From the Archive: Love Stories

FM set off to Houghton, Pusey, and the Archives, to track the romantic triumphs and travails of undergraduates through the ages.

Facebook correspondence is nice. A thoughtful text message can be parsed and analyzed for its every tacit meaning. These forms of communication are effective, but even the suavest of emoticons cannot encapsulate emotion the way paper and ink once did. Decades before our fireplaces were barren and boarded, some of Harvard’s finest enflamed their paramours with good-ol’-fashioned print. Armed with the unsurpassable standard set by “Love Story,” FM set off to Houghton, Pusey, and the Archives, to track the romantic triumphs and travails of undergraduates through the ages.

Like love on campus in general, however, passionate letters postmarked by Harvard lovers were hard to find. “We did an exhibition a few years ago about Romantic Harvard ...” trailed Barbara S. Meloni, Public Services Archivist at Harvard University Archives. “It was a small exhibition case.”

Among the featured items of said petite exhibition were former University President Samuel Langdon’s missives. In one letter, sent to Elizabeth Brown, Langdon wrote, “I doubt not of your improvement in every thing Beautiful and Commendable ... I trust you will ever be mindful of me.” These subtle sentiments proved winning; Betty Brown would become Mrs. Samuel Langdon.

Further documenting love at Harvard is a series of diaries penned by one F.H. Viaux, Class of 1870. On Sept. 22, 1868, Viaux wrote that he “received a very loving letter from Louise; she now ... is less formal, beginning with ‘My Dear Friend’ and ending it with ‘Louise...’” Dude, she totally wants you.

The love letters of former U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt, Class of 1880, to his first wife, Alice Lee Hathaway, are currently on display at Pusey Library. One such letter, stamped in the top left corner with the words “Porcellian Club,” is signed “Your loving, Thee.” They married shortly after his graduation, he achieving his B.A., and she, her MRS.

Houghton Library, meanwhile, boasts a collection of letters that, while not written at Harvard desks, can serve as inspiration for current romantic souls. The famed letters sent from John Keats to his “Bright Star,” Fanny Brawne, as well as those sent from Ralph Waldo Emerson, Class of 1821, to his first wife, Ellen, and then to his second wife, Lydia, are all within the collections. Leslie A. Morris, the curator of modern books and manuscripts at Houghton Library, explained that the library does not actively collect love letters, but it does collect what it terms personal papers. “Since most people at one point in their life fall in love ... they just happen to be there,” Morris said. “But it always gives you a much more personal sense of the writer when you come across something like a love letter.”