Friday, 30 April 2010

My position concerning God is that of an agnostic

In 1954, in a much-debated letter we featured here back in October, Einstein wrote, 'The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still purely primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish'. Today we have another of Einstein's letters, again concerning religion and equally as outspoken, but written four years previous - in 1950 - to a Morton Berkowitz.

Transcript follows.

October 25, 1950

Mr. Morton Berkowitz
365 New York Ave.
Brooklyn N.Y.

Dear Mr. Berkowitz:

I felt very grateful receiving your kind letter of October 24th. Such utterances are the finest reward for an author.

My position concerning God is that of an agnostic. I am convinced that vivid consciousness of the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and enoblement of life does not need the idea of a law-giver, especially a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and punishment

I am sending you under separate cover two books of mine containing occasional writings where you will find more about this subject.

Sincerely yours,

(Signed, 'A. Einstein.')

Albert Einstein.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Popeye's favorit tree

Here's an utterly charming letter from Popeye in which he ponders an apple tree's life cycle, written and drawn by Bill Zaboly in 1942. Zaboly was one of the artists responsible for the comic strip following Elzie Segar's death in 1938 and lovingly produced this piece for a fan by the name of Jennette Winterhalter.

Reading the letter in Popeye's accent is advised.

Transcript follows.


April, 1942

Dear Jenette—

I remember a favorit tree—I always won'ered why they was no apples on it in Winter an' why it had apples in Summer—

I useta watch it at Spring time—how it suddenly got buds an' purty blossoms an' then lil apples growed inta big ones—I got useta it doin' 'at an' purty soon I didn' bother lookin' at it no more.

I yam out one swell spring day watchin the birds flyin from tree to tree when I sees me favorit apple tree—somethin's wrong! It aint got no apples growin' on it escep' maybe a couple which ain't so hot—I does some deep thinkin' about it but 'at don't help none on account of nature knows more'n I does an' she ain't tellin', so I guesses it aint go'ner have apples no more! No more apples which Olive Oyl made swell pies with an' I snitched when she wasn't lookin an' got me a orful bellyache on account of eatin it fast while it was hot. So I feels sorry fer me appel tree an' figgers ennyhow it still will have enough leaves on it so's I kin take a nap in the shade on a @☆!☆in hot Summer's day!

Well—fall comes, the leaves fall orf an' snow comes an' spring comes—an' goes!

One Summer day I yam walkin by Olive's house I smells Pie—Apple Pie! Apple pie?—I wonner—Hm—I walks aroun' an' looks at me ol' apple tree an' it's got apples on it—millyuns of 'em—

I yam sittin' under me apple tree later with me stummick fulla apple pie I snitched took borryed from Olive an' I yam wonnerin'—What made the apples come back again? What made 'em grow again? I ast me frens—they says it was somethin'—maybe nature did it—but they didn't know why—So what! they sez—So what?

Hm—I wonner? Does ya know why, Jennette? Kin ya tell me? I wisht ya would on account of I yam jus' a igmorunt sailor what don't know much—escep' 'at I yam—

yer fren—




Bela Zaboly

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

It's a good script

A job offer from Francis Ford Coppola. With the benefit of hindsight it seems like the easiest decision, but remember this was very early-1970s. Lee Marvin was an Oscar-winning leading man and as such able to pick and choose his next role; Francis Ford Coppola on the other hand, although respected, was yet to win acclaim for his as-yet-unreleased The Godfather. It was the best part of a decade before Apocalypse Now saw the light of day; by then the Colonel in question had morphed from Karnage to Kurtz, and a certain Mr. Marlon Brando had taken the role.

The letter, along with the 1969 draft of Apocalypse Now that accompanied it, recently sold for a mere $5,078.05.

Transcript follows.

Mr. Lee Marvin,

We'd like you to play the part of Colonel Karnage in Apocalaypse Now. We're an independant company in San Francisco financed by Warner Bros.

It's a good script.


