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!

Forty-hour trousers

March 1, 2015

A link to an interesting post on how much work went into making a linen shirt before the Industrial Revolution reminded me of a similar piece in Robert Merry’s Museum in 1844.  “A Story of the Revolution” was intended to honor the strength and determination of the generation that fought the American Revolution; what’s interesting is that the individuals being so honored are the young people, not their parents, who presumably would be leading them.  It’s a fourteen-year-old who overcomes her mother’s despondency and accomplishes a feat impressive to several generations.  In this excerpt, the “good old lady” tells her story to her children:

“Late in the afternoon of one of the last days in May, ’76, when I was a few months short of fifteen years old, notice came to Townsend, Massachusetts, where my father used to live, that fifteen soldiers were wanted.

“The training band was instantly called out, and my brother, next older than I, was one that was selected. He did not return till late at night, when all were in bed. When I rose in the morning I found my mother in tears, who informed me that my brother John was to march the day after to-morrow morning at sunrise. My father was at Boston, in the Massachusetts Assembly. Mother said that though John was supplied with summer clothes, he must be away seven or eight months, and would suffer for want of winter garments. There were at this time no stores and no articles to be had except such as each family would make itself. The sight of mother’s tears always brought all the hidden strength of the body and mind to action. I immediately asked what garment was needful. She replied, ‘pantaloons.’

“ ‘O! if that is all,’ said I, ‘we will spin and weave him a pair before he goes.’

“ ‘Tut,’ said my mother, ‘the wool is on the sheep’s back, and the sheep are in the pasture.’

“I immediately turned to a younger brother, and bade him take a salt dish and call them to the yard.

“Mother replied, ‘Poor child, there are no sheep shears within three miles and a half.’

“ ‘I have some small shears at the loom,’ said I.

“ ‘But we can’t spin and weave it in so short a time.’

“ ‘I am certain we can, mother.’

“ ‘How can you weave it?—there is a long web of linen in the loom.’

“ ‘No matter; I can find an empty loom.’ By this time the sound of the sheep made me quicken my steps towards the yard. I requested my sister to bring me the wheel and cards, while I went for the wool. I went into the yard with my brother, and secured a white sheep, from which I sheared, with my loom shears, half enough for a web; we then let her go with the rest of the fleece. I sent the wool in with my sister. Luther ran for a black sheep, and held her while I cut off wool for my filling and half the warp, and then we allowed her to go with the remaining part of her fleece.

“The wool thus obtained was duly carded and spun, washed, sized, and dried; a loom was found a few doors off, the web got in, woven, and prepared, cut and made two or three hours before my brother’s departure—that is to say, in forty hours from the commencement, without help from any modern improvement.”

The good old lady closed by saying, “I felt no weariness, I wept not, I was serving my country. I was assisting poor mother, I was preparing a garment for my darling brother.

“The garment being finished, I retired and wept, till my overcharged and bursting heart was relieved.”

 There’s a lot of interest here:  the process, the specialized equipment (sheep shears and loom shears), the amount of wool necessary (two sheep have only part of their fleece sheared), the fact that the brother would need to be sent off with appropriate clothing for a season several months away.

The anecdote also seems to reinforce what spinners on have pointed out:  that practiced spinners are faster than those cited in the original blog post.  It was, however, an incredible amount of work to clothe a family; and it’s easy to see why the development of the sewing machine in 1857 was celebrated as a literal life-saver for American women.

One of the fun aspects of researching American children’s periodicals and books before 1873 is seeing how they deal with prehistory. It’s interesting to see how writers dealt with the increasing disconnect between religious tradition and scientific explanation. But it’s especially entertaining to watch dinosaurs change with decades.

Okay, mostly one dinosaur: the iguanodon. The first American work for children to show dinosaur illustrations appears to be the frontispiece of Peter Parley’s Wonders of the Earth, Sea, and Sky, reworked by Samuel Griswold Goodrich from one in a British book as Goodrich asserted ownership of his creation: “Peter Parley.”

EarthfrHere are the pterosaur, the plesiosaur, and the ichthyosaur, which in the nineteenth century belly-crawled on land because it hadn’t yet been established as a water-dweller.

