Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Confessions of a Writer of Westerns: Reading the Old Letters

Recently this interesting item was published on the blog noted:
Confessions of a Writer of Westerns: Reading the Old Letters: I spent much of the late afternoon and early evening reading through many letters written by Owen Wister. I never found what I was looking ...
It's an interesting entry in and of itself, but what it brings to mind to me is something I've written about here before, that being the stunning level of personal correspondence in earlier days.

Now, to be fair, in the age of email and instant messaging, people do write. And I'm actually a bit of an optimist in this area, as I think personal correspondence has actually revived a bit in the internet age, as has journaling.  None the less, the amount of personal correspondence that people once undertook is simply amazing.

 Mail Call, Army barracks during World War Two.  Forty years later mail call was still a big deal.  Amazingly, even in basic training we found time to write back.

Nearly any well educated person wrote letters at least as recently as mid 20th Century.  My own mother was an avid correspondent, writing her relatives and friends almost constantly, which they in turn also did.  My father was less of a correspondent, but when I went to university he wrote me regularly, and I in turn wrote him.  And I used to write a few friends I knew who had moved elsewhere.  Indeed, I wrote them quite a bit more than I know email the same friends.

There's something particularly close and personal about a written letter.  Closer than an email, although what it is, is hard to describe.  And there's something really telling that in earlier eras people wrote letters in vast numbers, and they saved them too, for our unintended benefit.  We're lucky they did, but it's hard to feel that something hasn't been lost by the disappearance of common correspondence, even if something has been gained by instant correspondence.

Letter writer, Mexico.  This man was employed as a scriviner for hire, a common occupation around the world at one time.


Neil Waring said...

Great post, wonderful photos. We do still send a few cards and thank you notes. I also like receiving them as it does seem more personal than birthday greetings on Facebook.

Pat, Marcus & Alexis said...

I agree on the cards and thank yous, but I'll confess, I now do those electronically as well.

Indeed, in the work world, while I still do written correspondence, I typically also send an emailed copy of the same.