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Love at first write

The list: 5 couples who loved letters

Nancy Reagan stands next to Ronald Reagan stamp artwork
Nancy Reagan, shown standing near Ronald Reagan stamp artwork in 2004, received letters from him throughout their marriage.

To help mark Valentine’s Day next week, here’s a look at five couples through the ages who used letters to express their love.

1. Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning.
The 19th-century poets, whose relationship inspired Barrett’s most famous sonnet (“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”), exchanged more than 500 letters. In one 1846 missive, Browning wrote, “I would die for you, with triumphant happiness, God knows, at a signal from your hand!”

2. Walt Whitman and Peter Doyle. Whitman, the poet and journalist, met Peter Doyle, a Washington, DC, streetcar conductor, in 1865 and the two soon began a romantic relationship. In 1877, while Whitman was recuperating from an illness in New Jersey, he penned a note to Doyle to express his hope that he would visit him. “[O]ften think of you Pete,” Whitman wrote.

3. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. During the course of their tumultuous relationship — which included two marriages and divorces — Burton put pen to paper to pour out his heart to Taylor. “If you leave me I shall have to kill myself,” he wrote in one letter. “There is no life without you.”

4. Ronald and Nancy Reagan. The 40th president traveled throughout his life, including during his time as an “ambassador” for General Electric. He often penned letters to his wife to express his devotion and to stay in touch. In one 1981 note, Reagan wrote, “[T]here could be no life for me without you.”

5. Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. In a 1994 letter, singer-songwriter Johnny Cash marked his wife June’s 65th birthday by expressing his enduring love. “Sometimes we irritate each other a little bit. Maybe sometimes we take each other for granted,” he wrote. “But once in awhile, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met.”

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