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The 50 Greatest Love Letters of All Timeby David H. Lowenherz
Horatio Nelson to Emma Hamilton
"I love you most tenderly and affectionately . . ."
Horatio Nelson (1758-1805). British admiral. Nelson, whose naval career began when he was twelve, advanced to the rank of commodore in 1796. A year later, he helped the British defeat the Spanish, French, and Dutch fleets at Cape St. Vincent and was promoted to rear admiral. That same year, he was shot in the right elbow, suffered through a botched amputation, and returned to active duty a few months later. In 1798, after his victory over the French at Abu Qir Bay (the Battle of the Nile), Nelson renewed his acquaintance with the extremely beautiful and vivacious Lady Emma Hamilton (nee Lyon; 1765-1815) who was the wife of the scholar and diplomat Sir William Hamilton. Emma had helped arrange a hero's welcome for Nelson when he returned to port in Naples, Italy, where her husband was the British envoy. Their liaison soon resulted in the birth of a daughter, Horatia, in 1801. On Nelson's instructions, Emma purchased a country house, Merton Place, in Surrey, outside London, and it was here that Nelson, as he writes below, was to spend many happy days. Sir William, now best remembered for tolerating their affair, died April 6, 1803, with his wife and her lover at his side. This letter, written on board the Victory from October 11 to the 13, is one of the very last Nelson wrote to his beloved Emma, before his decisive victory over the French, and his death off Trafalgar on October 21, 1805.
Mr. Denis request of Lt. Hargraves introduction shall be attended to but it must be considered that very few opportunities offer of ever getting on board the Commander-in-chief's ship in the Winter Months and, our battle I hope will be over long before the summer days. The wind has blown so fresh these two days that the Enemy if so disposed have not had the power of putting to Sea which I am firmly of opinion they intend. God send it for our selves as well as that of our Country well over. Our friend Sutton is going home for his health. Hoste has Amphion and Sir Wm Bolton Eurydice which I hope the Admiralty will approve. This is the last chance of Sir Billys making a fortune if he is active and persevering he may do it and be easy for life. Oh my Beloved Emma how I envy Sutton going home, his going to Merton and seeing you and Horatia. I do really feel that the 25 days I was at Merton was the very happiest of my life. Would to God they were to be passed over again but that time will I trust soon come and many many more days added to them. I have been as you may believe made very uneasy or rather uncomfortable by the situation of Sir Robt. Calder. He was to have gone home in another ship . . . However I have given way to his misery and have directed the Prince of Wales to carry him to Spithead for whatever the result of the enquiry might be. I think he has a right to be treated with Respect, therefore My Dear Emma do not form any opinion abt. him till the trial is over. I am working like a horse in a Mill but never the nearer finishing my task which I find difficulty enough in keeping clear from confusion but I never allow it to accumulate. Agamemnon is in sight and I hope to have letters from you who I hold dearer than any other person in this World and I shall hope to hear that all our family goes on well at that dear dear Cottage. Believe all I would say upon this occasion but letters being in quarantine may be read, not that I care who knows that I love you most tenderly and affectionately. I send you Adam Campbell's letter & copy of those from the King & Queen. You see they would never wish me out of the Mediterranean. Kiss Dear Horatia a thousand times for Your faithful Nelson & Bronte.
Though she inherited money from both her husband and Nelson, Emma squandered most of it and died, nearly destitute, in Calais, France. Horatia went on to marry an English clergyman and helped rear a large family.
George A. Custer to Elizabeth Custer
"Yours through time and eternity . . ."
