Like a lot of people, I grew up reading Beverly Cleary’s books. (I even got to write about them!) She was a wonderful writer, and in the last week I haven’t been surprised to find appreciative fans all over the internet.

Cleary always had a gift for noticing what children focused on and worried about and were excited at. Ellen Tebbits and her dress with the monkeys printed all over it (oh, I envied her that dress!). Henry Huggins’ embarrassing difficulties with an energetic toddler named Ramona Quimby. And Ramona, herself, worried about the picture of the gorilla in one of her books, splashing herself with blueing in an effort to make sailing a toy boat more exciting.

Ah, Ramona, who taught me about point of view in fiction. As a child reading the Henry Huggins books, she was an irritating little brat. As an adult reading the Ramona Quimby books—wow: she’s one of the most realistic portraits of a child in American literature. (Another is Rollo Holiday, the most popular child character in early-19th-century American lit.) Point of view makes the difference. Henry felt humiliated by the antics of an excited toddler. Seeing things through Ramona’s eyes, we understand how she could get herself into any number of predicaments. When money was being collected for the statues in the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden, I bought a t-shirt declaring that “I am a friend of Ramona.”

But here’s why as a professor of children’s literature I used a Ramona book in class only once, and why I should have known not to.

The class was intended for graduate-level education majors and met one night a week. These students had earned college degrees in subjects other than education, but had decided to go back and earn the kind of degree that would allow them to teach children. (Really, people: if you want to be a teacher, go for it! You wouldn’t believe the number of stories I heard of undergrads bowing to the desires of their parents and earning degrees in something “practical” and “well-paying,” instead of getting the teaching degree the undergrad actually wanted; and then, actually doing the job they’d been educated for, realizing that they couldn’t bear to spend the rest of their life doing this, so they had to go back to earn a more expensive university degree, while juggling school, job, and family. If teaching is what you want to do, get that degree and go out and do it!)

So, thought I, I’ll have them read Ramona the Brave, which will clue them in on what those kids they’ll be teaching will be thinking! It’s a funny book, I reasoned, and it focuses beautifully on its theme, and—and—and— Won’t we have a good time discussing it!

Reader, we did not have a good time discussing it.

That evening class is still vivid in my mind: me bouncing into the classroom, ready to discuss this marvelous, hilarious book; them glaring at me because I was chirping about how hilarious this book was. It was not funny, I was informed; there was nothing amusing about it. And—it was implied—me finding the book humorous just reinforced their understanding of how heartless I was. It was a … deflating professorial experience.

Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to figure it out. Because I’d read all of Cleary’s pieces on writing that I could find; and she’d addressed this very thing. Nothing, Cleary realized once she’d had children of her own, was funnier to children than the goofy things they’d thought or said or done when they were younger. When they were younger. Because now they were older, and they were past that stage; so all that stuff they’d taken so seriously as itty-bitty children was funny now. This is why the Ramona in Ramona the Pest may be in kindergarten, but the book isn’t for kindergarteners, but for older children. Same for Ramona the Brave, in which Ramona is in second grade.

What I’d forgotten was that a number of the students in that class had children around Ramona’s age; and they knew just how deadly serious Ramona’s experiences are to second-grade children. And, thoroughly immersed in parenting, my students just could not find Ramona’s predicaments amusing.

Lesson learned; I never again used a Ramona book in class.

I’m still a friend of Ramona, though, and I have the t-shirt to prove it.

Ah, the sea serpent! Horsey of head and keggy of body, it enthralled observers in Gloucester, Massachusetts, who—ah, human nature!—immediately went after it with muskets and harpoons. News of the mysterious citizen of the deep rolled through New England like a wind-whipped tide. Early reports recalled earlier sightings, and a cryptozoologic phenomenon was sparked.

Newspapers of the time, of course, copied from each other, and the Boston Intelligencer and the Essex Register probably received their information from a Gloucester newspaper which I have not seen. It would be good to see the original story, but the two newspapers together give a detailed and entertaining portrait of the uncommon creature sporting and playing and reeling from musket fire off the coast of Massachusetts. Interestingly, the “fish” of the Essex Register becomes a “serpent” and “SNAKE” in the Boston paper, which certainly got information from the Register. Both papers use the old spelling of “shew” for “show”—a reminder that spelling rules have changed over the last 200 years. Punctuation gets a little … obscure in the Intelligencer—an obscurity I haven’t tried to clear.

