“Nothing is so dangerous as being too modern; one is apt to grow old-fashioned quite suddenly”
I love receiving letters. Written in ink and filled with words carefully chosen and eternal. I'd be happy with just one page -- I'm not hard to please. Maybe I'm just a hopelessly romantic dreamer…
With Twitter, Facebook, emails and instant text messaging, writing a letter is so very old fashioned. Hardly anyone writes letters any more: at least not the kind of erudite, humourous missives that are the hallmark of great correspondence. As we are so often told, we live in the digital age. Now we correspond with friends, relations and businesses through email, not snail mail.
Quelle tragedy! Nothing will be left for posterity. Think of those wonderful exchanges between Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford for example, or Kinsley Amis and Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath; the letters of people like Oscar Wilde, the Bronte sisters and Noel Coward. Entertaining, informative, sad, witty and even rude – and each a precious slice of social history.
The other great thing about letters is that they have the advantage of being tangible objects. You could treat them like the latest novel, curl up in your favourite spot in the house, and devour the thick wad of paper full of gossip and news. You could create a mood with your letter the same way you could create a mood with a novel - this is much harder with an email which will have to be read off a screen, in a no doubt office-like environment, while pop-ups go about their business, browsers crash, and instant messaging partners interrupt you.
I sent my brother-in-law a book a couple of weeks ago for no special reason other than the fact he had once mentioned that when he watches the swallows leave at the end of summer, it makes him cry a little. I found Horatio Clare’s book ‘A Single Swallow’ and, along with a little painting I did, popped it in the post to Peter.
It’s important to explain here that Peter is a truly magnificent mix of Rex Harrison and Winston Churchill. Looks like Rex, talks like Churchill – and holds fast to the lost age of chivalry and so eschews the age of technology with a shudder. He will positively not correspond via “that blasted electronic mail nonsense”. I’m so glad he doesn’t, because I want to share with you his beautifully written thank-you note.
Emails are great for getting in touch quickly and easily, but as literary vehicles they are severely lacking. Digital messages tend to oscillate between the deathly dull and formal and the blithely irreverent (complete with BTW, FYI, LOL's and garbled text-speak) with precious little middle ground. Letters can be revealing, expansive and humorous while emails, even at their best, tend to exhibit only one of these characteristics of good writing. Of course, many of us use social media such as Twitter and Facebook, sometimes to great effect; but publishing revolution or no publishing revolution, I find it hard to imagine that generations to come will one day download the "Collected Tweets of a Literary Genius" on to their e-reader.
**Post Script. Thank you all for standing by while I underwent horrid treatment, drugs and a myriad of tests. I will never be able to express my gratitude for your loving wishes and warm thoughts. Every friendship is my very special treasure.**