From Emma Hart (1765–1815, later Lady Hamilton) to Charles Greville (1749–1809), with whom she had been involved for five years. This letter was written after Greville, the second son of the Earl of Warwick, wrote Hart, his mistress, to say he felt she should turn her attentions to his uncle William Hamilton, who had been courting her. Greville and Hamilton had cooked up a scheme to help Hamilton secure Hart’s affections: Greville would neglect her, and Hamilton would swoop in to take his place and would settle Greville’s many debts in return. But Hart was obsessively devoted to Greville, and badly hurt after he betrayed her. According to Colin Simpson’s biography Emma, The Life of Lady Hamilton (Bodley Head, 1983), the letter below “begins with Emma’s writing that she misses the lips that had sealed the envelope, and then suddenly she explodes . . . she had by now read the letter right through, for tucked into the final paragraph is Greville’s suggestion that the sooner she climbs into Sir William’s bed the better it will be for all concerned.” Hart married Hamilton in 1791. She is better known as the mistress of Admiral Horatio Nelson and mother of his daughter Horatia.
1st of August 1786.
I have received your letter, my dearest Greville, at last, and you dont know how happy I am at hearing from you, however I may like some parts of your letter, but I wont complain, it is enough I have paper that Greville wrote on, he as foldet up, he wet the wafer—happy wafer, how I envy thee to take the place of Emmas lips, that she would give worlds had she them, to kiss those lips, but if I go on in this whay I shall be incapable of writing. I onely wish that a wafer was my onely rival, but I submit to what God & Greville pleases. I allways knew, I have ever had a forebodeing, since I first begun to love you, that I was not destined to be happy, for there is not a King or prince on hearth [earth] that could make me happy without you; so onely consider when I offer to live with you on the hundred [pounds] a year Sir Wm. will give, what can you desire, and this from a girl that a King etc, etc, etc, is sighing for. As to what you write to me to oblidge Sir. Wm. I will not answer you for Oh if you knew what pain I feil in reading those lines whare you advise me to W . . . nothing can express my rage, I am all madness, Greville, to advise me, you that used to envy my smiles, now with cooll indifferance to advise me to go to bed to him, Sr. Wm. Oh, thats worst of all, but I will not, no I will not rage for if I was with you, I would murder you & myself boath. I will leave of[f] & try to get more strength for I am now very ill with a cold.
I wont look back to what I wrote. I onely say I have had 2 letters in 6 months nor nothing shall ever do for me but going home to you. If that is not to be, I will except [accept] of nothing, I will go to London, their [there] go in to every exess of vice, tell [till] I dye a miserable broken hearted wretch & leave my fate as a warning to young whomin [women] never to be two [too] good, for, now you have made me love you, made me good, you have abbandoned me & some violent end shall finish our connexion if it is to finish, but, Oh Greville, you cannot, you must not give me up, you have not the heart to do it, you love me I am sure & I am willing to do everything in my power that you shall require of me & what will you have more and I onely say this the last time, I will either beg or pray, do as you like.
I am sorry Lord Brook is dead and I am sinecerly [sic] sorry for Sr James & Lady Peachey, but the W——k family wont mind it much. We have been 7 weeks in doupt [doubt] wether he was dead or not for Sr. Wm. had a letter from Lord Warwick & he said Lord B. was better, so I suppose he must have had a relapse. Poor little boy, how I envy him his happiness. We have a deal of rain hear [here] & violent winds, the oldest people hear never remember such a sumer, but it is luckey for us. The Queen is very poorly with a cold caught in the Villa Reale & mine is pretty much like it. We dont dine at Passylipo today on the account of my cold. We are closely besieged by the K. in a round a bout maner, he comes every Sunday to P——po but we keep the good will of the other party mentioned abbove & never gives him any encouragement. Prince Draydrixton’s our constant freind, he allways enquiries after you, he desires his compliments to you; he speaks English, he says I am a dymond of the first watter & the finest creature on the hearth [earth], he attends me to the Bath, to the walk etc. etc. etc. I have such a head ake [headache] today with my cold I dont know what to do. I shall write next post by Sr. Wm, onely I cant lett a week go without telling you how happy I am at hearing from you. Pray write as often as you can & come as soon as you can & if you come we shall all go home to England in 2 years & go throug[h] Spain & you will like that. Pray write to me & dont write in the stile of a freind but a lover, but I wont hear a word of freind, it shall be all love & no freindship. Sr. Wm. is our freind, but we are lovers. I am glad you have sent me a Blue Hat & gloves; my hat is universaly admired through Naples. God bless you, my dear Greville prays your ever truly and affectionate
P.S. Pray write for nothing will make me so angry & it is not to your interest to disoblidge me, for you dont know the power I have hear [here], onely I never will be his mistress. If you affront me, I will make him marry me. God bless you for ever.