“Cepede” was Bernard Germain de La Cepede, a French zoologist who described fish in 1798.

“Uncommon Serpent” (from the Boston Intelligencer [Boston, Massachusetts] 16 August 1817; p. 2)

We have in our possession an extract of a letter from John Low, Esq. to his son in this town dated Gloucester, Thursday afternoon August 14, 1817.

“There was seen on Monday and on Tuesday morning playing about our harbour between Eastern Point and Ten pound Island—a SNAKE with his head and body about eight feet out of water—his head is in perfect shape as large as the head of a horse,—his body is judged to be about Forty-five or Fifty feet in length—it is thought he will girt about 3 feet round the body, and his sting is about 4 feet in length

While writing the above a person has called in, who says that there are two to be seen, playing from the Stage-head into the harbour inside of Ten pound Island.

The spectators are Mr. Charles Smith and Mr. John Proctor and several others. A number of our sharp-shooters are in pursuit of him but cannot make a ball penetrate his head. Another party is just going in pursuit with guns, harpoons, &c.—Our small craft are fearful of venturing out a fishing.

The above can be attested to by twenty different people of undoubted veracity.”

Salem Gaz. Office.

In addition to this account the Salem Register states, that the Serpent is extremely rapid in its motions which are in all directions—that it shews a length of 50 feet; that a man who discharged his musket within 30 feet of the fish, says its head was partly white and that he hit it—that a large sum had been offered for it: that “it appears in joints like wooden buoys on a net rope almost as large as a barrel,”—that musket balls appear to have no effect on it—that it appears like a string of gallon kegs 100 feet long.” [sic]

The editor of the Register quotes an account of a Sea Serpent seen on the coast in 1746, something like it. It had a head like that of a horse—and as he moved he looked like a row of large casks following in a right line.

The Essex Register did, indeed, include a description of an earlier sighting, off the coast of Norway:

The Register recalls an earlier sighting (from the Essex Register [Salem, Massachusetts] 16 August 1817; p. 3)

Yesterday information was received in this town from Gloucester, of the appearance of an unusual fish or serpent in their harbor. The letter represented, that the head of it, eight feet out of water, was as large as the head of a horse, and of great length. It was afterwards said that two had been seen. A party was soon provided to take him with muskets, harpoons, & every instrument which good marksmen and whalemen could use. We soon after received a letter informing that the fish had been seen for several days, and that it was first discovered by the fishermen. All attempts to take the fish had been ineffectual. Quite different accounts are given of its length, which all agree to say is great, and that its body is round. That it is very quick in its motions, and in all directions. The person adds, I have just seen the fish, sporting in the water, and it shews a length of 50 feet, within a quarter of a mile from the shore, and adds, we have never seen any thing like it. A man who discharged his musket within 30 feet of it, says he struck the fish, and that its head was partly white. The inhabitants were determined to repeat their attempts to take it, and a large sum had been offered for it. Another letter says, I have had an opportunity to see the fish, and the street is full of persons who are going to enjoy the sight of it. “It appears in joints like the wooden buoys on a net rope, almost as large as a barrel. Two muskets were fired at it, and appeared to hit it on the head, but without effect. It immediately disappeared, and in a short time was seen a little below, but in the dark we lost sight of him. It appears like a string of gallon kegs 100 feet long.”

After reading this account, we recollected one not altogether unlike it. A Danish Captain of the Navy reported that he saw in 1746, near the coast of Norway, a Sea Serpent of very great size and length. The head, which he saw out of water, had some resemblance to that of a horse, and he remarked something hanging from his neck like long black hairs. As he moved at a distance, he looked like a row of large casks, following in a right line. He moved with uncommon swiftness. We plainly see an agreement in these different accounts, and are led to believe that the fish seen at such a distance of time and place, may have been of the same kind. To what size the fish of the northern seas may grow, is not known, but Cepede, comparing a fossil tooth in the family of sharks, with those known to belong to the largest known, gives the fish which must have used it, more than double the length of any fish of the family now known. We are pleased to see the excitement which the fish has made, and the determination to take it. We know no men more expert, and we hope they will be rewarded from the bounty as well as curiosity of others, if they succeed. The Danish Captain observed that the Norway fishermen were much alarmed for the safety of their boats, and one of the letters from Gloucester says, our small craft are fearful of venturing out a fishing.

