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Sunday, January 3, 2016

Missing Letters of Mirinda Piper, part 2

Here are four more months’ worth of letters written by Mirinda Piper to her future husband, John Andrews. The beginning of this relationship is in “Mirinda’s Missing Letters.”  At this point they were still just friends, but the romance was progressing, albeit with a few bumps of misunderstanding. These transcriptions are from my great-grandfather’s transcriptions of his mother’s original letters, which my father’s cousin gave to a tiny museum at the south end of Indiana in 1990, and which has since closed with no information about what happened to its collection. I had the original letters when I was in high school and read them over and over. But I cannot remember enough to know whether these transcriptions are completely accurate. Ah well!

At the end are my notes of explanation on some of the obscure things in the letters.

Lincoln, Jan. 7th, ’58
Respected Friend:

Yours of the 31 was received today, and I hasten to answer, thinking perhaps you may not receive this before leaving home. Illinois is a large state, and as you did not say what part you are going to, I cannot say whether you will have a pleasant journey or not but I sincerely hope you will.

As the “Down East folks” would say, I “guess” I will have to walk over the style [note 1] a while longer as we are yet minus a gate. Well, the mails are tardy, and I will admit that my letter was delayed rather longer than perhaps it should have been; but I think I am doing better this time.

Yes, hope consoles us ever. I have long lived on her smiles! Without hope, this world would be a dreary void, but with it always present, we would shrink from no trial.

“Sweet sister of my comforter divine,
Oft hast thou cheered this weary heart of mine.
Be thou! a resident within my breast,
And make me worthy of my noble guest.”

I too have nothing interesting to write, but it is not always the gossip of the neighborhood that interests me most.

I thank you for your kind wishes and I will return the compliment, hoping that this year will end as it has begun with every blessing that we need, kind friends, good health and a happy home. The wish is already half fulfilled in the reception of a letter from so sincere a friend.

Yours truly,
Mirinda Piper
Mr. John Andrews.

Lincoln, Jan 25th/57 [sic]
Dear Friend:

I hope you did not think me curious—what business of mine was it what part of Ill. you were going to. When I read yours of Dec. 31, I thought it might be possible you were coming to Lincoln and wrote in that way to quiz me. Now that was my reason for writing as I did. I was mortified to think I have given you cause to believe I was meddling with what did not concern me. Perhaps this is not the first time I have been misunderstood. I am apt to say what I mean and often mean only what I say, as was the case in my last.

No wonder “sage says beware”—let those who wish to be happy listen to her voice.

You say you “expect to pass a portion of the present year in Illinois”—I will be happy to see you at any time it is convenient for you to call here.

Your reflections on the Arctic Expedition are worthy of consideration [note 2]. I cannot help thinking the evil must out balance the good in such a case. You speak truly of the suspense of their friends while they were absent. Suspense! What a world of torture is in the word!

It is possible you will not receive this—but if you do not you will not lose much and perhaps you will not regret it. Your letters are always interesting to me, but I do think mine must be very dry to you.

We have had a beautiful winter, but it will soon be over now, and I hope we will not have to suffer for it in the spring.

I would not have written this so soon this time if I had not wished to explain myself in regard to that foolish blunder I made.

I remain yours very truly,
M. Piper

Lincoln, Ill. Feb. 4/58
Dear Friend:

Thanks! Thanks! I am myself again. I am not misunderstood; not thought a “Paul Pry.” I wonder if Eugenia and Victoria [note 3] are very happy? What is the influence of the one, or the empty title of the other, to the pleasure I now feel.

No, I am not corresponding with one unworthy of my most sincere respect, my most implicit confidence, and if I was, I need not fear now; the conflict is over, the victory won, and I am the stronger for the encounter. From the time the blinding, stunning thought first entered my mind, I could say with Burns “the wretched have no more to fear” [note 4]. But no, the selfish world would have nothing to gain, the designing nothing to admire.

“Nothing in my letter that should have been left out.” No, and not quite all that should have been put in, I knew and felt it at the time, but it was so unexpected, so overpowering, it took away the power to write, almost the power to breathe, the subject was too sacred for my pen, I dared not, I felt that I could not reply, so was silent; was the key in your possession and the writer not wholly insignificant, that letter would be highly flattering to you.

