Today, with email, texting and so many quick electronic ways to communicate, the true love letter may become a thing of the past. Fortunately, historic records provide phenomenal examples of love letters of yesteryear.“My own darling sweet wife,
How good you have been in writing to your poor old hub. When I arrived here I found a letter from you which I added to my other treasures. What was my delight to receive another one from you last Friday ten days after I had got here….What a sweet delicious letter it is. I carry it about with me everywhere and read it any way every night before I go to sleep….I am afraid that the older I get the more goosey and spooney I am. There is no use in fighting against it. I am clean gone in the toils and may just as well throw up my hands. How is it you old thing you that you have so infatuated me….” (Letter from Battleford, July 29, 1878)
One can only imagine the delight and anticipation of both the sender and receiver of this letter, a couple separated by hundreds of miles and only able to keep in touch via letters that often had to travel circuitous routes to and fro.
So who was the couple sending these treasured messages back and forth in 1878? This is a letter from Colonel James F. Macleod (NWMP Commissioner and person for whom Fort Macleod was named) to his wife, Mary. The Glenbow Archives has an entire series of letters James sent to Mary between 1874 and 1894. In the letters, James occasionally focuses on their relationship and the letters provide a peek into their private lives and James’ role as a father and husband. James also shares the activities of his day, the people he sees, relates events of the time and speaks of his travels.
For Macleod was frequently away from home. His work as the Mounted Police Commissioner and, then later, a judge and member of the Territorial Assembly had him frequently on the road and away from his family. In the letter, he often expressed his regret at being gone so often.
Macleod left her behind once again when in the spring of 1874 the NWMP left Manitoba for the trek west.
The couple finally married in July 1876, when, shortly after being named Commissioner of the Mounted Police, James traveled through Winnipeg. Travel separated them again as shortly after their wedding, James was again required to travel. Throughout their years of married, Mary frequently traveled with him but often she couldn’t and the letters became their essential way of communicating.
The letters are invaluable historic records providing details into their lives, into the workings of the NWMP and into social, economic and political life of the time. Yet one feels like an intruder when reading the letters as these were so obviously written to be seen only by the couple themselves. In fact, that’s partly the reason that only James’ letter still exist – she repeatedly asked him to destroy her letters to him and we know that on at least one occasion he burned her letter to him. His were kept by the family and eventually made their way to Glenbow where they provide incredible insight to historians – both into the time period and into their relationship and family life. But the letters raise several questions.
Should we keep and read such letters? Do you have anything similar and how would you feel about people in the future perusing your private words? Or in our time of texts, emails and quick messages, will there even be anything for historians to pour over 100 years from now? Is the day of the truly great love letter behind us?