Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tender Passions

Sarah McLean McLeod, 1825-1912. She was illiterate. But her descendants put great store in the written word.

"A well written letter has opened the way to prosperity for many a one, has led to many a happy marriage and constant friendship, and has secured many a good service in time of need; for it is in some measure a photograph of the writer, and may inspire love or hatred, regard or aversion in the reader, just as the glimpse of a portrait often determine us, in our estimate, of the worth of the person respresented.

Therefore, one of the roads to fortune runs through the ink bottle, and if we want to attain a certain end in love, friendship, or business, we must trace out the route correctly with the pen in hand."

From Light in Dark Corners, a popular "sex-hygiene" book of the 1910 era.

The first letter is from Light and Dark Corners, a sample Love Letter.

The Second is a sample Love Letter from the Nicholson copy of Martine's Sensible Letter writer, 1860. You can see (hear?) a difference in tone.. and Light In Dark Corners was a very PRUDISH book.

There is no greater sentiment than love and why that reality should be obscured by mere sentimentalism with all its train of absurdities is incomprehensible...

How to begin a love letter: Never say My dearest Nellie, My adored Nellie, until Nellie has called you My Dear or has given you to understand that such familiar terms are permissable. As a rule a gentleman will never err is he says "Dear Miss Nellie" and if the letters are cordially reciprocated, the Miss Nellie, in time, can be omitted.

My dearest Laura:

I can no longer restrain myself from writing to you, dearest and best of girls, what I have often been on the point of saying to you. I love you so much that I cannot find words in which to express my feelings. I have loved you from the very first day we met, and always shall. Do you blame me because I write so freely? I should be unworthy of you if I did not tell you the whole truth. Oh, Laura, can you love me in return? I am sure I shall not be able to bear it if your answer is unfavourable. I still study your every wish if you will give me the right to do so. May I hope? Send just one kind word to your sincere friend."

From Martine's Sensible Letter Writer, 1853. Nicholson Family Copy. New York, Dick and Fitzgerald.

The letters beyond all comparison the most attractive and interesting are those written in the intimate confidence excited by tender passion. The language of the heart is universal; in all countries, and with all people where there is sensibility, it is understood. It is the language of nature, charming us with its simplicity, and by its true expression of our feelings, possessing the power of commanding our sympathy. The sentiments should spring from the tenderness of heart. Any extravagant flattery should be avoided, tending to disgust those to whom it is addressed and to degrade the writers and create suspicion as to their sincerity.

Sample Letter:

Dear Allie.

Will you allow me, in a few plain and simple words, respectfully to express the sincere and esteem affection I entertain for you and to ask whether I may venture to hope that these sentiments are returned? I love you truly and earnestly and knowing you admire frankness and candor in all things I cannot think that you will take offense at this letter. Perhaps it is self flattery to think that I have any place in your regard. Should this be so the error will carry with it its own punishment for my happy dream will be over.

Favorable Reply:

Dear Sir. In the same spirit of frankness you have used in addressing me, I admit that among the gentlemen of my acquaintance there is none that I esteem so highly as yourself. I must, however, have time to think your letter over and to look into my own heart before I give you a more decided answer.