From French/Swiss novelist (Corinne, see p. 287), Germaine de Staël (1766–1817) to the printer and writer Chevalier François de Pange, with whom she was in love, after he wrote that he was too ill to see her. De Staël—then married for nine years to the Swedish ambassador Baron de Staël-Holstein—had known de Pange since 1786, and in 1795, in her late twenties, her friendly affection turned to passion. But de Pange, in love with another woman—his younger cousin Madame de Serilly—resisted her attempts to turn the friendship into a romance. Following the publication of de Staël’s political pamphlet Reflections on Domestic Peace in August 1795, de Staël was accused of protecting émigré aristocrats, among other things, and was forced into exile, leaving for Switzerland that October. The following January, de Pange married Serilly, who had been widowed when her husband was guillotined during the Great Terror. De Pange died of tuberculosis soon after his marriage.
Midnight, 11 September 1795
I am so upset by your letter that I don’t know how to express or how to contain a feeling which is capable of producing on you an effect so contrary to the desires of my soul. What expressions you are using! ‘Breaking off a friendship—avoiding a commitment—not knowing when you will be able to come—believing me happy where I am.’ Ah, Monsieur de Pange, has love taught you nothing except its injustice, its forgetfulness, its inconstancy? . . . You have no right to torture me. Remember what you said to me about friendship. What life there is left me depends on that friendship; for the past four months I owe everything to it and, what is worse, I need everything still. I have no intention of intruding on your independence . . . But if to need you means to disturb you, then you have a right to be afraid of me . . . You know as well as I do what is missing from my happiness here, but you cannot know as well as I know that you are perfection itself in the eyes of those who know you, that you are, to me, something even more desirable than perfection, and that I should find in your friendship all the happiness there is for me in this world, if only you removed that sword that hangs over my head.
I beg you on my knees to come here or to meet me in Paris or at Passy for just one hour . . . I refuse to give up what I have won; this friendship is to me a necessity—I do not care if it is not one for you. Give me what you can spare, and it will fill my life. . . .
The following letter was sent from British novelist Rebecca West (1892–1983), author of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941) to the then-married author H. G. Wells (1866–1946), when West was only twenty-one years old. The two met after West published a scathing review of Wells’s Marriage in 1912, and became lovers in early 1913. At the time this letter was written, Wells had broken off the relationship, then only a few months old. The couple got back together soon afterward, had a son, Anthony, in 1914, and continued their volatile relationship until West, fed up with what she characterized as Wells’s “increasingly demanding behavior”, left him in 1923 and moved with Anthony to America. The original letter was unsigned and incomplete and probably a draft, according to Bonnie Kime Scott, editor of The Selected Letters of Rebecca West (Yale University Press, 2000). This letter was edited by Kime Scott and appeared in the above book; as she formatted the letter, words that appear in <angle brackets> were words crossed out by West and words in curly brackets were words West inserted above the line.
[circa March 1913]
Dear H. G.,
During the next few days I shall either put a bullet through my head or commit something more shattering to myself than death. At any rate I shall be quite a different person. I refuse to be cheated out of my deathbed scene.
