These two letters were written by Dr. George Crosby Finch (1817-1856) of Croton Falls, New York, the son of Silas Finch (1787-1864) and Sarah Crosby (1794-1862). He graduated from Union College in 1839 and then studied medicine and attended lectures at the Jefferson Medical College, receiving his degree in medicine in 1841. He practiced medicine in Somers, Westchester County, New York, but died young with pulmonary disease at the age of 39.
Finch wrote the letters to his good friend and college classmate, Hiram Bennett (1815-1883), the son of Major Thomas Bennett (1784-1856) and Sylvia Rood (1790-1880). Hiram graduated from Union College in 1839. He returned to Hornellsville where he taught school, studied law with John K. Hale, and was admitted to the bar in 1842. He served as the town clerk from 1841 to 1845, and was for many years the justice of the peace. He married Eliza Doty (1825-1908) in May 1850.
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 1
Addressed to Hiram Bennett, Esq., Hornellsville, Steuben County, New York
Somers [Westchester County, New York]
June 1st 1843
My Dear Friend,
It affords me pleasure to be able on the present occasion to answer your last communication punctually at the proper and appointed time. Since I last addressed you, very little has occurred with me worthy of record either here or elsewhere. Consequently I feel somewhat at a loss how to advance upon this sheet in a way that may be profitable to me and interesting to you. In relation to our common friends and classmates, I find that as distance separates and years intervene, the bonds of friendly interest and recollection become weakened and the tendency is to lose in time all knowledge of the being of such beings that we once fondly flattered ourselves and promised each other should remain firmly associated with all we held most dear in, and through life! And the end of the matter will probably be with those of us who are favored with advanced life that the only sure evidence we shall have of our ever having been associated with a large and respectable class in college will be that we find by reference to, and finding our names registered together upon the catalogue. This is rather a sad reflection upon poor human nature but nevertheless I fear it is too true. The perplexities and engagements in life tend naturally to draw and estrange the mind from the associations and allurements of youth. We form attachments which at the time we think must be lasting, other objects present themselves, and we perhaps unconsciously find that by the occurrence of circumstances the former strong hold upon our affections has become loosened and their place occupied by other and possibly less worthy objects. It’s our nature to be fond of new things and as variety is the spice of life, we are constantly seeking it and as a natural consequence, our minds being continually receiving, must necessarily either lose or obliterate a part already received.
In relation to college life and its most agreeable recollections, do you not yourself observe as often as your mind reverts to them that as months and years roll by, a constant and increasing dimness comes over your mental vision in relation thereto? As such or similar results as above faintly depicted must be regarded as the natural inheritance of our fickle, inconstant minds, let us see if there be not an antidote, a universal specific, for this mental infirmity. There evidently is, and I think we have found and made use of it. Although very many of the incidents connected with “Old Union” have already assumed in my mind very much the character and consistence of a dream, yet so far as you, my friend, are connected, the course of communication we have adopted thus far have so happily and punctually continued has served to keep alive with vivid intensity every thing pleasant that has occurred between us since our first acquaintance. May Heaven grant a long and happy continuance of the same!
I am much pleased to hear that you have in a measure resolved to settle in business in your native town. I think you have taken a correct view of the matter as to the prospect of succession one’s native place where his previous character and connections are fully known. If there be but a partial opening and the characters stands unblemished, I think a young man in his native place possesses very superior advantages to a stranger. The proverb and the common received opinion about “one’s own country” to the contrary notwithstanding. Concurrent circumstances in the commencement of a young man’s professional career go very far either to make or mar his fortune, and where he has a character to form and support in addition, thereto, I think his chance of success much lessened. My own brief experience has served convince me of the truth of the above opinion and I think you will find the result the same in your own.
My business, I think, so far as I can judge, is assuming gradually a broad and firm foundation and should I not — as intimated in my last — conclude to abandon it, which I now as then think not very unlikely, I shall probably have as much to do as I can conveniently attend to. Could I lay aside my obstetrical business and remove one or two other objections trifling in themselves but important in their effects, the practice of my profession would be my delight and for nothing else would I abandon it. But as these things may not be, I must either take it or leave it as it is.
