Most surviving letters from early modern England concern themselves either with affairs of state or financial matters. Amongst this dry paperwork, however, one occasionally encounters a letterwriter who cuts through the formal prescriptions, conventions, and strained wit to reveal anger, a playful sense of humor, an urge to gossip or describe—and, especially, love. For as John Donne puts it in a verse letter to his friend Sir Henry Wotton as “more than kisses, letters mingle souls; / For thus friends absent speak.”
Very few “real” love letters survive, despite the proliferation of printed collections devoted to the genre, and their frequent appearance in Renaissance literature. Why is this? Were they stored separately from routine business letters? Were they burned to prevent discovery? Rare examples from women writing in the seventeenth century reveal an increasing emotional frankness and desire for intellectual conversation.