Dear Friend Robert Merry: Letters from nineteenth-century children

How to use this book

1840s: 184118421843184418451846184718481849

1850s: 18501851185218531854185518561857 • 1858 • 1859

1860s: 1860186118621863186418651866186718681869

1870s: 187018711872

About the Merry Cousins


Index & gloss


The Cousins’ Greatest Hits



New York, Dec. 1, 1857.

Mr. Hatchet:—“Who steals my purse, steals trash; but he who robs me of my good name”—nay, ha’ done wi’ your nonsense. Brother Coleman, I bear you no ill will, though you have done that which will make it hard to tell who is what. Neither will I be angry at your charge of forgery, as I have not been guilty of that act since, when a little boy, in my grandpapa’s blacksmith shop, I so cruelly pounded my fingers, that ever after the mention of forge, or forging, causes them to tingle again. But are you exempt from this same charge? Where is your proof? “Show your papers,” or I must still claim to be the “Original Jacobs.” I would rather believe you to be O. K., and at present will so consider you. I do not like the distinctions of North and South, proposed by Mr. Hatchet, for I am a Union man. No. Let that middle link, the os Haydon be joined to the os Hoyt, in one bone of concord; and thus Siamesically en Twined by the cords of fraternal affection, we shall present a noble example of that union which knows no North, no South, no East, no West.

Still, I fear there will be some confusion in knowing which is which, and I don’t exactly see how it will be remedied; though there will have one advantage, namely, if you say a bright thing, I shall share the credit, and vice versa; ditto in relation to stupid things. There, enough on that subject. I suppose we may expect to enjoy the story of Carl Bedenken for the rest of our natural lives, as it is “without an end.” What has been done with the latter? Was it cut off?

Particular Notice.—I am requested to state that †*† and !—! will hereafter discontinue their communications to the Museum. All business relating to either of said writers will be settled by me.

Willie Hoyt Coleman.

[Editor: ] I don’t know about that, Willie. It takes two to make a bargain; and here is !—! to speak for himself, and right well he speaks, too. If you are to speak for him, hereafter, you will have to look PQliarly sharp to your P’s and Q’s, or at least to your Q-ri-os-i-ties.

“Who steals my purse … ”: William Shakespeare, “Othello” (1622) act 3, sc 3, ln 157-161:

Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;

’Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;

But he that filches from me my good name

Robs me of that which not enriches him,

And makes me poor indeed.

“Original Jacobs”: A figure mentioned in a song titled “South Carolina Gentleman”; a merchant—probably a pawnbroker—in Chatham Street, New York City; perhaps Charles Jacobs.

os Haydon: os, Latin: “bone”; used in anatomy in the Latin names of some bones.

Chang and Eng (1811-1874), born joined at the chest by a piece of cartilage. Taken in 1829 to the U. S. from what was then called “Siam,” the young men were such a sensation that they earned enough exhibiting themselves to retire to a plantation in North Carolina, where they married sisters and fathered 21 children between them. Afterward, “Siamese twins” became the common term for conjoined twins.

Carl Bedenken: title character in “Carl; or, A Story without an End” (Robert Merry’s Museum; 1857-1858). This enthusiastic boy learns the value of study in his quest to understand the natural world he loves, though his big dog, Carlo, remains the wiser of the two. Apparently ending in mid-scene, “Carl” is indeed a “story without an end.”


Robingrove, Oct. 21, 1857.

Dear Mr. Merry:—I have for a long time designed writing to you and the Museum; but, since my last letter, I have been very busy.

Robingrove is still pleasant, but winter is coming on, and the robins will soon bid us farewell, and seek a warmer home in the “sunny southland.”

Trippy’s Aunty says that he cares for nothing but eating; his literary tastes are lost in—liver! But when the snow comes she hopes to see his talents revived. The other dogs send their best respects, but never expect to become as distinguished as Trip.



Done into rhyme by Somebody’s Daughter.

I sing the exploits of the sewing-machine,

And in these few numbers install as my hero,

A greater than many a king or queen—

Than Pepin or Tamerlane, Pompey or Nero.

As it turns off its stitches, or faster or slow,

At the rate of a thousand or less in a minute,

One can not help wondering whether or no

The mind of a Yankee is really in it.

It curtails the doctor’s vocation and fees;

Give one to your wife, to your sweetheart, or sister,

To shield her from pain and from wasting disease,

’Tis better than bleeding, or bolus, or blister.

As it sews you a seam, a knot it will tie,

As strong as the knot of the parson, or stronger;

On its genius and skill you may safely rely,

Though the stitch you should fancy be shorter or longer.

It greets both the rich and the poor as a friend;

’Tis at home in the cottage, the palace, the villa;

Its province alike is to make or to mend

A coat or a collar, a frock or mantilla.

Of sewing-machines ’tis important to know,

There are hundreds of styles, and a dozen of makers;

Some good and some bad, at high prices and low;

But the one I’m in love with is Grover and Baker’s.

“The Sewing-Machine”: As Uncle Frank noted, it probably was inspired by “The Sewing-Machine” (Robert Merry’s Museum; December 1857), which praised the machine for freeing women from the toil of hand sewing for families.

Tamerlane (1336-1405): conqueror of Persia, India, and Syria, among other countries. Pompey (106-48 BCE): Roman warrior famous for his triumphs in the field; around 60 BCE he formed a triumverate with Crassus and Caesar. Nero: Lucius Domitius Claudius (37-68), Roman emperor less famous for the promising beginning of his reign than for the tyrannies at the end.

Grover and Baker: popular sewing machines at the time; the company advertised prominently in the Museum.


Beechgrove, Ia., Sept. 16, 1857.

Dear Aunt Sue:—On receipt of the July number of the Cabinet, I answered as many of the puzzles as I could make out, and wrote you a long letter, but before I had an opportunity of sending it, our house was burned. We saved very little, and barely escaped with our lives. One of our brothers was so badly burned, that for a time his life was almost despaired of, but he is now nearly well. (Poor, dear brother! How I wish I had been near him, to sometimes amuse him, and make him forget his pain, Aunt Sue.) [p. 30 ]

We are now residing at the house of a friend; when I next write I hope to date from “Home.” I have often wondered at the little nieces and nephews making such a fuss about your name; I guess it is ——. Now, do tell me, Aunty, if that is right. I, too, say, “Welcome back, ancient Laura.” Give my love to Black-Eyes and Willie H. C. What has become of O. L. Bradley? I wonder if my letter will get a hatcheting, or be consigned to that “terrible basket.” Give my love to all the cousins.

Yours truly,


Oak Wild Lodge, Sept. 12, 1857.

Dear Aunty:—My own wishes have seconded my little sister’s entreaty, that I write to “Aunt Sue;” and now in the name of dark-eyed Kate, light-haired Eddie, and golden-curled Minnie, I humbly and earnestly solicit an introduction to Uncle, and all the Merrys of the Museum—a Museum that I like better, far, than P. T. Barnum’s; and I beg of Mr. Daggers Dash, Star Daggers, or whatever he calls himself, not to set the Museum in commotion by any more such hot-headed [p. 31 ] letters as his last, and ask Walter Grey if he has not had Professor Fowler’s fingers about his head; if he hasn’t, let him go quick—the Professor will tell him he’s a poet, or will be. With sentiments of purest regard,

Your friendly niece,

Daggers Dash: !—! protested being referred to as “Daggers-dash” in the July 1857 issue (1857.2.89-90)

Barnum’s American Museum, owned by P. T. Barnum, advertised in the Museum; a description of it appeared in the magazine in 1857 and 1858. An especially devastating fire in 1868 closed the Museum forever.

