14 Historical Love Letters That Made Us Feel Things

List Rules
Vote up the sweet nothings you're so glad were written down.

It's a tale as old as time. Two people fall in love, and their romance is so sweet that only the written word can express their feelings for one another. Whether they're politicians, celebrities, authors, or royalty, the historical love letters written by these figures are ones that are to be remembered.

While some of these romances lasted 'til the bitter end, some of these steamy love letters are from couples that were only briefly together. Vote up the passionate letters that could awaken even the deadest of hearts.


  • Civil War Major Sullivan Ballou Penned A Final Letter To His Wife Two Weeks Before He Was Killed In Battle
    Photo: Hal Jespersen / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    When Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers after the Battle of Fort Sumter kicked off the Civil War, attorney Sullivan Ballou joined the cause. Formerly the Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, Ballou enlisted in the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry and was elected major. As events unfolded, Ballou was sent to Washington, DC.

    Knowing they would soon be heading to Virginia to meet the Confederate troops, and wary that he "should fall on the battle-field," Ballou reportedly penned his famous letter to his wife on July 14, 1861:

    My Very Dear Wife:

    Indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days, perhaps to-morrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write a few lines, that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

    Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine, O God be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battle-field for any country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American civilization now leans upon the triumph of government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution, and I am willing, perfectly willing to lay down all my joys in this life to help maintain this government, and to pay that debt...

    But, O Sarah, if the dead can come back to this earth, and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you in the garish day, and the darkest night amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours always, always, and, if the soft breeze fans your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air cools your throbbing temples, it shall be my spirit passing by.
    Sarah, do not mourn me dear; think I am gone, and wait for me, for we shall meet again.

    As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father's love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue-eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care, and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers, I call God's blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.

    - Sullivan

    Ballou perished from wounds he received in the Battle of Bull Run. His wife lived for 56 more years but never remarried.

    • Age: Dec. at 32 (1829-1861)
    • Birthplace: Smithfield, Rhode Island, USA
    785 votes
  • Johnny Cash’s Birthday Letter To June Carter Is Surprisingly Relatable
    Photo: Joel Baldwin / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Country music legend Johnny Cash married June Carter in March 1968, and together they became a country crooning duet. While they certainly weathered their share of storms, the two remained together for the rest of their lives; both passed in 2003, just four months apart.

    The Man in Black wrote to his love on her 65th birthday. And despite their larger-than-life relationship, the letter is surprisingly relatable, as he writes about the less than perfect moments that happen in any long-term relationship:

    Happy Birthday Princess,

    We get old and get used to each other. We think alike. We read each others minds. We know what the other wants without asking. Sometimes we irritate each other a little bit. Maybe sometimes take each other for granted.

    But once in awhile, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met. You still fascinate and inspire me. You influence me for the better. You're the object of my desire, the #1 Earthly reason for my existence. I love you very much. Happy Birthday Princess. - John

    • Age: Dec. at 71 (1932-2003)
    • Birthplace: USA, Arkansas, Kingsland
    756 votes
  • Heloise And Abelard’s Famous Love Letters Began When They Were Ripped Apart
    Photo: Peter Abelard / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    3
    446 VOTES

    Heloise And Abelard’s Famous Love Letters Began When They Were Ripped Apart

    Nearly a thousand years ago, in 12th century France, an affair began between a teacher, Abelard, and his student, Heloise. Abelard was a lecturer in philosophy and Heloise was an unusually well-educated young woman. The two began their intense relationship when Heloise was 19 and was still under the tutelage of Abelard. When Heloise became pregnant with Abelard's child, a scandal erupted. The lovers wed in secret, but Heloise's enraged uncle sent men to castrate Abelard.

    After the assault, the two were forced to separate. Heloise was sent to a convent, while Abelard was exiled to Brittany where he became a monk. It was then that their famous correspondence began. Though their relationship would never be the same, the two wrote passionately to one another until their deaths, with hundreds of letters written between them.

    Heloise wrote to Abelard:  

    Irresolute as I am I still love you, and yet I must hope for nothing. I have renounced life, and stript myself of everything, but I find I neither have nor can renounce my Abelard. Though I have lost my lover I still preserve my love...

    You have not turned me to marble by changing my habit; my heart is not hardened by my imprisonment; I am still sensible to what has touched me, though, alas! I ought not to be!

    Retirement and solitude will no longer seem terrible if I may know that I still have a place in his memory. A heart which has loved as mine cannot soon be indifferent. We fluctuate long between love and hatred before we can arrive at tranquillity, and we always flatter ourselves with some forlorn hope that we shall not be utterly forgotten.

    • Age: Dec. at 63 (1101-1164)
    • Birthplace: Paris, France
    446 votes
  • Letters From His Enslaved Wife Prompted Dangerfield Newby To Join John Brown’s Raid On Harpers Ferry
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    4
    515 VOTES

    Letters From His Enslaved Wife Prompted Dangerfield Newby To Join John Brown’s Raid On Harpers Ferry

    In 1859, John Brown and 21 supporters raided Harpers Ferry in Virginia (now West Virginia) in the war against slavery. Of the five Black men on the Harpers Ferry Raid, one was Dangerfield Newby - who joined the raid to achieve freedom for his enslaved wife and their children. Newby was largely prompted to take part in the raid from the words his wife wrote to him.

    Newby was born to a white father and an enslaved mother and lived as a free man in Northern Virginia. Newby met his wife, Harriet, while living in Virginia, and the couple had seven children together. Though as an enslaved woman Harriet wasn't legally able to marry, the two considered themselves husband and wife. The law, however, did not, and Harriet's slaveholder, Dr. Lewis Jennings, decided to sell her and the children to one of the labor-intensive plantations in the Deep South. 

