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Writing a love letter

As archivists, we don’t often tell people how to create their documents. Unless asked, of course, then the gloves are off. But on this St. Valentine’s Day Eve, I’ve found a nice little nugget in the 1885 Gay’s Standard Encyclopedia on how to write a love letter and I’d like to share it with you. From page 107-108.


The love letter ought to be more easy to write than any other, premising always that the writer is really under the influence of the grand passion. Upon first addressing the object of your regard, there should be no prudent hesitation about committing yourself too far. You either love the fair being whom you address, or you do not. If you are not decided upon that point, you do wrong to write at all; but if you earnestly desire to unit your destiny with hers, you must, in the first instance, give her to understand that you entertain for her a sincere and earnest admiration.

Your letters should express respect blended with exalted and overpowering passion, and this applies more particularly to your first letter. A tame, hesitating lover cannot make a strong impression upon the hearts of the gentle sex. The writer must show the woman of his choice that his love is too real and too violent to be prudent, or to have any place for a selfish fear of compromising himself. He must compromise himself fearlessly and thoroughly in his first address to her, and have his mind made up to stand the hazard of the die; for the first think a man has to do when disclosing his love for a woman, is, to convince her that he does love her, and that he loves her a great deal, and her alone.

Let this be the aim of your letters; speak just as you feel, and speak out all that you feel, in straightforward simple, honest language–which is always the language of strong emotion–and if she be a virtuous woman, whose heart has not been hackneyed by the arts of coquetry, she will know how to estimate your sincerity and your devotion.

It is best to use gilt-edged paper, and of a fine quality; write in good hand if possible; fold and seal your missive neatly, and direct it in a bold plain manner, that it may not fall into the hands of the wrong person, and expose your lady-love to the jeers and malicious remarks of idle and heartless worldlings.

So there. But since the Encylopedia aims to be a comprehensive work, the editors provide some examples. You have to page past the “Letters on the Sickness and Death of President Garfield” for a while, but they’re there. Several options, in fact.

  • To an acquaintance of long standing
  • To a widow from a widower
  • To the father of a lady
  • To a young lady to whom one is engaged
  • To an early companion and playmate
  • Explaining away an apparent slight
  • From a young man avowing a passion
  • To a lady
  • From a young man to his sweetheart

Since my fingers won’t hold out on copying all those, I’ll share one that particularly matches the context for the above advice. You’ll have to come look at the book to see the rest! From page 129, “From a young man avowing a passion:”

New York, Feb. 13, 18—

Dear Miss —-:— It is with no small degree of apprehension, as to the manner in which you may receive the following avowal, that I take up my pen to address you; but I have so long struggled with my feelings that they have now got the better of my irresolution; and throwing aside all hesitation, I have ventured, although alarmed at my own boldness in doing so, to lay open my whole heart before you. For months past I have been oppressed with a passion that has entirely superseded every other feeling of my heart–that passion is love–and youyou alone are the object of it. In vain have I endeavored to drive the idea from my mind, by every art that I could possibly think of; in vain have I sought out every amusement that might have a tendency to relieve my mind from the bias which it has taken, but love has taken that firm hold of my whole soul, that I am unable to entertain but one idea, on thought, on feeling; and that is always yourself. I neglect myself, my business, and can neither hear nor see any one thing–but you bear the chief part therein. Believe me, I am sincere, when I assert that I feel it totally impossible to live apart from you–when near you, I am in paradise–when absent, I feel in torture; this, I solemnly assure you, is a true description of the feelings with which my breast is continually agitated, and it remains only for you to give a reality to those hopes, or at once to crush them, by a single word; say but that word, and I am the happiest or the most miserable of mankind.

Yours, till death,

Charles Coan.

If you decide to try it, let us know how it goes for you!

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