Letters from America

My Grandmother was a prolific and accomplished letter writer.  From the age of around 11 in the 1940s she wrote to a lady in theUSA, a relationship that continued through until her death 3 years ago.  This paper-based friendship was the most important of her life despite the 3000 mile distance between the two women.  What they wrote about was of neither worldly or of national import but to them, it was a comfort and an outlet for their emotions.  Even when email became the preferred tool of communication, these women continued to pen their thoughts to each other.  Whilst I embrace the changes to technology and correspondence, part of me misses that excitement of receiving a hand-written note through the letterbox, the anticipation of when the next letter will arrive and the feeling of accomplishment when you have completed a response.

Historians and other academics research correspondence a great deal to uncover information about the daily lives of our ancestors (as well as their dirty secrets).  Whilst I personally find the trivia of daily life more insightful than the letters of great men and their conquests, I have found an interesting correspondence that echoes sentiments of recent events inLondonand demonstrates how history indeed has the habit of repeating itself.

The following text appeared in the Bath Chronicle in 1791 written by Reverend Robert Wells demonstrating his concern for the patriotic rioting of the supporters of Tom Paine.

“From the dreadful disturbances that have happened in Birmingham and its neighbourhood, I cannot being led into reflections on the propriety and impropriety of Revolution Clubs….I would only wish them to consider the danger they are incurring, by poisoning the minds, and rousing the imaginations of common people….”

Conversely, on reflection, during the eighteenth century when letter writing was the norm of every literate citizen, perhaps it was viewed much as we view email today; without excitement or ceremony.  Perhaps now is the heyday of the letter sender and receiver as it is such a rarity that it can only auger joy on receipt.  The posted letter may be dwindling in popularity but when one does receive a handwritten address, a certain amount of magic remains.


5 responses to “Letters from America

  1. With the prevalence of tweeting, Facebook posting, instant messaging and the like, do you think we’ll get to a point where simply taking the time to write a full email will be regarded with the same appreciation from the recipient as receiving a letter today?

    • I certainly hope not – there is not quite the same magic in getting an email as in receiving a letter; perhaps because of the abundance that we seem to get. I can’t envisage myself ever being satisfied in the same way with a complimentary tweet.

  2. Letter writing involves more time, and is a process which is more difficult to complete when doing something else simultaneously. I don’t know many people who can write a coherant and legible letter in a club, or walking down the street. Perhaps the value of the hand-written, hard-copy word is by implication. The recipient or purpose is important enough that a time and place must be found in order to put pen to paper.

    • Maybe this is a rose-tinted view of letters too though. In the past when hand written letters were the only source of sending information over distances therefore meaning both good and bad news. Can one find comfort in the fact that bad news via email, whilst impersonal, is quick and to the point – like pulling off a plaster?

  3. There are definitely times when other media are more helpful. Not just the written word, but phones too. I think that the impersonality of a text message can be misused but like most things, there is a time and place. One aspect of Twitter and similar social media sites is the speed at which information can be transmitted to many people. Perhaps Tweeting is todays printing-press-revolution.

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