One of the charms of Robert Merry’s Museum (1841-1872) is the letters column, which introduced subscribers to each other and to readers in every century after that.  So as the Civil War progressed, editors occasionally informed subscribers of the activities of fellow subscribers serving in the military.

Adelbert Older was a popular subscriber and a budding poet.  He enlisted in the Union army early in the War, but was discharged due to illness.  When he enlisted again, his younger brother enlisted with him.  Both died in 1864, after action at Turner’s Farm, Virginia.  Adelbert lived long enough to be taken prisoner; he died in Richmond, probably of his wounds.  He was not quite 24.

Adelbert was the only subscriber to Merry’s Museum to receive a memorial page in the magazine:  one of his poems, a poem about him, and a stanza from the then-popular “Mustered Out,” by the Rev. William E. Miller.

On this late incarnation of a day originally set aside to remember fallen Union soldiers, let’s think of Private Adelbert Older of the 36th Wisconsin Volunteers.

The zephyrs, idle vagrants,
Come filled with sweetest fragrance;
They shake the blossoms down in showers,
And steal the fragrant breaths of flowers.
The bee, the bright-winged rover,
Is wandering all over
The fields of blooming clover;
He dives deep down in the lilies' bells,
And sips the sweets from their hidden cells.

The brook steals down the meadow,
Through sunshine and through shower,
By buttercups and daisies,
In deep and shady places;
Then, with a sound of mimic wrath,
It leaps along its pebbly path.
Beyond, the green-clothed hilltops lie,
And smile to see the smiling sky.

Deep in the leafy woods,
The shady solitudes,
The timid little rabbit peeps,
The squirrel on the branches leaps.
Each tree stands dim and solemn,
Like some old temple's column,
And through those arches vast and dim,
The wind is chanting a grand old hymn.
We half forget the primal curse,
And peace reigns through the universe.

–Adelbert Older, May 21, 1863

              I'm mustered out!
God of our fathers, our freedom prolong,
And tread down rebellion, oppression, and wrong!
Oh! land of earth's hopes, on thy blood-reddened sod
I die for the Nation, the Union, and God!
              I'm mustered out!

Haney’s Guide to Authorship calls this description of a despised husband “rather … overloaded with epithet.” It is, however, (alphabetically) entertaining. It’s from Mrs. Partington’s Carpet-bag of Fun (1854; available at google books), which book certainly points up that humor doesn’t always outlive its generation:

“He is an abhorred, barbarous, capricious, detestable, envious, fastidious, hard-hearted, illiberal, ill-natured, jealous, keen, loathesome, malevolent, nauseous, obstinate, passionate, quarrelsome, raging, saucy, tantalizing, uncomfortable, vexatious, abominable, bitter, captious, disagreeable, execrable, fierce, grating, gross, hasty, malicious, nefarious, obstreperous, peevish, restless, savage, tart, unpleasant, violent, waspish, worrying, acrimonious, blustering, careless, discontented, fretful, growling, hateful, inattentive, malignant, noisy, odious, perverse, rigid, severe, teasing, unsuitable, angry, boisterous, choleric, disgusting, gruff, hectoring, incorrigible, mischievous, negligent, offensive, pettish, roaring, sharp, sluggish, snapping, snarling, sneaking, sour, testy, tiresome, tormenting, touchy, arrogant, austere, awkward, boorish, brawling, brutal, bullying, churlish, clamorous, crabbed, cross, currish, dismal, dull, dry, drowsy, grumbling, horrid, huffish, insolent, intractable, irascible, ireful, morose, murmuring, opinionated, oppressive, outrageous, overbearing, petulant, plaguy, rough, rude, rugged, spiteful, splenetic, stern, stubborn, stupid, sulky, sullen, surly, suspicious, treacherous, troublesome, turbulent, tyrannical, virulent, wrangling, yelping dog in a manger.”

Haney’s Guide is being entertaining, too, though tough on female writers. (“Their reading is generally less various, and their apprenticeship to letters less vigorous” than men’s, so they quickly become one-trick ponies. One-trick ponies that make money for publishers like Haney & Co., but let’s not mention that.)

