December 1 - A Guardian Angel

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On December 1, 1897, Paul Laurence Dunbar in Washington, D. C., wrote two emotional letters to his fiancée Alice Ruth Moore in Brooklyn.  Their relationship was in crisis because of a recent sexual encounter in which Paul was drunk and Alice was injured.  Paul promised to stop drinking and improve his behavior, and he implored Alice to help him.

Why indeed did God not draw us both back from the brink of hell?  There are times when you tell me of your suffering that I feel like crying out against Him;  but what is the use?  I can only pray to Him for forgiveness and mercy for both of us.  We are both paying dearly for one damned night of folly.  May God grant that you will not have to undergo further misery.  You are suffering and I am helpless and I did it all.  Oh God, Oh God -- have mercy on me.  I will write you tonight when I am calmer.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, December 1, 1897.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 5).

I cannot understand it at all, how a man could love a woman so deeply and yet so cruelly wrong her.  But God knows it was not intention.  Please marry me as soon as you are well enough.  You have indeed discovered the real Paul Dunbar to himself and given him higher aims in life.  But your mission is not yet done.  You are to keep him upon the high plane to which you have raised him.  Your letter this morning distracted me and the temptation to drink was very strong, but I resisted and I am so glad of it.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, December 1, 1897.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 5).

Paul's letters often spoke of Alice's positive influence on his behavior, even implying that it was her responsibility to keep him from doing wrong.  As their engagement continued with no definite wedding date, Paul warned Alice that it was dangerous for him to be apart from her.

For God's sake, marry me now and keep from the very appearance of evil.  Even here I am undergoing a terrible temptation.  I wonder sometimes if it is all my fault.  I won't swear anymore when I write to you, but I feel like doing so, now.  Why won't you marry me secretly?  You will continue to hold me off until something happens and my life is ruined and yours too.  Dear won't you help me be good?  I believe I am worth saving.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, December 10, 1897.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 5).

I'll cut Bacchus and go one up on Venus and you shall be forced to admit that you of all girls have a most exemplary lover with the promise of a rare husband.  Fact is, sweetheart, I do love you so much that it would be easy to be good when you were with me -- now stop that significant smiling -- I know just what you are thinking and would say -- but it isn't at all true.  Just try me and see if I won't be all that I promise to be.  Oh darling, go on loving me and trusting me and believing in me and I will come up to all that you want me to be.  Nothing is a better lamp to the feet of a wayward man than the knowledge that somewhere there is a little woman who loves him and believes in him.  My constant wish, and aim and prayer is to be better for your sake, and love I will.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, December 19, 1897.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 5).

I shall be so glad dear when you can come to me and keep a watchful eye over all my tendencies to naughtiness, so people won't be kept busy running to you with stories of my unexampled wickedness.  You must get very tired of it.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, December 29, 1897.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 5).

I shall go on trying to be the man which you would have me be, and watch out for the moral, mental and physical good of those hoped for little ones of ours.  Darling, you make me look on life with a so much deeper seriousness than I have ever experienced before.  I think that my love for you is going to be my salvation.  I am only sorry that you cannot be near to me, and so keep a closer eye upon me;  but you are always with me in spirit, love.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, January 16, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Alice, there are possibilities for strength and for good in me, I believe that can only be developed by you and you only through contact.  Then, dear, you owe it to my future, to your future, to the good of the race which we both dislike to come to me and make me the best man it is possible for me to be.  Darling, don't ever give me up -- always love me.  Come to me soon and bless my life.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, February 27, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Paul's literary works also refer to the beneficial role that a woman can play to improve a man's character.  In his autobiographical first novel, The Uncalled, the protagonist finds redemption in a woman named Alice.

As, to a great extent, a man is molded by the woman he marries, so to no less a degree is a boy's character turned and shaped by the girl he adores. Either he descends to her level, or she draws him up, unconsciously, perhaps, to her own plane. Girls are missionaries who convert boys.  Boys are mostly heathens.  When a boy has a girl, he remembers to put on his cuffs and collars, and he doesn't put his necktie into his pocket on the way to school.  In a boy's life, the having of a girl is the setting up of an ideal.  It is the new element, the higher something which abashes the unabashed, and makes John, who caused Henry's nose to bleed, tremble when little Mary stamps her foot.  It is like an atheist's finding God, the sudden recognition of a higher and purer force against which all that he knows is powerless.

"Alice is a very nice and sensible girl.  I like her very much.  She helps me to get out of myself and to be happy.  Alice understands me and brings out the best that is in me.  She's a prayer in herself.  She has made me better by letting me love her."

Excerpts from Chapters 7 and 17 of The Uncalled, by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  Published in 1898.

Two of Paul's other novels and some of his poems also mention how a woman can be the salvation of a man.

Let her think well of him if she could.  Later, he would try to deserve her, and after all, what man is so good, so upright as the woman who loves him believes?

Excerpt from Chapter 17 of The Fanatics, by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  Published in 1901.

She was the sort of woman who, if ever he came to a great moral crisis in his life, would be able to save him if she were near.

Excerpt from Chapter 2 of The Sport of the Gods, by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  Published in 1902.

Search thou my heart;
If there be guile,
It shall depart
Before thy smile.


Search thou my soul;
Be there deceit,
'Twill vanish whole
Before thee, sweet.

Upon my mind
Turn thy pure lens;
Naught shalt thou find
Thou canst not cleanse.

Excerpt from "Confessional," by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  Published in Lyrics of the Hearthside (1899).

Talk erbout 'uligion he'pin' folks
All thoo de way o' life,
Gin de res' 'uligion, des' gin me
You, my little lady-wife.
Den de days kin come all ha'd,
Den de nights kin come all black,
Des' you tek me by de han',
An' I'll stumble on de track.


Stumble on de way to Gawd, my chile,
Stumble on, an' mebbe fall;
But I'll keep a-trottin', while you lead on,
Pickin' an' a-trottin', dat's all.
Hol' me mighty tight, dough, chile,
Fu' hit's rough an' rocky lan',
Heaben's at de en', I know,
So I's leanin' on yo' han'.

Excerpt from "Possession" by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  Published in Lyrics of Love and Laughter (1903).

Because you love me I have much achieved,
Had you despised me then I must have failed,
But since I knew you trusted and believed,
I could not disappoint you and so prevailed.


"Encouraged" by Paul Laurence Dunbar.  Published in Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow (1905).