The Lost Art of Love Letters

With Valentine’s Day looming large, my thoughts have turned to the lost art of hand-written love letters.

Some of the great romances of the past were sustained through love letters. Maybe we can learn something from these passionate lovers  about speaking from the heart, through some of the books which have preserved their correspondence.

Here are a few examples:

Passionate Love Letters - An Anthology of Desire (Shooting Star Press, NY, 1996)

To create the beautiful book Passionate Love Letters (shown above),  author Michelle Lovric tracked down and photographed the originals of significant love letters  in museums and libraries all over the world.   It contains actual facsimile letters folded into envelopes which are attached to pages throughout the book.  The author also wrote Love Letters – An Anthology of Passion (1995)  and How to Write Love Letters (1996).

Here some passages, from the sublime to the simple:

One night when there was a clear moon, I sat down to write a poem about maple-trees.  But the dazzle of Moonlight in the ink blinded me, and I could only write what I remembered.  Therefore, on the wrapping of my poem I have inscribed your name.” – From a letter by American poet Amy Lowell (1874-1925)

and from George Bernard Shaw to Mrs. Patrick Campbell, March 20, 1913:

“The velvet dress, the velvet dress, the velvet dress…”

The letters of Ronald Reagan to his wife Nancy were written no matter what else was going on or where he was–traveling to make movies, at the White House, or on Air Force One, or sometimes even just across the room.

I Love You, Ronnie (Random House, NY, 2000)

My Darling,

Here it is–our day, and if we were home we’d have a fire and “funnies” and we’d hate anyone who called or dropped in…”   Ronald Reagan to his wife Nancy, March 20, 1955

Wallis and Edward - Letters 1931-1937 (Summit Books, NY, 1986)

Then there was the love affair that rocked the world when Edward VIII gave up the throne of England for American divorcee Wallis Simpson.   The book above is a collection of intimate letters exchanged between the two lovers and their letters are some of the most romantic documents of our time.

“Maybe you realise that I am enough like my mother to be completely inadequate at expressing my feelings when I feel the most.  I really never knew such an unselfish and beautiful character as you are and I don’t deserve one bit of your goodness except for the fact that you know I love you better than anyone in the world and will always be on hand when you need me…” – Wallis to Edward while on board RMS Olympic, May 17, 1933

Letter writing, in general, has become a thing of the past, which is sad.  Letters were often preserved, and give us a window to our history; how people really lived and thought and felt in other times and circumstances.  Most schools have ceased teaching cursive writing, so your children or grandchildren may not even be able to read hand-written letters from the past, let alone write any for the present or future.   Texting and e-mail has become our ephemeral means of communication, and there is nothing intimate or lasting about it.

So here’s a thought:  If you really want to impress your true love this Valentine’s Day, you may want to give  something rare, personal and worth keeping…a love letter.

(All book photos used in this article are from Old Scrolls Book Shop and are currently available on the website.)




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