. 59 ] of the past, awaken a train of pleasant reflection which will keep us ever young and merry. Besides, as we seldom or never meet, as Paddy says, “What harm!”

W. A. R.

Yarn it.

R. M.

“patter of their little feet”: perhaps a paraphrase of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Children’s Hour” (1860) stanza 2: “I hear in the chamber above me/ The patter of little feet.”


May 3, ’67.

Dear Merrys:—It is more than two years since I made my first and last visit to you. Since then I have read the Chat with great interest, but have been so busy, while attending school, in studying, and, during vacation, in trying to keep away from all school matters, that I have found no convenient time to write. Now, however, during a vacation of several weeks, I mean to take time to inform you of my existence and interest in your affairs. As I enter the parlor, I see many familiar faces. Now don’t say you do not remember me. It is very embarrassing to rush up to one whom you consider an old acquaintance, so glad to see her, and have her look so amused and say that she does not recognize you.

Herman, years ago I remember asking “ma” if boys and girls really wrote those letters in the Museum. She told me that they did, and, since then, I never have had a thought of doubting it.

Cousins, those of you who do not live near the water, I pity you very much, but you will never know how much you miss. If you could only spend one summer in some little village near the shore of Long Island Sound, and try the rowing, sailing, bathing, and fishing, you would never want to spend one elsewhere.

Uncle, when I came before, I expressed a desire to see the Merry Album. It is a long time since then, but I still retain that desire, and, as a certain worthy but rather eccentric old gentleman in these parts, says, “I’ll endeavor to try to see if I can” gratify it.

Katie M.


Dear Uncle Robert, and all the Chatterers:—A Merry time to you all, this warm season, for between the heat and the musquitoes, and you can have a Merry time, you ought not be deprived of the privilege of having one.

Dear Daisy Wildwood, what trials you must endure in your new position! You are not the only one who suffers from laughing at just the right time and place. The better way to get “sober” is to join the Temperance Society. But to remedy laughter, we might follow the deacon’s method, as set out by Beecher in his story—put your handkerchief to your nose as if you had the nose-bleed, and go out of meeting.

That reminds me of a scene that occurred in my school-days, where the teacher—and a man, too!—was thrown off from dignity by an amusing incident. At the H— Institute, a knock being heard at the door, the Professor ushered in a party of two ladies and one gentleman to see the school—rather the Professor, as he was unmarried and handsome—as visitors were always welcomed. Prof. seated them respectfully, and then returned to his class. Presently a crack and then a crash was heard, and on turning our eyes in the direction of the catastrophe, we saw the tallest guest, a lady of no small dimensions, among the ruins of a broken chair. To witness such a spectacle was excruciating to our risibles, and it requires but a small matter to create a laugh in school, so some of the seventy or eighty present literally tittered, at which the Professor arose with an air of dignity, raised his finger, and Hush-h-h! came from his lips. All were instantly calmed, when he turned his head to see if his assistance was needed to elevate prostrated dignity, when, lo! his own fell, for on casting his eyes that way, he instantly turned on his heel, and an audible sound proceeded from his mouth, sans the aid of laughing gas! The effect may be imagined; he could not say Hush-h-h! this time.

Poor me had to suffer from it, for after school, which was shortly closed, Prof. apologized for the chair, saying Kate had sat in it all winter, implying—as the Merrys who have seen me know—that I am neither a “myth” nor a shadow, and that if anything would support me, it would any one. So there the laugh came in—if a solid body could be sustained by a certain frame, why or how could said frame be demolished by so many airs.

Jolly Jingle, I “didst (n)ever hear of one E. G. B—l,” but my friend S. B. M—n has. She is none of your post-office sex, but a “female woman,” and no other man.

Merrys, how did you all spend the Fourth—the glorious Fourth? I spent it at the famous “Equal Rights Convention.” Looked all day to see a Merry, but not one did we see; probably no advocates of the cause are in the Merry republic. Let’s hear from the circle the opinion of “taxation sans representation,” and “equal compensation,” from the Merrys who trouble about politics—either in the Merrys’ Republic or Uncle Sam’s.

Roguish Kate and Oddity.