Professor Fowler: Orson Squire Fowler (1809-1898), American phrenologist. Author of over three dozen books on phrenology and personal life, he edited the American Journal of Phrenology; he had an office in New York City.


Tremainsville, O., Sept. 10, 1857.

My dear Aunt Sue:—May I not become one of your nieces? I hear your kind voice saying, “Oh! yes, certainly;” and as this is the case, I presume I can make myself at home. What a delicious Indian summer we are having! We live in a farm-house, and the scenery all around us is delightful. Oh! if the people were only half as good as the earth is beautiful, this world would be fit for angels to live in, would it not, Aunty? [Yes, indeed, dear; but in that [p. 32 ] case I am afraid we should scarce long for a “better world.”—A. S. ] I hope you will not forget us if you ever come this way. Good-bye, dear Aunty.

Your loving


St. Clairsville, Dec., 1857.

My Dear Uncles, Aunt, and Cousins:— [ … ] By the way, some “females” take the prefix Mrs., and my husband insists that I have been Missed quite long enough. There! Don’t everybody look so surprised! I never said I was Miss. [ … ] Hoping you will not push me from the circle, now that I have let out the secret of my being in possession of a husband, I will close, signing myself,

An eternal friend of the Museum,


New York, Jan. 2, 1858.

Mr. Hatchet:—Dropping into the Museum office one fine morning, I received the astounding intelligence that Miss—alas! we shall Miss her no more—Black-Eyes had got—my pen can hardly write the words—a husband! The astonishment of the old gentleman who was killed by the descent of a turtle on his bald pate (whereof we read in history) was probably great—positive, no doubt—but mine was superlative. There is no comparison between them.

Who would have thought that such a wild bird, so impatient of restraint, would have been caught in the toils of matrimony? But “Black-Eyes” has found her match at last!

Willie H. Coleman.

man killed by falling turtle: Aeschylus (c525-456 BCE): Greek soldier and poet, the author of at least 80 plays. His bizarre death was recorded thus by Lemprier: “An eagle, with a tortoise in her bill, flew over his bald head, and supposing it to be a stone, dropped her prey upon it to break the shell, and [Aeschylus] instantly died of the blow ….” [J. Lempriere. Bibliotheca Classica, 7th American ed. New York: Collins & Hannay, 1832.]


Tennessee, November.

Dear Uncle Hiram:—However others may abuse the basket, I confess I am in favor of the “institution,” for, by means of it, our kind Uncles relieve us of the necessity of reading what might weary us. What’s become of Alice the man-hater? I haven’t seen her pleasant (?) face this long time. I’m very sorry if I have changed your opinion in regard to the courage of Tennesseans, although I should think, from the way they write, you would have long ago come to the conclusion they were, to say the least, bashful, or afraid of meeting the warriors of the Chat. It is true, though, that we Tennesseans won’t bear beating from any one but Tennesseans; so “Sigma” need not rejoice much.

I am not a Yankee, but for once I’ve been guilty of guessing, having guessed at Uncle Hiram Hatchet’s alias. Is it not Hiram D—? Please inform.

Love, to my Southern cousins; respects, to my Northern ones.

Your Southern friend,

[Editor: ] That first sentence is worthy of a philosopher. How could it have been written by the same pen which wrote the last! You are not much a Yankee, truly. Guess again.

basket: The editors wrote of a basket kept under the table for subscribers’s letters that were unpublished; the letters were used as scrap paper.

Love to my … : This sentence would cause more than a little comment; see 1858.1.123 and 1858.1.126a. It also spawned its share of parodies: “Give my love to all, without any distinction,” Oscar Bradford wrote from Illinois (1858.1.127)


Winchester, Virginia.

Dear Sir:—I saw mentioned in the Drawer of the October number of the Cabinet a curiosity which I acknowledge is a great one; but I think I have as great a one, if not greater. I planted a convolvulus vine and a cypress vine near each other. After a while the cypress vine grew into the convolvulus, and cypress blossoms grew out of the convolvulus vine. I shall save the seed, and plant it next year, and see what it will bring.

Robt. Barton.

[Editor: ] Very good, Robert. Send us some of the seeds, and we will try them too. We will call the cypress North, and the convolvulus South; and so we will have the Union saved—one and inseparable, now and forever.

“now and forever … ”: Daniel Webster, debate (27 January 1830): speaking about the threat that the Union might be dissolved, he ended a stirring speech by referring to “that … sentiment, dear to every true American heart—Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!”


Zumbrota, Minnesota.

Dear Uncle:—I write to tell you how happy I am to receive the Museum—more so than ever, now that I am so far from you. I came here with my parents last June. We live in the beautiful valley of the Zumbro. I made a short call, with my father, at your office a while before we came here. Do you recollect me? I enjoy living here as well as I did in Brooklyn, though there are not so many people here. We have a good minister, and a Sabbath-school that I love. My father is also teaching a singing-school, and I have fine times with my mates. We expected to have a cold winter, but so far it has been mild and pleasant.

Yours affectionately,
Abby M. S—.

my father: Isaac Crosby Stearns (born 28 February 1820, New Hampshire). A farmer in New Hampshire, after emigrating to Minnesota in 1857, Isaac farmed and led the Congregational choir; he was a member of the County Board of Supervisors and was nominated to the State Legislature. [M432. 1850 United States Census; reel #433: 276. • M653. 1860 United States Census; reel #570: 531. • Mrs. Avis Stearns Van Wagenen. Genealogy and Memories of Isaac Stearns and His Descendants. Np: np, nd; vol 1: 542.]


Ogdensburg, Jan. 1, 1858.

Dear Mr. Merry:—You can’t imagine what fine times we had at our festival last evening. It consisted of the scholars of the First Presbyterian Sabbath School, and the Mission School, with their parents and friends. Our pastor and superintendents of the school made short speeches. We were assembled in Eagle Hall, the largest in the place. It was beautifully decorated with evergreens and flowers, and evergreen-mottoes. There were six prizes given to those scholars who brought the most children into the Sabbath-school. The first prize, an elegant Bible, was given to the one that brought in the most. The table was splendidly decorated and loaded with dainties, and surrounded with trees bending under the weight of cornucopias, one at least for each child.

[George B. Higbee]

signature: see 1858.1.155


Texana, Texas, Dec. 16, 1857.

Dear Uncle Merry:—I am somewhat at a loss to know whom to speak to, there are so many cousins on every side. Tell “The Countryman” not to be afraid. We will go in together; they will make no remarks about our hair, coats, elbows, etc., if we are neat and tidy in our dress and appearance. I agree with Uncle Hiram in being a pacificator. We must put in a petition to Congress to have Texas moved up close by. We must have harmony and brotherly love, and, in the language of Webster, possess, with President Merry and his Cabinet, if not with Congress, Union now and forever, one and inseparable. Set Congress an example. Hurrah for Union, President Merry, and his Cabinet!

