Gay Love Letters through the Centuries
Introduction to My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries (1998), Edited by Rictor Norton
Personal letters have very rarely survived from the ancient world. The oldest letter containing a testimonial of gay love is a fragment of a letter sent in 334 BC from Alexander the Great's boyfriend Hephaestion to Alexander's mother Olympias, who had been nagging Alexander to find a wife: "Stop quarrelling with me; not that in any case I shall much care. You know Alexander means more to me than anyone." Hephaestion and his tutor Aristotle wrote many letters to one another, none of which have survived. Letters of assignation have been exchanged between men for centuries, about which we have some tantalizing hints. According to Suetonius, the prominent ex-praetor Claudius Pollio brandished a letter in the emperor Domitian's own handwriting offering to engage in homosexual acts with him. Juvenal in one of his satires refers to love letters sent to a hustler:
. . . If your stars go against youThe mollies in early eighteenth-century London frequently wrote letters of assignation to one another and even used messenger boys for that purpose. Joseph Powis, who was convicted of breaking and entering, and hanged at Tyburn in 1732, in his confession and dying words said that once when he picked open a locked drawer in the Chancery Office he discovered letters belonging to the Clerk of the Masters addressed to Dear Miss Sukey Tooke, and signed Molly Soft-buttocks, appointing an assignation under the Piazza in Covent Garden. In the 1730s John Cooper, a butcher who called himself Princess Seraphina, earned money acting as a runner carrying messages between sodomitical gentlemen. In 1757 an effeminate male prostitute earned a good living by sending letters to wealthy men, offering his services. After receiving such a letter, the Earl of Tankerville helped the police to capture the rascal – who was found to have many such letters in his pocketbook, with blank spaces left for names to be filled in, and a list of names and addresses of prominent men. The spy Alfred Redl (1864–1913) received perfumed letters from men, together with their nude photographs.
Oscar Wilde facetiously said that he never wrote anything but for publication, but in fact his notorious letter to Bosie was intended solely for the recipient, and is known today only because it was stolen and used for blackmail. Noel Coward's play A Song at Twilight concerns a packet of homosexual letters used for blackmail, and was written partly to support England's Criminal Law Amendment Bill being debated in 1957. Several films and novels have turned upon the discovery of gay love letters, and the whole of Margaret Yourcenar's Alexis is a fictional gay love letter.
Most gay love letters have not survived, often because blackmailers were paid, or because the family took steps to suppress such material after the death of the writer. Madame, second wife of Monsieur, Philippe de France, duc d'Orleans (1640–1701), admitted that on his death she immediately burned "all the letters the boys [die Buben] wrote him." When Mathilde Verlaine sued her husband for divorce, she showed her lawyer letters from Rimbaud to Verlaine which conclusively proved the homosexual relations between the two men. The letters were not used as evidence in court, because charges of physical abuse were sufficient for her to obtain the divorce. Later she destroyed these letters so that they would never be seen by her son. When Henry Maas edited The Letters of A. E. Housman (1971) he was refused permission to include Housman's letters to Moses Jackson, the great love of Housman's life, with whom he lived intermittently for five or six years between 1877 and 1885. Maas was allowed to see but not summarize these letters, which he found to be "of the greatest interest", and said "they will certainly form a valuable supplement to the present collection." The family continues to refuse permission for publication. Yukio Mishima's wife will not allow the publication of her husband's letters. T. S. Eliot' widow in 1988 allowed the publication of some letters from Jean Jules Verdenal, with whom Eliot lodged in Paris in 1910–11 and to whom he dedicated The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock; they are full of youthful enthusiasm and devotion to "mon cher ami", but there are said to be others that are franker, and Eliot's replies have not been published.
Many well-meaning biographers, when confronted with romantic love between men, simply cannot believe the evidence. Beethoven's devoted biographer Alexander Thayer came down with a day-long headache whenever he tried to deal with Beethoven's relationship with his nephew Karl; the biographer could not cope with it, and kept putting off the fourth volume of his biography which would have covered it until he died, leaving the biography incomplete. Whether Beethoven was fully conscious of being a jealous lover, and how sexually overt the relationship with his nephew may have been, will never be known because the documents that would have clarified the issue were deliberately destroyed by the guardians of the composer's reputation.
