1849 New Hampshire Teen Boy’s Academic and Creative Writing Kept While at Indiana University

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On offer is a fascinating 19th century  journal with an academic slant kept by a young American student.

The diary was kept by Thomas Elwood Clark (1834-1909). Clark was born in North Carolina to parents William Clark and Louisa Worth, He married Nancy Goodrich (1835-1882) on ​​October 5, 1862. They lived in Indiana, where they raised their four children, Mary Louisa (Love), John, Nellie, and Miriam. Clark was a merchant who owned a shop. It seems Clark was enlisted and fought in the US Civil War, but this is not confirmed. 

According to online records, Clark was 15-years-old at the time of this book’s writing, and according to census data, his family was still living in New Hampshire. However, there are notations in the journal that imply he is at “Bloomington IA University”, which is Indiana University. On the first page of the journal, Clark writes that the journal is “Commenced on the 1st day of May, 1849 in the town of Bloomington, Monroe County, I.A.” There is no obvious explanation for this seeming discrepancy. One might guess that Clark was sent to Indiana for summer school or early university admission. He does settle in Indiana and build his life there as an adult. 

This book is filled with fascinating academic notes written in a stunning copperplate script. Clark both writes his original thoughts and copies pieces of content in this book. The book opens with a summary of the state of cholera in the USA, goes on to list several “questions for polemics”, followed by a question of polemics selected and answered by Clark himself (he provides his opinion on the question, “are secret societies a benefit to mankind?”). He copies impressive poetry of the time and creates and writes his own poetry and prose. Clark makes careful notes about the fine arts, languaging (a section on alliteration and how Latin contributes to English, for example). Clark makes notes about how to complete various mathematical calculations, and so much more. 

Some excerpts from the book follow:

“Read this my friends, when I’m away/And calmly think a youth this day/Long sat, o’er look in moody dream/Wishing, praying some music theme/Would be obedient to his call/And store the mind’s love vacant hall/So, on this page a youthful name/Might stands a record free from shame…” [Excerpt of a poem by T. Elwood Clark, July 4, 1849]. 

“...Are secret societies a benefit to mankind?...As it has been their imperative duty to promote the cause of virtue, alleviate suffering humanity, and fortify the bullworks of secret [institutions]. I say all those thus engaged have nobly served their day and generation and although their effort was but a feeble one yet many a disconsolate being as helped the cause which brought the hoped relief….” [Excerpt of T. Elwood Clark’s response to the polemic question, n.d.]. 

“There are Three Thousand Six hundred and Sixty Four known languages now in use in the world. Of these, Nine Hundred and Sixty Seven are Asiatic. Five Hundred and Eighty Seven European and Two Hundred African. And the rest American dialects…” [copied by T. Elwood Clark]. 

“The cholera is very bad at present. Washington Davis Co. is deserted. There were seventy five deaths there yesterday. Nine reported here this morning. Two are dead…” [Aug 1, 1849]. 

For a historian or an education researcher, this small journal gives a picture of the type of topics and questions that were considered worthy subjects as part of a young person’s education. While many reflect the times and current knowledge, it is interesting how some still hold relevance to debates today.

Measuring 7.5x6 inches, this journal contains 148 pages and is about 35% complete. For its age, it is in quite good condition. There are wear marks on the hard cover, especially the corners. The binding is secure but loosening and all pages are intact. The copperplate script is legible.

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