1836: Joseph F. Fenton to Robert Sherrard Bell

Rev. Robert S. Bell's Gravestone

Rev. Robert S. Bell’s Gravestone

This letter was written by Joseph F. Fenton (1818-18xx) of Winchester, Virginia. In 1836, he was a sophomore at Hanover College in South Hanover, Indiana. Fenton became a minister and I believe is the same Joseph F. Fenton who settled in Washington, Franklin County, Missouri, where he became the pastor of the Presbyterian Church and taught in the public schools.

Joseph wrote to fellow former classmate Robert Sherrard Bell (1813-1888), also from Winchester, who we learn had transferred to Union Seminary in Virginia. Robert was the son of John Bell (1780-1838) and Elizabeth Sherrard (1779-1815). He married Elizabeth Gertrude Green and became a minister.

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

Addressed to Mr. Robert S. Bell, Union Seminary, Prince Edward County, Virginia

South Hanover, [Indiana]
March 10th 1836

My Dear Friend,

I was much gratified to receive your long expected letter which informed me of your safe arrival at that place, your good health, pleasant situation, &c. Since you left my health has been tolerably good so as to permit me to pursue my studies with very little interruption. In this I feel myself more especially called upon to be thankful as it has been a time of unusual sickness, both with the citizens and students. No deaths, however, have occurred since you received Mr. [J. J.] Gardiner’s letter. He informed you of the death of Mr. [Matthew M.] Claybaugh. I witnessed the suffering of this promising young man, of this humble and modest Christian, and cannot describe the feelings which it occasioned when in the morning prayer-room, and at the recitations, I observed his name omitted, and was forced to reflect that his prospect of usefulness to the church was blasted and he himself forever removed from all terrestrial objects. The question very frequently suggests itself to my mind why was I left while such an one was taken?

You referred to the afflictions of Mrs. Thornton. I have witnessed the anguish of heart which she experienced. I was there when the mournful intelligence was brought that her husband was dead, being requested to stay with them during the night while Benjamin went to Louisville in search of his father. I witnessed with grief the deep anxiety depicted in her countenance before the intelligence was brought. But I cannot describe my feelings when wakened up in the middle of the night. I was convinced by reading Mr. Buckles’ letter which was found in his pocket that he was dead. I then went down to Bethlehem with Mrs Thornton & Miss Eliza where he was found. When, having arrived there, what do you think were my feelings when on bring informed that she could not be permitted to see him. I heard her exclaim, “How can I bear the thought of never seeing him again?”

I also witnessed the sufferings and death of her brother, and I think he not only manifested the resignation of a true Christian, but that he departed in the possession of a good hope. Mrs. Thornton is now quite unwell — also her father and Miss Elisa. Benjamin is absent without the expectation of returning and added to all this, Mr. Tate is there sick with the billious fever. The boarders left yesterday.

I have seen her in the midst of all her afflictions and think her conduct is a striking illustration of the suffering power of our holy religion. She has borne up until now but I fear that she will sink if her father should be taken away. I think I have been benefitted by sympathizing with them and doing all in my power to console them. Mr. Tate has been confined more than 3 weeks. Should it prove fatal, I feel that it would be the breaking of one of those ties by which I am bound to earth.

Dr. James Blythe

Dr. James Blythe (1765-1842)

The business of college has went on to the very great satisfaction of all since you left. Students 215 in all. Our society still flourishes. The speakers for the Exhibition are [S. J. P.] Anderson, [Lewis J.] Adams, [William C.] Scott, 1 & 2 Hynes, [James] Black, [A. T.] Hendricks, [Josiah] Crawford, and [Cyrus W.] Weller. I have not heard from [John H.] Skinker ² since you wrote. Anderson visits Dr. [James] Blythe’s but seldom. I suppose he has no particular attachment to Miss Ann. He is much more unpopular than when you left (and I think there is sufficient reason for it). He is pleased with Miss Elisa Thornton, and so are two or three more. What it will all amount to I cannot say. No engagements for life since you left as I have heard of. Mr. Monfort appears very anxious to make such an one with Miss Ann Blythe but whether he will succeed is not yet known. We have been endeavoring to persuade Mr. G__ to take Miss Elisa and at one time thought we would succeed, but Mrs. Brown tells him its too soon and he is now about to back out, He says however that he will take Louisa when she grows up.

There is one expression in your letter which I was by no means pleased with as I think your opinions with regard to that subject is about as far from being correct as they possibly could be. You say that I “am so blind to the beauties and charms of feminine loveliness.” Now I suppose you took up this impression from the fact that I have mingled so little with the ladies since I have been in Hanover. Now if you knew as much about this as I do, you would perhaps acknowledge that the feelings of a student on this subject cannot always be ascertained from his conduct. You will excuse this language as I speak from experience. I think I never gave it as a reason for not cultivating an intimacy with the ladies that they were without charms. My feelings are so very different from that, that I have but a very poor opinion of anyone whose heart is proof against the influence of a humble, pious, intelligent, and accomplished lady. Yet the circumstances sometime render it expedient to spend very much time in their company. I am quite well satisfied that I have acted in this way since I have been here, for had it been otherwise, I am convinced that my standing in college would not have been what it is, as my ill health has operated so much against me. I know by experience that it does interrupt us in our studies in some measure if our thoughts run too much in this way. Have you not had experience on this subject while here?

I am not pleased with the Southern character as given by yourself and Mrs. Brown and shall therefore content myself to remain where I now am. I have determined to remain here if my life and health be spared until I graduate, and then until through the theological studies, and then (perhaps) get married some place about here — that is, if I can. — J. F. F.

Mr. [J. J.] Gardiner requests me to inform you that he has sent the sermons written by McMond, but he was unable to obtain the last appeal. Mrs. Thornton has not one copy of it and I suppose if she had, she would not part with it. You will see enclosed in brackets a part of a sentence where I spoke of Anderson which I wish you to mark out and be particle not to refer to it in any of your letters as I fear it might make some disturbance. Were it not one in whom I have the utmost confidence, I would be compelled to transcribe the letter and leave it out. What it refers to is a  spirit rather haughty and self important. But I am sorry I have put it on paper. I wish not to injure him. I hope you will excuse me for not mentioning at length the peculiar attachment which I feel for you as I suppose you know my feelings already.

I am yet at Prof. [John Finley] Crowe’s and am admirably well pleased with my situation and that I will remain here for a length of time.

[William C.] Scott talks of doing some violent act the first time he meets you if you do not write soon. I will send you a catalogue. Write to me soon. If the If the correspondence ceases, it shall not be my fault.


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