Like a tree in full bearing

Born 200 years ago today, Charlotte Brontë was the eldest of the Brontë sisters, three siblings whose novels--Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily's Wuthering Heights, and Anne's The Tenant of Wildfell Halls, to name but three--are now considered classics. In 1848, Emily died from tuberculosis; she was just 30 years old. A few days after her death, Charlotte wrote to her publisher.

(This letter, and many other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, More Letters of Note. For more info, visit Books of Note. Image above: © National Portrait Gallery, London.)

December 25th, 1848.

My dear Sir,—I will write to you more at length when my heart can find a little rest—now I can only thank you very briefly for your letter, which seemed to me eloquent in its sincerity.

Emily is nowhere here now, her wasted mortal remains are taken out of the house. We have laid her cherished head under the church aisle beside my mother’s, my two sisters’—dead long ago—and my poor, hapless brother’s. But a small remnant of the race is left—so my poor father thinks.

Well, the loss is ours, not hers, and some sad comfort I take, as I hear the wind blow and feel the cutting keenness of the frost, in knowing that the elements bring her no more suffering; their severity cannot reach her grave; her fever is quieted, her restlessness soothed, her deep, hollow cough is hushed for ever; we do not hear it in the night nor listen for it in the morning; we have not the conflict of the strangely strong spirit and the fragile frame before us—relentless conflict—once seen, never to be forgotten. A dreary calm reigns round us, in the midst of which we seek resignation.

My father and my sister Anne are far from well. As for me, God has hitherto most graciously sustained me; so far I have felt adequate to bear my own burden and even to offer a little help to others. I am not ill; I can get through daily duties, and do something towards keeping hope and energy alive in our mourning household. My father says to me almost hourly, “Charlotte, you must bear up, I shall sink if you fail me”; these words, you can conceive, are a stimulus to nature. The sight, too, of my sister Anne’s very still but deep sorrow wakens in me such fear for her that I dare not falter. Somebody must cheer the rest.

So I will not now ask why Emily was torn from us in the fulness of our attachment, rooted up in the prime of her own days, in the promise of her powers; why her existence now lies like a field of green corn trodden down, like a tree in full bearing struck at the root. I will only say, sweet is rest after labour and calm after tempest, and repeat again and again that Emily knows that now.—Yours sincerely,

C. Brontë

I hope you don't feel too disappointed

One would imagine that Eric Idle, one-sixth of beloved comedy troupe Monty Python, and John Major, Prime Minister of the UK from 1990 to 1996, have nothing in common – but you would be wrong, for both Idle and Major were born on the same day: March 29th, 1943. In 1993, as their 50th birthdays approached, Eric Idle took the opportunity to send the Prime Minister a brief letter.

(This letter, and many other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, More Letters of Note. For more info, visit Books of Note.)

The Rt.Hon. John Major M.P.
10 Downing Street
London SW1A.1AA

12th January 1993

Dear John Major,

On the 29th March you and I will both be fifty.

Has it ever occurred to you that, but for a twist of fate, I should be Prime Minister and you could have been the Man in the Nudge Nudge sketch from Monty Python?

I hope you don't feel too disappointed,

Happy birthday anyway,

Eric Idle

The Galilean moons

According to the great Stephen Hawking, Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei was, more than any other person, "responsible for the birth of modern science." In 1609, having seen details of a very early telescope that had been constructed in the Netherlands, Galileo designed and built his own, superior version that boasted far better magnification, and which he subsequently used to make countless discoveries in the skies. In January of 1610, he wrote a letter, the draft of which is shown here, to Leonardo Donato, Doge of Venice; in it, he describes the instrument itself and then for the first time illustrates Jupiter's four largest moons, all of which he had just discovered.

Transcript follows. This letter, along with 124 other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, Letters of Note. For more info, visit Books of Note.

Translated Transcript & Diagram

Most Serene Prince.

