Love Letters of Great Men – for real

Andy McSmith
Monday 28 July 2008 00:00 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


There is scene in the film Sex and the City that has sent its mostly female fans crowding into bookshops, only to emerge empty-handed. Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, is lying in bed next to her lover, Mr Big (Chris Noth), reading extracts from an interesting-looking book called Love Letters of Great Men.

But the trouble with the movie of Sex and the City is that so much of it is fake. For instance, the quotations that Carrie read out were real but the tome itself did not exist, much to the exasperation of booksellers inundated by hundreds of would-be customers wanting copies.

But now, a British firm, Macmillan, is plugging a gap in the market by issuing a new book with the same title as the fictitious one that so intrigued Carrie, and with the same wide choice of historical figures including Pliny, Henry VIII, Mozart, Napoleon, Prince Rainier III and Oscar Wilde.

In it, you can dip into letters from the poet John Keats, who died young and did not always get on well with women. In fact, he once complained in a letter to a male friend: "When I am among women I have evil thoughts, malice, spleen – I cannot speak or be silent – I am full of suspicions and therefore listen to nothing – I am in a hurry to be gone."

Many years after Keats was dead, The Times carried a bald, uninteresting obituary of a 65- year-old woman, Mrs Fanny Lindon. You cannot blame the obituary writer for not knowing who Mrs Lindon was, because she had kept the secret even from her husband. She was Fanny Brawne, the lover who had befriended Keats when he was penniless and had become his inspiration.

After his death, she watched his reputation grow while she kept his love letters stashed away for her children to read one day. In one, he wrote: "I love you the more in that I believe you have liked me for my own sake and for nothing else. I have met with women whom I really think would like to be married to a Poem and to be given away by a Novel."

Another featured poet is the notorious Lord Byron, who was the nearest 19th-century equivalent to a rock star. He had an infamous fling with a married woman, Lady Caroline Lamb, who famously warned that he was "mad, bad, and dangerous to know" – a warning ignored by Teresa, Countess Guiccioli.

She was a teenager married to a man more than 40 years her senior, met Byron in Italy and became the love of his life. "My destiny rests with you," he told her in one of his many letters. "And you are a woman, 17 years of age, and two out of a convent. I wish you had stayed there, with all my heart, or at least that I had never met you in your married state. But all this is too late. I love you, and you love me – at least you say so, and act as if you did so, which last is a great consolation at all events."

Love match: Who wooed who?

Can you match the couple to the quote?

A ......... Pliny to his wife, Calpurnia

B ......... Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn

C ......... Mozart to his wife, Constanze

D ......... Alexander Pope to his long- time lover, Martha Blount

E ......... Lloyd George to his mistress, Frances Stevenson

1 "While I was writing the last page, tear after tear fell on the paper. But I must cheer up – catch! – An astonishing number of kisses are flying about – The deuce! – I see a whole crowd of them! Ha! Ha! ... I've just caught three – They are delicious!"

2 "My darling Pussy. You might phone ... on Friday if you can come. Don't let Hankey see you. If Saturday impossible, what about Monday? Fondest love to my own."

3 "I stay awake more of the night thinking of you, and by day I find my feet carrying me (a true word, carrying) to your room at the times I usually visited you; then finding it empty I depart, as sick and sorrowful as a lover locked out."

4 "It is true you are not handsome, for you are a woman, and think you are not, but this good humour and tenderness for me has a charm that cannot be resisted."

5 "Wishing myself (specially an evening) in my sweetheart's arms, whose pretty dukkys I trust shortly to kiss. Written with the hand of him that was, is, and shall be yours by his will."

(Answers: 1 – C, 2 - E, 3 –A, 4 - D, 5 – B)

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