I don’t understand why you wanted me three months ago and don’t want me now. I wish I knew why that were so. It’s something I can’t understand, something I despise. And the worst of it is that if I despise you I rage because you stand between me and peace. Of course you’re quite right. I haven’t anything to give you. You have only a passion for excitement and for comfort. You don’t want any more excitement and I do not give people comfort. I never nurse them except when they’re very ill. I carry this to excess. On reflection I can imagine that the occasion on which my mother found me most helpful to live with was when I helped her out of a burning house.
I always knew that you would hurt me to death some day, but I hoped to choose the time and place. You’ve always been unconsciously hostile to me and I have tried to conciliate you by hacking away at my love for you, cutting it down to the little thing that was the most you wanted. I am always at a loss when I meet hostility, because I can love and I can do practically nothing else. I was the wrong sort of person for you to have to do with. You want a world of people falling over each other like puppies, people to quarrel and play with, people who rage and ache instead of people who burn. You can’t conceive a person resenting the humiliation of an emotional failure so much that they twice tried to kill themselves: that seems silly to you. I can’t conceive of a person who runs about lighting bonfires and yet nourishes a dislike of flame: that seems silly to me.
You’ve literally ruined me. I’m burned down to my foundations. I may build myself again or I may not. You say obsessions are curable. <But they’re not not for> They are. But people like me <who> swing themselves from one passion to another, and if they miss smash down somewhere where there aren’t any passions at all but only bare boards and sawdust. You have done for me utterly. You know it. That’s why you are trying to persuade yourself that I am a coarse, sprawling, boneless creature, and so it doesn’t matter. When you said, “You’ve been talking unwisely, Rebecca,” you said it with a certain brightness: you felt that you had really caught me at it. I don’t think you’re right about this. But I know you will derive immense satisfaction from thinking of me as an unbalanced young female who flopped about in your drawing-room in an unnecessary heart-attack.
That is a subtle flattery. But I hate you when you try to cheapen <me to myself> the things I did honestly and cleanly. You did it once before when you wrote to me of “your—much more precious than you imagine it to be—self.” That suggests that I projected a weekend at the Brighton Metropole with Horatio Bottomley. Whereas I had written to say that I loved you. You did it again on Friday when you said that what I wanted was some decent fun and that my mind had been, not exactly corrupted, but excited, by people who talked in an ugly way about things that are really beautiful. That was a vile thing to say. You once found my willingness to love you a beautiful and courageous thing. I still think it was. Your spinsterishness makes you feel that a woman desperately and hopelessly in love with a man is an indecent. . . .
From Violet Veitch Coward (1863–1954), the mother of playwright (Blithe Spirit, Hay Fever) Noël Coward (1899–1973), to her husband Arthur, a piano salesman. The two were married in 1890 after a courtship that took place at church services and amateur theatrical productions, and the following year, she bore their first son, Russell, who died of spinal meningitis in 1898, at age six and a half. Noël, her second child, was born a year later, and his brother Eric, in 1905. According to Philip Hoare’s work, Noël Coward: A Biography (Sinclair-Stevenson, 1995), Violet wrote this letter in 1930 after becoming overwhelmed with anger at Arthur’s unwillingness to work, his flirtations with local women, and his alcoholism. (As Hoare notes, Coward’s 1932 musical, Words and Music, features the character of a mother who sings, “Then I married your father/Gay and handsome and frank/But it shattered me rather/When I found he drank.”) Although Violet demanded that the two reside in separate rooms, they remained together until Arthur’s death seven years later, in 1937.
