From Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) to his wife, Livy, on her thirtieth birthday:
Hartford, November 27, 1875
Livy daring, six years have gone by since I made my first great success in life and won you, and thirty years have passed since Providence made preparation for that happy success by sending you into the world. Every day we live together adds to the security of my confidence that we can never any more wish to be separated than that we can ever imagine a regret that we were ever joined. You are dearer to me to-day, my child, than you were upon the last anniversary of this birth-day; you were dearer then than you were a year before — you have grown more and more dear from the first of those anniversaries, and I do not doubt that this precious progression will continue on to the end.
Let us look forward to the coming anniversaries, with their age and their gray hairs without fear and without depression, trusting and believing that the love we bear each other will be sufficient to make them blessed.
So with abounding affection for you and our babies, I hail this day that brings you matronly grace and dignity of three decades.
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My Own Boy,
Your sonnet is quite lovely, and it is a marvel that those red rose-leaf lips of yours should have been made no less for music of song than for madness of kisses. Your slim gilt soul walks between passion and poetry. I know Hyacinthus, whom Apollo loved so madly, was you in Greek days.
Why are you alone in London, and when do you go to Salisbury? Do go there to cool your hands in the grey twilight of Gothic things, and come here whenever you like. It is a lovely place — it only lacks you; but go to Salisbury first.
Always, with undying love, yours
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From Ernest Hemingway to Mary Welsh — his fourth and final wife (the spelling errors here appear in the original letter):
September 13, 1944
This is only a note to tell you how much I love you. We have had dinner and there was nothing spiritous to drink — the celebration having out-cleaned us yest. and no new alcoholic centers taken. There are lots of troops around tonight and can sleep without challenging (or throwing one's true love out of bed). Stevie is writing his girl a masterful letter about how American Woman Do Not Appreciate What a Soldier — A Man Trained to Kill — goes through and Expects in Return — and reading me excerpts and I am just happy and purring like an old jungle beast because I love you and you love me. I hope you were quite serious Pickle because I am as committed as an armoured column in a narrow defile where no vehicle can turn and without parallel roads. I am committed horse, foot, and guns — so take good care of you for me, and for us and we will fight the best on we, or anyone, could ever fight — for what we spoke about — against loneliness, chickenshit, death, injustice, un-understanding sloth (our old enemy), substitutions, all fear and many other worthless things — and in favour of you sitting up straight in bed lovelier than any figure head on the finest ship, tallest ship that ever drew on canvas or heeled over to a wind; and in favour of kindness, permanence, loveing each other and fine loveing nights, and days, in bed. Pickle I love you very much and am your partner, friend, and true love.
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Books mentioned in this post
Samara O'Shea is the author of For the Love of Letters: A 21st-Century Guide to the Art of Letter Writing