A "Stunning" Love Letter to Viral Texts

Like most nineteenth-century newspapers, The Raftsman's Journal sought to connect its readers in rural Clearfield, Pennsylvania with wider worlds of news, information, and literature. Whether published in major metropolitan areas such as New York, Boston, and Philadelphia; in smaller cities such as Wheeling or Nashville; or in rural towns such as Clearfield, nineteenth-century newspapers relied on networks of exchange for much of their content. Newspaper editors subscribed to each others' newspapers, which came to them in the mail on post roads or, later, railroads.

When exchange papers arrived, editors would comb through them to find content their readers would appreciate, which they would then clip out with scissors and paste on sheets for their compositors to set in new type for the next daily, weekly, or irregular edition, sometimes changing the original text in the process. Sometimes a clipping would not be needed immediately, but would be saved for later use; we find clusters of reprinted texts that circulated in this way around the country over years or even decades.

Thus texts of all kinds—including news, fiction, poetry, vignettes, how-to columns, lists, descriptions of scientific and historical curiosities, etiquette, medical and health notes, business advice, parenting advice, recipes, religious affirmations, jokes, and more—circulated around the country, connecting readers from New England to New Orleans to California through shared texts.

This exhibit is intended to hint at the breadth—and the oddities—of nineteenth-century reprinting that we have found thus far in the Viral Texts Project. If you peruse the page, you will find articles that link to our database, where you can browse versions that appeared in other newspapers, or related pieces.

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We focus, however, on the "sublimely 'splendiferous'" love letter reprinted in the middle of the page. This is one of our favorite "viral texts": it's funny and over the top—no doubt both reasons for its popularity—but in its humor it speaks also to many common themes across the widely-reprinted texts we have found. To that end, we have carefully annotated this edition of "A 'stunning' Love Letter" to point out to related texts in our database. We are not claiming that the writer of "Love Letter" had these other texts in mind. Instead, we hope this provides a fun way to begin exploring the vast range of topics, genres, styles, and tones that comprised the nineteenth-century newspaper.

A "stunning" Love Letter.

The following is sublimely 'splendiferous,' and we cecommend it as a model to letter writers:

MY DEAR MISS C.—Every time I think of you my heart flops up and down like a churn dasher. Sensations of unutterable joy creep over it like young goats over a stable roof, and thrill through it like Spanish needles through a pair of tow linen trowsers. As a gosling swimeth with delight in a mud-puddle, so swim I in a sea of glory. Visions of ecstatic rapture, thicker than the hairs in a blacking brush, and brighter than the hue of the humming bird's pinions, visi me in my slumbers, and borne on their visible wings, your image stands before me, and I reach out to grasp it, like a pointer snapping at a blue bottle fly. When I first beheld your angelic perfections, I was bewildered, and my brain whirled about like a bumble bee under a glass tumbler. My eyes stood open like cellar doors in a country town, and I lifted up my ears to catch the silvery accents of your voice. My tongue refused to wag, and in silent adoration I drank in the sweet infection of love as a thirsty man swalloweth a hot whiskey punch. Since the light of your face fell upon my life, I sometimes feel as if I could lift myself up by my bootstraps to the top of the presbyterian steeple, and pull the bell rope for singing school. Day and night you are in my thoughts. When Aurora, blushing like a bride, rises from her saffron couch; and when the jay bird pipes his tuneful lay in the apple tree, by the spring house; when the chanticleer's shrill clarion heralds the coming morn; when the awakened pig ariseth from his bed and grunteth, and goeth for his morning refreshments; when the drowsy beetle wheels his drowning flight, at sultry noontide, and when the lowing cows come home at milking time, I think of thee; and like a piece of gum elastic, my heart seems to stretch clean across my bosom. Your hair is like the mane of a sorrel horse, powdered with gold; and the brass pin skewered through your waterfall, fills me with unbounded awe. Your forehead is smoothar than the elbow of an old coat. Your eyes are glorious to behold. In their liquid depths I see legions of little Cupids, bathing like a cohort of ants in an old army cracker. When their fire hit upon my manly breast, it penetrated my entire anatomy like a load of bird-shot would go thro a rotten apple. Your nose is from a chunk of Parian marble, and your mouth puckered with sweetness. Nectar lingers on your lips like honey on a bear's paw, and myriads of unfledged kisses are there ready to fly out an light somewhere, like blue birds out of the parent's nest. Your laugh rings on my ears like the wind-harp's strains, or the bleat of a stray lamb on the bleak hillside. The dimples in your cheek are like bowers in beds of roses, or hollows in a cake of home-made sugar.

I am dying to fly to your presence and pour out the burning eloquence of my love, as a thrifty house wife pours out coffee. Away from you I am as melancholy as a sick rat. Sometimes I can hear the June bugs of despondency buzzing in my ears, and feel the cold lizards of despair crawling down my back. Uncouth feats, like a thousand minnows, nibble at my spirits, and my soul is pierced through with doubts, as an old cheese with skippers.

My love for you is stronger than the smell of Coffy's patent butter, or the kick of a young cow, and more unselfish than a kitten's first caterwaul. As the song bird hankers for the light of day, the cautious mouse for the fresh bacon in the trap, as a lean pup hankers after new milk, so I long for thee.

You are fairer than a speckled pullet, sweeter than a yankee doughnut fried in sorgum molasses, brighter than the topknot plumage in the head of a muscovy duck. You are candy kisses, raisins, and pound cake and sweetened toddy altogether.

If these few remarks will enable you to see the inside of my soul, and me to win your affections, I shall be as happy as a woodpecker on a cherry tree, or a stage horse in a green pasture. If you cannot reciprocate my thrilling passion, I will pine away like a poisoned bedbug, and falling away from the flourishing vine of life, and untimely branch; and in the coming years, when the shadows grow from the hills, and the philisophic frog sings his cheerful evening hymns, you, happy in another's love, can come and drop a tear and catch a cold upon the last resting place of,


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Exhibit created by Ryan Cordell, Jonathan Fitzgerald, and Abby Mullen for the Viral Texts Project at Northeastern University's NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks; with much-appreciated assistance from Wayne Graham at the University of Virginia Scholars' Lab and David McClure at Stanford University's Center for Interdisciplinary Research.