Your views on sacrificing so much to fame agree with mine exactly. Who knows better than I the anguish of loneliness and suspense? Perhaps my mother does, but I have suffered with her, and ever since I could understand her sorrow, I have been her confidant, almost her sole companion in affliction. No wonder then I am such a sensitive, impulsive, self accusing sort of being that I am.

Well now, I will tell you what I am doing; I am corresponding with the only man in the world who could obtain such a privilege, poor as it is; and I have refused it where education, position, beauty and wealth were in the premises, and why not now? ‘Because, when I was a little girl, I knew one who was incapable of a mean action. Is there a word in all my letters about deceit? Have you not wondered at it? Well, you might, because I would answer candor with candor. You are the only person with whom I ever converse long, without finding it necessary to refer to the subject in self defence. No! not distrust my correspondent, but of myself, and a dread that I could not make myself understood, has caused me to have so many dark scenes of doubt and self reproach.

If I may ask questions, guess what would be the first: Are the cars safe? Will the steamboat arrive at port without accident? Are there no causes of fever in the atmosphere?

I know, in the sight of our great benefactor, there are no distinctions, but with men it is different. How much do you think the thought has caused me? More than I can express. Here again, I was afraid of being misunderstood. I know how utterly false and worldly are many of my sex; but I trust you believe there are exceptions.

Oh! what would I not have given had things been different. You need no stronger proof of my sincere esteem than is seen in the fact that I have not closed the correspondence on this account. Reverse the case and you will understand it better; as Burns says “suppose a change of places” [note 5].

But I will close, fearing I have already wearied you. I hope if you come here, you will feel at home and enjoy yourself also.

I remain yours as ever
Mirinda Piper

P.S. I find, on reviewing my letter, I have made a great many mistakes; will you please excuse them? M. P.

Lincoln, Ill.
Feb. 10th, 1858
Dear Friend:

I do not think I have anything to forgive—there was a misunderstanding on my part, and if I had not been so sensitive I never would have construed yours the way I did; but suppose we drop this unpleasant subject forever.

I thought the day for “ox wagons” were passed away. We often read of such things in old times, but I suppose the Egyptians still preserve the manners and customs of their forefathers [note 6].

Instead of the people of Lincoln and vicinity having great times sleigh-riding, it is quite the contrary, as there has been no snow until last Monday, when there came quite a snow, and the weather is so cold I think it will stay some time.

You are mistaken if you think I ever “sing a genial song”, after reading your letters. In the first place, after reading them, I have to give them a second perusal, and very often a third before I am willing to relinquish them. Secondly, I do not know any song that would suit the occasion; and thirdly, I am not a very good singer; and therefore I do not wish to disturb my pleasant reflections by any discordant notes.

You will probably receive my last in answer to yours of January 30th before this time. As it was written almost on the impulse of the moment, it may not contain exactly what I would wish it to. I expect I wrote too soon. I should have waited until my mind was clearer when, in all probability, I would have written with more wisdom and prudence. Perhaps, it would have been better had I committed it to the flames before sending, or you can do it for me when you read it, and I assure you I will not regret it. If there is anything wrong about it, it is too late for me to recall now. If there is anything in it that will wound your feelings, I hope you will not hesitate to let me know it. I have thought very much about some portions of the letter and fear that my remarks were illtimed but I trust you will not censure my motives, but let my inexperience be my excuse.

I remain yours truly,
Mirinda Piper
Mr. John Andrews.

Lincoln, Ill. Feb. 28th, 1857 [sic]
Dear Friend:

Like a beautiful dream all too quickly passed is the answer to that letter which has caused me so much anxiety. Oh, there is surely trial before me for life is made up of changes, and I feel so unworthy of the sunshine that it almost alarms me, lest a cloud should follow; yes, I feel that it is a dream.

Accident has caused me to write things I never intended to write. Perhaps you do know me better than I had thought, for childhood knows nothing of policy, and therefore I think “truth is strange, stranger than fiction”. Well, as it was then, so it is now. I have no wish to deceive, or make a fellow being unhappy. This is why I have said I was “overrated”. I have been borne along by circumstances, I scarcely know how, I was resolved to be candid. The perfectly honorable course you have pursued from the first has at least deserved this and the sentiments expressed in your last makes me feel my insignificance more than ever. May I be worthy to retain such a place in such a mind.