Yours in the bonds of Union,
Willie H. Coleman, South.

Webster: Daniel Webster (1782-1852): American lawyer and politician who represented Massachusetts in the U. S. House and Senate. Intellectually brilliant, he was a gifted orator; his “now and forever, one and inseparable” was quoted several times in the Chat.


Baltimore, Jan. 11, 1858.

Dear Uncle Hiram:—I wish you, and all my aunts, uncles, and cousins, a happy New Year! When I wrote to you last, my little cousin Juliet was only a week old, and now she is running about, and is sweeter than ever.

I am very much obliged to you for the Snow-Bird Song. I knew it before, but not the accompaniment. I am glad to have it, because I am learning to play on the piano.

I think Charlie is the prettiest name for “M. E. W.” to call her little brother.

Your niece,

“Snow-Bird Song”: “The Song of the Snow-Bird”, accompaniment by S. N. (perhaps Susanna Newbould), words and air by Francis C. Woodworth (Robert Merry’s Museum; January 1858). A chickadee sings merrily despite the cold, for God has given it what it needs to stay warm. The song had already appeared twice in Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet.

M. E. W.: “ ‘M. E. W.’ Detroit, invites Uncle Frank to be present at her birth-day party, and to give her a name for a little brother, three years old.” (1857.2.186)


Santiam, Oregon Ter.
Nov. 18, 1857.

Dear Uncle:—Once more allow me to intrude into your presence. Now, really, Mr. Merry, I am sorry I said anything about the “Plains” in my other letter, because I fear I can not describe them in a manner to interest my numerous cousins. However, if you will promise to be very quiet, and not let any keen and piercing “eyes” peep over your shoulder (I do not mean to accuse any one of ill-manners), I will send you a description of one or two of the prettiest to read, all to yourself. You will not tell, will you, dear Uncle Robert? Oh, yes, while I think of it, I sent for three numbers of the Museum last summer, [p. 92 ] but they have not yet arrived. What is the reason? I find out the answers to some of the puzzles, etc., but the distance is so great that I am always too late in sending them. Why, it is absolutely a month, and sometimes more, from the time they leave New York until they reach our country, and then, you know, it would be another month until a letter could go back; and by that time most of the answers are given. But you say, “Enough,” and I see the shadow of the “hatchet” approaching, and I had better bid a hasty but affectionate good-bye and retreat.


[Editor: ] We can not tell, dear Lucy, why the numbers you sent for have not been received. They have been sent regularly every month. We suppose the fault is with the mails. This letter of yours, which is dated Nov. 18, reached us on the 28th January, 71 days.


Matherton, Jan. 30, 1858.

Gents:—I here send you one dollar to pay my last year’s subscription. We are poor here in Michigan. I sold my pet lamb to pay it. I will send one more dollar for the present year for Merry’s Museum and Woodworth’s Cabinet.

T. L. Morrice.


Otisville, Orange Co., N. Y., Feb. 6th, 1858.

Dear Mr. Merry:—As hard times have been knocking at almost every door, I thought I should have to do without the Museum this year. But my father gave me a dollar this morning to pay for another year, and right glad was I, for by this means I shall be able to hear from some of my Merry cousins. When dating my letter, I noticed that to-morrow would be my birth-day. Then I shall be thirteen years old. You will not tell any of the girls, for that would make me feel bashful. You may give them my love, but I shall not send it all until I get a little older. I just want to ask my cousins a question, if any of them can give the information—Which is the mother of the chicken—the hen that lays the egg, or the one that hatches it?

Your Merry Cousin,


Chicago, Feb. 16, 1858.

Dear Uncles Merry and Frank:—Years ago, first as “Parley’s Magazine,” afterwards as Merry’s Museum, your dear little monthly regularly gladdened the hearts of an elder brother and sister of mine, in our happy Eastern home. Brother considers the scientific knowledge he gained from the Museum of much value to him; and the amusement it afforded for both brother and sister will ever be remembered by them as one of the greatest pleasures of their childhood. Now it comes to us again like a dear old friend. We all wish it “long life and much joy” in its “new relations.”

My brother is married, and has a dear little boy, who will, ere long, be old enough to take the same little friend that his father took before him.

Sister Ellen wants to know what has become of “Uncle Bob Merry’s Wooden Leg”—if that celebrated member has been displaced for one of more modern manufacture?

In a letter to Uncle Frank I saw two names (“Green Bay,” and immediately after, “Lottie E. Porter”) that sent a thrill of pleasure through my heart. Lottie is a very lovable girl—a dear friend of ours. I have been in her happy Green Bay home. I love her dearly. Will Uncle Frank please give much love to her for me?

Dear Uncles, is there just a little room for me among the many happy cousins that form the “Merry circle?”

May not I be one of your affectionate nieces?

Marie Burnham.

[Editor: ] Tell Ellen that Uncle Merry’s leg has grown out again. Welcome, Marie—welcome always.

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

Ellen: Ellen W. Burnham (born c1837, New York) [[M432. 1850 United States Census; reel #515: 229. • M653. 1860 United States Census; reel #164: 457.]


New Ipswich, N. H., March 1, 1858.

Dear Uncle Hiram:—Do you remember the little girl you took into your lap once, and called “Flibbertigibbet?” I never shall forget the call, with my mother and auntie, at your office, and how kindly you and Uncle Merry entertained me. If I only could have kept still when you tickled me so! But you couldn’t get me into that huge basket bag!—I am so glad of that.

I wish I could go again into the sanctum room, while you might allow me a peep into that nice box upon the table for the letters so choice as to be marked “in.” Then the many great books, also; [p. 123 ] I should like to look them all over. Those shelves, so full of blocks, too! I wish you would tell the Merry family about those blocks—how pictures are made for the Museum from them. I enjoy very much your “Pilgrimage”—love to talk about it. I never forget to tell the cousins Uncle Hiram is “sixteen years old, and a little more.” What shall I tell them, if they ask the color of your hair?

Your affectionate niece,
Flora P. S.

“Pilgrimage”: “Uncle Hiram’s Pilgrimage” (Robert Merry’s Museum; 1857-1860), 30-part serial following Hiram Hatchet on a journey through New York City, a place as alien as a foreign country.

blocks: the engraved wood blocks used to print illustrations in the magazine. Samuel Goodrich’s estate included several hundred wood blocks which probably had been used in his books and priodicals.


“City of Elms,” Feb. 20, 1858.

Dear Editors:–After a long silence, I once more venture into the Chat. Am I utterly forgotten by all around? Hoping to the contrary, I continue.

So Mrs. B. E. thought she had husbanded her secret “quite long enough!” What a terrible “blow” the noose must have been to W. H. C.! “Laura,” I feel quite honored by my introduction to you. Don’t look so astonished! Put down your ear—(there is an alias in the case—“Sigma” has resigned). “Tennessean,” you may hear too. I am glad you think that your “Northern Cousins” are more respectable than your “Southern.” [ … ]

Yours in haste,
Fleta Forrester.


Ann Arbor, Mich., Feb. 23, 1858.

