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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When young,
Blue penciled
by Anson Tyler

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

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

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


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

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

Dear Sir,

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

I am, sir, &c.

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

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


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

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

Your very obedient humble servant.

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


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

Your most obedient servant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

See what I mean? Exhausting.

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.

The Fashionable Letter Writer; or, Art of Polite Correspondence, Containing a Variety of Plain and Elegant Letters (New York: George Long, 1819), is chock-full of tiny melodramas in the form of letters. Gentlemen revel in ardor, ladies encourage or discourage them, bankrupts confess that they need money, parents lecture their children—it’s great.

It’s also terribly, terribly British. In spite of the occasional mentions of New York and Boston, the letters are reprinted from The New London Letter Writer, which is probably reprinted from an earlier British work I haven’t yet traced.

If these letters are, indeed, intended as examples for other writers to copy, they’re far too specific. But they are entertaining, being tiny melodramas of love and repentance and how to ask for money.

Here a gentleman pleads his case, to a lady whose answer is a little less passionate than practical.

Letter from a Gentleman to a Lady, disclosing his Passion.


Those only who have suffered them, can tell the unhappy moments of hesitative uncertainty which attend the formation of a resolution to declare the sentiments of affection; I, who have felt their greatest and most acute torments could not, previous to my experience, have formed the remotest idea of their severity. Every one of those qualities in you which claim my admiration, increased my diffidence, by shewing the great risk I run in venturing, perhaps before my affectionate assiduities have made the desired impression on your mind, to make a declaration of the ardent passion I have long since felt for you.

My family and connexions are so well known to you, that I need say nothing of them; if I am disappointed of the place I hope to hold in your affections, I trust this step will not draw on me the risk of losing the friendship of yourself and family, which I value so highly, that an object less ardently desired, or really estimable, could not induce me to take a step by which it should be in any manner hazarded.

I am, madam,
your affectionate admirer and sincere friend.

The Answer.


I take the earliest opportunity of acknowledging the receipt of your letter, and the obligations I feel to you for the sentiments expressed in it; and assure you, that whatever may be the event of your solicitations in another quarter, the sentiments of friendship I feel, from a long acquaintance with you, will not be in any manner altered.

There are many points besides mere personal regard to be considered; these I must refer to the superior knowledge of my father and brother, and if the result of their enquiries is such as my presentiments suggest, I have no doubt my happiness will be attended to by a permission to decide for myself.

At all events, I shall never cease to feel obliged by a preference in itself sufficiently flattering, and rendered still more so by the handsome manner in which it is expressed; and I hope, if my parents should see cause to decline the proposed favour of your alliance, it will not produce such disunion between our families, as to deprive us of friends who possess a great portion of our esteem and regard.

I am, sir,

Your obliged and sincere friend,
And humble servant.

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.)