The Catherine Dickson Hofman branch of the Warren County Library offered a ZOOM lecture entitled “The Greatest Love Letters of the Last 300 Years” given by Terry Antoniewicz, a professional handwriting analyst who has lectured in the United States and Canada for 30 years. She has worked with law enforcement agencies analyzing documents for forgery.
She encouraged people to handwrite a note or send a postcard instead of sending a text or e-mail. She said cursive writing is becoming a lost skill. Even Christmas cards are being replaced with e-cards and too often they end up being deleted. Although forever still existing in the “cloud,” these cherished messages are lost if access is hampered.
“I want to dedicate this program to all those who love and all those who need love,” Antoniewicz said. “Can you remember your first love letter? Do you still have a treasured love letter or perhaps a funny, sweet letter of affection from the past? Handwritten love letters provide a colorful insightful key to the soul of the writer.”
When was the last time you wrote a note to tell someone they’re special and that you think about them? Before computers, people would sit down at a desk with a piece of paper and a pen to compose a message. Paper was a precious commodity. She described that to mark the first-year anniversary, married couples would romantically declare their love for each other in writing.
In the 1800s, literacy was at its highest, postal service was at its best, and even without a proper address the letter would get to its party. The only way to communicate was with handwritten letters.
George Washington and his wife, Martha, were very private people, so they decided that when they died their letters to each other would be burned. A few letters remained though, stuck in back of Martha’s desk drawer. These letters were written during the Revolutionary War and illustrated the deep affection the couple shared.
“Phila. June 23d 1775.
As I am within a few minutes of leaving this city, I could not think of departing from it without dropping you a line; especially as I do not know whether it may be in my power to write again till I get to the Camp at Boston—I go fully trusting in that providence, which has been more bountiful to me than I deserve and in full confidence of a happy meeting with you sometime in the Fall—I have not time to add more, as I am surrounded with company to take leave of me—I retain an unalterable affection for you, which neither time or distance can change, my best love to Jack and Nelly and regards for the rest of the family concludes me with the utmost truth and sincerity.
Antoniewicz spoke of President Woodrow Wilson’s love letters to his second wife, Edith Bowling. They met a year after his first wife died. He was smitten with her. His letters are playful, sweet and loving.
Antoniewicz also spoke of Henry VIII. The infamous king had many mistresses, and it was hard for the women of his affection to say no, as they were intimidated by his despotic temper which could result in death. Henry VIII wrote Anne Boleyn a collection of love letters which still survive today in the Vatican Library. The letters show Henry VIII’s romantic side and his strong feelings for the ill-fated Anne.
French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte met Josephine (or Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie) when he was a young general. Josephine was an educated wealthy woman with many lovers. Napoleon had his affairs also as monogamy was not a part of the culture.
The couple decided to marry in 1776, two days later Napoleon immediately left for a military campaign in Italy. He wanted Josephine at his side. She declined. His letter revealed his heartbreak and anger that Josephine did not accompany him. Napoleon was often jealous of Josephine’s other lovers. Josephine could no longer bear children which led to their divorce even though he loved her so much. Here is one of the many letters written by Napoleon.
“Marmirolo, July 17, 1796
Ever since I left you, I have been sad. I am only happy when by your side. Ceaselessly I recall your kisses, your tears, your enchanting jealousy and the charms of the incomparable Josephine keep constantly alight, a bright and burning flame in my heart and senses. When free from every worry, from all business, shall I spend all my moments by your side, to have nothing to do but to love you and to prove it to you? I shall send your horse, but I am hoping that you will soon be able to rejoin me. I thought I loved you some days ago; but, since I saw you, I feel that I love you even a thousand times more. Ever since I have known you, I worship you more every day. Love comes all at once. Everything in nature has a regular course and different degrees of growth. Ah! pray let me see some of your faults; be less beautiful, less gracious, less tender and especially less kind; above all never be jealous, never weep; your tears madden me, fire my blood. Be sure that it is no longer possible for me to have a thought except for you, or an idea of which you shall not be the judge.”
President Gerald Ford wrote beautiful love letters to his wife Betty when she was diagnosed with cancer. He spoke of their family and how words could not express his love for her.
To conclude, Antoniewicz encouraged us to handwrite a Valentine’s Day card, write a poem, enjoy the experience of the art of the handwritten word.
It’s estimated that 10 million letters were exchanged during World War I, giving the soldiers a will to live. Antoniewicz recalls stories of how a letter can touch others, even with a little note of encouragement.
The suggested readings for the “Greatest Love Letters of the Last 300 Years” ©2021 By Terry Antoniewicz:
- “Dear Selma: A WW II Love Letter Romance” by Bernard D. Brown, Shelley N. Brown
246 handwritten letters
- “Children’s Letters to God” by Stuart E. Hample (shows the purest love by innocent children)
- “Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald
(the love letters of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald)
- “Remember How I Love You” by Jerry Orbach and Elaine Orbach with Ken Bloom and forward by Sam Waterston
- “Love Letters of Great Men and Women from the 18th Century to the Present Day” by C. H. Charles
- “Love and Friendship” by Jane Austin
- Additional recommendation: There are many books on love letters. You may want to search by key words to find what is available in your library, here are a few: “Love Letters of Great Men,” “Love Letters of Great Men and Women,” “50 Greatest Love Letters,” “Greatest Love Letters of All Time,” “Greatest Love Letters in History” and “Greatest Love Letters Ever Written.” Check out this link about presidential love letters at https://www.history.com/news/romantic-in-chief-presidential-love-letters-from-adams-to-nixon.