August 15 - The Eyes Have It

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On August 15, 1896, Paul Laurence Dunbar was on his first visit to New York City, where he signed a publishing contract, gave poetry recitations and visited friends.  While he was there, Paul wrote affectionate letters to his future wife Alice Ruth Moore in Massachusetts.  He had seen pictures of Alice, but the two had yet to meet in person.  Alice briefly visited New York at the same time, but Paul learned about it only after she had gone.

Some of my friends here told me last night that perhaps it was a good thing that I did not meet you.  They say I should have been undone.  We were talking of Platonic friendship when someone said:  "I think Mrs. _____ is a woman between whom and some young man there might exist a platonic friendship, don't you?"

"No," I replied.  "Not unless she changes her eyes."

"Oh then," was the response.  "It is good you did not meet Miss Moore, you surely would have been undone, for Mrs. _____ rushed into my house after having met her with the exclamation, 'Alice Ruth Moore has glorious eyes.'"

I told them that I had suspected as much but failed to add that I had already been undone and made a fool of myself over your ladyship.

Why don't you come back here anyway?  What did such a short stay do you?  As for not having met you, I have been sick at heart about it for days.  If you happen to be coming to N. Y. soon, keep me posted about it.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, August 16, 1896.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Published descriptions of Alice's appearance often mentioned the beauty of her eyes.

That true artist of the beautiful, Alice Ruth Moore, sat demurely with her great, luminous, dreamful eyes bent on her cello.  A fragile bewitching creature, beautiful and full of poetry.

"Rambles in the South:  What a Northern Woman Saw in the Crescent City," by Victoria Earle Matthews.  Afro-American Sentinel (Omaha, Nebraska).  May 30, 1896.  Page 1.

Mrs. Dunbar is a young and beautiful woman.  She is native of New Orleans, and has all the soft pretty ways of manner and speech of the Southern woman in general.  She is tall and slender, somewhat stately, with great, melting black eyes, and wavy black hair, combed down over her ears in the princess style.  Mrs. Dunbar was a teacher in the public schools of Brooklyn before her marriage, and is as refined and cultivated as she is attractive.

"Women in Clubdom."  Denver Daily News (Denver, Colorado).  October 1, 1899.