Eliza Caroline Piatt’s copybook (April-June 1845)

Practice has always made perfect in handwriting, and for many generations those learning to shape letters have been set to copying out text—over and over and over. In 1845, Eliza Caroline K. Piatt, of New York, not only practiced her penmanship, but her signature, in a 32-page booklet of ruled paper. Because nearly every piece is dated, it’s possible to see not only what text she was given to copy each time, but how often she sat down to practice and who she felt like being that day.

The mechanics appear to have been fairly simple. Eliza seems to have had four pages to fill each week. Usually she worked on Monday and on Friday, filling two pages each day. For the most part, she filled the right-hand pages (odd pages) before going on to fill the left-hand (even pages). All the writing appears to be in the same hand, indicating that Eliza was copying from a separate sheet or book.

Most of what she copied was poetry—uplifting treatises on God and heaven. They were copied at least twice; the second copy of one poem (“My Mother”) was made two weeks after the first. Eliza also copied aphorisms—perhaps from an abcedary, since they appear in the booklet in alphabetical order: “Afflictions are often blessings in disguise”; “By its fruit the tree is known”; “Cautiously abstain from defamation”; “Disarm enmity by acts of kindness”; “Elevate your affections above this earth”. The aphorisms weren’t, however, copied in alphabetical order (see below). These phrases were copied enough times (14 times each) to fill the page, and the phrase was copied enough times on each line to reach from margin to margin, even if there was room for only part of the phrase (ex., “By its fruit the tree is known. By its fruit the”). Two phrases appear by themselves, squeezed in at the bottom of a page.

Eliza’s schedule of writing (page numbers in parentheses)

April 14 (Mon) signature (1), Ruth & Naomi (3, 5, 7)

April 18 (Fri) Niagara River (9, 11)

April 21 (Mon) To a Lady … (13, 15)

April 25 (Fri) God, All & in All (17)

April 28 (Mon) Night (19, 21)

May “Disarm enmity … ” (16)

May 2 (Fri) Universal Prayer (23, 27), “Afflictions are often … ” (2)

May 5 (Mon) God’s Knowledge (25, 29)

May 9 (Fri) Midnight (30, 31)

May 12 (Mon) The Burial Place (8, 10)

May 19 (Mon) My Mother (12)

May 20 (Tues) “Cautiously abstain … ” (6)

May 23 (Fri) “By its fruit … ” (4)

May 26 (Mon) Illusions of Earth (20, 22, 24)

May 30 (Fri) “Elevate your affections … ” (18)

June 2 (Mon) God’s Omnipresence (26, 28), My Mother (14)

[undated] “Elevate your affections … ”, “To perform a duty … ” (32)

Eliza’s handwriting is a delicate copperplate, with decorative capitals and flourishes at the end of many of the lines. She excelled at decorating the titles of her pieces. Most have flourishes; some are in “square text,” an unreadably decorative script that is almost Gothic. Sometimes she used both styles on copies of the same poem, here “God’s Omnipresence”:



The embellishments may have been added after the copy was made:

the flourish extends into the text

She uses the long s throughout. (I’ve modernized it for easy reading.) The handwriting doesn’t change much in the course of the copybook, hinting that Eliza’s education was quite advanced. Occasionally she changed a word or two between versions, often improving the phrase; it’s difficult to know if the second version is Eliza’s improvement or simply a better reflection of the original copy.

While Eliza practiced her penmanship, she also practiced her signature. The first page is, in fact, filled by her signature. She then signed each each piece as she copied it, in a variety of ways, some with flourishes:

with a flourish

Sometimes she was “Caroline”; usually she was “Eliza.” Often, she used two different signatures the same day (see, however, May 26, when she was “E. C. K. P.,” “Eliza Caroline,” and “Caroline Piatt”). Her full name is a puzzle: usually her initials were “E. C. K. P.”, but in one place the “K.” is an “I.” or a “J.” For fun, I’ve listed the signatures by date, with the title of the copied piece and the pages on which the signature appears:

