Letters  from the Past

"A long love letter, from Mr Sheppard in Warminster
to Miss Graham in Edinburgh, 1832.

This three-page love letter is dated November 16th, and postmarked on receipt in Edinburgh November 19 1832. It received an Additional halfpenny mark from Manchester, (H and S reference F172) en-route and cost the receiver 1/1½ (one shilling and a penny–halfpenny). This covered the cost of sending a single letter over a distance between 300 and 400 miles, plus the Scottish mail tax.

It seemed unlikely to me that the Manchester Post Office would have been involved, but the Hodgson & Sedgewick reference book has this information about it.
As it grew in importance as a Forward Office, Manchester began to take over some of the duties of the Carlisle Office in respect of Scottish mail. Examples bearing the Manchester handstamp have been seen from as far apart as Bangor, Olney, Bideford and Plymouth.

the Manchester Additional halfpenny mark.

So this letter from Warminster in Wiltshire is another example. At first glance this seems an odd route for a letter, as the map of the Mail coach routes in 1835 shows no sign of Warminster, and it is a very complex route from that town to Bath, then to Bristol, Gloucester, Worcester, Birmingham, Lichfield, Derby, then the long road north to Manchester. From there it was on to Carlisle and finally Edinburgh… so it is no wonder the journey took 3 days.

The next image shows the address panel, which is interesting as the sender has written on it in the bottom To be delivered

It is addressed to Miss Graham, Care of John Buchanan Esqre, 64 George Street (or 84) Edinburgh.

The letter is beautifully written and completely legible, and the language used is very flowery and heartfelt. As is usual at this time, when a word has a double s one of them is written as a long S which looks like the letter f, for instance address is written as addrefs. I have transcribed these words as they were written.

In the first paragraph he mentions why he has not written sooner, and the mention of toothache is enough to strike fear into anyone who has the prospect of having to go to a tooth-drawer, as they were mostly known at that time,when treatment was very basic and often quite brutal. How lucky that we now live in an age of pain killers.

Warminster, Nov 16

My dearest Mary Anne,

For by no other title can I bring myself to addrefs you altho’ it must still depend on yourself to say whether or no I have a right to make use of it. Your dear letter of the 6th did not reach me till Tuesday & since that time I have been suffering so much from toothache & nervousnefs that I have not had heart to write even to you, indeed did I not fear that you would be anxious I should still have waited another day. Thank you most cordially for the sincerity & candour of your letter, tho’ why should you try to terrify me with such a character of yourself? However I can afsure you it has not had any such effect upon me, on the contrary it has only made me more anxious to know my own heart, & to examine myself, a thing which my pride & selfishnefs very much disincline me from doing, altho’ I well know that “if we would judge ourselves we should not be judged”.

The next couple of paragraphs are very personal, and the young man practically jumps off the page as he explains what he thinks could be a problem, the age difference between the two of them, and what their future life could be.

There is however one thing which you name, which might be, & perhaps is an objection, tho’ as far as I am concerned by no means an insurmountable one, I mean the great difference of our age, & 12 years, for it appears to be no lefs, is undoubtedly a great difference. You begged me, dearest, to write candidly, & I have done so, but let me afsure you that this circumstance never could diminish the devoted love I have long felt for you, but still I feel it a sacred duty in a matter of such solemn importance to ask you to write me your own feelings on this subject before I take any further steps. I shall not be 24 till the 15th of next February, & perhaps you may, when you know this, feel unwilling to confide yourself, so dear & precious a charge, to one so young, and in many things so inexperienced.

Let me beg of you then to write me again, as soon as you comfortably can, on this subject, with the same sincerity which you have always shown, & should you still feel that you can and would wish to regard me in the nearest & dearest of all lights, that of a husband, believe me that what I may want in age shall be made up for in love. Till I hear from you again I will not write to your dear Father, on whom of course much must depend, on the subject, but will gladly do so at once as soon as you give me the commifsion.

And now, let me thank you again and again for the sweet way in which you have answered all the questions which I ventured to ask. Your replies are more than satisfactory, as to what you say with regard to residence, our opinions are perfectly the same, as indeed are those of my own dear family, for they too well know the pleasures of domestic life to wish me to have any other than a home of my own, nor would my occupations (if it please God to grant my heart’s desire & to call me to be a labourer in the vineyard of his dear Son), be at all compatible with a union of families. On all these points then we are quite agreed, but I now come to answer your questions.

The next paragraph refers to the religious views and his hopes that she will share them.

Shall I confefs that I am half inclined to be angry with you for asking me, whether I really love you so dearly as to make you my wife? Oh my dearest, if you could read my heart, you would find there such a love as it has never felt for any other, a love, of which my only doubt is whether it be not too great for anything of this earth, & whether an equal share, or as it surely ought to be, a far greater share of it is always fixed on Him who alone is Love. Or may He forgive me, if I have indeed made an Idol of any thing here below, & may both our prayers always ascend together to his Throne, that all our affections may be set on things above, & that all our heart & mind & soul may be given up to him who alone is worthy. May it be our earnest & constant endeavour, if it should please God that we should indeed be united by the sacred indifsoluble, blefsed ties of wedlock, to wean each other more & more from all the perishable things of this world, & to raise our thoughts more constantly & more abstractedly to those Blefsed realms beyond the grave where we shall have no more cause to fear that we should love each other too dearly; for there Christ will reign supreme in all hearts & there all will, all must be love. Would that my heart were always as warm to Heaven as it is to things on Earth.

He then changes the subject and refers to the family visits.

Anne writes me she has had a sweet letter from you; they are all much vexed at the thoughts of such a flying visit from the Wimstons & your sister. It is really too bad, but suppose they are tied to time. They wish me much to come home for the day to give them the meeting, & I shall try hard to do so, but till I hear exactly what day they will be there, I cannot fix for certain as my businefs here is very prefsing, & for some days I have neither been in a fit state either of body or mind to attend to much. However I shall try, & I have great faith in the old saying Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

The next paragraph starts with a comment which was all too common at this time the reference to the letter being crossed. This was a really important money saver, as the postage cost was affected by the number of sheets in the letter. So to avoid paying double postage, the writer would cover a page with writing, then turn the page 90 degrees and write across what had been written already. Sometimes this is REALLY difficult to decipher, and we have even one or two letters which have been crossed again making three lots of writing to decipher.

I hope I have directed this letter rightly, but unfortunately in the crofsing your letter it is very difficult to see whether the Number is 64 or 84, so I shall put both for safety, You must forgive my not writing more at present, for I am in a rack of pain, & however desirous the mind may be, it is not always able to control the body. Once more then, let me beg you to write as candidly as before on the subject which I have before spoken of, & may God grant that whatever he willeth for us may be for our everlasting happinefs & may he give us strength & faith to say in all things, not our will but thine be done, and my own dearest, let nothing ever make you doubt of
the heartfelt love of your fondly attached
Henry W. Sheppard.

Then he has added a sentence at the foot of the address panel.

Pray do not sit up to such a barbourously late hour to answer this letter. I shd love you (if possible) better if you would take care of yourself.

A letter like this of 187 years ago shows how life has changed from the point of view of communication. Looking through our own family correspondence of even 50 years ago, there was not such a noticeable change in the previous 100 years or so. Nowadays, it is so easy to keep in contact, and there is probably no need to be writing a three page letter of love, devotion and explanation like this one.


References : The Scottish Additional Halfpenny Mail Tax 1813 to 1839 by K Hodgson and W.A. Sedgewick.

Alan W. Robertsons book, Great Britain Post Roads, Post Towns and Postal Rates 1635-1839

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