Language of Love

Today is Valentine’s Day, and while the first commercially printed valentines weren’t available in the United States until the mid-1800s, the association of February 14 with romance can be traced back to the 15th century.[1] As a diversion, we thought we would share a bit of eighteenth century romantic language.

The following is not from a letter between James and Dolley Madison – they loved each other, but spent very little time apart, leaving future generations with only a handful of correspondence. Rather, this is taken from a letter sent to Dolley Payne Todd in 1794, during the period when James Madison was courting her. The letter was written by her cousin, Catherine Coles.

“…now for Madison he told me I might say what I pleas’d to you about him to begin, he thinks so much of you in the day that he has Lost his Tongue, at Night he Dreames of you & Starts in his Sleep a Calling on you to relieve his Flame for he Burns to such an excess that he will be shortly consumed & he hopes that your Heart will be calous to every other swain but himself he has Consented to every thing that I have wrote about him with Sparkling Eyes…” [2]


[1]For more information on the early celebration of Valentine’s Day, see the work of Henry Ansgar Kelly on Chaucer and Valentine’s Day.
[2]Catharine Coles to Dolley Payne Todd, June 1, 1794.  Papers of Dolley Madison, Various Accessions, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Va. Transcription from Thomas A. Mason, Robert A. Rutland, and Jeanne K. Sisson, eds., The Papers of James Madison, vol. 15 (Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1985), 342.


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