Spent a bright summer day with a friend touring the Burned Over District from Cazenovia to Cooperstown. Beautiful country. Rolling hills, green and lush, manicured farms, hops and sheep herds. The land loved by four generations of Throops—I’d set up housekeeping there too if I was a rich man, that is, one who could make a living from the land, without the 100,000 dollar investment in the John Deere Corporation. My friend and I pretended to be accomplished, well-received painters and wore ascots while we dined at the Otesaga resort hotel.
Deborah Goldsmith was a young portrait painter before marrying my Great Great Great Uncle George Throop in 1832. She would visit local homes on Saturday and paint the likenesses of Mr. and Mrs. Farmer. She wrote poetry and like a good neighbor, was deeply religious at a time when God was both a glorious deathless day and smite-on-a-whim. She died very young of the cholera leaving two children for a school teacher to raise. His mother “adopted” the daughter and son, while George sought work as a teacher in any town that would take him. He did this for several years finally making a move to Chicago to find fortune among relatives (one, a cousin and future founder of Cal Tech). He died of an unknown sickness a couple years later, orphaning his kids to his mother and her second husband.
The letters George and Deborah wrote back and forth during courtship are so revealing and supportive of my hypothesis that intellectual and expressive evolution of humanity hit an apex at some point in the 19th century. George, the farmer’s son, wrote his first love letter in May, 1832, a twenty-two year old Throop on the chase. Deborah wrote back often too. She, even more literary and thoughtful after a one-room schoolhouse education. I have several of their letters. I post George’s declaration below, followed by my first love letter to my present-day wife of fifteen years this week. I had a modern liberal college education. George learned to read and write and do arithmetic on a hard chair without plumbing nor electric light.
Miss Deborah Goldsmith
Toddsville, New York
(Paid 10 cents)
May 20th, 1832
It is with sincere pleasurable feelings that I now seat myself to scratch a few thoughts to an absent friend, one whose moral worth is beyond the reach of the deceiving machinations of the fawning sycophants, whose heart is averse to the flattering deceptions of a coquette, whose mind is raised above the fogs of sense and groveling desires by the light of science; whose soul has been filled with that Love which was manifested on Calvary’s rugged mount for a lost and ruined world, where was crucified a loving Savior, where was spilt the precious blood of Jesus for sinful man.
This morning my mind is deeply affected with a melancholy scene before me (which I will mention in postscript), and the dreadful calamities that daily roll themselves through this community, today beholding a disconsolate widow mourning the loss of a kind husband and dear friend, with two little orphans hanging around her, while their father lies before them a corpse, stiffened in the cold grasp of death, never more to smile on them nor embrace them in the arms of affection. These things affect me, and when I turn on the other hand and see a multitude engaged in the pursuits of life, some after the gaudy bubble fashion, some, the shining dust of earth, others trampling on slandered innocence, it all tends to wean me from the deceptions of a flattering world and to examine my own deceitful heart.
This is a beautiful morning in May. The earth is carpeted in green. Everything is starting anew to life. All nature is clothed in beauty. The forest, after braving the furious blasts of winter, is now mantled in a beautiful green. The little foresters are skipping from branch to branch with joy and gladness. They hail the morn with songs of praise and bid the setting sun adieu with their sweet choral symphonies. The blossoms are unfolding their beauty to the morning sunbeams and everything is calculated to call forth the feelings and present to the mind of man the wisdom and goodness of our Heavenly Father. When I behold such harmony throughout creation, I am convinced, as even past experience has demonstrated, that ‘tis friendship that sweetens the joys of life, sincere friendship, a principle of the heart. It smooths the rugged pathway of life, quells the stormy passions and opens in each heart a door from which all that is delightful, all that is pleasing, all that is consoling, all that is amiable, all that is virtuous, flow. For what? To be spent in air? Or to float down the broad stream that rolls itself to the briny ocean, and there to be buried in oblivion? I answer, No. It is, rather, to cheer the desponding heart of mortal man and convert him from a downcast misanthrope to a sympathizing friend, and thus bring him home to the enjoyment of society. Although there is a great deal said about friendship, it affords consolation to none but the virtuous, the sincere. To all others, the reverse.
That you may not mistake my meaning, I now declare unto you in the words, my sole object in engaging your company. It is to obtain a friend, a friend to share with me the joys and sorrows of life; to cheer in the hour of gloom and be glad in the hour of joy; to gain heart and hand, and travel with me down the declivity of life, and, when fortune frowns and I am buffeted about on the stormy ocean of adversity, one who can look with a smile and console the tempest-beaten bosom with cheering conversation.
Yes, Deborah, this is all that urges me forward, and will it surprise thee when I declare that in thee my desires center, and all my hopes of earthly happiness have an end? After mature consideration and closely examining my own heart, I find that thy friendship and thy presence will ever be delightful. To know that thou art willing to comply with this request and impart thy virtue in increasing the happiness of one who respects virtue’s innocence, is all that will make life delightful to me. I claim no perfection; such as I am, I offer myself and thus make manifest my desire.
