February 11, 2004: Features
Love in the Library
At Valentines Day, PAW honors love, affection, and desire. Here is a sampling of excerpts from love letters in Princetons libraries, which were collected by library staff members. (Where required, punctuation sometimes neglected in breathless missives has been added.)
Not known for showing affection, Woodrow Wilson 1879 exhibited great tenderness in this 1884 letter to Ellen Axson, of Georgia, whom Wilson would marry the next year. At the time of this letter, Wilson was working toward his doctorate at Johns Hopkins University.
My own darling,
Do you know that I am a very lone and forlorn individual? I have a dim consciousness that I ought to be ashamed to confess it: for I know very well that I have no right to be disconsolate just because Im compelled to live here all by myself that is, without you (because Ive discovered that for me nowadays loneliness consists in being separated from you) in view of the sure prospect of obtaining all that my heart desires. But then, you see, content [doesnt] lie in prospects when the stubborn fact of the present is that I have, taking my University life by and large, no companion but one Woodrow Wilson, whom I find an exceedingly tiresome fellow . . .
Your own Woodrow
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote this letter to Percy Bysshe Shelley when she was 18 years old, pregnant with their third child, and in the midst of writing Frankenstein. Her husband was away in London, appealing to the Lord Chancellor for custody of the two children he had fathered with his first wife, who had drowned herself while pregnant. This practical letter resonates with Marys devotion to Percy. Among other things, it requests a nipple shield for her stepsister, Clare Clairmont, who had just given birth to Lord Byrons child and was living with the Shelleys because Byron had left her. The letter refers to Blue Eyes, a nickname for Marys toddler son, William. The reference in the last paragraph to the protégée is unclear.
Bath Jan. 17, 1817
My sweet Love,
You were born to be a don Quixote and if that celebrated personage had ever existed except in the brain of Cervantes I should certainly form a theory of transmigration to prove that you lived in Spain some hundred years before and fought with windmills. You were very good in this except in one thing, which was sitting up all night, which indeed you ought not to do especially when you are so fagged all day.
I wait for the Chancellors decision with anxiety and yet with great hope take care of your own health, sweet love, and all will go well. . . .
If you have not sent the nipple shield for Clare pray send it without fail by tonights mail as she is in great want of it. Send also a pretty book for me. . . . And pray ask Papa for a nice history that I can get here for I am in sad want of books to read in the sick chamber. But pray send the thing for Clare if you have not sent it already, which I trust you have. The baby is well. Blue Eyes gets dearer and sweeter every day he jumps about like a little squirrel and stares at the baby with his great eyes.
We have bad weather, and I am, when I think at all, in wretched spirits. Come back with good news, my best absent love, and we shall be happy never before have you been so long away it is very melancholy. . . . Pray send a parcel by the mail Sunday enclosing news, and a pound of green and two pounds of black tea, for if I have to wait until Tuesday I shall be quite sick with expectation. Adieu best and dearest...
Send me news of your protégée, Clare writes. I entreat you most earnestly and anxiously to take care how you answer it. Be kind but make no promises and above all do not say a word that may imply any responsibility on your part for her future actions. I shall most likely not see your letter but I shall be very anxious for its contents for you are so warmhearted and indeed sweetest, but indiscreet; pardon this but pray attend to it. Have you given Mrs. G. money for your nightshirts? Do not lose any clothes. Dearest adieu be well and happy but remember a white mouses advice yours tenderly, M.W.S.
Endymion Porter was a poet, art collector, diplomat, and man of the world. A Royalist, Porter wrote this letter to his wife around 1625 while on a trip with the king.
My only dear love,
Do not think it any neglect in me my not coming to see you since my departure, for as I hope to be saved, there could not be anything in the world so pleasing as thy sight, nor a greater affliction for me than this absence. I was at Aston where I had the happiness to see thy picture, and that did somewhat please me, but when I found it wanted that pretty discourse which thy sweet company doth afford, I kissed it with a great deal of devotion, and with many wishes for the original, there I left it. Now I am coming nearer towards you, but cannot as yet have so great a blessing as these lines shall have, to be seen by you, but when the king comes to Windsor, I will hazard the loss of all my friends, rather than be a day longer from thee; in the meantime let our souls kiss, and my faith and true love shall never fail to assure thee that though fortune hath not given you a rich and powerful man, yet God hath bestowed one on you that will live and die.
Your true loving husband
Harold Dodds *14, who would become president of Princeton, wrote to his wife, Margaret, while serving under General John J. Pershing on the Plebiscitary Commission for the Tacna-Arica Arbitration. (The dispute arose from a Chilean seizure of provinces in Peru in 1883.) In this letter, which is long on details but short on emotion, Dodds refers to literary journalist and critic Paul Elmer More.
Saturday night, Nov. 28, 1925
I have just come in from a walk with Gen. Pershing in the moonlight. It is a beautiful night but we did not talk about love. I cabled you today to watch the papers for news about the plebiscite. It seems to be crumbling. Today the Chileans returned long enough to read a very nasty attack upon the General. He isnt worried, but I think everything is practically over. I am anxious to get home by the twentieth of December. . .
I sent a check for $500 in another letter going in the same steamer as this. It was registered and may be a day later.
You are having a gay social whirl. What kind of a bird is Paul Elmer More?
You are a funny person. You tell everything about the football games but the score. The score is always badly garbled on the wireless news.
The men from Panama tell me that the Commissary stores dont buy much good china anymore because it is too expensive for the Canal employees. They say, however, that there are some of the old stock left and I may find what we want. . . .
No news I am tired This has been a hell of a day . . .
Yours for no more plebiscites.
With deep affection,
Louis Fischer was a charismatic writer on international affairs, especially on the Soviet Union, where he lived between 1922 and 1936. Though he sympathized with the Soviet regime while living in Moscow, he later began writing for small anti-Communist liberal magazines. From 1961 until he died in 1970, Fischer lectured in the Woodrow Wilson School. His papers include letters from more than 30 women, including his wife, Markoosha. These letters are from Mollie Oliver, a journalist who interviewed Fischer.
13 December 
Dear Mr. Fischer,
I am sending this along to enclose the clipping of my interview on Saturday with you in Boston, after which you were kind enough to rescue my prose. . . . My own impressions will remain clear-cut in my mind for some time.
One hours talking with you completely and seriously changed my life the night before I was close to accepting marital obscurity, so to speak, to becoming an air corps instructors wife, doomed to bridge afternoons and quiet ways. But now, and I dont think Im too impulsive, Im keen for this journalism game, realize its the life I want. Doesnt that sound foolish? Its a sweet strangeness that shapes our lives. And thanks to your deep-tone of dynamic ideas, I have hope. And I hope to land in Russia! . . .
Dear Louis Fischer,
What can I say to you. The second meeting was really something to remember. The two times I have talked to you I have felt terrifically alive, for the first times in my life, as if you were crystallizing so much for me. I cant understand the feeling, its new but clean and good. You have an escapable vitality, such a sizzling realness about you. Life is good as you said.
Cant help but know that you did the interviewing. I did all the talking and women are supposed to be mysterious but so help me, I felt like it. . . .
Write to me,