April 14 Eliza C. Piatt (signature), 1

April 14 E. C. Piatt (Ruth & Naomi), 3, 5, 7

April 18 E. C. Piatt (Niagara River), 9

April 21 Eliza C. Piatt (To a Lady … ), 13

April 21 E. C. Piatt (To a Lady … ), 15

April 25 E. C. Piatt (God, All & in All), 17

April 28 Eliza C. K. Piatt (Night), 19

April 28 Eliza C. Piatt (Night), 21

May 2 E. C. Piatt (“Afflictions are often … ”), 2

May 2 Caroline P.... (Universal Prayer), 23, 27

May 5 E. C. P.... (God’s Knowledge), 25

May 5 Eliza C. Piatt (God’s Knowledge), 29

May 9 E. C. K. Piatt (Midnight), 30-31

May 12 Eliza (The Burial Place), 8

May 12 E. C. P. (The Burial Place), 10

May 19 Eliza C. Piatt (My Mother), 12

May 20 E. C. K. Piatt (“Cautiously abstain … ”), 6

May 23 C. P.... (“By its fruit … ”), 4

May 26 E. C. K. P. (Illusions of Earth), 20

May 26 Eliza Caroline --- (Illusions of Earth), 22

May 26 Caroline Piatt (Illusions of Earth), 24

May 30 Caroline I./J. Piatt (“Elevate your affections … ”), 18

June 2 Caroline Piatt (God’s Omnipresence), 26

June 2 E. C. P. (My Mother), 14; (God’s Omnipresence), 28

[undated] C. Piatt (“Elevate your affections … ”, “To perform a duty … ”), 32

Eliza’s copybook gives us a look at educational practices, and at the messages adults felt important for the young to learn. God and heaven are the basis of many of the pieces; “elevate your affections above this earth” is the thrust of many. Some of what she wrote is from the Bible; several poems are from prominent poets such as Alexander Pope and Thomas Moore; the rest are currently unidentified. (I’ll add identifications as I find them.) They have the flavor, though, of most religious and moral poetry of the time.

What Eliza thought of her efforts is unknowable. She certainly seems to have enjoyed decorating the titles and her signature. She may have left a clue to what she felt in the phrase she squeezed in at the end of the last page, in a space almost too small to contain it: “To perform a duty well, we should feel able, for the performance thereof.” It seems an appropriate end-phrase for a example of work both elegant and useful. In the last half-inch on the page, she signed it, “C. Piatt.”

Eliza Caroline Piatt’s copybook (April-June 1845)

[Pieces appear here in the order in which they appear in the copybook, without signatures, dates, or page numbers. Sometimes, Eliza changed a word or a phrase between copies of the piece; in each case, both versions are given, in chronological order, separated by a vertical line (|). Identification follows the piece, with changes noted.]

[The book starts with a page in which Eliza practiced her signature; note the long s in “Miss.”]

Miss Eliza C. Piatt. April 14th 1845.

Afflictions are often blessings in disguise

Ruth and Naomi

Nay do not ask—entreat me not—no;

O! no I will not leave thy side;

Whither thou goest I will go.

Where thou abidest, I’ll abide.

Through life—in death—my soul to thine,

Shall cleave as fond as first it clave;

Thy home, thy people, shall be mine,

Thy God, my God, thy grave, my grave.

Not to my wish but to my want,

Do thou thy gifts apply.

Unasked’d, what good thou know’st grant!

What ill, though ask’d deny

[“Ruth and Naomi”: by Richard Henry Wilde]
[“Not to my wish”: Merrick, “The Ignorance of Man” last stanza]

By its fruit the tree is known

Cautiously abstain from defamation

scanned page title

The Burial Place

In this hallow’d spot, where nature showers

Her summer smiles from fair and stainless skies,

Affection’s hand may strew her dewy flowers,

Whose fragrant incense from the grave shall rise.

So, where the tomb’s dull silence finds an end,

The blessed dead, to endless youth shall rise;

And hear th’ archangel’s thrilling summons blend

Its tone with anthems from the upper skies.

There shall the good of earth be found at last,

Where dazzling streams and vernal fields expand;

Where Love her crown attains—her trials past—

And fill’d with rapture hails the “better land”!

[Willis Gaylord Clark, “Lines, Written at Laurel Hill Cemetery, near Philadelphia” The last 7 lines are the last 7 lines of Clark’s poem; however, the first 4 lines appear several stanzas earlier in the poem. After “from the grave shall rise” Clark explores the seasons of the year as a metaphor for death, ending with spring, when “Liberal Nature break[s] the spell of Death.” The next line reads “So, when the tomb’s dull silence finds an end”.]


Niagara River

Oh! I have thought, and thinking sigh’d—

How like to thee, thou restless tide!

May be the lot, the life of him,

Who roams along thy waters brim!

Though what alternate shades of wo,

And flowers of joy, my path may go

How many an humble, still retreat,

May rise to court my weary feet.

While still pursuing, still unblest,

I wander on, nor dare to rest!

Our birth is nothing, but our death begun;

As tapers waste, that instant they take fire.

[First 10 lines from Thomas Moore, “Lines, Written at the Cohos, or Falls of the Mohawk River” ln 15-24]
[Last two lines from Edward Young, “Night Thoughts.” Night v. Ln 719-720]

My Mother

My Mother! I can never tell

Of all thy tenderness;

For thou hast loved—loved much too well

And watch’d too oft, to bless.

