VOICES FROM 19TH-CENTURY AMERICA

Because some texts are just too interesting to leave in the library


While I study 19th-century American works for children, I can’t resist the odd work for adults. Of course, neither could the children: they read whatever they could understand, and a few things they couldn’t. (“Gail Hamilton” was a favorite with the readers of Robert Merry’s Museum.) These works aren’t readily available either in reprint or on the web, but they deserve to be better known.

Enjoy!

A timeline of some 19th-century events

A bibliography of works on early 19th-century American culture.

Places to visit early 19th-century America

Some of these works are available as ebooks.


Short pieces

Some oddments: Recipes and other bits and pieces of interest or fancy-tickling.

I keep a list of Things We Know that Ain’t Quite So about early 19th-century culture.

Novels, Novelists, & Readers; or, Text & Temptation in 19th-century America is an anthology of works on novels and their effects.

The gales of September 22-23, 1815 and September 3, 1821 devastated New England in a time before 24-hour news coverage.

A poem about Sarah Bishop (1823), by Samuel Griswold Goodrich, is one of Goodrich’s first published works. Bishop was a ghostly figure in his Recollections of a Lifetime. This is the first time that the author of the untitled poem has been identified.

In 1827-1828, the Juvenile Gazette printed notices of marriages and deaths, mostly in Providence, Rhode Island.

Ode, Addressed to J. G. Percival, M. D.” (September 1832) includes editor Melzar Gardner’s explanation of editorial changes; both appeared in The Bouquet.

To the Departing Comet” (January 1836) is a fanciful exploration of Halley’s Comet; the poem appeared in the American Monthly Magazine.

Negro Songs—American Music” (October 1853), by Ser. Longley, takes Stephen Foster to task for the subjects of his songs and their dialect.


Books & book-length works

Gertrude of Wyoming,” by Thomas Campbell (1809)

While Campbell was a British poet, this work on an incident during the American Revolution was popular with early 19th-century American readers and can be difficult to find. A version published in the U. S. in 1865 is transcribed here.


René, by Françoise-René Chateaubriand (translated by Samuel Griswold Goodrich; 1814)

Charged with overwrought sentiment and overripe prose, this tale of a young Frenchman who comes to be mentored by a native American was popular with romantic spirits in many countries. Twenty-one-year-old Goodrich practiced his French by translating (and abridging) the story; it was published in the Connecticut Spectator by his friend, Simeon L. Loomis. This is the first time the translator has been identified. Another translation was published in book form a year later.


Memoirs of a Captivity Among the Indians of North America, by John Dunn Hunter (3rd. ed, 1824)

John Dunn Hunter (1798?-1827) was white, but was reared by the Kansas and the Osage from around age two, after his parents were killed by Kickapoo. In 1816, he left his family, eventually living with whites and learning English; and writing this book (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Ohme, Brown, & Green, 1824) about his life, the people he knew growing up, and the wonderful landscape in which he lived most of his life. His memoirs provided the basis for “Jumping Rabbit’s Story,” published in Robert Merry’s Museum in 1843.

This text is also available as an ebook.


The Legendary (1828)

Edited by N. P. Willis and published by Samuel Goodrich, The Legendary was an early attempt to promote American writers. Though the periodical lasted only one year, it focused on American subjects and included works by Lydia Maria Child, N. P. Willis, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Fitz-Greene Halleck, and Lydia H. Sigourney.

The table of contents includes first and last lines of poems and first sentences or phrases of essays and short stories. (A transcription of both volumes is in the works.)

Contemporary reviews are on a separate page, organized by year.


The Token (1828-1842)

Edited by Samuel Goodrich, The Token was one of many gift books available to early 19th-century readers. These lavishly bound, lushly illustrated collections of poetry and prose were published annually and intended as Christmas and New Year’s gifts—reminding us that, in early 19th-century America, New Year’s was a gift-giving holiday. Gift books were published both for children and for adults, though the audiences often overlapped: some pieces by Goodrich printed in The Token were reprinted in his works for children, including Robert Merry’s Museum. Goodrich saw in The Token a chance to promote American writers and engravers. He succeeded very well, especially with the writers, who included John Neal, Catherine Sedgwick, N. P. Willis, Lydia Sigourney, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and—in retrospect, most significant—Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Selections include Hawthorne’s works, with others, from the 1836 volume, with selections to appear from other volumes.

