I’ve recently embarked on a personal quest to re-discover the art of letter writing. It has been my privilege to review well-researched books of compiled letters written by great authors and minds of aulde times past, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Emerson, Wodehouse, Churchill, Louisa May Alcott and many others. While writing out a letter by hand seems to go hand-in-hand with the act, itself, I find that writing my letters on the laptop allows my fingers to keep up far better with my train of thought than scribbling hastily on a page with ink.
Letter-writing today is viewed as so quaintly outdated that few folks realize what power a well-written letter carries within its lines, namely the power to bestow upon another-some distance away–a complete picture of thought and feeling, and then to have that picture recognized, understood and appreciated by its recipient. A phone conversation is hampered by one’s inability to see the face whilst conversing, a text is hampered in more ways than I can count (though paramount is limited vocabulary) and even face-to-face conversation seem to have taken a decided downturn in today’s society, limited to work, movies, pop songs, politics, economic complaints and television… and are hampered to a point by one’s mood at the moment. Even if the speakers get along grandly, these conversations are repeatedly interrupted before they get really good, or the folks involved are distracted by an numbers of other topics crowding in upon their limited time.
A letter, however, jumps over all of these invisible hurdles with the grace of a gazelle. Without pause it pushes on to the finish line as no other form of communication can do, able to draw with it the scenery, the feelings, the impressions and then express them to the fullest extent. Some posses the gift of gab, but most do not converse cleverly… yet often these same folks can write an intelligent and charming letter. These full-bodied, well-thought-out communications impart more of the soul than speaking or texting do; they fill up the missing pieces in the mind of the reader about the character of the one writing; they take a blank canvass and paint it with well-matched shades and allow the recipient to see something outside their own sphere and to experience it vicariously.
Great letters keep that tenuous bond of friendship alive, seemingly without effort. The reader knows that the letter written cost the writer precious time, and thereby sits themselves down to read all of it. Sometimes, even if the content does not sit well with the reader they are driven to read further out of sheer morbid curiosity. Long-standing arguments betwixt loved ones are lessened and even at times undone by a thoughtfully apologetic letter expressing real human thoughts, heartfelt sorrow or gentle reprimands.
Even better, a letter allows one to express a complete thought, point, argument or apology, without one’s emotions getting in the way. Emotion may fuel the writing; it may color the prose but a letter can explain things fully, it can be edited, re-written and end charitably… allowing the sender release and the acceptor, peace. True, not all letters give joy, entertainment or closure but they most often help towards achieving those ends. At the very least, a letter recipient knows a bit more about the sender than they did before, and even the act of replying is a telling answer despite what the letter may contain.
I have seen faces light up at just getting a letter in the mail, or as a well-formatted PDF attached to an email. My own countenance has reacted similarly at receiving notes from relatives, friends and colleagues, flattered that I was seen worthy of the time it took to compose such endearing pieces. I knew that an equal effort on my part would be appreciated by said letter-writers, and lost no time in formulating prose to send back, feeling that invisible gap between They and I shorten considerably. And that—to me–seems to be the chief reason why so many great writers of literature devoted so much time to writing great letters. They simply wished to make time, space and distance vanish between themselves and those they held dear, not allowing something so silly as miss-communication to ‘drive a wedge’ or widen the proverbial abyss in a relationship.
A letter more resembles a living, breathing being than many of its counterparts in the vast realm of Communication. Even in this fast-paced, technology-hungry world we live in, among many circles being a “charming correspondent” yet holds value and sway, and so in ways no other writing outlet can boast.