Francis Ford Coppola

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

And the answer was Aslan

In 1958, after reading and thoroughly enjoying The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, a young fan by the name of Janet wrote to the author to let him know. To her surprise, Lewis - also a renowned Christian apologist - responded. Below is his handwritten reply, in which he thanks Janet for her message and speaks briefly of the inspiration behind the creation of Aslan.

Transcript follows.



Dear Janet

I am very glad you liked The Lion etc and it was nice of you to write and tell me. The idea in my mind was, "supposing there were other worlds, and if one of them was like Narnia - and if it needed saving - and if Christ went to save it as He came to save us - let’s imagine what shape and name He might have taken there". And the answer was Aslan.

yours sincerely

C. S. Lewis

Monday, 26 April 2010

Is it best for the States to unite, or not to unite?

On November 9th, 1787, less than two months after presiding over its creation, George Washington wrote the following powerful letter to his nephew in which he convincingly backed the United States Constitution. With the backing of just nine states required for the Constitution to be ratified and his nephew soon to be a delegate in the Virginia State Ratifying Convention, this was the perfect opportunity for Washington to eloquently respond to the Antifederalists. Of course the Constitution was adopted, and two years after this letter was written, George Washington became the first President of the United States.

Interestingly, the letter itself recently sold at auction for a healthy $3,218,500.

Transcript follows.

Mount Vernon Novr 9th 1787.

Dear Bushrod,

In due course of Post, I received your letters of the 19th & 26th Ult.; and since, the one which you committed to the care of Mr Powell. I thank you for the communications therein, & for a continuation, in matters of importance, I shall be obliged to you.

That the Assembly would afford the people an opportunity of deciding on the proposed Constitution I had hardly a doubt; the only question with me was, whether it would go forth under favourable auspices, or be branded with the mark of disapprobation. The opponents, I expected, (for it has ever been, that the adversaries to a measure are more active than its friends) would endeavour to give it an unfavourable complexion, with a view to biass the public mind. This, evidently, is the case with the writers in opposition; for their objections are better calculated to alarm the fears, than to convince the judgment of their readers. They build them upon principles which do not exist in the Constitution—which the known & litteral sense of it, does not support them in; and this too, after being flatly told that they are treading on untenable ground and after an appeal has been made to the letter, & spirit thereof, for proof: and then, as if the doctrine was uncontrovertable, draw such consequences as are necessary to rouse the apprehensions of the ignorant, & unthinking. It is not the interest of the major part of these characters to be convinced; nor will their local views yield to arguments which do not accord with their present, or future prospects; and yet, a candid solution of a single question, to which the understanding of almost every man is competent, must decide the point in dispute—namely—is it best for the States to unite, or not to unite?

If there are men who prefer the latter, then, unquestionably, the Constitution which is offered, must, in their estimation, be inadmissible from the first Word to the last signature, inclusively. But those who may think differently, and yet object to parts of it, would do well to consider, that it does not lye with one State, nor with a minority of the States, to superstruct a Constitution for the whole. The seperate interests, as far as it is practicable, must be consolidated—and local views as far as the general good will admit, must be attended to. Hence it is that every state has some objection to the proposed form; and that these objections are directed to different points. That which is most pleasing to one, is obnoxious to another, and vice versa. If then the Union of the whole is a desirable object, the parts which compose it, must yield a little in order to accomplish it; for without the latter, the former is unattainable. For I again repeat it, that not a single state nor a minority of the States, can force a Constitution on the majority. But admitting they had (from their importance) the power to do it, will it not be granted that the attempt would be followed by civil commotions of a very serious nature? But to sum up the whole, let the opponants of the proposed Constitution, in this State, be asked—it is a question they ought certainly to have asked themselves; What line of conduct they would advise it to adopt, if nine other States should accede to it, of which I think there is little doubt? Would they recommend that it should stand on its own basis—seperate & distinct from the rest? Or would they connect it with Rhode Island, or even say two others, checkerwise, & remain with them as outcasts from the Society, to shift for themselves? or will they advise a return to our former dependence on Great Britain for their protection & support? or lastly would they prefer the mortification of comg in, when they will have no credit there from? I am sorry to add in this place that Virginians entertain too high an opinion of the importance of their own Country. In extent of territory—In number of Inhabitants (of all descriptions) & In wealth I will readily grant that it certainly stands first in the Union; but in point of strength, it is, comparitively, weak. To this point, my opportunities authorise me to speak, decidedly; and sure I am, in every point of view, in which the subject can be placed, it is not (considering also the Geographical situation of the State) more the interest of any one of them to confederate, than it is the one in which we live.

