Needham History Center & Museum Needham History Center & Museum, Needham Massachusetts 02492
 

A CURIOUS Love-Letter

A CURIOUS LOVE LETTER

From a broadside published in the 1850s:

 “This curious and very ingenious love letter dropped from the pocket of a young gentleman who is well known in sporting circles, was picked up by a matron of this town, and would in all probability have been for ever in oblivion, had it not been for the present publisher, who determined to have it printed for the information of all young bachelors.

MADAM,—
The great affection I have hitherto expressed for you
is false, and I now feel that my indifference towards you
increases every day, and the more I see of you, the more
you appear ridiculous in my eyes, and an object of contempt.
I feel inclined, and in all respects disposed & determined to
hate you.  Believe me, I never in the least intended to
offer you my hand.  Our conversation has, I assure you,
left a tedious & wretched insipidity, which by no means
has possessed me with the most exalted opinion of your character;
your inconstant temper would always make me miserable;
and if ever we are united, I should experience nothing but
the fearful hatred of my parents, added to the everlasting dis-
pleasure in living with you.  I have indeed a faithful heart
to bestow; however, I do not wish you to imagine that it is
at your service, for it is impossible I could give it to one more
inconstant and capricious than yourself, and one who is less
capable to do honour to my choice and to my family.

Yes, Madam, I beg and desire you will be persuaded that
I think sincerely, and you will do me the greatest pleasure
to avoid me.  I shall readily excuse your taking the trouble
to return an answer to this, for your letters are always full of
nonsense and impertinence, & have not the least shadow of
wit or good sense.  Adieu, and believe truly, that I am
so averse to you, that it is impossible I should ever be,
Madam, your affectionate lover until death, J. C——e.”

 

What cad would write such a letter?  And worse still, who would take it up and publish it, to the embarrassment of all parties involved?

The explanation lies in the fact that this is really a “coded” letter.  Read line for line, it sounds like a heartless rejection – in a day when breaking a formal engagement was a major big deal, and would ruin the girl for sure, and often the boy as well.  But reading every other line – as intended – shows it to be a passionate and eager proposal of marriage:

MADAM, —
The great affection I have hitherto expressed for you
is false, & I now feel my indifference towards you
increases every day, & the more I see of you, the more
you appear ridiculous in my eyes, & an object of contempt.
I feel inclined, & in all respects disposed & determined to
hate you.  Believe me, I never in the least intended to
offer you my hand.  etc.

But why go though all this trouble (and potential misunderstanding)?  The “explanation” is that the girl’s father forced her to let him see all her correspondence, and so her lover wrote the letter in this form to fool him.  The girl knew the clue, and read it properly.

In fact, this was never a real letter, but was written for public amusement (and perhaps a gentle satire on courtship and parents).  The text (with minor variations) exists in numerous document collections in England and the US, and was apparently circulated for several decades in the early 1800s.

Even in 1830, fathers were not so clueless (whatever daughters may think).