Here are 10 of the most popular romantic love letters in history.
1. George H. Bush to Barbara Bush
"This should be a very easy letter to write — words should come easily and in short it should be simple for me to tell you how desperately happy I was to open the paper and see the announcement of our engagement, but somehow I can't possibly say all in a letter I should like to. I love you, precious, with all my heart and to know that you love me means my life. How often I have thought about the immeasurable joy that will be ours some day. How lucky our children will be to have a mother like you..."
Perhaps one of the most romantic love letters of all time was written by late U.S. President George H. Bush to his wife, Barbara. In 1942, on the heels of World War II, Bush enlisted in the Navy, and while stationed overseas, wrote letters to both his parents and then-girlfriend, Barbara Pierce of Rye, New York. To this day, only one love letter to Barbara remains from the former president's time overseas, as Barbara reportedly lost the majority of her letters in a move after the pair were married. In the surviving letter, Bush joyfully explains how he envisions the couple's future, and describes how "lucky" their future children will be.
2. Napoleon Bonaparte to Joséphine de Beauharnais
"Since I left you, I have been constantly depressed. My happiness is to be near you. Incessantly I live over in my memory your caresses, your tears, your affectionate solicitude. The charms of the incomparable Joséphine kindle continually a burning and a glowing flame in my heart. When, free from all solicitude, all harassing care, shall I be able to pass all my time with you, having only to love you, and to think only of the happiness of so saying, and of proving it to you?"
While known for his ruthlessness, French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte also possessed a softer side. In letters to his wife, Joséphine, the military leader reveals a vulnerability not found in his autocratic approach to expanding the French empire. And while he later divorced her when she could not have children, Napoleon continued to write to Joséphine for years after their separation. In one particular letter, penned while Napoleon was commanding the French army near Italy a few months after their marriage, he expresses, quite romantically, how much he misses his wife.
3. Ernest Hemingway to Marlene Dietrich
"I can't say how every time I ever put my arms around you I felt that I was home," he writes.
Nobel Prize-winning American novelist Ernest Hemingway was a prolific, confident writer, but in his letters to actress Marlene Dietrich, he shows a more vulnerable side. Hemingway wrote Dietrich, his best friend, approximately 30 letters between 1949 to 1959, but as Dietrich's daughter, Maria Riva, explains in a New York Times article, the two were merely close friends.
4. Frida Kahlo to Diego Rivera
Mirror of the night
Your eyes green swords inside my flesh. waves between our hands.
All of you in a space full of sounds — in the shade and in the light. You were called AUXOCHROME the one who captures color. I CHROMOPHORE — the one who gives color.
You are all the combinations of numbers. life. My wish is to understand lines form shades movement. You fulfill and I receive. Your word travels the entirety of space and reaches my cells which are my stars then goes to yours which are my light.”
Mexican painter and cultural icon, Frida Kahlo remains best known for her vibrant self-portraits, which fuse surrealism with a traditional Mexican aesthetic. From 1929 to 1954, Kahlo was married to prominent Mexican painter Diego Rivera, during which time she penned a number of profound love letters to her husband. The letters, republished in The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait, are representative of the intense, and often volatile, nature of their relationship.
5. Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas
"Everyone is furious with me for going back to you, but they don't understand us. I feel that it is only with you that I can do anything at all. Do remake my ruined life for me, and then our friendship and love will have a different meaning to the world. I wish that when we met at Rouen we had not parted at all. There are such wide abysses now of space and land between us. But we love each other."
Oscar Wilde is undoubtedly one of the greatest, and most celebrated, writers of all time– prolific in spite of the enormous indignities he was subjected to throughout his short life. Imprisoned multiple times for the ‘crime’ of homosexuality, Wilde became bankrupt and died in impoverished exile in Paris, aged 46. His ‘sinful,’ forbidden love for English author and poet Lord Alfred Douglas informed much of his work, and Wilde’s profound feelings are beautifully expressed in his letters to Lord Douglas, republished in Oscar Wilde: A Life in Letters.
6. 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."
This letter was found after Beethoven died, addressed to the unknown lover named “Immortal Beloved”. The iconic composer and pianist wrote a number of letters in 1812, still largely a mystery, which paint a very vivid picture. Many historians believe Beethoven's "Beloved" to have been a diplomat’s daughter, named Antonie Brentano, to whom the composer dedicated his "Diabelli Variations Op. 120."
7. Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan
"The important thing is I don't want to be without you for the next 20 years, or 40, or however many there are. I've gotten very used to being happy and I love you very much indeed."
Another former politician whose romantic writings are worth mentioning: 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. In a letter to his wife, Nancy, in 1972, prior to their 20th anniversary, Reagan (who, at the time and prior to his presidency, was serving as the Governor of California) penned a romantic note to his wife expressing his undying love for her, and explaining that he never wants to leave her side.
8. Zelda Fitzgerald to F Scott Fitzgerald
"Darling – I love these velvet nights. I’ve never been able to decide … whether I love you most in the eternal classic half-lights where it blends with day or in the full religious fan-fare of mid-night or perhaps in the lux of noon. Anyway, I love you most and you ’phoned me just because you phoned me tonight – I walked on those telephone wires for two hours after holding your love like a parasol to balance me."
If you’re familiar with Zelda and F Scott Fitzgerald, a short-story writer and novelist, you know that they had a tumultuous relationship and intense passion for each other. She suffered from mental illness, while he struggled with alcoholism. Although they often hurt each other through affairs, they were devoted to each other.
9. Patti Smith to Robert Mapplethorpe
In her 2010 memoir, Just Kids, American singer-songwriter, visual artist and author Patti Smith details her passionate love affair with famous photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, against the electric backdrop of the New York City punk rock movement. Although Smith went on to marry musician Fred “Sonic” Smith, she remained close friends with Mapplethorpe until his death in 1989. After his death, she wrote him this powerful letter:
Often as I lie awake I wonder if you are also lying awake. Are you in pain or feeling alone? You drew me from the darkest period of my young life, sharing with me the sacred mystery of what it is to be an artist. I learned to see through you and never compose a line or draw a curve that does not come from the knowledge I derived in our precious time together. Your work, coming from a fluid source, can be traced to the naked song of your youth. You spoke then of holding hands with God. Remember, through everything, you have always held that hand, grip it hard, Robert, and don’t let go. The other afternoon, when you fell asleep on my shoulder, I drifted off, too. But before I did, it occured to me looking around at all of your things and your work and going through years of work in my mind, that of all your work, you are still your most beautiful. The most beautiful work of all.
10. John Keats to Fanny Brawne
"My love has made me selfish. I cannot exist without you – I am forgetful of every thing but seeing you again – my Life seems to stop there – I see no further. You have absorb’d me…I would be martyr’d for my Religion – Love is my religion – I could die for that – I could die for you…"
John Keats met Fanny Brawne in late 1818 when he moved next door to the Brawne family, and it wasn’t long before Keats was head-over-heels in love with Fanny. Marriage would never work between them because, according to sources, he didn’t have enough money and his friends didn’t approve; however, he loved her and continued to write love letters brimming with emotion to her for three years. He died in 1821.