The warmest friends to and the best supporters of the Constitution, do not contend that it is free from imperfections; but these were not to be avoided, and they are convinced if evils are likely to flow from them, that the remedy must come thereafter; because, in the present moment it is not to be obtained. And as there is a Constitutional door open for it, I think the people (for it is with them to judge) can, as they will have the aid of experience on their side, decide with as much propriety on the alterations and amendments wch shall be found necessary, as ourselves; for I do not conceive that we are more inspired—have more wisdem—or possess more virtue than those who will come after us. The power under the Constitution will always be with the people. It is entrusted for certain defined purposes and for a certain limited period to representatives of their own chusing; and whenever it is exercised contrary to their interests, or not according to their wishes, their Servants can, and undoubtedly will be, recalled. There will not be wanting those who will bring forward complaints of mal-administration whensoever they occur. To say that the Constitution may be strained, and an improper interpretation given to some of the clauses or articles of it, will apply to any that can be framed—in a word renders any one nugatory—for not one, more than another, can be binding, if the spirit and letter of the expression is disregarded. It is agreed on all hands that no government can be well administred without powers; and yet, the instant these are delegated, altho those who are entrusted with the Administration are taken from the people—return shortly to them again—and must feel the bad effect of oppressive measures—the persons holding them, as if their natures were immediately metamorphosed, are denominated tyrants and no disposition is allowed them, but to do wrong. Of these things in a government so constituted and guarded as the proposed one is, I can have no idea; and do firmly believe that whilst many ostensible reasons are held out against the adoption of it the true ones are yet behind the Curtain; not being of a nature to appear in open day. I believe further, supposing these objections to be founded in purity itself that as great evils result from too much jealousy, as from the want of it. And I adduce several of the Constitutions of these States, as proof thereof. No man is a warmer advocate for proper restraints, and wholesome checks in every department of government than I am; but neither my reasoning, nor my experience, has yet been able to discover the propriety of preventing men from doing good, because there is a possibility of their doing evil.

If Mr Ronald can place the finances of this Country upon so respectable a footing as he has intimated, he will deserve its warmest, and most grateful thanks. In the attempt, my best wishes—which is all I have to offer—will accompany him.

I hope there remains virtue enough in the Assembly of this State, to preserve inviolate public treaties, and private contracts. If these are infringed, farewell to respectability, and safety in the Government.

I never possessed a doubt, but if any had ever existed in my breast, re-iterated proofs would have convinced me of the impolicy, of all commutable taxes. If wisdom is not to be acquired from experience, where is it to be found? But why ask the question? Is it not believed by every one that these are time-serving jobs by which a few are enriched, at the public expence! but whether the plan originates for this purpose, or is the child of ignorance, oppression is the result.

You have, I find, broke the ice (as the saying is). one piece of advice only I will give you on the occasion (if you mean to be a respectable member, and to entitle yourself to the Ear of the House)—and that is—except in local matters which respect your Constituants and to which you are obliged, by duty, to speak, rise but seldom—let this be on important matters—and then make yourself thoroughly acquainted with the subject. Never be agitated by more than a decent warmth, & offer your sentiments with modest diffidence—opinions thus given, are listened to with more attention than when delivered in a dictatorial stile. The latter, if attended to at all, altho they may force conviction, is sure to convey disgust also.