You say my letter gave you pleasure—how unworthy I feel of such happiness—and yet how sincere the happiness. “Treasure, do you indeed deem it such, then cast it not away; worthily your own and nobly won”—under the circumstances were it not already surrendered, it would scarcely be worth the possessing.

Your views on a special Providence are doubtless correct as far as they go, but I am so ignorant of Philosophy that I must account for things in a different way. It is pleasant in the sunshine of prosperity to trace effects to their causes, and then I love to study your beautiful theory; but, when the dark clouds close around me and shut out the light, how can I see my way in the darkness? not by human reason; no, it fails me; the waves would soon overwhelm my poor bark. Here the question arises, if the foundation is taken away, what will the righteous do? The answer is “the everlasting arms are underneath” [Deuteronomy 33:27]. O, what a soothing thought “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord” [Zechariah 4:6].

The winter kind has made his appearance at last but the season is so far advanced I think his reign will be short.

I shouldn’t wonder if the cars with the mails were snowed up, they come so slow.

I am yours
very truly,
M. Piper
Mr. J. Andrews

Lincoln, Ill. March 5th, 1858
Dear Friend:

I do not think power or fame will give happiness. They say “Contentment is the true Philosopher’s stone” [note 7], and if any one is contented with their lot in life, they are truly happy. Although the dispositions of our friends add very much to our happiness or misery—within our own heart lies the true secret of enjoyment. If we are of a crabbed or churlish temper, we will not be happy, no difference how amiable and pleasant our friends and acquaintances are.

“Trifles make the sum of human things
And half our misery from our folly springs.”

I know this by experience. [Note 8]

No, I did not think that letter was undeservedly flattering to you; but that it was too impulsive, that perhaps it was uncalled for; but I do not think so now; I am convinced that it was only imagination in me.

I do not see anything wrong about your letter, nor indeed any of them, so far. Now, I do not wish you to think me silly, but, really, if I had such a fund of thought to draw from as you have, I would not have any trouble about writing.

It seems as if Spring is determined to take vengeance on us for the mild winter we have had. I do sincerely hope cold weather will not hold on as long as it did last spring.

There has been a considerable amount of sickness here this winter—fevers of different kinds, but I suppose it is owing to the sickness last fall. We have all escaped though.

Well “Patience is a virtue” but I do not know whether it is hardly fair for you to claim all the honor—I think you should give me some of the credit. I have been very patient.

I am yours very truly,
M. Piper
Mr. John Andrews

Lincoln, Ill. March 15, 1858
Dear Friend:

Yours of the 7th was “unexpected” but not unpleasant or “against my will”. I am never displeased on the reception of a letter from you anytime. I was just thinking before the letter came, I was sorry it was not time for a letter yet.

No, I do not think there is any harm in writing on Sunday. In my opinion, there are a great many worse things practiced on Sunday—reading novels, talking nonsense, visiting, etc. I once heard a couple of young ladies talking, one said “Is it possible you write letters on the Sabbath?” “O”, replied the other, “I only write moral letters on Sunday.” Now, I think I never write any other kind but moral ones, but I presume she meant religious letters. I do not know why you do seek my company, I have such a poor opinion of myself I cannot think there is anything attractive about me. Perhaps, it is better for me that I am not so. I might have had a great deal of trouble about it, as it is I have nothing to fear.

The weather is very mild and pleasant, the birds are singing and seeming to rejoice in the return of the Spring, and everything looks like we would soon have warm weather again. The summers in this country are as pleasant as the winters are disagreeable and unpleasant.

I have answered both of your other letters and, no doubt, you have received them before this time. What you will think of them I do not know, as they were written in my usual “scatterbrain” style.

I have nothing of importance to write as the gossip of the neighborhood would not interest you, and if it would I do not know any of it, therefore cannot retail it.

Yours very truly,
M. Piper.
P.S. March 21.
You will see this was written one week ago, but thinking I would receive an answer to mine of Feb. 28, I did not send it, but I have not received any yet, so I have concluded to send this. Perhaps you have not received mine. I am sorry now I did not send this but neglected it as I said before, thinking I would receive another very soon.
Yours very truly,

Lincoln, Ill.
March 29th, 1858
Dear Friend:

Yours of the 15th was received some days since, but, owing to a combination of circumstances, I could not answer it right away. I did not speak of your “beautiful theory” jestingly. I do think it is pleasant to contemplate and perhaps it is right. At any rate, I cannot argue. I know you would beat me in an argument any time.