George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876). American general. The son of a blacksmith who graduated last in his West Point class of 1861, George went on to become a Civil War cavalry commander. Although eleven horses were shot out from under him, he was wounded only once, and was promoted to brigadier general at the age of twenty-three, and major general at twenty-five. In 1866, George became a lieutenant colonel of the 7th Cavalry, and took part in General Winfield Scott Hancock's expedition against the Plains Indians. His wife, Elizabeth (nee Bacon), or "Libbie," the daughter of an Ohio judge, was a well-educated, strong-minded woman with an ambitious spirit. She initially refused to marry George until he promised never to drink, swear, or gamble again, most of which he steadfastly continued to do. Her devotion was legendary, as she followed him throughout his military campaigns, staying in tents, farms, and boardinghouses. His feelings toward her were no less devotional--in 1867, George was court-martialed and suspended for one year without pay for having made an unauthorized visit to his wife at a nearby fort. On June 25, 1876, in an attempt to drive the Sioux and Cheyenne Indian tribes off Montana land, George, his brother Thomas, and 266 men under his command were massacred at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
The following letter was written shortly after the battle of Yellow Tavern, near Richmond, Virginia (May 11, 1864), an engagement in which George participated, and where the great Confederate general James Ewell Brown, or "JEB," Stuart was mortally wounded.
Dear little "durl"--Again I am called on to bid you adieu for a short period. To-morrow morning two Divisions, 1st and 2nd, of this Corps set out on another raid. We may be gone two or three weeks. I will write, the first opportunity. Keep up a stout heart, and remember the successful issue of the past. God and success have hitherto attended us. May we not hope for a continuance of His blessing?
With thoughts of my darling and with the holy inspiration of a just and noble cause I gladly set out to discharge my duty to my country with a willing heart. Need I repeat to my darling that while living she is my all, and if Destiny wills me to die, wills that my country needs my death, my last prayer will be for her, my last breath will speak her name and that Heaven will not be Heaven till we are joined together. Write to Monroe and tell them of my absence.
Yours through time and eternity,
John Ruskin to Euphemia Ruskin
". . . to think of all my happy hours . . ."
John Ruskin (1819-1900). English writer and art critic whose scholarship and opinions had considerable influence on Victorian English taste. John's parents recognized their son's complex genius from an early age, and tended to shelter him from the world. Their protection, however, could not help John overcome an unrequited love affair at the age of seventeen, which set the stage for his future relationships. High strung and self-centered, he cautiously entered into an engagement with Euphemia ("Effie") Gray, the Scottish daughter of family friends, and the two were married in April 1848. Though few of their love letters survive, many were written, and some were quite passionate. Nevertheless, their marriage seems never to have been consummated. John wanted to be surrounded by art and artists, and one of his close friendships was with the English painter John Everett Millais, with whom Effie fell in love. As soon as Millais was elected to the Royal Academy--an election which assured him of commissions and a financially secure future--Effie left John, obtained an annulment in July 1854, and married Millais several months later. Together they had eight children. John's father once slyly observed that "Effie is much better calculated for society than he [John] is--He is best in print." This letter from John to Effie dates from June 1849.
I have been thinking of you a great deal in my walks today, as of course I always do when I am not busy, but when I am measuring or drawing mountains, I forget myself--and my wife both; if I did not I could not stop so long away from her; for I begin to wonder whether I am married at all--and to think of all my happy hours, and soft slumber in my dearest lady's arms, as a dream--However I feel--in such cases--for my last letter and look at the signature and see that it is all right. I got one on Friday; that in which you tell me you are better--thank God; and that your father is so much happier, and that Alice is so winning and that you would like a little Alice of our own, so should I; a little Effie, at least. Only I wish they weren't so small at first that one hardly knows what one has got hold of . . .
I have for seven years thought over the various topics of dissuasion which you mention--nor have I yet come to any conclusion--but I asked you for your own feelings, as their expression would in some sort turn the scale with me--not affirmatively indeed--but negatively: as, if you were to tell me that you would be unhappy, living in Switzerland, I should dismiss the subject from my mind; while if you told me you could be comfortable there, I should retain the thought for future consideration, as circumstances may turn out. I wanted therefore to know, not so much whether you would like places of which you can at present form no conception, as whether you had any plans or visions of your own respecting this matter-- any castles in the air which I could realize--or any yearnings which I could supply. I myself have for some time wished to have a home proper, where I could alter a room without asking leave--and without taking leave of it after it was altered . . .
