“Let us look forward to the coming anniversaries, with their age and their gray hairs without fear and without depression, trusting and believing that the love we bear each other will be sufficient to make them blessed.” (Mark Twain)
Love, eh? A feeling that moves us all in course, in one way or another. It has the power to build you up, knock you down, set your heart racing, sting you, change you, move you, fulfil you… I could go on and on. Love, like the air we breathe, is vital and inevitable in life and something anybody can relate to feeling and having felt at some point, whether familial, in friendship, romantically or otherwise. Today’s book review is of a book revolving around romantic love; edited by Ursula Doyle, which compiles (as the title suggests) love letters written by some of the ‘greatest men’. I found this book just wonderful, however I’m unsure how to properly review it, as it is a compilation of the writings of several different figures. I’m going to try at any rate.
Now, I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic…and so inevitably I loved this collection of letters. I loved learning each man’s history and who they loved and how they viewed love. To Charles Darwin, love was “a nice soft wife on a sofa with good fire, & books & music”, to William Congreve, “a delicious poison”. This collection encapsulates romantic love in all of its forms; unrequited, forbidden, happy and tragic.
I think one of the things I loved the most about this book was seeing that even the most influential, smart, seemingly professional and maybe even at times unfeeling, great men of the past could be so deeply touched by love. This book of letters really does show how universal of a feeling love is, and how interpretive of a form it can take. While some letters were overly embellished and flowery, others were simplistic and conveyed feeling just as fully. I am a hardcore lover of a well written paragraph or string of words. I love nothing more than a metaphor, analogy, simile, or beautiful description. And for that reason, I found something in pretty much every letter which moved me and made me smile.
I thought this book was very well done, as Ursula Doyle introduced each love letter with a page or so worth of information about each man, who they were writing to, and some context and information about the way the romance (or lack thereof) turned out. I loved the inclusion of more well known names, such as Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Robbie Burns, Bethoven, interspersed with some men that I had never come across before, but became fascinated by, such as Richard Steele and Robert Browning. I also loved the fact that soldiers who fought in the world wars were included in this list of men, as the rest were all extremely well known and prolific individuals, and it highlighted that soldiers, although maybe forgotten over time, are just as great of men, and just as capable of love. While they may not have written books like Les Mis, created a theory of evolution or had influence through a political career, they were just as great, if not more so, in terms of bravery and heart.
I think this would be a lovely book to just dip in and out of every once and a while, as it shows timelessly how important and influential love is on human life. While some letters were borderline pretentious, for the most part they were delightful. It is both an educational and a pleasurable read, and I have dipped in and out of it since, reading over my favourite ones again. In particular I loved the letters of Mark Twain, Charles Darwin, Richard Steele and Oscar Wilde.
I don’t have much more to say about this book, other than to encourage you -whether a hopeless romantic or otherwise- to read this. It’s an emotive and beautiful insight into a more sensitive side of history, and I found it endearing and just a jolly good read.
If you aren’t a fan of mushy proclamations of love or over the top, complimentary and self indulgent writing then it maybe is not for you. However if you love beautiful writing, a bit of history, or want something to make you squeal “awwwwwwwwwww”, this will do just fine.
I hope you guys enjoyed this book review. I’m going to end it with a few of my favourite quotes. Pip pip!
“O sweetest of all boys, most loved of all loves, my soul clings to your soul, my life is your life, and in all the world of pain and pleasure you are my ideal of admiration and joy.” (Oscar Wilde)
“But Love, almighty Love, seems in a moment to have removed me to a prodigious distance from every object but you alone. In the midst of crowds I remain in solitude. Nothing but you can lay hold of my mind, and that can lay hold of nothing but you. I appear transported to some foreign desert with you (oh, that I were really thus transported!), where, abundantly supplied with everything, in thee, I might live out an age of uninterrupted ecstasy.
The scene of the world’s great stage seems suddenly and sadly chang’d. Unlovely objects are all around me, excepting thee; the charms of all the world appear to be translated to thee. Thus in this sad, but oh, too pleasing state! my soul can fix upon nothing but thee; thee it contemplates, admires, adores, nay depends on, trusts on you alone.
If you and hope forsake it, despair and endless misery attend it.” (William Congreve)