Mr. Merry:—Have you any Wolverines in your Museum? If you have not, here is one who would like to be admitted. Tell the cousins not to be alarmed—I am only a Wolverine-boy, and by no means the savage creature that my name would suggest. Quite harmless, but noisy, perhaps, for I never could appreciate that oft-repeated saying that “a little boy should be seen and not heard,” except, indeed, when his lesson has not been learned; on the present occasion, therefore, would like to be heard if not seen. Will you give me a seat in the circle, for though not as wise as some of the cousins, I am always merry, when not sad? Granted, therefore, that I have “a voice,” I wish my good cousins to congratulate me for I have had the happiness to see Uncle Frank face to face, and give him a good shake of the hand. I shall not soon forget his pleasant countenance or his entertaining lecture concerning the mischievous “tantrums” of old Vesuvius; I often think what a dear, good soul Uncle Frank was, to devise such a feast of communion as contained in the Cabinet. My heart seems to grow large with the love I feel for our own dear Aunt, Uncles, and cousins; and I never lay down the book without feeling that I am made happier and better by its perusal. Oh! I must bite off my words, or feel the weight of the “hatchet.” Adieu Uncle and cousins all.

A. S. H. Wolverine.

“little boy should be seen and not heard”: variant of “Children should be seen and not heard,” used in the U. S. since at least 1788.


Princeton, Mercer Co., Va., Feb. 23, 1858.

Dear Uncles Frank, Merry, and Hiram:—I am so delighted that I can have the Museum again for another year, that I must tell you how it came in my power to pay for it. In the January number there was a song called “The Snow-bird” set to music. Father told me if I would learn the song by heart, and get mother to teach me to sing it from her (I have not learned the notes of music yet—I am only ten years old), he would give me a dollar; so I set to, and learned the song, and from mother singing it, I can sing it too. So I got the dollar, which I send to you, to pay for another year.

Your niece,
E. H. Thompson.


Norwalk, Feb., 1858.

Dear Uncle Frank:—I was ra-t-h-e-r s-u-r-p-r-i-s-e-d to find B. E. rejoicing in the prefix Mrs. Ask her if she would invite me to take tea with her some time. I should like to see how “crowing hens” manage domestic affairs. Willie C. seems confounded. Hope he will recover soon. I wonder if he had not been building air-castles, of which Mrs. B. E. was presiding dame. Poor Willie! O for an onion! Where is Aunt Sue? I hope these inquisitive tongues and pens have not quite demolished her. I’ve brought with me a budget of love to be distributed among all the cousins except “Tennessean.” I presume he wants nothing warmer than “respects” taken from the sunny side of an iceberg from a Northern cousin. Don’t think to spite us, T.; we have bright smiles and warm hearts, even north of Mason and Dixon’s line. But I see the hatchet is moving uneasily—ready to send me and my rattling tongue to the “big basket,” and I must bid you all good-morning. There, it is coming! Clear the way—I’m off.


hatchet: As letters from subscribers grew longer, the editors joked about wielding an imaginary hatchet (belonging, of course, to Hiram Hatchet) to trim letters to a manageable length.


Marion, Smyth Co., Va., Feb. 15, 1858.

Dear Uncle Frank:—In the last number of the Museum there is a representation of a lady on horseback, whose position is somewhat singular. I have, after some hesitation, concluded to ask you if the ladies in the North mount their horses from the right or left side, as we Virginians are accustomed to mount ours from the left side. According to our custom, the right side of the horse is the wrong side, and the left is the right side for a lady’s stirrup and position on horseback. If the mode represented in the cut referred to be correct, we desire to know it, so that we may reform our backwoods’ habits.

I remain, yours sincerely,
Lizzie M. Sheffey.

[Editor: ] You know, dear Lizzie, whatever they may say in Congress, that the North is always on the right side, and the ladies both North and South know how to keep on “the right side” of everybody, and why not of a horse? You are very frank, however, to confess so freely, that your “right side is the wrong side.” We hope you will be “wise” enough to come round and—learn to ride as the Spanish ladies do.

woman on horseback: “About Horses” (Robert Merry’s Museum; February 1858), with an illustration showing an elegant woman riding, with a dog at her side.


Littleton, Ill., Mar. 5, 1858.

Dear Mr. Merry:—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, hoping to be acknowledged as one of you. I will try to acquit myself creditably when I can stand on my own footing again.

I am yours, with due respect,

parlor: the imaginary room in which the Merry Cousins “met” each month. Hiram Hatchet first used the image in 1854, when he took over the Chat and greeted readers as if they were all together in a room, each waiting to speak; in later columns, references were made to furnishings and Cousins began to offer each other seats: “Commodore, there is an empty chair on this side of the room, if you are not too bashful to sit among the girls,” Sallie offered in 1858. (1858.1.127)


Cairo, Ill., March 6, 1858.

Dear Uncles, Aunts, and Cousins:—I hope you will accept me as one of your friends. I live away down here in Egypt—not the ancient Egypt, but modern Egypt. I know you have heard of it. It is between the Ohio and Mississippi, and is very low. But there are high levees all around it, to keep it from overflowing. It is very healthy. I have lived here four years; I have been a subscriber to your little book about one year, and I thought I should like to become acquainted with you all. Please introduce me.

Melvill Young.


San Francisco, Feb. 19, 1858.

My dear Uncle Frank:—You have told us about Barnum’s on Broadway; and now I will tell you a little about the Barnum of the Pacific. The proprietor is Adams. He has a bear, Sampson, weighing 1,800 pounds, Lady Washington and her cub, two monkeys, Fremont and Buchanan (the latter a little black fellow, to indicate his principles), two sea lions, and one sea leopard, a mammoth pig, and one buffalo, and many, many other things, too numerous to mention. Master Fremont shows the people how the babies cry in the mountains. There is one little monkey that has not good manners—bites and snaps at all around. He bit me about two months ago, and I have the scar yet.

Your affectionate California nephew,
A. L. H.

about Barnum’s on Broadway: “Uncle Hiram’s Pilgrimages”: by William C. Cutter (Robert Merry’s Museum; 1857-1860): Among the places Hiram Hatchet visits on his journey through New York City is P. T. Barnum’s American Museum.

Adams: James Capen Adams (1807-1860), perhaps an alias of John Adams (1812-1860), American showman. Adams pursued several careers before going in 1849 to California, where he made and lost three fortunes in as many years and finally became a hunter of bear, elk, and antelope. Adams captured and exhibited his creatures all over California before establishing the “Pacific Museum” in December 1856. For 50 cents, visitors enjoyed a brass band, twelve bears, elk, deer, ant-eaters, eagles, birds “formerly owned by Lola Montez,” a mammoth pig, stuffed animals—and “Grizzly Adams” himself, who dressed the part in fringed buckskins and moccasins and a deerskin cap ornamented with a foxtail. In January 1860, Adams took his animals to New York City, where he contracted with Phineas T. Barnum to exhibit in connection with Barnum’s museum. An old wound became inflamed as he toured; he died in Massachusetts. The Museum published a section from Adams’ memoirs in September 1865. [Theodore H. Hittell. The Adventures of James Capen Adams, Mountain and Grizzly Bear Hunter of California, new ed. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911. • “Pacific Museum.” The Pacific. San Francisco, California. 21 May 1857.]

