1832: Newton Deming Strong to John Milton Clapp

Grave of Newton Deming Strong in Redding, PA

Grave of Newton Deming Strong in Reading, PA

This letter was written by Newton Deming Strong (1809-1866), the son of Rev. William Lightburn Strong (1782-1859) and Harriet Deming (1789-1875). Newton graduated from Yale in 1831, earning a reputation as an “elegant essayist.” He then taught a select school in Philadelphia for a year before succeeding his older brother William as a teacher at Burlington, New Jersey in a classical and mathematical school. He eventually joined his brother in the law office at Reading, Pennsylvania where he studied law, was admitted to the bar, and then relocated to Alton, Illinois where he formed a partnership with his college classmate Junius Wall.

Newton married Matilda R. Edwards (1822-1851), eldest daughter of Hon. Edgar Edwards of Alton, in 1844. He later moved to St. Louis where he joined his cousin, George P. Strong, in a successful law practice. Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln wrote them in 1857 regarding a court case involving the railroads.  William’s brother, mentioned in this letter, had a very successful career as a lawyer, a member of Congress, and as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The letter was addressed to John Milton Clapp (1810-1858), a fellow Yale graduate in the class of 1831. Clapp became “principal teacher” in Beaufort College, South Carolina. In 1836 he resigned, and after a trip North to visit his relatives, with whom he was widely at variance on the slavery question, he returned South and became one of the editors of the “Charleston Mercury.” He also at one time edited the “Southern Quarterly.” John was the son of Orris Clapp (1770-1847 and Phebe Blish (1775-18xx). John’s sister, Harriet Clapp (1799-1854) married Darwin Atwater (1805-18xx) on 14 September 1829.

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Mr. John M. Clapp, Lowell, Massachusetts

Burlington [New Jersey]
October 1st 1832

My Dear John,

You will be surprised to hear from me next at Burlington. I had almost finished a letter to you at Reading a week after the receipt of yours (our mails are weekly) but before I had quite finished it and a few minutes before the mail passed, I discovered that father had commenced a letter by accident on the fourth side and spoiled the whole. It is thus the fates seem to sport with my character as a regular correspondent.

I did not receive your last letter until more than a week after it was written and not until — if you pursued the plan you proposed — you were quietly settled in Lowell. I had written to you to come and see me or if you could not come, to write me instantly and I would lose no time in visiting you. Your letter had not reached me and I had little doubt you would spend a week or two after leaving Waterbury [CT] at Redding [CT]. Porter ¹ was with me and we were hourly expecting your arrival when we were informed and saddened by that letter. What that letter was, I need not explain. The latter part of it (and I am glad it was the latter part) was kind — perhaps kinder than ever — but the first paragraph I can well believe you did not review. I read it a dozen times over. Immediately I wrote a long & particular explanation — a part of the letter which father destroyed — but as I did not send it at the time, and as many of the details of complaint had their origin in feelings which are now forgotten, and not in any settled conviction, I will not be thus particular now. Indeed, I cannot doubt but that under the direction of a disappointment which I certainly hope you did feel, when a communion which I had doted upon for a year, and then especially cherished, as about to be realized was thus firted away as it were by accident — I cannot doubt I say but under the direction of this feeling, I received a portion of wrath which by n_____ belonged to me — but to some of your respected patrons whom you were soliciting for the twentieth time unavailingly for the payment of a just debt. But be that as it may, some explanation of course I must make.

I left New Jersey in miserable health. If I met with Society, I did not enjoy it. My very laugh was mechanical and my expressions of feeling mere words of course. My first object was, by riding and frequent change of place to recover the natural tone on my health and spirits. I came two weeks earlier than I expected — and about the same time before either you or Porter could be released. That time I devoted to business. The remaining four weeks I reserved for Society. I carried my sister to the eastern part of the State. I went after my brother. I spent several days at New Haven providing a wardrobe for the coming year. These were necessary matters to which I preferred to attend while my three particular friends — yourself, Porter, and Atwater ² — were necessarily either entirely absent or but imperfect Society. How could I have anticipated so abrupt a departure for Lowell.  You had not informed me you were going at all, albeit I attempted to visit you for a day from New Haven but missed the stage. I wrote to you. You replied on Saturday. The letter was not mailed till Monday. If it had been, I should have received it early enough on Saturday to have been with you in the evening which I should certainly have done. Or if it had reached me, though it had been but a day before you left the region, under almost any circumstances I would have attempted to meet you. As if in mockery of my desires, however, I did not receive it till it was forever too late.

