Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"A Mutual Flame:" The Love Letter of John Van Rensselaer

First page of Gen L 2, a love letter which is fully transcribed below. From the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library. 

In celebration of Valentine's Day, we'd like to feature one of the love letters in our collections. Although we cannot be certain, we believe the letter may have been written by John S. Van Rensselaer, a 1810 graduate of Union College. John S. Van Rensselaer went on to become a lawyer in Albany and married Ann Dunkin of Philadelphia, not the "Miss Getty B." addressed in the letter below. The letter was written when Van Rensselaer was a teenager, likely around the age of 16, and it expresses the sentiments expected in a letter of courtship -- longing for his beloved, cherishing her lock of hair, and vowing to hold her intimate thoughts and tender feelings close to his chest. The original letter is fully transcribed below, with the line breaks, punctuation and underlining of the original maintained.

Miss Getty B............

A Love Letter

Union College Dec 27, 1807

My amiable friend,

At length my doubts have ended,
at length my charmer has condescended to con-
fess to her Van Ransalaer a mutual flame.
Imagination alone can paint to your mind
my sensations at present. With unfeigned
delight I am anticipating the pleasure of
again beholding you, of again pressing you
to my bosom which sighs for you alone.
How shall I express my gratitude for the lovely
lock of hair you sent me. The form of it was
so congenial to pleasure I felt on reading your
letter, that I unintentionally imagined that
our harts were united in one. Forgive me my
lovely friend, if in the warmth of my expres-
sions I have intimated any thing repugnant
to that delicacy to which I would rather sacrifice
my own happiness, than offend. You desired
me in your last letter to send you a lock of
my hair as I valued your affection, "need I again
mention how much I value it." still circum-
stances oblige me to confess that the unrelenting
Barber has unfortunately sheered it so close,
that it is altogether impossible to say properly
that my head is in possesssion of a single lock
of hair intire. You have requested me so often
not to shew your letters to any one, that if it
is possible I am almost offended with you.
Can my dear girl suppose that I can be
so mean and ungenerous as to betray an af-
fection which she has deigned to bestow on me.
Banish such ideas, and know my charming
angel I am selfish enough to imagine that if
another was to participate with me in reading
your letters. I would not be sensible of that
pleasure which I now derive in perusing
them. Present my sincere respects to my
dear Peggy G... and tell her I shall wear her
chain to my watch as a sacred momento of
her friendship. My respects to all enquiring
friends. I subscribe myself with pleasure
Your devoted
JS Van Rensala

P.S. Inclosed I send you
a list of the students
of Union College

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