Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Clarence's Love Letters from Paris

Around 1905 in Paris, Texas, Clarence Collins wrote three letters to his sweetheart Nannie. Clarence is John's adoptive great grandfather and John's mother recently found these love letters and sent them to us. They arrived in typical creased and wrinkled shape, difficult to read. We scanned the frail, brittle pages and then John humidified them and put them in the heat press to flatten them. He applied tissue to the backs of the tears, and really that's about all the minimally-invasive work we could do.
After (photograph)
Before (scan)

John never met either of these relatives so this was an opportunity to get an idea of who they were. Clarence seems thoroughly smitten with Nannie, and his first two letters are written in a perfect, fluidly controlled hand.

Something happened between letters number two and three though, and the third letter is a frantically-written, 32-page plea for mercy by Clarence. ("My very life was in the sunshine of your smile and if I missed that the world was but a dark dreary dungeon.") The pages were out of order and it was quite a project to lay them out and make sense of Clarence's romantic rant.

Clarence goes on...
...and on...
...and on...

It seems Nannie met some other, in her estimation, superior fellow. Of course we only have Clarence's side of the story but apparently Nannie thinks this guy "is such good company, is so particular, and never makes a mistakes [sic.]" Clarence's heart is broken; oh the humanity; wringing of hands, etc.

Here's the thing though: Clarence's writing may come across as an emotionally wrought mess, but if you read the letter about twenty times as I have, you'll see the strategy of a master.

He seems resigned to Nannie's decision; he respects her judgement; he treats her apparent choice as gospel. He does not question her sincerity or wisdom in choosing Mr. Perfect. He allows that he himself is rife with mistakes, "as full of them as a cactus is of thistles."

THEN Clarence demonstrates what it is about him that is perfect for Nannie, but he talks in the past tense, as though the deal is sealed and she can no longer have him. "...but for all that he can never love you more devotedly than I do, nor can he be more true to you than I would have been. He may be better company but he has not a more loving heart and God knows mine is all given to you." That other guy may be perfect but I'm perfect for you. Too bad you turned all this down. Oh well.

Well played, Clarence! According to the US Census, by 1910 he and Nannie were married with two children.

To read Clarence's full letter, click here. Note that each page is demarcated by a line separation. We are not certain about the order of the pages, and a few of them are missing.

New info from John's niece! Clarence apparently fought in the Spanish American War in 1898. Just FYI. 


  1. Nice article! These letters are a lot more romantic than an email.

  2. Thanks so much Terry! Yes, these love letters are extremely romantic and personal.