Family censorship and self-censorship (Henry James burned his papers to foil biographers) are exacerbated by institutional censorship. The South Caroliniana Library in 1978 tried to prevent Martin Duberman from publishing gay love letters written by Thomas Jefferson Withers in 1826. However, I must acknowledge that publishers, literary agents and curators of archives have been very generous and helpful during the compilation of my anthology My Dear Boy, with one exception. The Fellowship of the School of Economic Science, London, and their publishers Shepheard-Walwyn, refused to grant permission to include any selection from their English translation of the letters of Marsilio Ficino, despite being advised that such a refusal would lay them open to charges of homophobia. I cannot otherwise account for why a modern academic institution would wish to prevent a sixteenth-century philosopher from appearing in a gay context.
Some cultural historians believe that anthologies of "gay literature" and compendiums of "gay biographies" give a false impression of a unified gay experience which masks wide variations in different cultures and epochs. Most of the material collected in the present anthology comes from Europe and America, and is less than two thousand years old, so it is already part of a fairly well unified culture. But I would nevertheless contend that this anthology documents a fundamental human emotion that is transcultural and transhistorical. When one man says to another "I love you more than anyone else in the world" it means exactly the same thing whether it is uttered by the sophisticated twentieth-century American literary critic F. O. Matthiessen, or by the seventeenth-century Japanese samurai Mashida Toyonoshin, or by the fifteenth-century Dutch scholar Erasmus, or by the eleventh-century saint Anselm, or by the second-century emperor Marcus Aurelius. The love of one man for another is the fixed root or core value upon which a gay identity is constructed within historical constraints. It may be true that modern gays have characteristics of a recognizably modern personality, but it is an absurd exaggeration to say that "the homosexual" was invented in the late nineteenth century. In 1852 Magnus Huss discovered something he called "alcoholism" but no one seriously contends that "alcoholics" did not exist prior to being labelled. A host of "deviant conditions" were classified in the late nineteenth century in order to bring them within the control of the expanding medical profession, but "sadists," "masochists," and even "heterosexuals" existed long before they were "discovered."
Some of the men in this anthology, even some who fully acknowledged being infatuated with other men, would not identify themselves with a label describing themselves as "men-who-love-men," whether that label be "sodomite" or "molly" or "Urning" or "queer" or "homosexual" or "gay", and I hesitate to force it upon them. Nevertheless I do not hesitate to label their ardent correspondence "gay love letters." Homosexuality is desire as well as act, and desire can be self-hidden as well as self-conscious. But in any case, most of the writers selected are confessedly head-over-heels in love with another man, and no phrase so satisfactorily describes their correspondence as "gay love letters." Too often, the debate about how to label a romantic masculine friendship is not an attempt to define experience, but to evade stigma. In most cases the debate about the term "gay" is not a genuine intellectual argument, but a linguistic red herring thrown out to escape a label that is felt to be denigrating. Virtually all the labels covering this area of experience are profoundly negative, and it is not surprising that they are felt to be incompatible with something that the participants regard as the most positive emotional experience in their lives. One could of course evade the issue by using the fashionable term "homosocial" whenever one cannot prove beyond the shadow of doubt that a relationship between two men finds expression in genital activity, but in such instances "homosocial" is merely "homosexual" with a fig leaf.
It is often asserted that male sexuality is genitally focused while female sexuality is more peripheral, i.e. more affected by other bodily stimulation and by mood. But these love letters provide evidence for precisely this kind of peripheral eroticism within the male gay sensibility: even the chastest of the correspondents readily kiss, embrace and caress one another; the beauty of the physical male body is seldom obscured, and the longings of the correspondents are expressed in sensuous images that are erotic without necessarily being phallic. A passionate declaration of love is at the very least subliminally erotic, for there is a single continuum from lust to devotion. It has been remarked that spiritual friendship is sentimental sodomy. Amongst these correspondents the love itself is never subconscious, and its intensity is never in question, only our conceptual terminology is problematical. The nineteenth-century critic Edmund Gosse was very happily married and loved his children; he also loved the sculptor William Hamo Thornycroft and spent most of his holidays with him; when Lytton Strachey was asked if Gosse was a homosexual, Strachey replied "No, but he's Hamo-sexual." The wisdom of this anecdote could be applied to many of the selections in this anthology, for we are dealing with individual love affairs rather than life styles.