John Charles Fremont (1813-1890) American explorer and politician. Handsome, daring John developed a taste for exploration when he served in the U. S. Topographical Corps; expeditions west of the Rocky Mountains in the 1840s led to reports written with his wife, Jessie, that made him one of the celebrities of his day. Fremont’s career was rocky: he was court martialed after the war with Mexico; his penalty was remitted by the president, but Fremont resigned and moved to California; a year later he became a U.S. Senator. A national hero, he was the Republican candidate for president in 1856, losing to James Buchanan. [Pamela Herr. Jessie Benton Fremont. New York: Franklin Watts, 1987; pp. 259-263.]

James Buchanan (1791-1868): fifteenth president of the U. S. (1857-1861) and senator from Pennsylvania (1834-1845). Though anti-slavery, he detested abolitionists and maintained that because slavery was constitutional the U. S. government had an obligation to protect it.


Wilmington, N. C., Mar. 7, 1858.

Dear Mr. Merry:—Have you room for one more? I read in your Museum for February, about kindness to animals. I think that no animal of any kind should be ill treated. How that savage man must have felt, when poor Mary spoke so kindly to him! When I am at play, I shall try to think of this. I have been here about two years; I attend the Methodist Sunday school, and enjoy it very much. I like my day school, too. I shall dislike to leave them; but I expect to, before long.

Joseph C. G.

about kindness to animals: “Kindness to Animals”, by Meta (Robert Merry’s Museum; February 1858): an illustrated essay extolling the virtues of being gentle with animals.


Indianapolis, April 3, 1858.

Dear Uncle Hi.:—How do you do? How’s Aunt Sue, and all the little Merrys? Introduce me quick, please; for already I begin to feel strange and home-sick, though I’m not a bit afraid of your awful hatchet! “I was not born in the woods to be scared at a”—hatchet. You are too good-natured to be very savage when a little rustic like myself makes her first appearance among you. True! we may not know how to behave quite so well as our city relatives, but that is not our fault. We will soon learn, if you will let us sit awhile in the quiet observer’s corner. I’ve a great mind to say something to frighten my fine cousins a little—I will! Only yesterday I saw two real live Indians! They looked so queer with their red blankets wrapped around them; deerskin moccasins, painted faces, and feather-decked heads.

Uncle Hi., I likeFlibbertigibbetright well. Excuse me, I’m a country girl. “Timid Birdie” and I read the Museum together, though we are not sisters.

Hoosier Anne.

“born in the woods to be scared by a” hatchet: in Bartlett 1848: “Too much used to danger, or threats, to be easily frightened.” The line is part of a nursery rhyme originally published in 1833 in Mother Goose’s Melodies (Boston: Munroe & Francis):

“Jemmy Jed went into a shed,

And made of a ted of straw his bed;

An owl came out and flew about,

And Jemmy Jed up stakes and fled.

Wan’t Jemmy Jed a staring fool,

Born in the woods to be scar’d by an owl?”

“hatchet” plays on the imaginary instrument supposedly used by “Hiram Hatchet” to trim letters for the always-overflowing letters column. [John Russell Bartlett. Dictionary of Americanisms. New York: Bartlett and Welford, 1848.]


Creek Agency, Ark., Tallahassee Mission, Dec. 30, 1857.

Dear Uncle Frank:—I was surprised to find my letter in the November number of the Cabinet, as it had been a long time since I wrote it. My name was spelt wrong; but I suppose it was my own fault in not writing plainly. It is not Robert M. Longhudge, for I am neither long nor huge—but Robert H. Loughridge.

I hope you will come and visit us in your travels. We have a school here of about ninety white Indian children, some of whom are your nephews and nieces, whom you might like to see, and they would be delighted to see you, I am sure. The best time to come is in the spring, as the Arkansas River is high enough at that time for steamboats.

From your affectionate nephew,
Robert H. Loughridge.


Chicago, Feb. 13, 1858.

Dear Mr. Merry:—So “Black-Eyes” is married. I always thought she was pretty old. How long has her head been in the “matrimonial noose?” Green Eyed Nettie and I had a long talk about her. I agree with Laura perfectly about “Mr. Coleman.” “Harry,” suppose you and I traverse Illinois, and electioneer for the Museum. “Bess,” I will not comment upon the first part of your letter; but I assure you Nettie is not “green-eyed[”], and I have persuaded her to drop that cognomen. “Timid Birdie,” I promise you, when you come into the room, I will not “look round.” “Tennessean,” you are not much of a philanthropist, you should send your love to all your cousins.

Annie Drummond.

Laura: “Well, Mr. Coleman! You’ll do for the ‘Grand Panjandrum’ himself. The girls have made such a fuss over you, that it is all your high-mightiness can do to bend your august head for a moment to an ancient friend.” (1858.1.57).

Harry: “Why is it, Mr. Merry, there are no more subscribers in [Illinois], or are they laboring under the delusion that the Monthly Chat is made up by the Editors of the Museum?” (1858.1.60).

Bess … the first part of your letter: The first part of the letter contains an astonishing play on rhyme and rhythm:

My dear Consolidation:—

From “mature consideration,”

And due deliberation,

I have concluded

That the late agglomeration,

(After long disintegration,)

And the close concatenation

of the Muse-o-Cabin-Parley,

Schoolfellow, too, must surely

(E’ though it rhyme but queerly,)


Unless I’m deluded—

(In which case, you know, I’m not reprehensible,)

As paying a “spec.” as it is indispensable

To me. [ … ] (1862.1.62)

Nettie: “Green-eyed Nettie” wrote one letter, from Chicago (1857.2.185).

Timid Birdie: “Please introduce me to ‘Fleta’—softly, softly, lest the others should look round, and thus make me more bashful.” (1858.1.62)


Kingsboro, March 7, 1858.

Dear Mr. Merry:—How are you all since I last wrote? I suppose you have behaved yourselves unusually well since my absence. You can not imagine my surprise when I opened the February number and found that Black-Eyes has got a “husband!” Who would have thought that she, the light of our Museum (excuse me, Mr. Coleman, and all the other candles), should be thus put out by that great extinguisher, “matrimony.” And so “Nippinifidget” thinks that we are going to give her up. We mus[t]n’t do it. Let her go; but I suppose all my endeavors to keep her back would be like trying to stop the wind. How far your “Museum” does travel, Mr. Merry; from New York to Minnesota, Oregon, California, or to Europe, if Nip does not choose to stay with us.

Emmie M. Johnson.


Ogdensburgh, Feb. 6, 1858.

Dear Uncle Merry:—I received your welcome Museum last evening. I had been on the look-out for it ever since the first of the month. As soon as the mail arrives I start for the post-office. The letter you received last month from this place, without any signature, which told about the Sabbath School Festival, was from me. I was in so much haste that I forgot to sign it. After going to school for eight or nine years, I left off the eleventh day of January, and went and acted as clerk in my brother’s store. Give my love to Uncle Hiram, Uncle Frank, Aunt Sue, and all the rest of the Merry family, and please accept a large share for yourself.

Your affectionate nephew,
Geo. B. Higbee.