When a sea serpent was spotted in the waters off the coast of New England in 1817, New Englanders were enthralled. They pursued it; they wrote poems about it; and they reprinted earlier reports of strange creatures in the waters.

One such report was that of Captain Crabtree, who described a gigantic creature gamboling off the coast of Maine in 1793. It’s an interesting piece which includes details that would be repeated in reports 24 years later: the head shaped like a horse’s head; the enormous length; the dark brown color; the comparison of the creature with barrels. It’s a fine tidbit of cryptozoology.

Note: “Frenchman’s bay” is probably Frenchman Bay, in Hancock County, Maine, bounded on one side by Mount Desert Island. Cranberry Island is nearby.

“Sea Monster” (from The Salem Gazette [Salem, Massachusettes] 20 August 1793; p. 4)

Portland, August 3.

SEA MONSTER.

Capt. Crabtree, who lately arrived at Frenchman’s bay, and now in this town, gives the following extraordinary account of a sea serpent, the authenticity of which may be depended on:—

“On the 20th of June last, being on my passage from the W. Indies, in the morning, having just made Mount Desert Island, distant nearly ten leagues, I suddenly got sight of a serpent of an enormous size, swimming on the surface of the ocean, its head elevated about six or eight feet out of water, rather prone forward. That part of the body which was out of water, I judged to be about the size of a barrel in circumference, but the head larger, having some resemblance of a horse’s. According to the most accurate computation which I made in my mind of his length, I think it could not be less than from 55 to 60 feet, and perhaps longer. That part of the body which was not elevated, but of which I had a distinct view several times, was larger than the part out of water. The body of a dark brown. I was within two hundred yards of it near an hour, during which time, as it discovered no inclination to molest us, myself and the whole crew observed it with the minutest attention; nor was its attentionless fixed on us. The eye was perfectly black, sharp and piercing. I was so near it as to observe clearly that there were no fins or external appendages to the body; but that is motion was by the writhing of the body, like other serpents. During the time it was with us, several flocks of birds flew near, which it eyed very narrowly. I observed in it the greatest agility and quickness of motion.”

There is no doubt but this is one of two which have been seen in these parts. All accounts agree respecting their size and appearance. Two of them (perhaps the same) were once seen on the shore of the Cranberry islands, but immediately took to the water on being discovered. These are the first ever seen in our seas, that we have any account of, tho thy have been seen on the coast of Norway.

Early in the 19th century, a sea serpent lurked in the waters off the coast of New England and in the minds of New Englanders. It appeared everywhere, including in an advertisement for paint in the Hartford, Connecticut, Times:

SeaSerpent

Descriptions are varied and interesting and fun to read. The creature gamboled in the ocean and sped up rivers and at least once was accompanied by posse of varied sea creatures. What was it? I’ll let marine biologists and cryptozoologists hash that out.

When the creature was spotted in August 1817, an earlier sighting was included. Joseph Brown, captain of the Washington, was on his way to St. Petersburg when he spotted a large object accompanied by a crowd of sea creatures. It looked to him like a sunken ship, but as his brig passed, it turned its head on its long neck and looked at him.

It’s a good story, with precise details. As far as I can tell, the coordinates put the sighting in the north Atlantic Ocean. Brown’s description is full of details. And what was his creature? The large object surrounded by sea creatures seems to this landlocked landlubber like something large and dead being eaten. Brown doesn’t mention any smell, however.

Still, it’s interesting, and the tiny little era in American history when the ocean spawned a legendary wonder is a fun little moment in time.

“The Sea Serpent” (reprinted in the American Advocate and Kennebec Advertiser [Hallowell, Maine] 6 September 1817; p. 3-4)

The Newburyport Herald of the 26th ult. remarks, that “since this huge ‘reptile’ has made his appearance in Gloucester harbor, similar creatures, that have been formerly discovered, are brought into notice, which renders the existence of such an animal beyond dispute.”

The Herald then introduces the following account of a Sea Serpent, furnished by Cpt. Brown, of Newburyport, and seen by him on his voyage to St. Petersburgh, in 1811.