Romantic love letters by a host of writers during the Renaissance through Victorian periods have been dismissed as merely part of a literary tradition of masculine friendship. This is a bogus argument, for this was a specifically homosexual literary tradition, created for the classical world in the Symposium and Phaedrus by Plato whose boyfriends included Agathon and Aster, revived for medieval Christians by De spirituali amicitia by St Aelred of Rievaulx who admitted that during his adolescence "the sweetness of love and the impurity of lust combined to take advantage of the inexperience of my youth," and re-revived for the Renaissance in De Amore by Marsilio Ficino who loved Giovanni Cavalcanti and who was called a sodomite by his enemies. Literary traditions are seldom "merely" literary: this tradition was a vehicle used by gay men to render eloquent the expression of a genuine emotion.
Are we justified in using a modern perception to read between the lines of sentiments of masculine affection expressed earlier than, say, 1920? Yes, of course we are. Freud was not the first person to recognize that no firm line can be drawn between love and desire: Marsilio Ficino in the fifteenth century emphasized that there was no essential difference between amor and amicitia: we are "naturally aroused for copulation whenever we judge any body to be beautiful. . . . It often happens that those who associate with males, in order to satisfy the demands of the genital part, copulate with them." It is wildly inaccurate to dismiss passionate endearment between men as being "typical" of the medieval period, or the Renaissance, or the early eighteenth century, and therefore not susceptible to "Freudian" erotic interpretation. The writers of such correspondence themselves acknowledged that it was not typical: Lord Hervey says of his letters to Stephen Fox in 1730 "I have often thought, if any very idle Body had Curiosity enough to intercept & examine my Letters, they would certainly conclude they came rather from a Mistress than a Friend." And Aelred also knew how his love for a certain Simon would be construed in the twelfth century: "some may judge by my tears that my love was too carnal. Let them think what they wish."
A key text for understanding the ardent expression of love between men in the nineteenth century is the correspondence between Theodore Weld and James Thome in 1838. Weld's side of the correspondence exhibits strong manly attachment of a sort that is seldom expressed nowadays because of our awareness of its potential meaning, but it is nevertheless chastely conventional. Thome's letters, however, illustrate homoerotic desire, of which he may or may not have been fully aware. He did nevertheless realize, to his sorrow, that his understanding of masculine love was different from Weld's. Thome used the phrase "peculiar attachment," perhaps as a deliberately coded message. "Les amitiés particulières" has been used to describe male-male love relationships in anthropological studies since the late seventeenth century; it is derived from medieval literature on "special friendships" that exceed the conventional bounds of brotherly love. An awareness of being different is supposedly typical of the modern gay identity, but an awareness that such friendships are different has existed for many centuries.
The literary tradition was also used to sanction a forbidden desire, and is sometimes cruelly exposed. Oscar Wilde's letter chastely addressing Lord Alfred Douglas as a slim gilt soul eventually contributed to Wilde's conviction and imprisonment. At Wilde's trial at the Old Bailey in 1895, Mr Justice Wills described the document to the jury as "a letter from the prisoner, of which it is difficult for me to speak with calmness, as addressed from one man to another. It is for you, however, to consider whether or not that letter is an indication of unclean sentiments and unclean appetites on both sides. It is to my mind a letter upon which ordinary people would be liable to put an uncomfortable construction." As recently as 1980, two young corporals in Ireland were charged with "gross indecency" and their sentimental love letters were read out in court, helping to convict them. Ultimately it is for the readers of this anthology to put their own constructions upon the letters that are included.
There are some important cultural differences between the periods represented in my anthology. The Japanese penchant for cutting off the thumb and presenting it as a gift to one's beloved is difficult to get to grips with (as it were). A more important difference is the rise of anti-gay legislation and attitudes in the west since the thirteenth century, and the "medicalization" of homosexuality since the late nineteenth century, so that modern American Christians are more likely to be guilt-ridden than ancient pagans or non-Europeans. Modern identities have been increasingly linked to exclusive sexual behaviour, but it also true that many centuries of gay love letters document exclusive attachment to single individuals. Up until the end of the nineteenth century married men could be discreetly, or even indiscreetly, gay, but from the 1890s the maintenance of one wife and many boyfriends (a common pattern before then) became more difficult. For almost a century, 1870–1960, easygoing "bisexuality" was steadily replaced by the use of marriage as a route from homosexuality to heterosexuality, causing untold anguish to thousands of women as well as men. Stanley Haggart wrote to Harry Hay that his "marriage was and is a perfect set-up . . . wrong in every way. The reason is that I belong with you, and you with me." Several of the letters here illustrate the struggle of modern "bisexual" men to sort themselves out. Neal Cassady is rare in dealing with his "non-queerness"; usually the struggle involves coming to grips with an essentially homosexual identity in a heterosexual society. And yet there is still a similarity of emotional experience across the centuries: the struggle of the American photographer Minor White, following his conversion to Roman Catholicism, to come to Christ despite of/because of his love for men during the 1940s, is not utterly different from Saint Anselm's medieval striving to love the soul made brilliant by the body.