Goodrich appears also to have published the first illustration of an iguanodon for children in Robert Merry’s Museum in 1842. It’s … unfamiliar:

Iguanodon, from Robert Merry's Museum, 1842The mighty (and mighty low-slung) iguanodon roars to the sky, while a duckish plesiosaur glides serenely through a prehistoric pool. It will look familiar to anyone who’s seen the first volume of The Wonders of Geology, by Gideon Mantell; the frontispiece is John Martin’s “The Country of the Iguanodon,” with an iguanodon which is lunching on one reptile roaring in pain as it is attacked by another reptile. The iguanodon in the Museum is the middle dinosaur in Martin’s picture.

It looks fairly sleek by comparison with one appearing in The Children’s Friend thirty years later:

1872ChFrPAIt’s … Hmm.

illustration of a short-legged dinosaurIt’s sturdy, low-browed, no-necked—almost stereotypically Neanderthalish. At least it’s off the ground.

And it’s accompanied by some old friends:

ichthy1872It’s our old pal, the ichthyosaur, still scrambling about on the land! And is that the plesiosaur beside it? (The stocky little critter in the foreground looks almost un-reptilian.)

The later iguanodon shows up in the work of Waterhouse Hawkins, who made life-size recreations of dinosaurs for a London park. We’ve changed it again: the horn that 19th-century naturalists put on its nose is now believed to be the thumb.

I like the 21st-century iguanodon, but I rather miss the seal-like version from 1842.

(Oddly enough, while the word “dinosaur” was first used in England in 1841, it hasn’t yet shown up in any pre-1873 works for children that I’ve seen. Stay tuned.)

Thanks for gardens, 1877

November 26, 2014

My favorite gardener, William Hoyt Coleman, explores the benefits of gardening and gives thanks even for weeds.

Willie’s column is rich in details: how much rhubarb cost in 1877; how much a bookkeeper in Boston earned per year; that French Breakfast radishes weren’t available at the grocer; that even in 1877 market produce was raised to be profitable, not tasty. According to one online inflation calculator, the bookkeeper’s salary of $1200 per year would have been about $25,878 in 2013; the $100 per year that he saved was around $2156. The $1600 in consumables would have cost about $34504.

His assertion that “the feminine mind, as a rule, is averse to mathematics” is amusing. My interest in Willie stems from his participation in the letters column of Robert Merry’s Museum, where he was greatly popular. In 1855, an algebra problem was submitted to the Museum for him to solve. Submitted by a female subscriber.

That Problem” proved so difficult to solve (apparently it has more than one answer) that it actually changed the tenor of the letters column, as subscribers bonded over ridicule of each others’s efforts.  (It was, indeed, a different time.)  Willie’s solution was as disastrous as the others. The math problem created by a “feminine mind” shaped the Museums letters column into an early example of an online community.

“Thanksgiving in the Garden.” Christian Union 16 (28 Nov 1877): p. 486.

While fully agreeing with the President and the governors of the several states that it is highly proper for us all to assemble in our respective places of worship and return thanks for the mercies of the past year, we also feel moved to issue a sub-proclamation to all owners and workers of gardens to assemble therein—say, after their return from church—and tabulate the table blessings that were garden born.

Were we to preach a sermon on the subject we should take for a text the mention made by a writer in “The Cultivator,” of a Boston bookkeeper, who, on a yearly salary of $1,200 had by great economy saved up $100 yearly. Realizing the risk he ran of losing his health, situation and savings if he remained a clerk, he bought a small farm and moved on it. All the products from the same that his family consumed during a year he charged to himself at the same rate that he had formerly been obliged to pay in Boston, and to his great surprise at the end of the year he found that he had consumed $1,600 worth, besides having sold quite an amount of farm produce. With such a result he had no desire to return to his $1,200 position.

Now, my beloved brethren, do not make a premature application of my text by inferring that $1,600 results are to be expected from every ordinary garden. Of course the bookkeeper figured in the products of pigs and poultry which do not belong to the garden, though the producers are often found in it. But garden vegetables no doubt formed a large part of his city expenditure and garden vegetables as undoubtedly made a very large part of his country saving. Let us grant that the figures never mount into the hundreds and we still have goodly cause of thanksgiving for the garden.