Your aunt, and the family here join me in every good wish for you. and I am with sentiments of great regd and Affecte.—Yours

G:o Washington

P.S. The letter you sent by Mr Powell for Nancy was forwarded next day to Doctr Brown, for the best conveyance that should offer from alexandria.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Your Friend, Conan

In 2003, with her prom fast approaching and a date as yet undecided, Ohio-based Nikki Simmons took a chance and sent an invite to her idol: a certain flame-haired talk show host. She says, "I asked Conan O'Brien to prom when I was in eleventh grade... so many many years ago... Although he turned me down, he was awesome enough to write back! I'll always be a Conan fan!".

Many thanks to Nikki for letting us show the letter, and to Margo for the tip.

Transcript follows.

Late Night with Conan O'Brien

Jan.24, 2003

Dear Nikki -

Thanks for your very flattering offer. It's great to know I have such a devoted fan out there, and I'm sure you would make a great prom date (I didn't go to mine - it's a very sad story).

Unfortunately, I got married recently and my wife doesn't allow me to go to proms anymore with cute 16 year old girls. Still, it was very cool of you to ask me. Thanks and have a great evening.

Your Friend,


Thursday, 22 April 2010

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 wonderful exchange of letters - three of which are seen here - that went on to span the best part of a decade. The celebrated playwright and critic had been approached by T. H. Campbell-Howes - a clearly determined magazine publisher who at the time produced a publication by the name of Indian Business - and responded with the first succinct reply below. As can be seen, Campbell-Howes didn't accept the rejection, and was still receiving insightful refusals as late as 1932.

Many thanks to T. H. Campbell-Howes' granddaughter, Kirsten, for supplying the letters.

Transcripts follow.


First Letter

11th July 1924.

Dear Mr Campbell Howes

You are doomed to deserved failure if you start a magazine with contributors of 68. That is not the way to get off the old lines. Leave the old men to the old magazines.

Your business is to discover young lions (age limit 37 at most) and form a staff of them. If you cannot do that there is no reason why you should start a magazine at all; for in no other way can you improve upon Fleet Street as it exists.

I am not interested in the least, having been there far too often before; and all I can do is to advise you as above, and dismiss the matter from my heavily overburdened consideration.


(Signed, 'G. Bernard Shaw.')

T.H.Campbell Howes Esq
c/o Gee & Co.,Ltd
6 Kirby Street,
Hatton Garden, w.C.
Second Letter
Red Roofs,
River Bank,
Staines Bridge.

July 14th 1924.

Dear Mr. Shaw,

Thanks for your discouraging letter of the 11th inst., it only makes me more determined to proceed upon the lines I have laid down. Owing to the Northcliffe regime, young lions of Fleet St., are at a discount and have slumped badly. For the first time, I find myself in entire disagreement with you; where I can depend upon the man under 37 I will do so, but I should be mad indeed to throw to the four winds the tried and trusted men of the old school. Life would be a muck indeed if we admitted that 37 was the limit for progressive ideas. Your own story disproves it. Has your progressiveness been dormant since 37? No,- up to the last you will contrive to stir mens minds, and, if you were 98 instead of 68 I would try to persuade you to write for my publications. I had hoped for your help in a new effort to stir mens minds to function in the right direction, - instead, you tell me you are not interested in the least. Frankly - I do'nt believe it, and in the long run, when "Business" is flourishing, you'll agree with me. Anyhow, I'll admit I'm grieviously disappointed. The real leaders are perilously few and I can understand how heavily overburdened they are. Those burdens have their compensations however and do not deserve being thrown to the wolves of 37.

Yours truly,

(Signed, ' T. H. Campbell-Howes')

George Bernard Shaw Esq.
19 Adelphi Terrace. W.C.2.
Third Letter
From Bernard Shaw


30th June 1932.

Dear Mr Campbell Howes

In my opinion magazines of the kind you contemplate are obsolete; that is why publishers still talk about them enthusiastically but wont back them. It is not that the people want muck; they dont; they either want their highbrow stuff pretty good or dont want it at all. But they get as much as they want in the best Sunday papers and in the literary pages of the dailies. It is their refuse that goes to the ghosts of the old dead reviews to keep them walking: the Edinburgh, the Fortnightly, the Contemporary - if these still pretend to exist; the fact that I dont know is a wreath on their graves.

