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

Always Yours

On November 27th of 1875, the great Samuel Clemens—known to most as Mark Twain—wrote the following love letter to his dear wife of almost 6 years, Olivia, on the occasion of her 30th birthday. They remained married until her death, 29 years later. (Source: Complete Letters of Mark Twain; Image: Olivia and Samuel Clemens, via

You are a true man

In 1876, the great Walt Whitman received a letter from a fan who, like so many others before him, had fallen in love with his controversial, groundbreaking collection of poetry, Leaves of Grass, and was keen to connect with its creator. In fact, that young government clerk was Bram Stoker, future author of Dracula—an immeasurably influential horror novel published

My dear little grandfather

Marcel Proust was undoubtedly a gifted author, known largely for his classic multi-volume novel, In Search of Lost Time, a mammoth piece of work believed by some to be one of the greatest books ever written. More importantly, he was also, it is said, obsessed with masturbation. As a teenager this caused problems for his family, not

Every hour is precious

In March of 1886, at the age of 26, acclaimed Russian author and physician Anton Chekhov wrote this fascinating and honest letter of advice to his troubled older brother, Nikolai, a talented painter and writer who, despite being just 28 himself, had for many years been plagued by alcoholism to the point where he often slept

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

My own darling Child

On November 29th of 1812, 36-year-old Jane Austen wrote to her good friend, Martha Lloyd, and announced that her new novel, Pride and Prejudice, had been sold — for a one-off payment of £110: “P. & P. is sold.—Egerton gives £110 for it.—I would rather have had £150, but we could not both be pleased, &

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

I beg you to take my child

In 1869, in response to a sharp rise in the number of babies being abandoned in New York, often in dangerous circumstances, The Foundling Asylum — run by Sister Irene Fitzgibbon, pictured above — opened to the public with a single white cradle on its doorstep, and immediately began to give safe shelter to unwanted infants. In the

Here the roads seem to fork

As well as being one of the most popular American humourists of the 19th Century and founder of the Laramie Boomerang, Edgar Wilson “Bill” Nye was at one point the proud Postmaster of Laramie City. Unfortunately, in 1883, three years before his contract was due to expire, an attack of meningitis forced him to leave his

The Beauty of Words

In 1890, after living and working in the U.S. for 20 years, Greek-born Lafcadio Hearn moved to Japan and immediately fell in love with a culture and language about which he would then write until his death fourteen years later. In 1893, he sent the following wonderful letter to his friend and occasional editor, Basil

My wick hath a thief in it

In January of 1824, after weeks of intense suffering at the hands of what he later admitted was simply “a severe cold,” renowned essayist and poet Charles Lamb sent the following letter to his good friend and fellow poet, Bernard Barton — a hugely entertaining letter that contains what is surely one of the greatest, most over-dramatic descriptions of

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

John is an admirable name

In February of 1892, after one of his plays was mauled by a drama critic, Oscar Wilde wrote the following letter to the publication’s editor and complained — not about the review itself, but about the critic’s insistence on naming him “John Wilde.” (Source: Oscar Wilde: A Life in Letters; Image: Oscar Wilde, via.) 16 Tite

A gap-toothed & hoary-headed ape

In January of 1874, on hearing that fellow poet Ralph Waldo Emerson had described him as “a perfect leper, and a mere sodomite” in an interview, Algernon Charles Swinburne wrote the following letter to the New York Tribune and delivered one of the greatest ripostes I’ve ever read. It was published in the paper the

I have now no further use for a birthday

In 1891, 8 years after his classic novel, Treasure Island, was first published in book-form, author Robert Louis Stevenson learned that the 12-year-old daughter of Henry Clay Ide — then U. S. Commissioner to Samoa, where Stevenson lived — was unhappy that her birthday fell on Christmas Day. Stevenson immediately hatched a charming plan, and soon sent

You are not lazy, and still you are an idler

Late-1850, Abraham Lincoln‘s step-brother, John D. Johnston, wrote to him and asked, yet again, for a loan with which to settle some debts. Said Johnston: I am dund & doged to Death so I am all most tired of Living, & I would all most swop my place in Heaven for that much money […]

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

Be Prepared

In March of 1861, renowned novelist Anthony Trollope sent the following letter to a Miss Dorothea Sankey. To this day, it’s unknown whether he was joking. It’s worth noting that Trollope remained married to the wife in question, Rose Heseltine. In fact, she also outlived him. (Source: The Letters of Anthony Trollope; Image: Anthony Trollope, via

The Tale of Peter Rabbit

In September of 1893, at 26 years of age, Beatrix Potter sent the following illustrated letter to Noel, the five-year-old son of her friend and former governess, Annie Moore. The letter contained a tale of four rabbits, and in fact featured the first ever appearance of Peter Rabbit; however it wasn’t until 1901, eight years later, that

