On February 19, 1898, Paul Laurence Dunbar in Washington, D. C., wrote a passionate letter to his fiancée Alice Ruth Moore in Brooklyn. They had been engaged for more than a year, but were too poor to afford a wedding. Paul used the terms "husband" and "wife," though they were not yet married.
I am almost afraid to write to you today for fear that I shall say something that is not quite nice. Dear, your remark about wishing to be asleep in my arms has simply set me afire. I think of you and close my eyes with that sensuous slowness which one adopts when one is being kissed to the fainting point. My whole being palpitates with passion. My fingers tremble, they want to be running through your hair. My face rubs against your velvet cheek. I feel your breath on my lips. I feel your heart throbbing against mine. I hear your whisper -- "My Paul." I reach out for you and -- you are not there.
I am so glad, though, darling, that it is not a common, vulgar passion that I feel for you. There is something about it that positively uplifts me. Mind and soul are both blended in it, and if my eyes do grow brighter than their wont, if the blood does speed hotter through my veins, if any breath does come in gasps, it is all for my own wife, and no illicit companionship could fill the want, the great yearning which I feel. Now hide your face and blush for the heat of
Your Loving Husband
Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, February 19, 1898. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).
The letter was written on stationery of the Library of Congress where Paul was employed as a clerk. He wrote and received a great deal of personal mail at the library, and Alice's letters often influenced his moods during work hours. Paul talked openly with his coworkers about his romantic life (and he tended to embellished the truth).
Are you trying to run me crazy by writing such letters as this one I have just received? Do you want to unfit me for work? Why, I felt when I got your letter this morning as if I ought to drop everything and come to you. Passionate love and longing. I don't see how I am going to wait much longer. It is a desperately hard probation.
I have just had to quit and search out some books on electricity, mechanics and hydrostatics -- quite in sympathy with a letter to my little sweetheart.
Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, November 2, 1897. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 5).
I have been sitting here thinking of you and I just couldn't help it. I had to drop you a line and I know that I haven't a thing to say. Darling, I've got it awful bad. I've been using up much paper scribbling your name here just to look at. Finally, I asked the fellow below what one should do when he couldn't do anything but sit and scribble a girl's name. Well, he couldn't tell me, so I am still at a loss.
Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, January 18, 1898. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).
Darling, I want to drop you another line not because I have anything particular to say, but just because I love you. Sometimes I feel like telegraphing it to you. Oh Alice, I am sitting here lying shamefully to a fellow -- the one on the deck below me. I am telling him about my wife and how we married against our parents' will, and how you have to keep on teaching school so as to keep the secret from our folks who have threatened to disinherit us if we marry. Oh Lord, it's as good as a play. The fellow is such a bloomin' jay. But darling, I like to tell him lies because they are part of my love dream.
Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, February 9, 1898. Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).