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 17, 1848).

    "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.

Hannibal, Missouri
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."