A letter in the dark

A letter in the dark

A desperate and yet hopeful act, this.  People throwing letters out of trains taking them to the gulag, trusting that those letters may be found, and found, sent, and sent, reach their destination.  And how much more remarkable that some of those letters, cast into an...
A beautiful flowing hand

A beautiful flowing hand

The American chef Julia Child describes how her husband approached letter-writing in an age when trans-Atlantic telephone calls were prohibitively expensive and letter-writing was the normal way to stay in touch at a distance.  It inspired me to start writing letters...
In my pocket, in my heart

In my pocket, in my heart

From time to time I receive a long and handwritten letter from one of my brothers and I am long overdue in responding to him.  I think this comment from the German poet Hölderlin to his sister is as good a prompt as I could hope for.  How lovely that he took her...
Signs of civilization

Signs of civilization

I liked Durrell’s simple assessment of two building blocks of a recovering civilization after the ravages of war: a functioning post office and a few working street lamps. See also Stefan Zweig’s comments on the difficulties of communicating during war...
No post and plenty of censorship

No post and plenty of censorship

We don’t know how lucky we are, having access to many forms of communication, electronic or postal, and being free of censorship.  Here Stefan Zweig describes the conditions in which he had to write The World of Yesterday, a moving, lucid account of his world...
Up hill and down dale

Up hill and down dale

Gavin Maxwell chose to live in a remote house on a remote island in Scotland. Here he describes the extraordinary efforts made by the local postman to deliver a telegram, from a heroic sense of duty. Nowadays he would be called a ‘key worker’. It reminds...
My kind of letter

My kind of letter

Love receiving ‘real’ letters, and so was thrilled to find this beautiful envelope in the letter box, apparently made from an old map. I’ve come across map-made envelopes before, but they put the map on the inside so the outside was white and you...
For love of a letter

For love of a letter

A letter carried, quite literally, close to the heart, despite the torment its presence provokes. Vasily Grossman’s mother died in a ghetto, and having failed to get her out of it while he could, he lived with the sorrow and guilt of her loss. His Life and Fate...
Mail at last

Mail at last

We forget, swamped as we are with constant connectivity, the past hunger for letters and news when travelling.  I remember a few years in China and Taiwan, before the advent of email, when we would rush from class to our pigeon holes or letter boxes in the hope there...
Close to your heart

Close to your heart

I’ve heard of people keeping letters, including under their pillow, but never one permanently about your person.  This letter from the poet and priest George Herbert was so well written that its recipient, a man of tremendous learning, kept it quite literally...
Letters unsent (II)

Letters unsent (II)

Clemency Burton-Hill describes the sight that greeted friends of the composer and pianist Erik Satie when, following his death in 1925, they were finally able to enter his apartment, to which nobody had been given access for decades. Quite apart from the stacked grand...
A plea for pity – II

A plea for pity – II

Keats’ plea for tolerance, given we each have flaws that can be painfully exposed.  See Theodore Dreiser’s similar suggestion that pity and compassion be given more room in a stony-hard universe. And George Eliot importunes us to lean towards tenderness...

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