Nobody Writes Letters Anymore

Copyright © 1990, 2011 William Mego

To Gabriel Sanchez: "... they are without government...they are also without weapons, which indeed are unknown; nor are they competent to use them... they are of simple manners and trustworthy, and very liberal with everything they have, refusing no one who asks for anything they possess, and even themselves inviting us to ask for things. They show greater love for all others than for themselves; they give valuable things for trifles, being satisfied even with a very small return, or with nothing ... there is no difference in the appearance of the people, nor in the manners and language, but all understand each other mutually ..." Christopher Columbus, admiral of the Ocean fleet (March 14, 1493)

"Dear Johnston: Your request for eighty dollars, I do not think it best to comply with now. At the various times when I have helped you a little, you have said to me, 'We can get along very well now,' but in a very short time I find you in the same difficulty again. Now this can only happen by some defect in your conduct... you are an idler ... I now promise you that for every dollar you will, between this and the first of May, get for your own labor or in your own indebtedness, I will then give you one other dollar ... Afectionately, Your brother A. Lincoln"

"Sire, I am only a woman, and have no claim on your majesty's attention except that of the weakest on the strongest ... this man, whatever else he is not, is a great poet of France ... no historian of the age should have to write 'While Napoleon the Third reigned, Victor Hugo lived in exile'. .. it is a woman's voice, Sire, which dares to utter what many yearn for in silence." ... Elizabeth Barrett Browning

"Dear Father, ... to tell the truth, I am possessed of the weakness, which at some time or other pervades most men; I am convinced that I could run a newspaper successfully ... Your affectionate son, W.R. Hearst" (June, 1885)

To August Strindberg: "You suffer from your civilization. My barbarism is to me a renewal of youth ... The Eve that I have painted, she alone, logically can remain naked before one's eyes. Yours in that simple state could not walk without shame and too beautiful (perhaps) would be the evocation of an evil and a sorrow." (Paul Gaugain)

"Therefore, I propose to the comrades to find a way to remove Stalin from that position, and appoint to it another man who in all respects differs from Stalin only in superiority - namely more patient, more loyal, more polite,.. less capricious, etc." (N. Lenin, Jan. 4, 1923)

"My Dear Dante... Remember, each one who will say otherwise of your father and I is a liar, insulting dead men who have been brave in their life. Remember and know also, Dante, that if your father and I would have been cowards and hypocrites and renegettors of our faith, we would not have been put to death ... Good bye, Dante. Bartolomeo" (Vanzetti, to Dante Sacco. August 21, 1927

"My Dear Sarah... I want to say a thousand kind, and believe me, heartfelt things to you, but ... still, as I ponder and think on you, chlorides, trials, oil, steel, mercury, and fifty other professional fancies swim before me, and drive me further into the quandary of stupidness. From you affectionate Michael" (Faraday, December, 1820)

"Dear Speed... In your assumption that there may be a fair decision of the slavery question in Kansas, I plainly see you and I would differ about the Nebraska law. I look upon that enactment not as a law, but as a violence from the beginning. It was conceived in violence, is maintained in violence, and is being executed in violence... Our progress in degeneracy appears to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that 'all men are created equal.' (but soon) it will read 'all men are created equal except negroes and foreigners and Catholics. When it comes to this, I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty - to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy ... Your friend forever, A. Lincoln" (August 24, 1855)

Once a refined art, letter writing is today neither studied nor widely practiced. Recently, I was told that the great majority of our high school graduates will never write a single personal letter. It is thought that they lack the social motivation and the requisite language skills. As a consequence, children will not reinterpret the words of parents and old friends from the perspective of age, historians will be deprived of their little insights, and the thoughts of this and succeeding generations of citizens may go largely unrecorded.