E. W. Hill, March, 1858.

How do you do, good friends? Shake hands—delighted to see you! It seems a long time since I have seen you, although no one appears to have missed me. Now, dear, kind Uncles! I will tell you what I am doing. Not studying. I am enjoying—or trying to—that most delightful of all delightful things—a vacation. But, entre nous—when all the family are away, and academicians, theologians, inhabitants, and all, have flocked off to the four winds, I am forced to exclaim, with a realizing sense of truth,

Oh, solitude! where are thy charms?[p. 187 ]

And then I like to study. Old Homer and I (I trust I am not disrespectful) are excellent friends.

I am full of joy to have the cold weather gone, and even now I can see the grass just beginning—or is it imagination?—to take a delicate hue of green. And the air is so soft, and the sunlight so golden, and everything so beautiful, that in my universal benevolence I wish all the Merry family were in the country to enjoy it.

If I may presume to express my opinion frankly, it strikes me as rather inconsistent that, while Mr. Coleman so valiantly defends his beloved Hartford, he yet finds it so unendurable that he can not remain there more than “one month out of the twelve.” May I be enlightened?

But there are all the Uncles looking sharp at me. Oh, I remember! “Short and sweet.” That is a “poor rule,” for it certainly does not “work both ways.” However, I am resigned—to annihilation—only please deliver my messages.

Affectionately your niece,
Blue-Eyed Minnie.

“Oh, solitude! where are thy charms?”: William Cowper, “Alexander Selkirk” (1782) lines 5-6: “O Solitude! where are the charms/ That sages have seen in thy face?”


South Boston, March 1, 1858.

Dear Mr. Merry:—This is the first time I have ever ventured to write to you. Perhaps you will think me presumptuous; but I hope not. This is the first year I have taken the “Museum,” but I like it very much. I like the “Chat” and the “Questions” very well, and hope you will admit me to the former. I wish you would have more illustrated rebuses. We have at our home a little paper published, called the “Home Casket.” It is now to be published monthly, for it has heretofore been weekly. We have one column of “Guess-work,” which affords us a great deal of pleasure in finding out the different queries. But I must now bid you good-bye. Love to all.

Yours truly,
Oliver Onley.

“Questions”: The “Questions, Enigmas, Charades, etc.” which by 1858 formed a separate column in the Museum.


Selma, Ala., April 13, 1858.

Dear Uncles, Aunts, and all my Cousins:—I have wished for a word in your merry Chat for some time, but had not paid my dollar, so I had no business there. Last night it came (it was earned at Christmas), so Eddie is himself again.

Will Uncle Merry kindly introduce me to the new Uncle Frank, and all the cousins he brought with him?

We are to have several ice-cream and strawberry suppers to assist in building churches, etc. How I wish you all could be here the last of this month and first of next, to attend them. Surely, then, there would be a frank and merry time in our beautiful city. But I hear your “Short, shorter,” so good-bye.


“Eddie is himself again”: parody of Colley Cibber, Richard III (1700) act v, sc. 5, line 85: “Conscience, avant; Richard’s himself again!”


Dubuque, April 5, 1858.

Dear Uncle:—I received your Magazine to-day. I am much interested in the story of Pukkwana, because that little boy was about my age. I think I saw something in your Magazine, two or three years ago, about Shanghaes, which I thought a slander, and have long been wanting to say something in their favor. I have a large rooster. While the hen is [p. 189 ] laying he stands by the nest, and when she comes off he cackles, to save her the trouble of doing it. When I set a hen, he brings her something to eat; and when the chickens are hatched, he takes care of them and broods them, so that in a week or two the hen goes to laying again. I think Fanny Fern would say he was a model husband and father. I have a hen that always lays an egg with two yolks.

I hope you will come some day and see my chickens and our beautiful city.

Your affectionate nephew,
Willie Phelps.

about Shanghaes: “The Pet Chicken” (Robert Merry’s Museum; December 1856), the story of how a boy profits from his care of an injured hen. The “slander” may refer to what is said about why the injured chicken is abandoned by the others: “Chickens do not show much affection for each other, and never seem to care much if one of their companions is hurt; they probably do not know any better.”

Pukkwana: title character in “Pukkwana,” by Susanna Newbould (Robert Merry’s Museum; April 1858). When a white farmer helps save the life of a Native American woman’s son, years later she returns the favor.

Fanny Fern: Sara Willis (1811-1872), American writer who was the sister of N. P. Willis. Widowed and fleeing a bad remarriage, Sara turned to writing to support her two children: her first essay, the satiric “The Model Husband”, was printed in the Olive Branch on 28 June 1851 and was quickly reprinted. When his wife leaves him for another man, he gives her $100 to set up housekeeping.


Starry Vale, March 23, 1858.

Dear Aunt Sue:—It seems that that fidgety Nip is going to fidget herself over to Europe (I wonder how he is going to stay). But never mind. I guess we can do without her awhile, if he will promise to give us a sketch of her adventures. My father has taken the Cabinet ever since the commencement of the second series (and he had always paid for it in advance.) It has always been a welcome visitor. We could not well do without it now. Do you have maple sugar? I suppose not. Well, we do. I wish you could be here when we sugar off. Wouldn’t we have some nice times? Some years we make one thousand pounds.

I think that Charade No. 9, in the second volume of the second series, and Enigma No. 2, in the fifth volume, have not been answered (each composed by Laura). Will some of my Yankee cousins, that are so good at guessing, let us into the secret. My mother sends her love to Aunt Sue, and says she guesses that her name is ——. Has she guessed right? But stop, I believe I heard that Uncle Hiram had whetted his hatchet lately.

Yours, etc., in haste,
Arthur T—s.

[Editor: ] 1. I do not get any maple sugar, except what I buy at the stores.

2. Yes, we would have some nice times!

3. Give Aunt Sue’s love to “mother.”

4. She did “guess right.”

enigma #2: by Laura, apparently appeared in Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet (1854.1.95-96); the nine-stanza puzzle was not answered.


Philadelphia, May 29, 1858.

Aunt Sue:—Being rather a poor hand at composition, I take the liberty of ad- [p. 29 ] dressing you this letter, in hopes that you will grant me a favor. I want something pretty for an album, in either prose or verse, if you do not think it too much trouble. I would consider it very obliging if you will compose something suitable and send to my address.

Charles C.


1/20,000.—“Keep cool!” Oh, yes, it’s all very nice to talk of keeping cool, but the question is, how that is to be accomplished! Sitting in an ice-house would indeed make one beautifully cool, but indulging in such a dangerous luxury, if carried only a “leetle wee bit” too far, might, in the range of possible events, bring on “fever’nager,” which shaking inconvenience would cause too much exercise for weather in which the thermometer marks 96° in the shade.

“fever’nager”: “fever and ague”; the first example in the DARE is dated 1823. Ague: “a violent fever, esp malarial fever, usually accompanied by severe chills; symptoms associated with such a fever.” [Dictionary of American Regional English, ed. Frederic G. Cassidy and Joan Houston Hall. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 1985-2012.]