As Erasmus wrote to his beloved Servatius: "Love, believe me, has its tears, and has its joys." Letters by their very nature document the separation of the correspondents. People normally write letters not while they happily live together, but when they are sadly apart from one another, so love letters are often skewed towards longing for reunion, dejection rather than celebration. The pain of loss and fear of rejection are substantial themes in many of these letters, as they are in heterosexual love letters. Heartbreak and longing are the stuff of romance. Tears trickle down the cheeks of many of the writers and no doubt will occasionally blur the vision of many readers of these letters. The course of true love never did run smooth, and some of the stories are heartbreaking. Love followed by marriage the complacent formula of heterosexual affairs is not an option available for gay men, although in three or four instances the correspondents have managed to settle down together and live happily ever after Montague Glover and Ralph Hall for fifty years.
There aren't a lot of saccharine hearts-and-flowers in gay love letters, though some of the more cuddly billets doux may make hard-hearted readers cringe. Love letters between men are often tender, but they often also have a blunt frankness even a shocking brutality that is seldom seen in heterosexual love letters. Tchaikovsky says to his nephew-lover Bob, who had not been writing to him lately: "If you do not want to write, at least spit on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope, and send it to me." Allen Ginsberg begs for the psychological whip and acknowledges that "my own love is one compounded of hostility & submission." Many of the more recent correspondents are matter-of-factly sexual. Peter Orlovsky tells Allen Ginsberg "I miss the shoe shine you'd give my cock!" Colin Spencer is so unhappy without John Tasker that he hasn't come for a week. W. S. Burroughs talks about "stiffening organs reaching out to touch warm flesh." How many heterosexual love letters other than responses to personal ads are accompanied by a nude photograph of the writer, as is Alistair Graham's to Evelyn Waugh?
There is a sub-category of gay letters, largely ignored in this anthology, written between gay men describing the boys they have known, serving partly as a tool for vicarious masturbation. The boy-lovers Henry de Montherlant and Roger Peyrefitte have discussed their garçons and gamins in enormous, sometimes tedious, detail. Only a very few of their letters are actually addressed to the boys, Doudou or Edmond, "Chère petite tête", and the rest consist of wide-ranging cultural–historical–literary analyses of pederasty, particularly during 1938–41 after Montherlant was arrested for caressing the knees of a fourteen-year-old boy in a cinema. Typical of this genre is a letter from Michael Davidson to Colin Spencer on May 20, 1972 about a seventeen-year-old Irish lad he picked up in Leicester Square, whom he took home: "Not a hair on his body save for a slight flourish of delicate tracery about the pubic . . . What quality of flesh and skin: silk spun from butterfly's wings oh, the feel of that skin's texture and the flavour of it! And, my dear, that cock. An obelisk of dazzling loveliness, of astonishing perfection breathtaking consummately circumcised, of course, immaculate in appearance and proportion and impeccably lickable, kissable and suckable." This is all very interesting, I'm sure, and the relationship described did last for nearly one whole month, but it is not quite what I mean by "love letters," and I have included only a few examples of this category (Beckford writing to his pimp, and Baron Corvo offering to be a pimp).
I should perhaps add that despite the title My Dear Boy, very few of the relationships between the correspondents are pederastic. Marcus Aurelius was eighteen years old at the time Marcus Fronto addressed him as "Beloved Boy", George Villiers was twenty-one when he was King James's "sweet and dear child", the Earl of Sunderland's "dearest Boy" Captain Wilson was twenty-two, Beethoven's nephew Karl was nineteen when his uncle addressed him as "My dear Boy", Greville's "dear boy" Frederic Leighton was twenty-six, Whitman's "Dear Boy and Comrade" Peter Doyle was eighteen, Henry James's "dearest Boy" Hendrik Andersen was twenty-seven. And so it goes. "My Dear Boy" is really an icon of the gay imagination: the infatuation of the lover quite naturally transforms the beloved into the image of Eros. Most of the correspondence in this anthology demonstrates the truth of Wagner's perception that classical friendship "sprang directly from delight in . . . the material bodily beauty of the beloved comrade." Mythological Apollos and statues of nude youths are often referred to in these letters, part of an ideal pastoral idyll. Hart Crane describes his lover as having the crisp pointed ears of a faun; Heinrich von Kleist's lover is called "the fairest young bull ever sacrificed to Zeus"; the frequency with which Chester Kallman is picked up by rough trade is likened by W. H. Auden to the worship of the Three Shepherds. Many of the boys are angels: Samuel Hase looks "so like an angel" in his cassock that Brother Augustine worships him; Cocteau's Jean Marais is mon bel ange; the envelope containing one of John Fiske's letters is addressed à un ange qu'on nommé Ernie Boulton, Londres. Photographs are frequently requested, and in many cases surviving paintings and photographs testify that some of the beloved young men were very good looking indeed.