Tomorrow, if business does not occur to prevent, I intend going to New York and not unlikely may rest my wearied limbs in the room where I once most unfeelingly amused myself by observing the dire calamity and its effects upon the toes, and persons of my friend, well known and remembered by yourself. I have a strong desire to lusticate and may remain there a week or two. Had I not resolved to give up day dreaming, I would again say hat I have it strongly in mind to visit you and the far West this summer, taking commencement enroute. But as I have not yet made the tour of Europe, I will for the present say no more about either, save and except stating that it is my serious and determined intention to accomplish both before many years.
While I think of it, let me ask if you have heard whether our classmate [Charles D.] Norton is alive or not? [George] Monilaws continues yet in our neighborhood. I a short time since received a letter from [James] Dubuar. He continues yet in Corydon, Indiana, but expects to leave sometime during the coming summer (which by the way was ushered in this morning with a severe frost which I am told has nipped down nearly all the corn above ground — rather a contrary effect from that anticipated by [Wlliam] Miller and his friends). While in New York, I shall probably visit that flaxen-haired girl alluded to come time since. See how candid I am confiding in you an affair even before it has become one — it being only in mind from which it may never proceed. Why will you not commence and do likewise?
Pray give my love to all female friends and my best regards to all collegiate acquaintance. Your friend, — Geo. C. Finch
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER 2
Addressed to Hiram Bennett, Esqr., Hornellsville, Steuben County, New York
Somers [Westchester County, New York]
June 9th 1846
My Dear Friend,
Although I have so much neglected you, still I am very far from forgetting my duty to you, and shall ever esteem it a pleasure to be able to attend to it punctually and at our appointed time, however much circumstances may compel me to do otherwise. Owing to a very general state of health in our community of late, my professional engagements have not been very urgent. Still my mind and personal attention has been so much occupied in the business matters of my Father that I have had but little leisure for other pursuits. The prospect of soon having a speedy, cheap and direct communication with the city has induced my Father to make preparations for again engaging in the manufacture of paper, and in order to do so, a pretty thorough and expensive repair and introduction of machinery is necessary. Consequently my assistance as far as my time will permit is much required. Our railroad is steadily progressing to completion up to this point — namely Putnam Co. line — where the prospect is, it will come to a stand for a time. The grant of a charter to River R. R. Company last winter has undoubtedly had some effect in cooling the energy of the Harlem Company. The course pursued at times by our Legislature is such as would not infrequently induce a mere looker on to venture an opinion that corruption was at its heart and that unless soon eradicated, our whole political system would become diseased and that past cure.
In glancing over your last communication, I observe that you come to some conclusions which are hardly warranted from the premises, to wit, The “fair lady” I alluded to, you call Miss Lee. And moreover, you seem to conclude that I am in a fair way to the attainment of that, so essential requisite to momentary perfect happiness here, a wife. Now, my dear fellow, I am no means angry with you because of your mistakes, but I am most provoked when I think that in fact it is a mistake. Ah, how much I had rather you had been right in all things, save the name you attach to the Miss which I should by all means prefer to change to her proper one, viz, to ______. Ah! now, wouldn’t you like me to tell you? In truth, I dare not whisper it, even to you, just now.