W. H. Coleman.—Cr-r-r-a-a-ck!—fizz!—pop!—bang!—“The day we celebrate”—bang!—“our nation’s birthday”—fiz-z-z-z!—whis-s-s-h!—“Bunker Hill, and spirit of ’76”—bang!—crack!—“the Star-Spangled Banner, and long may it wave!”—pop!—fizz!—“American eagle, and long may he wave!”—s-s-spuk!—“over the land of the free and the home of the brave!”—bang!—bang!—bang!—“Hail Columbia, happy land, with Yankee Doodle hand in hand”—boom!—“now and forever, one and inseparable”—siz-z-z-z!—boom!—“who fought, bled, and died in freedom’s cause”—E Pluribus Unum forever!—bang!—who-o-o-s-s-s-sh!—pop!—pop!—pop!—crack!—who-o-s-s-s-sh!—fiz-z-z-z-z-z!—s-s-s-spuk!—whis-s-s-sh!—bang!—crack!—whiz-z-z-z-z!—boom!—who-o-s-s-s-sh!—siz-z-z-z! fiz-z-z!—s-s-spuk!—who-o-o-o-s-s-s-sh!—BANG!!!!!!!

Star-Spangled Banner: Francis Scott Key, “Defence of Fort McHenry” (1814): “Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave/ O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” Soon renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner”, this patriotic song was a standard at Independence Day celebrations, and its tune was borrowed for presidential campaigns, such as the campaign in 1856; it was adopted as the anthem of the United States in 1931.

“Hail Columbia, happy land, with Yankee Doodle hand in hand”: cheery melding of two songs: “Hail Columbia”, line 1—“Hail Columbia, happy land!”—and “Yankee Doodle.”

“who fought, bled, and died in freedom’s cause”: “Hail Columbia” lines 2-3: “Hail, ye heroes, heaven-born band/ Who fought and bled in Freedom’s cause.”

E Pluribus Unum forever!: from the Latin phrase “E Pluribus Unum”: “One composed of many,” the motto of the U. S.


Tema.—You want to know what I think of “the hatchet,” do you? Well, wait a little while. I am coming your way about the first of July, and I think contact with you Northern ice-bergs will have sufficiently cooled me by the time I reach your office; so venture a reply, without disgrace to my Kentucky blood.

I mean you shall remember that visit, Mr. Merry. That is if— Is Kentucky money current in Yankee land?

Don’t you advise me to make some distinction between my T and Y?

[Editor: ] H. H.—

Tema, there are good reasons why,

You should distinguish T from Y.

T(ea)s, black or green, the wise (y’s) despise,

And you can never tease the wise,

Because they know too much, you see,

To make their Y look like a T.

“T and Y”: “Tema” had been printed “Yema” in an earlier letter (1858.1.124).


Oliver Onley.—Please let the Bay State speak once more. Where are all our Yankee cousins? They must look out. I see the West is in the field, armed and equipped. I am glad that Virginian has got so much pluck. Mass. and Virginia! Adams and Jefferson! Hurrah! Please, if they get the wire across, send my love to Nip. Love to all the 20,000.

Now please don’t think, my dear Aunt Sue,

That I have quite forgotten you.

“the West is in the field”: Probably a reference to the growing number of Western subscribers printed in the Chat. One Wisconsin Cousin chided him for this, saying, “So, Mr. Onley fears for the Yankees, as ‘the West is in the field.” Doubtless he has heard that “a Western man is a Yankee enlarged,’ and if not any way interested in the matter, perhaps I might say, and Western girls, too.” (1858.2.94)

“get the wire across”: After two unsuccessful attempts, a telegraph cable was laid across the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, beginning in 1854. A failure and a break in the cable later, in 1858 2,500 miles of cable had been laid across uneven ocean bottom, in spite of ocean currents. New York celebrated success with fireworks, a torch-light procession, and building decorations. Also, with souvenirs: sections of the cable were incorporated into jewelry, paperweights, the handles of paper-knives, and the heads of canes. The Museum celebrated with two articles.


James.—I want you to ask Aunt Sue if I may write to her. I have a little brother at home, the greatest little scapegrace you ever saw; but I’d better look at home when I talk of scapegraces, and pick the mote out of my own eye. I want to know if you think it is wrong to dance. Good-bye. A kiss for Aunt Sue, if she will receive it.

[Editor: ] Judge Merry.—It is no more wrong to dance than to eat. But you may eat too much, and at improper times and places.

Dance away to school, dance along the field,

Dance to any rule that health and pleasure yield.


Knippiniphidgette No. 2, from the Land of Nod.—Please don’t introduce me, Uncle; I shall get acquainted, I assure you. Bess, I tremble for the state of your brain! You must be somewhat “shattered” to want to shake Uncle Hi, and then call him “sweet Uncle.” Clio, how could you ask for an onion right before us all, Fleta included? and you know poets are so sensitive. Girls, all of you, I want to tell you something: don’t let’s recognize Black-Eyes (Mrs.) as one [p. 61 ] of our cousins; she has disgraced the name of our institution by getting married. Of course the gentleman can have nothing more to say. Prairie Blossom, you—bless me! there comes the hatchet!

Nip, dear, don’t stare, nor mistake me for yourself. I am only taking upon me the responsibility of defending your honorable name while you’re away.


Vicksburg, Miss., July 1, 1858.

Dear Uncle Frank:—I have been from my home in this, the “Hill City,” for many months, and on my return, among the many things which I greeted, was a collection of the numbers of the Cabinet which had been issued during my absence, and which had been carefully placed away by a little sister, who was not unconscious of my attachment to the writings of Uncle Frank (a favorite name of mine).

Your sickness made me particularly anxious about you, and, be assured, I was very happy to hear from you when you once more appeared among your nephews and nieces in the last number.

I have often heard and read of the beauty of the scenery on the Hudson, and am not, in any way, skeptical as to the assertion you make concerning it. Nevertheless, I would be delighted to take an excursion on that picturesque stream. I would supply the deficiency in the way of castles, which you mention. They would not, however, be in ruins; still, there would be some glaring faults in them—in their being too numerous and unsubstantial—as they would be formed of air. The principal object of this letter is to request you to tell us something about West Point and the U. S. Military Academy situated there. Doubtless many of your nephews and nieces would agree with me in such a petition; and hoping you will favor us, I remain respectfully yours,


Hudson River: Francis Woodworth asked, “Reader, did you know that the Hudson is the most beautiful river on the face of the earth? It is my honest conviction that such is the fact.” (1858.1.191)


Vicksburg, Miss.

Dear Uncle Merry:—Won’t you let in another correspondent from sweet old “Massissip’?” Mr. Merry, if you ever come down the river, you must not fail to stop here, at the “Hill City.” We’ll be so glad to see you. Come, and brother and I will take you to see the old castle, or “the folly,” as it is called, and we will go to “Prospect Hill,” and to the court-house, where we can get a pretty good view of the town, and to Gurella’s picture gallery to get a good view of “big muddy.” And we will take you to the True Southern office and introduce you to one of the best editors and most gentlemanly men in all Mississippi, etc., etc., etc. Please say to “Miss Fleta” that we never should judge people before we see them. I don’t think she ever saw a Southerner.

My love to “the cousins,” particularly those nearest me.

Ever yours,
Smile of the Great Spirit.”

