1841: Thomas Jefferson Miles to Charles Jacobs Peterson

This letter was written by Thomas Jefferson Miles (1818-1899), the son of Jacob Miles and Mary Sexton. Miles jumped on the Whig bandwagon in the 1840 election but is best remembered for being a spokesperson for the Democrats of Philadelphia. Though a resident of Philadelphia, Miles frequented New York State. When this letter was written in 1841, he seems to have been in temporary residence in Corning, New York. In the 1860’s, Miles was employed as a stockbroker; later he entered into some kind of manufacturing.

Charles Peterson

Charles Jacobs Peterson

Charles Jacobs Peterson (1819-1887) was an American author and publisher. Peterson was born in Philadelphia and studied law at the University of Pennsylvania, but never practiced law. He became an owner and partner in The Saturday Evening Post and editor at Graham’s Magazine early in his career, and in 1842 founded Peterson’s Magazine. This became a popular women’s journal, which he edited until his death. The Cabin and Parlor; or, Slaves and Masters was published by Peterson under the pseudonym J. Thornton Randolph, an early example of the Anti-Tom literature which arose in response to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It was published by T.B. Peterson, Ltd.; Theophilus B. Peterson was one of Charles’ brothers and a leading publisher of cheap and sensational fiction. Peterson was not necessarily defending the institution of slavery, but instead a gradualism for ending of slavery in future instead of a destruction which would fracture the United States. After the American Civil War broke out, he was clearly on the Union side.

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Addressed to Charles J. Peterson, Esq., Atty. at Law, Walnut St. below 3rd, Philadelphia

Corning [New York]
October 14, 1841

My dear Charley,

Is it necessary to be in a good humor to write a good letter? My opinion is that it is. Is a poor letter worth the postage? My opinion is that it is not. What satisfaction has the unfortunate recipient of a worthless epistle after its cost has been deposited in the coffers of “Uncle Sam?” Ah! There’s the rub. I don’t believe you know, Charley, but I do, and if you will promise to profit by the information, I will communicate it (valuable as it is) “free gratis for nothing.” You will acknowledge it just in “nick of time” too, for unless you are as well stocked with Philosophy as the “Philosophical Charley” himself, you will need some means of redress after the perusal of this, for at present, I am in a humor as crooked as it is safe for a young Gentleman to place himself in, and not without cause as you shall presently see.

Pardon the digression. I know you are curious to receive the promised information so here it is, — whenever you receive a letter that you consider a dear purchase, sit down immediately after you have perused it, while your blood is up, and write one equally worthless (if you are capable) to the audacious individual whose signature it may happen to bear. Is it not a brilliant idea! One that should weave a chaplet of laurel around its author’s brow, and enroll his name on the list of immortalized! Or does it strike you as being rather a green idea, entitling its inventor to a night cap of cabbage leaves. I dare say, such is your opinion, but it is only an evidence of depraved taste, an incapacity to appreciate genius, which I trust time and application will improve. If I am right in my conjecture with regard to your opinion of the idea, of course I cannot object to your expression of that opinion, but of the author of that idea, should you entertain a corresponding opinion, beware Charles J. Peterson! (I wish I knew your middle name, the injunction would be so much more impressive). I say beware how you give utterance thereunto!

Now that I have got myself into a very respectable state of excitement, I will lay before you facts which will give you an inkling as to the origin of my present ferocious state. Impressed with that high sense of moral obligation to my state and country, which should be the actuating principle of every American, I arose betimes, or at least in time yesterday morning for the 6 o’clock train of cars for Blossburg,¹ and before the time (unfortunately) for breakfast; all of which unusual operations (for me) were consequent on my connection of the high importance of a democratic vote. I heeded not the base attempts that were made to dissuade me from my “lofty purpose” but with my head as full of the importance of my mission, as my stomach was empty of the necessaries of life, I arrived at Blossburg in time to find no breakfast and no polling. The breakfast had all been devoured and the Blossburg polling had ceased many hours before my arrival (I should think about the hour I left Corning). I was informed, however, that it was still progressing actively at Covington (5 miles below Blossburg). Thither I proceeded on the Locomotive that was just ready to start with a coal train. We had scarcely left Blossburg when it commenced raining, which caused the wheels to slip on the rails, thereby reducing our speed to the very moderate pace of 2½ miles per hour.

I arrived at Covington at ¼ of 1 o’clock in a sweet mess indeed, but with precious little prospect of getting a mess in me, for there was not a vestige of dinner. It had all been demolished by the patriotic band who were assembled round the polls enjoying their cigars after a good dinner, which to me seemed very much like heaping “insult upon misery.” I bore it all, however, with the spirit of a martyr, and sludged my way to the window. After satisfying myself I had “the right ticket,” I thrust my hand into the window. “What is your name, sir?” “Thomas J. Miles.” “Where do you reside?” “At Corning.” “Why do you come here to vote?” “Because I am a Pennsylvanian although I stay in [paper torn] and have my receipt for taxes paid in Pennsylvania.” “How long have you been in Covington?” “Since 1 o’clock.” “I regret, sir, that I cannot take your vote. You should have resided 10 days in the district prior to the election.”