Right here is the proper point for the production of our statistics, giving the exact number of radishes pulled, peas picked, strawberries gathered, and the long line of tomatoes, green corn, melons, cucumbers, and squashes, winding up with the cabbage, turnips, celery, etc., safely placed in the cellar. But alas, we haven’t them. We did once have a small book duly ruled and paged and provided with a string whereby it was to be hung in the woodshed and all garden products were to be entered therein as gathered, before passing to the kitchen. Three entries were made and then—the rest was silence. The feminine mind, as a rule, is averse to mathematics, and the fingers that patiently pick a peck of peas grow nervous at putting down the result in a book. The statistical reader will therefore be left at sea, and we must make our points with generalities which may not glitter, but are none the less pure gold.

That is to say—while the products cannot be reckoned by count or measure, we believe any fairminded garden owner who will sit down and think over what he has really raised and eaten during the past season will find cause for gratitude in the results of his garden work.

Has he forgotten those crispy radishes that with the help of a little glass swelled up so quickly during the latter days of April when the air grew warm and the appetite craved something green? That lettuce, too, that grew as fast as the radish, and made the beef and potatoes so much more toothsome than usual?

Then the rhubarbs came up at the same time, and you had something fresh for each meal. How many times did you cut and pull those beds, and how much would they come to at five or ten cents a bunch? These were successive crops, and they lasted till the dwarf peas grew fat in the pod, and you picked day after day, or perhaps every other day, until the bush peas began to yield, and then, why it was the Fourth of July almost before you knew it! Do you remember how much peas were a peck in your market? And you know you picked a great many pecks. By this time you had young beets and onions and potatoes and early cabbage, too, if you set out frame plants. In fact from this period down to frost time there has been an embarrassment of garden riches, more than you could eat, and I doubt not you have trundled more than one barrow load to your grocer. Tomatoes stewed every day for dinner and sliced raw for supper; green corn as often as you liked, and such a dessert of melons! A king might envy it—say rather the poor rich man of the city who must buy all his vegetables.

Then, too, the quality of this garden truck. Could you ever, anywhere, buy such delicious peas as those little gems, or such crisp radishes as the French Breakfast? They can’t be bought, for the very good reason that they are not raised outside of private gardens. Market vegetables must be big and prolific first of all, and quality comes in third. Only the amateur can have the choice things. Notice the exclamation of your city friends (who have the pick of the best markets at home) when they come to visit. “How delicious! Did you ever taste anything so fresh and nice? You can’t get such vegetables in the city.” Yes, then is the rural gardener’s hour of triumph. Many a backache those vegetables may have cost him but at this moment he feels well repaid.

But are vegetables the only crop you have gathered from your garden? There is the whole round of berries, grapes and other fruits that I have not mentioned, of which quite as much might be said, but I do not refer to them. In those ante-breakfast hours when you hoed your garden, and the dew sparkled in the red beams of the rising sun, and the birds sang and the chimney-smoke drifted out on the still air, did you not gather joy, comfort and health in your labor? Not alone did you carry away a lusty appetite for breakfast and fresh blood that swept you at flood tide through your day’s work in shop or office, but sweet pictures of nature’s own painting were hung on memory’s wall, new ideas of the life of plant, bird and insect were born, and, let us hope, there came deeper, larger, more reverent thought of the great Worker whose handiwork all these are. There were days of tough spading, too, and stout tugging under a hot sun with weeds that renewed their strength in a night, but this only developed the man in you, and taught you the lesson that we are all too slow to learn, too eager to skip: that no good thing is won without work, and that struggle always precedes triumph.

The air bites keenly to-day, the withered vines and weeds are all that is left of the summer glory, and the ground is hardened by frost; but down on your knees upon it this Thanksgiving Day, ye garden workmen, and thank God for your gardens!

Firsts and lasts

October 17, 2014

One of the most frustrating things about studying early American children’s periodicals is just listing them. We rely on earlier references (Betty Longenecker Lyon’s 1942 dissertation, “A History of Children’s Secular Magazines” is a classic) or articles by collectors and earlier scholars. R. Gordon Kelly tried to pull together as much info as possible in 1984, in Children’s Periodicals of the United States.

Because it can be so difficult to even find the periodicals we want to study, a lot of us look at these lists and at the info in library catalogs like the one for the American Antiquarian Society and run with the info. Unfortunately, it’s not always accurate, because—well, okay, because it can be so difficult to even find the periodicals we want to study.