Galileo Galilei most humbly prostrates himself before Your Highness, watching carefully, and with all spirit of willingness, not only to satisfy what concerns the reading of mathematics in the study of Padua, but to write of having decided to present to Your Highness a telescope ("Occhiale") that will be a great help in maritime and land enterprises. I assure you I shall keep this new invention a great secret and show it only to Your Highness. The telescope was made for the most accurate study of distances. This telescope has the advantage of discovering the ships of the enemy two hours before they can be seen with the natural vision and to distinguish the number and quality of the ships and to judge their strength and be ready to chase them, to fight them, or to flee from them; or, in the open country to see all details and to distinguish every movement and preparation.

Every ounce of my energy

Bertrand Russell, one of the great intellectuals of his generation, was known by most as the founder of analytic philosophy, but he was actually a man of many talents: a pioneering mathematician, an accomplished logician, a tireless activist, a respected historian, and a Nobel Prize-winning writer, to name but a handful. When he wrote this principled letter at the beginning of 1962, Russell was 89 years old and clearly still a man of morals who stood firm in his beliefs. Its recipient was Sir Oswald Mosley, a man most famous for founding, in 1932, the British Union of Fascists.

Transcript follows.

(This letter, and many other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, More Letters of Note. For more info, visit Books of Note.)

22 January 1962

Sir Oswald Mosley,
5, Lowndes Court,
Lowndes Square,
London, S.W.1.

Dear Sir Oswald,

Thank you for your letter and for your enclosures. I have given some thought to our recent correspondence. It is always difficult to decide on how to respond to people whose ethos is so alien and, in fact, repellent to one’s own. It is not that I take exception to the general points made by you but that every ounce of my energy has been devoted to an active opposition to cruel bigotry, compulsive violence, and the sadistic persecution which has characterised the philosophy and practice of fascism.

I feel obliged to say that the emotional universes we inhabit are so distinct, and in deepest ways opposed, that nothing fruitful or sincere could ever emerge from association between us.

I should like you to understand the intensity of this conviction on my part. It is not out of any attempt to be rude that I say this but because of all that I value in human experience and human achievement.

Yours sincerely,

Bertrand Russell

Merry Christmas!

Dear All,

That's another year gone. As always, heartfelt thanks to everyone who has visited this website, made the Letters of Note and More Letters of Note books possible, and bought tickets to the amazing Letters Live. 2016 looks set to be even busier on all fronts and I'm itching to get started.

In the meantime, here are the most popular Christmas-related letters of note, arranged in no particular order. Also, if you're looking for last-minute presents, head over to Books of Note for some very biased inspiration.

Merry Christmas!

1. America is like that second kind of Christmas

A cheery letter from John Steinbeck, on Christmas, gluttony and immorality.

2. The Matchbox

A fantastic letter of thanks from Sylvia Townsend Warner, in response to a seemingly mundane Christmas gift.

3. For your first Christmas

60-year-old Walter Page writes a charming letter to his grandson and discusses the things they have in common.

4. North Polar Bear's leg got broken

One of many letters written by J. R. R Tolkien to his kids, in the voice of Father Christmas.

5. The most extraordinary scene

A soldier writes home to his wife on Christmas Eve and describes the moment British and German troops put down their weapons and greeted eaach other.

6. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

A young girl writes to a NY newspaper with a question about Christmas. The editor's response is the most reprinted English language editorial in history

7. Your loving Santa Claus

Mark Twain writes to his daughter, as Santa Claus.

See you all soon.


From Heaven

Esteemed Canadian physician Sir William Osler is known by many as the “Father of Modern Medicine”. He both practiced and taught at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital, of which he was a founding professor, and helped to revolutionise medical education by introducing the now commonplace residency system: the training of doctors within the hospital itself. His status as one of the world’s greatest doctors was further strengthened in 1892 with the publication of his indispensable textbook, The Principles and Practice of Medicine, aka the “Physician’s Bible”. Sadly, a year after the book was released, William’s first child, Paul Revere Osler, died a week after being born. In an effort to console his distraught wife, Grace, William wrote her a letter, from Heaven, in Paul’s voice.