Suppose you started a new one. You will not be able to pay me as much for an article as The Observer, nor to give me the a tenth of its circulation. Therefore I will send all my really important stuff to The Observer, and give you only what is unsaleable elsewhere. You will not be able to capture the old subscriptions to the Edinburgh, which are mere habits. You will have to compete with half a dozen weekly reviews more or less subsidized. I had to find £1000 to start the Political Science Quarterly as an organ of Fabian policy. No publisher would touch it at his own risk. I have not the faintest hope of ever receiving a dividend. I helped to start The New Statesman and The New Age. My shares are not, and have never been, worth tuppence. But for publishers advertisements none of them could continue to appear. Have you the smallest reason to suppose that you could do any better than they have done?

Europa is unique. It supplied a want - not a very widely felt want, but a pressing one. And if Europa does not die it will certainly kill you if you have to keep it up to the mark singlehanded.

In short, don't.


(Signed, 'G. Bernard Shaw')

T.H.Campbell-Howes Esq.
21/D, Avonmore Road,
Kensington, W.14.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Dear All

There will be no updates on Letters of Note for the next few days, as on Tuesday I became a father. Unfortunately for my girlfriend, Billy really didn't want to be born just yet and as such made a gallant attempt to stay in the dark, however Karina somehow battled through an incredibly long and gruelling labour that would surely have finished me within the first few hours. Needless to say, she was amazing, and our son is beautiful.

Enormous thanks to the staggeringly professional, immensely talented, constantly upbeat staff at St. Mary's Hospital in Manchester. You are a credit to the population.

I shall return shortly.



Monday, 12 April 2010

I'm trying very hard to be a regular soldier

It was 1959, and not long ago the unspeakable had happened: Elvis Presley had been called up for national service. Now stationed in Friedberg, Germany, many miles from home, he was finding it difficult to cope with the constant stream of mail reaching him from all corners of the globe; many of his fans still distraught since learning of his conscription the previous year, some even fearing they'd maybe seen the last of him. In an attempt to keep everyone informed of his situation and to hopefully put an end to rumours of an impending marriage (it was around now that he met Priscilla Beaulieu) he hand-wrote the following rough draft of a form letter, to be sent to each and every person who had been in touch...

Transcript follows.

Thanks to Jeff at Hard Rock again for another fantastic letter. It goes without saying, but a visit to the Hard Rock Memorabilia website is recommended to all, as is a visit to their home on Facebook.

Dear ___________

Received your letter today and appreciated hearing from you very much. It helps me a great deal to hear from my friends and fans from back home. I'll be counting the days and looking forward to the time to come, when I can return back to my homeland and start entertaining again, and doing the things I really love to do.

I'm sorry that I can't answer each letter personally, which I would like to do, but due to my regular army schedule I do not have the time, which I know you understand very well. My mind is constantly thinking of all my friends and fans that I had to leave behind.

I'm trying very hard to be a regular soldier and do my job the best that I can, as all other soldiers have to do, which is very hard for me to do, due to my tremendous request I have from the public to do so many things, which to my regret I'm unable to fulfil.

But I appreciate each and every one of you as friends, fans, and every letter that I receives helps me so much to carry on. Please except this very short note for this time and I hope to hear from you again reall soon.

If you do not get a reply from your letter soon and I know that you will understand why.

Until I see you again take care of yourself, and keep up the good work and I know you have done a great job.

I'm very sorry, that I cannot answer each question that people ask me, but maybe there will come a time soon, when I meet you in person and then I will be able to tell you things about myself. But until that time: "May God Bless you and keep you always"

Best Wishes

Elvis Presley ← use this one!!!

Sincerely your friend


either Loving you Elvis Presley or just E.P. stamps

P.S.: don't believe those rumors you read or hear about marriage. I have not found anyone I care that much about yet, and when I do, I will make the announcement, and then you can be sure. E.P.

