The other day, I was dusting my antique book collection when a folded piece of paper fell out of an old Shakespeare edition of The Dramatic Works. I discovered a letter from Edward to Bernard, and I thought it could be a tale of a closeted man in the 1950s (a time when it was very tough to be an outwardly gay person). The letter started as a run-of-the-mill update and eventually became much more thoughtful and encouraging—a gentle acknowledgment that seemed almost accepting and possibly a little twisted. Nevertheless, the letter impacted Bernard enough to hide it in a book he loved. I am sure this wasn’t the first or last letter he received from Edward.
Instagram users @luckhardt_house and @my1890house helped me identify Bernard and Edward by using the signature on the inner cover of the book and the context in the letter. We discovered their birthdates, Bernard’s eventual wife, and more about Bernard’s character and career (he was a pleasant and well-liked man). I shared this information on IG stories (with a 24-hour expiration). I won’t share their details here even though they have long since passed. Since the letter discloses a potential de-closeting, and I am about to publish it on the internet for all the world, I would rather leave their identities a mystery; they are not here to make that choice to be publicly linked to their private discourse. Here’s what the handwritten letter revealed:
In February of 1958, Uncle Edward wrote a letter to his nephew in Niagara Falls, NY. He reminisced about meeting the “major general” at a railroad station in Connecticut and then referenced an illness or “something” that followed. He wrote that Bernard alluded to being the last of the line, and Edward thought Bernard might regret that based on a poem he quoted. However, Edward went on to say that the most important thing is that Bernard was leading a useful life.
Well now, I am fully aware that you are leading an important and useful life. That is the most important factor.
He also said that sex is not the most important part of marriage: It is the children they would need as they age. He made it clear that he was not suggesting a path for Bernard, but Edward emphasized that there was the option to enter a sexless marriage and adopt a child with a noble woman; There was a “line” that he could choose.
Many people think sexuality is the important factor in married life. No so. Rather it is the loving association and the children which we need as we grow older. There are noble women who are longing to be associated with noble men and sex no factor for if they don’t have children of their own there are many to be adopted.
Bernard, the book lover, married a librarian nearly a year and a half later, when he was 44. The two never had children. Whether Bernard lived as a closeted man during a dark era is open to interpretation (perhaps a war injury prevented him from being able to consummate a marriage). Still, I found the letter, which is trapped in a time I can only imagine through media like this, to be heartfelt and rich.