Dickens must be whizzing round in his grave in Westminster Abbey. He had a horror of any sort of exposure of his privacy and in 1860, after the break-up of his marriage, he burned all his correspondence ‘because I could not answer for its privacy being respected when I should be dead’. Yet today, amid the brouhaha surrounding Dickens’s bicentennial year, his love life is the subject of increasing fascination.
I loved her simply because I found her irresistible. Once for all; I knew to my sorrow, often and often, if not always, that I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be. Once for all; I love her none the less because I knew it, and it had no more influence in restraining me, than if I had devoutly believed her to be human perfection.
She was more than human to me. She was a Fairy, a Sylph, I don’t know what she was—anything that no one ever saw, and everything that everybody ever wanted. I was swallowed up in an abyss of love in an instant. There was no pausing on the brink; no looking down, or looking back; I was gone, headlong, before I had sense to say a word to her.
There lives at least one being who can never change — one being who would be content to devote his whole existence to your happiness — who lives but in your eyes — who breathes but in your smiles — who bears the heavy burden of life itself only for you.
Never, never, before Heaven, have I thought of you but as the single, bright, pure, blessed recollection of my boyhood and my youth. Never have I from the first, and never shall I to the last, regard your part in my life, but as something sacred, never to be lightly thought of, never to be esteemed enough, never, until death, to be forgotten.
It is a letter, written from a young woman to her love, and is the first mention of the word Valentine in the English language. And, for the first time, the descendants of Margery Brews and her betrothed John Paston have been traced.