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
The embellishments may have been added after the copy was made:
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
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 perfomance 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
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”.]
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! 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"]
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?
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
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.