Your disgusted so-called father

In January of 1891, 20-year-old Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas met the man with whom he would soon fall in love — Oscar Wilde. On April 1st of that year, disgusted by his son’s homosexual relationship with Wilde, Bosie’s father, the 9th Marquess of Queensberry, sent him the following threatening letter. Bosie famously responded to his

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

Respected Paternal Relative

In April of 1866, the future author of Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote the following letter to his father and expertly asked for some money. He was just 15 years of age at the time. (Source: The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, Vol. I (1868-1880); Image: Robert Louis Stevenson, aged 15, via EdinPhoto.) 2 SULYARDE

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 am your fellow man, but not your slave

In September of 1848, the incredible Frederick Douglass wrote the following open letter to Thomas Auld — a man who, until a decade previous, had been Douglass’ slave master for many years — and published it in North Star, the newspaper he himself founded in 1847. In the letter, Douglass writes of his twenty years as a slave; his

Interviews are pure twaddle

In December of 1888, shortly before becoming editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward Bok visited Mark Twain at his home to conduct an interview, the intention being to publish the resulting write-up in Bok’s weekly syndicated column. The chat went well; the next day he wrote the piece, and sent a copy to

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

I am gratefuler than ever before…

From 1888, a simple love note from the hand of Samuel Clemens — better known to most as Mark Twain — to his wife, Olivia. Transcript follows. Image courtesy of The Mark Twain House & Museum. Image: The Mark Twain House & Museum Transcript Hartford, Nov. 27/88 Livy Darling, I am grateful — gratefuler than ever before — that

Many times I have kissed and cryed over this

Here’s a fascinting missive written to Charles Darwin in 1839 by his wife, Emma, shortly after the inception of his theory of evolution, in which she openly worries about his dwindling faith and, midway through the letter, asks him not to be blinded to the possibilities of things “which if true are likely to be

Long may the Grand Master live

The following birthday message was sent by telegram in 1885 to Victor Hugo, the French writer responsible for, most notably, Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. It was penned on the day of Hugo’s 83rd birthday by the father of both dynamite and the Nobel Prizes, Alfred Nobel. Short, but sweet. Transcript and translation follow.

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

I cannot remain silent

April 29th, 1865: Queen Victoria, still grieving and “utterly broken-hearted” following the death of Prince Albert four years previous, writes an empathetic letter of condolence to Mary Todd Lincoln following the recent assassination of her husband, Abraham Lincoln. Transcript follows. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress. Image: Library of Congress Transcript April 29, 1865 Dear Madam, Though

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

This “evil” was the greatest which can befall a man

When he wrote the following letter to George Eveleth in 1848, Edgar Allan Poe‘s wife, Virginia, had been dead for almost a year, having finally succumbed to tuberculosis after first contracting the disease in 1842. The latter part of this letter — the rest of which mainly concerns his ultimately unpublished journal, The Stylus —

Don’t disgust me, please

Writer Lafcadio Hearn was somewhat of a sensation in the early 1870s. Working for the Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, Hearn’s graphic reports from crime scenes left very little to the imagination; his often surprising behaviour — “sticking his fingers into a dead man’s brain (…) even drinking blood from abattoirs” — further strengthening his reputation as

The vilest book that exists in print

In 1874, publishers Chatto & Windus asked their most renowned author, the inimitable Samuel Clemens, for a brief but quotable review of ‘Nuggets and Dust Panned Out in California by Dod Grille,’ the most recent book by another of their authors, Ambrose Bierce. Given that Clemens and Bierce had known each other since the 1860s and remained good

I think that ‘She’ is worth 20 K. S. Mines

December, 1886: Following the enormous success of his previous book, King Solomon’s Mines, novelist H. Rider Haggard writes to fellow author George Barnett Smith and, fearing its dark tone will limit the novel’s audience, pessimistically introduces his new book, She. He needn’t have worried. To this day She remains one of the most successful and influential

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

The Little People’s Petition

Image: Library of Congress Early-1864, frustrated and saddened that the recently introduced Emancipation Proclamation only guaranteed the freedom of slaves in the Confederate States, 195 schoolchildren of Concord, Massachusetts signed the above “Petition of the children of the United States; (under 18 years) that the President will free all slave children” and, with the help

Mark Twain on proofreaders

“In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made proof-readers.” – Mark Twain, 1893. The inimitable Mark Twain, never one to bite his tongue, had a notoriously turbulent relationship with his countless editors, printers and proofreaders — the very people tasked with ensuring his written words were fit to print. The following letter

Speaks through his nose and cannot pronounce the letter S

Sent in December of 1899 by Boer police, the following telegram marked the beginning of a hunt for an escaped prisoner of The Boer War. The young man – a British war correspondent who walked with ‘a slight stoop’, had an ‘almost invisible’ moustache and was ‘unable to pronounce the letter S’ – happened to

What you say should be applied to others rather than to me

In January of 1890, six months before his death, a lengthy review of Vincent van Gogh‘s work appeared in the highly influential French gazette, Mercure de France. The entirely positive article is notable for two reasons, the first being that this was the only such review of the artist’s work to be published during his

Fancy a game of baseball?

