Woodrow Wilson's first wife died Aug. 6, 1914, after asking her doctor to encourage the president to marry again, and on April 28, 1915 the president began his courtship of Edith Bolling Galt.
There exist 250 letters back and forth before their marriage Dec. 18 at Galt's house on 20th Street (now demolished) and a selection from them fills 200-odd pages of a book, "President in Love" edited by Edwin Tribble.
"To have brought you out of darkness into light, my sweetheart, seems to me the crowning privilege of my life," Wilson was writing by early May.
"Oh, to be with you tonight, my precious one, to put my arms around you and hold you close and tell you how long the day has been without you . . . my heart has been seeking you . . ." Galt was responding the same month.
Galt was 43, Wilson was 58, and neither one of them minded in the least that somewhat tiresome repetition of inanities that lovers are given to.
Tribble said, when I seized the pleasure of having lunch with him, that he edited away some of the considerable redundancies, but kept plenty to remind us that these are love letters, after all. In case there was any doubt:
". . . I could not stand it there without you -- particularly now that I have that blessed love letter you wrote last night in; Manchester at my heart and the hour has come when we used to shut out the world . . . and look into our hearts alone," Wilson wrote.
It figures, of course, that Tribble, who was for many years the crusty perfectionist city editor of The Washington Star, should have brought out (now he is retired) the astonishing love letters of Wilson's second courtship.
"Sort of changes the image of the austere Presbyterian," Tribble ovserved, but then there is no reason Presbyterians should not write impassioned love letters, is there? Every generation sees a new supply of Presbyterians, after all, and it has to begin somewhere.
Galt lived for many years after Wilson's death and was conscientious about her papers, but she was uneasy about what to do with the love letters. They were so personal that she at last decided they should be released only 15 years after her death. Tribble knew this and when the date passed, set to work.
Tribble drank some milk and tried a couple of mouthfuls of rare beef (and at the last succumbed to a large strawberry shortcake for the general hell of it) and spoke of the literary quality of the letters. Wilson, of course, was a professional writer and could gush forth on quite short notice, but even so the quantity and general quality of the letters is surprising, Tribble went on, when you consider he had the Lusitania sinking on his mind and the specter of World War I before him.
Tribble said Wilson loved to take rides in his motor (you called a car a motor or a machine in those days and you went motoring instead of driving) and was forever asking Galt to ride about. One of his favorite drives was out Wisconsin a ways then back in Georgia Avenue. It is not a notable pleasure route nowadays.
Tribble used to be my boss, so I lost no time trying to find errors in the book but did not succeed, and was obliged to admire such footnote information that one confidant of Galt had been assistant prosecuting attorney at the trial of John Surratt for complicity in the Lincoln assassination.
In one rather nasty comment, Wilson had written to his adorable darling (he varied his salutations with combinations and permutations of beloved, sweetheart, adorable, darling, precious, sweet, lovely, etc.) that "there is a story in the papers this morning which I need hardly tell you is chiefly not so." (The morning papers said Wilson found three people trapped under a car and helped pull them from the wreckage and Wilson said they needed no help at all).
Tribble is, of course, thorough, and a surprising amount of glorious and obscure information is found in the occasional footnotes. Sometimes I think the best way to read a book is to read the footnotes and surmise the rest.
We rambled a bit about the old days, naturally, tearing apart only one fellow mildly, which shows you what a gentleman Tribble is. The only new thing I need to pass on is Tribble's new brass door knocker with Tribble engraved on it. This is rather a massive impressive object. It was given him by some people down in Virginia who spell Tribble with only one b. They didn't want a knocker with their name spelled wrong and consulted the Washington phone book to find a good two-b Tribble, and offered him the great brass if he'd pick it up the next time he was down in Virginia. He did. But it had Chinese characters all over it and (city editors are a suspicious bunch) did not trust what these might mean. He took it to the Library of Congress where a Chinese specialist assured him the mysterious Chinese characters merely spelled Tribble in Chinese.