THE ease of modern communication will no doubt have a devastating effect on courtship through love letters. That means that future historians will probably not find well-worn missives squirreled away in a special place that often revealed a special side to noted Americans. How important such letters can be to understanding a relationship is seen in the example of Harry and Bess Truman, who for a half century wrote each other, sometimes daily, to confirm their love. Bess saved her letters, and the result is a historical portrait of a young, middle-aged, and aging mate who knew that love was the tie that binds. Truman even proposed to Bess via the post. ``Speaking of diamonds,'' he wrote her on June 22, 1911, at the age of 28, having known her since the age of six; ``would you wear a solitaire on your left hand should I get it? . . . You know, were I an Italian or a poet I would commence and use all the luscious language of two continents.''
When Truman was in France during World War I, he wrote Bess in an often contemplative manner. ``I've almost come to the conclusion that it's not intended for me ever to be very rich, nor very poor, and I am convinced that that will be about the happiest state a man can be. To have the finest girl in all the whole world (and to make the statement without fear of contradiction) to share my joys and troubles, mostly joys I'm hoping, to have just enough of the world's goods to make it pleasant to try for mo re, to own a Ford and tour the U.S.A. and France perhaps, although I've nearly promised old Miss Liberty that she'll have to turn around to see me again, and still have a nice little country home to be comfortable in -- well that's really not a hard fortune to contemplate.''
In the White House, Truman penned his own letters to Bess and was the only person to open those from her. From Berlin in July 1945, the 61-year-old President of the United States wrote Bess in a manner that should suggest to readers that young people have no monopoly on affection: ``It made me terribly homesick when I talked with you yesterday morning. It seemed as if you were just around the corner, if six thousand miles can be just around the corner. I spent the day after the call trying to think up r easons why I should bust up the conference and go home. . . . Lots of love to you, Harry.''
Thomas V. DiBacco is a historian at the American University.