1842: Moses Hemmenway Wells to John Pinkerton Humphrey

These three letters were written by Moses Hemmenway Wells (1814-1893), an 1839 graduate of Dartmouth College. Moses was the son of Rev. Nathaniel and Eunice (Hemmenway) Wells of Deerfield, New Hampshire. He taught mathematics at Canandaigua Academy, New York from 1840 to 1842, was assistant teacher at Lawrence Academy in Groton, Massachusetts in 1842, and principal from 1844 to 1845. He then studied theology at Andover Theological Seminary graduating in 1845 and went on to a career as a Congregational minister in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. He first married Ann Rebecca Votee in Canandaigua in February 1844. After her death in 1855, he married, in 1857, Emily M. Taylor (1831-1895) — the daughter of Lewis and Lois (Webster) Taylor. Emily was a former teacher herself.

Moses wrote the letters to John Pinkerton Humphrey (1817-1889) who was a former Dartmouth College classmate attending the theological seminary at Andover, Massachusetts when this letter was written in 1842. Like Moses, John also entered into the ministry of the Congregational Church, serving in Winchester, New Hampshire, and other places. John was the son of John Humphrey (1786-1867) and Rebecca Brewster (1779-1871). John married Elizabeth Jane Mills in 1847.

Joseph Smith's Farm, Palmyra, New York

Joseph Smith’s Farm, Palmyra, New York

In the first letter, Moses refers to the death of Dudley Leavitt, a Dartmouth classmate. Dudley died at Andover, Massachusetts, on 7 January 1842. He studied divinity at Andover Theological Seminary for two years but died before graduation. Moses was informed of Leavitt’s death by Dartmouth classmate Horace Hall (1819-1842) who also attended the Andover Theological Seminary but had only weeks to live himself. Hall died at South Berwick, Maine on 27 February 1842.

In the second letter, Moses informs Humphrey of his engagement to Ann Rebecca Votee.

In the third letter, Moses confesses to Humphrey that he is anxious to return to Andover and that it is partially due to the fact that so many of the locals practice Mormonism. Palmyra, the birthplace of Mormonism, was only a few miles to the northeast of Canandaigua.

1842 Letter

1842 Letter

Addressed to John P. Humphrey, A. B., Andover, Massachusetts

Canandaigua [New York]
January 22nd 1842

My dear Humphrey,

I can hardly express the pleasure I experienced at the receipt of your letter. It revived those scenes which are the most pleasant to me in remembrance. They lived anew & passed before me. It also told me that the confidence once bestowed, the friendship once formed, was not delusive. Altho it had slumbered for months, the gem remained ready to spring forth when a favorable breeze should fan it. Brother Humphrey, it was your own true self that wrote me that little breathing the last breaths of an expiring year & yet leaving the best wishes for that on which we have now entered. It showed you faithful to the past. I am as little able as yourself to tell by what fortune our correspondence has languished so long & I think I am not less desirous of its resumption.

I know in the all absorbing selfishness of the world, the fostering of the ties of friendship is apt to be forgotten, & man lives too much as if his highest happiness consisted in making everything subservient to his own various desires; but I have yet to be convinced that such is the true end of humanity. I have yet to be convinced that all the most cherished friendship of youth are mere romance [and] that they have not a salutary influence upon the character. I sincerely believe that as we are created social beings, so the development of some of the most essential as well as lovely elements of our nature depends upon the cultivation of the social ties. We should ever regard man as man with feelings of enlarged benevolence, but this will not hinder us from regarding individuals with peculiar esteem, those whose minds have been moulded by similar circumstances, & perhaps by reciprocal influences. This is a theme on which I love to dwell in thought. Hence, you will pardon me for trespassing so long on your patience in expressing my views. Once more I say it gives me joy to renew a correspondence with you.

You are at Andover? fixing your thoughts upon the great subjects which are to be the engrossing themes of your future meditations. How does the prospect seem? I well recollect the strong desire which possessed me for an enlarged vision that I might grasp the sublime subjects, that I might feel their awful power. But O, how weak! How narrow my conception appeared. Ever since, I have felt the importance of forming appropriate views — especially of the grand central theme the blessed savior, redeeming love. It seems to me we cannot get the exalted views of the plan of redemption, the means & end. And as our conceptions rise & approach the reality, the importance of our calling will be magnified, the greatness of the work in which we are engaged will become apparent, the worth of the soul will grow & rise before us till we are ner well to do with our might what our words find to do. Then every doctrine & every duty will harmonize & work together to produce the greatest moral effects both on ourselves & on those whom we influence. Let us then aim at getting just & adoring views of our High Priest who is become our King, that when we open the eyes of immortality & see Him as he is, we may not be disappointed, that we may not then reflect that we have utterly [paper torn] of presenting him as the chief among the thousands, the One altogether lovely. Our task is pleasant, our hopes are bright, if we are faithful.