“Being bound to St. Petersburgh, in the brig Washington, of Newburyport, in the year 1811 about the last of July, being then in lat. 60 30, N. and lon. 7 40, W. I discovered something about three or four miles distant, about two points on the weather bow, which appeared like a mast, as it rose and sunk in a perpendicular manner, once in about eight or ten minutes. I kept the vessel directly for it, and after looking at it with my glass, I observed to my mate that it was a wreck, as I could see the timbers, &c. sticking up—but as we approached nearer, I found what appeared like timbers, to be a number of Porpoises and Black Fish playing and jumping round a large Sea Serpent, which we had supposed to be a mast. He appeared to keep the same motion of rising and sinking from the time of his coming in sight, till we lost sight of him astern, and his motions and progress were very moderate, and appeared to be making his way to the N. N. E. and the above fish playing round him, as long as we could see him with a glass. I suppose he was in sight of us about an hour and a half. I had a number of fair views of him, aand when abrest [sic] of him he came up about thirty feet from the vessel, and rose about fifteen feet above the surface, with his head bent a little forward, but did not appear to be startled, but turned his head, as if to view the vessel.—His head was formed somewhat like the head of an eel, only more blunt, his back was nearly black, and his belly a muddy white or grey; he had a sharp looking eye about as large as that of an horse; his mouth was about fifteen inches in length, and he was about as big round [sic] as a barrel, or rather less, and generally rose about fifteen feet above the surface—he had eight creases on the under part of his neck which came half way round, which I supposed to be his gills—his head appeared to be from 18 to 24 inches in length; he had no appearance of any fins or scale, but was smooth like the skin of a porpoise.

Joseph Brown, 3d.

While I don’t work with events after 1872, I do come across interesting bits about life in earlier generations. For example, the fact that in the 1920s a new airport could be a place of inexpensive entertainment. (Given that automobiles soon became a private space for courting couples, the airport may have been a popular “sparking spot.”)

The (relatively) brightly lit field in a dark landscape probably was a draw on its own; but there’s something a little charming about folks driving out to watch planes that aren’t even landing. While the airport probably was used only during daylight hours, the description makes it seem that it wasn’t built because the town needed air service, but it was built just in case a plane might need a place to land in an emergency. After all, it’s better to be prepared, ’cause you just never know when you’ll need a runway …

“Airport Attracts Many To See Lighted Field” (in the Sterling Daily Gazette [Sterling, Illinois] 31 December 1928; p. 5)

The new airport north of this city, which was lighted up for the first time last Friday, has been the mecca for many persons who drive out in the evening to watch the night mails pass over. Thus far it has not been necessary for any of the night planes to make a landing, but the field and lights are all ready in case a pilot has to make a forced landing here.

John Brainard creeps, 1824

October 30, 2020

John Gardiner Calkins Brainard was a poet and a friend of Samuel Griswold Goodrich in Hartford, Connecticut, in the 1820s; Brainard edited Hartford’s Connecticut Mirror from 1822 to 1827. One feature of every newspaper in early 19th-century America was poetry, and much of the poetry published in the Mirror in the 1820s was by Brainard. The unsigned pieces included reactions to local incidents, lyrical descriptions of the landscape, and a delicately creepy poem about a bit of Connecticut folklore.

The Black Fox of Salmon River (originally published in the Connecticut Mirror, 2 August 1824; p. 3)

The lines below are founded on a legend that is as well authenticated as any superstition of the kind, and as current in the place where it originated, as could be expected of one that possesses so little interest.

“How cold, how beautiful, how bright,
“The cloudless heaven above us shines;
“But ’tis a howling winter’s night—
“ ’Twould freeze the very forest pines.

“The winds are up, while mortals sleep,
“The stars look forth when eyes are shut,
“The bolted snow lies drifted deep
“Around our poor and lonely hut.

“With silent step and listening ear,
“With bow and arrow, dog and gun.
“We’ll mark his track, for his prowl we hear,
“Now is our time, come on, come on.”

O’er many a fence, through many a wood,
Following the dog’s bewilder’d scent,
In anxious haste and earnest mood,
The Indian and the white man went.

The gun is cock’d, the bow is bent,
The dog stands with uplifted paw,
And ball and arrow swift are sent,
Aim’d at the prowler’s very jaw.