Poor Venice--I saw they were bombarding it last week. How all my visions about taking you there; and bringing you here, have been destroyed: Well, it might have been too much happiness to be good for me; as it would certainly have been more than I deserved--I mean in the common human sense, --since all our happiness is actually more than we deserve. I reconcile myself to your absence only by baking myself in the Sun, and thinking 'Effie couldn't have stood this' . . .
It is a lovely morning with broken clouds and one [paper torn] the great snow precipices of Mont Blanc--itself as high as [paper torn] cliffs of Dover, thought merely in the thickness of the snow, shows through a gap in the cloud like what one might fancy a piece of the moon, if one could break it up when it was new: there are such lovely snow lines beside it, too, white and waving--I don't know what they are like in the world, unless it be my Effie's shoulders . . .
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to Constanze Mozart
"Good night, little mouse"
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Austrian composer of more than 600 works, many of which are among the greatest instrumental and vocal creations of Western civilization. When just six years old, Mozart toured throughout Europe as a pianist with his father Leopold. By 1780, he had fallen in love with Aloysia Weber, the daughter of a copyist. When Aloysia married a court actor, Mozart's affections shifted to her younger sister, Constanze. In December 1781, he notified his father of his intentions to marry her, but it is unlikely that his father approved, for any letters that revealed the elder Mozart's reactions were later destroyed by Constanze. Mozart and Constanze were married on August 4, 1782, in the magnificent St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, and by all accounts had a happy marriage. Tragically, of their six children, only two survived into adulthood. In 1789, Mozart accompanied Prince Karl Lichnowsky on a trip through Germany, visiting that country's leading musical centers: Berlin, Leipzig, and Dresden, from where this letter--one of eleven written during the trip--was sent on April 13, 1789.
We expected to reach Dresden after dinner on Saturday, but we did not arrive until yesterday, Sunday, at two o'clock in the afternoon, because the roads were so bad. All the same I went yesterday to the Neumanns, where Madame Duschek is staying, in order to deliver her husband's letter. Her room is on the third floor beside the corridor and from it you can see anyone who is coming to the house. When I arrived at the door, Herr Neumann was already there and asked me to whom he had the honor to speak. "That I shall tell you in a moment," I replied, "but please be so kind as to call Madame Duschek, so that my joke may not be spoilt." But at the same moment Madame Duschek stood before me for she had recognized me from the window and had said at once: "Why here comes someone who is very like Mozart." Well, we were all delighted. There was a large party, consisting entirely of ugly women, who by their charm, however, made up for their lack of beauty. The Prince and I are going to breakfast there today; we shall then see Neumann and then the chapel. Tomorrow or the day after we shall leave for Leipzig. All the Neumanns and the Duscheks send their greetings to you and also to my brother-in-law Lange and his wife. Dearest little wife, if only I had a letter from you! If I were to tell you all the things I do with your dear portrait, I think that you would often laugh. For instance, when I take it out of its case, I say, "Good-day, Stanzerl!--Good-day, little rascal, pussy-pussy, little turned-up nose, little bagatelle, Schluck and Druck," and when I put it away again, I let it slip in very slowly, saying all the time, "Stu-Stu-Stu-Stu!" with the peculiar emphasis which this word so full of meaning demands, and then just at the last, quickly, "Good night, little mouse, sleep well." Well, I suppose I have been writing something very foolish (to the world at all events); but to us who love each other so dearly, it is not foolish at all. Today is the sixth day since I left you and by Heaven, it seems a year. I expect you will have some difficulty here and there in reading my letter, because I am writing in a hurry and therefore rather badly. Adieu, my only love! The carriage is waiting. This time I do not say: "Hurrah--the carriage has come at last," but "male." [Maledetto?] Farewell, and love me forever as I love you. I kiss you a million times most lovingly and am ever your husband who loves you tenderly.
PS--How is our Karl behaving? Well, I hope. Kiss him for me . . . Remember, you must not regulate the length of your letters by that of mine. Mine are rather short, but only because I am in a hurry. If I were not, I should cover a whole sheet. But you have more leisure. Adieu.
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