Okay; I’m getting far too obsessed with “letter writers”—books of letters which are supposed to act as models (?!) for readers. Interestingly—and unsurprisingly—some letters show up again and again and again, eternally, without end. Most are so specific that they’re probably meant for entertainment purposes, rather than as examples; and some are dandy little melodramas. An example is below, which appears in The Fashionable Letter Writer (published in 1819), The Letter Writer (1840), and The American Letter Writer (1862).

Alas! we don’t have the young gentleman’s letter, which I’d just love to see. Instead, we have to fill in the blanks ourselves. They’re … pretty obvious. (The little melodrama, though, would make a good exchange for an historical murder mystery of the type I’m unable to plot.)

From a Widow to a young Gentleman, rejecting his suit.


The objections I have to make to the proposal contained in your letter are but few, but they demand some attention, and will, I believe, be rather difficult to obviate.

You are, by your account, two-and-twenty. I am, by mine, six and forty; you are too young to know the duties of a father: I have a son, who is seventeen, and consequently too old to learn the duties of a son from one so little senior to himself. Thus much with respect to age. As to the little fortune I possess, I consider myself merely trustee for my children, and will not, therefore, impose on you, by acceding to the common report, that I am rich. However, as you have borne a lieutenant’s commission these three years, as you tell me, you may, perhaps, have reserved out of the profits of that, a sufficient sum to obviate every difficulty on that head.

I will press these objects no farther; when you can convince me that in point of age, fortune, and morals, you are such a person as I can, without reproach, take for a husband, and admit as a guardian to my children, I shall cease to think, as I now candidly confess I do, that motives far from honourable, or disinterested love, have influenced your application; till that happens, I must regret that an ill-timed effort of gallantry, on your part, deprives me of the pleasure of subscribing myself

Your sincere friend, and humble servant.

As I was assured by the young men moving my belongings a couple years ago, I have a lot of books. (“Too many books” was their phrase, but I think we can agree that “too many” is … relative.)

I thought several years ago that I’d be able to jettison a copy of What to Do and How to Do It, one of Samuel Griswold Goodrich’s books on conduct of life. It was published in 1844 and stereotyped. I have a pristine copy of the 1844 edition, a toddler-colored copy of the 1856 edition, and a— Okay, it’s difficult to describe what happened to my other 1844 copy. It’s been stomped on, dunked in water, and extremely, extremely well read.

So I thought I had my copy for transcribing. Copies that have been transcribed aren’t always the same at the end of the process, so I prefer ones that won’t win beauty pageants to begin with. (My favorite is Ruth Hall, which was complete, but which was already broken down into its component parts. Boy, does it lie flat.) This copy was missing a few pages, but surely it wouldn’t be missed if it went to a landfill after transcription. It already had led a rich life.

Then I looked again at the title page, mostly because I’d have to clean it up for the web site. Because it looks like this:

A little research later, and, yeah: the copy apparently belonged to Ernest Hemingway’s grandfather. At least, according to the handwritten note:

For Hemingway Hines.
Grandson of Anson Tyler Hemingway
born 1844
Terryville Conn.
up the long hill from

Given to
born 1867
when a little girl
by her
Grand Mother
Harriet Lynsay [sic]
Tyler Hemingway
her oldest

This H. L. Tyler was
of the same
Scotch clan
as The Bag Pipe
Singer “Harry
Louder” of
Scotland who

The publication date on the title page—1844—is underlined three times in blue pencil, with “ATH” written beneath it; beside this are the words

When young,
Blue penciled
by Anson Tyler

So what we have here seems to be a copy owned by Anson Tyler Hemingway and given to Ernest Hemingway’s aunt, Anginette Blanche Hemingway Hines, who passed it down to her son, Hemingway Hines. Anson Tyler Hemingway was born in 1844—the same year as this copy—and appears to have underlined the date of publication and left his initials on the page. (And, Hemingway and bagpipes? Hmm.)

So, yes, I still have three copies of one book. Sorry, movers. At least you won’t be called on to move my books again. (Long and ugly story involving a moving company I used to admire.)

