The 1800s was a century that has been equaled by few others. Modern inventions such as the automobile, glider, bicycle, and airship made it possible for people to get around in ways that were unimaginable in the past. Other inventions ranging from the telephone to the sewing machine changed the way people worked and how they communicated with each other.
Perhaps one of the best ways to get a glimpse into life in the 19th century is to take a look at letters of note from people who lived through the time period. There are plenty to look over, but the following three letters of note are particularly outstanding.
Thine in the Bonds of Womanhood
Thine in the Bonds of Womanhood was written by Sarah Moore Grimke, widely regarded as the mother of the women’s suffragist movement. It was penned in 1837 and addressed to Mary Parker, President of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society.
As a woman from an affluent family, Grimke was all too familiar with the way wealthy women were raised to regard themselves as mere playthings for men. They did not receive a strong academic education, as they were not expected to know more than their father or husband. Grimke went on to note the even more dire situation facing poor women who had to work for a living, noting rightly they were typically paid far less than poor male labourers. She subsequently pointed out the horrific conditions of female African-American slaves, many of whom were sexually abused with no recourse; indeed, as she noted, “the evidence of a colored person is not admitted against a white, in any of our Courts of Justice in the slave States.” The letter is not for the faint-hearted, but it offers a candid, entirely accurate glimpse into a woman’s life in this time period.
The Vision of Sin
The poem “The Vision of Sin”, was a masterpiece penned by world-renowned poet Alfred Tennyson. Even so, Charles Babbage, the “father of the computer”, found fault in it and wrote to Tennyson to complain about what was, in his view, a glaring inaccuracy.
Babbage’s letter, written in the 1840s, informs Tennyson that his verse saying that “Every moment dies a man, Every moment one is born” is inaccurate because, if this were true, the world’s population would remain static. Rather, as Babbage accurately points out, the “rate of birth is slightly in excess of that of death” Babbage then went on to suggest a decidedly unpoetic correction to the poem, stating that it should read “Every moment dies a man, Every moment 1 1/16 is born.”
All the Ladies Like Whiskers
When Abraham Lincoln first ran for president, he was clean-shaven. The letter “All the Ladies Like Whiskers” was penned by 11-year-old Grace Bedell in 1860 after her father brought home a picture of Lincoln he had obtained at a fair. Grace begins by asking Lincoln if he has any daughters and then expresses her support for him, saying that “part of” her brothers would vote for him. She then suggests he grows whiskers because “All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.” Lincoln not only responded to the little girl’s letter but later met with her after he won the election to show Grace that he had, indeed, “grown whiskers”.
While the literary giants from the 1800s are well-known, those who penned the above letters of note also deserve immense recognition. From their efforts, the world has gained unprecedented insight into the time period and has learned of the passions, feelings, and sentiments that made the time period as unique as it was.