During the sport’s infancy, prior to the days of schedules and organised fixtures, American baseball teams formally arranged games by way of the postal system, in the form of the ‘challenge letter’. Below is one such charming invitation, sent in 1860 by Jersey City’s Hamilton Base Ball Club to the New York Knickerbockers; a team

The crime of being a Negro was far more heinous

Henry Ossian Flipper became, in 1877, the first African American to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point – an admirable achievement given both his being born into slavery in 1856 and the abhorrent treatment he received during his military training – and subsequently was the first African American commissioned officer in

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

I am going to put the Commission out of commission

Born in 1863, one-time blacksmith Bob ‘The Freckled Freak’ Fitzsimmons was the world’s first three-division champion boxer and, as a result of his phenomenal upper-body strength, possessed the hardest punch of all fighters by quite a margin. Just prior to writing the following letter on his truly magnificent, befittingly boastful letterhead, the boxing commission had

A charming apology from Lewis Carroll

As Tim Burton’s take on the story consumes moviegoers across the world, it seems a good opportunity to read a letter or two from the original creator of Alice in Wonderland: Charles Dodgson. Both letters were written by Dodgson – better-known by most under his pseudonym, Lewis Carroll – to a young friend called Isabel

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.

Framed by an idiot, passed by muttonheads

“Only one thing is impossible for God: to find any sense in any copyright law on the planet” – Mark Twain In July of 1876, less than a month after the novel’s initial release in England, copies of Mark Twain‘s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer had begun to circulate the U.S. in large numbers. One

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.)

Pardon me

Sensing an opportunity to be pardoned of all previous crimes, William Bonney – a man of many names, now best known as Billy the Kid – approached Governor Lew Wallace in 1878 and offered to stand as a prosecution witness. Bonney had recently observed the murder of a lawyer during the final stages of the

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

Name your price

On January 17th, 1874, 62-year-old North Carolina resident Chang Bunker passed away in his sleep after having contracted pneumonia. Tragically, within a few hours, his brother Eng also died. Less than two weeks later, the widows of Chang and Eng Bunker received the following letter from Brooklyn-based ‘Rozell, Horton & Gray’ in which the they

I’m sorry. My friend got me drunk.

Despite his fame, writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe struggled financially throughout his entire career, even following the publication of his much lauded poem, The Raven. He also enjoyed a drink or two, to a dangerously extent during later life. The following letter was written by Poe in July, 1842, and sent to his publishers

Langlois Bridge

A letter written by Vincent van Gogh to Émile Bernard on March 18th, 1888, a month after leaving Paris for Arles. He begins the letter with a sketch of sailors and their ‘sweethearts’ strolling riverside towards a drawbridge, and goes on to mention his current preoccupation with the scene. In fact, the Langlois Bridge later

Dear Mayor of New York City

It’s no wonder that in a city as large and populous as New York, a steady stream of letters are written to the Mayor throughout the year by its citizens, the majority having been penned for different reasons. Below are just four such letters that I have plucked – with permission – from a truly

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

If I cannot live with you I will live alone

In 1818, at 23 years of age and whilst caring for his gravely ill brother who had contracted tuberculosis, celebrated romantic poet John Keats met the love of his life, Fanny Brawne. Less than a year later, Keats himself contracted the same disease and soon afterwards – on the advice of his doctor – reluctantly

I would have gladly mingled with you

Ludwig Van Beethoven was one of the most famous composers of all time—a true musical genius whose accomplishments still influence and astonish to this day, centuries after his death. His life’s work seems even more impressive on learning that he started to lose his hearing in his late-twenties, a development which brought on bouts of

For the sake of my conscience

A guilty conscience caused the following anonymous letter to be sent to the Secretary of the Treasury in 1899, over thirty years after the Civil War in which this hungry Union soldier managed to secure an extra loaf of bread at mealtime. As you can see, the enclosed dollar – a healthy sum of money

The Father-in-Law of the Telephone

A few years after the telephone was introduced to the masses, Mark Twain made it clear that he wasn’t a fan of the invention via an article he wrote for New York World. In response, Alexander Graham Bell‘s father-in-law – Gardiner Greene Hubbard – wrote a light-hearted letter to Twain. Soon after, the reply shown

It is like confessing a murder

In November of 1859, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published. A truly groundbreaking book that would forever change our perception of the world, it instantly generated widespread debate and surprise. Darwin’s central theory of evolution was that a species, rather than being unchanging, will gradually transform over time according to its environment, with 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

Servant until death

Here’s an incredibly interesting letter from 1857, written by a lady called Vilet Lester and sent to someone by the name of Patsey Patterson. Vilet Lester was a slave and prior to this letter being written had at some point been owned by the Patterson family before moving on. In the letter she states that