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Bored clerk seeks fair stranger

Monday, December 7, 2009

I found this ad some time ago, and could tell it was a good one, but had a badly copied microfilm version that I couldn't completely make out. Then, voila! I got a new one that's an infinitely superior copy and I'm so pleased. It definitely lived up to expectations.

Will not some fair incognita be charitable enough to relieve, with an occasional letter, the tedium of a young bachelor's life, who, while conscious of his own sincerity and honor, yet fears lest his motives should be misunderstood in addressing this way? If his assurance that he is a gentleman is enough to inspire confidence, any young lady of fine character and accomplishments will never have any reason to regret honoring F.H.D. with her confidence. Union square Post office.

Aw. Poor F.H.D., he seems so lonely and sad. Notice that although this ad did appear in the "Matrimonial" column, he never actually says anything about matrimony. I'm sure in the end that's what he's hoping for (at least if this is sincere and not some wicked scoundrel's attempt to rope in a young innocent girl), but all he actually asks for is a correspondent. In fact, he doesn't even seem to care if this correspondent never tells him who she is - by asking for an "incognita" he's at least allowing her the opportunity to only use initials or a pseudonym herself.

As you all are well aware, I'm a bit of a romantic so I prefer to believe that F.H.D. is not, in fact, a wicked scoundrel and is instead a mid-level clerk at some company. Son of a small farmer in upstate New York, he moved to the city alone to make his fame and fortune. Instead, he ended up - as did so many - in a dead-end job, tied to a roll top desk by day somewhere near Wall Street, spending his nights in some sad men's-only boarding house. Knowing no women, and lacking the ability to meet them any other way, our poor sad hero, desperately lonely, resorts to the only solution he can think of: a matrimonial advertisement. Was he rewarded with an answer? Did he meet his fair incognita? Perhaps an equally lonely salesgirl, another migrant from Small Town America, working at A.T. Stewart's department store? Did they fall in love and live happily ever after?

Am I getting totally carried away?
Well, it's as good an explanation as any and - to be fair - historically not inaccurate. There were a lot of young men and women who moved to the big city to seek an exciting future - sort of like, you know, today. And then they had trouble meeting each other. And that, my friends, is what a lot of my dissertation is about.

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2009 Pam Epstein


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