Victor & Juliette

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“To love another person is to see the face of God.” 
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Paris

Victor Hugo is considered one of the greatest and most beloved of French writers.  Les Misérables, and Notre-Dame de Paris, (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) set forth universal themes that continue to stimulate and challenge.

Victor Hugo had a great love – Juliette Drouet, a French actress who left her theatrical career to devote her life entirely to him.   She was his secretary and travelling companion.  Some would even say that she lived a secluded existence; she would only go into public in his company.  Their letters spanned decades and demonstrated a profound and enduring love.  Following are excerpts from their correspondence.

Love Letter to Victor Hugo, dated 1831

“I love you, I love you, my Victor; I cannot reiterate it too often; I can never express it as much as I feel it. I recognize you in all the beauty that surrounds me – in form, in colour, in perfume, in harmonious sound: all of these mean you to me.  You are superior to all.  I see and admire – you are all!  You are not only the solar spectrum with the seven luminous colours, but the sun himself, that illumines, warms, and revivifies!  This is what you are, and I am the lowly woman that adores you.”

Juliette

Love Letter to Juliette Drouet, dated 1851

(Recall that in 1851, Victor Hugo was sentenced to a fine of 500 francs and six months imprisonment for his article condemning capital punishment.  That same year, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte become Napoleon III of France, ending the Second Republic)

“You have been wonderful, my Juliette, all through these dark and violent days. If I needed love, you brought it to me, bless you!   When, in my hiding places, always dangerous, after a night of waiting, I heard the key of my door trembling in your fingers, peril and darkness were no longer round me – what entered then was light!  We must never forget those terrible, but so sweet, hours when you were close to me in the intervals of fighting. Let us remember all our lives that dark little room, the ancient hangings, the two armchairs, side by side, the meal we ate off the corner of the table….”

Victor

 

The Best of Friends

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But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.”   John Adams, 2nd President of the United States

I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.”  Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States

A Pathway

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were the best of friends, even though their ideas and political viewpoints were not in sync.  From their first meeting at the 1775 Continental Congress in Philadelphia, they formed a strong affinity, respect and liking for each other.  In 1776, they worked together on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence. Eight years later, they were both in France on diplomatic service.  Throughout their long friendship they continued a lively dialogue through letters.  They had a falling out during the transition of presidency in 1801, when John Adams made some last-minute political appointments that displeased Thomas Jefferson.   The letters stopped for a time and then resumed in 1811 after a welcomed reconciliation.

John Adam’s last words were, “Thomas Jefferson still survives,” unaware that his dear friend had died only a few hours before.  They were friends until the last, both dying on July 4th, 1826, on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

This is the letter, dated November 13, 1818, from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, upon hearing of the death of Abigail Adams:

MONTICELLO, November 13, 1818.

The public papers, my dear friend, announce the fatal event of which your letter of October the 20th had given me ominous foreboding. Tried myself in the school of affliction, by the loss of every form of connection which can rive the human heart, I know well, and feel what you have lost, what you have suffered, are suffering, and have yet to endure. The same trials have taught me that for ills so immeasurable, time and silence are the only medi­cine. I will not, therefore, by useless condolences, open afresh the sluices of your grief, nor, although mingling sincerely my tears with yours, will I say a word more where words are vain, but that it is of some comfort to us both, that the term is not very distant, at which we are to deposit in the same cerement, our sorrows and suffering bodies, and to ascend in essence to an ecstatic meeting with the friends we have loved and lost, and whom we shall still love and never lose again. God bless you and support you under your heavy affliction.

Thomas Jefferson

The Last Letter

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Marie Antoinette

Several years ago I read Évelyne Lever’s, “Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France.”  Her writing style was compelling, transporting me back in time, enabling me to pass through the magnificent entrance of Versailles into the living quarters of the iconic Queen.  Under Évelyne Lever’s meticulous research and detail, Marie Antoinette came alive – it was as if I was sitting beside her during all of the transitions.  I confess that I broke down and cried when I read the last letter that Marie Antoinette wrote to her sister-in–law,  Princess Elizabeth (Louis XVI’s sister) at 4:30 a.m. on October 16, 1793, just hours before her execution.  The letter was given to Robespierre.  Princess Elizabeth never received the letter and met her fate the next year.

This is an excerpt of that letter that has been translated into English.

“It is to you, my sister, that I write for the last time.  I have just been condemned, not to a shameful death, for such is only for criminals, but to go and rejoin your brother.  Innocent like him, I hope to show the same firmness in my last moments.  I am calm as one is when one’s conscience reproaches one with nothing.  I feel profound sorrow in leaving my poor children: you know that I only lived for them and for you, my good and tender sister.  You who out of love have sacrificed everything to be with us, in what a position do I leave you!  I have learned from the proceedings at my trial that my daughter was separated from you…Let my son never forget the last words of his father, which I repeat emphatically; let him never seek to avenge our deaths….”

Marie Antoinette lived during a time of economic uncertainty and political instability. During her last years, she became the symbol of lavish wealth and tyranny.  Even so, I often think of her as a women imprisoned, her children taken from her, waiting to rejoin her husband.

