April 21, 2011

Love Letter Examples from 1798

 
"A young lady, in the freedom of conversation, said to a military friend, 'Pray, Captain, can you flirt a fan?'—' I do not think I can,' replied he, 'but I can do what is equally useful—I can fan a flirt and he immediately began to fan the young lady.'" -- Popular 19th century joke.



 These letters are excerpted from The Gentleman and Lady's Mirror, published in 1798 in Norwich, England. Each letter talks of a different romantic situation--many of which could have come straight from Jane Austen! 

Letter VI.

From a young Lady to a Gentleman who courts her, and whom she suspects of infidelity.

SIR,

THE sincerity and freedom with which I have at all times laid open my heart to you, ought to have some weight in my claim to a return of the same confidence. But I have reason to fear that the best men do not always act as they ought: I write to you what it would be impossible to speak; but, before I see you, I desire you will either explain your conduct of late, on confess that you have used me not as I have deserved of you. It is in vain to deny that you have taken pains to recommend yourself to Miss ____________; your behaviour towards me plainly indicates that you wish her love and not mine. I am not apt to be suspicious, but certainly now I have reasons to be; and I must be either blind or indifferent to overlook it. Sir, I am neither; tho' perhaps it would be better for me if I were one or the other.


LETTER VIII.

From a Lady to a Gentleman, requesting him to not visit her any more.

SIR,
YOUR attention to me lately, has been very particular; altho' you have not yet disclosed your motives, I must declare candidly, that your company is not, by any means pleasing to me. I presume therefore, that a man of your sense will not wish for any further explanation.

LETTER X.

From a Lady to a Gentleman that courted her whom she could not like, but was forced by her Parents to receive his visits, and think on none else for her husband.

IT is an exceeding ill return that I make the respects you have for me, Sir when I acknowledge to you that, though the day of our marriage is appointed, I am incapable of loving you: you may have observed, in the long conversations we have had at those times that we were left together, that some secret hung upon my mind. I was obliged to an ambitious behavior, and durst not reveal myself further, because my mother, from a closet near the place where we sat, could both hear and see our conversation.I have strict commands from both my parents to receive you, and am undone for ever, except you will be so kind and generous as to refuse me. Consider, Sir, the misery of bestowing yourself upon one who can have no prospect of happiness but from your death. This is a confession made perhaps with an offensive sincerity; but that conduct is much to be preferred to a covert dislike, which could not but pall all the sweets of life, by imposing on you a companion that doats and languished for another. I will not go so far as to say, my passion for the gentleman whose wife I am by promise, would lead me to any thing criminal against your honour. I know it is dreadful enough to a man of your sense to expect nothing but forced civilities in return for tender endearments, and cold esteem for undeserved love. If you will, on this occasion, let reason take place of passion, I doubt not but fate has in store for you some worthier object of your affection, in recompense of your goodness to the only woman that could be insensible of your esteem.

LETTER XII.

From a young lady who was addressed by a person of great estate, and fine person but one of those characters whose aims are dishonourable.

SIR,

THE little experience I have in writing letters, especially to your sex, renders this a presumption, which can be excused by nothing but the cause that enforces me to it. You know, Sir, the misfortune of my family, and that I have nothing but my virtue and reputation that I can call my own--The first will doubtless call into question the two others, should I continue to listen to the addresses of a gentleman of your fortune: --Permit me, therefore, for the future, to deny myself the honor of your visits; the disparity between us will not allow me to think you condescend to make them for any other end than your amusement; and, how low forever I am reduced, I have much too much pride to be the property of it. Were it possible, (which I am far from the vanity of imagining) that you found any thing in me worthy of a serious attachment, you are very sensible I am under the care of an uncle, who ought to be acquainted with it, and whom you cannot suppose, will make any objections to what he finds is for the true interest of one who shares so much in his blood. In consulting him on the affair, you will give the best proof of your sincerity, and is the only means to satisfy the scruples of B.B.

Letter XVIII.

From a young Gentleman to his Sister, disapprobating the practice of coquetry.

DEAR SISTER,

No information which I have received from our family, since I have been from home, has given me more disagreeable feelings, than that of being told that you have the disgusting character of being a coquet. Whether you deserve this pernicious character, or not,I am unable to determine, however, I think that a few observations upon a practice so common amongst your sex, and which I fear you have adopted, may not be unnecessary.Females having the advantage over the opposite sex as far as respects love adventures, too frequently make use of the opportunity of exercising their skill in the abominable art, to their eternal injury.Unmindful of the laws of honor, reason or politeness, they plunge themselves into ruin, by adopting the plan of coquetry, merely for a momentary gratification.-- Gentlemen when paying their address to a lady are blind to every thing that does not wear the garb of modest gallantry; therefore in this situation they not unfrequently led on promiscuously to a dangerous dilemma, of either continuing in an uncertain position as to persisting in their endeavours of courtship, or of obliterating all thoughts of the females,from an honorable connection with whom, they had long anticipated to receive the greatest of earthly blessings.--If they take the first step, after they can almost to a certainty determine what the intentions of the ladies are, it appears to be very inconsistent, yet they are prompted to nourish hopes of a kind and sincere receipt on, by the flattering speeches of coquetish females, whose hearts and minds are foreign to the language which they use to deceived lovers. If on the other hand, they find themselves obliged to discontinue their fruitless addresses, they are often reduced to an unhappy situation, by being thrown from the object of their love.You must be sensible dear Sister, that upon those accounts as well as many others, a coquetish character is rendered very disgusting to persons of honor or good principle,--they soon become objects, and ought to be disregarded by the male sex in general. I cannot but hope therefore, Sister, that if you are justly disgraced by the name of a coquet, you will immediately endeavour by a thorough reformation in your manners and conduct, to free yourself from the most ridiculous character a lady can have.


I feel like letters just capture something that we've forgotten in recent times. In class a student made us fill out an envelope to see how many people still knew how to do it. Many didn't know how. I can just imagine the equivalent text messages of these letters today which might read "My mom made me take you to the prom" and "Sis- stop hitting on my friends when I'm not home."

6 comments:

  1. Those are so eloquent! I love old letters. I actually just read a book that included a great deal about the letters of John and Abigail Adams. If only people nowadays wrote letters like this...hehe :P

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  2. Wow, these are fun. I agree, SO much better than texting!

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  3. I love old love letters. I wish people still wrote them like that.

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  4. Thanks everyone, I very much wish people still wrote letters, there just doesn't seem to be much need anymore.

    A lot of people don't even write e-mails anymore.

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  5. This was a wondferful read!

    (And I love the 'modern versions', very amusing :D .)

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