!!! Get this one typed and printed on Army E.A.P. stationary !!! Need 500 of them


Friday, 9 April 2010

Posterity is quite apt to be a little rough on you

Late 1946, a preview screening of The Beginning or the End - a dramatisation of the events surrounding the bombing of Hiroshima - was arranged for then-U.S. President Harry Truman and his aides. They were unhappy, in particular due to Roman Bohnen's unflattering portrayal of Truman when deciding - quite quickly and with little consideration for the lives of the Japanese - to drop the bomb, and made their displeasure known. Upon hearing this, Bohnen, with tongue firmly in cheek, wrote a letter to Truman which read, in part:
I have a suggestion to offer; and I respectfully offer it in light of the fact that posterity will inherit this motion picture, and posterity will be talking about your "instant of decision" for a hundred years to come, and posterity is quite apt to be a little rough on you in any case for not having ordered that very first atom bomb to be dropped outside of Hiroshima with other bombs poised to follow, but praise God never to be used.

This is my suggestion: that you yourself re-enact that historic moment of decision before the camera. Why not? Why shouldn't you be photographed saying exactly whatever you said? If I were in your difficult position I would insist on so doing. Unprecedented, yes - but so is the entire circumstance, including the unholy power of that monopoly weapon.

I am taking the liberty of sending a copy of this letter to Mr. Mayer at M.G.M. in the sincere hope that he will invite you to play yourself in the retakes.
Truman's reply to the actor can be seen below. Months later, when the movie was released to the general public, the part of President Truman was played by a different actor altogether: Art Baker.

Transcript follows.

Washington D.C.

December 12, 1946

My dear Mr. Bohnen:

I appreciated very much your letter of December second and thank you for suggesting to Mr. Mayer of M.G.M. that I become a movie star. In the first place I haven't the talent to be a movie star and, in the second place, I am sure you will do the part creditably.

The only objection to the film, as it was, was that it appeared to have been a snap judgment program. It was anything but that - the use of the atomic bomb was deliberated for long hours and many days and weeks, and it was discussed with the Secretary of State, The Secretary of War, the Secretary of the Navy and the General Staff of the Allied Armies, as well as with Mr. Churchill and Mr. Attlee.

When it was finally demonstrated in New Mexico that the operation of the bomb was a successful one, it was decided to give the Japanese ample warning before the bomb was dropped. I have no qualms about it whatever for the simple reason that it was believed that the dropping of not more than two of these bombs would bring the war to a close. The Japanese in their conduct of the war had been vicious and cruel savages and I came to the conclusion that if two hundred and fifty thousand young Americans could be saved from slaughter the bomb should be dropped, and it was.

As I said before, the only objection to the film was that I was made to appear as if no consideration had been given to the effects or result of dropping the bomb - and that is an absolutely wrong impression.

Sincerely yours,


Thursday, 8 April 2010

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 from one of the first batch of diabetic patients — a grateful young boy named Teddy Ryder who, due to the groundbreaking treatment, lived to the age of 76. That same year, 1923, Frederick Banting and J. J. R. Macleod were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their efforts. They were notified by way of the telegram also seen below.

Transcripts follow.

(Source: Discovery of Insulin Collection at the University of Toronto Library; Image of Banting via Wikipedia.)






J. McMILLAN, General Manager of Telegraphs, Montreal.






Wednesday, 7 April 2010

I can't remember ever being without you

In 1952, Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis married. In 1972, prior to their 20th anniversary, Reagan — then Governor of California — wrote the following letter to his wife.

Transcript follows.


State of California


My Darling Wife

This note is to warn you of a diabolical plot entered into by some of our so called friends — (ha!) calendar makers and even our own children. These and others would have you believe we've been married 20 years.

20 minutes maybe — but never 20 years. In the first place it is a known fact that a human cannot sustain the high level of happiness I feel for more than a few minutes — and my happiness keeps increasing.

