Love Letters, We Get Lotsa Love Letters. Not.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons why the mail isn’t going to be delivered any more on Saturdays. Maybe that’s why there is constant talk of closing the tiny post office that is 12017. And the little post office that is 12165. And consolidating them with bigger 12037. And then absorbing 12037 into 12184. All of that would be an incremental loss for the quality of life in rural upstate New York. The loss of an already too infrequent opportunity to see and nod at and chat with the neighbors. One more step toward our civil isolation. One more step toward the loss of a civil commons. Dare we think about alienation? Dare we think about Max Frisch’s Man in the Holocene? But I wander.
Informal, friendly correspondence has largely disappeared. So, too, and more important in this season, love letters. While more immediate, spontaneous electronic communication abounds, letters that show reflection and thought and effort have dwindled. Honestly, I can’t remember the last informal letter I received. And a love letter? This is no one's personal fault. Really it's not. It's the culture. And we're impoverished by it. 140 characters doesn't allow for a lot of development. And email is as cold as a speculum.
But it’s worse. There's inertia. I no longer have decent paper to write informal letters. I can’t recall when I last had any. Xerox paper does not qualify. And I don’t have a working fountain pen. Or envelopes. I don’t even have cards. Or postcards. All of this is, of course, a huge obstacle to my ever again writing a proper letter. You will forgive me, I hope, if I do not accept that a letter composed on a computer and laser printed on a plain sheet of thin Xerox paper, no matter how clever, no matter how true qualifies as a proper letter. And anyway, when was the last time I sent or received such a missive? I can’t recall it. My recent letters complaining to car manufacturers and health insurers and heaven knows whom else do not qualify.
And let's remember that February 14 is Valentine's Day. Which will make a small fortune for Hallmark. And florists and chocolate purveyors and jewelers. But probably will not inspire many to craft love letters on a blank page. How very sad that is. Isn't it a well known fact that pen and paper are erogenous organs? Is their atrophy approaching? Oh how I wish I could inspire everyone to write love letters to your beloved. What a remarkable event that would be.
Which brings me to The Browning Letters, which were put on line last year:
The enduring jewel of the English Poetry Collection, largest of the Wellesley Special Collections, is the original love letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett. Their exchange of 574 letters began on 10 January 1845, with a letter addressed to “dear Miss Barrett” and continued until a week after their marriage, ending with Elizabeth’s note to Robert as they arranged to leave England and travel to Italy [18 September 1846]. The love letters of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning are among the most famous in literary history and provide significant insights into the lives, thoughts, and works of both poets.
What incredible letters these are. So very wonderful to read. May they inspire us.
And to this list of ten most famous love letters in Time.
And to this list of twelve love letters
And to this compendium of excerpts.
Oh may all of these inspire us to pick up pen and paper and to sing the body and heart and mind electric.
I know, I know. There are huge obstacles. But there is still plenty of time. There is still time to save the love letter as a legitimate genre. There is still time to let pen and paper bring romance. It's not, I hope, too late for a revival. It's not too late to right this loss.
Oh how I wish I could inspire the writing of an avalanche of actual love letters this Valentine's Day. Please join me.