And, btw, did Ernest Hemingway ever read this book? Surely not. But it colored the environment in which he was reared, not just because his grandfather and father probably read it, but because Samuel Goodrich’s generic advice on conduct of life was in keeping with that permeating American culture at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. Amusingly, Goodrich’s dictum to “Do not be too positive” was flipped by Hemingway, one of whose writing tips is “Be positive.” Goodrich meant that readers shouldn’t insist that they’re right on a subject they’re not actually certain about; Hemingway meant that writers should say what something is, instead of what it isn’t. Goodrich would have agreed with him: it’s good advice for someone writing for children.

A friend of the family gives some tactful advice on what kind of career a young man of “no soaring genius” should pursue. That lawyers should have “a sprightly impudence” is rather delightful.

To a Father, concerning the Choice of a proper Profession for his son.

Dear Sir,

You very well know that I have a good opinion of your son, and think him a modest, grave, and sober youth. For this reason I hardly think him qualified for the profession you seem inclinable to choose for him; for I much doubt whether he has talents for the law, or ever will have that presence of mind which is indispensably necessary, in order to make a figure at the bar. In any smooth and easy business he will probably succeed, and be an useful member of the community. I must confess to you, and I hope you will excuse the freedom, that I have some doubts wether your son’s genius may be equal to that of an universal merchant. This opinion, which I have entertained of your son, should you think it just, will be no obstacle to his succeeding in the world, in some creditable and easy business. Though I think him unequal to the profession you seem inclinable to allot him, yet I by no means think him destitute of common sense, and experience teaches us, that in some sorts of business, ample advantages may be made by very moderate talents, with much reputation. These are principally such employments as merely consist in buying with prudence, and in selling them at a profit. Hence we see several wholesale dealers gain large fortunes with ease and credit, and without any other secret, than the plain practice of buying at the best hand, paying for their goods punctually, and vending them always for what they really are. As to what you hint of placing him in the physical tribe, I like that no better than the other. Consider only this one thing, how long it will be before he will be capable of entering into business, or acquiring reputation as a physician, if he ever does it at all; for who chooses to trust his health to an inexperienced young man? The law requires a sprightly impudence, if I may so say, and the physician a solemn one. It is from hence easy to foresee that he may, in the profession of either physic or law, live over all his days, and remain at last quite unknown; for as practice in both faculties is the best teacher, and theory a most uncertain guide, he may live to forty or fifty years of age, and not come into any business that shall improve himself, or benefit his consulters. Whereas in the way I propose, no sooner shall he become of age, and fit to be trusted with the management of any affairs at all, but his seven years will be expired; and if he has not been inattentive to his business, he will be enabled, with the fortune you can bestow upon him, to enter upon the stage of the world with great advantage, and become directly a necessary and useful member of the community. My good friend, when you and I recollect that most of the best families in this country as well as the genteel ones, had the foundation of their grandeur laid in trade, I expect not in such a country as ours especially, that any objection to my advice will be formed, either by you or your lady, on this score, if you have not more significant reasons proceeding from the youth’s turn of mind and inclination, which I think, should always be consulted on these occasions. By thus viewing your son in the same light I do, that of a well inclined lad, of moderate passions, great natural modesty, and no soaring genius, I believe you will think it best to dispose of him in such a manner as may require no greater talents than he is possessed of, and may in due time, make him appear in the face of the world, fully qualified for what he undertakes.

I am, sir, &c.

Another in the tiny melodramas in The Fashionable Letter Writer: a young man sees the girl of his dreams and writes to her mother about courtship. Her mother is unimpressed.

From a Gentleman of some fortune, who had seen a Lady in public, to her Mother.


I shall be very happy if you are not altogether unacquainted with the name which is at the bottom of this letter, since that will prevent me the necessity of saying some things concerning myself, which had better be heard from others. Hoping that it may be so, I shall not trouble you on that head; but only say, that I have the honour to be of a family not mean, and not wholly without a fortune.

