I miss my biggest heart

It wasn’t until her death, in 1886, that the true scale of Emily Dickinson‘s profound poetry was both discovered and appreciated by family and friends, many of whom had only glimpsed her talents in the numerous poem-filled letters that she wrote. She found an even wider audience in 1890 with the posthumous publication of a

Live as well as you dare

In February of 1820, on learning that his good friend, Lady Georgiana Morpeth, was suffering from a bout of depression, noted essayist and clergyman Sydney Smith sent her the following precious letter, in which he listed twenty pieces of advice to help her overcome “low spirits.” Two similarly helpful letters of advice—specifically on the subject of depression—spring

Thine in the bonds of womanhood

In the 1820s, having grown up on her father’s plantation amongst dozens of slaves — many of whom she had befriended and educated — Sarah Grimké began to tour the Northern United States giving anti-slavery lectures to all who would listen. She was joined by her sister some years later, by which time the talks also covered

Wretched woman!

In 1834, 21-year-old Jarm Logue (pictured above some years later) managed to steal his master’s horse and escape the life of slavery into which he had been born. Sadly, his mother, brother and sister remained. 26 years later, by which time he had settled down in New York, opened numerous schools for black children, started his

The Vision of Sin

In the 1840s, shortly after reading Alfred Tennyson‘s poem, “The Vision of Sin,” mathematician and “father of the computer,” Charles Babbage, wrote the following letter to the poet and suggested an alteration in the name of accuracy. For a modern day equivalent, see Simon Singh’s take on Katie Melua’s song, Nine Million Bicycles. (Source: The

He has nothing left but his poker

In September of 1896, the head of the Atlantic City Railroad in New Jersey received the following letter of complaint from an unhappy local named A. T. Harris. Little else is known. (Source: The Oxford Book of Letters; Image via Wikimedia.) To the Superintendent, Atlantic City Railroad, Sept. 1896 Dear sir, On the 15th yore

Sorrow passes and we remain

In July of 1883, Henry James, the famed novelist responsible for writing, most notably, The Portrait of a Lady, received a worryingly emotional letter from Grace Norton, a friend of some years and successful essayist who, following a recent death in the family, had seemingly become depressed and was desperate for direction. James, no stranger

You will then know how to talke to me

In September of 1864, as the American Civil War approached its conclusion, a slave-turned-soldier named Spotswood Rice wrote the following furious letter to his former owner, Katherine Diggs, and sternly warned her that she would soon be seeing him again: he was returning to Missouri, together with a thousand-strong army of black soldiers, to rescue

I shall always be near you

In 1861, as the American Civil War approached, a 32-year-old lawyer named Sullivan Ballou left his wife of five years and two sons at home, and joined the war effort as a major in the Union Army. On July 14th of that year, acutely aware that particularly perilous times were ahead, he wrote, but didn’t

Happy Birthday, Dickens

Image: Charles Dickens, via Lenin Imports Today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of someone who, hopefully, needs no introduction: Charles Dickens — a man who wrote so many letters (some 15’000 have survived) it’s a wonder he ever found time to write the novels he did. Last month I featured the bleakest of letters, in

To My Old Master

In 1864, after 32 long years in the service of his master, Jourdon Anderson and his wife, Amanda, escaped a life of slavery when Union Army soldiers freed them from the plantation on which they had been working so tirelessly. They grasped the opportunity with vigour, quickly moved to Ohio where Jourdon could find paid

“Our little baby is dead”

On April 14th of 1851, Dora Dickens, the ninth child of Charles Dickens and his wife, Catherine, died unexpectedly after suffering convulsions. She was just 8-months-old. The next morning, Charles wrote the following letter to Catherine — miles away from home recuperating from an illness, oblivious to the situation  —  and, in an effort to break the news

Aida will gather dust in the archives

In May of 1872, having recently travelled twice to watch Aida, a disappointed Italian gentleman named Prospero Bertani decided to write a letter of complaint to the opera’s composer, Verdi, and ask for his money back; not just for the show, but for his expenses too. Amused, Verdi responded by forwarding the letter to his

SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS TO PLAYERS

[Warning: Extremely Colourful Language Ahead] This incredible, genuine memo, issued to all Major League Baseball teams in 1898 as part of a documented campaign spearheaded by John Brush to rid the sport of filthy language, was discovered in 2007 amongst the belongings of the late baseball historian Al Kermish, also a respected collector of memorabilia. Essentially

Immortal Beloved

After his death in 1827, the following love letter was found amongst the personal papers of Ludwig van Beethoven, penned by the composer over the course of two days in July of 1812 while staying in Teplice. The letter’s unnamed recipient — Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved” — remains a mystery, and continues to generate debate. Below are images of the

What great births you have witnessed!

In May of 1889, author Mark Twain wrote the following beautiful letter of congratulations to Walt Whitman, the indisputably influential poet behind, most notably, Leaves of Grass. The cause for celebration was Whitman’s upcoming 70th birthday, the imminence of which saw Twain pen not just a birthday wish, but a stunning 4-page love letter to human endeavour, as seen

I greet you at the beginning of a great career

Now widely considered one of the greatest books of poetry ever written, Leaves of Grass was first published in 1855 and financed entirely by its author, Walt Whitman. Whitman – then an aspiring, unknown poet – immediately sent one of the 795 copies to Ralph Waldo Emerson, a highly respected man who, a decade previous, had

All the ladies like whiskers

In 1860, having recently seen a picture of him without facial hair, an 11-year-old girl named Grace Bedell decided to write to Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln with a suggestion: to grow a beard. Her letter, and Lincoln’s reply, can be seen below. She met Lincoln a few months later, as the President-elect travelled victoriously to Washington,

A true Lovers Knot to thee my Dear I send

Popular amongst a small section of Pennsylvania Quakers in the late-18th and early 19th century, the ‘True Lover’s Knot’ is both an undeniably romantic form of love letter and an impressively intricate, labyrinthian work of art of which very few examples still exist. Handcrafted using quill, brush and compass, the stunning knot seen below was

Ym raed Yssac

A fleeting glance at the following, beguiling letter would more often than not result in the assumption that it had been penned in a foreign language, when in actual fact it is a charmingly coded message – hint: try reading each word backward – sent playfully to an eight-year-old girl named Cassandra in 1817, by

Fifty Lady Sharpshooters Await

As the Spanish-American War loomed in April of 1898, celebrity sharpshooter Annie Oakley – a Buffalo Bill performer so famous that she was essentially the world’s first female superstar – decided to donate her resources to the government by sending the following letter to then-U.S. President William McKinley. The offer was simple: Oakley would supply the

What hath God wrought?

The United States’ first publicly demonstrated telegram was dispatched on May 24th, 1844, by the system’s developer, Samuel Morse. The telegram’s message – What hath God wrought? – was chosen from the bible by the daughter of Morse’s friend, Henry Ellsworth, and successfully travelled from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore, Maryland, instantly stunning the general public.

Art is useless because…

In 1890, following the publication of Oscar Wilde‘s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, an intrigued young fan named Bernulf Clegg wrote to the author and asked him to explain a now-famous line included in its preface: “All art is quite useless.” To Clegg’s surprise, Wilde responded with the handwritten letter seen below. Transcript follows. (Source: The Morgan; Image: Oscar Wilde, via.)

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

In 1897, on the advice of her father, eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a short letter to the editor of New York’s now-defunct newspaper, The Sun, in which she sought confirmation of Santa Claus’ existence. In response, Francis Pharcellus Church published an editorial on September 21st — entitled ‘Is There a Santa Claus‘ — which went on to

If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong

Three years into the American Civil War, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln wrote the following letter in order to summarise on paper some points he had previously made regarding the recruitment of slaves as Union soldiers and, ultimately, their freeing from the institution of slavery itself. Come the end of the war, all slaves in the

From Hell

On October 15th of 1888, Mr George Lusk, Chairman of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee—a group of concerned citizens who actively searched for the person responsible for a spate of killings known as the “Whitechapel murders”—received this chilling letter from someone claiming to be infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper. It was sent along with a