My heart almost stood still

On the evening of February 1st, 1924, the New York Symphony Orchestra played Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at Carnegie Hall in New York, conducted by Walter Damrosch. Thankfully for those who couldn’t attend, the performance was broadcast live on the radio. A couple of days later, the orchestra received a stunning letter of thanks from the unlikeliest of sources: Helen

It is a good book

On May 22nd of 1925, the great Gertrude Stein wrote to fellow author F. Scott Fitzgerald and offered, in her own inimitable style, a brief review of his recently published novel, The Great Gatsby. It can be enjoyed below. Also of note: Fitzgerald’s editor’s reaction to an early draft of The Great Gatsby, here, and a rejection letter once sent

A squeal of pain

Prominent English novelist Vita Sackville-West’s marriage to Sir Harold Nicolson was the very definition of an open one, with both partners happily enjoying extramarital relationships for much of the 49 years they spent together. In the early-1920s, Vita began what was to be her most famous affair, with Virginia Woolf, the hugely influential author responsible

Vast riddles

In the mid-1920s, a decade prior to the release of James Joyce‘s final novel, Finnegans Wake, extracts of what was then known as his “Work in Progress” were being published in journals and passed around literary circles, to a largely baffled audience. (If you’ve never read, or attempted to read Finnegans Wake, a quick look

This, sir, is my resignation

On December 5th of 1921, future-Nobel laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Faulkner landed a job as a University of Mississippi postmaster. Despite numerous reports of his writing novels on the job, losing and occasionally throwing away mail, ignoring colleagues and customers, playing bridge during opening hours, and regularly turning up late only to leave early, Faulkner somehow

Must be raining in this old bunkhouse

Shortly after renowned “cowboy artist” Charles Russell passed away in 1926, his friend of many years, the popular American entertainer, Will Rogers, wrote him the following farewell letter. It was sent to Charles’s widow, Nancy. (Source: Dear Wit; Image: Horse of the Hunter, by Charles Russell, via.) Dear Charley, I bet you hadn’t been up there three days

The novel is a wonder

On October 27th of 1924, 28-year-old F. Scott Fitzgerald sent a letter to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, along with an early draft of his new novel, tentatively titled The Great Gatsby. That missive, and Perkins’s delighted but constructively critical response, can be enjoyed below. Fitzgerald took his editor’s suggestions on board, immediately made some major revisions to

Illiterately yours

The following intro and genuine exchange of letters forms the dedication to Will Rogers‘ 1924 book, The Illiterate Digest. Image of Will Rogers via iCollector. “Most Books have to have an Excuse by some one for the Author, but this is the only Book ever written that has to have an Alibi for the Title,

I do not like scolding people

Author Katherine Mansfield and editor John Murry met in 1911 and had a turbulent relationship by anyone’s standards: by the time they wed in 1918, they had split several times and seen other people; indeed, the pattern continued through their marriage. Three years after marrying, Mansfield wrote a stern letter to fellow author Princess Elizabeth

Jelly-boned swines

June of 1912 was a bad month for D. H. Lawrence. His lover, Frieda — a married woman with whom he had recently fled to Germany — was being begged to return to the family home in England by her husband (and Lawrence’s former professor), Ernest Weekley. In addition, publisher William Heinemann had just decided to

Something extraordinary

July, 1922. In the final paragraph of an otherwise unremarkable letter to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, author F. Scott Fitzgerald passionately announces his desire to begin writing “something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned.” The novel he had mentioned for the first time was The Great Gatsby. Transcript follows. Image kindly supplied by

Merry Christmas!

I’ve decided to break with tradition today as this is the last post of 2011. Rather than feature a letter, I’ve chosen a couple of charming Christmas cards that were sent to family and friends, circa 1920, by Harry Houdini. They’re both delightful. I’m taking a short break now. Letters of Note — and Lists

Reviews were angry and childish

Writing in September of 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald responds to a fan of his latest book, The Great Gatsby, and notes that until H. L. Mencken reviewed it (here) critics were largely unimpressed — as a result it barely sold. Since then it has sold millions of copies, regularly features in ‘best of’ lists, and is

Don’t hesitate — Do it now!

Here we have a real piece of cinema history in the form of a hugely important letter from 1924, written by Walt Disney, in which he urges his good friend, the great Ub Iwerks, to up sticks and join him at the recently formed Disney Productions in Hollywood. Luckily for him — and us —

Dejobbed, bewifed, and much childrenised

On February 2nd of 1929, the following hilarious letter of complaint was sent to a government official in Calabar, Nigeria, by a “bewifed” and “much childrenised” ex-employee who had recently been “dejobbed” due to his apparent laziness. It is unknown whether he was subsequently “rejobulated.” The letter is now held at the National Archives, is

I am so lonely I can hardly bear it

American artist Rockwell Kent wrote the following love letter to his wife, Frances, in 1926. It’s a masterclass in romantic writing. Much-needed transcript follows. Image courtesy of the Archives of American Art. Large version here. Image: Archives of American Art Transcript Frances! I am so lonely I can hardly bear it. As one needs happiness