I was yesterday, madam, at the rehearsal at St. Paul’s, and have been informed, that a lady who commanded my attention there, has the happiness to be your daughter. It is on account of that lady that I now write to you; but I am aware you will say this is a rash and an idle manner of attempting an acquaintance. I have always been of opinion, that nothing deserves censure which is truly honourable and undisguised. I take the freedom to tell you, madam, that I believe your daughter worthy of a much better offer; but I am assured my happiness will depend upon her accepting or refusing this. In the first place, I request to know whether the lady be engaged, for I am an entire stranger; and, if she be not, I beg, that after you have informed yourself who it is that requests the honour of being introduced to her, you will do me the singular favour of letting me be answered. I am very much an enemy, madam, to the usual nonsense upon these occasions; but it would be injustice to myself to conclude without saying, that my mind will be very little at ease until I know how this address is received. I have the honour to be, with the greatest respect, madam,

Your very obedient humble servant.

From a Mother to a Gentleman, who had asked permission to address her Daughter. In answer.


The letter which you have done me the honour to write to me, speaks you to be a gentleman and a man of sense. I am sorry to acquaint you, that after such a prepossession in your favour, I am for more than one reason desirous to decline the offer you are pleased to make toward an alliance in my family. My daughter is very dear to me; and I think she has cast an eye elsewhere: I think there is something indelicate and improper in this wild manner of engaging in an attachment, and in pleading in favour of it. I wish you had known my daughter more before you spoke so much, and had met with me among our acquaintance to have mentioned it. I am convinced, sir, that I do not think more of you than I may with justice, when I confess to you that I believe you would be more than an equal match for my daughter; for though she has (and suffer me, sir, although I am her mother, to say it) great merit, her fortune, although not quite inconsiderable, is not great. You will see, sir, that I waver in my opinion on this subject; but you must attribute it to the true cause; and believe that every thing which has, be it ever so remote, a tendency to my daughter’s welfare, will make me very cautious of determining. To give you my final sense, (at least what is final to me at present) I have not a thought of asking who it is that has thus favoured us, nor would advise my daughter to remember it. I thank you sir, in her name as well as my own, for the honour you intend us, and am, sir,

Your most obedient servant.

A new transcription at Project Gutenberg provides a look at household procedures in the 1850s—at least as far as one writer was concerned. Common Sense for Housemaids, a pamphlet-length work by Ann Fraser Tytler, is a strangely fascinating description of how to make a bed, how to polish just about anything, how to arrange the breakfast, lunch, or dinner table, how to light a fire, how to— Well, how to do just about anything that needed done. It’s the stuff that was considered too unimportant to record; and it’s absolutely the best reading ever if you’re interested in how housework could be done. While the book was written for a British audience, the procedures would be the same in the U.S.

Common Sense also makes one wince, in the description of what the typical day of a housemaid was supposed to be like. The woman never, ever seems to have a moment to herself: she’s setting up the breakfast table, she’s tidying the bedrooms, she’s laying and lighting the fires at the correct times, she’s tidying the parlor, she’s clearing the breakfast table and washing dishes, she’s mending, she’s washing lace, she’s ironing, she’s setting up the lunch table, she’s answering the front door, she’s serving the lunch, she’s clearing the lunch table and washing dishes, she’s sweeping the carpets, she’s cleaning windows, she’s setting up for supper and serving it and clearing up, she’s— Well, about the only thing she isn’t doing is cooking (and the poor cook has to run up to deliver the food at the proper time and then run down to fetch more) or taking care of the horses. And I’m betting she wasn’t paid very well for any of this.

Did any one person do all of this in a small household? Could any one person do all of this? Either way, it makes for a fascinating and exhausting read; I very much recommend this well-proofread little volume.

A little sample (and, brace yourself for some reeeeeally long paragraphs):

When candles are required in the sitting-rooms, in addition to the lamp, let the candlesticks be properly cleaned, and fresh candles set in them, and the shorter pieces made use of for the bed-rooms; where wax-candles are not used, see that the snuffers for the different candlesticks are completely emptied and carefully wiped, and that there is a pair of snuffers for each bed-room candlestick, as well as for each sitting-room. The lights being thus prepared for night, and the work in the different rooms finished, if it is not sweeping-day, the housemaid will still have some time for needlework before laying the cloth for dinner. Before sitting down to work, she will of course wash her face and hands, change her working-dress for a gown with long sleeves, a white apron instead of a coloured one, and a tidy modest-looking bobbin-net cap, coming close to the face, and tied with a ribbon of some quiet colour; nothing is more unbecoming in her station, than a flying out cap hanging on the back of the head, with gaudy soiled ribbons streaming down in all directions. The style of dress adopted by servants of late years is much to be regretted; it is a loss of their money, of their time, and above all, of their respectability; a maid-servant can never be too scrupulously clean and quiet in her dress.