Beecher in his story: Norwood, by Henry Ward Beecher, serialized in the New York Ledger before being published in hardcover (New York: Charles Scribner & Co., 1868). A handful of Yankee eccentrics, a couple of love stories, the Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln rub elbows with discussions philosophical and religious. In Beecher’s book, Deacon Jerry Marble “always seemed afflicted when obliged to be sober. He had been known to laugh in meeting on several occasions, although he ran his face behind his handkerchief and coughed, as if that was the matter, yet nobody believed it”; once, the hapless deacon is so overcome by laughter that he hurries from the church, clutching his handkerchief to his nose as if to stanch a nose-bleed—which, his humorless wife points out, doesn’t fool anybody (pp. 34-35, 37).

Jolly Jingle: Jolly Jingle responded to a question in an earlier issue (1867.1.121): “Roguish Kate, I have heard of ‘Hamptonia’s classic walls;’ some of my classmates have been there. Didst ever hear of one E.G. B—l, a ‘masculine man?’ ” (1867.1.155)


July 12, 1867.

Cousins All:—Have you any idea of what Joan of Arc was made of? If not, I will tell you. She was Maid of Orleans. A short time ago I came across an anecdote, which I liked very much, and I will give it here for the benefit of those who have not seen it. Little four-year-old Freddy was just beginning to learn his letters, and had got so that he could readily tell S, A, and B. Then Auntie, who was teaching him, thought it was time for him to learn another. So she showed him R, and asked him “what he thought it was?” The little fellow looked at it very attentively for a few minutes, then, glancing up into Auntie’s face with a bright smile, he said, “I guess that’s B with its foot up, taking a wittel walk.”

Dolly Win, I had no intention of treating your offer with contempt. If you will write to me, via Uncle, you may be sure of a reply.

Taghconic, please explain the meaning of your remark to me in the March Museum. I have received no letter.

Annie F. May, thanks for your love, and accept mine in return. Let the next letter you write be to

Violet Forest.


Boston, July 6, 1867.

Uncle Robert, and Cousins:—Once more I come, and it is with pleasure that I write these lines. As I made the proposal some months ago, that we should write on subjects of general interest, I hardly expected that so many Cousins would take up the subject and give us little glimpses of their every-day life, their house, their kitchen, and their school-room, etc.

Some of the Cousins have favored me with letters since I wrote the first few lines for the Chat, and I notice that there is a growing desire to make this department a specialty. I truly believe, if Uncle Robert would allow us a few more pages in the Museum, we should all appreciate it.

A lady (Merry Cousin) wrote to me lately that she had nothing in the world to write that could interest anybody. This reminds me of two children playing in the garden; and mamma calling to one of them, said, “Charley, what are you doing there?” He answered, “Nothing, ma.” “And what is Mamy doing?” “She is helping me.” Now, Cousins, Charley and Mamy were certainly either doing or thinking something, and so are we all. The trouble with us is, that we hesitate in giving expressions to our thoughts, or that in our modesty or pride believe that they are only of value to ourselves and to no one else.

My compliments to Daisy Wildwood, Eula Lee, and others, for favoring us with their interesting letters, which are highly esteemed by


[Editor:] We will extend the Chat when the letters contain something else besides messages from one to another, which can not be understood and appreciated by all.

Kind words and pleasant chats are not objectionable, of course, and we have allowed more mere personal letters in the Chat perhaps than we should. We are glad you have started a different turn of thought, and hope it will meet with more and more favor by all.

Editor’s remarks: As one might expect, the Cousins took this with cheery unrepentance. “The permanent duty now resting on each and every Merry is to begin at once and write a glowing autobiography, ‘beautifully illustrated’,” Jennie Enwood wrote. (1867.2.90) “I have long watched for some Hermonites, but have found none, and now to be one myself and ‘tell how I spend my evenings,’ I need only say, usually I eat, rest, and sleep,” wrote Taghconie. “Is not that good employment for a ‘business man?’ ” (1867.2.92)


Ostrander, Ohio, July.

Dear Daisy:—I am glad you told about Charlie; but, oh! it made me sad. And is another Cousin gone?—gone from this world of toil, sorrow, sickness, and death to one of perfect peace, of spotless purity, of eternal blessedness? We should not weep for those who make an early and safe voyage home.

