After a fun and busy Summer spent with lots of wonderful friends and family members I’m now enjoying some peace and quiet, some solitude, well, not complete solitude. I’m enjoying the companionship of favorite people from the past, people I affectionately call my “dead friends”. They visit with me by way of biographies, autobiographies, and their personal letters.
One of my favorite “dead friends” is pictured above. Do you recognize her? Maybe she’s one of your “dead friends” too. She’s Charlotte Bronte. Charlotte was a writer like me, well, not just like me. Charlotte was a very successful novelist, but she also was an avid letter writer and as you know I am an avid letter writer too. Are you?
When I get hold of one of Charlotte’s letters I feel like she’s writing that letter just to me. That’s the magic of letters. They last. They can last a lot longer than we can. When we write a letter there’s no telling who might be reading it in years to come, or even next week for that matter – so be careful what you write!
I feel I get to know my favorite people of the past better through their letters than any other way. That’s because letters are so intimate. A well written letter reveals personality like nothing else can and it will capture a person’s true feelings about all sorts of things, big and small. Recently I learned that Charlotte was like me in that she loves nice long letters as I do. Do you like long letters too? Do you write long letters or are yours short little teasers?
Though I’m happy to receive any letter I do feel a bit disappointed when the letter in my mail box turns out to be just a short little thing. After all, when a letter arrives I’ll take the time to make a cup of coffee so I can read and sip as though I were having a visit in a coffee shop with my friend. I’ll get all comfy in a favorite location. I’ll tear open the envelope in great anticipation of a nice long visit and then … if I find just a few lines, well, there is great disappointment. What a let down! It seems Charlotte felt the same way when she found a short little letter in her mail box. Listen to what she writes in her reply dated March 1, 1846.
“Even at the risk of seeming very exacting, I can’t help saying that I should like a letter as long as your last every time you write. Short notes give one the feeling of a very small piece of a very good thing to eat, —they set the appetite on edge, and don’t satisfy it, —a letter leaves you more contented; and yet, after all, I am very glad to get notes; so don’t think, when you are pinched for time and materials that it is useless to write a few lines; be assured, a few lines are very acceptable as far as they go; and though I like long letters, I would by no means have you make a task of writing them.”
These words from Charlotte were delivered to me not by my friendly postman, but rather by Mrs. Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell in the book she wrote entitled “The Life of Charlotte Bronte”. Elizabeth is another of my “dead friends”. She was also a novelist and an avid letter writer, but then most everyone was a letter writer years ago.
What so many are missing by never putting pen to paper and sharing their thoughts in letters. In a hundred years who will remember them and what they had to say? This isn’t you, is it?
Like Charlotte, I prefer long letters to most everything else, but I was happy to know Charlotte also liked short notes. I enjoy sending postcards out every day – one a day, just like the vitamin pill. One day soon I’ll tell you about my postcards. The thing is, a postcard looks like a short note right from the start so one doesn’t get their hopes up for a long visit and a postcard contains a picture. You know what they say about a picture. A picture is worth a thousand words, so a picture postcard is not as small a thing as you might think.
We have our family and living friends. We have our pen friends, but it’s wonderful to have a collection of “dead friends” too. Talk about solitude and society simultaneously! And people of the past have so very much to offer us, both in information as to how things were back then, and also in the realm of inspiration. If you’re looking to meet some “dead friends you’ll find lots of them in the library or your local book store.
As I share my favorite things with others I’m always thinking of my “dead friends” and what they had to say on so many subjects. I’m sure they’re happy to be remembered by me and others. Wouldn’t you be happy if people remembered you and the things you had to say a hundred years from now? I should think so.
Descartes, French philosopher, mathematician and writer, (1596-1650) and another of my “dead friends”, put it well when he said ” The reading of good books is like conversation with the finest men of past centuries.” Descartes understood how I feel about my “dead friends”. Do you? And though he only mentioned books as a way to have conversation with people of the past, I’m sure he would agree that reading personal letters is an even better way to have those conversations.
I encourage you to cultivate relationships with your own “dead friends”. They may become some of your favorite things… I mean people.
Solitude and Society Simultaneously