Most relationships heterosexual as well as homosexual have been "transgenerational" until fairly recently. Child-brides are common among indigenous peoples. Modern western men usually marry women who are younger then they, and have extramarital affairs with girls who are much younger than they. Society is mildly amused at "MayDecember" marriages, but raises its hands in horror at the "corruption" of a twenty-year-old "boy." It would be mischievously imprecise to describe any of the relationships represented in this anthology as "pederastic," but in many cases there is a wide difference of ages between the correspondents. Some of the men are separated by only two or three years, and their relationships are egalitarian, fraternal and matrimonial. But the pattern that is most common is avuncular or paternal: unclenephew, fatherson, teacher pupil, and especially protector/benefactor/patronprotégé. There are combinations such as paternal–matrimonial (King James signs his letter to Villiers "Thy dear dad and husband"), and sometimes the patron is the younger of the two men (as was Michelangelo's Cavalieri, Müller's Bonstetten, Wagner's King Ludwig). Such classification, however, is only mildly illuminating: the key feature is that all of these relationships are romantic.
For the most part I have limited my selections to the whole raison d'être of the love letter: the passionate affirmation of love. As with heterosexual love letters, this runs the gamut from caring devotion to stormy passion, from affectionate endearment to blind possessiveness, from tenderness to raging jealousy, sometimes over a woman, but usually over another man. In the selections I have concentrated upon the initial blossoming of the love affair, the awakening of love in oneself and the urging of the beloved to seize the day. The self-recognition and commitment that is part of intimacy sometimes lead to coming out within a large community, though usually the lovers are so absorbed in one another that the outside world is seen a distraction. Conventional society and its laws are often the enemy of gay love; Rev John Church's letters to his former boyfriend Ned document the same bitter sense of betrayal that is found in Oscar Wilde's "De Profundis."
Contrary to the view that only "modern homosexuals" wish to set up house together, the lover's request that the beloved will "come live with me and be my love" can be traced back through several centuries. In the 1570s Hubert Languet would have liked to have adopted Sir Philip Sidney; in the 1470s Ficino lived with Cavalcanti; in the 820s Bo Juyi and Yuan Zhan made a pact to live together as Taoist recluses. Men began living together as self-conscious homosexual couples during the period between the two world wars, but felt, as did F. O. Matthiessen, that it was an "uncharted, uninhabited country," whose rules they had to create both for themselves and for gay men who came after them. Twentieth-century lovers often write to one another about how they can make gay relationships work despite "infidelity." Cocteau writes to his young lover Jean Marais that although he wishes for them to live together, he has no desire to inhibit his freedom and in fact much of his pleasure lay in helping Marais to "feel freer than you would with a daddy or a mummy." Some men, like Ackerley seeking his "Ideal Friend" among Guardsmen and street boys, never quite found fulfilment, while others, like Burroughs among junkies and expatriates in Tangier, celebrated everything that middle-class America despised. As the 1970s approached, the modern gay modus vivendi entailed rejection of social "norms." Thus Colin Spencer abandoned "the game adaptability": "Love is rare enough after all, for one to tear one's own guts out in order to get it."
