Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Life, Love and Long Distance Romance

View of a letter showing the cross-writing (Ref U DX/123
As well as cataloguing new collections, part of our work involves reviewing and updating past catalogues to current day standards. 

In doing so we often turn up gems that can be easily overlooked. Such a gem was discovered recently when I was working on a small collection of correspondence of the 19th century economic journalist and essayist Walter Bagehot (1826-1877). [If you want to read more about Walter see his entry on Encyclopaedia Britannica or Wikipedia.]

What we found was a wonderful set of letters between ‘Dearest Walter’ and his affianced ‘Dearest Eliza’, daughter of James Wilson the founder of the Economist [If you want to read more about James see his entry on Encyclopaedia Britannica or Wikipedia.]. The letters show a wonderful warmth of affection and character in each and document the six months up to their wedding in April 1858. In this time the couple were separated whilst Eliza received treatment for health problems and had to conduct a long-distance relationship – quite the modern thing! Through the loved up couple’s conversation we see the emotions, fears and hopes that any couple in the early Victorian period might have experienced.

In an ironic twist the letters show Walter to be the fanciful and emotional half of the partnership whilst Eliza appears much more sensible. We see the process of a courtship leading up to the wedding day and hear of all the arrangements that needed to be made. Throughout the whole you get a feeling of genuine respect between Walter and Eliza whose letters have allowed us a rare glimpse into the private world of Victorian romance. 

This letter (ref U DX/123/1) has Walter teasing Eliza for causing him to catch a cold in a rather unusual way
Aside from the personal aspect, these letters provide us with precious details about Victorian society in the 1850s. Details mentioned in passing show that the middle classes were using trains as commonplace methods of transport. They suggest that the business classes were making housing choices based on railway locations to provide ease of access to the capital and regional hubs such as Bristol. The detail also illustrates attitudes to medical theories current at the time through Eliza’s descriptions of her treatment at the hands of Dr Beveridge of Edinburgh.

So as research source these letters give us a fantastic picture of aspects of Victorian life. And lets face it – we all like a good love story! If you want to explore further the reference for the collection is U DX/123 with the descriptions available on our online catalogue

Claire Weatherall
Project Archivist

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