Memoirs of a Captivity Among the Indians of North America, by John Dunn Hunter (3rd. ed, 1824)
Scenes in My Native Land, by Lydia H. Sigourney (1844)
Lydia Huntley Sigourney (1791-1865) was an enormously popular nineteenth-century writer, the author of around 60 books. 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. It’s Sigourney’s ode to the landscape around her and to a mainstream vision of American history and culture, with stereotypical descriptions of Native Americans and overblown descriptions of an American landscape unpunctuated by strip malls.
Dictionary of Americanisms, by John Russell Bartlett (1848) one of the most popular texts at the site
The Dictionary of Americanisms 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”?
The Behaviour Book, by Eliza Leslie (1853)
The Behaviour Book 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 of one-paragraph essays on subjects like having a bedroom window open and how to refer to black servants. (There’s a disengenuous paragraph on a noxious racial epithet.) It’s also a wealth of anecdotal information about Leslie’s native Philadelphia, including a child’s rhyme listing its principal streets. The two chapters on how to treat writers and how to become a writer probably answered questions Leslie had heard over and over.
Fern Leaves from Fanny’s Portfolio, series 1 and 2, 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 subterfuges of a widow eager to remarry.
This ebook contains series 1 and series 2.
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 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’d already portrayed as “Apollo Hyacinth” (in the second collection titled Fern Leaves from Fanny’s Portfolio). The novel itself is vaguely autobiographical.
Gala Days, by “Gail Hamilton” (1863)
Wool-Gathering, by “Gail Hamilton” (1867)
Woman’s Rights is John Todd’s condescending explanation of why nineteenth-century women were foolish to complain about their lack of civil and social rights. Woman’s Wrongs is Gail Hamilton’s firm reply. Now they can duke it out on your ereader!
Norwood, by Henry Ward Beecher (1868)
In 1867, celebrity minister Henry Ward Beecher (brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe) published a novel in the New York Ledger; in 1868 it was reprinted as a 549-page book. Part romance, part paean to a stereotypical New England, the novel follows various characters through a couple antebellum decades and the first years of the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln makes a cameo appearance; the Battle of Gettysburg is a turning point for Beecher’s characters. The novel was a sensation and a center of controversy. It’s also entertainingly unreadable.
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.