Transcribing (amusingly uniform) letter-writers points up that some problems show up generation after generation. Such as the everybody’s-mean-to-me reaction of students encountering an unindulgent college professor mentor.

Twenty-first-century college students can attempt to weaponize their parents, who then bounce off FERPA. Nineteenth-century students appear to have tried the same thing, with their parents— Well, the letter-writers suggest that 19th-century parents should be reluctant to take their child’s perceptions of the situation as accurate.

The Fashionable Letter Writer (1819) has five letters on the subject of apprenticeships—mostly adults reminding young apprentices that they were expected to work through their difficulties during a crucial period of life. The letters were reprinted in 1862 in The American Fashionable Letter Writer pretty much as published in 1819, implying that perhaps apprenticeships were just as fraught later that century. (Though to be honest, publishers would reprint any book that looked like a good reference book, whether it was up to date or not. After all, the point was to sell the book more than it was to provide truly accurate information.)

So here we have an uncle delicately hinting that the young apprentice may have caused his own difficulties and a mother pointing out that other adults aren’t expected to coddle her son as she had. The latter is still good advice for new college students, who sometimes have a difficult time transitioning from high school to the now-you’re-the-grownup world of the university. (My advice to new college students: read the syllabus. Read it. Read the whole thing. Most of your questions are answered there. So READ IT.)


An Uncle in Answer to a Nephew’s complaining of Hardships in his Apprenticeship.

Dear Nephew,

I am sorry you should have any misunderstanding with your master: I have a good opinion of him, and am unwilling to entertain a bad one of you. It is so much a master’s interest to use his apprentices well, that I am inclinable to think that when they are badly used it is oftener the effect of provocation than choice. Wherefore, before I give myself the trouble of interposing in your behalf, I desire you will strictly enquire of yourself, whether you have not, by some misconduct or other, provoked that alteration in your master’s behaviour of which you so much complain. If after having diligently complied with this request, you assure me that you are not sensible of having given cause of disgust on your side, I will readily use my endeavours to reconcile you to your master, or procure you another. But if you find yourself blameable, it will be better for you to remove, by your own amendment, the occasion of your master’s displeasure, than have me or any other friend, offer to plead your excuse, where you know it would be unjust to defend you. If this should be your case, all your friends together could promise your better behaviour, indeed, but as the performance must even then be your own, it will add much more to your character, to pass through your whole term without any interposition between you. Weigh what I have here said; and remember that your future welfare depends greatly on your present behaviour.

I am your loving kinsman.


From a Mother to her Son, in Answer to his Complaints of Hardships in his Apprenticeship.

I am very sorry, my dear Sammy, to hear that your master and you do not agree so well as I could wish. I was always afraid you would expect the same indulgence when you got abroad into the world, as you experienced when at home. You know, that in many instances, I have endeavoured to make seeming hardships as easy to you as I could; but if this makes you more difficult to be satisfied it would be a great trouble to me. Your uncle tells me, I am afraid with too much truth, that the indulgences you have received from me, have made your present situation more disagreeable than it would otherwise have been. Whatever I have done for you, was always intended for your good, and nothing could so deeply afflict me, as to see my tenderness have a mischievous effect. Therefore, my dear child, to my constant care of you, do not add the sorrow of my seeing it the cause of your behaviour worse, than if I had been less tender to you. Before we put you to your master, we had a very pleasing character of him from all his neighbours, and those who had any dealings with him. As Mr. James, who is now out of his time, gives him the best of characters, and declares your mistress to be a woman of great prudence and good conduct, I know not how to think they would in any respect use you ill. Consider, my dear, you must not in any other woman than myself, expect to find a fond and perhaps partial mother; for the little failings which I could not see in you, will conspicuously appear to other persons. My affection for you would make me wish you to be always with me; but as that would be inconsistent with your future welfare, and as you must certainly be a gainer from the situation you are now in, let a desire to promote my happiness as well as your own, make every seeming difficulty light. I have desired your uncle to interpose in this matter, and he will write to you soon. He has promised to see justice done you, provided your complaints are founded on reason[.] Believe me, my dear child,

Your affectionate mother.

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.

Most early American periodicals for children were edited and published by adults, but some notable ones were produced by teenagers. The publications won’t be remembered for the quality of the contents, but what they lacked in quality, the editors more than made up for in enthusiasm.