You became engaged last September? That is strange! I heard you were engaged to the same lady before I left N. E., but report cannot be trusted. I was happy to receive the truth from your lips. Perhaps I may be induced to follow your example. In due time I will report truly. Trust to nobody else. I wish I were with you.

I have just thought of the death of Br. Leavitt. It was distressing, but he is happy, Soon perhaps we shall follow him. The love of Christ glowed in him. He was a beaming & shining light. How great is his reward, removed from earth for whose weary children he was ever nestily [?] desirous to spend & be spent. He now looks down on us who remain behind. Let us too keep where he is gone & take fresh courage. I received a letter from Hall yesterday relating the circumstances. It does bid he also ready.

But I do wish I were with you. A year hence, if Providence permit, may find me there. Will you take me as a roommate? I shall enter your class. Music headed by Horatio must be grand. I hope you will step into his shall before I arrive. In relation to Adam’s request, I can only say I can at present give him no encouragement because I had a previous application from a friend who has other friends in the vicinity & for whom I promised to use my influence. It would have given ,e pleasure to have introduced Br. Adams here as my successor. And should opportunity [arise], I should be happy to render his any service here or in this vicinity.

I wish you to tell Br. Levitt of the Senior Class I suspect he must have become completely cached [?] or else I should have heard from before this. I have been waiting patiently these four months but have been doomed to disappointment. Ain’t it horrible. Give my regards to all old friends. As ever yours, – M

We are now in the middle of our term — about 170 scholars. I have 60 or 70 in Algebra &c. &c. Have enough to do. I was at Rochester last vacation & had I known your brother was there, I should have found him. I shall visit there again before leaving & shall find him.

Addressed to Mr. John P. Humphrey, Theo. Seminary, Andover, Mass.

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Canandaigua [New York]
May 25th 1842

My Dear Humphrey,

Since I received your letter, I have read for the first time Master Humphrey’s clock & I should reckon from your letter that you were a little related to the Humphrey stock. You have a strong propensity to pass in cog. & talk strangely about yourself in the third person. But I hardly need tell you that I am interested in the way these Humphrey’s say things — especially those little things which it is better not to speak right out, I don’t know how I should learn so well what makes your individuality as by trusting to such reports of your attendants. What they tell me seems so true to the past that I do not hesitate to receive them into full confidence.

According to the best of my calculations, tomorrow you will enter on another term. Perhaps, however, you may think as some have done before you that the first week does not amount to much & therefore delay your return till next week. If so, my letter may be ready to receive you as it should do. My excuse for not writing the last five weeks has been that you were absent. You have felt, like the birds of passage, the return of spring which has bid you fly to the cool regions of the north. Doubtless you have been refresh & invigorated by the northern tempered as it has been by a thousand mild influences, which can be much exquisitely felt but not spoken. I have no mind to say I envy you as I might once have said but rather I rejoice with you. I received a letter from brother Merrill in the winter saying some very clever things about your Miss N, which I shan’t tell you. You’ll be satisfied, if I know them, since you know a great many more. Isn’t it pleasant after enjoying a long vacation among such choice friends to return to your solitude & sit down & like it once again. Such, perhaps, will be your employment when this reaches you. If I do, I shall hope for a passing thought.

I too have had a vacation since I received yours. I spent it entirely in this place, the season not being pleasant for traveling, & besides, I have no friends in the vicinity except at this place. I have now entered on my last term. Three have already passed & nineteen remain. Then I shall pay my devotion towards the east. To what quarter I shall direct my steps remains to be determined. For the sake of keeping my attention directed a little to the future, I have taken up Dick’s Theology & intend reading it carefully. This will give me some vantage ground for the next year. I also read German some. Am making Klopstock’s Messiah, have you ever read it? Hebrew occasionally forms a part of my diversion. I read it with the translation before me so as to keep familiar with the forms &c.