“They now are beckoning us to come

Where they in glory dwell.”

Let us pray our Father that we may be prepared to join the “innumerable company.”

Don’t you “love little bits of scholars?” They sometimes say such funny things. I well remember once one of my smallest pupils got angry with his brother, and finally struck him. I talked to him a good while; told him how naughty it was to get angry, and asked him “what he would do if he hadn’t Jimmy to come to school with him?” “I wouldn’t care,” said he; “I’d get all the dinner then.” That was satisfactory recompense for my “talk,” wasn’t it?

Uncle, I am so sorry you didn’t come a little nearer. Why didn’t you? I would have been happy to welcome my dear good Uncle. Our raspberries were splendid! Accept my love, Merrys all.

Jennie Enwood.


Binghamton, June 17, 1867.

Dear Merrys:—I am afraid you have all gone “a visiting,” for the Chat looked quite slim and summer-like this month. Now I do hope you are not going to desert the Museum just as soon as it is pleasant weather, and return to your snug corners only when cold winds begin to blow. If you are seeing new and pleasant sights, and enjoying life generally, write and tell us all about it. Our friend Herman suggests that we tell more about ourselves, so I am going to lay aside my supposed “bashfulness” and set you an example.

I do assure you that it is my usual custom to attend church twice on the Sabbath, and Sabbath-school besides. I did, however, change my programme a little a few Sundays ago, for I moved, as also did the friends with whom I boarded.

Don’t raise your hands in holy horror and vote to expel me from your circle—please don’t, for it was very early in the morning, only about two o’clock, and so dark that no one could have seen us, had it not been for the terrible flames that were sweeping on to devour us.

Friend Herman, doth this suffice thee for the present? [ … ]

Yours truly,
Cousin Jennie.

P. S. I think it would be appropriate for Jasper and several others, to eat another piece of “humble piein the corner.

“humble pie”: In the January 1867 issue, Jasper apologized for his year-long silence, speaking also for In the Corner; he tried to tweak the consciences of other delinquent correspondents: “It is to be hoped that this example of ours will have a salutary effect, and find Sid, Pontiac, Tommy, and all the other absentees present in the corner next month, eating humble pie.” (1867.1.27)


Gotham, Aug. 3, 1867.

If there’s to be any “yarning,” W. A. R., I’ve an idea I ought to say a word, being the old sailor (?) of the Chat, and so I will come up on the top step with you and spin away. You’re right, Cousin Jennie; we ought eat humble pie again, and here’s my piece “out of the corner” of the good old-fashioned oblong pies—none of your flat, round, city pies. Here’s my yarn, Uncle.

I have a cousin (or he is somebody else’s cousin just now, but I expect will soon be mine!) who has reached the ripe age of three. His father is a shoe manufacturer, and a few weeks since his mamma and cousin (his real cousin!) were teaching him his lesson for the coming Sabbath. He was to recite this verse: “A wise son maketh a glad father;” and after repeating it two or three times, he was asked to say it alone. He began, and managed to get as far as “a wise son maketh—“ and there stopped. “Maketh what?” they asked. He hesitated awhile, and then said, very wisely, “shoes!” They despair for the soul of that shoemaker’s son!

You are right, Uncle Merry; our Chat should have “something else,” and I’ll engage that no party of boys and girls are more capable of it than our Merry band. Permit me to say my few words, which are meant to be words of wisdom.

There are boys who read these pages just as I read them years ago, and though I am anything but “old” now, I trust they will permit me to suggest a few things for their benefit. Many of you are now at school—some, very likely, about entering college; let me beg of you that every moment of this favored time be well improved. Now, you do not appreciate its value; but when you reach years of manhood, every wasted hour and every lost opportunity will be sources of regret. You can never over-estimate the value of education. Whatever station you may occupy, no matter what your business may be in life, that is the true leveler, and the thing which will most surely make you happy. Let one who never enjoyed your advantages—yet wasted the few he did have—warn you from the same errors.

