DEAR SIR

RESPONSES TO AN AD PLACED BY
A NINETEENTH-CENTURY MURDERER

An appendix to Paul Collins’s essay,
“The Molecatcher’s Daughter”, also in this issue

William Corder placed this personals ad in the Sunday Times of London on November 25, 1827:

MATRIMONY.—A Private Gentleman, aged 24, entirely independent, whose disposition is not to be exceeded, has lately lost the chief of his family by the hand of Providence, which has occasioned discord among the remainder, under circumstances most disagreeable to relate. To any female of respectability, who would study for domestic comfort, and willing to confide her future happiness in one every way qualified to render the marriage state desirable, as the advertiser is in affluence. Many very happy marriages have taken place through means similar to this now resorted to, and it is hoped no one will answer this through impertinent curiosity; but should this meet the eye of any agreeable lady, who feels desirous of meeting with a sociable, tender, kind, and sympathising companion, they will find this advertisement worthy of notice. Honour and secrecy may be relied on. As some little security against idle applications, it is requested that letters be addressed (post-paid) to A.Z., care of Mr. Foster, stationer, No. 68, Leadenhall-street, which will meet with the most respectful attention.

What follows is a selection from the fifty-four unretrieved letters sent in response to this ad.

*

Sir,

If you will take the trouble to walk on the south side of Northampton-square between the hours of twelve and one on Monday next, with a white pocket-handkerchief in your hand, I shall be there, and may perhaps have an interview with you; if my affection is engaged, your happiness will be the constant study of

[signed]

*

Sir,

In perusing the Times paper of Nov. 25th, I observed your advertisement for a partner in the marriage life, where you say any female of respectability who would study for domestic comforts, and willing to confide in you, led me to suppose that fortune was not your object, which induced me to make the application, though I must say Prudence whispers it contrary to the rules of decorum, and I believe this is the first time I have ever deviated from her precepts. I am a female of respectability; my father has been a very respectable tradesman, and a man of good fortune, but Providence has now placed me in a more humble situation; I have had a good plain education, but no accomplishments. If I have been too presumptuous in addressing one who styles himself an independent gentleman and a man of honour, I trust this may be buried in oblivion….

*

Sir,

By accident I saw your advertisement in the Sunday Times: its seeming honour and sincerity induced me to answer it. I feel I am guilty of an impropriety in doing so without the knowledge of my friends; but a disposition like the one you possess will pardon the indiscretion when you know the situation I am placed in. My father has received an offer from one whose disposition is, in every respect, the opposite of my own; I can only accept it by sacrificing every feeling of delicacy and affection; therefore I have taken the only means that presented of preventing the sacrifice of my own happiness or the wishes of my friends….

*

Sir,

As I was perusing yesterday’s Times, I inadvertently cast my eyes on your advertisement…. I will give you a few particulars, which I hope and trust will be kept secret. My father was ——. I was left an orphan, under the guardianship of ——, who placed me in school to be educated for a governess; consequently, I moved in society perhaps not inferior to the rank you hold; but, by deviation from rectitude, which was occasioned by the too easily listening to the flattery of one whose vows I foolishly believed to be true, I am entirely deserted by my family, and banished from society; nevertheless, I flatter myself that I do not altogether merit such a fate, for I do assure you I have acted more prudently than I have done since the unfortunate circumstance happened, which has very much destroyed my peace of mind; but I still hope to see better days. I am two-and-twenty years of age, but have not the least pretension to beauty—quite to the contrary. I have a sweet little girl, who is my greatest comfort; she is sixteen months old, and is beginning to prattle very prettily; I have no fortune whatever, but am supporting myself by needle-work at present, until I can meet with something more to my advantage….

*

Sir,

Your advertisement, which appeared in the Sunday Times, I feel inclined to answer. If you really are inclined to marry, and all is true which you state, I think I am the person. My age is twenty-two, and am happy to say possess a most amiable disposition; can play the piano-forte and sing tolerably well…. I am a young lady, now living in the town of —, with my mother, and in a most respectable manner, are known and respected by all in it, therefore must say I should not like to expose myself and my mother to ridicule; should your advertisement be only for a joke….

P.S. —I have no fortune till the death of my mother.

*

[Sir,]

On taking up the paper this morning, your advertisement was the first thing that met my eye, and in seeing the word ‘Matrimony,’ I laughing said, a gentleman wants a wife, but I suppose he is in still greater want of money, otherwise he wishes to make himself warm this cold weather, by laughing at the credulity of the female sex… Having said all I have to say, I fetched a deep sigh, conscious, I suppose, of my own defects, and again looked at the paper without intending to do it. I read your advertisement through, and was not a little surprised upon finishing it; for, although there may not be one word of truth in it, it certainly wears the semblance of sincerity…. I repeat, if your tale is true, upon my word I pity you: if it is a fiction, I hope my sex may be revenged by your being obliged, at some future period, to pass a month, one month, in a house of discord….

*

Sir,

I beg to answer your advertisement of last Sunday, but really think it nothing but a frolic; I know a charming young woman of no property, her friends highly respectable, nineteen years of age, exceedingly agreeable person, has had the charge of her parent’s house these three years, and brought up by a truly amiable and virtuous mother. I can with great truth say the young lady is not aware of my answering your advertisement. If you think proper, you may address a line to Mrs. ‒—. I hope you will act honorably with regard to the name, as the writer is a married woman. A friend will put this in the twopenny post.

Your obedient servant,

[signed]

[P.S.] The young lady has never been attached to anyone, nor has she ever left her friends.

*

Sir,

I should like to hold a correspondence with you, until we know each other better, if convenient to you, for there is more disgrace attached to me in answering anything in the newspaper, and more danger of my family becoming acquainted of my so doing; and if this does not meet your approbation, please destroy this….

*

Sir,

I reply to your advertisement in the Sunday Times. I take the liberty of informing you that I am of a respectable family; my papa having seen a reverse of fortune, has occasioned my mamma to enter into a boarding-house at ——, which, if it meets with your approbation, will thank you to call tomorrow evening between four and five o’clock, as it will be the most likely time of seeing me. I have a sister at home with me, who is twenty-one; my age is twenty-two. I must beg to excuse this bad writing, as it is done in fear.

*

[Sir,]

The advertisement of a private gentleman, aged twenty-four, in the Sunday Times newspaper, happened to meet the eye of a young lady, aged twenty-one, of the utmost respectability. The advertisement rather struck her; and, should the gentleman be really in earnest, he must advertise once again in the same paper, when he will hear further particulars. But the extreme modesty of the lady will not allow her to put her real name or address. The lady is at present in the country, but will shortly return to town.

N.B.—The lady is not very handsome.

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