—The ball, to kill that fox, is run
Not in a mould by mortals made!
The arrow that that fox should shun,
Was never shaped from earthly reed!

The Indian Druids of the wood
Know where the fatal arrows grow!
They spring not by the summer flood,
They pierce not through the winter snow!

Why cowers the dog, whose snuffing nose
Was never once deceiv’d till now?
And why amid the chilling snows,
Does either hunter wipe his brow?

For once they see his fearful den,
’Tis a dark cloud that slowly moves
By night around the homes of men,
By day—along the stream it loves.

Again the dog is on his track,
The hunters chase o’er dale and hill,
They may not, though they would, look back,
They must go forward—forward still.

Onward they go, and never turn,
Spending a night that meets no day;
For them shall never morning sun
Light them upon their endless way.

The hut is desolate, and there
The famish’d dog alone returns,
On the cold steps he makes his lair,
By the shut door he lays his bones.

Now the tir’d sportsman leans his gun
Against the ruins of the site,
And ponders on the hunting done
By the lost wanderers of the night.

And there the little country girls
Will stop to whisper and listen and look,
And tell, while dressing their sunny curls,
Of the black fox of Salmon Brook.

In honor of the month (usually) of first frost, a poem by the often-overlooked Hannah F. Gould. From the 1832 volume of The Token, which I’m now transcribing.

(Among the things we no longer have to think about is ensuring that food inside the house is protected from frost; early 19th-century folks did have such worries, as Gould points out in the last stanza.)

“Frost,” by Hannah F. Gould (from The Token, for 1832)

The Frost looked forth, one still, clear night,

And he said, ‘Now I shall be out of sight,

So through the valley and over the height,

In silence, I ’ll take my way;

I will not go on like that blustering train,

The wind and the snow—the hail and the rain,

Who make so much bustle and noise in vain,

But I ’ll be as busy as they!’

Then he went to the mountain, and powdered its crest,

He climbed up the trees, and their boughs he dressed

With diamonds and pearls, and over the breast

Of the quivering lake, he spread

A coat of mail, that it need not fear

The downward point of many a spear,

That he hung on its margin, far and near,

Where a rock could rear its head.

He went to the windows of those who slept,

And over each pane like a fairy crept,

Wherever he breathed, wherever he stepped,

By the light of the moon, were seen

Most beautiful things. There were flowers and trees,

There were bevies of birds, and swarms of bees—

There were cities, thrones, temples and towers! and these

All pictured in silver sheen!

But he did one thing that was hardly fair;

He went to the cupboard, and finding there,

That all had forgotten for him to prepare,

‘Now, just to set them a thinking,

I ’ll bite this basket of fruit,’ said he;

‘This bloated pitcher I ’ll burst in three!

And the glass of water they ’ve left for me,

Shall “tchick,” to tell them I ’m drinking!’

The unsolved solved, 1989

September 4, 2020

Ah, the power of 140 years, half a dozen reference books, and a PhD! In 1855, Calvin D. Crane submitted an enigma to Robert Merry’s Museum which was never solved—at least by subscribers to the Museum.

Instead, it was solved by a mere PhD sweating over more than one historical dictionary, some reference books, and a poetry collection. Embarrassingly, I am not very good at word puzzles, so solving this one was for me an accomplishment almost as impressive as publishing my first book (still in print! You should buy a copy.) or earning my PhD. So forgive me if I boast and take the credit and present to you the answer 12,000 Merry Cousins didn’t solve.