This letter will probably come as a shock to you. I have made friends so often and it has taken me a long time to kill my affection for you, but you have at last succeeded in doing so. . . . As long as I can remember, not once have you ever stood up for me or the boys when we have been in any little trouble, you have always taken the opposite side and been against us. I remember so many times when you have failed me: and this has been the last straw. How dare you behave as you have been doing lately. I have never been so miserable in my life since I came from Ceylon, and who are you to dare to make my life so unhappy. What have you ever done for me or for either of your fine boys to help them on in life. You have never done anything to help anybody, and everything has been done for you. And yet you are so far from being ashamed of yourself that you plump yourself down on us, full of conceit, selfishness and self appreciation and spoil our lives for us. No one with any pretensions to being a gentleman could ever bully a woman as you bully my sister. It is shameful in front of those children too. She has as great a right to be here as you have. Noël chose to give her a home before he gave you one, and why are you not earning your living? You are strong and healthy and will not doubt live to be 100, a burden on Noël, not to speak of putting your wife on him too. Now I have come to a decision. I am going to add still more to poor Noël’s burden and ask him to provide you with another home. If he agrees I will find you a cottage somewhere, with a little less grandeur than you have here which will do you good. Noël has always understood your character and what I have been through, and will do anything he can to make me happy again. For the present things must remain as they are and I must put up with you, but in a different way. I shall never stand up for you again as I have always done, and I tell you definitely, everything is over between you and me. The last scrap of my affection for you has gone and it is entirely your own fault.
A series of letters from Delta of Venus (1977) writer Anaïs Nin (1903–1977) to society man and sometime poet C. L. (Lanny) Baldwin. According to Noël Riley Fitch’s Anaïs: The Erotic Life of Anaïs Nin (Little Brown, 1993), the two became involved in 1944, after the married Baldwin invited Nin to dinner following a meeting in Manhattan’s Gotham Book Mart. Later that year, Nin published a book of Baldwin’s poetry, Quinquivara, to which she wrote the introduction and her husband contributed six engravings. (At the time of their affair, Nin was married to Hugo Guiler, a filmmaker, engraver, and illustrator known professionally as Ian Hugo.) The two parted romantically in August 1945, when Baldwin, torn with ambivalence over their relationship, returned to his wife and children. Baldwin responded to this letter, saying that he felt that Nin was “a kind of dog in the manger with men. You want them all to sit at your feet and be yours, all yours and only yours.” His response to the second letter was to say “Is there to be no way of settling things without going to blows and insults? Can you kick me off your planet? Can I pull a switch and consign you to the proper section of hell?”
They resumed contact a few months later, mostly in regards to business matters and monies owed to Baldwin from her publishing imprint.
[postmarked August 25, 1945]
My poor Lanny, how blind you are! A woman is jealous only when she has nothing, but I who am the most loved of all women, what can I be jealous of? I gave you up long ago, as you well know, also I refused you the night you wept—I only extended the friendship as I told you then until you found what you wanted—When you did I withdrew it merely because I have no time for dead relationships. The day I discovered your deadness—long ago—my illusion about you died and I knew you could never enter my world, which you wanted so much. Because my world is based on passion, and because you know that it is only with passion that one creates, and you know that my world which you now deride because you couldn’t enter it, made Henry [Miller] a great writer, because you know the other young men you are so jealous of enter a whole world by love and are writing books, producing movies, poems, paintings, composing music.
I am in no need of “insisting” upon being loved. I’m immersed and flooded in this. That is why I am happy and full of power and find friendship pale by comparison.
But in the middle of this fiery and marvellous give and take, going out with you was like going out with a priest. The contrast in temperature was too great. So I waited for my first chance to break—not wanting to leave you alone.
You ought to know my value better than to think I can be jealous of the poor American woman who has lost her man to me continually since I am here—
[postmarked August 26, 1945]
I would like to point out a few injustices in your letter and then put an end to the letters as well as the futile talks, to prove to you there is no understanding between us of any kind.
About the harem: I didn’t have one when you first met me—I was writing and printing quietly, and therefore the picture you draw of me as wanting absolutely to add you to my harem is rather comical. About the dog in the manger: I was the one to encourage you to love, to seek a woman etc. so you see I had no possessiveness whatever.
About wanting you “not free and all for myself.” If it were so I would not have fallen in love with Bill. I fell in love with Bill because you killed completely the illusion I had about you—and so I was free of you.