Apropos, the little one of whose birth I spoke in my last has been for the last three or four weeks sick — very sick. It was taken during my absence from home and before I returned had been treated by two neighboring practitioners who thought it past recovery. On my return, I took charge of the case when lo! and unexpectedly it began to improve and continued so to do for many days when the disease seemed to assume a chronic form and up to within a few days past, no essential amendment had taken place. I accordingly approved of a chabge of air &c. — the medicine for some days having been discontinued, which the parents carried into effect by going to visit Mrs. L’s mother and “sisters.” The last intelligence from the child was that it appeared somewhat better and now the probable conclusion of the matter will be that although I at first came so near taking the whole glory of producing an almost miraculous cure, some of the persons who perhaps has been consulted will be thought almost a little god. I took the precaution of telling them that in my opinion the child would ultimately recover. “Sic transit gloria mundi.” The relation of this case I have no doubt will be full of interest to you — especially as you are so well acquainted with all the parties concerned. By the way, let me in sober earnest request you not to make any acquires of any person you might meet from this section respecting my prospects in that certain quarter for although I frequently hear something of the kind started here, I should dislike very much for any one to think I encouraged it. It would be, I think, contrary to my nature to keep anything of that kind a secret for any length of time and should I be fortunate enough ever to make a contract with any fair one, be sure sir, I shall be most happy to tell of it, and it would not be at all unlikely but you would be the first to hear of it, and rejoice with me, upon so joyous an occasion. I am very far from being so mum upon such matters as you are.
I called on [Francis J.] Warner a short time since. He continues yet in Sing Sing. I was on my way to the City and by his urgent request I was induced to visit [James F.] Chamberlain ¹ at the Institution for the Blind, which you know he has charge of. It is a noble new stone edifice and most admirably arranged for the purpose it was built for. The Institution has now about one hundred and thirty inmates and they all seem to be most happy and contented with their situation. They seem to regard Chamberlain in the character of a parent for they laugh, talk, and joke with him the same as with one of their number. They are of both sexes and their ages seem to range from six or seven to thirty. Chamberlain just returned from Washington where he had been with a few of his pupils to exhibit their attainments to the members of Congress. He had hardly got his classes arranged since his return. Consequently I could see but little of their mode of studying &c. Chamberlain urged me to call and see him again which I think I shall do at my first convenience. Should you visit New York this summer, go and see him for you would be delighted with your visit. It just occurs to me that I met there with Chamberlain a person just from Steuben County and acquainted with you. I forget his name but I requested him when he met with you to mention the circumstances of his having seen me &c. I think he lives in Bath but do not recollect positively.
The Coles, whom I requested to purchase those books, did not go or come through Hornellsville. Neither did their time permit them to make many inquiries for them.
The Mexican War which we are now so prosperously waging makes a fine opening for such youths as yourself to display your martial talent and pluck up drowned honors by the locks. You, I believe, have some commission have you not? But still I do not know but the new military law does away with everything of the kind. As the war is likely to be so short, I suppose you will hardly think it worth your while to order off your regiment or division to the field of action, but really should you wish to fight, you had better be in haste for the prospect looks dark for a chance to have a brush with Britain. John Bull begins to perceive that the brag and bluster game does not go down entirely smooth with us and begins to think it best to reconsider some of their moves which will probably result in a settlement.
I have seen but little of the proceedings of the Convention but conclude that they have done but little as yet. They probably calculate to get away only just in time to make room for the Members of Assembly.
Yours truly, — George C. Finch
¹ James F. Chamberlain (1813-1894) was a fellow graduate of Union College, Class of 1839. He was a teacher and Superintendent of the New York Institution for the Blind from 1842 to 1852. He married Mary Ostrander (1803-1877) in 1846. In May 1846, the Spectator (NYC) published the following correction sent to the Commercial Advertiser by Chamberlain:
New York Institution for the Blind
New York, May 4th 1846
Editors Commercial Advertiser:
I perceive that your Washington correspondent has fallen into an error in reporting that the blind pupils who recently visited Washington and gave exhibitions before Congress, were from the Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia Institutions. Now as the Virginia delegation were not there, although they were expected, and as I am a stickler for giving honor to whom honor is due, you will oblige me by saying that the pupils were from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York. The object of the visit was to excite an interest in Congress on behalf of the blind throughout the Union, and in a work of this character I wish to have it understood that New York is not backward in performing her part.
Yours respectfully, — Jas. F. Chamberlain, Supt. N. Y. Inst. for the Blind