Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Old Time Letters



The Reverential Manner In Which a Young Girl of That Period Addressed Her Father — Proper Way For a Lover to Ask His Sweetheart to Elope With Him.

If the prim Puritan maiden of a century ago did not startle masculinity by wearing bloomers on the public highway, or pompously presiding at political mass meetings, or — horrible to relate — smoking perfumed cigarettes on the sly, she must have been a deucedly charming girl withal. A typical gentlewoman, she commands, irresistibly, more than ardent admiration.

If character can be portrayed in letter writing — and no one doubts the fact — an epistolary message written nearly a century ago by a devoted young Bostonian maiden to her much beloved papa in Philadelphia will afford an intensely interesting study of commencement de siecle womanhood, as it were.

To be sure, the dear young girl who penned the loving message decades and decades ago never dreamed that her letter would be published at the dawn of the twentieth century in a Chicago newspaper and read by the eyes of modern woman, so called. For a fact Chicago was not on the map in those days, and woman — lovely woman — had not been modernized. To peer into this primitive maiden's private affairs really seems a sacrilege. The epistle is, however, so essentially unique, so different from the flippant style of correspondence today and withal so suggestive of the excessive formality and great reverence accorded parents by children in the proverbial good old times that its perusal may be pardonable. In a word, it is the embodiment of filial affection. It would doubtless surprise the average indulgent papa of today, who is quite used to being told a few things occasionally by his "advanced,” all wise daughters.

The fair writer was evidently a young woman of exceptional culture in those early days. Of course she must have been, or did she not reside in the Hub City and eat baked beans? In a peculiarly artistic and legible handwriting the remarkable letter is thus addressed: "Rev. John Murray, to the care of Colonel John Connelly, Philadelphia."

There is the customary heading — "Boston, Feb. 13, 1804" — but the usual salutation of "My Dear Father" is omitted. After this interesting fashion Miss Julia Marcia Murray makes reparation for a supposed slight to her paternal ancestor: "You are astonished, my dear papa, at not receiving an answer to your letter, and I, my dear sir, am equally astonished that my answer written as early as the 8th of January has not yet reached you.

"Yes, indeed, you are entitled to my utmost gratitude, my utmost affection, to my duty, and my veneration, and I should have considered myself inexcusable if I had delayed a day to acknowledge a letter which gave me such heartfelt pleasure. If you have received my letter, you will find in it expressions of the warmest gratitude. It will always, my dear father, make me unhappy to know that you are so, and particularly if I have any reason to suppose myself, even unintentionally, the cause of it. You ought not to be kept in suspense, and I do indeed, my dear papa, consider it a prime duty to attend to you, and I have given a circumstantial account of the school exhibition and other particulars. And now, my dear sir, indulging the hope that I have rendered you easy on the subject of my not writing to you, I will go on to a part of your letter over which I shed many, very many, tears.

"Oh, my father, my heart is indeed filled with tender affection for my dear, my excellent parent, and if my heart be an affectionate feeling heart how could you expect that I should read the following very affecting line in your letter without its being torn: 'Sweet soul, you will not have your parents long?' When I came to read this, I could no longer restrain my tears, so covering my face with my handkerchief I audibly sobbed. Can I endure the thought that those dear, indulgent parents must ascend to the bosom of their God before me? Would to heaven I could continue here as long as I could be useful to them and then wing my flight to the regions of the blessed, where I might prepare garlands of never fading roses to crown them with, but as this is a felicity too great for human beings to attain I must content myself with the lot of mortality and meekly bow my head in pious resignation.

"And now, my dear papa, hoping that you will acquit me of either neglect or inattention to the best of fathers, I repeat again and again that I am your ever affectionate and dutiful daughter,


"We have got our buckwheat meal. Mr. Jones and Cousin Mary Allen desire their best regards. J. M. M."

A writer on etiquette of those days tells amorous youths how to write "fetching" billet doux to their ladyloves. Clandestine marriages must have been as popular in the long ago as they are today. At any rate, the writer gives an ideal letter from "a young gentleman, who is in expectation of an estate from his penurious uncle, to a young lady of small fortune, whom he desires to elope with him to New England." After this fashion was the anxious lover instructed in this interesting branch of lovemaking:

"MY DEAR MARIA — My uncle's laying his injunctions upon me not to see you more has only served to add fuel to my passion. I cannot live without you, and if you persist in refusing to comply I am miserable forever. I pay no regard to his threatening when put in competition with the love I have for you. Don't be afraid of poverty. If he should continue inexorable, I have still education sufficient to procure a genteel employment in one of the public offices, where I may rise to preferment. Therefore, if ever you loved me, let me beg that you will not make me any longer unhappy. Let me entreat you by all that's dear that you will comply with my request and meet me at 6 Sunday evening at the back door of the garden, where a chaise and four will be ready. I will fly on the wings of love to meet my charmer and be happy in her embraces forever. I am your dear lover." — Chicago Tribune.

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