I did receive a letter from you dated March 7th and was pleased to think I was remembered in the far off city.

The weather is fine now. Spring has come at last.

I am uncommon dull today and you must excuse me, if this falls short of your expectations. We have had a continual stream of company the last two or three days and I am “tired to death” to use a common phrase.

On looking over this, I find it is the dryest letter I ever wrote, but I will say as you did, I will try and do better next time, you will see it is written in haste.

Yours as ever,
M. Piper

P.S. “They say a lady’s letter cannot be written without a postscript”. All I wish to say is, if you knew how much pleasure your last gave me you would not complain of my correspondent.

The following note was written by my great-grandfather between these two letters. What he did not explain was that there was a personal visit between these two letters: 
The last letter was directed to Du Bois, Illinois, where John Andrews was for a short time, assisting in planting some 3000 fruit trees on the farm purchased the fall before.
The following letter refers to “Egypt” which is often the name given to southern Illinois and includes DuBois.

Lincoln, April 11th, 1858
Dear Friend:

No doubt you are very popular in “Egypt”. I expect the “Natives” think you have a great deal of “booklarning”, and perhaps if you would stay there they would elect you to some office, at any rate, if I was you, I would rather risk that than going to Utah [note 9]. Of course, you were joking about that. I would be very sorry if I thought you was not. There will be plenty ready to go that will not be missed very much; perhaps someone will miss them, I won’t though; no selfish motive in that!

I did understand you in regard to your religious principles and was very well satisfied that you spoke so. It is right that there should be no misunderstanding on that subject. My opinion is, in anything of that nature, human beings have to answer to their own conscience, not to another.

You must know that if I had not received considerable pleasure from your letters and visits I never would have permitted them this long, and the happiest period of my life has been since this correspondence commenced; although dark clouds have occasionally hung over my spirits for a short time, the bright sun would again shine forth and I would know that my gloominess was occasioned by my own foolish fancies.

If my letters afford you any pleasure, you are welcome to them, such as they are, and it is only for the happy privilege of receiving one from you; but I must not be selfish.

I know what it is to leave unsaid things I should have said and say things I should not have said, but I think you said a great deal that was interesting and instructive to me, and I always feel, after I have been in your company, as though I had learned something new. As for me, I am always making some blunder, and sometimes feel afraid to say anything in company for fear I will say something green.

By the way, there is to be a wedding in the neighborhood in a few days. One of the fairest flowers of Logan is about to step into the matrimonial noose. If I get an invitation to the wedding and go, I will give you the proceedings.

We have had rain, rain, rain! since you left here, and there is not very much prospect of fair weather soon; the clouds look very threatening now, and I do not know where it will end.

I was very much pleased to receive your letter so soon, and I will try and be more prompt hereafter—I do not know whether you can read this scribble; there is something the matter with the paper, pen or ink, so the words are hardly visible to the naked eye, but if you will take a microscope perhaps you can make them out.

My parents are both gone away and I am rather lonesome but now while I am writing, I enjoy myself very well.

Enclosed, I will send you some wild flowers, the first of the season. Please excuse mistakes!

Yours very truly,
Mirinda Piper
Mr. John Andrews


1.  A stile is an arrangement of steps that allows people but not animals to climb over a wall.
2.  In 1857 Lady Jane Franklin hired Francis McClintock to search for the remains of her husband’s lost Arctic expedition of 1850. McClintock’s ship was frozen into the ice for the winter in December 1857.
3.  Eugenia was the empress of France at that time; Victoria was the queen of the British Empire.
4.  From “Farewell Song to the Banks of Ayr” by Robert Burns.
5.  From lines about Bonnie Jean Armour by Robert Burns.
6.  Mirinda was not referring to the ox-drawn covered wagons even then crossing the Great Plains; she was making a pun about the nickname for southern Illinois, which was called “Egypt” in those days.
7.  “Contentment is the true philosopher’s stone”—The Ladies Wreath, published in 1852, page 347.
8.  The verse is by Hannah More, quoted in an 1836 book called The Puritan: A Series of Essays, Critical, Moral, and Miscellaneous, Volume I, edited by Leonard Withington, page 150, no. 17.
9.  U.S. President James Buchanan had sent an army the previous summer to Utah to put down the Mormon rebellion. The Mormons of this time were blasphemers and licentious, according to popular opinion.

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