I would urge every boy at school, and every young man about entering college, to read faithfully and prayerfully “Todd’s Student’s Manual,” in which may be found the soundest advice in the pleasantest form a student ever received. Above all other things, in all your gettings, “get wisdom, get understanding.”

No man, no boy, is so much respected (even though some are ridiculed) as he who has firm Christian principles, and shapes every action and thought and ambition by them. They only live who accept the Bible as their standard and guide in all things, and happy are you if in your youth ye accept the pearl of great price. Habits formed in youth will carry their influence through your whole life. How carefully, then, you ought to be to form those which are right and manly. You see around you men in power who are perfectly unfit for the positions they occupy, and you lament that such should be the case. Do you ever think how short a time it will be before you will be called upon yourselves to fill these places, or control their filling, and are you preparing yourself honestly for those duties and responsibilities. This is a progressive age. We all grow rapidly, wonderfully fast, and we are men almost before we know it. And I tell you, my young friends, our country calls for great things from this rising generation, of which we are a part.

I do not propose to mention special evils to be avoided; but the vice of intemperance is so tempting, and so many are led into it thoughtlessly, that I feel constrained to say a few words of warning.

I spent three years among that class who of all others are most addicted to liquor—sailors—and though they are as a class generous-hearted and noble men, they are the most degraded, because of that very vice. As you value your character—your health—your hope of a pleasant eternity—don’t trifle with strong drink! You can no more trifle with it, and come out unscathed, than you can with fire. Men will despise you—disgrace will overtake you, and God will surely punish him who destroys not only his soul but his body likewise.

I would be glad to say a word to the girls, and tell them how much we need womanly women as well as manly men—how foolish the frivolity and nonsense of the present day is, and how much more the true woman is respected and loved; but I must close, indeed I fear Uncle has already shorn me of half my locks. But it’s only once in a while, Uncle, so you must pardon this lengthy epistle.

Very sincerely, yours,

“get wisdom, get understanding”: Bible, Proverbs 4:5: “Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth.”

“Wise son maketh a glad father”: Bible, Proverbs 10:1, “A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother.”

Todd’s Student’s Manual: John Todd, The Student’s Manual: designed, by specific directions, to aid in forming and strengthening the intellectual and moral character and habits of the student (Northampton: J. H. Butler, 1835). This self-descriptive work went through 21 printings by 1856; a “new revised” edition was published in 1883.


West Hartford, Ct., July, 1867.

Dear Merrys:—A long time it has been indeed since my last letter to you, but I hope no one imagines I have forgotten my Merry friends as a consequence, or any of you fancied “Flib” was not in existence, and straightway fulfilled the proverb, “out of sight, out of mind.”

For the past year I have been at the famous Mt. Holyoke Seminary, in the “Conn. River Valley,” and guarded over by Mts. Holyoke and Tom. From the position of the two mountains, the river flowing between, the following story was originated:

The river flowing from the north, came easily as far as this ridge, but struggled here in vain for an outlet.

It called on Titan in its distress, who, placing his shoulder against the mountains, rent them apart, and formed a channel for the river to go on in peace. Shortly after he died, and his coffin was placed in the river, just this side of Holyoke and Tom, where it may be seen to this day, still called “Titan’s Coffin.”

Of course, surrounded by all these romantic and beautiful things, I was in duty bound “to be a good girl,” and happy as possible. I succeeded nicely in this, as did all the members of the “J. S. S. O. M. H. S.” Almost as famous as Winnie’s mysterious initials are these no less mysterious ones.

For the benefit of many who might wish to know, I assure you I was greatly pleased with the school, and enjoyed everything exceedingly. Also, that many are extremely mistaken in the character of the school and its motives. I wish I could convince them all of it. I have a great number of messages to send you all, dear 20,000, but not only does Uncle Merry’s favorite motto prevent, but possibly I agree a little with him in regard to the sending of them, so, good-bye, without them for the present.

Your gay cousin,

“Uncle Merry’s favorite motto”: “Be short”: The editor of the Museum began early to advise letter-writers to “be short”; the request to “make your letters short” was reiterated in April 1867.


July 8.

