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Letter to Mr. George S. Riley, Rochester, Monroe County, [New York], from Henry T. Spencer, Albany, New York, April 6, 1849



Albany, Friday Morning April 6th 1849

– My Dear Riley,

If I were to guess twice I should say you had relieved your friend Hugh and me, in case I should have the pleasure of forming his acquaintance, from “victimizing” you, for you have done a noble deed in writing me a letter, which letter was received last Saturday evening. I “rayther” thought that little effusion of mine – I can’t call it a letter – from Catskill, would remind you of a claim a friend of your’s in Albany had upon you in the way of correspondence, and would suggest to you the propriety of attending to it at your earliest convenience. Your apologies for not writing are entirely satisfactory, and I can assure you that my “abilities to victimize a body” will not be brought into requisition in your case. My hint in the joint letter from Catskill about the second edition, was merely a joke, as I knew you would write as soon as you could find time, consequently you can draw a line across any impression you may have received in relation to my considering you negligent.

Your letter is just such a one as I like to receive, — a long, friendly letter, full of humor and not a few hits. But my dear fellow, I’m not going to let those hits pass unrewarded, for merit should always meet with its reward, and, as, (like the man who auctionizes razors,) I have “a few of the same sort left,” I shall “show ‘em up” seasoned and dressed, free of charge!

How well versed are you in the science of architecture! I had supposed you knew something about building, and as you are a man of taste (I don’t mean in the way of eating!) I knew, that if you didn’t originate a plan, you would suggest or rather select one for me that would meet with my approval! “You do me honor overmuch” in giving me the credit of inventing a hall, but if I must shoulder the responsibility I’ll tell you what I will do – I’ll sell you the right of sale, and what is more, it shall be exclusive, so that you needn’t have any fears of interference from any quarter! What do you think of my proposition? I presume we can strike a bargain by the time you reply, as you have had the “golden opportunity” of seeing the original model! You seem to think I can’t make a “pecuniary fortune” out of this matter, because there is danger of my making the hall my own. Why Riley, is it possible you appreciate my effort for your welfare, so little? If you only knew of the fatigue, mentally and physically, I have undergone, the anxiety, “by day and night, with which I have been afflicted, and all for your good, you would at least say – thank you sir; but no, you very cooly insinuate there is danger in store for me, and cast reflections upon what I have done for you!! Truly I shall begin to think that men as well as republics are ungrateful!

Let me see, – you left here about four weeks ago, and I must put on my thinking cap, so as to let you know what has transpired. Our friend Miss Peck over the way, (not “the left”) is well, and to all appearances perfectly contented. I have called upon her three times since you left, not including the time I took her to the gallery of fine arts. By the way Riley, we spent a delightful afternoon at the gallery, looking at the “pictures” and making perfect criticisms, and I rather think that if Durand or some other artist, could have heard my wise sayings, they would be able to blend colors to a charm – Egotism!

I was at Mr Meder’s a week ago last Monday evening, taking my flute of course, and just as I had got fairly seated, in came Belden, to hear the music. After the preliminaries were gone through with in the way of talking, we “tuned up” and went at it. We played the flute and piano music about an hour, when I was summoned to try my abilities in the way of eating oranges, and between you and your subscriber, I imagine Miss P thought I was fond of them, for I made out to eat three! It wasn’t my fault however, for she insisted upon my making them scarce, as it would improve my voice, which she said she hoped to hear soon. After discussing Peckinek, and Millerizing for about half an hour, I went to the piano, and now I must tell you a scene that occurred, that goes ahead of anything in the papers of that far famed club. Prepare your visibilities, but first take the precaution to ward off any accident that may happen to your life, for I feel too great an interest in that portion of your frame to have it injured!! I took my seat before the piano, Belden stowed himself away in “the old arm chair,” at my left and Miss P took her seat at my right. After singing two or three songs, I commenced “The Rainy day,” and when I struck the last note, all was still. Not a word was said for about 20 seconds, which you know, in some circumstances is “a considerable length of time.” Belden was gently musing with thoughts best known to himself, and Miss P was leaning upon her hand, when she suddenly broke the silence with the following: Mr Spencer, how beautifully you will sing when you get to Heaven! What a shout of laughter there was from my friend on my left. He left the chair instantly fearing a wedging in from the timidity which followed his shout, while I scraped and invoked the graces to assist me in acknowledging the compliment in a becoming manner! After a while we succeeded in composing ourselves, though the twinkle in Belden’s eye, was one of the laughing kind during the rest of the evening. Now Riley wasn’t that a compliment: I think I shall have to believe I can sing after this, and must make arrangements to give concerts. You can readily imagine I spent a delightful evening, when I tell you it was nearly — don’t speak of it, 12 when I left.

