Monday, 9 November 2015

Return to sender

My imagination was fired and many feelings stirred when I read about the leather trunk full of 17th Century undelivered letters that had been kept in a Dutch museum, and which are now being studied and transcribed by academics. I love this article, and especially the picture of the beautiful cut-out dove carrying the flaming heart; it looks so fresh, as if it was made and coloured yesterday, not 300 years ago.

I know I'm not alone in my desire to read some of the contents of this correspondence time capsule, to be teased by the fragments of people's lives within it, and to enjoy the strange pleasure of wanting more of something I cannot have.

I thought about the power of letters as I read about some whose important messages could have changed the course of the lives of the readers had they ever been received. Many were written in anxious times of political turmoil. One of them, as described in the article, is dated 1702 and is from a man warning his musician brother not to travel via Paris because a fellow musician had been conscripted into the army there. His warning was worded: “If you come here, do not bring your instrument or anything else.” But no-one read it. What happened? Did the musician brother take his instrument with him to Paris anyway and, if so, did that determine a very different future for him than if he had only read that letter first?

Could such a situation possibly exist now? If you never received that letter offering you that perfect job you went for? Or if the envelope with the large cheque in it, posted to you by an anonymous philanthropist, never arrived? And nor did the proclamation of love written inside a Valentine card by someone who secretly admired you...?  I guess not... there would be emails, and texts, and follow-up phone calls, not inky missives sent by horse-drawn carriage.

These are stories without endings nor beginnings, but they're stories I really would love to read, and I do hope the best of them will be published some day.

Did they ever meet on the sunny road?

10 comments:

  1. I have been thinking about letter writing a great deal over the past few months. In fear of even greater deterioration in my hand writing skills (surely, in part at least, caused by the constant reliance on the computer keyboard), I purchased a nice fountain pen in order to express myself in a more aesthetically pleasing fashion. However, it then dawned on me that the opportunities to use it are few and far between. I could have put it to use in the course of the working day but a fountain pen is hardly suited for the rush of necessary paperwork, so it's been left waiting for a more appropriate moment. Perhaps there is such a thing as a Letter Writing Society? Perhaps I should start one? The e-mail, text or whatever newfangled form of communication comes along, will never surpass the expressive vitality of a well considered handwritten letter. Can you imagine 'The Collected E-Mails of John Keats', for example? Oops, guilty of the crime of living in the olden days again. Apologies to all.

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    1. I think it's lovely that you bought a fountain pen. Perhaps you can use it to write out shopping lists to start with, and see how it goes! I think I mentioned it before on here but I now keep a Rough Book and it's chock full of notes and scribbles for all the things I have to remember to do and/or want to get down on paper (even ideas for blog posts) and that keeps me (vaguely) in touch with my hand-writing abilities. Having said that I can see how it's deteriorated.. I can type a lot faster than I can write so I tend to rush the writing which inevitably becomes a barely legible scrawl.
      The Letter Writing Society sounds great, can we look forward to some beautifully hand-written (in fountain pen) invitations to join it?
      Maybe the increased romanticism of the letter is partly due to it being a dying art anyway (I mean, if we hadn't lost it to the degree we have, we might not miss it in quite the same way?)

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  2. I share your intrigue regarding this treasure trove of correspondence, which I was totally unaware of until reading your post. It's hard to believe that the letters were donated to the museum in 1926, but are only now being examined! Like Singing Bear, I've noticed my own handwriting skills dropping away sharply over the past few years, to the extent that I now feel the need to have a practise run on a blank sheet of paper before I even write a birthday card.

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    1. Yes, those letters were there for nearly 100 years and nobody thought before now to see what they were about... strange! I love the way it said in the article that some are not in envelopes, simply intricately folded. Each one must be special in its own way.
      I know what you mean about writing, but I try to keep it going and put hand-written notes in with things and keep up my Rough Book as mentioned in reply to SB. A couple of days ago I needed to write some words to a friend who is, so sadly, very ill, and I needed to think hard about what I said and how I said it, but it also came from the heart. As I wrote out the words I was glad I could be so personal, somehow intimate, with my handwriting. An email or typed letter just wouldn't have been the same.

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  3. Singing Bear and The Swede have touched on something I have become all too aware of myself lately: the loss of suppleness in the movements of my hand and deteriorating muscle memory. For me it's not just handwriting but my drawing that has been affected! Form early childhood I drew everyday. Just like you C, I earned my living that way and until about 12 years ago that was always the thing. Then all of my clients insisted that hand drawing was "old fashioned" and that I draw everything on a computer with Bezier Curves instead.... so my hand quickly had to adapt to that stressed and jerky way of producing images.

    Then I got a tablet and pen and had kind of assumed that my drawing was becoming more natural... but not so, not completely. This last few months I have returned to the sketch pad with a vengeance and been horrified at just how difficult I find a brush/dip pen to control now. Pencil is fine, because I just use it for a quick preparatory sketch before I really draw. The ink work has been a slowly evolving nightmare though, I almost let it beat me and concluded that my drawing style was too amateurish to ever be seen in public again. That feeling lasted for a few weeks, in which time I went back to the computer, then I got my nerve back and dug some old images out of the plan chest. I can see how I used to draw was not a conceit of memory and have determined to regain my old fluidity of brush stroke, things are improving slowly... sorry, that was all me, me, me wasn't it!!!! tee hee...

    I would also love to read the letters ;o)

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    1. Oh Yve thanks for sharing all that. I am not (yet?) in the digital world art-wise, but I can completely appreciate what you say. From what I have seen of your drawings, though, they are gorgeous and you have not lost it at all. My favourite drawings/paintings to look at are where you can connect with the pencil marks and the brush strokes, see their energy, almost feel the way they've touched the paper... oh, yes, the paper... not the screen!! Somehow I've managed to keep working in real paint and paper and now I have to label myself as a "traditional" artist, which, of course translates to "old fashioned"!
      But it's that connection that I enjoy, the tactile part of illustrating, adding wisps of paint with a fine brush, large swathes of background colour with broad strokes, etc. etc. I can't imagine how I would feel about doing it all digitally. Although, I would appreciate an undo button from time to time I must say!

      I think with all the huge amount of digital illustration on the market now, beautiful as it is, there is still demand for the "traditional", in fact it stands out more for that reason. Some of the publishers I work for have specifically asked for the painterly look... so I hope it never becomes a dying art....

      I wish you luck with regaining the old fluidity of your brush stroke, I'm sure it never leaves you, just needs a little reminding!

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  4. C, I saw the article and thought how marvelous it would be to open that old trunk and read some of those letters. Thinking alike, which makes me smile. As for Singing Bears comments, I wonder how it would b to receive text messages from Keats or Dylan Thomas...covering ears...or perhaps Emily Dickinson if she was brave enough to expose herself in text. Thanks for bringing us all together. You are so right, C. The letters in this trunk do lead us to ... and then what happened??? Thanks for posting it.

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    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, Gin G! I'm glad you thought the same when you read the article. It's hard to imagine poetic texts... always having to be aware of how many characters to use and so on... I do worry sometimes that as a society we are getting more and more impatient with our communications and only "have time" to write or read in abbreviation and limited number of characters. Having said that, I wouldn't have the patience to write out all my blog posts by hand!

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  5. Oh! to read old love letters received in the past! a bit like a picture snap!

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    1. Even better than a picture snap sometimes! (Nice to see you Old Pa)

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