This letter was written by future New Hampshire Governor Ralph Metcalf (1798-1858), the son of John Metcalf (1772-1850) and Roby Converse (1777-1860). Ralph’s identity is confirmed by his reference to “brother Horace” in the letter, which was Horace Metcalf (1801-1879). Horace’s wife was Chloe Cheney (1801-1874).
Ralph Metcalf’s biography is as follows:
“Metcalf (1798-1858) was born at Charlestown (NH). He worked on the farm until he became lame; then he decided to become a professional man. His father gave Metcalf one hundred dollars; with that money he entered Chester (VT) academy, and then Dartmouth College (1819). He took himself out of college in 1821 to teach at Norwich (VT), but Metcalf rejoined his class in 1822 and graduated in 1823. Metcalf read law for three years, He was admitted to the New Hampshire Bar in 1826. He practiced law first at Newport (NH, 1826-1828), then at Binghamton (NY, 1818-1830). He then returned to Claremont (NH), and entered state politics as Secretary of State (1831-1836).
“Metcalf married (Lucretia Bingham, 1835; died 1836). Then he clerked for New Hampshire’s Hon. Levi Woodbury, Secretary of the Treasury, at Washington, D.C. (1838-1840). Metcalf returned to practice law at Newport (NH, 1841-1845).
In 1845 Metcalf was appointed Register of Probate for Sullivan County (served 1845-1851). He was elected a State Representative (1852, 1853). Then, running as a Know-Nothing for governor in 1855, Metcalf defeated three candidates who combined might have beaten him. In 1856 the same thing happened: the closeness of the popular vote among three candidates threw the election into the House of Representatives, where the Know-Nothings controlled. Metcalf was reelected, 175 votes to 150. The Know-Nothings were against continued immigration into the United States. Governor Metcalf campaigned against the public sale of liquor, and against Roman Catholicism, both immigrant issues. He retired in 1857, and died a year later.”
Ralph Metcalf wrote this letter to his nieces, Frances Maria Glidden (1826-1904) and Diantha Elizabeth Glidden (1827-1887), who were at the time attending the Townsend Female Seminary in Townsend, Massachusetts. They were the daughters of Gen. Erastus Glidden (1792-1866) and Diantha Metcalf (1805-1840). Frances would later marry (1846) with John Badlam Howe (1813-1882), an attorney, and relocate to Lima, Indiana.
Addressed to Miss Frances M. Glidden, Townsend, Massachusetts
Newport, [New Hampshire]
May 15th 1842
My dear girls,
Were you not in such an out of the way place (as regards Newport, I mean), you would see the writer hereof instead of the sheet he is now sporting with his pen. The interests of some thirty thirty bankrupts require my presence at Portsmouth next Wednesday and for a week past, I have been making enquiries and studying geography to learn how, in what way, and in what manner I can go to Portsmouth by way of Townsend. And the result of my profound investigation is much like that of the ancient chemists in search of the Philosopher’s stone. Though I have made some useful and many useless discoveries, I am no nearer the object of my wishes than when I commenced my inquiries. The only way I can go from Newport to Townsend, unless by way of Boston, requires as much time as it did to begin and complete a revolution in France which dethroned one branch of the Bourbons and placed another as worthless in their stead; that is, three days. And as my time is so amazingly precious, I could not possibly appropriate so much of it even to so desirable an object. If it could be passed in Townsend, it would be another affair altogether. But three days on the way, as Dogberry says in the play, would be “tolerable and not to be endured.” All the stages run wrong days and wrong ways. I must go to Claremont one day, Keene the next, and to Townsend the third. The same by way of Concord & Nashua, or if I go direct to Nashua, I must pass a day there among the spinning jennies and then go on to Townsend.
If I was a whig or a “Tyler too man,” I would straightaway petition for a change in the days of running the mails. But as I am not, I could hope for no more influence upon the frozen pace that presides over our Nation’s weal than the genial rays of the sun have on the islands of ice that float round the polar star. Then again, I would see you when I return, but I must be at home next Saturday as Mr. Forsaith must go to Vermont on Monday following. So you will not see me just yet and I shall leave tomorrow via Boston for Portsmouth & return by way of Concord.
The art of speech making in Congress is to see how much can be said upon one solitary idea, and you will doubtless conclude that I am either “in training” for Congress or desirous of introducing that art into letter writing when you read all the foregoing to learn that I cannot very conveniently go to Portsmouth through Townsend, but desired you should understand the why and the wherefore that you need not impute it to any want of disposition on my part, but to the fault of the administration, which is responsible for everything.
Brother Horace tells me that he saw you at Townsend contented and happy, which I was certainly well pleased to hear, though no more than I expected for there is no reason that I can conjecture why you should not be so. It seems to me as if you could not be more happily situated either for pleasure or profit, and I need not remind you how much I hope you may in no way neglect the favorable opportunities you are enjoying for both mental and personal improvement. It is not every one who can have the double advantage of p____ and example, and I trust you will show by the effect that you properly appreciate them.
Brother Horace was much delighted with his call and the praises he daily bestows on all whom he saw in general — and one in particular — must certainly make a favorable impression upon anyone even wholly unacquainted with your situation. As you well know, he is not one who is apt to be very general and unqualified in his praises or profuse with his compliments.
I have been at Claremont & Charlestown twice since you left. One I took [your sister] Roby with me and I regret to say that the state of her health is at least delicate. Your father and myself went down a week since yesterday and stayed till [sheet torn] when we went up to the west Church [paper torn]…I am note aware of anything of importance that I can communicate. I am now boarding under my own roof and I wish I could say sitting at my own table but that I cannot. The labors that I daily perform in the garden would utterly astonish you to witness, did you not so well know what a working man I am. Perhaps I shall send you down some early vegetables before they can be grown in your vicinity or had in Boston village, but as it would take so long to get them there, they may not be very fresh. You need not be surprised if you do not receive them
Give my highest regards to Mrs. Glidden and to Miss Hastings. My hopes that the acquaintance may ere long be personal which I have almost familiarly felt since reports of others, and for yourself accept the opinion of my kindest affection. — Ralph Metcalf