True Southern: a vehemently pro-slavery newspaper published in Vicksburg; a writer in The British Controversialist and Literary Magazine pointed out in 1864 that the editor of the Southern had promoted Southerners’ argument for slavery when it “proposed ‘to offer a prize for the best sermon in favour of free trade in human flesh.’ ” [W. R. “Was Slavery the Real Cause of the American War?” The British Controversialist and Literary Magazine. 1864 vol: 287-294; p. 292; via]


Chicago, Aug. 7, 1858.

Dear Uncle Merry:—I wish very much to place my name among your list of nephews, and to state that I am a volunteer in the western army, which Oliver Onley mentions, and bid him rally his party, and look out for shots.

If I ever visit New York, I intend to make a call at your office—it will be worth while to “go to the Museum.”

D. H. Burnham.


Cameron Mills, June 7, 1858.

Dear Aunt Sue:—I feel better acquainted with you than with my uncles Hiram and Frank, as I wrote to you when I first began to write, and have your portrait in one of my (four bound) volumes of the Cabinet. I have been very sick again with erysipelas in the face, and am not well yet. How I wish you could come up here, and see the green fields, and beautiful rivers winding along at the foot of the hill, and I should like you to hear how sweetly my canary-bird sings. Don’t let the printer call me a “fly” again, as he did in the May number. But I hear Uncle Hi. whetting his hatchet. Oh, dear! if he should chop me in two, and throw away the pieces!

Yours, etc.,
George F. Sly.

a fly: George was’s name was printed “G. F. Fly” in a note in “Aunt Sue’s Bureau.” (1858.1.158; not included here)


Ann Arbor, Mich., June 30, 1858.

Dear Aunt Sue:—You love the little children; so I will tell you about my little brother Eddy. He is but two years of age; a bright, active little fellow, and we think him very cunning. One day he was a long time alone in the parlor. By-and-by he came running out in great haste with his little face red with anxiety, or fear, or some indefinite expression we hardly know what, and with eyes half filled with tears—“I’ll tell pa, now,” said he, threateningly, as he passed his mother; “Oo boke it, ma—Oo boke it,” and away he went down stairs, intent upon laying the blame of something he had done himself upon his mother. The mother suspecting mischief, entered the room he had left, and there, sure enough, he had broken the spittoon. We all laughed, of course, when Eddy’s secret was discovered, but I could not help thinking it a fair exhibition of human nature, at least as far as my experience goes, which is only the experience of a dozen years, and of course will go only as far as it is worth with older persons. But I believe that too many of us are ready to cast the blame of our own indiscretion or faults upon others, in order to escape censure.

Your niece,

Eddy: probably Edward H. Pierce (born c1855, Michigan) [M653. 1860 United States Census; reel #563: 623.]


Oct. 3, 1858.

Too bad! too bad! I appeal to any or all of the 20,000, if this is not enough to provoke any one, even though possessed of “the patience of Job,” though I’m inclined to the opinion that gentleman took his patience with him, instead of bequeathing it to humanity. But to the point, although Mrs. Browning says “the point’s the thing we never come to”—our worthy P. M. put my Museum in the wrong box—wonder if that don’t happen sometimes to the letters of us poor juveniles—so I didn’t get it as soon as I might otherwise have done; but when I did get it—now comes the provoking occurrence. Just think! Uncle Merry has been all around us, within a few hours’ ride of us, and I dare say never gave us a thought. Now, Uncle, I protest! Say what you please about “the vast regions of the West,” of which “the half has not been told,” but come out to old Belmont, and you’ll acknowledge that for scenery, intelligence, and enterprise her superior does not exist. You should have been here last week, when, for four days, our own embryo city was crowded with thousands who had “come to the fair,” and they unanimously agree that in old Belmont is the best fair of eastern Ohio. Cassius M. Clay delivered our annual address this year. And hear his opening compliment—and you know, “they say,” he never lies—“This is the first time I ever addressed so large a concourse of people, in which I saw no drunken man—or ugly woman!” Ha! ha!

Uncle Hiram, dear Uncle Hiram! I [p. 156 ] can’t look after Maria, as you bade me; indeed I can’t. The very thought makes my head swim.

No, Elma, never! Never too old to join in the dear circle around Uncle Merry’s table. Why, I was never dignified but twice. And then—but it would take too long to tell. I merely mention it to show “I’m childish yet.”

We advise application of ice for all Aunt Sue’s poetical frenzies. Applied to the head, of course. By the way, Auntie, dear, may I come in and talk to you, sometimes?

Look! “Is that a hatchet that I see, its edge toward my pen?

Good-bye in a hurry,

“patience of Job”: Bible, James 5:11: “Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.”

“point’s the thing never come to”: Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Aurora Leigh” (1857) book 3, lines 526-7: “But, Lady Waldemar, the point’s the thing/ We never come to.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861): English poet who began to publish in 1826.

Cassius Marcellus Clay (1810-1903): American politician famous for both his pugnacity and his honesty. Though Clay’s father owned many slaves, Clay developed a hatred of slavery that made him into a crusader who published an anti-slavery newspaper. His turbulent political career included the governorship of Kentucky and a diplomatic post in Russia, from which he retired in 1869. The Museum printed his advice on learning speechmaking in December 1852.

“look after Maria”: Maria noted that Black-eyes had introduced her to the Museum; in response to her saucy letter, Uncle Hiram joked, “Rather personal, Maria, for a new-comer. I am afraid I shall have to set Mrs. Black-Eyes to look after you.” (1858.1.187)

Elma: “ ‘Black-Eyes, will you ever be too old to take an interest in the ‘Chat?’” (1858.2.125)

Aunt Sue’s poem: Editor Susanna Newbould offered a long poem in October 1858, answering several riddles; she replied to a subscriber’s criticism of her poem with a worse one: “One would think I had been perpetrating something like this:

‘In that spasmodic region, where mankind

Are deeply synchronous and vaguely blind;

Where elemental anodynes prevail,

And Stygian carboys ventilate the sail; … ’

Now, have I ever done anything as terrible as that?” (1859.1.123)

“Is that a hatchet … “: paraphrase of William Shakespeare, MacBeth (1606) act 2, sc i, lines 33-34: “Is this a dagger which I see before me,/ The handle toward my hand?”


Colchester, Del. Co., N. Y., Sept., 1858.

Dear Uncle Frank:—Please admit me as one of your thousands of nephews, as I wish to become a contributor to your world-delighting magazine. As you are not used to receiving letters from our rustic place, I will attempt to give a slight description of it. It is bounded on the north by rocks and briers, on the east by the Delaware River, on the south [p. 159 ] by swamps, brooks, and meadow lands, and on the west by mountains. It abounds in musquitoes, dogs, bears, deer, and “school marms.” Its chief products are berries, pumpkins, oats, and daisies. Give my love to all of your numerous relations around the table.


a flourish

How to use this book

1840s: 184118421843184418451846184718481849

1850s: 18501851185218531854185518561857 • 1858 • 1859

1860s: 1860186118621863186418651866186718681869

1870s: 187018711872

About the Merry Cousins


Index & gloss


The Cousins’ Greatest Hits

Copyright 2000-2024, Pat Pflieger

To “Nineteenth-Century American Children & What They Read
Some of the children | Some of their books | Some of their magazines

To “Voices from 19th-Century America
Some works for adults, 1800-1872
To Titles at this site | Authors at this site | Subjects at this site | Works by date | Map of the site

Talk to me.