I am composed of 144 letters:
My 3, 20, 22, 8, 6, 15, is the name of an animal and its fur. [ermine]
My 1, 28, 17, 31, 4, 27, 13, is a tool for making rings. [triblet]
My 25, 34, 67, 5, 81, 18, 44, is the spume of sugar. [treacle]
My 29, 4, 68, 85, 10, 2, is a miry place. [slough]
My 9, 85, 35, 42, 18, 47, is to fondle. [nustle*]
My 11, 45 24, 7, 21, 39, 26, is the name of one of the prophets. [Obadiah]
My 41, 73, 56, 48, 33, has a great deal of power and use. [steam]
My 16, 54, 46, 59, 38, 80, 85, 74, is a lover or wooer. [paramour]
My 12, 50, 23, 37, is a musical instrument. [fife]
My 14, 70, 40, 58, is a part of the body. [hand]
My 19, 79, 76, 51, 63, is a river in Michigan. [Grand]
My 32, 90, 116, is a vegetable. [yam]
My 36, 143, 69, 115, 117, is a boy’s name. [Henry]
My 49, 65, 75, 66, is a ruler. [king]
My 90, 52, 84, is an adverb. [ago]
My 53, 61, 98, 92, 64, 62, 125, is a conjunction. [whether]
My 93, 83, 89, 55, 123, is a preposition. [above]
My 96, 114, 57, 103, is a verb. [toss]
My 88, 67, 104, 107, 132, is an article of furniture. [chair]
My 60, 106, 105, is to yield. [sag]
My 135, 111, 71, 110, is to throw. [cast]
My 78, 128, 77, is a boy’s nickname. [Dan]
My 43, 133, 110, 88, 97, 137, 113, is a man’s name. [Hatchet**]
My 82, 124, 121, 123, is a bird. [kite]
My 91, 90, 103, 130, 115, 106, is a sacred book among the Hindoos. [Sastra; variant spelling of “Shastra”]
My 140, 86, 87, 127, 130, is a flying rumor. [ondit]
My 95, 100, 99, 94, is a preposition. [down]
My 102, 101, 103, is a quadruped. [dog]
My 109, 119, 124, 23, 12, is a small boat. [skiff]
My 112, 122, 124, 55, 123, is a fragment of flax. [shive]
My 118, 120, 4, 16, 136, is a kind of fairy. [sylph]
My 141, 129, 5, 126, is a jag. [snag]
My 131, 140, 134, 144, 142, is obligations. [bonds]

Of my whole, the first 29 letters is the name of a well known piece of poetry; the next 12 letters is the name of the authoress, and the last 103 letters is the first stanza.: The answer, with punctuation added for readability, is “The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers,” [30 is a blank space] by Mrs. Hemans. “The breaking waves dashed high / On a stern and rock-bound coast, / And the woods against a stormy sky / Their giant branches tossed.”

* See A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, compiled by Noah Webster, 1806 edition [reproduced by Bounty Books, Crown Publishers, Inc., 1970] (I did mention the historical dictionaries, didn’t I?)

** Subscribers to Merry’s Museum really should have gotten this one: it’s a reference to “Hiram Hatchet,” the name under which William C. Cutter co-edited the magazine.

The poem is by Felicia Hemans, who was much more popular in the 19th century than she is now (though she also wrote “Casabianca,” where the boy stands on the burning deck):

The breaking waves dash’d high
On a stern and rock-bound coast,
And the woods, against a stormy sky,
Their giant branches toss’d;

And the heavy night hung dark
The hills and waters o’er,
When a band of exiles moor’d their bark
On the wild New England shore.

Not as the conqueror comes,
They, the true-hearted, came,
Not with the roll of the stirring drums,
And the trumpet that sings of fame;

Not as the flying come,
In silence and in fear,&38212;
They shook the depths of the desert’s gloom
With their hymns of lofty cheer.

Amidst the storm they sang,
And the stars heard and the sea!
And the sounding aisles of the dim woods rang
To the anthem of the free!

The ocean-eagle soar’d
From his nest by the white wave’s foam,
And the rocking pines of the forest roar’d—
This was their welcome home!

There were men with hoary hair
Amidst that pilgrim-band—
Why had they come to wither there
Away from their childhood’s land?

There was woman’s fearless eye,
Lit by her deep love’s truth;
There was manhood’s brow, serenely high,
And the fiery heart of youth.

What sought they thus afar?
Bright jewels of the mine?
The wealth of seas, the spoils of war?&38212;
They sought a faith’s pure shrine!

Aye, call it holy ground,
The soil where first they trod!
They have left unstain’d what there they found—
Freedom to worship God!

An unsolved puzzle, 1855

August 28, 2020

Puzzles and enigmas (and rebuses and wordplay and riddles and the occasional algebra problem) were the lifeblood of early American periodicals for children. Subscribers to Robert Merry’s Museum wrote puzzles, solved them, and gleefully argued about them.

