1848: George William Burleigh to Harriett Stark Russell

How 18 year-old George W. Burleigh might have looked in 1848

This letter was written by 18 year-old George William Burleigh (1830-1878) while a student at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. George was the son of John Adams Burleigh (1800-1860) and Sarah Noble Briard (18xx-1847). Following his graduate from Dartmouth in 1851, George read law with Wells and Bell of Somerworth. In September 1854, George married Louisa Hanna Bryant (1833-1894) and began the practice of law in Somersworth. Later, George worked as an agent for the Great Falls Woolen Company until his death in Somersworth at the age of 48.

In the letter, George mentions the changes that have occurred at home within the past year — a reference to the death of his mother and the need for hired domestic help.

George wrote the letter to his cousin, Harriett Stark Russell (1827-1870). She married Royal Eastman (1816-1874), an attorney, on 23 February 1858 in Somerworth, New Hampshire. Harriett was the daughter of Richard Russell (1786-1855) and Sarah Copp (1786-1865)

George entreats his cousin to read the recently published novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte which he apparently very much enjoyed. George does not say anything in this letter about the identity of the book’s author, which was published under the pen name Currier Bell for fear that a female author’s novel might not  be so well received by the critics or nor sell as many books.

Stampless Letter


Addressed to Miss Harriett S. Russell, Care of Dr. Richard Russell, Great Falls, New Hampshire

Dartmouth College
April 19, 1848

Dear Hattie:

Page 1

It is now almost six weeks since I received your letter of March 5 and it is still unanswered, but when you hear my reasons I know you will excuse my neglect. Of course I did not think of answering it until I had been in possession of it a fortnight. Then I was to be examined in the studies of the Fall term on the 11 of April and all my time during the fortnight previous to my examination was necessarily taken up in preparation for it and now as soon as that is over you see I sit down and dispensing with the ceremony of turning up a cent, by some considered so important, at once proceed to write you a long letter. But I doubt if I tell you any news for I believe Edvardua Astonius Rollins has lately written you. By the way, why did you not in your letter to him send your cousinly love to me? That was a great neglect on your part — very great.

Page 2

I was sorry to hear you and Lizzie Burleigh had disagreed after I endeavored to do away with all unkind feelings between you but if Lizzie will be so whimsical, I cannot help it. She is inclined to be notional and very obstinate and when she once gets a notion in her head, the d___l [devil] could not drive it out. I ought not to say this perhaps since she is my cousin and a good girl and I like her very much, still she is hard to get along with unless one understands her character and has had some little practice, if I may call it so in getting along with. The best way to get along with her is to treat her with no formality and whenever you perceive a whimsical fit coming upon her, pay no attention to it whatever. Of course I say this confidentially and shall expect you to be a mason in the strictest sense of the word. I can but say I think she was in fault but I want you fr my sake if anything serious has grown out of the matter to settle it before July 29 as I shall come home then.

You speak about the precision of my letters and apologize for the want of it in your own. I can only say you have yet to learn what a “betty” I am in some of these things. Nine letters out of ten which I write are as nice and exact as those I write you and I do not think there is another in college who writes so much as myself. I haven’t anything in my room that I cannot find in the dark — even every book on my table. All my letters from 1844 are all nicely folded, filed, labeled, and put away.

Page 3

The snow has all disappeared except from the top of Mount Ascutney, twenty-one miles distant — a fine view of which I have from my windows. The mud is all gone and the trees begin to bud and the grass to look green though the woods still look brown. I suppose you have the same beautiful evenings that we have here. If the evenings were not quite so chilly, it would be very pleasant to go out and walk but we shall soon have some warmer weather which I delight in. People and Poets may praise Spring but we have no Spring until we go as far south as Philadelphia. Our Spring is the most disagreeable part of our year. Snow, rain, mud, and wind are all we know of real Spring unless it may be a few days in May.

Speaking of Spring reminds me that I am now eighteen. What a tremendous “pow-wow” and rejoicing there must have been at our house on April 11 eighteen years ago! What a change too has come over our house since my last birthday. We are now dependent upon some woman to come and stay ay our house and the moment she is gone the house is virtually broken up.

Page 4

11 o’clock P.M.  It has been snowing since 4 0’clock but it has cleared off now and the snow is thawing fast. This will make the ladies scold for it will spoil their rides for a day or two. I was never in a place where the ladies ride so much as here. Nineteen women out of every twenty married and all ride horseback — and some of them ride very finely. Two daughters of Rufus Choate who were educated at the “Nunnery” here are now in town. They are very beautiful girls, excellent dispositioned, but one of them is engaged to one of the graduates. Professor Haddock’s daughter Grace rides very well although she is not very pretty. I intend to ride with her this summer to secure the favour of the Professor for there is no better way of getting into favour with the parents than by attentions to the children.

An illustration from Jane Eyre, showing and Jane and Rochester, the principal characters

Have you read Jane Eyre — the novel of the day? If not, you must do so immediately and give me your opinion of the work — whether its influence would be moral or immoral and how you like Rochester and Jane herself. One or two severe criticisms have been written upon it and many more in favour of it. I liked it very much and think all Jane’s acts are consistent with the character the author has given her — that of a sober, conscientious girl whose judgement as Rochester said would always have the last say. If you have not read it, you can get it at any of the bookstores or William can get it in Boston at Wiley’s. Get and give me you opinion of it. The book will pay you for all the pains you take to get it.

Sometime in June we are to have Richard H. Dana here to deliver a course of lectures upon Shakespeare. He has a course of eight lectures which are very popular in deed and which he delivered here some seven years ago. Professor Haddock originated the move and all the students, with the exception of four, subscribed to go. These four — among whom was Dr. Aiken’s son — think Shakespeare has an immoral tendency

and should not be countenanced in refined society. Before I forget it, tell Micajah [Burleigh] to get you a copy of Greely’s N.Y. Tribune for Saturday, April 15, and read Gov. Seward’s oration upon John Quincy Adams. You will like it very much, I know.

Richard Henry Dana

You must contrive to have your vacation at Dover commence some where in July for I want to take lessons in drawing either then or in the winter vacation. I am anxious to take lessons and we have no opportunity until we are nearly graduating. The parts for Commencement were assigned last evening but it it not yet known who have them.

Write me within a fortnight and tell me why Elisa left our house, where Lizzie Burleigh is, if Eveline Gilman is there by the time you write, and tell me whether I shall direct in future to Dover or Great Falls. Do write me soon for I have not heard from home this three weeks.

Yours truly, — Geolom Burleigh


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