I will confess to one puzzlement but I'm sure it is just some trick perpetrated by our friends — (Ha again!) I can't remember ever being without you and I know I was born more than 20 mins ago.

Oh well — that isn't important. The important thing is I don't want to be without you for the next 20 years, or 40, or however many there are. I've gotten very used to being happy and I love you very much indeed.

Your Husband of 20 something or other.

Monday, 5 April 2010

All you speak of is real to me

The late, great, Forrest J. Ackerman - legendary science fiction fan; originator of the phrase 'sci fi'; editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland; unstoppable collector of memorabilia, and creator of Vampirella - once wrote a charming letter to novelist Edgar Rice Burroughs. Ackerman was 14 years of age at the time, and had just spent the day arguing with a teacher on the subject of Burroughs' writing. That evening, full of pride following his commendable, spirited defense of the author, Ackerman put pen to paper in order to inform him.

That letter, along with Burroughs' reply, can be read below.

Transcripts follow.

Burroughs' Reply:

530 Staples Avenue
San Francisco

August 25, 1931

Mr. Edgar Rice Burroughs
Tarzana Ranch

My dear Mr. Burroughs:

I have something to tell you which I think you will find very amusing.

I am a fourteen year old boy and am a low Junior in High School. Today at school our teacher was discussing "good literature." I asked if Edgar Rice Burroughs was all right for a book report. I knew she'd say "no" (teachers always do) but I didn't expect her to lecture to the class for the whole period about how terrible your books were!

The discussion was as follows (as nearly as I can remember): Teacher speaking: "His first Tarzan book was all right. I'd advise you all to read it. Why when I read it I actually imagined I was a monkey hanging by my tail in a jungle. It was very real. But all his stories since then have been just repitions." I cut in with: "Oh, I don't think so. I've read everyone of 'em and I'm goofy to read every new one that comes out." Well with that she burst into a perfect tirade! "If I were to buy the highest priced box of chocolates obtainable," she said, "and were to offer it to you along with a box of old cheap stuff, which would you take? Why the good candy of course! Yet you'll go to extremes to pick up this horrid literature out of the garbage cans such as Burroughs writes." -- and she went on for hours and hours and hours. I got in a good word for you every chance I could.

Then came the last straw when she said: "Now if he'd write like Verne his stories would be more acceptable. Verne had something. He could write of a submarine, something that didn't exist in his time. He had imagination. Burroughs doesn't." Now I ask you: is Verne's sub. any better example of imagination than your machine that went to the center of the earth? Not as far as I can see!

Another thing: she said she'd be in jungles many times and your conception of them was "all wet", so to speak. She says you don't know what you're talking about. Claims there are no such jungles of trees as Tarzan goes thru and a lot of other nonsence. Who cares about that? All you speak of is real to me. Hawthorne, Cooper and others may have written "Classics", but I'll take one of your fast-moving novels any day to those dead old things that ought to have been buried years ago.

Now, to get off the subject. The first story I ever read by you was "The Mastermind of Mars" in AMAZING STORIES ANNUAL. I read that magnasplendent story when I was living in Hollywood. Shortly after that I moved to San Francisco. Then, for the first time in my life, I went to a library. I asked if any such person as Edgar Rice Burroughs had written any books that were in the library. Well you can imagine my joy when I found you'd written stacks! I grabbed "Chessmen of Mars" and a "Tarzan" book and home I flew. Oh boy! What a time I had for the next year reading your stories. Now I've read every one. I'm trying to save up some money to buy your "Fighting Man of Mars" but I don't seem to be getting anywhere.

I don't expect you'll bother to answer this--maybe you haven't even read it--but anyway will you please autograph the enclosed card and return it to me. Thank you, so much!

And now I'd better sign off. I certainly envy the fellow--if there is such a fellow--that is friendly enough with you to call you Eddie!

Yours very respectfully,

(Signed, 'Forrest J Ackerman')

Forrest J. Ackerman

Burroughs' Reply:

August 27, 1931

Mr. Forrest J. Ackerman
530 Staples Ave.,
San Francisco, California.