Dear Merrys:—I would like to join your Merry band. I hope you will not object. Uncle Merry wishes us to tell a little about ourselves. I can not tell you much. I live in the country. I do not go to school at present, but I study at home. My eldest sister teaches me. I like to study at home. Now, Uncle, are you satisfied?

Daisy Wildwood and Dolly Win, I wish you would be so kind as to write to me, Uncle has my address. I would like to hear from any of the Cousins.

I am afraid my letter is too long, so I must bring it to a close. No more at present from your loving friend,

Lillie C.




Dear Chatterers:—Having made my last failure at Dartmouth (of freshman year) and wriggled through divers examinations, I am able to say that “I still live,” and am spreading myself. Abigail Dodge’s “Gala Days” were nothing to this “vague sense of jam and idleness.” I write from the center of learning and literature, Cambridge, Massachusetts, within half an hour’s ride of the Hub of the Universe. It is only needful to add that my “Websterian intelleck” is more expanded than ever, and the inspiration of the place is wonderful.

By the way, I honored the Hub with my presence a day or two ago. Bostonian Chatterers, I congratulate you on your residence; I congratulate you on your crooked streets, on your fine stores, and your interesting Common—and, of course, your Great Organ. I envy you from the bottom of my heart. Such beautiful pictures as delighted my eyes! Now, I’m not an artist; I don’t always appreciate fine landscapes. I’ve not a passion for statuary; but there’s enough romance in my composition to send me into a mild delirium upon the subject of beautiful faces and fancies.

Just let me mention “Love’s Melancholy,” the picture of a young girl with “bright hair blown about her serious face,” and a sweet, sad expression. Cynical friends have remarked that this “divinest melancholy” has not evidently preyed upon her, for she is certainly no “fragile flower;” but I pass over such suggestions with the haughtiness that is natural to me.

If from my verdancy you judge that this is my first visit to Boston, you are quite mistaken; I can find my way upon (parts of) at least two streets!

Do any of the Chatterers know and love old Cambridge, with its beautiful trees and quiet walks? Every one is aware that here is “fair Harvard,” the leading college of America—I say it with tears. From where I write, I can see the gray walls of the Library; can see the beautiful shades of green in grass and trees; the Museum, and Grey’s Hall (which, it must be confessed, is far more agreeable than the other dark, dingy, and forlorn dormitories wherein students dwell). I have a wholesome awe for Boston and Cambridge; I have been led by sad experience to confess that there is no State in the Union suitable to emigrate from but Massachusetts. Still, though it were my last word, I’d be obliged to confess that Bostonians did feel their inches.

Yours continuously,
Hilaris Tinnitus,
—which signifieth, Jolly Jingle.

Gala Days: by Abigail Dodge (Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1863), a collection of eight essays—six of which had been published in the Atlantic Monthly—on the serious and the frivolous: from the family canary, to a journey through New York and Canada, to young children and women with loved ones fighting the War.

“Hub of the Universe”: Boston, Massachusetts. “Boston State-House is the hub of the solar system,” Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in 1858; according to Lighter, the city itself was referred to as the “Hub of the Universe” by 1862.

“vague sense of jam and idleness”: George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, bk 1, ch. 6 (1860): Eating her half of a jam puff, Maggie Tulliver “was seesawing on the elder bough, lost to almost everything but a vague sense of jam and idleness.”

“Websterian intelleck”: playing off Noah Webster (1758-1843), American educator and lexicographer, or Daniel Webster, Massachusetts native known for his intellect.

“Love’s Melancholy”: Painted by Constant Mayer (1832-1901), it was exhibited at the Forty-first Exhibition of the National Academy of Design, in Boston, in 1866. [“Editor’s Easy Chair.” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 33 (June 1866): 117-118.]


In the Shade, Last Day of Summer, 1867.