About enslaving men etc. That is a [joke?] too, because men have come to me to be freed, to be made strong and free and creative and alive. I have a letter of Henry’s recently saying: “no woman ever made me feel free as I feel with you,” and regretting his marriage of today.
That is what I call your destructiveness—You, in all the time I knew you, never admired or constructed, but only criticized and pulled down. I don’t know why you should try to make all this ugly now. You were the one who courted me, who harmed me, who failed, I didn’t harm you. Why are you so full of criticalness now? Doesn’t it sound like sour grapes? I never said that I wanted anything from you—I merely tried to discard a dead relationship to give my time to the alive ones—that is no crime.
I’m afraid your male vanity is leading you astray.
As to a woman who “feels gently”—have you asked yourself how you feel about woman? Do you feel gently? You recognized yourself in the portrait of my father as the one who takes from woman and cannot give anything—
There is “dirty work” to do in the world, but I don’t think you will be the one to do it. You are much too busy criticizing—
I at least am asserting the strength and power of whole love, that is total passion—in a world that is full of men like you talking about gentleness while full of hatred and criticalness, and full of what Rilke called “impure emotions” because they are not whole, not big enough.
If you still don’t believe that I don’t love you and feel only compassion for the women you deal with, then I’ll have to read you from my diary to convince you when and where and how and why I rejected you, and that out of vanity you took my compassion for your weeping that night for something else and showed your wanton destructiveness for the second time at the party—
Oh, Lanny, what a shabby role you played. Because you were [impotent?] to take something you wanted but didn’t dare you had to harm this person who didn’t harm you, whose only crime was to turn away from impotency to fulfilled men, and from a friendship built upon the tomb of an abortion—the tomb of a feeling killed by you!
American poet Anne Sexton (1928–1974) was known as a heartbreaker as a teenager, but, according to Anne Sexton: A Portrait in Letters (Houghton, Miflin, 1997) the poet did not take well to boys who were “as ruthless in affairs of the heart as she was.” The following letter was written when she was sixteen, and addressed to a young man she met at a dude ranch that summer.
I promised you last that I would write you just what I was thinking. I had not intended to do this; however, I felt so sorry for you that decided you better have the truth. [several words missing here] not love me in the slightest; however, upon thinking it over, I wouldn’t marry you even if you had $100,000,000.
Undoubtedly, Torgie, your dislike for me has now reached great heights. I have proved so little and yet a great deal in this so-called play. I started it in order to prove my abilities as an actress. Perhaps at the same time I have proved to you that someone with mercenary intentions will invariably receive the same treatment. I hope that in the future you will change your philosophy, expressed by “No one or nothing stands in the way of the mighty Torginson and what he wants.” You think you are a gentleman with your effect of polished clothes and mannerisms, but a true gentleman is one that has a kind and humble heart. You may wonder at my saying this for my actions have not displayed me in a very flattering light. But you do not know me, Torgie, except to realize I have a perverse enough character to be able to show your true inferiority—in retrospect to sincere people. It is too bad, Torgie, that you know the price of everything and the value of nothing. At any rate, there have been a lot of laughs and it has been great fun co-starring with you in our little play, “There are all Kinds of People”—What you are you will find.
Chalk it off to experience, Torgie
Anne S. Harvey
From Jessica, to her ex-boyfriend, Scott* after she discovered he was married following a yearlong affair. Jessica, now twenty and a college student in California, met Scott in 1997 when she was sixteen years old and he twenty-six; he was the manager of a restaurant at which she waitressed.
