This charming letter comes to me from my cousin Catherine Duff. Although it’s only a partial letter, and as a result the closing is missing, there is enough evidence to conclude it was written by James Ritchie of Perth, Scotland to his first cousin Margaret “Peggy” Duff at Braco, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.
Margaret and her sister Isabella had spent three years in Scotland between 1862 and 1865, and had grown very close with their older cousin James. He wrote in his diary about bringing them to the seaport for their trip back home from Scotland in 1865. At the time of this letter, Margaret was 15 years old, her sister Annie Duff (my great-great-grandmother) was 21, and their sister Isabella [mentioned in the letter obliquely] was 14. James was 46.
This letter is so full of love and dry humor, it very much makes me want to locate more correspondence from James.
[Click on images to enlarge or download. Transcription follows.]
Perth, 10 June 1868
My dear Peggy –
You don’t mean to say that you haven’t heard from me since the 18th July 1867. That’s a very alarming statement and must surely arise from a great hallucination on your part my good old woman. I’m afraid your memory is failing, poor dear old philosopher. But as Annie also says I am in the black books at Braco, Lunenburg N.S. [Nova Scotia] – and as the venerable flibbertigibbet [Isabella Duff] has a growl at me too, by the mail last arrived, I am getting rather alarmed – and as I wouldn’t, for the life of me, have three very nice, fascinating blue noses – no, I mean – extremely pleasant
[A “blue nose” either means “a priggish or puritanical person” or “a person from Nova Scotia”.]
young ladies, converted into dangerous foes – I beg very humbly to throw up the sponge [throw in the towel] as the sporting men say – and to cry culpa mea, culpa mea, as another sort of people say, that the F.C. minister of Lunenburg will tell you about if you ask him civilly – and now having got over the preface to my epistle, I hope you are better and quite well again. In your last letter to Aunt Mag. [likely Margaret Duff, sister of Rev. William Duff and aunt to James Ritchie] you say that you had been ill and in bed. But I trust you are quite “straight” again, as you Yankee folks say. Now I wouldn’t adopt Yankeeisms if I was a splendiferous,
steady-going, sensible gal like you. I wouldn’t do it “nohow” I wouldn’t. For example, I wouldn’t say “quite” fine weather now. “Quite” a nice young man, or “quite” a horrid little girl. “Quite” a good “time”, or “quite” a bad “time”. Keep out all the “quites” and try another word for “time”. Then don’t say – so and so is “still home” – when you mean still “at” home. Or I’m going down “to” home, when you mean that you’re simply going home. But that’s all the lesson I can propose giving you today. I hope by the way Kate [likely Isabella Catherine Duff, Margaret’s sister] and you haven’t forgotten the Greek alphabet. But one word more – take more care of your spelling and never send away a letter you write without reading it carefully
over again, to see that the spelling is all right, and to make sure that you haven’t put down a “was” instead of a “were” or a “has” instead of a “have” – and also in order to put in stops and commas where they ought to be. And these little precautions tell Kate to attend to as well. I don’t give you any message of this kind to Annie though. She’s so awfully advanced a young lady that I am half afraid of her now. But we’ll perhaps catch her napping some fine morning too. Just wait a little.
We have had a splendid season here so far as this year has gone. A fine open, blowy, winter with little rain, and less frost or snow – and the weather is now beautiful, and the crops all promise to be