Sunday, March 23, 2008

On The Art of the Hand Written Letter

Today as I was out and about, I passed a Barnes and Noble bookstore. In the window was a copy of the book, The Letters of Noel Coward. This brought a smile to my face. Not because I'm a fan of Noel Coward, but because here was an an individual who, in addition to his music and plays, left behind a legacy in letters. And I'm sure his letters makes for interesting reading or else no one would have bother to collect them in a single volume. How many of us will leave such a legacy behind?

In a previous post I mentioned the difficulty that contemporary biographers are having in amassing information about their subjects. Since the nineties, and perhaps even before, people no longer communicate by hand written letters. The Internet has forever changed how we communicate with one another. Now I do love the possibilities that the Internet offers in this age of high speed communication. Without the Internet this blog could not exist. Yet, still I find the need and the desire to write the old fashion way, by hand. After all, more than anything, people who collect fountain pens love to use them - they enjoy writing.

Along with the decline of hand written correspondence so too has died the art of keeping a journal or diary. Or as my friend Sandy expresses it, "the art of memoir." There was a time when many young women of my generation had a secret diary, filled with their thoughts about life and about the cute boy who sat next to them in Science class. Travelers, once upon a time, kept journals of their sojourns abroad, filled with their impressions of the Eiffel Tower or The Great Wall of China. The 19th century explorer, Sir Richard F. Burton, wrote a wonderful travelogue entitled, Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah [sic] & Mecca. Burton traveled through Arabia disguised as a wandering Dervish and visited all of the Holy shrines sacred to Muslims and participated in all of the rituals associated with the Hajj. He was one of the few, if not the first, Westerner to do so. His record of his travels throughout the Arabian Peninsula is a gripping narrative of a perilous journey. One could say that Burton's travelogue serves as a prequel to that of T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which recounts his experiences in Arabia during the First World War. There is also the personal adventure of Sir Henry Morton Stanley who spent years traveling throughout Central Africa, most notably in his quest to find David Livingstone, "Doctor Livingstone, I presume?"

The idea is that, letters and journals affords us the opportunity to experience the lives of others and to see the world through their eyes. These writings amuse and entertain, inform and educate. They allow us to connect with those core feelings that we all share with each other. And they inspire us to take journeys of our own either outward or inward. To write about our travels, experiences and observations is to mesh ourselves into the warp and weft of the fabric of humanity.

Have Pen, Will Write


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