I hope you realize that you lost the best thing that you ever had—me—and no matter how many apologies you give me, or flowers you send you’ll never win me back. You’ll never get to listen to my voice or see my face ever again. You have lost that priveledge [sic] for forever. Granted you’ll probabally [sic] come begging me for a job in the future when kharma comes and bites you in the ass and you can be the fella who scrapes gum off the carpet because I am gonna be the bigger person. In fact, out of the two of us you make me seem god-like—you are like four steps below me on the food chain. I still don’t understand why I allowed you into my life in the first place. You were like a fucking nubbin the entire time and I should’ve grabbed the nailclippers and just pried you off, it would’ve been a lot quicker and less painful . . . then [sic] what you have put me through the last few months. You are in some serious need of help! I am done being your doctor, your mom, your psychologist and I am through being your friend. You put me through hell and back and no matter if I grant you “forgiveness” I will never forget what you did to me. You have left a permanent stain in my life, and I am going to try to foster nice thoughts about you, but you leave me no choice but to hit the “eject” button from our relationship. Miss me yet? You should. You will. Id [sic] put money on it. No one makes Mac and Cheese quite like I do or makes chocolate milk better. No one would listen to you yap about nothing like I did and no one will ever tickle that spot right behind your knee that makes you laugh for hours like I used to. No one will be a more loyal friend or trustwhorthy [sic] friend—like I was. You know that. That’s why you cried. That’s why you called. You called twenty seven times in two days. What part of “its [sic] over” don’t you understand? Good luck trying to replace me—I know that I can replace you. In fact—not only will I replace you, but [I’ll] actually fill the gap with a person worthy of my time, someone, nothing like you. A man, not a boy. An understanding, trusting person, not a blabbering, jealous fool. Grrrrrr. Just thinking of you makes me mad!! I don’t even know why I am bothering writing this. I don’t care about you. I don’t miss you. I don’t care where you are right now or who you are with. I don’t care anymore I don’t have the energy anymore—and it’s just not worth it. When it finally sinks into your thick skull that you blew it you don’t need to call, or write, or show up at my front door!! Respect me. Respect my space and respect the fact that I would rather have my eyebrows singed than ever see you again. So . . . take care and fuck off.
From Kylie, 28, a resident of Queensland, Australia, to her ex-fiancé, Jamie*, in January 1999. Kylie sent Jamie this letter through his lawyer who, she says, found it “quite amusing.” “I didn’t have the heart to delete it and every time I feel depressed I open it and read it again,” says Kylie. “It always makes me feel better and reminds me that even though things are tough, they used to be a lot worse.” After receiving it, she says, Jamie “apparently swore quite profusely, then tore it up and threw it at the woman who gave it to him.”
I missed you today, I missed you yesterday and with any luck I won’t see you tomorrow either. I am writing this letter for two reasons. I am writing it because I want to thank you and I am writing it because I never want to speak to you ever again.
I want to thank you for being so selfish, otherwise I would never have known what I was going without.
I want to thank you for being so rude, otherwise I would never have learned to appreciate the good manners and politeness my parents instilled in me.
I want to thank you for spending all our money on crap, otherwise I would never have been able to justify the hire cost of a trailer to transport it all to the rubbish tip [garbage dump].
I want to thank you for running our phone bill up so high, otherwise I would never have learned to appreciate the visits of my friends (as they can’t phone me, they visit instead. Or is that just because you’re no longer here?).
I want to thank you for leaving me in so much debt the car has now been repossessed, otherwise I would never have lost so much weight by walking everywhere.
I want to thank you for telling all your friends that I was such an evil person, basically because I don’t like any of them any more than I like you and I no longer have to deal with them either.
I want to thank you for telling me that our daughter was ‘the biggest mistake you ever made’, otherwise I would wonder how to explain to her why you’re no longer here.
I want to thank you for leaving me with the kids while you went for a holiday overseas to meet the woman you hooked up with in a chat room, otherwise I would never have realised how well I could do without you and would probably still be putting up with your crap now.
Mostly, I just want to thank you for getting the hell out of our lives. We’re so much happier now and the house is filled with the sound of the kids’ laughter instead of the sound of you yelling at them to shut up.
In closing, all I can say is that after all these years you finally did something right and I hope your new girlfriend appreciates it as much as I do.
PS: You know that burning sensation you thought was an STD and you were too afraid to tell me about it? I put Tiger Balm in your jocks!
Copyright © 2003 by Edited by Anna Holmes With a foreword by Francine Prose. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.