A Love LetterMy great great grandfather, Roger Peter Cartan, was raised in the village of Claudy in Northern Ireland. According to his daughter Margaret, he had a very fine education and was a gentleman of fine literary taste. But he failed to find a footing in Ireland and sometime in the 1840s he came out to Canada, became a school trustee, and established a trading post on the edge of an Indian encampment in Brantford, Ontario.
The object of his affection, Phoebe Calista Dresser, was the daughter of a schoolteacher and was herself teaching at a girl's seminary near Brandtford. They were married about six months after this letter was written and had five children before Roger Peter's untimely death, in a fire which destroyed his store, in 1863. At the time of this letter, Roger Peter was 31 and Calista was 25. The picture enclosed with this letter, a "Daugerrotype of the unhappiest rascal in Christendom," appears below.
My Dear Miss Dresser:
Yours of the 27th was received by the 2 o'clock mail yesterday and contents eagerly devoured instanter.
I must first refer to the concluding paragraph wherein you state that if I deserve longer letters I shall have them. If ever a suffering mortal deserved a long letter (the only consolation I can at present look for) I'm the one.
Next preceding you say I ought to be satisfied with the length of your letter, well I am so unreasonable as to think differently. It would not make a preface to a reasonable long letter and what provokes me most is the last half page left unfilled.
My dear Miss Dresser I can't scold - I have tried but can't keep up appearances. I have to bless you for what you have written and that I do sincerely.
I have been exceedingly annoyed both today and this day week by visitors from Hamilton and Caledonia. Last Sunday I was kept from writing till I lost the post, and am exactly in the same predicament this evening. I wish I were anything but an Irishman that I might without a national sin dispense with hospitality.
Now to your queries. The school is much the same as usual only it does not open till 1/2 past one, and remains half an hour later in the evening to accomodate Miss Daniels whose digestion it appears suffered by the hasty manner of eating her dinner. But speaking of Miss Daniels I had a pleasant ride with her on horseback the other evening. Mrs. H. maneuvered to extract a promise that I would go out with them some evening - a request apparently carelessly asked and given without the least suspicion of it ever being exacted. But I was mistaken.
We went out alone, left Brantford about 7 o'clock, went through Mount Pleasant and returned later. For the first time in my life I tried my utmost to appear lively and agreeable and I flatter myself I succeeded. But Dear Miss Dresser, in the course of that ride how busy and speculating were my thoughts on the difference of character we meet with in this world. The more I reflected on your diffident and retiring yet frank and unaffected manner, the more you rose in my estimation by comparison. I had a taste of the most mortifying feeling which our nature furnishes: that of self-reproach - that while I fully appreciate your good qualities I did not do them justice. For since we parted I have in secret carefully examined my own heart and as minutely scrutinized your every word and action during your stay here and the result has been as flattering to you as it has been reproachful to myself. But it is not my nature to repine but to improve the first word.
Miss C. and Mr. W. are acting their part as usual, the gentleman shy and in my opinion studiously avoids all approach. "No go."
You say you "delight to people the verdant praries with the dusky sons of the forest," rather a Herculean task, I imagine, to undertake. Hope it was only said in allegory.
I have nothing new to relate of local gossip, not even a birth, death, or marriage worth mentioning. The weather has been exceedingly warm and even politics, religion and scandal have wilted under the oppressive heat.
Will write to Mrs. Laird tonight to call before going west that I may send this Daugerrotype of the unhappiest rascal in Christendom. Don't forget to send your likeness as you promised that I may indulge myself with a fond look without exhibiting that weakness before another.
Miss Clement has had two letters from you. I tried to get a perusal but failed. I was never so tempted to break the sixth commandment or which ever of the decalogue that says "Thou shalt not steal." Margaret and I are going next Sunday to see Mrs. Trehomn, at least she is going for that purpose and I to look after the Dutch grafts. I have tried to resign my trusteeships not because the schoolmam is fascinating, which she really is, but because I have lost interest in the school. Mr. McKay is in Scotland, Mr. Broughton in Berlin, and the other most efficient trustees scattered hither and thither that for decency's sake I must stick to my post a little longer or till their return.
Of all our firm habits or customs what think you affects me most? Since you left the disappointment I daily get in the morning when I look at the window of your old room I think. I learned to _______ by looking round the corner trying to catch a glimpse of your figure before you saw me. I seldom go out but if I take a stroll where the shops are that I religiously follow the old accustomed rounds. I have stood on the bridge when the town was buried in sleep, my thoughts (but that's a misnomer) kept constantly running on how is Miss Dresser, how does she employ herself, does she ever think of me... And in my reveries I have felt and thought as if you were beside me and that --
But I won't display my folly. Here comes Mr. Dlir and I must break off till next week when you may expect a longer one. I hope you do not criticize nor let Mill L. see any portions of my letters. I never look back to read or correct. If there is anything said not according to Chesterfield, my Chesterfield was neither Dutch nor Irish.
With renewed assurances of love and affection
I remain sincerely yours,
R. P. Cartan