The importance of the love letter as a physical object in itself is not often sufficiently noticed. A love letter bears a symbolic meaning of greater importance than the written message it conveys. It is a love-token, a pledge of love, as well as a transmitter of sentiment. Baudri of Bourgueil in the twelfth century eagerly awaits a "tablet" from his beloved: a board covered with wax for writing, which in some cases could be made of ivory and serve as an elaborate gift. Federico Garcia Lorca always carried with him the letters sent to him by his lover Rafael Rodríguez Rapún. One day Lorca failed to show up for a rehearsal of Blood Wedding to be performed in Barcelona, and his friend Rivas "found him sitting alone, deeply depressed, in a café, his head in his hands. It transpired that the previous night, after a binge in a downtown flamenco joint, Rapún had left with a Gypsy girl and failed to return to the hotel where he was staying with Lorca. Federico was in despair, believing that Rapún had abandoned him; and . . . pulled a wad of Rafael's letters out of his pocket to prove the passionate nature of their relationship" (Ian Gibson, Lorca, 1989). Many recipients of love letters have carried them next to their hearts and read them over and over again; all day, Russell Cheney would slip his hand into his pocket to hold the letter received from F. O. Matthiessen, or hold it against his cheek to achieve the sense of being with his lover. Tchaikovsky wrote to Bob Davïdov in May 1893, "I am writing to you with a voluptuous pleasure. The thought that this paper is going to be in your hands fills me with joy and brings tears to my eyes." Sir Philip Sidney was delighted to receive a letter from Hubert Languet: "for while I read, I fancy that I have the very Hubert himself before my eyes and in my hands." Hans Christian Andersen wrote to the Grand Duke of Weimar: "When this greeting reaches your hands, may you feel in it the pulsations of my heart." Wilfred Owen told his beloved Siegfried Sassoon: "for anything in any envelope of your sealing, I give thanks and rejoice." In short, love letters are magical talismans of transcendence, protective amulets, touchstones of the power of love to unite, to exalt, to fulfil, to heal. As Jean Cocteau said to his lover Jean Marais: "Write me two lines. Your short letters are my fetishes." Gay love letters are the manifest emblems of the primordial self, what Pasolini called the "fossil" of homosexual love.
I have not included any letters by women. This is not simply because of limitations of space, but because I feel it is clearly preferable to have separate anthologies, the present collection of Gay Love Letters and a companion anthology of Lesbian Love Letters edited by a lesbian feminist press. It is only during relatively modern times that gay men and lesbians in Europe and America have shared similar concerns (identity, coming out, overcoming oppression). Prior to the 1850s gay men and lesbians experienced separate cultures, separate concerns, separate traditions. Gay and lesbian circles freely intermixed in the later nineteenth century, and there is even a sub-genre of letters between gay men and lesbians. But to bring gay and lesbian love letters together in a comprehensive anthology, striving for roughly equal parity, would be to dilute and to distort many of the issues of importance to each of them.
Anthologies inevitably include many selections from professional "men of letters," but I have taken pains to include substantial material from "ordinary" and "uneducated" men such as F. Holland Day's nude model Nardo, Civil War soldier Lewis Brown, clergyman John Church, and especially the cheerful working-class lad Ralph Hall. I have selected love letters by kings and aristocrats, musicians and artists, military men and monks, farm labourers and herring merchants, political activists and aesthetes, drag queens and hustlers. Some of these love letters have been proudly published by their correspondents and some have been published in newspapers and pamphlets as part of political and religious attacks; some have been produced in court (from the Inquisition to the Old Bailey) and some have been discovered in a cardboard box after a house clearance; some are painfully personal and some have been written with an eye to future readers. I have relied mostly upon published English-language sources, but important letters by Marsilio Ficino, Federico Gonzaga, Heinrich von Kleist, Charles-Victor de Bonstetten, Johannes von Müller, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, and Jean Cocteau have been specially translated for this anthology. The short introductions to each selection are not intended as potted biographies, but focus upon the context in which the letters were written, with emphasis upon the specifically gay history of the correspondents, rather than an evaluation of the achievements for which they may be famous or notorious.
Personal letters are written less with an eye to future publication than other forms of writing. They are more sincere and closer to the heart, and their eloquence comes from simple passion rather than studied art. They have a truthfulness and immediacy lacking in more reflective autobiographies or analyses. Modern gay love letters, by Cocteau, Matthiessen, Colin Spencer, Allen Ginsberg, J. R. Ackerley, are of immense value in learning how gay men established their modus vivendi in modern homophobic society. Contemporary letters are more scarce, mainly because letters come last in a literary life-cycle: usually they are published by one's executors. I have given generous space to earlier periods, because such "historical" documents are less readily accessible than letters published during the past fifty years. Gay love letters are important and precious documents for the study of gay history, and are a resource for the nurturing of gay love. It is important to reclaim the older documents in order to demonstrate that love letters between men are not simply a phenomenon that has arisen as a result of modern gay awareness, but are testimonials of an enduring love.