Love And Guilt: Woodrow Wilson And Mary Hulbert


Mary wrote after getting his shipboard note: “Before I write another word, I want to tell you—best beloved—of a small habit you have, which may cause you to be misjudged. You will laugh when you hear it. Do not leave your spoon in your cup when you drink your tea. It’s a crime in the eyes of some, no less. You do not mind my telling you? I would not care if you lapped it up with your tongue. The king can do no wrong. … Write me—write me—I miss you and am your devoted friend.”

The letters flew back and forth every few days. “I did not know how unhappy the attacks upon me by the Princeton men had made me till I got off by myself,” he wrote on his arrival in Hamilton. “I am quite ashamed to find how much it has affected me. But I shall be all right before I write again—when I have got used to this friendless island and have ceased to be made unhappy by its haunting associations.… The place is infinitely bright and sweet and attractive … and at every turn I am reminded of things unspeakably sweet and reassuring. … It is a dear place! I shall love it all my life—as one of the places for me enchanted, filled with poetry and the eager pulses of life.…”

Wilson asked in a letter four days later, “Why have you taken such complete possession of Bermuda?” He said that he could not disassociate any part of it from her, that he met some memory of her at every turn, and that he was lonely wherever he went because she was not there. “You really must come down to relieve me,” he pleaded.

He made a sentimental journey to Shoreby (Mary’s home in Bermuda) and took tea with her friends the Parrishes, who were living in her house. Wilson sat, keeping a gay front, yet sad at heart. “Mrs. P. sat in your hammock,” he wrote. “I sat and thought one thing and said another. It was ghastly. I came away exhausted. …” He hoped he did not make Mary sad with his down-hearted letter, for it was really a way, a very deep, genuine way, of speaking his affection for an absent friend whose “beauty, charm, companionship, sympathy, quick comprehension and largesse of affection will always be the chief and most perfect thing that Bermuda stands for in my thought.… I am, with infinite tenderness.…”

On the same day Mary was thinking of him and writing:

“I know what it is to walk to the South Shore alone—but did you not know I was with you all the way? You see—I natter myself—and think you desired no other companion. Does the bougainvillia fling itself over the cottage as of old? Why, why can I not be there—to fling myself where I would!

“Of course , you feel the hurt of things said and done and you may have more to bear, but you have not that hardest thing—regret at having been untrue to yourself and to your ideals.… You are an adorable person—and I count it the greatest honor and happiness and privilege of my life that you call me friend.… I miss you horribly —woefully. And it’s even worse than I feared to have you so far away. Enjoy Bermuda for us both. Rest, and come back as soon as you can—to this hateful place. I hope you will meet and enjoy my friends there, but please, do not be too nice to the lady who dislikes me because of you. I’m jealous!”

Wilson wrote that he had found “the lady” (Mrs. Charles Massy Mathew) beautiful and charming, but what he enjoyed most was the part of their conversation about Mary.

A day later, the steamer was in and brought another letter from Mary for which Wilson blessed her. “Your affection seems in some way to restore my tone, to set the courses of my blood straight again, and give me a strange mastery of myself in the midst of distressing circumstances. God was very good to me to send me such a friend, so perfectly satisfying and delightful, so delectable .…” In return, he hoped she would accept “as much as you are willing to take from your devoted friend, Woodrow Wilson.”

He succeeded in making Mary terribly homesick for “the sweet airs, the blue sea, the bright skies, the life I love —and with you there.” She was glad he missed her, but more glad that he was amused and entertained so he could forget Princeton. She was entertaining frequently in New York, and evenings found her tired. “I give so much of myself to people who love me,” she reminded him. “I can never learn indifference or restraint.”

Wilson was saddened that he had made his “dearest, sweetest friend” homesick for the island. If he could only make her realize that there were people there who loved her. “Admiration does not satisfy or give happiness, but love does. … You are a great person, and whatever anyone feels about you they feel deeply and intensely,” he assured her. As for his missing her, he had a sense of loneliness from morning to night because she was not there.