Courting and Courtesy
The rich maroon and gold of this substantial leather-bound tome lend elegance and authority to the 1882 edition of Gaskell's Compendium of Forms, Social, Educational, Legal & Commercial. Dedicated to "the young men and young women of the United States, who wish to master at their own homes the most necessary forms and laws of business and society," Gaskell's Compendium is utterly comprehensive in scope. According to the front matter, the book provides guidance on everything from penmanship, book-keeping, and composition to parliamentary practice, social etiquette, business law, and agriculture.
"Yes or no?" The young woman pictured in this excerpt of pages 248-253 of Gaskell's Compendium of Forms, Social, Educational, Legal & Commercial (1882) might have been Lizzie Johnson herself, as she received a number of marriage proposals in her youth. The templates provided here for "Letters of Love and Courtship" provide sample language for a number of possible contingencies faced by young people in the tumult of new love. Some templates of note include "A Lover's Complaint," "From a Gentleman to a Lady, Making a Declaration," "Unfavorable Reply, on the Ground of Poverty," and "To a Lady, Complaining of Coldness."
This letter to Johnson from a Civil War soldier uses some of the rhetorical constructions found in "Letters of Love and Courtship" in Gaskell's Compendium of Forms. Gently rebuking Johnson for failing to respond to his recent letter, S.M. Bunnum (?) echoes the language of the letter template "To a Lady, Complaining of Coldness." He writes, "my letter which I wrote you from York Town about the 1st of May is yet unanswered but in consideration of our being good friends... I waive all conventional form that you may know that amid the privation and hardships of the Camp and the fierce conflicts of the Field, that you are not forgotten by one Soldier... at least you will do me the honor to answer this at the earliest opportunity."
In his letter to Lizzie Johnson, J.F. Powers earnestly declares his love, in the same manner suggested by the template "From a Gentleman to a Lady, Making a Declaration" from Gaskell's Compendium of Forms. He writes:"I presume you must have long been aware though I have never before dared to put the thought into words, that I love you. I have sometimes ventured to hope that your own heart has... a kindred feeling." By speaking of the "mingled hope and fear" he holds in sending this message to Ms. Johnson, Powers displays the appropriate overtures of affection, tempered by humility, that social convention demanded of him.
This unique letter is a proposal of marriage from an unknown suitor to Lizzie Johnson. The note reads, "Accept my hand And we will make a [match]," and features a heart drawn around the word "my," a drawing of a hand, and an actual match. This proposal disregards the letter templates for "Love and Courtship" from Gaskell's Compendium of Forms, being devoid of any lengthy text; but its humor and creativity ensures that it is "free from all constraint and stiffness," which Gaskell's stresses as crucial to a love-letter.
In this excerpt of letter templates from The Ladies' Letter Writer, a variety of model replies to marriage proposals are provided. It includes both acceptance and rejection models, as well as ways to announce engagements and to deal with other wedding-related business. The language and conventions of these letter templates are the same as that which is found in Gaskell's Compendium of Forms. Matters of marriage were dealt with the expectation that love, which Gaskell's describes as "the most sacred of all feelings," must be expressed in a polite and dignified manner. The tone of the courtship letters sent to Lizzie Johnson indicate the utmost importance of propriety to romantic correspondence, and by extension, to the relationships themselves.