Letters are a tactile written communication traversing centuries and continents, bringing other people, places and times to life with immediacy and personality. Here we celebrate this ancient form of exchange. Send me a handwritten postcard, will you?

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 time, and Iris...

What is a letter?  A tactile written communication that bridges distance and lasts forever.

Letters unwritten

When a friend mentioned the special paper she’d bought to write me a letter, which she hadn’t yet done, I started thinking about unwritten letters, the ones we plan or...

A packet of yellow love letters

What happened to all those love letter in a private drawer, sent and kept over centuries when this was the main medium for long distance love making? The population is larger...

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...

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Found in a letter by a distant and anonymous imperial Chinese official in response to the trials and complaints of the Imperial Commissioner for Porcelain.  A marvel of arms’ length sympathy...

The merry mind

The actress Ingrid Bergman had a short relationship with the photographer Robert Capa. I love this quotation from a letter he sent her, with its idea of a ‘merry mind’.  I...

Plus ça change…

There’s something reassuring in seeing that what appears an ‘issue’ today appeared equally so to people long ago. It puts the issue in perspective and makes it seem an eternal, pointless fuss....

Keats’ correspondence

Here are Keats' own aspirations for his letter-writing. Whether he found interesting matter or just made matter interesting, his letters reveal a brilliantly alert, alive, playful, lovable human being. Andrew...

Letters unsent

Earlier posts touched on letters unwritten or unopened. There is also a whole class of correspondence that is written but never sent. I have done this myself a couple of times,...

The scrutiny that precedes reading

Yes, there is that small ceremony that precedes the reading of a letter, particularly a hand-written one delivered by post.  You look at the envelope, the stamps, the hand-writing (familiar...

Letters tolerably long

Gaskell has many Jane Austen touches in cheerily summing up lightweight characters. But inconsequent as the letter and the writer might be, letters themselves were a lifeline of news and...

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