    To earn the money to free his family, Newby moved to Ohio, then an abolitionist stronghold, to become a blacksmith. While Newby did make enough money to pay Jennings for his family's freedom, Jennings upped the price. Around this time, Harriet wrote her husband three letters, desperately begging for his help. On August 16, 1859, Harriet wrote:

    It is said Master is in want of money. If so, I know not what time he may sell me, an then all my bright hops of the futer are blasted, for their has ben one bright hope to cheer me in all my troubles, that is to be with you, for if I thought I should never see you, this earth would have no charms for me. Do all you Can for me, witch I have no doubt you will. I want to see you so much... I want you to buy me as soon as possible, for if you do not get me some body else will [...] their has ben one bright hope to cheer me in all my troubles that is to be with you.

    With no other recourse to free his family, Newby joined the Harpers Ferry Raid. Newby was tasked with guarding the fort entrance, where he was shot with a spike that had been inserted into a gun. He is believed to have been the first of Brown's men to die. His body was left on the street where it was subjected to cruelties by the townspeople before he was eventually placed in a shallow grave with other raiders. His wife's letters were found on his body.

    Harriet is believed to have been relocated to the south, but evidence suggests she survived the Civil War and remarried a Union soldier, whom she had three children with and raised alongside her children with Newby.

    • Age: Dec. at 44 (1815-1859)
    • Birthplace: Virginia
    515 votes
  • The Identity Of Beethoven’s ‘Immortal Beloved’ Is Still A Hotly Debated Mystery
    Photo: Joseph Karl Stieler / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    After Ludwig van Beethoven passed in 1827 at the age of 56, the mystery of the identity of his "immortal beloved" remains a widely discussed subject. In one of history's most debated love letters, believed to have been written in 1812, Beethoven addresses an unknown recipient.

    Over the years, extreme detective work has been done by musicologists to put a name to the mystery lover, two of the top contenders being wealthy heiress Antonie Brentano and close friend Josephine von Brunsvik. Beethoven wrote:

    My angel, my all, my own self — only a few words today, and that too with pencil (with yours) — only till tomorrow is my lodging definitely fixed. What abominable waste of time in such things — why this deep grief, where necessity speaks?

    Can our love persist otherwise than through sacrifices, than by not demanding everything? Canst thou change it, that thou are not entirely mine, I not entirely thine? Oh, God, look into beautiful Nature and compose your mind to the inevitable. Love demands everything and is quite right, so it is for me with you, for you with me — only you forget so easily, that I must live for you and for me — were we quite united, you would notice this painful feeling as little as I should...

    While Beethoven would often visit Antonie "Toni" Brentano and play for her, he was also close with her family and even her husband. Some historians don't believe it would've been within Beethoven's moral compass to have an affair with the wife of a friend.

    As for Josephine von Brunsvik, she was widowed at a young age. Mutual friends thought the two should marry, but Josephine wouldn't marry a commoner. Still, the two remained close and Beethoven even referred to her as "my angel" in other letters, leading many musicologists to believe she is the most likely candidate.

    • Age: Dec. at 57 (1770-1827)
    • Birthplace: Bonn, Germany
    272 votes
  • Zelda Fitzgerald’s Letters To F. Scott Show A Different Side To Their Tempestuous Relationship
    Photo: Motor magazine / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    When Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald married in 1920, they were at the center of a glamorous social life. The pair were known for their wild ways and became a staple couple of the Jazz Age. Their marriage was, however, notoriously tumultuous. The couple argued frequently, spent beyond their means, and endured mental health issues and alcoholism.

    Ten years into their marriage, Zelda was admitted to Les Rives de Prangins, a clinic in Nyon, Switzerland. Whilst she was undergoing treatment for her mental health, she wrote many letters to her husband, expressing her love and frustration for him. Zelda's letters also reveal a knack for metaphors (Zelda was also a writer, though her husband received more fame). In 1930, Zelda wrote

    Dearest, my Darling—

    Living is cold and technical without you, a death mask of itself.

    At seven o:clock I had a bath but you were not in the next room to make it a baptisme of all I was thinking.

    At eight o:clock I went to gymnastics but you were not there to turn moving into a harvesting of breezes.

    At nine o:clock I went to the tissage and an old man in a white stock [smock?] chanted incantations but you were not there to make his imploring voice seem religious.

    At noon I played bridge and watched Dr. Forels profile dissecting the sky, contre jour—

    All afternoon I’ve been writing soggy words in the rain and feeling dank inside, and thinking of you—When a person crosses your high forehead and slides down into the pleasant valleys about your dear mouth its like Hannibal crossing the Alps—I love you, dear. You do not walk like a person plowing a storm but like a person very surprised at their means of locomotion, hardly touching the earth, as if each step were experimental—

    And you are a darling and it must be awful to have a person always trying to creep inside you the way I do—

    Good-night, my Sweet Love

    Zelda

    In another letter from 1930, Zelda addresses F. Scott as "Goofy":

    Goofy, my darling, hasn’t it been a lovely day? I woke up this morning and the sun was lying like a birth-day parcel on my table so I opened it up and so many happy things went fluttering into the air: love to Doo-do and the remembered feel of our skins cool against each other in other mornings like a school-mistress. And you ’phoned and said I had written something that pleased you and so I don’t believe I’ve ever been so heavy with happiness. The moon slips into the mountains like a lost penny and the fields are black and punguent and I want you near so that I could touch you in the autumn stillness even a little bit like the last echo of summer.

    • Age: Dec. at 47 (1900-1948)
    • Birthplace: Montgomery, Alabama
    239 votes