Romance is not confined solely to the realms of fiction. The romances of fact, indeed, are greater and more interesting; they have made history, and have laid the foundations of the greatness both of artists and of poets.
There is something about a love-letter which places it on a different footing from any other kind of missive that was ever written, a subtle fragrance which belongs entirely to itself, an intangible atmosphere, indescribable, evanescent, yet ever living. A love-letter is a thing apart, something to be opened in solitude and read with eyes that see more than the written words.
It is not a news-letter, no item of gossip or chit-chat need fill its pages ; but it will not lack for that, it will carry its message and bring joy to the heart of the recipient.
Thomas Moore, in his "Life of Byron,". observes that, "Love-letters are effusions little suited to the public eye. . . . because their monotony is such as to cloy the reader." But it must be remembered that love-letters were never intended for the public eye, though our literature has been enriched by some of those that have been indited by great minds, which differ as much as the passions which inspired them. There is no monotony about the letters written by Robert Browning (see page 273, Vol. 1), or Elizabeth Barrett, whom he married ; they are delightful examples of beautiful language, and they portray an affection equally beautiful and lofty. "You have lifted my soul up into the light of your soul, and I am not ever likely to mistake it for the common daylight." I doubt if, nowadays, such a sentence would ever be found in a love-letter ; people do not take the trouble to put their beautiful thoughts on paper, we live in too great a hurry. Then, in a love-letter of the ill-fated poet Keats there occurs a charming phrase, more human, more modern, " But for love, can I help it ? The last of your kisses was ever the sweetest, the last smile the brightest, the last movement the gracefullest."
Yet, though they may not be literary productions, though the grammar be faulty, and the spelling not always orthodox, a love-letter is the sweetest kind of letter in all the world, and one of the quaint things about it is that the inditing of such a letter is a mutual task - it depends equally upon the writer and upon the receiver : no man or woman can compose a letter that will be worth the reading to a person who is not predisposed to receive it.
In the mind of the writer must be the knowledge that the letter will be received in the same spirit as that in which it was written. Who could write a love-letter, or, indeed, any letter, if he knew that it would be received with ridicule or without sympathy ?
A love-letter is the spontaneous utterance of a loving heart; the majority of them would seem to be but trashy productions to the multitude, but to the one they are more beautiful than poems.
Two women were once chatting together and one said : " How lucky you were that you were never parted from your fiance." " I don't consider myself lucky," replied the other, " because I never had a love-letter." It was something missed out of her life, something that not all the years could give her. This woman had known a lover, but never a love-letter, there are some women who have never known either ; to make life complete one should have both.
A love-letter is a messenger of love; it is also the message of love, and the message never grows old. The pages may be yellow and the ink faded and faint, but the spirit of the letter bears perennial youth, and though years may have passed since the words were written, yet nearly always a tender light will come into the eyes that read them and the soft flush of youth creep for a moment back into withered cheeks.
I have heard people say scornfully that to keep letters of this sort is merely to indulge in weakly sentiment, but I deny the statement absolutely. An individual devoid of sentiment, if such an anomaly can exist, would be like a rose devoid of scent.
I was once obliged to sort the letters and papers of a friend after his death. I had always considered him an eminently practical man, full of common-sense and prosaic to the last degree - in fact, he used to scoff at and ridicule anything approaching sentiment, which he apparently held in great contempt.
In a pocket-book which he invariably carried about with him I came across a packet of letters. They were dated some thirty years back, and the edges of the paper were frayed and worn. As I held them in my hand they still seemed to exhale a faint odour of violets, and I seemed to see a sweet, girlish face looking out from the dead and gone past.
In a separate packet was a tiny bunch of immortelles, and I pictured a grave in a country churchyard. She had died, but her letters had lived after her, keeping the memory of her love for ever green, and perhaps bringing comfort to a lonely heart.
He had treasured these as his most precious possessions, and as I watched them burn I felt as if I were committing sacrilege.
Respect for Love-letters
There is a certain type of girl who* glories in receiving love-letters, and looks upon them as so many tributes to her charms. She shows them to her friends, and together they criticise and comment upon them as though they were of as little moment as invitations to dinners or bridge parties.
There seems to be something disloyal in publishing love-letters, even though the writers have long since been dead, but for the recipient to show them to a third person while the heart of the writer is actually pulsating with life and love is worse than disloyal, it is horrible.