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The History of Love Letters - Forget emojis and ILY.

Jan 19 2024

Historic love letters show us how to really make hearts beat faster.

We came across a wonderful article from National Public Radio about historic 1750s love letters that spoke to us of History Chip’s mission.

“Lost French love letters from the 1750s reveal what life was like during wartime”

November 6, 20237:01 PM ET

Heard on All Things Considered


Kai McNamee

The article described packages of old love letters that were sent to sailors in the 1750s but hadn’t even been opened until just recently.

Sent between 1757-58 during the Seven Years War, the letters were mostly addressed to the crew of the Galatée warship, and the French postal administration forwarded them from port to port in hopes of reaching the sailors. But when Britain's Royal Navy captured the Galatée in April 1758, French authorities forwarded the batch of letters to England.

There they remained unopened for centuries, until the historian Renaud Morieux of the University of Cambridge discovered them in the digital inventory of Britain's National Archives. He checked out the box from the archives with no idea what he would find inside.

The box came with [104 letters] three packs of letters wrapped in white ribbon.

These letters, sent by common people to sailors, shine a light on life in the 1750s. These letters don’t just illuminate the language of love and affection in the 1750s, they also reveal so much about life in the 1750s - how was mail delivered, how was it written and sent, what was important to the sender, what information about daily life did their letters describe? These letters were written to loved ones who have been away on a ship for months. One mother writes to her son, “In any case I wish you a happy new year filled with blessings of the Lord. I think I am for the tomb, I have been ill for three weeks.” The letter writers are sharing information about home, family, health and daily life. Love letters contain more than just passion. They share the details of life, much like stories on History Chip.

The article didn’t reveal much of the content of these letters. We imagine that many wives and lovers wrote of their ardor for their sailors away at sea. The language of love is fairly consistent throughout history. We write of the ache of missing a loved one. And though we don’t have florid passages to share with you from these French fiancees and wives, we do have wonderful passages from some other old love letters to share with you.

Here are excerpts from 6 steamy love letters from history that offer inspiration for passionate words for someone you love:

Napoleon Bonaparte to Josephine

July 17, 1796

Ah! I entreat you to permit me to see some of your faults. Be less beautiful, less gracious, less affectionate, less good, especially be not over-anxious, and never weep. Your tears rob me of reason, and inflame my blood. Believe me it is not in my power to have a single thought which is not of thee, or a wish I could not reveal to thee.

Frida Kahlo to Diego Rivera

Nothing compares to your hands, nothing like the green-gold of your eyes. My body is filled with you for days and days. You are the mirror of the night. The violent flash of lightning. The dampness of the earth. The hollow of your armpits is my shelter. My fingers touch your blood. All my joy is to feel life spring from your flower-fountain that mine keeps to fill all the paths of my nerves which are yours.

Georgia O’Keefe to Alfred Stieglitz

Dearest — my body is simply crazy with wanting you — If you don't come tomorrow — I don't see how I can wait for you — I wonder if your body wants mine the way mine wants yours — the kisses — the hotness — the wetness — all melting together — the being held so tight that it hurts — the strangle and the struggle.

Ludwig Von Beethoven to his “Immortal Beloved”

Though still in bed, my thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, Be calm-love me-today-yesterday-what tearful longings for you-you-you-my life-my all-farewell. Oh continue to love me-never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved. Ever thine. Ever mine. Ever ours.

Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Wolfe

I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia,” she wrote. "I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way…I miss you even more than I could have believed; and I was prepared to miss you a good deal. So this letter is really just a squeal of pain. It is incredible how essential to me you have become. I suppose you are accustomed to people saying these things. Damn you, spoilt creature; I shan’t make you love me any more by giving myself away like this — But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you: I love you too much for that. Too truly. You have no idea how stand-offish I can be with people I don’t love. I have brought it to a fine art. But you have broken down my defenses. And I don’t really resent it.

Jimmy Carter to Rosalyn Carter

My darling, every time I have ever been away from you I have been thrilled when I returned to discover just how wonderful you are. While I am away I try to convince myself that you really are not, could not be as sweet and beautiful as I remember. But when I see you I fall in love with you all over again.

Our lives are so much more than our daily comings and goings. We are creatures who seek love, who fall in love, who give love and it occupies so much of our lives. Innumerable songs, poetry, novels, and yes, texts, have been written about love, and not just romantic love but about love for our children and our parents and our friends. Love is a fundamental motivation of life. We invite you to share a love letter, or perhaps a story about love, about someone away at sea who you miss and hunger for, like those writers of love letters in the 1750s. Love fills our souls. We don’t really understand it but we know we crave it, we are filled with it, perplexed by it and our hearts break over it.

Remember the song Blueberry Hill, by Fats Domino? Read one of our best love stories, Elsie Johnson’s story about the one that got away. Then maybe you will be inspired to add your own love story!

Blueberry Hill - My First Love, by Elsie Johnson