This letter was written by Dr. Anthony Benezet Cleveland (1789-1851), the son of Aaron Cleveland — a career hatter from Norwich, Connecticut who, late in life, became a leader of the Universalists and a minister in the Congregational Church. Dr. A. B. Cleveland labored most of his career as a teacher and as a physician. [See biography below.] He was named after the prominent American abolitionist Anthony Benezet. His second wife, mentioned frequently in this letter, was Mary Woods Manning (1806-1877). They were married in 1838.
The recipient of the letter was Mrs. Elizabeth Clementine Kinney (1810-1889), the daughter of Sarah Cleveland and David Low Dodge, a prominent New York merchant. Elizabeth’s first husband was Edmund Burke Stedman, the father of Edmund Clarence Stedman. After his death in 1835, she became the second wife of William B. Kinney (1799-1880) in 1841 when he was the Editor of the Newark Daily Advertiser.
Though her name is not as well recognized as Lydia Sigourney or Elizabeth Browning, Kinney was a popular female poet and essayist in the mid nineteenth century.
[Addressed to Mrs. E. C. Kinney, Newark, New Jersey]
November 30th 1848
Your clever son Edmund, my dear inspired niece, was kind enough to hand me the last number of Graham‘s [Magazine], where I found your beautiful “Ode to the Moon.” Such a performance I always read first, in a manner, that it may have its full effect on my spirit, not being over nice about its shortcomings in any particulars. In reading this I did not get my soul warmed up till I came to the last two stanzas, from which it was filled with pleasure – wife too, to whom I read it was held in sympathy. Then if it is worth the candle or written by any one whom I love or esteem, or both as in the present case, I read it again with critical care so as to learn to read it in such a mode as will bring out the whole thought of the author.
In this critical mode, I found some things which, if you will excuse me, I will mention for your consideration, in case the ode should ever undergo revision for republication. In the 5th stanza, line 5th, instead of the word expanded, substitute contracted. And in the 4th line from the bottom, for orb, substitute light, or so alter it that it may not convey the idea of a full moon. Now the reasons for these changes are these, when “moon’s resplendent star” is rising, the moon cannot be “full orbed” in the zenith.
No I am sure dear lovely Elizabeth you will take all this is an evidence of my love. There is, perhaps, not one in a thousand of your delighted readers, who would have detected the discrepancy above mentioned. Yet, I desire that the thousandth may not make any such discoveries.
The fact is I too have studied and observed “Fair Dian” but not with an eye of a poet. An insatiable love of nature lured me to the sober walks of science, but a defective early education has prevented me from gaining an entrance into her penetralia. As it was with you, so it was with me. Those who had the care of our early years had not penetration enough to discern the bud of genius, and consequently, it did not receive that culture which would have enabled it to astonish the world!!!
We are still here, but shall remove hence, next March to parts unknown as yet to us. If possible, we intend to find a village where there are good schools and rational Sunday services.
I found out a few weeks since that I could read aloud for hours with impunity – a thing I have not been able to do for many years owing to an affliction that caused a tickling in the throat after reading a few minutes. So now I devote a good deal of time in reading to wife. I shall now become a novel reader. I was so delighted to find that I could so read, that I went right off and bought [George Paine Rainsford] James’ last “Thirty Years Since” and read it to wife, and we were so fascinated with it that midnight tolled its hour two nights in succession before we went to our chamber. We shall become young folks again and live over afresh our youthful loves! I have a beautiful copy of Scott’s novels, one fourth of which I have never read – wife has – but will like to hear me read them although she read them in their day.
I am now reading one of the most remarkable books of the times. I allude to the “Autobiography of Joseph Blanco White.” It is a work I am sure that will delight your excellent husband – if he is not already perused it – and his wife also. It is a glorious history of a mind in search of everlasting truth, right, and justice – hungering and thirsting after that which mortals can never reach. He ran out the whole length of the spiritual in himself and remained dissatisfied because he could go no farther and comprehend the councils of the Almighty in relation to the soul.
[Your son] dmund asked me whether he should go to Yale or to Princeton. I decided on the latter, as he could often see and be with his parents. I considered this privilege would much more than counterbalance any advantage which Yale has over Princeton.
My respects to your husband and believe me your affectionate uncle, — A[nthony] B[enezet] Cleveland
- Dr. Anthony Benezet Cleveland resided first at Salem, Massachusetts, where he was taught watch making by his uncle William Cleveland. In Salem he became an Unitarian. He became Professor of Physics in the Maryland University, Baltimore. His sensitive nature forced him to relinquish his profession. He prepared for teaching with Dr. Cox, and afterward established and conducted many years in Baltimore a school for young ladies, which in a short time became a flourishing institution. On account of failing health he was obliged to relinquish his labors in 1843. The school still (1882) exists, and belongs to Mr. N. H. Morrison. Author and Poet. He studied medicine, and became a practicing physician of Dedham, Massachusetts (lived on Federal Hill), of Cincinnati, Ohio, of Boston, and Cambridge, Aug., 1859. Member, Aug. 1859, of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, of Massachusetts. He is buried in Mt. Auburn Cemetery, where a monument to his memory has been erected by his Baltimore pupils.
- Graham’s Magazine published Kinney’s “Ode to the Moon” in their November 1848 issue (Vol. XXXIII, No. 5). Click here to see the poem as it appeared in Graham’s. Gratuitous advice offered by her uncle in this letter was dismissed when Kinney published a full volume of her poems in 1867.
- Kinney’s son, Edmund Clarence Stedman, did not act upon the advice of his uncle to attend Princeton University. After attending Yale, Edmund went on to a successful career in arts and letters.