Deborah, I wish not to draw from thee a hasty and inconsiderate answer. No, take your time to consider. It is an important point; on it hangs all our future happiness. But this I claim: ‘Tis truth I send, and truth I ask in return. Perhaps you may think I am asking too much, but please to inform me if I am on the right ground, or not. So I add no more.
George A. Throop
P.S. — Friends in health. Write soon as convenient.
P.P.S. — Died, on the 19th inst., of the bilious fever, Mr. Hiram Niles, aged about 32. He left a wife and two little children. His sudden death is truly afflicting to the sorrowing friends, and to all rendered more so by the state of his mind. Lived about two miles south.
George (21 years old)
And finally Great Great Great Nephew Ron, 163 years later, still a Throop on the chase:
August 10, 1995
Ms. Rose, Rosa es una Rosa es una Rosa,
By now it is no secret that I am drugged with the thought of you, and that I need sleep, a good long one, for your drug to wear off. Someone or something slipped you into my drink, and after an onslaught of embarrassing hallucinations, and my heart’s suffering of those bittersweet palpitations, I feel the need to explain myself and the series of dreams I’ve had of you…
“How can I stop from singing?”
You’re a strange one missy. I don’t know you beyond my thoughts of you. Still, that cannot stop me from flashing these pictures of my madness. That is urge, and to me that is normal. I haven’t the courage to ask you for a cup of water or a piece of pie, but I have the nerve to explode before your eyes, and that isn’t fair, and life isn’t fair. So I am rather crude because I reject the preliminaries of “getting to know someone.” I know how to set myself up for a great fall.
Though before I carry on, and reveal to you the great big fool that is me, please, to save you the embarrassment, ignore my written babble flat out. Just sit down some place for reflection with this paper in your hand and view it like you would a passing bird, a gray cloud, the noise of a car… Maybe think of this as a gift, like a painting of a squirrel suspended in mid-air. Or put it in storage like an ugly lamp Aunt Tulip sent you on Christmas. Don’t abandon it entirely though, at least not until you’ve tested its light.
“Shhh,” is the command for the day. I haven’t the least bit of feeling for myself. You cannot hurt my feelings.
Oh, by the way, if you were wondering… This is Ron, the cook.
Listen to this…
“Sometimes with one I love, I fill myself up with rage, for fear I effuse unretun’d love;
But now I think there is no unreturn’d love — the pay is certain, one way or another;
(I loved a person ardently, and my love was not returned;
Yet out of all that, I have written these songs.)”
— Walt Whitman
I think that makes sense, right?
Well now, to announce my crush…
The other night on your stairs I got up and took a walk into your neighbor’s yard. I left you a little something on their porch a while back. I thought it was your house and porch. I hope that whoever lives there has a good sense of humor. Obviously they haven’t any tact.
There are so many ways to examine something, to sense it, drink it in, digest it. I am a quiet fellow on the outside, shy, absolutely inarticulate in every way, but in no way does that account for the inferno bubbling inside me. Eyes tell all, which is too bad if you’re not an eye-reader. And as your eyes have it, I remind you of our distinguished first president. Fine. My teeth are strong, an off-yellow perhaps, and crooked like my character. To look at me from a distance, you’d swear my torso rests on thin air. My legs are chicken spawn yet strong. They get me from here to there effectively. You know all about my hairs, or lack thereof, and I hope to God I’ve kept my nose clean. Personal hygiene and I haven’t been very close friends these days. It is my life’s curse to be more concerned about the waxing of the moon than with the wax build-up in my ears. I have a heart feeling the power of Al Deberan and arteries that push an Amazon or Mississippi. This always gets me into trouble. “Heart of mine so malicious and full of guile; give you an inch and you take a mile…” I do my laundry when I run out of clothes to wear, and whenever I become infatuated by a woman’s presence, I let her know right away. Or at least after a year of restless sleep and abnormal wanderings. I am a pile of contradiction, and I have nothing of any value to offer you. I am a fantastic liar. An even better loafer! I’m sure that on a date I would bore every mite off of you.
There you have it! An introduction to the self I am. Why is my desire so strong? Well Rose, you are human, like me, and I’m sure you will be very relieved to hear that I have not constructed any pedestals for you. You’re eight inches shorter than me, and I like it that way. However, I want you to know, even if you have been told a thousand times already, that you are fine, and desire is sweet torture. I am afraid of separating you even further away from me than you are now. Ouch! That would be bad. I like your talk. Your heart is big. Enough said.
Except for this: Please understand… There is no way you can let me down. So don’t even try, you beautiful fool. I am not asking for anything you have not already given, splendidly. This letter then? Well, think of it as a gift to you. Take it gracefully. Heck, I’m not even asking you out on a date! That should bring you some relief, eh?
Look, I am a poet and I sing. I can hope that you can hear.
Ron (27 years old)