A lost art

When I was younger, before I had a phone or an email account, definitely before social media, I used to communicate through letters. I remember learning how to write letters in school- both formal and informal ones-and using that skill in real life. I would write letters to my siblings in boarding school, and when I became a boarder myself, I would write letters home to my family. My letters always had the same format. I would start out with an inquiry into their health and general wellbeing. “I hope this letters meets you in good health. If so glory be to God” was a permanent line in my letters. I would go on to tell them them about myself and how I was, give them any new information, ask them a few questions and then round off with Yours Faithfully.

I wish I had some of those letters now, just to get a glimpse into my childish mind. I once received a breakup letter, not from a lover as one might expect but from a friend. The letter was addressed to myself and one of our mutual friends. In it my friend announces that she no longer wants to be friends with us and then goes on to list all the ways in which she has felt slighted by us. I kept one page of this letter, and gave the other page to the other friend- the co addresse. I pasted the letter in my scrap book, only to forget  the book while on an outing in England. Ugh I was so pissed. I wish I still had that letter. That friend and I were only estranged for a few hours before we made up.

Sometime last year, I had the good fortune to come across this wonderful website- Lettersofnote.com. The website hosts hundreds of letters of all types, categories. There are handwritten letters, typed letters, typewritten letters, letters from past centuries, sad letters, happy letters, angry letters, suicide letters,romantic letters, letters from rockstars, letters from presidents, all kinds of letters. It also has telegrams, memos and faxes. The first time I came across the website, I spent hours hungrily devouring its contents. I could not possibly pick a favourite letter, however I will share a few here.

I found this letter by Ludwig van Beethoven to be quite sad. In it, he apologises for his seemingly cold, aloof anti social nature, and explains that he was afraid to mingle with people due to his insecurities about his deafness. The letter was opened on the occasion of his death, 25 years after it was written.

This tear stained letter by Marie Antoinette, written to her sister in law hours before she (M.A) was beheaded. We are let into Marie’s thoughts and emotions in the face of impending death. History has recorded Marie Antoinette as a pompous, uncaring woman, but this letter made me feel a bit sorry for her.

I don’t know why I like this letter by Bob Dylan, but I do.

This caustic letter made me gasp. It is so mean. It is written by a man to a woman who had made romantic advances at him. The woman apparently sent him a picture which, as he makes pretty clear in his letter, he did not like.

This letter was written in the 16th century  by a woman to her husband who had died, and left her pregnant and alone. It is quite heart wrenching.

This stern letter written by a woman to her husband’s mistress who had overstepped her boundaries.

This lovely yet stern letter written to Marlene Dietrich by a dear friend. Marlene was in a relationship that her friend clearly thought was beneath her. He urged her to stop staying in a situation that was causing her so much grief. I thought it was really sweet.

This letter was written to President Hoover by Louis Adamic, who was seeking assistance for his friend the famed inventor- Nikola Tesla. It is so deplorable that someone who contributed immensely to our lives lived and died and such pitiful conditions.

This lovely letter written by President Reagan to his son, on the occasion of his son’s wedding. It contains some valuable advice about life, love and marriage.

I could go on for a while, but it’s best I stop here.

I have been searching for a particular letter that I think I read on the website. I am beginning to think I imagined it. From my recollection, it was a woman writing a breakup letter to her boyfriend, then again it could have been about everything. It included the lines “I don’t need God to give me strength/I don’t need to ask God for strength…I have plenty of my own.” Does it sound familiar? If anyone knows what letter it came from, please let me know.

To the best of my knowledge, this Dear John letter is not on the LettersofNote website, but I find it interesting. It was written by Tom Findlay to Susan Smith, the woman who killed her two children and claimed they had been abducted in a carjack by a black man. Most people agree that it was this letter- in which Tom says he cannot date her partly because she has children- that made her kill her children.

Have you read any interesting letters? Share!

12/09/2022: Can’t believe it has been over seven years since I wrote this post. Damn. I came back to it to reminisce on the letters and was annoyed to find that some of the letters have been removed from the website. Ugh. On the plus side, I did finally come across the letter I referenced above. It’s a quote by the venerable Dorothy Parker. I randomly came across it one day while reading quotes (as I do) and was stupefied. I had been looking for this quote for ages and ever even considered she was the source.

“I won’t telephone him. I’ll never telephone him again as long as I live. He’ll rot in hell, before I’ll call him up. You don’t have to give me strength, God; I have it myself. If he wanted me, he could get me. He knows where I am. He knows I’m waiting here. He’s so sure of me, so sure. I wonder why they hate you, as soon as they are sure of you.”
― Dorothy Parker, The Portable Dorothy Parker

I did find some other sources for the letters referenced above:

Ludwig Beethoveen: See here and here.

Marlene Dietrich: See here. I am happy I came across this letter again, as seven years ago I had no idea who the other parties (Noel Coward and Yul Brenner) were. This makes it even more interesting. This site also provides some background on the letter which was much appreciated. I really like this letter; it is equal parts stern and tender.

Your letter filled me with such a lot of emotions, the predominant one being rage that you should allow yourself to be so humiliated and made so unhappy by a situation that really isn’t worthy of you. I loathe to think of you apologizing and begging forgiveness and humbling yourself. I don’t care if you did behave badly for a brief moment, considering all the devotion and loving you have given out during the last five years, you had a perfect right to. The only mistake was not to have behaved a great deal worse a long time ago. The aeroplane journey sounds a nightmare to me.

It took me a bit longer to find this caustic letter, but thankfully even though the link doesn’t work by hovering over the link I was able to see a sentence and then search for it online. I found it here and here and oh gosh it’s worse than I remember. It was also interesting to learn more about the writer Lafcadio Hearn who lived such a life.

Whatever liking I have had for you, it has never been of such a character that I could be otherwise than disgusted by such a picture as that. It is unutterably coarse and gross and beefy. It is simply unendurable.

you are not a handsome or even a tolerably good looking woman physically, and your picture is simply horrible, horrible, horrible.

This is plain speaking; but I think it is necessary for you. You cannot make yourself physically attractive to me. Don’t try. I am an artist, a connoisseur, a student of beauty, and it is very hard to please me. Don’t disgust me, please.

Sweet Jesus.


2 thoughts on “A lost art

  1. Pingback: Love love love | Gobbledygook

  2. Pingback: LOVE | Gobbledygook

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