“Love is a familiar”: A letter collection chronicles a decades-long love story

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Guest Post by Marlena Carrillo, Student Assistant, Digital Collections, Tampa Library.

Still feeling the love post-Valentine’s Day? This whirlwind 19th-century, long-distance romance will make you feel like you’re reading a novel – but the courtship was far from fiction.

The Albert Hafner Letters collection consists of nearly 100 letters written between 1891 and 1893 by Albert Hafner, a cigar salesman from Tarpon Springs, Florida. As a Swiss immigrant and businessman, Hafner moved to Tarpon Springs chasing the American Dream. What he found was Elizabeth Chandler, a Massachusetts girl visiting Tarpon Springs with her aunt. You could say the rest was history: Albert fell in love at first sight, and the two were quickly engaged.

Caption: “(…) I wish to have it distinctly understood that I claimed you for my wife the first time I saw you and ever since. And I wish to have it understood as well that my wish to have you for my wife is subject to a higher wish – to see or know you as happy as your and my efforts, or others’ efforts, can make you.” Hafner, Albert, “Letter, A. Hafner to Elizabeth Chandler, June 5, 1891” (1891). Albert Hafner Letters. 70. https://digitalcommons.usf.edu/hafner/70

While Chandler returned to her New England home, Hafner was starting a successful cigar business. He wrote to his fiancée nearly every day, updating her on all things mundane. He shared town gossip and tales of fishing expeditions, but mostly he declared his endless love for Chandler.

And no epic love story is ever complete without quoting William Shakespeare. Attached to an August 1891 letter is a moving quote from the comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost written in Chandler’s sophisticated handwriting: “Love is a familiar; Love is a devil. There is no evil angel but Love.”

Caption: A quote by the character Don Adriano de Armado of Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare, written in Elizabeth’s handwriting. Chandler, Elizabeth H., “Summary of August 1891 Letters, A. Hafner to Elizabeth Chandler, August 1891” (1891). Albert Hafner Letters. 14. https://digitalcommons.usf.edu/hafner/14

As the years passed, one thing remained stagnant : the pair’s engagement. Though urged by Chandler’s aunt to finally marry, Hafner couldn’t bring himself to wed his fiancée until other circumstances looked up for him – financially. The more time that passed, the greater the tension between the two grew, but Albert remained firm. If he could not give his wife everything, he would not tie himself to her at all.

Caption: “With every kindness to others, my thoughts were with you: If I should not be able to fill my promise to you, it would be because I remain poor, or you take advantage of your freedom! At any rate I would not marry unless I could marry you, or one whom I could look up to as I have looked up to you, always, my dear Elizabeth.” Hafner, Albert, “Letter, A. Hafner to Elizabeth Chandler, May 3, 1893” (1893). Albert Hafner Letters. 103. https://digitalcommons.usf.edu/hafner/103

Money aside, the couple still weathered their fair share of storms; Chandler even broke off the engagement after receiving an accusatory letter revealing another woman. And if you’re thinking what I’m thinking, yes: those “Hey girly…” DMs have been happening since the 1800s.

The letters in our collection end abruptly in 1893, but Albert and Elizabeth’s love story doesn’t stop there. In a corresponding collection of Chandler’s letters held at the Chicago Public Library, we learn the couple’s relationship spanned well into the 20th century but are left at a cliffhanger: Did their romance stand the test of time?

Immerse yourself in this historical romance as the month of love draws to a close by checking out the Albert Hafner Letters collection in USF’s Digital Commons.



Go Back