In our world of electronic and digital communications, one wonders what evidence of our day-to-day lives will exist for our descendants in the next century. Modern technology has given us the ability to be in almost constant touch with one another. But, will our emails and texts still exist a hundred years from now? For decades, letter writing was often an everyday occurrence for most people. Keeping in touch meant sitting down with pen and paper. Receiving a letter was often an exciting event, especially from someone miles away. And, for many, including Alexander Graham Bell and his family, these letters were something to be kept, not simply discarded once read. The Bells were profuse writers and as a result, their story can be told today through thousands of letters.
Born in Scotland in 1847, Alexander Graham Bell lived a unique life. Influenced by his father, Melville, a professor of elocution, and his deaf mother, Eliza; the loss of his brothers, Melville and Edward, to Consumption; and marriage to his deaf pupil, Mabel Hubbard, Bell left a legacy to the world that few could imagine living without. How this came to pass is best revealed through the letters between these individuals. Here, we present those letters to you.
Having moved into his new rooms at Exeter Place, Alec wrote this letter to Mabel, giving Mabel yet more insight into this man she had agreed to marry.
No 5 Exeter Place, Boston
Jan. 17th, 1876
My dear May
Only think – it never occurred to me this morning in going into my new rooms that pens and ink were among the necessaries of life and so I am obliged to write to you in pencil.
Your postal card & your Sunday’s letter were both waiting for me at the University this morning. Many thanks for them both. It makes me so happy May dear to receive a letter from you – and to feel that you do not forget me when you are away. I am impatient to see you again and shall not delay any longer than I can help going to Hartford.
It is indeed a wonder that Miss Barnard should have thought you had grown, I cannot understand how it can be – at least if you breakfast every day off “a couple of sandwiches and a banana” and dine as heartily as you did in Salem!
I only wish you would grow. I hope Miss Barnard will take such good care of you that my mother’s ring may have some chance of fitting your finger when it arrives from Canada! – and as to height – you cannot be too tall for me.
I have never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Barnard to my knowledge – and I am pleased to know I may have the opportunity this week. A study such as that you describe makes me feel envious.
I am going to make my experimental room quite a mode – a regular “den” after my own heart. I am beginning seriously to think of taking up the carpet so as to feel more free – and to get some old kitchen tables to embellish (?) the room. I want a table upon which I can hammer & saw and carve to my heart’s content – and a floor upon which I may spill acids without fear of damages.
My rooms seem very comfortable – & I like the appearance of Mrs. Wilson the housekeeper very much.
I well remember the surprise which I experienced in breaking out of the prejudices of my childhood – to find that Roman Catholics were just as good & just as worthy as other people. I do hope darling that there are no serious differences between us in regard to religion – although on many points (by many considered important) – I wish with all my heart that you do hold different ideas from my own. My religion is all of the practical kind. I hold no theories nor beliefs whatever. I cannot believe in the inherent wickedness of man. The world seems very beautiful to me – and there seems to me to be more good about mankind per se than bad. I am one of those who believe in the nobleness of life – and I consider it a privilege to live. Concerning Death – & Immortality – Salvation – Faith and all the other points of theoretical religion, – I know absolutely nothing – & can frame no beliefs whatever. I can only see what is before me – my life – & my duty here. I had rather have it said of me when I die that I had tried to live a pure and upright life – than that I had attended church three times on Sunday – or that I believed everything that the church teaches.
I would like others to judge me as I wish to judge others. I have no patience with those who condemn others on account of their beliefs. It seems to me that a man’s beliefs are too sacred to be talked much about – they are things that belong between himself & his Maker – and not between man & fellow-man.
I think that the true way to judge a man’s religion is to look at his life.
A man who makes a parade of his religion on Sunday & pockets it all the rest of the week is a bad man whatever his beliefs may be – and he who lives a pure & blameless life – whether he be Christian, Pagan or Mahomedan – is a man to be envied – to be admired – & to be copied.
We must all have our beliefs – and I hope Mabel dear – for your sake – that our beliefs are different. There are some thoughts and some subjects that I don’t want to share with you. There are thoughts and doubts that I wish to bury deep in the stillness of my own heart – and that I do not want should ever enter into the mind of my dear wife even when you are my wife. You are too good too simple-hearted to doubt and I don’t want you to do so – through any error of mine. I don’t know why I write as I do – except that I don’t want you to take me under false pretenses – and think me better than I am. We have our dark sides as well as our bright ones – but you learned to love me before I had time to show you my dark side. I hope you will never regret it – I know you will not – for – whatever difference there may be between us I think we both agree in thinking a good life to be above all else. And now darling good night from your loving
Miss Mabel Hubbard
The Bell Letters are annotated by Brian Wood, curator, Bell Homestead National Historic Site.