So, that’s where the research comes in. You work with what you can find; you look at eBay; you scroll through pdfs of city directories or county histories or general surveys of local publications; you search newspaper and magazine databases on general terms like “children’s magazine”; you look at the notices and advertisements in other periodicals. This, by the way, is just to get a list of what was published. I’m up to 388 titles published before 1873 (and counting: right now I’m trying to find more info on what appears to be the only Spanish-language children’s periodical published during the period).

And sometimes it turns out that we have the wrong dates for some periodicals we’ve been studying for decades. First issues and last issues seem to be the most difficult to establish. If all you have is a bound volume of the 1841 issues of Robert Merry’s Museum, you won’t know that the first issue wasn’t January 1841, but February 1841.  (October 1841 was a double issue.)

It’s more difficult when we’ve had the wrong year the whole time. Which is what I realized once I looked at advertisements for The Slave’s Friend.  Standard reference works list the first year as 1836. However, according to advertisements, the first issue was April 1835.

And we really should have known this. The Friend was published as the result of a meeting in January 1835 (at least one other magazine was published a month after it was proposed). Copies of issue number 3 were famously burned in South Carolina in July 1835.

Why have we had the wrong date all this time? Partly because the issues themselves don’t have dates on them. (Thanks a lot, American Anti-Slavery Society! And editor of The Sunday-Scholar’s Mirror, for that matter.) Since the Friend seems to have been thought of mostly as a religious tract to be “scattered unsparingly through the land” rather than subscribed to, dates were unimportant. And we’ve had the wrong date partly because— Okay, who really wants to wade through periodical after periodical, looking for teeny advertisements and one-line notices? Well, yeah, I do; but it’s really not as much fun as it sounds.

And, probably, we’ve had the wrong date because it just didn’t occur to anyone to pay attention to the fact that issues of the Friend were around to be burned in 1835. (Yes, I knew about the incident, but … Okay, I didn’t actually know the date of the incident. That’s my story, and I will be sticking to it.) The 1836 date may come from a library’s bound volume of the first year, which was available in July 1836 and may have that date on the title page. (My bound volume is missing any page before page one of issue one and may have been created from individual issues, so, no title page for me to check.)

End dates can be just as iffy. Apparently, the Friend had 38 issues. (And where are we getting that? I’m really not sure.) The usual date of last issue is 1838. (And where are we getting that? Hmm.) But a May 1839 issue of Youth’s Cabinet has a notice of an issue (not enough details, of course, to figure out which one).  More confusingly, an ad for the Cabinet in April 1839 mentions that the Friend has been discontinued. Sounds like more wading through periodicals is in order.

It was easier to find the date of the last issue of The Little Pilgrim, which reference works have ending in December 1868. Because the date of last issue right on the front cover. Of the April 1869 issue. And inside that cover is an announcement that it is, indeed, the last issue.

LC70And, suddenly, a major problem is solved: that it apparently took six months for the Pilgrim to merge with The Little Corporal.  Oh, you didn’t know about that? (Neither do the reference works.) The merger shows up on the early 1870 covers of the Corporal, which is why I spent a month or two feeling like a confused researcher: why hadn’t anybody else noticed?

Because nobody was looking at both magazines. Because they didn’t see the covers. Because they couldn’t find all the issues. Because it’s tough to find all the issues in covers.  Because other researchers spend brainpower remembering the names of their friends and family and their own phone numbers, when they could be using it wondering just why the Little Pilgrim is creeping up on the Little Corporal on the cover.

So, research. Luckily, a lot of stuff formerly available only on difficult-to-find microfilm or even-more-difficult-to-find paper (oh, long, juicy argument over Youth’s Gazette, where art thou?) is now digitized. And winter’s coming, when I won’t be pining quite so much to be out somewhere.

Okay, still pining.  But not pining as much as I could be.

Fanny Seward daydreams

October 10, 2014

When Frances Adeline Seward died of tuberculosis in 1866, at the age of 22, she left a surprisingly impressive legacy. She had campaigned for and known Abraham Lincoln; had attended Washington dinners; had left a lively diary describing life in Washington, DC; and had served as hostess at the receptions of an important American statesman.

And she had gotten in the way of a would-be assassin.