Some periodicals were written or edited by the young, but overseen by adults. The Juvenile Key (1830-1837) was famously printed by Zerui’ah-Juan Griffin, Joseph Warren Griffin, and George Griffin, but edited by their father, publisher Joseph Griffin. Boys at the Orphans’ Home in Germantown, Pennsylvania, set the type for the first year of
The Busy Bee (1866-1874), while students at the North Carolina Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind set type for The Deaf Mute Casket (1861-1865). Students at the Cherokee Female Seminary published Cherokee Rose Buds and A Wreath of Cherokee Rose Buds in the 1850s; students at the Cortland Academy in Homer, New York, published The Juvenile Literary Cabinet in 1823. Factory workers in Lowell, Massachusetts—many of them teenagers—published the Lowell Offering (1840-1845), which was organized by Abel Charles Thomas, and the Operatives’ Magazine (1841-1842). And uncountable magazines were carefully created by hand for family (the “Home Casket,” 1858) or schoolmates (“The Violet,” 1860 and 1861; “The Floral Wreath,” circa 1855).

But some young publishers had greater ambitions, producing works for a wide audience. Thomas Donaldson, jr (age 15), handwrote copies of The Weekly Magpie (1859) until it became too popular: “Formerly, it was in manuscript, but the demand for copies daily increased, so that we were not able to supply even one half of the applicants,—thus depriving the world of this enlightening and refining influences of this popular journal, and retarding, for some time, the march of civilization.” [editorial. 1 (18 June 1859); p. 3] Thomas Gray Condie (age 15) founded The Juvenile Port-folio (1812-1816), which had several hundred subscribers; G. M. Dilworth (age 16) edited Young America (1856-1858) for two years. Origen Bacheler (age 18) edited the Juvenile Gazette for another publisher when it appeared “for a few months” in 1818; Oliver Kendall (age 14) kept afloat his own Juvenile Gazette (1827-1828) for a year by sending out sample issues and advertising widely.

Like many adult editors, these young entrepeneurs worked hard, often writing much of what went into each issue. “No Contributions are inserted from persons over 15 years of age,” Donaldson declared in early issues of the Magpie, though he raised that age to 15 1/2 when some contributors aged out. Dilworth “[set] all his own type and [worked] off his own paper, on a hand press, besides writing editorials, selecting copy and doing all the etcetras which belong to the publishing of a newspaper.” [May 1857, p. 3] Ross Alley (age 16), who apparently established a new periodical each time his family moved in rural Indiana, built his printing press from a cider press when he began to publish the Youth’s Casket (1850-1852) and the Genius of Youth (1852).

For the most part, the publications were small-scale versions of periodicals for adults. Quite literally: most of these publications were only four pages, with a page size under nine inches high; Oliver Kendall’s Juvenile Gazette could almost be hidden by a poker card.

Contents also mimicked publications for adults: poetry, stories, essays. Poems describe how “Death bore the cherub from us, to the tomb” or bewail a rabbit dead “of too much cherishing.” [M. Louisa Chitwood. “Mementoes.” The Genius of Youth 1 (1 June 1852); p. 4. “The Tale of a Rabbit.” Weekly Magpie 1 (9 July 1859); p. 15] The Magpie and the Port-folio printed serialized stories stuffed with adventure and melodrama and “phrenzy”-filled romance: “I wept my hard fate in the arms of my juvenile lover,” a character declares in the Port-folio, “who, exasperated almost to phrenzy, vowed destruction on himself unless I would consent to become his wife, without the knowledge of my father”—which turns out to be a bad idea. [“Bromley Melmot.” 3 (4 March 1815); p. 33] In the Magpie, Sir Victor, Sir Tristram, Sir Ottonitz, Sir Wigmund, and Sir Mardin go to slay a dragon for noble ladies who say “prithee” and “methinks” and faint on cue. As in periodicals edited by adults, fiction could be didactic: Kendall published a three-part story (all of six paragraphs) in which Nancy No-Point demonstrates the importance of understanding punctuation.