Your friends the Misses Lansing are well; at all events they were a few evenings since, for McLean and I spent a delightful evening there. Miss Alida (is that her name?) is visiting some friends in Saratoga, and will be absent about two weeks. — I was in the gallery a few evenings since, and saw the Misses Gallup. They were looking very well, and spoke of you in very friendly terms. You have made some warm friends here Riley, and you must wend your way down here occasionally. So keep up the acquaintance. I expect to take tea at the Gallup’s before long, and with the ladies, will have the pleasure of toasting your health, and saying all sorts of good things, over the tea.

I havn’t seen Miss Colburn since you left, so that I cannot tell you how she is, though I presume she is well: I must call them soon, and will give you something more definite the next time I write. By the way Riley, speaking of the Gallups, reminds me of the promise you extorted from Miss Lucy to caudelize me for prescribing so severe a remedy for your life! Now be it known to you, that she has declined making the attack although I introduced the subject some time ago. I met the three sisters one evening at Mr Woods – the first interview I had after you left, and when I told Miss Lucy, I was ready to submit to the torture, she declined doing it in as much as I had asked her sister, before asking her, which was the person who had made the arrangement with you. I told her I had prepared an elaborate argument for the purpose of defending myself; but not a word would she say, and what is more, she said she couldn’t think of “victimizing” me after making myself so agreeable! Now my dear fellow, where is your revenge? It is a great pity you can’t have “even-handed justice”!

Speaking of Miss G suggests to me the propriety of inquiring about that lip, for I always take a great interest in persons put under my charge! There is a great remedy for cracked lips called Nitrate of Silver, and if yours should continue to trouble you, wouldn’t it be well to make an application of it? The remedy, your should know, is severe, and it may turn your lip black, but what are these temporary inconveniences when compared with the permanent deprivation of the one, – the pleasure of laughing. I recollect, once upon a time, of seeing a friend with a sore lip, and when anything amusing occurred, he was compelled to embrace it, affectionately between his thumb and finger, for fear of opening the fissure! Now I would advise you to try the remedy, for it will both cure and beautify – not that you need any of the last mentioned particular! I think you will be able to get the remedy of some of your Rochester physicians, but if you cannot, send me word, and I will forward you the genuine article!!

I saw McLean last evening, and he wanted me to say to you, he would write as soon as he could find time. His sisters are here now, which of course, precludes the possibility of writing at present. He says the Madison University is safe, and he shall expect therefore, the oysters when he meets you in Rochester. I feel sometimes, like being a member for an hour or two – that is when I am hungry! I hope you will attend to his inner man, for he has labored well, for the people of your good city. I don’t know of anything more in this city of the Knickerbockers that will interest you. Sociables are low in the scale, and parties an unknown. As for myself, I have read a little more than when you were here, and have had the delightful pleasure of cupping and applying blisters! Occasionally I have had to prescribe for a patient at the Delevan, and much to my satisfaction, have relieved her. How very, very considerate you were, not to tell the Misses J___ E of the “great danger in which I was placed”! But you forgot one thing, viz, that Physicians rarely take the disease of their patients, which circumstance I hope you will tell them, in case you should see fit to tell them of my practice! It will be a source of consolation, and I hope you will bear it in mind!

I am going to New York about the middle of next week to visit the hospitals. I have been shut up so long, that I think an absence of a few days will do me good. By the way Riley, I wish your friend Hugh was there now, for I should do myself the pleasure of calling upon him. When will he return? I hope you will bear in mind, your promise, to send a letter of introduction by him, for I should like much to form his acquaintance. I must stop now, for the doctor has some business for me which must be done soon. I have had “a thousand and one” interruptions since I began this letter, which will account for my beautifully rounded periods!

Be so good as to remember me to the Misses J___ z and S___ n, as I have had the pleasure of seeing them a few times. McLean and Miss H___ ? wish to be remembered, and I presume your other acquaintances would send the same message, if they knew I was writing you. — I hope you will write soon, for like Oliver Twist I cry for “more.”

Hoping you will appease my hunger soon, I remain Your Sincere Friend Henry T. Spencer –

Lost Faces Ancestor Photos from the 1800s

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Notes: Letter to Mr. George S. Riley, Rochester, Monroe County, [New York], from Henry T. Spencer, Albany, New York, April 6, 1849; from the Phillip F. Schlee Collection.

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