Because Fanny was the daughter of William Henry Seward (yes, the Seward of “Seward’s Folly”), Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln, Lewis Powell’s target the night Lincoln was assassinated. Nursing her father—injured in an accident nine days earlier—Fanny was in the room when Powell stormed in, having already battered her brother bloody. Some news stories have her getting in Powell’s way; a couple have him staying his hand on the verge of killing her. Her diary has her pleading with Powell not to kill her father.  Once Powell was captured, she helped to identify him.

Almost pathologically shy, Fanny was more comfortable at home with her family, her pets, her writing, and her books than she was in the public eye.  However, an interest in politics and a desire to help her father allowed her to overcome her shyness enough to act as hostess at Seward’s weekly receptions and to make a few public appearances.

Pets, writing, and reading converged in Fanny’s contributions to Robert Merry’s Museum.  From 1856 to 1858, Fanny wrote five pieces for the Museum.  She was a subscriber; several letters and poems written by Fanny were published in the Museum’s popular letters column.  All were published under the name “Pansy”:  flower-inspired names were popular among the Museum’s female readers.

Most of the articles Fanny wrote for the Museum were about cruelty to animals.  But among the last pieces was “The Elves of the Forest Center,” in which a young girl is honored by lions, tigers, and elves.  It’s a good example of a Mary Sue story:  a story featuring the exploits of an idealized young woman who is apparently an author insert.

My interest in Mary Sues was part of one of those larger projects I’ll never manage to finish:  a look at the way women represent themelves.  Mary Sue seems to embody what its creators wish they were:  more interesting, more wonderful, more loveable and loved.  In recent fan fiction, they go on wild adventures, saving the universe or the characters in beloved movies and television shows.  Nineteenth-century Mary Sues, however, are often less active.  Maia doesn’t really do much to be the focus of so much attention:  she just exists.

At the time Fanny wrote this story, she was about 14 and possibly coming to some realizations about her place in the family of a major politician.  Her father was a U. S. Senator, and the family was dividing its time between New York and Washington, DC.  (One of Fanny’s stories was about the family’s watchdog in New York, poisoned while they were in Washington.)

It’s tempting to look at “The Elves of the Forest Center” as a shy girl’s written daydream about a girl whose quietness and modesty are honorable instead of problematic.  Interestingly, Fanny seems to have erased her father’s more stressful situation in Washington, by erasing the father from Maia’s family.  Fanny’s own mother was bending under the pressures of being a politician’s wife and spending more time in New York; Maia and her mother living quietly in the forest probably reflects Fanny’s ideal life.  A young teen learning that much would be expected of her, imagining a young girl honored for doing nothing much at all.

[My thanks to Trudy Krisher for identifying this subscriber to the Museum.  Please buy her book:  Fanny Seward:  A Life (Syracuse University Press, 2014).]

The Elves of the Forest Center, from Robert Merry’s Museum, January 1858, pp. 11-12.

There lived a little girl, named Maia, with her mother, in a deep forest. As they had always dwelt in the same lone spot, the child had become accustomed to the solitude of the surrounding woods, and even loved the old trees that towered above her head.

So she was not surprised when, one bright morning, her mother said: “Maia, take thy little basket, and go to the forest centre, and fetch a few fagots and some nuts.”

Maia quickly put on her gipsy hat, bade her mother good-bye, and tripped away. She knew all the little birds and squirrels; she did not fear even the king of beasts, so gentle was he to her. And oh! when the young tigers leaped forth to meet her, she could not help setting her basket down, to take a nice tumble upon the soft moss. Then the old tiger and tigress came home, bringing four little lions to spend the day. So they carried Maia on their backs by turn, until they reached the forest centre, then, wagging their tails, they left her, all alone.

Hark! a rustling among the dry branches—only the wind or a squirrel in its nest—Maia began to fill her basket from a store of nuts, hidden in a hollow stump, and to tie up her fagots, for she must hasten; but soon she dropped her basket, the fagots were forgotten, for there, before her, were the little Elves of the forest; yes, the dear funny little Elves, whose history her mother had so often told her.

A little Elfin maid stole to her side, to see what she might be, and Maia was half tempted to seize the tiny creature, but something bade her not, so she only said: “Oh, how beautiful thou art!” At this the little Elf darted away, but soon returned to say: “Our king desires thee to come and feast with us, oh! great giantess!”