Except one. In 1855, Calvin D. Crane submitted a word puzzle that no one solved. It’s a lulu. See what you think.

enigma by Calvin D. Crane (from Robert Merry’s Museum, October 1855; p. 128)

I am composed of 144 letters:
My 3, 20, 22, 8, 6, 15, is the name of an animal and its fur.
My 1, 28, 17, 31, 4, 27, 13, is a tool for making rings.
My 25, 34, 67, 5, 81, 18, 44, is the spume of sugar.
My 29, 4, 68, 85, 10, 2, is a miry place.
My 9, 85, 35, 42, 18, 47, is to fondle.
My 11, 45 24, 7, 21, 39, 26, is the name of one of the prophets.
My 41, 73, 56, 48, 33, has a great deal of power and use.
My 16, 54, 46, 59, 38, 80, 85, 74, is a lover or wooer.
My 12, 50, 23, 37, is a musical instrument.
My 14, 70, 40, 58, is a part of the body.
My 19, 79, 76, 51, 63, is a river in Michigan.
My 32, 90, 116, is a vegetable.
My 36, 143, 69, 115, 117, is a boy’s name.
My 49, 65, 75, 66, is a ruler.
My 90, 52, 84, is an adverb.
My 53, 61, 98, 92, 64, 62, 125, is a conjunction.
My 93, 83, 89, 55, 123, is a preposition.
My 96, 114, 57, 103, is a verb.
My 88, 67, 104, 107, 132, is an article of furniture.
My 60, 106, 105, is to yield.
My 135, 111, 71, 110, is to throw.
My 78, 128, 77, is a boy’s nickname.
My 43, 133, 110, 88, 97, 137, 113, is a man’s name.
My 82, 124, 121, 123, is a bird.
My 91, 90, 103, 130, 115, 106, is a sacred book among the Hindoos.
My 140, 86, 87, 127, 130, is a flying rumor.
My 95, 100, 99, 94, is a preposition.
My 102, 101, 103, is a quadruped.
My 109, 119, 124, 23, 12, is a small boat.
My 112, 122, 124, 55, 123, is a fragment of flax.
My 118, 120, 4, 16, 136, is a kind of fairy.
My 141, 129, 5, 126, is a jag.
My 131, 140, 134, 144, 142, is obligations.

Of my whole, the first 29 letters is the name of a well known piece of poetry; the next 12 letters is the name of the authoress, and the last 103 letters is the first stanza.

Answer next week.

Harriet’s riddle is a masterpiece of clues and rhyming. And letterplay. To find the answer, readers are expected to figure out the word referred to in each pair of lines and figure out how to put the words together. The last stanza not only acts as a clue to the answer, but tells the reader what it is and what to do.

Take a word that’s much used,—’t is a masculine name,
That backward or forward doth spell just the same; [ASA]
Then a verb used for dodging—a right it will claim
That backward or forward it spells just the same; [BOB]
The form of an adjective, none can exclaim
That backward or forward it spells not the same; [REFER]
Then a chief Turkish officer’s title or name,
That backward or forward is still just the same; [AGA]
Then a very queer word, ’t is a Spanish ship’s name,
That backward or forward doth spell just the same; [CARAC]
Then a word used for jest, or doth triumph proclaim,
That backward or forward still spells just the same; [AHA]
Then a verb in the imperfect, which also doth claim
That backward or forward it spells just the same; [DID]
The name of a place which geographers fame,
That backward or forward doth still spell the same; [AVA]
The name of a liquor, its friends all will claim
That backward or forward is still just the same; [BUB]
Then a verb that’s well known, I refer to the same,
That, backward or forward spelt, makes but one name; [REFER]
Then a name that is given to many a dame
That backward or forward still spells just the same. [ANNA]

A Set of initials the above will afford—
R-Ove through them in order, they form a droll word.
I L-eave you to solve it—’t will cure a disease;
De-Velop the riddle—’t will set you at ease.
D-Espair not, but hope; ’t is easily guessed:
L-Ike etching on copper in gay colors dressed,
E-Tch it down on your hearts, and there let it rest. [ABRACADABRA]


Reading down the first letter of the last seven lines and then the second capitalized letter of the last seven lines reveals “A RIDDLE SOLVE IT.”

(In the original, the two lines about liquor and the two lines about the Spanish ship were switched; the result spelled “ABRABADCBRA.)