Retro romantics sure had a flair for putting passion on paper He Wrote, She Wrote

February 13, 1994|By Patrick A. McGuire

The thing about love letters is that almost anyone can write one -- which makes just about almost everyone an expert on the subject. Odd, because nowhere in our schooling were we ever taught how to wax poetic on the subject of love. How to diagram sentences? Boy, they were heavy on that. How to write a term paper on the Hundred Years War? Hoo boy, ad nauseam. But love letters? Heck, did you even hear the word love mentioned? The closest we came was in biology class when we dissected grasshoppers.

In fact, love-letter writing is just one of those things that comes naturally for most people -- much like sighing or blurting. Which probably explains why sighing and blurting are the two most often used formats for love letters. The sighing approach is as old as dirt -- one can practically feel the writer's depression at being parted from his or her loved one. "My Dearest: Most likely I'll be dead of melancholy by the time you read this. Please feed the iguana." Completely opposite is the more confident, "blurt" approach: "Hey! I love you! Get the next plane out here! Now! Bring those underwear things I sent you! Now!"

Not surprisingly, there are very few rules to writing a love letter. First, make sure you correctly spell the name of the person to whom you're writing. Second, make sure you send it to the right person. Third, never ask for money.

With that in mind, here is a sampling of love letters from some pretty famous lovers, followed by a helpful critique to guide your

own efforts.

Humorist Will Rogers to his wife, Betty (1909)

My Own Darling Wife,

just a little note before i go up stairs cause I am lonesome and wishing you were up there waiting for me. and you will be in a few days won't you hon. "G" I sho do love you and I miss you oh so much and think of you all the time and I said some mean things in some of my letters and I did not mean a one of them. you are so good to me and I am the one who is wrong and you must forgive me cause I dont mean a bit of it and I will show you when you come "home."

Well Goodnight my own my love you are the best and dearest wife in the world.

your billy

The subtle use of self-pity here is, of course, brilliant, making this a model sigh letter. Rogers was away from his bride of six months on a performance tour in Cincinnati and was reportedly so bummed out he actually met a man he didn't like.

You shall now receive (my deare wife) my last words in these my last lines. My love I send you that you may keep it when I am dead, and my councell that you may remember it when I am no more. I would not by my will present you with sorrowes (dear Besse) let them go to the grave with me and be buried in the dust. And seeing that it is not Gods will that I should see you any more in this life, beare it patiently, and with a heart like thy selfe.

. . . When I am gone, no doubt you shall be sought for by many, for the world thinkes I was very rich. But take heed of the pretences of men, and their affections, for they last not but in honest and worthy men . . . . I speake not this (God knowes) to dissuade you from marriage, for it will be best for you, both in respect of the world and of God. As for me I am no more yours, nor you mine, death hath cut us asunder: and God hath divided

me from the world, and you from me.

Yours that was, but now not my own.

Walter Rawleigh

Other than the fact he was such a terrible speller he got his own name wrong, this expands on the sigh approach by adding the masterstroke of imminent execution to cement the guilt the writer is trying to impart on the reader. Raleigh thought the hour for his execution was near but, oops! he was kept in the Tower of London till 1616, then released to search for gold. When he failed to find it, he was then beheaded. His last words to his love, scrawled on a piece of parchment: "Er, see previous note."

Wonderful man, where are you tonight? Your letter came only an hour ago -- a cruel hour -- I had hoped you would spend it with me.

I cannot live apart from you now -- your words, even when bitter, dispel all the cares of the world and make me happy; my art has been nourished by them and rocked in their soft cradle. They are as necessary to me as sunlight and air. Your words are my food,

your breath my wine. You are everything to me.

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