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The William Henry Letters   By: (1821-1904)

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With Illustrations.


Boston: Fields, Osgood, & Co. 1870.

Entered according to act of Congress, in the year 1870, by Fields, Osgood, & Co., in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.

University Press: Welch, Bigelow, & Co., Cambridge.



Much to my surprise, I was asked one day if I would be willing to edit the William Henry Letters for publication in a volume.

At first it seemed impossible for me to do anything of the kind; "for," said I, "how can any one edit who is not an editor? Besides, I am not enough used to writing." It was then explained to me that my duties would simply be to collect and arrange the Letters, and furnish any little items concerning William Henry and his home which might interest the reader. It was also hinted, in the mildest manner possible, that I was not chosen for this office on account of my talents, or my learning, or my skill in writing; but wholly because of my intimate acquaintance with the two families at Summer Sweeting place, for I have at times lived close by them for weeks together, and have taken tea quite often both at Grandmother's and at Aunt Phebe's.

After a brief consideration of the proposal, I agreed to undertake the task; at the same time wishing a more experienced editor could have been found.

My acquaintance with the families commenced just about the time of William Henry's going to school, and in rather a curious way.

I was then (and am now) much interested in the Freedmen. While serving in the Army of the Potomac, I had seen a good deal of them, and was connected with a hospital in Washington at the time when they were pouring into that city, hungry and sick, and half naked. I belonged to several Freedmen's Societies, and had just then pledged myself to beg a barrelful of old clothing to send South.

But this I found was, for an unmarried man, having few acquaintances in the town, a very rash promise. I had no idea that one barrel could hold so much. The pile of articles collected seemed to me immense. I wondered what I should do with them all. But when packed away there was room left for certainly a third as many more; and I had searched thoroughly the few garrets in which right of search was allowed me. Even in those, I could only glean after other barrel fillers. A great many garrets yielded up their treasures during the war; for "Old clo'! old clo'!" was the cry then all over the North.

Now, as I was sitting one afternoon by my barrel, wishing it were full, it happened that I looked down into the street, and saw there my unknown friend , waiting patiently in his empty cart. This unknown friend was a tall, high shouldered man, who drove in, occasionally, with vegetables. There were others who came in with vegetables also, and oftener than he; but this one I had particularly noticed, partly because of his bright, good humored face, and partly because his horse had always a flower, or a sprig of something green, stuck in the harness.

At first I had only glanced at him now and then in the crowd. Then I found myself watching for his blue cart, and next I began to wonder where he came from, and what kind of people his folks were. He joked with the grocery men, threw apples at the little ragged street children, and coaxed along his old horse in a sort of friendly way that was quite amusing. And though I had never spoken a word to him, nor he to me, I called him my unknown friend, for a sight of him always did me good.

It was a bony old gray horse that he drove, with a long neck poking way ahead; and the man was a farmer like man, and wore farmer like clothes; but he had a pleasant, twinkling eye, and the horse, as I said before, was seldom without a flower or bit of green stuck behind his ear or somewhere else about the harness... Continue reading book >>

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