A few more observations on this subject may be added in another place. In sitting down to work, she will take care to be within hearing of the drawing-room bell, and the knocker of the street door. By proper regulation there will always be some part of each day for needlework, and in the country, where less sweeping and dusting is required, a great deal may be done in this way. It is a pleasant sight to see a young girl neatly and quietly dressed, busily plying her needle, her tidy work-basket beside her well stocked with cotton-reels, rolls of worsted, tapes, needles, pins, scissors, and thimble. It will probably be her business to mend the bed and table-linen, to watch over the state of the carpets, table-covers, &c., and repair them when necessary; a slit or tear in the carpet, even of an attic, is sure to give a bad impression of the housemaid. The bed-linen should be carefully looked over each time before going to the wash, and the slightest fracture or slit repaired; and instead of allowing the middle of the sheet to wear into holes, while the sides are quite good, as soon as the sheet begins to wear, the breadths should be unripped, and the sides turned into the middle and joined again. Care should also be taken that the buttons or strings for each pillow-slip are complete; it is most desirable that the housemaid should be a good darner of table-cloths, and also of stockings, for where there is no ladies’-maid the darning of the ladies’ stockings will be part of her work; and even where there is, the charge of the gentleman’s stockings generally falls to her care; but anxiety to get on with her work must not lead her to forget when the time for laying the cloth for dinner shall have arrived. Having previously rung a bell precisely half-an-hour before dinner, as a signal for the family to dress, which bell should be punctual as the clock itself, and having at the same time added fresh coal to the fire, swept the hearth, and placed the plate-warmer before the fire, she should enter the dining-room to lay the cloth a quarter of an hour before the dinner-hour strikes. To enable her to be ready in this time, however, all must have been prepared before sitting down to work; the clean knives and forks put into the tray, the mustard and vinegar replenished, the tops of the cruets carefully wiped, and the salt-cellars filled. To avoid as much as possible having to open and shut the door often when laying the cloth, collect as many of the articles necessary as you can bring in at one time in a large tray, glasses, tumblers, spoons, knife-tray, bread-basket, and beer and water jugs. All being prepared, see that the stand for placing your tray in while you bring in the glasses, &c., is placed in a convenient corner of the room, and that the basket for carrying the plates and the trays for the knives and forks which have been used, are placed near the sideboard, but not in the way to prevent passing easily. Having brought everything into the room which is necessary, shut the door, and having laid the cloth perfectly straight on the table, place a plate for each person, with a napkin neatly folded upon it, and on the right side of the plate, place a knife and spoon, and on the left a silver fork. The soup-plates should be placed before the person who is to help the soup, and a carving-knife and fork, and a gravy-spoon, put at the top and bottom of the table. Place a salt-cellar at each corner of the table, lay a couple of spoons on each side of it, and a crystal caraffe filled with clear spring-water; see that those caraffes, and the tumblers and glasses (which should be placed all round the table for each person) are perfectly clear and bright: a clean glass-cloth should be brought into the room to wipe off any dimness which a finger may have caused. When the different articles on the table are perfectly bright-looking, and the dishes neatly sent up, the plainest dinner has a look of comfort, and even elegance about it. A knife, fork, or spoon, which has not been properly cleaned, cannot be taken into the hand without being discovered, and leaving a disagreeable impression; a visitor may not have the courage to send it away, but the comfort of his dinner is destroyed. Having cut some slices of bread rather thick, cut each slice into four, and with a fork, put a piece all round for each person, leaving the loaf in the room in case more may be required; when more is called for, hand some additional pieces in the bread-basket. Place a chair for each person.

See what I mean? Exhausting.