One thing more in relation to self & I will dismiss that important person. In my last I think I made some allusions to the possibility that I might be engaged as well as you & several other friends. The allusions have doubtless been confirmed to you ‘ere this. ‘Tis even so. I am technically & heartily engaged to Miss Ann R. Votee. She is now connected with the Ontario Female Seminary in this village as a teacher. Of her it would not become me to speak as I would & therefore I shall only say that I am satisfied. I feel myself happy as well as fortunate in being able to perfect my acquaintance with her by daily  calls. It is almost like being married, But we shall be separated for a time — unless —

I expect Barstow is playing a game on me. I have not heard from him these three months & I suspect he is preparing to be married in his coming vacation & then surprise me with the intelligence. The last letter he wrote he told me he had determined to go to New York Seminary next year & wished me to go with him. But I suspect he is recreant to his principles. If you know anything about it, I wish you would inform me. Tell me also your own determinations for the next year. Is anything to be done about filling Dr. Edwards or Dr. Wood’s place? I must soon determine where to go. I have been a little inclined to go to New York.

Give my regards to all friends. Tell Swift I wish to know about the first sermon. I shall certainly write him soon. Don’t say anything to Barstow from me if you see him.

Your friend, — M. H. Wells

Addressed to Mr. J. P. Humphrey, Theological Seminary, Andover, Massachusetts

Canandaigua [New York]
August 2, 1842

My Dear Humphrey,

I trust you have heard a report from me ‘ere this, acquiescing in your decision for the future. So much I signified in a letter to brother Swift immediately on the reception of your last. It required no sacrifice of feeling or inclination in me to consent to spend my next year at Andover. My thoughts have reverted to that place with more interest than any other, ever since I left it, & the thought of again retracing my steps is delightful. As I have often said, the year spent at Andover stands by itself — the oasis of my life — pleasant as I passed it, pleasant still in retrospect. True, I have a “world” here. But I would rather possess a world within a world, or that my “world” were surrounded with an atmosphere pure [and] invigorating; a sky gemmed with stars radiating & reflecting a genial influence. I think my allusion may be difficult to be understood. It means no more than a slight disgust with the notions of the people among whom my lot is cast. Mormon is the divinity that is worshipped at the rising sun & when the middle star of night appears. And nothing is valued only as it hears the marks of his propitious smile. Alas for us, poor pedagogues, in such a state of things — alas for everything which does not tend directly to the great end. Think not strange then that with joy I look forward to the time of my departure & still farther when my “world” shall be removed & revolve under more propitious influences.

There is a land of “Buelah” before me. ‘Tis more narrow here than I would like; but perhaps too great enlargement would not be good. You “speak from experience on this point.” Truly, you do. Sometimes I have thought I should like to be able to carry a wife to Andover. What strange notions will sometimes pass into one’s head. I leave the subject.

I am glad to hear you speak so encouragingly of Dr. [Leonard] Woods. I have always found myself so stupid & lazy that I need the excitement of some energetic mind to wake up my ideas. Hence I have thought that somebody who would throw more life into his efforts & so wake up the minds of others to activity would exert a much greater influence in forming efficient, practical men — even if his thoughts are not so profound & logical. You know I am quite a conservative. But it seems to me Dr. Woods is a little too much so. He is afraid to encourage true freedom of thought & investigation. He fears, doubtless, the shipwreck of the faith. There may be danger but not so much as in the subjection of opinion to human authority. Let thought go free & it will return in due time, like the dove of Noah with the verdant leaves of promise.

When we meet & pursue our studies together, we will excite each other to free enquiry, independent thought, & energetic action. How prone to trust in the future? Is it vain? I hope not. I would fain flatter myself that I shall be more energetic from more true manliness, & gird myself for the contests of life. The present aspect of the moral world warns me not to venture to direct the currents of human feeling, & course of action without an almighty arm to lean upon & a thorough personal preparation for his arduous task. The duties of the minister of the gospel seem to be growing more difficult as well as laborious. We must be prepared to meet the growing exigencies. We ought to be wise as serpents & harmless as doves. The work which ministers are to accomplish under the hand of God in moulding the present unsettled & unsettling opinions of the people is momentous & to human view fearful. What need of grace.

Your first year has closed. The anniversary is at hand. How has it passed & how does it seem in retrospect? Where do you spend your vacation? What doing? Do you visit Haverhill? If so, give my respects to Mr. Delains & to your own by word of mouth or better, as the case may be. Chany [?], half brother of Hall, has just spent a week with me. He is teaching 60 miles west [and] is about sick of the country. He thinks he shall return to Andover next year. Have any of our old schoolmates who leave Andover this year found a location yet? Give them my regards & best wishes for their success. May be directed to when they may win many souls to Christ. I shall leave for New England the first week in October. Write & tell me where you are to room that I may leave some of my baggage as I pass.

Ann [Votee] sends her regards. She takes all my friends to be hers. Write as soon as convenient. — M. H. Wells

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