Love letters from Keats, Byron, Napoleon, and the f---ing P of W!!!!
Yesterday, in the run-up to Valentine’s Day on Thursday, I offered you the seven secrets of successful love-letter writing.
Today, I thought I’d offer you ten moments from ten memorable love letters, to inspire you as you write yours and to show you what can be achieved. (Actually, No 4 is here not to inspire, but as a dreadful warning . . . Baby-talk in a love letter doesn’t stand the test of time.)
1. This is from the American playwright Eugene O’Neill, written a few months before he died in 1953: ‘To darling Carlotta, my wife, who for twenty-three years has endured with love and understanding my rotten nerves, my lack of stability, and my cussedness in general. I am old and would be sick of life, were it not that you, sweetheart, are here, as deep and understanding in your love as ever - and I as deep in my love for you, as when we stood in Paris, July 22nd 1929, and both said “Oui”.’
2. Here is Robert Schumann writing to Clara Schumann in 1838: ‘What a heavenly morning! All the bells are ringing; the sky is so golden and blue and clear - and before me lies your letter. I send you my first kiss, beloved.’
3. Lord Byron to Teresa Guiccioli, 1819: ‘My dearest Teresa . . . My destiny rests with you, and you are a woman, eighteen years of age, and two out of a convent. I wish that you had stayed there, with all my heart - or, at least, that I had never met you in your married state. But all this is too late. I love you, and you love me - at least, you say so, and act as if you did so, which is a great consolation in all events. But I more than love you, and cannot cease to love you. Think of me, sometimes, when the Alps and ocean divide us - but they never will, unless you wish it. Byron’
4. It’s a collector’s item this one, but for real, I promise you - Edward, Prince of Wales, writing to his mistress, Mrs Freda Dudley Ward in 1919: ‘My vewy vewy own precious darling beloved little Fredie - I can never never tell you how I loathed our parting this morning angel, although only for a fortnight; 2 weeks out of the short 10 weeks that remain before my next f-cking world trip!! . . . I’m just going to bed so as to be asleep by midnight (according to your orders) but I just can’t till I’ve written you a few lines to say how I’m missing you & wanting you tonight & how hopelessly lonely & lost I feel!! . . . I’ll finish this tomorrow as I’m so so thleepy & you must be too; baby mine pleath do take the greatest care of your precious little self; now it’s my turn to preach!!
‘Be vewy vewy careful of the ‘hunt horses’ they might give you to ride if you do hunt as one can’t trust them & then you haven’t ridden for such ages!! I’m vewy vewy worried at the idea of your riding rotten horses, you just mustn’t!! If only - but then it’s the usual reason why I shouldn’t lend you horses, merely because I’m the bloody f-cking P of W!!!!’
5. Let’s raise our sights again, with this one, a letter written by Ludwig van Beethoven but never sent. It was found in a drawer after his death: ‘My angel, my all, my other self. Just a few words today, and that in pencil. Tell me, could our love exist other than by sacrifices, by not desiring everything? Is it your fault that you are not wholly mine, that I am not wholly yours? For the moment look at the loveliness of nature and calm your spirit about what has to be. We will surely see each other soon. You are suffering. I know from your letters you are suffering, my dearest treasure, but we must be patient. Wherever I am, there you are also. I shall make it possible for us to live together - and then what a life it will be! Angel, the post leaves early today so I must finish this so that you can get it as soon as possible. Be calm, my love, today, yesterday, tomorrow. I long with tears for you. You! You! YOU! My life, my everything, farewell. Only go on loving me and never deny the true heart of your loving L. Yours eternally, mine eternally, ours eternally.’
6. Zelda Fitzgerald to F Scott Fitzgerald, 1920: ‘I look down the tracks and see you coming - and out of every haze & mist your darling rumpled trousers are hurrying to me - Without you, dearest dearest I couldn’t see or hear or feel or think - or live - I love you so and I’m never in all our lives going to let us be apart another night. It’s like begging for mercy of a storm or killing Beauty or growing old, without you. I want to kiss you so - and in the back where your dear hair starts and your chest - I love you - and I can’t tell you how much - To think that I’ll die without your knowing - Goofo, you’ve got to try to feel how much I do - how inanimate I am when you’re gone - I can’t even hate these damnable people - Nobodys got any right to live but us - and they’re dirtying up our world and I can’t hate them because I want you so - Come quick - Come quick to me - I could never do without you if you hated me and were covered with sores like a leper - if you ran away with another woman or starved me and beat me - I still would want you I know - Lover, Lover, Darling - Your Wife’
7. John Keats to Fanny Brawne: ‘My dearest Girl, This moment I have set myself to copy some verses out fair. I cannot proceed with any degree of content. I must write you a line or two and see if that will assist in dismissing you from my Mind for ever so short a time. Upon my Soul I can think of nothing else. The time is passed when I had power to advise and warn you against the unpromising morning of my Life. My love has made me selfish. I cannot exist without you. I am forgetful of everything but seeing you again - my Life seems to stop there - I see no further. You have absorbed me. I have a sensation at the present moment as though I was dissolving - I should be exquisitely miserable without the hope of soon seeing you. I should be afraid to separate myself far from you. My sweet Fanny, will your heart never change? My love, will it? I have no limit now to my love . . . Yours for ever, John Keats
8. Napoleon Bonaparte to Josephine Bonaparte, 1796: ‘I have not spent a day without loving you; I have not spent a night without embracing you; I have not so much as drunk a single cup of tea without cursing the pride and ambition which force me to remain separated from the moving spirit of my life. In the midst of my duties, whether I am at the head of my army or inspecting the camps, my beloved Josephine stands alone in my heart, occupies my mind, fills my thoughts. If I am moving away from you with the speed of the Rhone torrent, it is only that I may see you again more quickly. If I rise to work in the middle of the night, it is because this may hasten by a matter of days the arrival of my sweet love.’
9. Nathaniel Hawthorne to Sophia Hawthorne, c 1839: ‘Dearest - I wish I had the gift of making rhymes, for methinks there is poetry in my head and heart since I have been in love with you. You are a Poem. Of what sort, then? Epic? Mercy on me, no! A sonnet? No; for that is too labored and artificial. You are a sort of sweet, simple, gay, pathetic ballad, which Nature is singing, sometimes with tears, sometimes with smiles, and sometimes with intermingled smiles and tears.’
10. Winston Churchill to Clementine Churchill, 1935: ‘My darling Clemmie, In your letter from Madras you wrote some words, vy dear to me, about my having enriched yr life. I cannot tell you what pleasure this gave me, because I always feel so overwhelmingly in yr debt, if there can be accounts in love. It was sweet of you to write thus to me, & I hope & pray I shall be able to make you happy & secure during my remaining years, and cherish you my darling one as you deserve, & leave you in comfort when my race is run. What it has been to me to live all these years in yr heart & companionship no phrases can convey. Times passes swiftly, but is it not joyous to see how great growing is the treasure we have gathered together, amid the storms & stresses of so many eventful, & to millions tragic & terrible years?’