Today's letter from a Cousin Marion writing from Washington, D.C. in 1878 almost reads like an American version of a Jane Austen novel, or perhaps something from Booth Tarkington, as Marion relates her concerns about a budding romance between a "Burt" and her house guest "Mary".
August 5th, 1878
My Dear Cousin:
I will begin a letter to you, writing between remarks for I am in midst of a social group and can not resist an occasional word. Papa is perched on piano stool, “glancing over” one of Chas. Reids novels ^ (Love me little, etc) Burt brought this evening to a young lady who has been with me since Saturday and with whom he is in “converse sweet” over the card table. Lil is bent double girl-like over her book and your humble servant is ditto over this sheet of paper which is held in the lap, laziness of same precluding use of desk which is upstairs.
Thanks, many and more for that vivid description & that charming pen portrait of that most charming individual – the grass widow! Her heroism (manifested in that stern resolve to resist the multifold attractions of “cow men”- of which I may believe you are not least? -) wins my admiration. Further description - though he left us and went outside, we quickly joined him and sisterly lecture has been delivered to deaf ears. Ears, I should say, for one on Mary’s side, was open to every sound – proceeding from her lips.
I can gratefully say that mosquitos are few and far between down here. You poor boy! Why don’t you leave that wretched camp for at least the warm season. Don’t examine your food then. “Where ignorance is bliss”, etc. I like very well to read letters from you so write often even if pencil must be used. I like pen writing best, however, because it keeps longer.
We have had two grand storms recently, the last was today. The water fell in torrents – in sheets, so thick we could not clearly distinguish objects across our narrow street – and then hail came – seems as if every window pane must be shattered, meanwhile peal after peal of thunder, and lightening flashes. I enjoyed it! We were just about baked, and the earth needed water. Don’t you admire this penmanship? What is that pretty little rhyme? “My pen is poor my ink’s not pale – this string of words will never fail”? if I don not break it soon. I will only mention in brief a delightful trip to Great Falls by canal. Climbed highest peaks, tumbled around involuntarily, wrote on sand at water’s edge and had gay times generally. Have been to two picnics and on one other excursion since writing. Expect to go to Arsenal Friday. Will notice things and tell you about every thing I see, in next. This is more a talk than a letter.
Burt and Mary on front porch. I must join them. I read your letter to papa. He was pleased to hear from you. Hopes, as we all do, that you will succeed in life. Burt and all send love. My love to all your home folks.
Good night. God guard and bless you. Be a good boy.
I could not find any information on a 19th century novelist named Chas. or Charles Reid. But I did locate a Charles Reade, who seems to be the author that Marion is referring to:
This Reade is the English author of Love Me Little, Love Me Long (1859) and is described as - "a man of what one might call penny-encyclopaedic learning. He possessed vast stocks of disconnected information which a lively narrative gift allowed him to cram into books which would at any rate pass as novels. If you have the sort of mind that takes a pleasure in dates, lists, catalogues, concrete details, descriptions of processes, junk-shop windows and back numbers of the Exchange and Mart, the sort of mind that likes knowing exactly how a medieval catapult worked or just what objects a prison cell of the eighteen-forties contained, then you can hardly help enjoying Reade."
I just love Marion saying: "this is more a talk than a letter".
What a way with words this writer had, you can feel her personality in every cursive stroke of her sweeping pen!