A Love Letter from the Grave
My penchant for collecting old letters
from the 19th century has led me to doubt whether people today can come
close to the penmanship or quality of composition of that era. In fact
I am not sure how many people today actually write real letters at all. One
would have to search at length, for instance, to find the kind of sentence
I discovered in the opening of a letter of James to his sister (September
"My dear Sister, I am sitting here in all the
glory of a Robinson Crusoe on his uninhabited island , with a solitary candle
for my man Friday."
It is love letters that interest me most. I
have a number of such letters that Will wrote to Alice between 1867 and
1869 - letters that moved me quite deeply, both by the sincerity
of his emotion and the quality of his writing. Will is on the road a lot
and writes Alice from such places as Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri,
and Vermont. Alice lives in New York City and her address is that
of a company. I do not know if they ever married or if their love was consummated
and, unfortunately, I have none of Alice's letters to Will.
One 1869 letter in particular, in two parts, is
particularly moving because the violets Will picked for Alice are
still pinned to his letter (see below). The romantic setting is unique
from the very outset.
The text of Will's letter to Alice Dike is as follows:
A grave near Clayton, Illinois
Thursday morn. April 22, 1869
My own Loved One,
I am sitting this beautiful spring morning on a sunny slope with the
brightest green carpet. I have been sitting here some minutes but
my thoughts have been far away. I need not tell you that they have been
with my Darling. Even when I am in the presence of the beautiful
do my thoughts fly to thee, my heart's delight.
I came out here while waiting for a train, hoping to find some wild
flowers to send you; but the flowers have not bloomed here this spring.
After looking for some time in vain I sat down on this sunny slope
to think of her whose love has made my life all sunshine. After thinking
of you some time I concluded to write to you. I wish you were beside
me, Love, for this spot and its surroundings are well calculated to awaken
thoughts of the beautiful in every form of nature.
The glad earth waking from his long wintry sleep is putting on new
forms of life. Were you here you would feel his soft touch upon your cheek
and hear the music it makes as it gently moves the boughs above me. A
robin near me is resting for a few moments from gathering the material for
her nest to sing the praises of the master Builder. The mocking bird is singing
as though there were nothing to do in the world but sing, and the Blue Jays
are making the grave sing with boisterous mirth. But the sweetest
of all are the notes of a dove who is telling his love to his mate. As
I listen to his soft sweet notes my heart is filled with a longing to tell
you of the deep pure love that fills my heart for you, my Precious One.
Flowers can reveal it; music may breath it; the spirit may feel
it, but words cannot tell it.
Darling, my heart is full and, were you here, my eyes should
speak what tongue or pen cannot reveal. Never has the world been
so bright or life so sweet as since I loved thee, my own darling. I
hear a distant whistle and must hasten hence.
Friday, April 23, 1869
I have been more fortunate today than yesterday, my Loved One, for I
have found in a sunny nook some violets which I enclose. I send you
but a few of them for they have nothing but their beauty to recommend them
and this will fade; but they are fragrant. Let them tell you of the love
that fills my whole life, making it brighter, purer, holier.
Little do you know how much happiness you bring to me, my Precious One.
I want them to reach you as fresh as possible. Take a few of these
violets and put them in water and see if you resuscitate them.
May the Father's love ever be with thee, filling thy heart with peace
and holiness, my Precious One.
Ever your own,
"I have found a sunny nook with some violets which I enclose."
"I am sitting here is all the glory of a Robinson Crusoe on his uninhabited
island with a solitary candle for my man Friday."