Note: The Emma Osler referred to in the letter is William’s sister, who died at the age of two; “Julius Caeser” refers to a stillborn baby from Grace’s first marriage.

(This letter features in the More Letters of Note book alongside many other fascinating pieces of correspondence -- more info at Books of Note.)

Heaven July 1st

My dear Mother

I for one am good & get on nicely with our singing and if our earthly parents continue to show an interest in us by remembering us in their prayers, we are allowed to write about every three or four tatma's (i.e. months). I got here safely with very little inconvenience. I scarcely knew anything until I awoke in a lovely, green spot, with fountains & trees & soft couches & such nice young girls to tend us. You would have been amused to see the hundreds which came the same day. But I must tell you first how we are all arranged; it took me several days to find out about it. Heaven is the exact counterpart of earth so far as its dwellers are concerned; thus all from the U.S. go to one place--all from Maryland to one district & even all from the cities & townships get corresponding places. This enables the guardian angels to keep the lists more carefully & it facilitates communication between relatives. They are most particular in this respect and have a beautifully simple arrangement by which the new arrivals can find out at once whether they have connections in heaven. I never was more surprised in my time--we say that here not life & not eternity, for that has not started for us--when the day after my arrival Althea brought me two quill feathers on one of which was written Julius Caesar & the other Emma Osler. I knew at once about the former as I had often heard you and father talk of him and had so longed to wear his little cap; but the latter I did not know at all but she said she had been father's little sister & she had been sent to make me feel happy and comfortable.

You must know that all the souls coming here are grouped in 6 divisions

1. Those who have never lived and have not seen the sun. The angels have no end of trouble with them, largely Althea says because they are so stupid and learn so slowly, not having seen the sun-light. They are allowed to grow until equal to the size of the body of a 2 year old child & at which point they stop. They never obtain a full knowledge but always remain childlike. This is their great attraction & in their gardens may be seen hundreds of thousands of middle aged & old soul-bodies refreshing their memories of happy days on earth by playing with these angel children.

2. Those who have not lived a full year are also in a separate division and we are gradually taught and within a very short space of time have beautiful soul-bodies about the size of an earthly child of five. We have however full knowledge and have not many childish ways.

3. Children between 1 & 5 years look here about 10 years in earthly-size; & though they say that their voices are better & their education more perfect than ours we do not think so.

4. From 5 to 15 years the children who come attain in their soul-bodies the earthly size of about 15 and are of great use to the angels in helping with the younger ones & in showing all the beauties of the place and in tuning harps in the great days of the chorus.

6. The grown soul-bodies--about which we do not know very much only seeing those very nearly related to us by earthly ties. We play all day & talk so much with each other about earth and take a great interest in all that you do. We cannot always see you, why I do not know, but at intervals we have such clear and definite sights of our earthly homes. Julius Caesar is very well and a great favorite. He looks a dear little fellow of about two years old (earthly count) and he told me when his guardian angel was not near that he felt a little badly that I should have been in the Amarathyn division--i.e. the one in advance of his. He and Aunt Emma are to come very often and we know now all about our many relatives. Unlike the real angels we have no fore-knowledge and cannot tell what is to happen to our dear ones on Earth. Next to the great feast days, when we sing choruses by divisions in the upper heavens, our chief delight is in watching the soul bodies as they arrive in our divisions. I am helping the angels to get them in order & properly trained. In the children's divisions not a friad (i.e. about an hour of earthly time) passes without the excitement of a father, a mother, a brother or a sister united to one of us. We know about 1000 of each other so that it is great fun to see our comrades & friends making their relatives feel at home.

The other day my kind Althea said there was a baby-soul in the 1st division from New Hampshire, which had left her kind regards for me at the general intelligence office of the heavenly United States. It was chorus day so I could not go, but I am to see her tomorrow if she is advanced enough to receive visitors. It takes about ten days to get our beautiful plumage in order.

If you keep as you are I shall be able (Althea says) to write again in three months. I send you much love--also to pop!

Your loving son
Paul Revere