While cleaning out my old study, I came across a set of letters from a pen pal from England. My late Language Arts teacher matched us with people from England, and this person and I exchanged letters for quite a long time. I packed them away and put them in safe keeping in my condo. They record a time I didn’t worry about bills with out topics involving around the usual teen things and the occasional Duran Duran reference.
We write so much e-mail, or so much twitter, the long-involved art of letter writing rarely happens. It’s why the site Letters of Note is often a fun site to explore. Each letter is tagged, alphabetized by author, and includes the original letter plus a transcription below. (Who says famous people have better penmanship?) Some of the letters are sweet like Wil Wheaton’s response to a writer joining his fan club years after it shut down. Some letters were pointed such as one written by Mark Twain wrote to a salesman selling bogus medicine, going so far as writing:
The person who wrote the advertisements is without doubt the most ignorant person now alive on the planet; also without doubt he is an idiot, an idiot of the 33rd degree, and scion of an ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link.
My favourite, and the letter leading me originally to the site, was written by J.R.R. Tolkien. A German publisher wanted to translate The Hobbit for publication and asked about his Aryan ancestry. Tolkien prepped two letters with one diplomatically avoiding the issue and the other stating:
I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.