Love letters: Lost nowadays

Throughout the history, couples have expressed their undying love in handwritten letters. Few people take the trouble to write by hand today, but if anything is preserved at the back of a desk drawer, it is likely to be the handwritten love letter that once upon a time sent someone’s heart shuddering. Letters reveal raw emotions such as joyous or unrequited love; a letter bares the soul to just one other person.

What is believed to be the oldest valentine in the English language was written by Margery Brews to John Paston III in February, 1477, in which she addresses him as “right well beloved Valentine”.

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The oldest documented love letter (Image: Daisy Honeybunn/MyHeritage)

It was also a 15th-century Frenchman who committed the earliest surviving Valentine’s greeting to paper. While imprisoned in the Tower of London following the 1415 battle of Agincourt, the Duke of Orleans wrote to his wife:

Je suis desja d’amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée

This translates roughly as, “I am already sick of love, my very gentle Valentine”.

These remarkable letters survive in the manuscript collections of the British Library, which also holds the oldest surviving Valentine’s letter in the English language sent by Margery Brews to her fiancé John Paston describing John as her “right well-beloved Valentine”.

A typed memo or email can never convey the same texture as a handwritten letter. They contain layers of information and reveal much more about a person through the handwriting style, the shape it makes on the paper, as well as the signature itself, often with an array of doodles or drawings. It is not only that the impact of the words seems magnified when written by hand but letters have sometimes acquired smells (of coffee, tea, perhaps, or cigarette) or been spattered by tears or mud, which adds enormously to their power.

Indian Classical Sanskrit writer Kalidasa (circa 4th-5th century CE) wrote Meghdootam, a 111-stanza poem, which refers to sending message to lover through cloud as messenger.

Not only love letters, while as kids I used to write letters to friends and relatives, send self-made greeting cards. While in school, I used to have many pen-friends, whom I have never met but we used to share our stories, and exchange cards. We used to wait for letters from our friends and relatives. The sight of the neighbourhood postman or mail carrier used to kindle hopes for letters.

The human touch, the raw feelings are missing in the emails, Facebook, twitter, WhatsApp and texts. The internet & mobiles have totally erased the culture of letter writing, nowadays. The love that lives forever is now lost as suitors laid down their pens!

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