It has been my custom on the week of Valentine’s Day to provide tips on writing love letters and love poems. I give a version of the same advice each year, and it may be summed up thus:

  • Start with memory, not emotion. (Corollary: Your feelings about your beloved aren’t unique; the experiences you have shared with your beloved are.)
  • Forget about universals; be specific.

If you need a refresher, or you’re new to The Habit Weekly, I refer you to my Valentine’s letter from 2019. It’s a good one, if you don’t mind my saying, full of practical tips for billets-doux that get results. Also, at the end of that letter are some examples of excellent love poems that might serve as inspiration.

And here, dear reader, is a bit of anti-inspiration, an example of what NOT to do when you sit down to write a love letter. The letter below is a favorite from the very fun Letters of Note Substack. If you don’t subscribe to Letters of Note, I highly recommend that you do. The letter is from a Simon Fallowfield to a Mary Foster in 1866. They lived in Yorkshire, not far from the villages where All Creatures Great and Small is set.

My Dear Miss,

I now take up my pen to write to you hoping these few lines will find you well as it leaves me at present Thank God for it. You will perhaps be surprised that I should make so bold as to write to you who is such a lady and I hope you will not be vex at me for it. I hardly dare say what I want, I am so timid about ladies, and my heart trimmels like a hespin. But I once seed in a book that faint heart never won fair lady, so here goes.

I am a farmer in a small way and my age is rather more than forty years and my mother lives with me and keeps my house, and she has been very poorly lately and cannot stir about much and I think I should be more comfortabler with a wife.

I have had my eye on you a long time and I think you are a very nice young woman and one that would make me happy if only you think so. We keep a servant girl to milk three kye and do the work in the house, and she goes on a bit in the summer to gadder wickens and she snags a few turnips in the back kend. I do a piece of work on the farm myself and attends Pately Market, and I sometimes show a few sheep and I feeds between 3 & 4 pigs agen Christmas, and the same is very useful in the house to make pies and cakes and so forth, and I sells the hams to help pay for the barley meal.

I have about 73 pound in Naisbro Bank and we have a nice little parlour downstairs with a blue carpet, and an oven on the side of the fireplace and the old woman on the other side smoking. The Golden Rules claimed up on the walls above the long settle, and you could sit all day in the easy chair and knit and mend my kytles and leggums, and you could make the tea ready agin I come in, and you could make butter for Pately Market, and I would drive you to church every Sunday in the spring cart, and I would do all that bees in my power to make you happy. So I hope to hear from you. I am in desprit and Yurnest, and will marry you at May Day, or if my mother dies afore I shall want you afore. If only you will accept of me, my dear, we could be very happy together.

I hope you will let me know your mind by return of post, and if you are favourable I will come up to scratch. So no more at present from your well wisher and true love.

Simon Fallowfield

PS I hope you will say nothing about this. If you will not accept of me i have another very nice woman in my eye, and i think shall marry her if you do not accept of me, but i thought you would suit me mother better, she being very crusty at times.

I am sorry to report that Mary Foster did not accept Simon Fallowfield’s marriage proposal.

If you’ve got four minutes, you will almost certainly enjoy this video of actor Taron Egerton’s reading Mr. Fallowfield’s letter at a Letters of Note live event.

And, while you’re at it, here’s another letter-reading by Taika Waititi at what appears to be the same event. It’s not a love letter, but it is hilarious.

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