Essays allowed these editors to explore a variety of subjects. Dilworth listed useful personality traits and explored “How the Birds are Treated in Japan” (first sentence: “Very kindly.”). [“Keep It Before Yourself.” Young America 2 (May 1857); p. 1. “How the Birds are Treated in Japan.” 2 (May 1857); p. 2] Kendall reviewed various childrens’ sports and games in a series of one-paragraph essays, noting prudently that flying kites was “against the law, for horses are often frightened by them” and that when playing Blindman’s Buff, “the little boy or girl that is blinded should move slowly and carefully lest a broken nose be the consequence.” [“Flying the Kite.” Juvenile Gazette 1 (1 March 1828); pp. 59-60. “Blindman’s Buff.” 1 (16 February 1828); p. 52] Condie’s Port-folio had much to say about matrimony. In the Port-folio, women were to juggle an astonishing number of traits: “softness of manners, complacency of countenance, gentle unhurried motion, … a voice clear and yet tender, … internal strength and activity of mind, capable to transact the business or combat the evils of life; [and] a due sense of moral and religious obligations.” [“Rudiments of Taste, and a Polite Female Education.” 1 (3 July 1813); p. 150] A correspondent, however, noted that women couldn’t hope to please everyone: “If women are of a disposition, gay, lively, and cheerful, they are then censured as bold, forward, and assuming; if they are thoughtful and reserved, they are stigmatized by the epithets of prudes, mopes, &c. so that however prudent and consistent their conduct may be, they are sure to fall under the lash of some male tongue, which is accustomed to utter nothing but slander.” [C. Letter to the editor. 3 (1 April 1815); p. 51] Donaldson’s breezy editorial comments point out that “The youth of the neighborhood would find it greatly to their advantage to devote themselves more to athletic exercises, (and as some one suggests) less to girls” and announces that “The other day Miss E. D., in the course of her morning ramble, was so fortunate as to find a mammoth toadstool …. It will be remembered that Miss E. D. is the same young lady who secured 36 tadpoles some time since; she has, from her infancy, shown a full appreciation of the animal and vegetable kingdoms; and has been particularly active in securing rare specimens of them.” [“The Nest.” Weekly Magpie 1 (2 July 1859); p. 12]

That many of these periodicals weren’t published long also imitated those published by adults. The Weekly Magpie lasted six months. Kendall’s Juvenile Gazette ended after a year. Young America folded a few months after Dilworth handed it over to another editor. Some editors “aged out” of their own publications: at age 18, Ross Alley founded The Forest Rose and at 19, The Literary Messenger—both for adults. At age 20, Thomas Gray Condie shifted from editing a periodical for children—The Juvenile Port-folio—to one for adults—the Parlour Companion, which he published for almost two years. Only one seems to have made any kind of a career in publishing: Origen Bacheler edited the Anti-Universalist as an adult and wrote several books. Oliver Kendall built organs; Thomas Condie became a lawyer. (Ross Alley died at age 20.) As editors, none of them produced great literature, but what they did produce often has a sort of wonky charm (and some very creative spelling).

Where to read some of the periodicals: The Juvenile Port-folio is available in the American Periodicals Series and the American Antiquarian Society databases. Young America and the only known issue of Genius of Youth are reproduced in the American Antiquarian Society database.

Transcribing The Fashionable Letter Writer, a collection of model business and personal letters printed in the U. S. in 1819, I was struck by the contrast between the “ideal” letter from a schoolboy to his father and a very real one in my own collection.

The letter in The Fashionable Letter Writer sounds like the father wrote it:

I am infinitely obliged to you, honoured Sir, for the many favours you have bestowed upon me; all I hope is, that the progress I make in my learning will be considered as some proof how sensible I am of your kindness. Gratitude, duty, and a view to my own future advantages, equally contribute to make me thoroughly sensible how, much I ought to labour for my own improvement, and your satisfaction. I have received the books you sent for my amusement. The Princes of Persia I have almost finished, after which I shall peruse Mrs. Chapone’s Letters on the Improvement of the Mind. They please me much. The liberal allowance of money you have been pleased to make me, shall be applied in the best manner I am able. I am sure my dear father will not censure me should I devote a part of it towards the relief of the wretched and unfortunate. Pray give my most dutiful respects to my mother, my kindest love to my brothers and sisters, and believe me, dear sir,

Your most dutiful and affectionate son.

