Many of us are fortunate enough to possess letters written by great-grandparents, perhaps by ancestors who lived in a country we have never seen, or by those who crossed the plains or fought in the Civil War. Creased and faded, thin from the touching of many fingers, these words scrawled across a page are as a breath of life set down by a hand, formed within a heart that has long been stilled.
The poets and writers perhaps hold the forefront with emotions expressed in letters.
French novelist Honore de Balzac wrote to the Polish countess Evelina Hanska: “Good heavens; I am terrified to see how much my life is yours! With what rapidity it rushes towards your heart. I am with regard to this bliss like a child " (see “Love Letters: An Anthology of Passion," compiled by Michelle Lovric, Shooting Star Press).
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote the following, also included in "Love Letters," to Sophia Peabody, his fiancée, as though she were already his wife: “Belovedest little wife — sweetest Sophia Hawthorne — what a delicious walk that was last Thursday! It seems to me now, as if I could really remember every footstep of it for did we tread on earth even then? Oh no — our souls went far away among the sunset clouds, and wherever there was ethereal beauty, there were we, our true selves; and it was there that we grew into each other and became a married pair.”
Consider this: “Some say that the fairest thing upon the dark earth is a host of foot-soldiers, and others again a fleet of ships, but for me it is my beloved.” So wrote the Greek poetess Sappho to her lover Anactoria in the seventh century, according to "Passionate Love Letters: An Anthology of Desire," complied by Michelle Lovric. People long past, speaking out of the whispers of history, and yet, so like ourselves.
In 1913, when Winston Churchill was many times away from his wife, Clementine, and their two children, he wrote to her: “It is a great comfort to me to feel absolute confidence in your love and cherishment. Here are three kisses for each of you. Don’t waste them. They are good ones.”
And again: “My dearest, you are very precious to me and I rejoice indeed to have won and kept your loving heart. May it never cool towards me is my prayer, and that I may deserve your love my resolve” (see “Winston and Clementine: The Personal Letters of the Churchills," edited by their daughter Mary Soames, Houghton Mifflin Co.).
The Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote to a dear friend near the end of his short life, expressing his anguished concern: “I see a train of helpless little folk; me and my exertions there only stay. On what a brittle thread does the life of man hang! If I am to be nipt off at the command of fate, even in all the vigour of manhood — and such things happen every day — Gracious God! What would become of my little flock!” (see “Burns and His Bonnie Jean,” by Yvonne Helen Stevenson, Gray’s Publishing).
Are such things written in the emails that scurry back and forth between us today? There are many studies on this subject, explored and available to us on the internet, including one mentioned by The Huffington Post, which says that “the general act of writing by hand can promote quite a few physical and mental benefits” (see "9 Reasons Not To Abandon the Art of the Handwritten Letter" by Alena Hall) and these benefits include increasing our positive attitudes toward everything in our lives.
“Studies have revealed an association between writing by hand and brain development and cognition," Hall wrote. "The moments you commit to paper for others are more likely to stay stored in your memory as well, allowing you both to reflect back and appreciate them again in the future.”
Because of letters, we have these words of Louisa May Alcott, the beloved author of “Little Women,” which she wrote to her Grandmother Alcott in December 1862, in the midst of the Civil War: “We are all going on much as usual. Father writing and talking, keeping his topsy turvy family in order. Mother sings away among her pots and pans, feeds and clothes all the beggars that come along, sews for the soldiers. I write stories, help keep house and now and then scold everybody as I used to do. Abby teaches drawing and music, goes to parties, rides horseback, rows boats, has beaux and is a very gay and pretty girl. The youngest member of the family is a big pussy who is my baby. Do you hate cats as much as Father does?” (see “The Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott,” edited by Joel Myerson and Daniel Shealy, Little, Brown and Co., 1987).
Because of letters, we have these words written by Beatrix Potter to the little girl Nancy:
“I am very sleepy. I have been cross cutting firewood from a large broken Oaktree with Ethel Green. A little robin has been watching us all day. He was so tame he nearly touched us. I did not feel quite sure whether he was a real robin, till he found a worm in some rotten bark. He kept flying round behind the tree, to speak to someone. He came back dozens of times and I had nothing for him — except a bit of apple. He went home before we did on account of chilblains on his toes. I believe he lives with the Oakmen. At all events he had supper with them. He sat on a chair with his feet in hot water and ate pickled caterpillars out of a pie dish!” (see “Letters to Children from Beatrix Potter,” collected and introduced by Judy Taylor, published by Frederick Warne, London)
Because of wonderful words. Because of precious letters. Because of love.
Susan Evans McCloud is author of more than 40 books and has published screenplays, a book of poetry and lyrics, including two songs in the LDS hymnbook. She has six children. She blogs at susanevansmccloud.blogspot.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org