by Ashley Williams, Processing Assistant and Library Assistant
Happy Valentine’s Day Beehive readers! I hope you’re all in the mood for some flirtatious frivolity. To celebrate this season of candy and cupids, I’ve curated a small selection of amorous displays from the MHS collections ranging from sincere, heartfelt loquaciousness to bawdy verses that will make you blush. So cuddle up and get ready for the dripping sentimentality, and if you’re feeling a little bitter this season, maybe just enjoy heckling the silly ways people express affection for one another.
The first selection in the lineup is for the love poem enthusiasts in the crowd. This tiny volume published in 1853, measuring a mere 12 centimeters is titled The Album of Love. It begins with a dedication and an entire page defining, “What is Love?” where the previous owner saw fit to leave a pressed flower. And, though this book be but little, it is fiercely packed with the sonnets and verses of all your favorite love poets, Shakespeare, Lord Byron, Spenser, Eliza Acton, and John Clare.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Though famous poets are great, you didn’t come to an archive’s blog to read about published works, did you? Where is the personal tea? Don’t worry. The following transcription comes from a letter from the John Lowell Letters, dated November 30, 1823. In this letter John Lowell Jr. carefully constructs a marriage proposal to his cousin and soon-to-be wife Georgina M.A. Lowell. It’s nice to know this worked out for him because the calculated tone of the request makes it seem that he was apprehensive at best about his chances. There’s even a part in which he instructs her to burn the letter if she doesn’t feel the same way.
I venture to address you in this formal manner on a subject nearly connected with my happiness, because I cannot devise any other mode of bringing it before you. It is the offer of myself & the request that you will permit me to ask Uncle Lowells consent to our union. I say nothing of my affection or the desire I have long had to obtain your approbation before that of any other person, because if I have not already persuaded you of these things, protestations would now be useless. This step may appear premature or presumptuous but I hope the near approach of the period when I shall cease to live here & the solitude I feel to settle a question of this sort previously to it’s arrival will excuse me it If it is not in your power to permit me the indulgence of those sentiments I feel towards you, I will thank you to burn this letter & not let it’s reception disturb the harmony of our acquaintance. I declare that no lady shall ever be voluntarily embarrassed by my attentions, when I know them to be unacceptable–
Believe me that whatever your determination may be though I earnestly desire a favorable one. I also wish that it may contribute to your happiness, for the continuance of which I would certainly sacrifice my personal feelings.
I am truly sincerely
John Lowell J.
This next excerpt is from the Henry W. Bellows Correspondence and is a letter from Henry to his fiancee, Anna Huidekoper Peabody, dated May 27, 1874. It’s particularly short, but may also be some of the sappiest collection of words I’ve ever seen written down. Imagine receiving good morning texts like the letter that Henry sends to Anna:
My dear & only love, your precious note of yesterday came in just after breakfast to feed me with new longings to see you, who are my breath & life! Don’t imagine I ask anything more lovely than every sentence you write. I see you through every loop in the letter & they all have sweet & tender meanings hanging onto their pot-hooks!
Hold on to your pot-hooks because things are about to take a turn. These next two items are not for the faint of heart. If you blush easily, you may want to skip past these.
There is really no getting around the fact that the “love” sonnets in this book are just plain dirty. The love in question is definitely of a more physical nature, and many of the sonnets include references to a personified “Willie” who is usually being abused in some way or another. Crude nature aside, the sonnets do seem to follow the storyline of a relationship or series of relationships.
Did I hear someone in the audience ask about newspaper clippings?
This next letter excerpt happens to be accompanied by just such an artifact! The excerpt comes from the Stone-Jackson Family papers in a letter from Arthur L. Jackson to his wife-to-be Pauline F. Stone dated February 9, 1889.
I enclose a little clipping that has a slight bearing on the subject and will merely say that I shall most certainly follow out its advice the very first time I see you. Shall I need mistletoe then sweetheart? If so I advise you to trim your hat with it and have all the ceilings in your house and veranda covered with it. If you do I shall kiss you under every single leaf of it. once for every day we have been separated, if only to make up for lost time. Just think how horribly in arrears we are that way now-a-days dearest. It will take just about a lifetime to ever get square again, won’t it dear.
In comparison to The Love Sonnets of a Hoodlum, this letter could be construed as tame, but it was still one of the racier correspondences I came across when putting this together as Arthur playfully details his desire to kiss Pauline and under what circumstances.
Now that we’re nearing the end of the post, I thought it would be a good idea to cool us down and cleanse our palates with Some Old Puritan Love Letters.
The particular letter pictured is from John Winthrop to Margaret Tyndall. It opens, “My only beloved spouse, my most sweet friend, & faithful companion of my pilgrimage, the happy & hopeful supply (next Jesus Christ) of my greatest losses, I wish thee a most plentiful increase of all true comfort…” Even with its formal language and regular allusion to biblical verse, this letter still manages to feel poetically intimate and caring. Please note that I did not photograph the entire letter as it was incredibly long. If you would like to see the rest, please stop by the MHS and check it out (figuratively… we aren’t a lending library).
I want to wish all of our readers a Happy Valentine’s Day and remind you to find joy in both the romantic and platonic loves in your life this February. In the words of John Winthrop, “I wish thee a most plentiful increase of all true comfort…” (i.e. candy and soft things).