August 25th, 1849
My dear Mary,
You would long since have received a letter from me had it not have been for want of leisure. You who have lived here must remember what a scene of hurry & bustle the house always presents, but more particularly in the Summer season, and although my own little home was one of quiet and calm, yet my children and household cares employed the most of my time. But although I would not write you my thoughts were very often with you and I looked forward with a great deal of pleasure to receiving a visit from you in my home (I know no sweeter name to call it).
That’s how the letter begins. It was found in an estate sale box filled with old envelopes and stamps, handwritten on a 15.5″ x 10″ piece of paper, in copperplate script so elegant that somehow it makes me sad when I look at it. Did the writer use a quill pen? How did she keep her lines so even and straight – did she use a ruler? After she wrote the letter, she folded the large piece of paper in half, then in thirds, then in thirds again, so that it became both letter and envelope. She sealed the envelope with red sealing wax and addressed it to Mrs. William Summer of Grimsby.
At first it was hard to decipher that lovely, antique handwriting, but it got easier as I went along. The letter is long, from a woman to her granddaughter, filled with news of the health of family members and friends, the longing of the writer for some peace and quiet, her silent worry over her grandniece’s sweetheart, who had left for Provence a month ago. She has not heard from him since he left the isthmus but has been expecting a letter from him for a month past. We all feel a great deal of anxiety about him but we hope and trust for the best.
The letter sits on the table where I’m typing this blog post. Surrounding it is a computer cable, my Precise V7 Rolling Ball black pen, a glass of water, my credit card, a box containing a deck of cards and the score of every one of the hundreds of rummy games the painter and I have played over the last four years, my cell phone, and a plastic hair clip. The letter is the only item on the table that existed, or even could have existed, 168 years ago when it was written.
Do you want to know how the writer ended her letter, the last paragraph of which is not the perfect copperplate of the rest but almost a scrawl, and which also contains an uncharacteristic misspelling? Now my dear Mary I must bid you good night for it is getting late and baby is crying. You and Willie must come up as soon as possible you do not know how anscious I am to see you both up here and I hope you will not let any thing prevent your coming. Believe ever affectionately, your GrandMadame.