A massive table of contents includes first and last lines of poems, first sentences or phrases of essays, and just-for-information images of the engravings; with information on reprints, where available.

Reviews of the Token are organized here by year.


Truth, by William J. Snelling (1831 & 1832)

Truth is William Joseph Snelling’s attempt at a satiric poem on American poets. Snelling’s models may have been Alexander Pope and George Gordon, Lord Byron, but he was no Byron or Pope. However, the books provide a glimpse of literary types in early America. The first and the second editions are presented here, with notes and reviews.


Scenes in My Native Land, by Lydia H. Sigourney (1844)

Scenes in My Native Land is a mixture of poems and essays on American subjects: Connecticut’s Charter Oak, John G. C. Brainard, the Newport Tower, the Wyoming Valley. Sigourney describes the American Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb at Hartford, the Moravian colonies in Pennsylvania, a chronology of New England snowstorms in autumn 1843, and a discussion of Niagara-obsessed Francis Abbot.


Dictionary of Americanisms, by John Russell Bartlett (1848)

The Dictionary of Americanisms (New York: Bartlett and Welford, 1848) went through at least four editions between 1848 and 1877. As a record of the “colloquial language of the United States,” it’s a fascinating look at the words that actually came out of the mouths of early 19th-century Americans. It’s also a window into U. S. history, with tiny essays on early political parties (the Democratic party, for example, was known as the “Loco-foco” after an incident of the kind which won’t surprise observers of the political process), economics (how bears and bulls went to Wall Street), and culture (both strong drink and the Millerites); its collection of quotes offers later readers examples from a wide variety of early-19th-century works (everything from Congressional speeches to Sam Slick in England). And where else will you find discussions of words like “sanctimoniouslyfied” and “absquatulate”? or of phrases like “acknowledge the corn” and “red dog money”?

This text is also available as an ebook.


Account of the Terrific and Fatal Riot at the New-York Astor Place Opera House (1849)

On May 10, 1849, the Astor Place Riot set New Yorkers against each other and the police. At least 30 died, and scores more were injured.


The Behaviour Book, by Eliza Leslie (1853)

Eliza Leslie (1787-1858) was an astonishingly prolific writer for children and for adults. The Behaviour Book (Philadelphia: Willis P. Hazard, 1853) is more than just a look at mid-19th-century rules of etiquette. Leslie covers the wide range of daily life: four pages are devoted to selecting an umbrella (green silk ones weren’t colorfast); she includes instructions for making a good black ink; and bed-making gets half a page. It’s a chatty book, full of anecdotes (George Washington telling a tall tale to a credulous traveler) and one-paragraph essays on subjects like having a bedroom window open and how to refer to black servants. It’s also a wealth of anecdotal information about Leslie’s native Philadelphia, including a child’s rhyme listing its principal streets.

This text is also available as an ebook.


Fern Leaves from Fanny’s Portfolio, by “Fanny Fern” (1853)

“Fanny Fern” was Sara Payson Willis (1811-1872), whose father, Nathaniel Willis, founded and edited Youth’s Companion. Escaping a bad second marriage, and with two children to support, Sara turned to writing: her first essay appeared in the Olive Branch and was quickly reprinted. She soon became one of the most highly paid authors in 19th-century America; three years after her first essay was published, Sara was hired to write one essay a week for the New York Ledger for the unheard-of sum of $100 per column. Alternately humorous, satiric, and sentimental, her pieces cover the range of 19th-century American life, from the death of children to the delicate subterfuge of a widow eager to remarry.

Many of the pieces were gathered into two collections, both titled Fern Leaves from Fanny’s Portfolio.


Ruth Hall, by “Fanny Fern” (1854)

“Fanny Fern” was Sara Payson Willis (1811-1872), who by the time Ruth Hall was written was already famous as an essayist; her newspaper essays were published in two popular collections in 1853. Ruth Hall (New York: Mason Brothers, 1854) was her first novel (she eventually wrote another, and a novelette), but in theme and tone it’s very much a piece with the newspaper essays: sentimental and satiric. Sara could be devastating, especially, on the subject of families and of family relationships; here, the character of Ruth’s brother—“Hyacinth Ellet”—is based on Sara’s own brother, whom she’ already satirized as “Apollo Hyacinth” in the second collection titled Fern Leaves from Fanny’s Portfolio. The novel itself is vaguely autobiographical.

