Image of Leon Simon, taken from London's National Portrait Gallery.

Image of Leon Simon, taken from London’s National Portrait Gallery.

As my student assistant, Sophia Durand, began the physical processing of the 131 letters in the Leon Simon collection (1915-1916, 1918), she noticed something intriguing. Leon Simon addressed each letter to his future wife, Esther Ellen Umanski, differently. Until they made official plans to marry, she was “My Dear Nellie.” But once the date was set, Simon became creative and effusive, his word choices sometimes questionable as endearments.

Romantics everywhere tend to be sugary in their pet phrases. Simon was no different, perhaps just more over-the-top. He addressed his letters to: My essence of honeycomb, My exquisite Peach Melba, My lump of sweetness, My peachiest apricot, My succulent meringue, My belovedest mimosa, My jujubious confection, My sweet Sugar plum(p).

As you can already tell, Simon was quite fond of food and cooking. Other highlights in the letters include My stewed apricot, My eversweet parsnip, My most succulent kipper, My pickled herring (You know how I love them!), My pickledest onion (=on’y ‘n  =only one), My own dumpling, My coo (k) ing dove, My rapturous codfish, My toasted crumpet, and–my personal favorite–My incandescent soup-tureen.

Simon

Simon wrote Nellie at least once a week. On October 12, 1915, he called her “My protoplasmic cherub.”

Occasionally, Simon sought to be reassuring about his odd turns of phrase. On October 20, 1915, he wrote to Nellie, who was studying German, “My most exquisite Stumpfenbach, (Don’t worry about the meaning of this; it is a term of endearment invented for the occasion & means nothing at all except that all recognized terms of endearment are hopelessly inadequate)…” A Duke German professor says that he was unwittingly referring to a city in Bavaria.

So, if on this Valentine’s Day your terms of affection seem stale, why not borrow one coined by Simon: My adorable whelk, My kitchy-kooish boo-woo, My jokaceous blue bottle, My bilingual Scaramouche, My unique joy, My tender flamingo, My early paradise, My copious ink-pot, My imperative necessity, My darlingpetangelanddelightallrolledintoone. Perhaps you and your loved one will then share in one of his closings, a “Quintessence of hugs & kisses ad lib.”

Sheesh.

Post contributed by Alice Poffinberger, Original Cataloger.




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One Response to Happy Valentine’s Day, My Rapturous Codfish!

  1. Will Hansen says:

    Full disclosure: when we in the Rubenstein Library were considering acquisition of these letters, we knew that they contained important information about Zionism and Jewish life in Great Britain. We also knew they were affectionate letters to Simon’s wife. But we had no idea they were this affectionate! Thanks for highlighting this wonderful aspect of the Leon Simon letters, Alice!

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