Friday, May 18, 2012

"Reading Other People's Mail" - 1866 Letter to a Young Spiritualist

A few months ago I posted a review and author interview (here) for the terrific young adult novel Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown.  The book features the main character of Jennie Lovell, a young woman struggling with love and loss as the Civil War and the "spirit world" come crashing together in her own world.  In the book, Jennie seeks the counsel of the fictitious "Heinrich Geist," a "spirit photographer"

In today's blog post I share an 1866 letter from my own collection written to a young woman, Emma Peter, of Brighton, Illinois, from a relative or family friend, who answers Emma's questions about the Spiritualist movement.

 I don't know anything more about Emma, but she does somehow remind me of can wonder: What questions were in her letter that yielded this reply? What experiences did she go through on the home front during the Civil War? Did those experiences - perhaps a lost loved one as Jennie Lovell suffered in Picture the Dead - result in an interest in Spiritualism?  How did she act on the information in the letter? Why did she choose to write this friend or relative and not someone else? Her question about "healing medicines" is also interesting - what was she looking for?


June 21 1866

Dear Em –

Recd your letter this eve and now I will try and answer some of your questions.  You want to know if they have spiritual meetings  We do  I go sometimes Also you want to know if there are any healing medicines here there are two or three But none have had any very great success except Mrs Bradbury of Rockford You want to know what I would say to your becoming a Spiritualist.  Well I don’t know that I should say a very great deal never say much anyhow.  Yes I think you have strength of mind enough to withstand its influence.  You say you are seriously in earnest And want my opinion on the subject Well I cannot  say that I exactly understand you But will give as nearly as I can my opinion of spiritualism.  The principles on which it is based are in themselves good.  But like everything else they are badly mixed up with “humbug” I have been and am yet considerably interested in it.  And for the last year have been investigating it thoroughly.  I never was a believer in Spiritualism And the more I know of it the less I am inclined  to be one  If you wish to investigate it I will assist you if you wish I can send you any amount of papers and journals.  In religion as well as everything else I have a throng of my own. It suits me. It will do to live by and it never has failed me when I thought I was near my end.  If my little Em wants to be a spiritualist she had better investigate the matter first and then if she is convinced that it is right she had better become one.  I will send you [illeg] papers along with this letter read them keep them until you get done with them and then send them back. Enclosed you will find stamps to pat postage on them.  The spiritualists are going to have a grand camp meeting in Rockford next week.  Do not understand now by what I have written that I want you to become a spiritualist for I do not.  I would rather you would be just as you are now.  But [illeg] if you become convinced that it is right why I should not say a word  But I have filled my sheet and have written nothing either but I will write the [illeg] next time you know I love you so It is no use for me to tell you such.


1 comment:

adelegriffin said...

Oh, this is so intriguing! What a gem of a letter, revealing the thoughtfulness of the writer (yes, there is a Jennie Lovell sweetness here, I think!) and her sensitivity to Em all in the same breath. You sense that she is treading carefully.

I do wonder what little Em decided in the end!