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 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...

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 and its...

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

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,...

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...

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....

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...

Letters unopened

We use the term ‘back of the envelope’ to capture the notion of jotting down an idea or plan on the spur of the moment. The film director Roberto Rossellini...

Letters kept, letters destroyed

Given the fragility of letters, it’s astounding how many have survived centuries and even millennia. Added to which it seems quite common for people to have purposely destroyed them, whether...

Another long letter

Those were the days when conversations at a distance had to be committed to paper, and I like Bronte's preparation for writing a long letter on the grounds that the...

A bundle of letters

It is now so rare to receive a letter (not talking about bills or other officialese, but real letters) that it's hard to imagine receiving more than could be read...

Letters on a clothes line

Picasso seems to have had an ambivalent relationship to letters.  He tortured himself by reading tirades from his ex-wife, and here, suspends letters in full view, like clothes on a...

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...

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