But as the|thy evening hours decline

With all life’s labor past,

No joy shall be so great as mine

To cheer them, while they last

My Mother? every nerve shall strain

To take away thy care;

Couldst thou but live thy years again,

I would thy trials share

To a Lady who
Gave a gold chain to promote the cause of Temperance

Would that thou hads’t a voice[,] graceful toy,

To tell me of the giver.—Fancy paints,

A young and radiant|iridescent brow, and a clear eye,

Kindling with golden light, as thou wert thrown,

Off from the polish’d neck. Thou wert perchance

Some favor’d gift—the talisman of Love.

Or friendship’s hight memento. Still t’is well

That thou art here. Henceforth that Love shall be

Remembered by those holy deeds that bless

And save mankind. Nor could blest friendship

Ask a truer token, than such heaven wrought links

As bind the soul to duty.

Disarm enmity by acts of kindness

God, all and in all

The beauties of nature delight the eye of sense, the beauties of art delight the eye of intellect; and the beauties of grace, delight the eye of faith, and the eye of faith will see grace manifested, both in the beauties of nature and of art, and so seeing will look upward and adore Him who gave such gifts to man till art and nature, no longer considered as in themselves or of themselves, fade away, and sense, and intellect, and faith, uniting their joint and kindred testimony, proclaim with one voice God to be “all and in all.”

Elevate your affections above this earth



Night is the time to weep;

To wet with unseen tears

Those graves of memory where sleep

The joys of other years

Hopes that were Angels in their birth,

But perished young like things of earth!

Night is the time to pray.

Our Saviour oft withdrew

To desert mountains far away,

So will his followers do;|.

Steal from the throng to haunts unknown|untrod

And hold communion there with God.

[James Montgomery, “The Issues of Life and Death”]

Illusions of Earth.

This world is all a fleeting show,

For man’s illusions given;

The smiles of joy, the tears of wo,

Deceitful shine, deceitful flow

There’s nothing true but heaven!

And false the light on glories plume,

And|As fading hues of even;

And love, and hope, and beauty’s bloom

And blossoms gathered for the tomb;

There’s nothing true|bright but heaven!

[Thomas Moore, “This World is All a Fleeting Show"]


Universal Prayer

If I am right, thy grace impart,

Still in the right to stay;

If I am wrong, oh! teach my heart

To find that better way!

Teach me to feel another’s wo

To hide the fault I see;

That mercy I to other’s show;

That mercy show to me.

This day be bread and peace my lot

All else beneath the sun

Thou knowes’t if best, bestow’d or not

And let thy will be done!

[Alexander Pope, “The Universal Prayer” (1738)]

God’s knowledge extendeth to all things

God knoweth all things. His eye seeth every precious thing. He looketh to the ends of the earth, and seeth under the whole heavens—The darkness hideth not from thee, but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.—He knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him.—Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world—Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight; but all things are naked and opened unto him|the eyes with whom we have to do.

Shall any teach God knowledge? He that planteth the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see? He that teachest|teacheth man knowledge, shall he not know?



God’s Omnipresence

There is an unseen Power around,

Existing in the silent air:

Where treadeth man, where space is found,

Unheard, unknown, that power is there.

When smiles the pious Christian’s soul,

And scenes of horror daunt his eye,

He hears it wisper’d [sic] in|thro’ the air,

A Power of mercy still is nigh.

The power that watches, guides, defends,

Till man become a lifeless clod,

Till earth is nought—nought earthly friends

That omnipresent power—is God.

[Altered from “Omnipresence” published in The United States Literary Gazette, 1 September 1824; p. 157; via google books. It seems to have become a standard hymn.]


As yet t’is midnight deep! The weary clouds

Slow meeting, mingle into solemn glow,

Now, while the drowsy world lies lost in sleep,

Let me associate with the serious night

And contemplation her sedate compeer;

Let me shake off the instrusive cares of day

And lay the medling senses all aside

[James Thomson, “Winter” (1726), lns 195-201: “As yet, ’tis Midnight’s reign; the weary clouds” Text from http://newark.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Texts/winter.xhtmll]

That very power that moulds a tear

And bids it tickle from its source,

That law preserves the earth a sphere!

And guides the planets in their counsel.

[apparently from Samuel Rogers, “On a Tear”]

Blessed are the pure in heart, for theirs is the kingdom of God|they shall see God.

Elevate your affections above this earth

To perform a duty well, we should feel able, for the performance thereof.

Miss Eliza C. Piatt

Caroline Piatt
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