My dear Forrest:

Thanks for your letter. Tell your teacher that, though she may be right about my stories, there are some fifty million people in the world who will not agree with her, which is fortunate for me, since even writers of garbage-can literature must eat.

My stories will do you no harm. If they have helped to inculcate in you a love of books, they have done you much good. No fiction is worth reading except for entertainment. If it entertains and is clean, it is good literature, or its kind. If it forms the habit of reading, in people who might not read otherwise, it is the best literature.

Last year I followed the English course prescribed for my two sons, who are in college. The required reading seemed to have been selected for the sole purpose of turning the hearts of young people against books. That, however, seems to be a universal pedagogical complex: to make the acquiring of knowledge a punishment, rather than a pleasure.

Again thanking you for your letter, I am

Very sincerely yours,

(Signed, 'Edgar Rice Burroughs')

Friday, 2 April 2010

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 her loving aunt. Sadly, just six months later, Cassandra's aunt - then a moderately successful novelist - passed away, but soon her work began to attract praise far and wide. 'Enaj Netsua' remains to this day one of the most widely read English-language novelists of all time.

Many thanks to The Morgan Library & Museum who are currently home to this fantastic online exhibition of her work.

Transcript follows, along with the text reversed.


Ym raed Yssac

I hsiw uoy a yppah wen raey. Ruoy xis snisuoc emac ereh yadretsey dna dah hcae a eceip fo ekac. Siht si elttil Yssac’s yadhtrib, dna ehs si eerht sraey dlo. Knarf sah nugeb gninrael Nital. Ew deef eht Nibor yreve gninrom. Yllas netfo seriuqne retfa uoy. Yllas Mahneb sah tog a wen neerg nwog. Teirrah Thgink semoc yreve yad ot daer ot Tnua Ardnassac. Doog eyb ym raed Yssac. Tnua Ardnassac sdnes reh tseb evol, dna os ew od lla.

Ruoy Etanoitceffa Tnua

Enaj Netsua

Notwahc, Naj 6.
My dear Cassy

I wish you a happy new year. Your six cousins came here yesterday and had each a piece of cake. This is little Cassy’s birthday, and she is three years old. Frank has begun learning Latin. We feed the Robin every morning. Sally often enquires after you. Sally Benham has got a new green gown. Harriet Knight comes every day to read to Aunt Cassandra. Good bye my dear Cassy. Aunt Cassandra sends her best love, and so we do all.

Your Affectionate Aunt

Jane Austen

Chawton, Jan 6

Thursday, 1 April 2010

You must know again my reluctance to marry

In May of 1932, 34-year-old pioneering aviatrix Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean following a 14 hour, 56 minute flight from Newfoundland to Northern Ireland in her single engine Lockheed Vega 5B—just one of many aviation records that she broke during a lifetime fuelled by ambition. Earhart was fiercely independent and wanted nothing to block her life’s path, marriage included. A year before that historic flight, on the morning of their wedding, she wrote a letter to her publicist and fiancĂ©, George Putnam—whom she loved dearly—and reiterated her “reluctance to marry.”

The marriage was a happy one, but brief. Tragically, in 1937, Amelia Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe. Her body has never been found.

(Source: Purdue University; Image via.)


The Square House
Church Street

Dear GPP

There are some things which should be writ before we are married -- things we have talked over before -- most of them.

You must know again my reluctance to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work which means most to me. I feel the move just now as foolish as anything I could do. I know there may be compensations but have no heart to look ahead.

On our life together I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any midaevil code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly. If we can be honest I think the difficulties which arise may best be avoided should you or I become interested deeply (or in passing) in anyone else.

Please let us not interfere with the others' work or play, nor let the world see our private joys or disagreements. In this connection I may have to keep some place where I can go to be myself, now and then, for I cannot guarantee to endure at all times the confinements of even an attractive cage.

I must exact a cruel promise and that is you will let me go in a year if we find no happiness together.

I will try to do my best in every way and give you that part of me you know and seem to want.