Don’t flatter yourselves, that you are rid of me, dear Merrys, because by a large amount of self-sacrifice I have been enabled to keep silent a few months, for I still live. I have lately returned from Nantasket Be[a]ch, Hull, Mass., where I have been to muster with the First Brigade, Massachusetts militia. Our camp, consisting of nearly four thousand men, and seven brass bands, was called “Camp Lincoln.” There were five hundred tents, exclusive of those of the sutlers and others. The tents were pitched in a row, and some of them bore inscriptions, among which were “mosquito mansion” and “crows’ nest.” The day of our arrival all was confusion. Large loads of baggage were constantly arriving, and the noise made by the mallets in driving down the tent-pins could be heard all along the line. As soon as the tents were pitched, the troops were allowed to do as they pleased. Some indulged in base-ball and foot-ball, but the greater number availed themselves of the bathing facilities afforded by the splendid beach. At five o’clock P.M. we had dress-parade, and the duties of the day ended. At night all was shouting, singing, &c., as is generally the case the first night in camp, and woe to the poor fellow who attempted to sleep! He was taken out by the legs, and “passed around” in the different tents. On the morning of the second day, all the horse-troughs and washtubs were called into use for toilet purposes. After our rations we were reviewed and inspected by General Cunningham, and in the afternoon we had drill as on the first day. The second night was more quiet than the first, as the soldiers were more tired. The third day we were inspected and reviewed by General Butler, and there were twelve thousand spectators on the field, mostly from Boston. On this day a company of soldiers placed one of their number astride a rail, with a card on his back, on which was written “spy,” and a halter around his neck. The rail was hoisted on the shoulders of two men, and accompanied by a guard, and drum and fife, marched around the camp. Tossing in a blanket was another popular amusement, and created much fun. The fourth day was rainy and no duties were performed. On the fifth day we broke camp and returned home, each one well satisfied with his five days’ muster.


General Benjamin Franklin Butler (1818-1893): U. S. congressman from Massachusetts and Civil War general. He formed a regiment immediately after Fort Sumter was fired upon. His military career was marked by cleverness and controversy: in 1861 he occupied Baltimore, Maryland, with only 900 troops; put in charge of the Union occupation of New Orleans in 1862, Butler preserved the peace, but through controversial actions, and he may have been involved in financial irregularities. In 1863 he commanded the Army of the James.

base-ball: Developing from games played in England, the sport had several versions in the U. S., among them “old cat,” “barn ball,” and “rounders”. In the 1840s and 1850s, two major styles of play—the Massachusetts and New York styles—developed. The New York style spread widely, especially during the Civil War, when many young soldiers became baseball enthusiasts after playing the game in camp.

foot-ball: In the 1860s the game was very much like soccer, though at Harvard it was played more like rugby. In the 1850s, the game often was part of freshman hazing at U. S. colleges. [David Levinson and Karen Christensen, ed. Encyclopedia of World Sport. Denver, Colorado: ABC-CLIO, 1996.]

General Cunningham: perhaps James Adams Cunningham (died 1892), breveted Brigadier-General in 1865. [Mark M. Boatner The Civil War Dictionary, rev. ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1988.]


[Editor:] Dolly Win writes, “Our Gracie is a sweet little two-year[-]old with large round blue eyes and light curls. She is always saying and doing bright things. One day the story of the birth of Christ was read to her from a little book, and she asked, “Didn’t they have any room for him in the house?” On being told “there was no room” she was silent. A few evenings after, on being put to bed, she looked up, and said, “Gracie would give Jesus Gracie’s crib.”

[In the November issue, Uncle Robert delcared a new policy for the Chat (1867.2.156):]

As it is impossible to print all the letters sent in to the Chat, we shall select one or two of the best, and briefly notice the others by replying to the questions, or delivering the messages contained in them. [ … ]




A Merry Greeting:—A word that can give pleasure, knowledge, comfort, joy, or help in any way, is a blessing; but how many of our words, as we utter them by pen or lip, are such. Why should we, as we meet from month to month, say nothing but idle, meaningless words, which are of no benefit to any one? There is not one of our circle so young as to be unable to say anything worth remembering, at least we all ought to try to. I would like to have you all see the magnificent scenery which I can view from my schoolroom window; river, mountains, rocks, trees and hills; this is a most beautiful part of our beautiful town.

I do not see how any man can be a farmer, and not be a Christian, or at least believe there is a God.

Some of us have spoken of our reading; every admirer of beautiful thoughts should read “The Beauties of Ruskin,” and all who wish a good work on language should read “Good English.”

