Andrea/Cara here, I recently came upon a delightful post on the Jane Austen Center website—a History of the Love Letter. And as it’s still February, the month of Love, I’d thought I’d muse a little on the subject, too.
The post got me to thinking that it’s rather amazing that the art form of the love letter inspires people who would likely claim they have absolutely no talent for writing to express themselves with a passion and a use of imagery and language that they would never display elsewhere. (The Muse, one might say, is a powerful creative force!)
There’s a heartfelt honesty in a missive meant only for a true love’s eyes. All the everyday fears of appearing foolish seems stripped away, allowing words and emotions to come unfiltered. To an outsider, they may often seem over the top. But that daring to let down our guard and express our innermost feelings really does show most of us possess a personal poetry we never dreamed we had. It's one of Love's many wonderful lessons—sometimes it's worth making yourself vulnerable and taking a chance.
The post also got me feeling a little wistful that the proverbial bundle of old-fashioned love letters in the attic, tied in a red ribbon and maybe smelling faintly of perfume, is becoming rarer than hen’s teeth. On one hand, we have the ease and convenience of dashing off a love note and pressing a button for instant connection across cities and oceans and continents. But most of those messages will simply be lost in the ether. That sweet discovery—the magic of reading how wonderfully human our parents or grandparents were—won't be there for future generations. And think about how much we've learned about the history of an era by reading the letters of of people baring their soul.
Here’s a few examples of love letters from the early 1800s. Wouldn’t it be a shame if we couldn’t read these and smile:
"I have read this book in your garden;–my love, you were absent, or else I could not have read it. It is a favourite book of yours, and the writer was a friend of mine. You will not understand these English words, and others will not understand them,–which is the reason I have not scrawled them in Italian. But you will recognize the handwriting of him who passionately loved you, and you will divine that, over a book which was yours, he could only think of love.
In that word, beautiful in all languages, but most so in yours–Amor mio–is comprised my existence here and hereafter. I feel I exist here, and I feel I shall exist hereafter,–to what purpose you will decide; my destiny rests with you, and you are a woman, eighteen years of age, and two out of a convent. I love you, and you love me,–at least, you say so, and act as if you did so, which last is a great consolation in all events . . ."
"A few days ago I thought I loved you; but since I last saw you I feel I love you a thousand times more. All the time I have known you, I adore you more each day; that just shows how wrong was La Bruyére’s maxim that love comes all at once. Everything in nature has its own life and different stages of growth. I beg you, let me see some of your faults: be less beautiful, less graceful, less kind, less good…
My one and only Josephine, apart from you there is no joy; away from you the world is a desert where I am alone and cannot open my heart. You have taken more than my soul; you are the one thought of my life. When I am tired of the worry of work, when I fear the outcome, when men annoy me, when I am ready to curse being alive, I put my hand on my heart; your portrait hangs there, I look at it, and love brings me perfect happiness…Oh, my adorable wife! I don’t know what fate has in store for me, but if it keeps me apart from you any longer, it will be unbearable! My courage is not enough for that."
"You fear, sometimes, I do not love you so much as you wish? My dear Girl I love you ever and ever and without reserve. The more I have known you the more have I lov’d. In every way – even my jealousies have been agonies of Love, in the hottest fit I ever had I would have died for you. I have vex’d you too much. But for Love! Can I help it? You are always new. The last of your kisses was ever the sweetest; the last smile the brightest; the last movement the gracefullest. When you pass’d my window home yesterday, I was fill’d with as much admiration as if I had then seen you for the first time."
So what about you? Do you still write a real, old-fashioned love letter on occasion? Or do you send them via e-mail? Do you have a favorite one from history? I still enjoy Darcy’s missive to Elizabeth Bennett, even though I’ve read it a zillion times.