24 July 2012

Amanuensis Monday: Who Is George Neubauer, Part 2

Amanuensis Monday again?
A woman's work is never done.
I think I have just enough time to get this post in while it's still Monday.

In last week's Amanuensis Monday post, I introduced you to George Neubauer and explained his family's relationship to mine. Annie Neubauer was my maternal great-grandmother, but I'm not sure of Annie's relationship to George. Nevertheless, I have copies of two letters of his, written to his parents on successive New Year's Days, of 1873 and 1874 respectively. In the second of the two letters, he writes:

J. M. J.
[Jesus, Mary Joseph]

Dear Parents,

Another year has gone by and it is one year closer to death. In the past year I was not very obedient and caused you much sorrow. I thank you from my heart for the many favors extended to me and I wouldn't be able to count them even if I tried to. I am very sorry that I caused all that grief and trouble.

I promise you that I will become a good boy and will not cause so much worry as I have done in the past.

I wish you a Happy New Year, good health, long life, a blessed hour of dying and eternal life in heaven thereafter.

I close my letter in the name of J. M. J.

Your grateful G. Neubauer


Balto. 1 Jan. 1874
I notice that this letter is quite a bit shorter than the first one. Young George seems a bit rushed, and his emotions don't seem to be quite as heartfelt as he claimed they were in his first letter. Nevertheless, the two letters have much in common. The fact that they are written on successive New Year's Days suggests to me that this was some sort of annual ritual, one step beyond a New Year's Resolution. The language is very formal and very pious, very Victorian, very German, and very Catholic. The letters are addressed to "Dear Parents," not even "Dear Mama and Papa," or some other term of endearment. In both letters he apologizes for being a poorly behaved son during the previous year, and promises to be much better behaved in the year to come. He apologizes for causing his parents trouble and worry during the past year, but doesn't mention anything specific that he's sorry for. I wonder whether he'd really been doing anything that warranted such profuse apologies or whether this was to be expected as part of the ritual. I suspect he was a fairly young boy when these letters were written, and I wonder how much mischief he really could have gotten into.

Whatever the reasons and the circumstances behind these letters, I've always thought they were an intriguing glimpse into a vanished world.

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