Unpublished Alcott letters: Anna to Bronson, Walpole March 16, 1857

Thank you for your enthusiastic responses! I have a handful of letters that I can share with you that I have transcribed as completely as I could. Some words were not readable, mostly because the letters were bound in a volume so that words close to the binding could not be made out. If I could not make out a word, I replaced it with “…” or guessed at the word, surrounding it with brackets and putting a question mark. It is usually possible to make out the meaning despite the missing words. As a rule, I kept the punctuation as I saw it unless it interfered with understanding what was written (and these cases were very rare).

My intention is to present these letters without initial commentary, though I will comment on it after reading yours.

walpole nhThe setting of this first letter is Walpole, NH. It appears that only Anna, Abba and Lizzie are living in the rented house. Lizzie is convalescing after her bout with scarlet fever last year.

This letter comes from the Houghton Library at Harvard University, from the Amos B. Alcott Family Letters, MS Am 1130.9 (27).

Here is how Anna was seeing her life in March of 1857:

Dearest Father,

This being my 26th birthday I … feel cross, old, and miserable, in which … and Christian state of mind I sit down and write to you who never feel either.

The day is dark and dismal and things don’t look very cheering within or without but we are hoping great things from your … which I am sure will cheer mother up more than anything that could happen, and … us all as to the summer plans.

walpole nh squareI rather think it will be decided to stay here in the old house and try another season, tho’ we hope you will bring some new ideas with you to impact this last one which I’m afraid didn’t suit mother, but we can arrange something till you come. A “least said poorest mended” is a wise old proverb.

I found in my journal this little birthday poem from mother

“More to me than jewels rare.
“Are my Anna’s graces fair
“Goodness, Truth and Love.
“All are there my gentle dove.
“If our bark be tempest tost (sic)
“God’s our refuge we’re not lost
“May love be thine
“Firm hope by mine

They are sweet lines and I pray they may come true. I am sure she deserves everything good that can be heaped upon her poor [dear?] woman and I’m sure all will be right sometime.

anna largeI am awfully blue[,] discouraged about myself [&] my future doings but I try to amuse myself and when I get very cross, run on gossip about town to cheer up. It is better than nothing and makes the dull days pass.

Louisa is deep in Theatres, Abby in drawing; both write cheerful funny letters, both [advise?] us to keep still for the present and “want” (?). Lizzy is miserably and tho’ better today out of sorts bodily and thin as a rail, but hoping much from the warm days and sunshine of which we see very little just now.

The young people are all leaving town and everything is quieter and sensible. There are no news I believe and all else I leave mother to tell. We are looking for a letter tonight [&] hope to kiss your “wise” face very very soon. & so goodbye – Annie

I put in my birthday note from Louisa which is a more lovely letter than I believed she could write. Pussy is dead, ain’t you glad.

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7 Replies to “Unpublished Alcott letters: Anna to Bronson, Walpole March 16, 1857”

  1. This letters give me a sense of Anna as just as much a “pull up your socks and get on with it” as Louisa, but perhaps less sure of herself.

    About “ain’t” in the last line. This is not a grammatical error at that time. You also find it in English 19th century writing as a legitimate contraction for “am I not.” Too bad we can’t still use it that way without appearing illiterate.

    I have Eva LaPlante’s Marmee & Louisa at hand and she comments about this time in Walpole.The entire family united there “in the summer of 1857” and then,

    “Anna and Louisa were disturbed to find Lizzie still so thin, pale and sluggish. Anna decided to stay to help Abigail rather than return to her job in Syracuse.”

    1. That would explain why she felt so blue. Despite her initial homesickness when she went away to Syracuse, she grew to love it and really missed her friends. I remember seeing a letter at the Concord Library on microfiche where she described them. I will have to look up that letter again.

  2. Oh what a lov ely gift this is ,showing the slice of life during the times and the description and the total adoration the girl had for her father.Funny how she sounds like many today…telling of the same worries and issues young folks have.  The humor as well is enchanting. Th ank you for your time in this for all literary scholars and just  folks who love Louisa May Alcott! The photos are  lovely as well. Thank you! Merri

  3. At one point, I forgot this was Anna, and not Louisa. You can see why the two girls were so close- they seem to have similar perspectives, although different personalities. Anna’s first line made me think of LMA’s line on her 25th birthday- “My quarter of a century hangs heavily on my shoulders”. Such young girls, old too soon.

    1. I thought it was interesting how honest Anna was to Bronson about her mood. She was one of his pet favorites and she felt comfortable enough to honestly share her inner life with him. Louisa did too. Lizzie did not, as much as she loved her father. Abbie May, who knows? She didn’t strike me as the type who spent a lot of time being introspective.

    1. I plan on combing through letters and journals of the family specifically from 1848 on as I think it’s a critical time in the family dynamic. I imagine there are other letters from Anna when she was in Syracuse. In fact, I remember seeing one in the microfiche collection at the Concord Library – that letter will be in the Houghton collection. In it Anna had finally overcome her homesickness (i.e., broke away from home) and wrote a lot about all the wonderful friends she made with great description. She was a very social girl.

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