This text is also available as an ebook.


Buds, Blossoms, and Leaves, by “Eulalie” (1854)

“Eulalie” was Mary Eulalie Fee Shannon (1824-1855), an American poet who published one collection of her … ah … unchallenging poetry (Cincinnati: Moore, Wilstach, & Keys, 1854). Rhymed expositions on death and landscapes and death and seasons and death, the poems are distinguished mostly for subject matter—the California Gold Rush, Hungarian patriot Lajos Kossuth, the Crystal Palace, local celebrities—and for the fact that Eulalie probably is California’s first published woman poet.


Recollections of a Lifetime, by Samuel Griswold Goodrich (1856)

Samuel Griswold Goodrich (1793-1860) was a pivotal figure in early 19th-century American publishing. His Recollections (New York & Auburn: Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1856) is a look at over 50 years of American culture, and at a busy, productive life. Early American religion, passenger pigeons, the solar eclipse of 1806, the meteor of 1807, the Hartford Convention, the Revolution of 1848—Goodrich experienced it all. Filled with anecdotes and heavily footnoted, this 1100-page work is a rich source of information on early American publishing and New England life.

Annotation (& proofreading!) of Recollections is an ongoing project.


Gala-Days, by “Gail Hamilton” (1863)

“Gail Hamilton” was Mary Abigail Dodge (1833-1896), an American essayist. In pieces humorous, satirical, and sentimental, Dodge covered domestic subjects, the American Civil War, and women’s rights. Gala-Days (Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1863), is a collection of eight essays—six of which appeared originally in the Atlantic Monthly—on topics serious and frivolous: the family canary, a journey through New York and Canada, young children and women with loved ones fighting the War. She includes a scathing look at cultural expectations of motherhood.

This text is also available as an ebook.


Woman’s Rights, by John Todd (1867)

John Todd helped to educate 19th-century Americans with The Student’s Manual and works published in children’s periodicals. Woman’s Rights (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1867) is his response to the growing women’s rights movement. Based on “good sense” and Todd’s reading of the bible, his argument was dismantled by “Gail Hamilton” in Woman’s Wrongs in 1868.

This text is also available with Woman’s Wrongs as an ebook.


Wool-Gathering, by “Gail Hamilton” (1867)

Writing as “Gail Hamilton,” Mary Abigail Dodge (1833-1896) published at least eight books between 1863 and 1872. Wool-Gathering is the record of her trip through Minnesota and the South in 1866. Part documentary and part philosophical, Dodge’s work describes a nation in transition. Dodge includes descriptions of travel by rail and steamboat, a service in an African-American church, Southern attitudes after the War, and farm life in Minnesota.

This text is also available as an ebook.


Woman’s Wrongs, by “Gail Hamilton” (1868)

“Gail Hamilton” was Mary Abigail Dodge (1833-1896), an American essayist who published at least eight books between 1863 and 1872. While works like Gala-Days emphasize humor and sentimentality, Woman’s Wrongs (Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1868) is her furious answer to criticisms of the women’s rights movement. Specifically, it’s an answer to the Rev. John Todd’s Woman’s Rights, which covers the usual 19th-century objections to women’s suffrage and equality. Todd’s argument is built around Christianity, a tactic Hamilton found especially noxious. “The Mohammedan and the Mormon doctrines are that women have no life in the next world except through their husbands,” she notes here. “The Christian doctrine is that they have none in this.”

This text is also available with Woman’s Rights as an ebook.


Popular Amusements, by J. T. Crane (1869)

Methodist minister Jonathan Townley Crane (1819-1880) explores the pros and cons (mostly cons) of various forms of recreation in mid-19th-century America, in Popular Amusements (Cincinnati: Jennings & Pye; New York: Eaton & Mains, 1869). Dancing, chess-playing, horse-racing, baseball: all are subjected to scrutiny. From the point of view of the 21st century, the most entertaining chapter in this book is his diatribe against novels—which his son, novelist Stephen Crane, appears to have ignored.

This text is also available as an ebook.


Enjoy! Your ancestors would have!


Copyright 1999-2014, Pat Pflieger
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