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They All Loved Lucy
Among the blades beneath her sway Were Holmes and Lincoln, Booth and Hay
October 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 6
In every social group, from the local high school to the international jet set, there is likely to be one beautiful girl whose power over circumambient males goes mysteriously beyond anything that can be pictured or described. After the catalogue of her virtues and beauties has been recited to the end, there remains something ineffable; and that something is what enslaves her admirers. When such a girl moves in high circles, she is bound to attract men whose names one day will mean something in history.
Few in America’s past can match the record of Lucy Lambert Hale, the younger daughter of John P. Hale, one of New Hampshire’s Civil War senators. Lucy was born at Dover in 1842. She was pretty and precocious, sweet and good; but it wasn’t until she budded into womanhood that her real charm began to be felt. When she was only twelve she was receiving fond poems from a Harvard freshman named Will Chandler. ( Chandler, William E. , 1835-1917. Secretary of the Navy, 1882-85; U.S. senator from New Hampshire, 1887-1901.) She responded with a girlish “crush,” but four years later Chandler married Caroline Gilmore, the daughter of the governor of New Hampshire. By that time Lucy was full-blown, with clear skin, large blue eyes, dark hair, and a stunning figure. Her manner toward men was of a mode that cannot be taught or learned: a subtle brew of flattery, teasing, and cajoling; of rapt attention disturbingly laced with hints of indifference and even, now and then, a touch of cruelty.
One of the first to get the full exposure was eighteenyear-old Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., son of the famous poet-physician and a sophomore at Harvard in 1858. ( Holmes, Oliver Wendell, Jr. , 1841-1935. Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, 1902-32; “the great dissenter.”) O. W. H. met Lucy while vacationing in Biddeford, Maine, and started writing her love letters as soon as he got back to Cambridge. They are refreshingly expressive of the character that a half century later would make itself so well known in Supreme Court opinions:
Cambridge, April 24th 1858
Dear Miss Hale:
. . . After leaving you at Dover ... I was not extremely voluble and for the next three days at home I am sorry to say I was so cross that no one could come within a mile of me. . . . What a disappointment it was to hear that you were not coming to Boston. . . . But do you enjoy yourself at Hanover (nunnery)? [Lucy was at boarding school in Hanover, New Hampshire.] College is perfect delight, nothing to hold you down hardly, you can settle for yourself exactly what sort of a life you’ll lead and it’s delightful—one night up till one at a fellow’s room, the next cosy in your own, in the days boating etc. and not too hard (as a general thing) lessons. . . . Please tell me all about your life there—being of a slightly jealous disposition the regulation about riding with young gentlemen affords me huge satisfaction. . . . Please give my respects to all the young ladies at Dover & thereabouts but to none of the male species. . . . Your aff. friend,
O. W. H. Jr. . . .
P.S. I appreciate the meaning of the perfume and shall take the first chance to follow its invitation.
Lucy answered soon, but not soon enough to satisfy Holmes, and not ardently enough, either:
Cambridge Apr. 30th
Dear Miss Hale (need that formality be kept up any longer?)
This morning I got your letter—as you can imagine to my great delight. . . . Now I shall proceed to analyse it. First—“correspondents”—How many young gentlemen do you keep going at once on an average? It is not so agreeable to reflect on the various rivals who are at the same time receiving as great or greater ? share of the imperial favor—
. . . Finally I am a little incredulous about your complete ignorance of my meaning—Nevertheless, was not that perfume (for if it wasn’t it was of the same nature) the “Kiss-MeQuick”? Does that explain? I shall not give the love sent either to the young gentleman in question nor any other as I prefer retaining it for my own use—And as to my request in the [railroad] cars, I will hold you to your promise. I ask for a lock of your hair also. . . . Do you remember the baths the walks the night on the piazza & the last night, & more than all the cars? And yet you write “ Mr. H ”—I don’t know the gentleman. ...
The record does not reveal whether Lucy ever granted the tantalizing “request in the cars,” whatever it was, but at any rate she did arrange to transfer to a boarding school in Boston where she could be near Holmes—and all the rest of the Harvard students. It would seem that the competition was too heavy to suit O. W. H. and that his enthusiasm waned accordingly; yet lovely Lucy may have been in his mind when, in 1861, he was badly wounded in a Civil War encounter and wrote afterward: ”... one of the thoughts that made it seem particularly hard to die was the recollection of several fair damsels whom I wasn’t quite ready to leave.”