Maia, quite bewildered, followed the little maid, and soon found herself in the presence of the Elfin king, a tiny fellow, about as tall as her hand, and dressed in a robe of crimson velvet, spangled with diamonds. As she began to blush and courtesy, he said: “Maia, thou art a good child; we have watched thee, day by day; all the beasts of the forest love thee. They say, ‘So kind and gentle is little Maia, that we would not harm her.’ We, too, love, and will befriend, thee.”

He paused, and a little Elf came forth to dance. When the dance was finished, Maia sang a song about the Elves, which pleased the king very much; then all sat down to the banquet, which was composed of the most delicate food ever known. When all were done feasting, the Elves sang another song, after which Maia was again called by the king: “Here,” he said, leading forward the Elfin maid whom she had before met, “here is a little one for thee; guard her well, and she will be a faithful friend.”

“How can I repay thy kindness?” cried Maia; but before she could say more, she found herself in a beautiful little carriage, drawn by twelve robins, and at her side sat the maiden Elfletta, given her by the king. Soon she arrived at home, where she had long been expected; but where was the basket of nuts? where the fagots? Elfletta soon answered that question, by pointing to another Elf, who was seen in the distance, bringing them, and many other nice things.

But this good fortune did not make Maia forget her duties, and I am sure she set a good example for Elfletta, by rising early, and cheerfully performing her labors. At the forest centre the Elves were always glad to see her, and the tigers always glad to carry her there.

When she grew older, the little Elfin maid found a little Elfin man, and, as they loved each other, they were married. Then Maia’s good old mother died, blessing the dear daughter who had been a comfort to her in all her trials. And when Maia found grey hairs among her own dark tresses—when her hand failed, and she grew old and feeble, there had sprung up around her a little family of Elves—then did they befriend her, and she loved them more than ever.

Her eyes grew dim, she lay down to rest, and with her last breath blessed the little Elves. Upon the bed lay a cold form, with a calm smile upon the face; the heart did not beat, the eyes were fixed, the old woman was at rest, but was she there? No; in the sky were a host of angels—they bore the soul of Maia to its heavenly home.

William Hoyt Coleman gives us a delightful look at a summertime activity that’s still popular.

As a teenager, William was a popular subscriber to Robert Merry’s Museum; here he honed skills he used later as a writer for various periodicals, including the Christian Union. William’s weekly columns for the Union allowed him to explore an interest in farming and today gives us a glimpse of daily life in a middle-class white family.

Entertainingly, you can take the boy out of Merry’s Museum, but apparently you can’t completely remove Merry’s Museum from the boy.  This piece begins with an allusion to the letters column in the Museum, which had a popular section reprinting letters from subscribers.  In the Museum, subscribers referred to the column as the “parlor” in which they conversed each month; now, William refers to the his colleagues as the “friends in the ‘Union’ parlor.”  And “Gail Hamilton” (Abigail Dodge) was one of the most popular American writers among subscribers to the Museum.  (Subscribers especially enjoyed Gala Days.)

A few notes:  In 1877, the Christian Union printed a few columns on “How to Spend the Summer,” including one by “Gail Hamilton” in the September 5 issue.  “The Boy” was Moss M. Coleman, age around 10 in 1877; his sister was Laura, who was about 5.

“The Tent on the Lawn.” Christian Union 16 (25 July 1877): p. 78

The friends in the “Union” parlor are having a fine talk about “How to Spend the Summer.” If there is no objection we will chat awhile under the old cherry tree in the garden upon a feature of summer life not yet mentioned, though it may be one that Gail Hamilton means to treat of in “How to Stay at Home Without Grumbling.” But Miss H. will pardon an old pupil for speaking without permission, just this once.

Whittier has sung of the “Tent on the Beach;” let us praise in prose the “Tent on the Lawn.” Lawns are not made to look at, alone. Perfect in color and in cutting they may be, but their chief charm is in forming a background or a setting for something else. A croquet party, a group of children frolicking on the sward, a cat or dog scampering about—anything that is alive—adds an element to the picture that flower beds and statues cannot impart.