February 10th & 11th, 1840

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Windsor

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were married on February 10th, 1840, in the Chapel Royal.

In the early morning, Prince Albert received a note folded in billet form from Queen Victoria.

Dearest, -…How are you to-day, and have you slept well?  I have rested very well, and feel very comfortable to-day.  What weather! I believe, however, the rain will cease.

Send one word when you, my most dearly loved bridegroom, will be ready.  Thy ever-faithful,

Victoria R.

After the wedding breakfast at Buckingham Palace the young couple drove to Windsor, returning to London on the February 14th, a fitting way to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day.  Even so, Queen Victoria wasted no time in writing a letter to the Leopold I, King of the Belgians, her maternal uncle and adviser. Her letter, dated February 11, 1840 at Windsor Castle, illustrates her happiness in the marriage he helped arrange.

“My dearest Uncle, – I write to you from here, the happiest, happiest Being that ever existed.  Really, I do not think it possible for any one in the world to be happier, or as happy as I am.  He is an Angel, and his kindness and affection for me is really touching.  To look in those dear eyes, and that dear sunny face, is enough to make me adore him.  What I can do to make him happy will be my greatest delight.  Independent of my great personal happiness, the reception we both met with yesterday was the most gratifying and enthusiastic I ever experienced; there was no end of the crowds in London, and all along the road.  I was a good deal tired last night, but am quite well again to-day, and happy…

My love to dear Louise. Ever your affectionate,

Victoria R.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had 21 happy years together.

For A Woman Knows

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“A letter is a soul, so faithful an echo of the speaking voice that to the sensitive it is among the richest treasures of love.” 
Honoré de Balzac, Père Goriot

Love

Honoré de Balzac was born May 20, 1799, just six years after the deaths of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  He was only in his 16th year when Napoléon Bonaparte fell from power.   He is known for his magnum opus La Comédie humaine, which was a sequence of nearly 100 novels and plays that reflected life in France after 1815, sans Napoléon.

Honoré de Balzac was a headstrong child, who rejected the stringent teaching methodology of his grammar school.  Even as an adult, his intractable temperament was incompatible with his aspiration to succeed in business.  He studied, but disliked law.  He tried a variety of careers including politics, printing, and publishing, all of which, fortunately, ended in abject failure.  Instead, he became a novelist and playwright, who would inspire other writers, the likes of Marcel Proust, Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert, Henry James, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, and many others. Even philosophers Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx felt his influence.

Honoré de Balzac once wrote, “for a woman knows the face of the man she loves like a sailor knows the open sea.”   Who loved him with such depth? Eveline Hańska, a Polish noblewoman, began reading his novels in the late 1820’s.   One day in 1832, she sent him a letter anonymously, which was the genesis of a correspondence that spanned decades. Their mutual admiration led to their eventual marriage, six months before he passed away on August 18, 1850.  This is an excerpt from Honoré de Balzac’s love letter to Eveline Hańska dated October 6, 1833.

“Our love will bloom always fairer, fresher, more gracious, because it is a true love, and because genuine love is ever increasing.  It is a beautiful plant growing from year to year in the heart, ever extending its palms and branches, doubling every season its glorious cluster and perfumes; and my dear life, tell me, repeat to me always, that nothing will bruise its bark or its delicate leaves, that it will grow larger in both our hearts, loved free, watched over, like a life within our life…”

 

I’m a Fan

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If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”
Abigail Adams, The Letters of John and Abigail Adams

 Abigail

I have become a fan of Abigail Adams on Goodreads.  Abigail, the wife of John Adams, was as feisty as she was brilliant, eloquent as she was forthright, courageous as she was compassionate.  Wife of the second and mother to the sixth president (John Quincy Adams) of the United States, her letters are a testament to her influence during a time of nation-building. John and Abigail Adams spent a considerable amount of time apart; letters were a connecting force that motivated their actions.   The following is an excerpt from Abigail’s letter dated November 27, 1775 to her husband, John Adams, when he was in Philadelphia attending the Continental Congress.  As I read the message, I realized afresh that sacrifices have been made for the greater good.

“I am more and more convinced, that man is a dangerous creature; and that power, whether vested in many or a few, is every grasping, and, like the grave, cries “Give, give.”  The great fish swallow up the small; and he, who is most strenuous for the rights of the people, when vested with power is as eager after the prerogatives of government.  You tell me of degrees of perfection to which human nature is capable of arriving, and I believe it, but at the same time, lament that our admiration should arise from the scarcity of the instances…….

…..I believe I have tired you with politics; as to news we have not any at all. I shudder at the approach of winter, when I think I am to remain desolate.

I must bid you good night; ‘tis late for me, who am much of an invalid.  I was disappointed last week in receiving a packet by the post and, upon unsealing it, finding only four newspapers.  I think you are more cautious than you need be.  All letters, I believe, have come safe to hand.  I have sixteen from you, and wish I had as many more.

Adieu, yours.

Abigail”