Who ever wrote a letter like that without some ulterior motive?

The Fashionable Letter Writer has a complicated history. It’s a reorganization of Magee’s London Letter Writer (published in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), which is a reprint of The London Universal Letter Writer (1809), which contains letters from The New London Letter Writer (around 1800) (both the British titles are available at google books). And the New London Letter Writer is— Probably from some earlier work.

Of fiction, perhaps. The letters in the Fashionable Letter Writer that I’ve found in the New London Letter Writer are … bizarrely specific and probably unusable as a model. (The letters on love and romance are microscopic melodramas of tremendous charm.) Still, publishers thought enough of them that the letters were reprinted and re-reprinted and re-re-reprinted well into the nineteenth century. The letters, though, have a vaguely British feel even before you find out that they probably come from a British source.

Fashionable Letter Writer, for example, was reprinted with a different introduction in 1862 as The American Fashionable Letter Writer. Same exact letters, with that British air.

Which brings us to the schoolboy letters of John H. Case, from Fulton, New York, written in 1862. A real person at a real school in Geneva, New York, which had two boarding schools for boys during the period John was in school. John was the new kid, and he was boarding with at least one wealthy boy: probably William George Fargo, jr (1845-1872), the son of William George Fargo, who founded the American Express Company (which apparently was used to transport some things to John) and Wells Fargo. William, jr, was 16 years old when these letters were written; John Case may have been about that age. I’ve been unable to find information on a John H. Case I feel certain is the correct one; research is ongoing. This student’s handwriting is fairly sophisticated—much more sophisticated than his spelling or punctuation, which are terrible and horrible and just amazingly bad.

Like the model schoolboy in the published letter, John mentions money. Unlike that ideal schoolboy, John doesn’t tongue-bathe his father or faux-plead permission to give money for good works. Instead, John mentions (and mentions and mentions) just how much money he’s had to spend getting his room in order, and how little money he has left:

Jan 19, 1862

Dear Father.

I received mothers letter yesterday. Dr gave it to another boy thinking it was his the boy seeing it was a mistake handed it to me arftere dinner for it was at dinner that he distributed them. the bell Just rang for us to assemble is the chape. My chum is reading thare are to other boys in here one is grinding a hand organ it plays four tunes. I should like your music box here a while. my chums Father is Mayor of buffalo and also President of the American Express company. It is a rainy day we have not been to church to day. the docter talked to us in the chaple. We have plain liveing here for brefast we have coffee bread and butter and boild potatoes. for dinner we have bread mashed potatoes and meat hard as a brick bat and gravey. for supper we have bred and butter & tea. the boys have secret soitys [societies] and Eating soity I belong to one they have great times at these meetings. All sorts of tricks are played on boys that have Just entered school. thay have not played any on me yet. there was a Freshman that come into our hall to room and the boyes put in his bed an Oil can sone nut shells and fixed his bed so that he could not get into it only so fare when his feet would hit these aticals that thay put in it he roled out of bed too or three times but did not say a word for he knew a nough to keep still. I bought some calico to put over my clothes to keep the dirt of them and some to put under for the walls are white washed and thay get all white it cost .72 cents. And I bought a lamp and some oil the lamp cost 6 shillin the oill cost 42 cents. And I being a new boy had to treat some of the boys to something to eat. I had to pay to get my choth sowed. I had to Join a soity and pay some thig to Join it. I have got to get some hooks to hang my clothes on. My money is all gone but three shilling. I recieved Rolands letter I have written to Nellie and have not recieved an answer has she recieved my letter. My wrapper comes handy. I need a stand in my room. I should like to meet you and mother and Tota in Syracuse next saturday write and let me know what you think about it. I am not home sick yet but I should like to see some of you. I like my Teachers very much my room is over one of the Teachers rooms and he has got a little Squaker that sings pretty loud some times. how is my Pony. is Peater [?] with you yet. I recieve my Paper every Weak. Give my love to all a kiss to Flutter buget.

Your Affectionate Son
J. H. Case

N. B. beshure and scend the carpet as quick as posible

Now, that’s a letter I can believe came from a schoolboy! (And John did get the carpet, and the bureau, before the end of January. Along with a dollar. Seventy-five cents of which he spent having his watch fixed.)