Now a tent is not alive, but it suggests life, especially to the mind of an active boy. Soldier-life, hunter-life, gypsy-life, robber-life—all these flash through his mind when he sees the tent on the lawn, and if permitted he will enact each and every one. It may be wise to let him. Better some harmless savagery under your own eye than a consorting with rough fellows on the street, or fretful pinings at home after forbidden fun. “But it will spoil the grass!” cries an anxious amateur. “Oh, bother your grass!” we were about to say. “Happy boys are worth more than perfect turf.” With a little care both may be had. Adopt a few simple but rigid rules, as thus: 1st. The tent must not remain over three days in one place. 2d. The tent-pins must be light and sharp, and not be driven too deep. 3d. No hacking or chopping of the turf with hatchets, knives or spears, allowed. 4th. After lifting the tent all holes must be tamped with the mallet.

A good strong cotton tent, nine feet long and seven feet high and wide, with closed ends, pins, pin-loops, etc., can be made for $10. A few shillings will pay for the ridge-pole and two upright poles shod with iron. Such a tent, though not as strong or as tight as canvas duck, will turn the rain and be strong enough for common use. When it is taken down for the first time leave the ridge-pole in its place and roll the tent upon it. Then it can be set away in the wood-shed or barn, and quickly put up again when wanted. The pins should be counted and kept in a basket, or some will soon be missing.

After taking possession your boy will probably scorn the luxuries of a home and propose to make the tent his permanent abode. With some beloved crony he will fit up its interior with the necessary furniture, such as knives, hatchets, pistols, shot-guns (powder and shot may be prudently forbidden), one or two blankets and a box or table. After the first day or two you will be pleased to see that the favorite books and chairs are carried out, showing that civilization has not altogether lost its hold. Dinners will for a time be highly enjoyed under canvas, although involving the trouble of frequent trips to the dining-room window to receive supplies.

Enthusiastic plans will be laid for staying out all night and elaborate arrangements made looking thereto, but as the shades of evening fall it is highly probable that the camp will be deserted and the Roaring Rangers of the Rio Grande will steal quietly into the house remarking that they guess it is going to storm.

Perhaps, however, a more courageous feeling takes them and they really and truly “camp out.” Terrific preparations are made. The tent is double-pinned; hatchets and knives are placed in the belt; the family dog, or, if there is no dog, the family cat is taken in for company and protection. As you look out in the evening a dim light illumines the canvas walls. It will not be safe to approach the tent at this time with any idea of fooling. There will be a sudden rush as of angry hornets, and you will run great risk of being clubbed or tomahawked. But after the light is out and the Rangers are rolled up in their blankets, they are less valorous and more inclined to cover up their heads at any unusual sound. They have even been known to be half scared by the cook as she returned home after an evening out.

During mid-day, while the boys are at school, their sisters can take possession of the tent and convert it to a play-house. Mamma will be able to sew, read, or can her fruit unhindered through many long hours, and when she goes out to the tent the chances are that she will find a large tea-party in full progress; a tent on the lawn having a drawing power over neighboring children equal to that of a molasses barrel over flies.

Sometimes the tent leaves the lawn. A Sunday-school camping party has just borrowed ours. They have met every other week for the last two months to devise and perfect arrangements. The last meeting but one was held in our tent. Fifteen boys and the teacher who heads the party, after one or two games of ball, packed themselves into it in some mysterious way and by the dim light of a lantern held a business session of one hour. Some of the boys said it was ’most as good as camping itself. Then they came into the house and refreshed themselves with cake and strawberries.

To-day the tent is gone and pitched with other tents on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake. The boys are gone. The Boy is gone, and the house is very quiet. At meal-times we wonder whether he has enough to eat, and at night whether he does not long for the cosy bed at home. Little sister does not know what to do, with brother and tent both gone, and J. would be glad to have the cooky-jar invaded and her back thumped, as of old.

The night of the second day, as we return from weekly meeting, J. greets us with, “I have just put a weary little boy to bed.” Sure enough, the bold camper has returned. Excitement and over-doing have made him sick. He is glad next day to lie in bed and take beef-tea and toast. After the camp coffee and the hot tent how good the house food tastes; how good the home bed feels; how nice to have mamma wait on him! No more camping for him!

A few days’ rest, however, revives the spirit of the Roaring Ranger and he is eager to go back to camp. Some of the boys come over to town, and back he goes with them. Perhaps experience will keep him steady but we doubt if the tent on the beach will afford him half the fun he found in the tent on the lawn.