Dicken's character, Sam Weller, from the Pickwick Papers

Dicken’s character, Sam Weller, from the Pickwick Papers

I bowed and left the window. So think I to myself, a glorious reward this for devotion to principle — minus my breakfast, minus my dinner, and ditto for my vote, besides having in view the gratifying prospect of being a nice subject for the exercise of my Whig brethren’s sensibilities in Corning. As I wended my solitary way in a state of dejection natural to be produced by the late events toward a table where sausages, apples, chestnuts, cakes, &c., &c., were exposed for sale, the reflection was impressed upon me which is recorded in the narrative of that venerable old gentleman and sage philosopher “Samuel Weller Senior” ² viz: “whether it’s worthwhile goin’ through so much to learn so little? As the Charity Boy said ven he got to the end of the alphabet, is a matter o’ taste. I rather think it isn’t.” I relieved the old lady of 2/3rds of her sausages, lit a cigar, and looked as big as though I had voted, which air I carried back to Blossburg with me that evening.

This morning I gunned from 10 till 1 o’clock with tolerable success, dined at 2 and left Bloss at 3½ and arrived here at 7 in a tolerably good humor, but as I expected have been driven into a bad one again by the railery of my friends — and after seeking in vain for a sympathizing Locofoco — who by the bye are as scarce in the place as pineapples on blackberry bushes — determined to lay my case before you, desiring to be informed at the same time if there be any process of law by which I can obtain satisfaction for my complicated miseries.

How are all the Ladies? Remember me to each one as particularly as though I had forgotten all the others. How are all the Fellows? Remember me to them heartily en masse. Some of them deserve to be cut. I regret that George Johns is included among the number.

And now my dear Charley, I am at the end of my letter. I hope you will take advantage of the secret it has imparted and write me at once. Oh! If my friends only knew how much real pleasure I derive from reading their letters, they certainly would be more liberal with them. Those which I receive from my family and connections are of a different nature from those I expect from you (plural) and impart a different kind of pleasure. Of course they are most welcome visitors and could be less easily dispensed with than yours, but to receive plenty of theirs  and none of yours is very much like being in the City and always confined to the house.

Have you seen [word crossed out] lately? I blush to confess that I am still under the influence of that weakness. Would to God that I could banish it from my mind; yes Charley, from my inmost soul I wish it, for it is becoming to me a curse. It haunts me by day and by night and its reflection sometimes becomes too painful for endurance. If I could only convince myself that ——- was unworthy of my regard, I am persuaded I could very soon wean myself from the contemplation of a subject so painful, but whenever I make the effort, there arises such a mass of conflicting events that I am soon overwhelmed, and left in a state of more hopeless conjecture than before. In writing on this subject Charley, bear in mind that although to others it would appear light and trivial, yet to the friend whose confidence you enjoy, it is dearer than all others, and let that consideration elicit a candor which would be given to a subject of more importance to yourself.

I am in good health and live contentedly still up here, having many things to render my situation agreeable. I have as yet had but little time to devote to reading, but will have plenty of time after this month, also plenty of good reading. We have formed in the village a Literary Association, being Auxiliary to the “National Society of Literature and Science” through which I will have access to the best European and American publications. I entered “Graham’s Magazine” and “Littell” on the list of those to be forwarded from New York and hear that they have already arrived. I wish to subscribe to the “Saturday Evening Post” if you will trust me till I have an opportunity of paying for it. You will oblige me too by sending me a daily paper occasionally. Hark! I hear music, but such music! I should like to see the savage whose breast it would sooth. It comes from a band of musicians who “are astonishing the natives” by what they call a concert close by. They gave me one a few nights ago. Charley Smith and I attended it and quarreled all the evening about the tunes. They struck up, “Still so gently” which Charley tried to persuade me was “The Last Rose of Summer” and half succeeded. It read on the Bills Admittance, 25¢, Children Half Price to be had at the Bar, but no one would purchase any.

Your sincere friend, — Tom

¹ Blossburg, Pennsylvania, was a coal mining town some thirty miles south of Corning, New York. A railroad was completed in July 1840 from Corning to Covington, and was opened for locomotives to Blossburg in September. This railroad allowed the mines to be tapped and for their coal to be easily distributed to eastern markets.

² Sam Weller is a fictional character in The Pickwick Papers, the first novel by Charles Dickens, and is the character that made Dickens famous. Weller first appeared in the tenth serialised episode. Previously the monthly parts of the book had been doing badly — the humour of the character transformed the book into a publishing phenomenon. Weller’s way of quoting people has led to the wellerism, often a type of proverb.

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