I wish that all the cousins could have heard the sermon I did not long since from the text, “Do good, as ye have opportunity.” It was very plain and practical, it suggested some very new ideas to me; it claimed that every act of our life should be for some one’s good, directly or indirectly; it mentioned the numberless opportunities which we pass by, sometimes unconsciously, but often seeing them, but too indifferent or negligent to improve them. I think each one of us would be amazed if we were to count the opportunities we have in one single day; and how much sunshine and happiness would it bring to our hearts, if we would only “do good as we have opportunity”!

This question was raised in our class last Sunday afternoon: Could we always resist temptation? I would like the opinion of any one; perhaps a little thought on the subject might not be unprofitable.

I wish Uncle Robert would make some remarks on woman’s right of suffrage.

Cousins, how do you like “Norwood,” [p. 157 ] irrespective of its being Beecher’s story? It is certainly different from all other stories; it is not a love story, though there is love in it.

I suppose that Chat letters, of whatever kind, must be short. My best wishes for all.


“Beauties of Ruskin”: probably The True and the Beautiful in Nature, Art, Morals, and Religion, comp. by Mrs. L. C. Tuthill (New York: Wiley & Halsted, 1858), a selection from John Ruskin’s works that included sections on beauty, nature, architecture, art, and morals and religion; the title Beauties of Ruskin appeared on the spine of the book. It went through three editions by 1859.

Good English: probably Good English, by Edward Sherman Gould (New York: W.J. Widdleton, 1867). It went through six editions by 1875.

“Do good, as ye have opportunity”: a paraphrase of Bible, Galatians 6:10: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”


Hanover, September, 1867.

Dear Chatterers,—I’m back again, grinding at the same old mill. If any of you should dare to suggest in my hearing Mathematics or Demosthenes, or Knapp’s French Grammars, I wouldn’t risk the consequences.

Ahem! We’re surveying; I’m au fait in carrying a chain, and sticking down stakes, and pacing, etc. If you wish to prove the truth of my assertion, come and see. The animal exhibits without compensation.

You should have witnessed our “Five Mile Square” last week; [w]e “took bearings” wherever there were blackberries, and had a general “howl;” though the unmitigated counting, “one, two, three,” in a measure prevented great intellectual thought.

At another date I gracefully fell in a recumbent posture on my way out of W—h Hall. If I state that I had in my hands two long staves (that dimly call to one’s mind barber’s poles), and was going with my usual abandon, the gracefulness of the picture may be imagined.

By the way, cousins, what are your “sentiments” about college? I “think to myself, within myself,” that it’s a “damp, moist, cold, disagreeable grind.” (Not to apply another adjective in great favor with Dickens’s Mantalini.)

When the “snows of winter” shall have frosted my golden locks, not to say red, and spectacles shall stride across my Grecian nose (I doubt if this last epithet is strikingly appropriate, but let it pass), I may think differently; as it is things are not looking up.

Still, if “a man” only keeps his eyes open, there’s enough to be seen,—every shade of human nature almost, good, bad, and indifferent. But being strongly opposed to the doctrine of human depravity, and being on the lookout for little touches of kindness and sweetness, I think the world not a very bad place after all. Certainly, I have not come across any one, as yet, and Heaven forbid that I ever should! who has so far destroyed the God-given nature as to be wholly hard and unlovable. Don’t you think it the best way, ever to trust that at the bottom of even the stoniest heart the pure white flowers of faith and love are blooming? I do.

Jolly Jingle.

Knapp’s French Grammar: William Ireland Knapp, A Practical Grammar of the French Language. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1864).

Alfred Mantalini: character in Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby (published in parts, 1838-1839; in book form, 1839). Originally named Muntle, Mantalini changes his name when he marries a dressmaker; the costly picture of elegance and style, he lives on his wife’s earnings. “Disagreeable” is one of his favorite adjectives—usually threaded onto the end of a string of others—but Mantalini’s favorite adjective is “demd.”

Demosthenes (c384-322 BCE): Greek orator.


[Editor:] Another of the Merry Circle has gone. Sabbath evening, Oct. 20th, Violet Forrest closed her eyes in death, peacefully trusting in Jesus. Age 17 years, 1 month and 24 days.

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