The Art Of The Letter

2015 November/December

“A letter should be regarded not merely as a medium for the communication of intelligence,” advised an 1876 guide to the art of epistolary etiquette, “but also as a work of art.”

 

Last Christmas I ran across this quote in an essay on the lost art of letter writing, and I was inspired.

 

I sat down and I wrote. I wrote “letters” to many of the people whom I admire greatly. I took great pains to actually pen hand-written expressions of my affection for the individual and my gratitude for the many contributions they had made to the community or to my own personal life.

 

During the course of the year since, a Paducah physician has stopped me on more than one occasion to tell me what the words and the effort meant to him.

 

I’d like to think that the pendulum that has swung us away from taking out pen and paper and spending time composing a thoughtful, heart-felt message has actually NOT been lost.

 

The handwritten note has been around for hundreds of years. And now as in the scores of years before, corresponding on paper lets you elevate a simple pleasure into an art form. And art has always survived technology. A handwritten note is like dining by candlelight instead of flicking on the lights, like making a gift instead of ordering a product, like taking a walk instead of driving. Writing by hand makes you look good on paper and feel good inside. 
 A personal note says to the reader, “You matter to me, I thought of you, I took trouble on your behalf, here’s who I am, I’ve been thinking of you in the days since this was mailed, I want to share with you the textures and colors and images that resonate with me.”

 

We know much about history from the correspondence between individuals. Without letters and notes passed between friends and foe, we would be far less educated about the world that existed before the advent of the typewriter or the telegraph. And the words in one’s own hand give the reader a more tactile significance of the thoughts revealed.

 

Even back in 100 A.D. the philosopher Epictetus believed, “The fondness for writing grows with writing.”

 

I will forever hold firm that LIFE is enhanced when a letter is in hand.

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