If it is necessary for me to express regret, our intimacy has been to but little purpose and I had better burn this than do it. But there was a spirit in your letter, my dear John, more affecting than that of rebuke. You were wretched. I suspected and intimated as much in the Spring. Your next letter attempted to cover but did not conceal it. Your last proves it. However, I will not waste a prescription till I am better acquainted with the symptoms. You were certainly melancholy — dismally so. But perhaps a dismal situation — a paltry income and miserable health were conspiring against a spirit otherwise elastic which winds of happier omen have long since removed. If it be not so, let us know it. I have a sovereign specific against everything of that sort.

Well, you see me in Burlington again. I am here as I was before, pleasantly situated but tired of school teaching. I missed seeing Atwater very much as I missed seeing you by the miscarriage of a letter. He will spend the next year in the pursuit of “general literature” at New Haven. Porter I saw much — excellent as ever. I visited much in Redding — was always received with an inquiry after you with whom in their notion I am inseparably connected. But I was alone and often visited without pleasure where before we had visited with most uproarious delight.

Sarah has given me much occasion for dislike. “She might have had Newton as soon as she pleased” — “Clapp’s heart was altogether broken.” Now heaven for ____– this has not been the occasion of your late eclipse? Frederick is married. We visited at Dr. Gorham’s [in Redding] with whom I had an explanation. I am inclined to think that most of those things which incensed us against him were mere inventions of Sarah to gratify an old grudge, and to answer another purpose which I need not here mention. Mrs. Burr’s condition is melancholy. Some half of the time she is totally deranged and seeks to destroy herself. Two or three times she has nearly succeeded. At intervals, however, she is much as she used to be.

My brother William has established himself in Pennsylvania — a lawyer. My brother Edward is coming to this region in a few weeks. Mary is already here. Harriet will visit the western part of New York. Elizabeth is at Wethersfield. We scatter — we disappear — “The places that knew us, know us not.” If I were quite sure that you were in a sound mind, I could write very pathetically on the subject.

October 3d.  I was called away unexpectedly to spend a day or two in Philadelphia which must be my apology for a second date. I have procured me a Donnegan ³ — bidden a temporary goodbye to French, German &c. and cleared the decks for a regular contest with Greek, Euripides, Sophocles, Plato & Xenophon. You may expect to hear in a few months that I have read all the Latin & Greek extant. I am now drawing up a report for our Literary Association on the proper constitution & character of such in which we inquire of several proposed object which is preferable, and having proved this of a certain one, we proceed to inquire which is the better of several proposed ways for attaining it. You see it will be a mighty production & probably hereafter a classic.

Write me immediately. Excuse the apparent haste of this epistle. There was the desire of writing to you on the one hand, and a necessity for writing the report on the other.

Your affectionate friend, — Newton


Noah Porter in later years

Noah Porter in later years

¹ Noah Porter (1811-1892) graduated from Yale in 1831 where he was a member of the Linonian Society. He was ordained a Congregational minister in New Milford, CT from 1836-1843 and served as pastor at Springfield, MA from 1843 to 1846. He then became a professor of moral philosophy and metaphysics at Yale in 1846. He served as the President of Yale College 1871-1886. He was an outspoken opponent of slavery which put him at odds with his classmate, John Milton Clapp.

² Lyman Hotchkiss Atwater, B.A. Yale, 1831, M.A., D.D. Princeton 1851. Tutor at Yale College 1833-1835, Professor of Metaphysics, Princeton 1854-1869, of Political Science and Logic, 1869-1883.

³ A book on Greek Literature published by James Donnegan (London, 1831).


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