Although Valentine’s Day is already done and gone, we can still take some time to talk about the language of love! There have been many famous love letters throughout history, some even with mystery surrounding who was supposed to receive them. Here are five of our favorites.
1. Ludwig van Beethoven
Nobody knows who Ludwig van Beethoven was writing love letters to. There are at least four women who could eventually take the prize if evidence is ever found. The letter was too little, too late, though, as the letter was found among his possessions after the composer’s death. Some have suggested this means the letter was returned to him by the subject of the letter.
In German: “Guten Morgen am 7ten Juli –
schon im Bette drängen sich die Ideen zu dir meine Unsterbliche Geliebte, hier und da freudig, dann wieder traurig. Vom Schicksaale abwartend, ob es unß erhört…”
In English: “Good morning, on July 7
Though still in bed, my thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, now and then joyfully, then sadly, waiting to learn whether or not fate will hear us…”
Said subject is often referred to “Immortal Beloved,” after the only name that Beethoven calls her in the letter. The original German is “Unsterbliche Geliebte.” Immortal Beloved was also the name of the biographical film released in 1994.
While Voltaire was imprisoned for speaking out against the government, he often wrote to his lover Olympe Dunover. He wrote one of his famous love letters, The Hague, in 1713 at the tender age of 19. He was actually partially imprisoned to keep him apart from the young Olympe. Shortly after sending the letter, Voltaire managed to escape by climing out the window.
Here is a sample in English: “The Hague 1713, I am a prisoner here in the name of the King; they can take my life, but not the love that I feel for you.”
We’d love to have the original French if you know where to find it!
“Hague” is the third largest city in Netherlands, where Voltaire was imprisoned. Des Graven Hage means “the count’s wood,” which in contexts means “the count’s hedge or private enclosure.”
3. Pietro Bembo
Pietro was an influential figure in the development of the Italian language, especially Tuscan, as a literary medium. So you know he was romantic! In fact, he fell in love with the daughter of the Spanish cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, who later became Pope Alexander VI. She was also the wife of Alfonso d’Este, the Duke of Ferrara! He wrote his famous letter to her in 1503.
We don’t have it in Italian, but here it is in English: “Eight days have passed since I parted from f.f., and already it is as though I had been eight years away from her…”
If you have the original Italian text, please share!
His most famous book was Gli Asolani, which is a dialogue on the subject of courtly love. Gli Asolani translate to “The people of Asolo,” which is a town considered romantic due to its mountain views.
Napoleon? The French Emperor? Strangely, he wrote as many as 75,000 letters in his lifetime, many of them to his wife Josephine. It didn’t stop after they were married, either, and continued even when he was imprisoned on the island of St. Helena. He doesn’t have just one specific letter, as he wrote so many.
However, one famous one was sent to Josephine prior to their marriage. In it, he calls her mio dolce amor, which is Italian for “my sweet love.” Napoleon was such a romantic he even had to switch languages to fully express himself!
In French: En attendant, mio dolce amor, reçois un millier de baisé ; mais ne m’en donne pas, car il brûle mon sang.
In English: Until then, mio dolce amor, a thousand kisses; but give me none in return, for they set my blood on fire.
5. Pierre Curie
The renowned physicist proposed to the woman who would eventually become his wife, Marie, many times before she relented. Both were equally as smart, as they separately won the Nobel Prize. Sadly, they were only married 11 years before Pierre’s death in 1906.
In his letter in 1894, one year before they were married, “devoted,” he calls himself her “consacre,” which translate closer to “consecrated.” You can see in this how Pierre was throwing himself at Marie whole heartedly!
As we’ve talked about here before, love transcends any language. What are your favorite famous love letters? (Fictional letters are fine, too!)