Romantic love, as we know it today, has only been around for the past 200 years. Indeed, the Victorian period in America (1837-1901) was the golden age of romanticism. Prior to that time, it was economic considerations, not love, which formed the primary motives for marriage. Parents arranged marriages for their children with the assumption that the young couple might eventually learn to love one another. However, the emergence of a more individualistic society at the beginning of the nineteenth century brought with it a new concern for personal happiness, and romance began to be an important basis for marriage.
Such was the case with David and Sarah Davis. Once settled in Bloomington, the two were, however, often separated by time and distance. The demands of David's burgeoning legal practice and his growing involvement in politics and Sarah's frequent visits - often necessitated by health concerns - to her family back east in Massachusetts, left them to tend the fires of their love for each other through the written word. The letters they wrote to one another during their marriage (1838-1879) provide ample testimony to the passionate romance they shared for nearly half a century. From the very beginning to the very end of their forty-one-year marriage, Sarah and David -- especially David -- wrote poignant and eloquent declarations of their love and longing for one another.
The letters excerpted here are from the David Davis Papers, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, Illinois, and from the Davis Family Papers, Williams College Library, Williamstown, Massachusetts.
"I feel that I love your daughter - sincerely love her - and that the ultimate possession of her hand would be the strongest inducement that I could have to engage arduously in the business of life. I also feel that the chief object of my life could be devoted to the promotion of her happiness." - Lenox Massachusetts May 1 1835 DD-Sarah's father, William Perrin Walker
"Believe me, Dearest Sarah, that you are the light of my life. I sincerely hope that our love for each other may continue to increase and my prayer is that I may never do anything that you disapprove." - Springfield Illinois August 2 1846 DD-SWD (IHPA)
"I need not tell you my best beloved that I am lonely, wretchedly lonely, without you & that I can enjoy no positive happiness unless with my own pleasure & have you remain & go to the Sea Shore - for Dearest, it done [sic] you good last year & may again this - and in as much as you are in Mass I believe you had better stay and try it. Oh, you cannot tell how dreary the house & every things [sic] looks without you. You are the one person needful to me Sarah & without you I pass along the world but dont [sic] enjoy it..." - Bloomington Illinois March 19 1848 DD-SWD
"I do not know that I can like you much better than I now do for I like you too well for my comfort when you are so far from me - Yet I would not love you any less...I think of you very much and picture you as lonely - my heart longs to tell you I have come home to you again - I cant [sic] think with pleasure of staying away all the Summer - my heart yearns for home - and you - It is not home where you are not. I am confident that I am dear to you Davie - your words and actions have always shown it..." - Canaan Connecticut March 23 1848 SWD-DD (IHPA)
"Who could help loving you, dearest Sarah, I never could. My heart is with you, my thoughts are with you, I think of you by day, I dream of you by night, all my anticipations of happiness for the future are connected with you, I bless the time I went to New England and think myself the most fortunate of men in securing your love & hand - I feel, my love, that I shall do wrong if this climate continues to disagree with your health, in keeping you here. I will not do it. My inclination as well as my duty causes me to think more than ever of your health. I enjoy this Western Country & doubtless now I can do better, love, than any where else, but I want to enjoy this life with you & I know we cant [sic] if your health suffers in Illinois. I have strong hopes & even faith that hereafter you are to have better health, & that we will yet be happy in Illinois." - Bloomington Illinois July 2 1848 DD-SWD
"Was it the new gold pen that made your letter of July 2nd so very clear to me? Or was it the strong affection that breathed in every line? I have you to guess - I read it four times certainly, and finally laid it under my pillow to sleep on... Take good care of your health Davie for the sake of one who loves you better than any body else. I kiss you in anticipation. The reality would be far more satisfying I am certain." - Lenox Massachusetts July 14 1848 SWD-DD
"How I do long to give you a fond wife's kiss - to be with you to listen to your voice once more. I dare not trust myself to think of it. I am sure I did not anticipate your coming when we were to be united with as much warmth of feeling as I now do our reunion. I know your good qualities now your love and forbearance and prize them too." - Guilford Connecticut July 29 1848 SWD-DD (IHPA)
"...that man is to be pitied who does not love his wife better twelve years after marriage than in the first blissful moment of the honeymoon." - Springfield Illinois March 15 1851 DD-SWD
"If I could see you now, I would hug you as close as I ever did, notwithstanding that the weather now while I am writing starts the sweat out at every pore." - Springfield Illinois September 7 1851 Sunday Eve 8 oclk DD-SWD
"Love me always and be assured of my constant affection. I would find that little white sweet spot on somebody's neck if I could see him a moment. Devotedly yours .... - Bloomington Illinois March 14 1852 SWD-DD
"... Good night Dear Davie, I wish I could imprint one kiss ... on your sweet warm lips but wishes are vain - so I give it you in imagination." - Bloomington Illinois March 21 1852 SWD-DD
"Love me always - & believe that the world & all its contents - are as dross when put in the balance & weighed with your affection. Kiss Geordie [the Davis' young son]. As ever, thine affectionate Husband..." - Decatur Illinois June 3 1852 DD-SWD
"... Thank you dearest for _[believing?]_ me good and deserving all your kindness. I hope you will always think so - and may never find reason to alter your opinion. It shows most dearly that you love your "dear wife" for love is blind as the folks say. May your eyes never be open to my faults and foibles." - Stockbridge Massachusetts September 18 1853 Sabbath Evening SWD-DD
"Our bedroom was cold & cheerless & I need not assure you that I missed my old bed fellow. I dreamed of you but I wont [sic] tell you what I dreamed ... " - Clinton Illinois October 12 1860 DD-SWD
"I either am very foolish or else you are dearer to me than ever this year." - Lenox Massachusetts October 17 1860 SWD-DD
"You dont [sic] know Sarah how dear you are to me when I imagine that any thing is the matter with you. My devotion to you increases with years & my love is as strong as life. How my heart yearns for home..." - Buffalo February 17 1861 DD-SWD
"How my heart yearns to have you near me. Are you fearful that I love you too well? Certainly I prefer your society to 'all the world' ... Your affectionate wife, Sarah W. Davis" - Clover Lawn Bloomington Illinois December 1 1867 SWD-DD
"If you could be with us for a day it would be very very pleasant ... Sometimes my heart yearns so for you, that I find it hard to quiet it." - Clover Lawn Bloomington Illinois December 1 1867 SWD-DD
"How my eyes dazzle and my heart jumps when I see your well known hand writing. I could sing praises to the mails and call down blessings on him who invented letter writing ... I read it with all eagerness & delight of a young lover. The truth is, Sarah, you are far dearer to me now than when we were married [29 years ago]. Our lives are one now - all joys & sorrows are to be shared together. [Only two of the seven children born to Sarah and David survived infancy.] With my love is mixed my highest esteem - which long years has instilled in me ... The snowstorm has been the severest ever known. Sleigh bells have been tingling night & day for several days and they remind me of my young days in Mass when it was bliss to get you in a sleigh and ride with you to the tintinnabulation [the ringing or sounding] of the bells ... May angels guard those that I love..." - Washington DC December 16 1867 DD -SWD
"I am longing to hear your cheering voice once more. No music quite equal to that for your affe [sic] wife." - Bloomington Illinois December 10 1871 SWD-DD (AL 7)