North Polar Bear’s leg got broken

In December of 1920, J. R. R. Tolkien secretly began what would become an annual event in his household for the next 20 years: in the guise of a shaky-handed Father Christmas, he lovingly handwrote a letter to his 3-year-old son, John, placed it in an envelope along with an illustration of his home near

The human race is incurably idiotic

Few letters have entertained me more than this one, sent by noted writer H. L. Mencken to artist Charles Green Shaw in 1927. Written in list-form, the letter acts as a Mencken biography of sorts as he briefly — and more often than not, humorously — offers his views on a whole host of subjects, topics

Darling Goodnight and Goodbye

In 1918, aged just 18, Rattanbai ‘Ruttie’ Petit converted to Islam and married a man 24 years her senior: then-president of the All-India Muslim League and eventual founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The following few years were blissfully happy for the newlyweds, but a rift soon developed as Jinnah’s hectic political life took hold. In

A Plea for a raise, By Jack Kennedy

Late-1927, having just become a Boy Scout and acutely aware that his weekly allowance wouldn’t cover the costs of such a lifestyle, 10-year-old John F. Kennedy approached his father and asked for a raise of 30¢. Keen to teach the future President a quick business lesson, Kennedy Sr. immediately told him that, unless his plea

What makes you think I hate the British?

An inquisitive letter from a Kansas City resident provoked this insightful typewritten reply from Mohandas Gandhi in 1925. Written to a Fred Campbell just over a year after being released from prison – he had served two years of a six year sentence following his promotion of the Non-cooperation movement – Gandhi took the opportunity to

Planning Mount Rushmore

In 1927, sculptor Gutzon Borglum began work on what was to become one of the most iconic landmarks in the world: Mount Rushmore. Whilst preparing to start work on the gigantic sculpture, initially intended to feature just the heads of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Borglum wrote the following letter – complete with a very rare prelimanary

Again, Bet on Exterminator

A brief note from Ernest Hemingway to his publisher, Charles Scribner, written at some point in the mid-1920s. Not happy with the terms of a proposed new deal between the two, Hemingway chose to remind the publisher that he was in fact the fastest horse in his stable of authors; Exterminator being the name of a

You are doomed to deserved failure

(…and we’re back. Many, many heartfelt thanks to the hundreds of well-wishers; Karina and baby are doing extremely well. I literally don’t have the time to reply to you all individually, but your messages were very much appreciated. Thanks again.) An attempt to secure the writing talents of George Bernard Shaw in 1924 initiated a

I am a fat boy now

Below are two messages from the 1920s, both sent to the same man — Frederick Banting — as a result of his enormous contribution to a scientific development which to this day continues to save the lives of many. That development was the discovery and isolation of insulin. The first is a letter of thanks

The worst is to come…

From the Laboratory of Thomas Edison comes this brief letter to William Le Roy  Emmet, an award-winning engineer who began working at GE back when it was still known as Edison General Electric and then stayed with the firm for many years. In 1926 Emmet’s success caught Edison’s attention, and, as seen in the following

Disney, Day 1

On October 16th of 1923, just hours after striking a distribution deal with M. J. Winkler, near-penniless brothers Walt and Roy formed the company we now know as Disney. On the very same day, 21 year old Walt desperately wrote the following persuasive letter to the mother of Virginia Davis, a 5 year old girl

Houdini’s Last Trick

At New York’s Shelton Hotel on August 5th, 1926, in plain view of invited journalists and using no breathing apparatus, Harry Houdini lay in a sealed casket at the bottom of a swimming pool for an hour and a half. His motivation for the feat was the opportunity to expose Egyptian fakir Rahman Bey, a

This is me

Colorado artist Allen Tupper True – at one time consulting artist at the Hoover Dam – wrote and drew the following note to his daughter Jane whilst staying in New York, 1927. The illustration on the hotel letterhead clearly didn’t convey a realistic sense of scale in Allen’s eyes, so he modified the picture for

Prepare For Contact

Here’s a 1924 telegram from then Chief of U.S. Naval Operations, Edward W. Eberle, instructing all Naval stations to monitor the airwaves for any unusual transmissions due to anticipated contact from Martians. August 22nd of that year was witness to the closest Mars opposition since 1804 (a mere 55,777,566 km), and as such provided desirable

I feel like an egg in a whisk

Jessie Corbett waited until 1924 to propose to the love of her life, John Wilks, and only chose that particular date as it was a leap year; a point in the calendar when, as a result of years of tradition, it wasn’t frowned upon for a woman to ask for a man’s hand in marriage.

I miss my brother

Thomas Hampton, a teenager from Leeds, England, moved to South Australia in 1922 in order to work as a Barwell Boy on a farm, owned by a Mr. Poysden. A year later he sent the following letter to the South Australia Immigration Department with a view to bringing his 12-year-old brother over from an orphanage