Thursday, 30 June 2011

Please don't let this go to your head

Early-1980, whilst sitting in an Advanced Chemistry class at Laney High School in North Carolina, a clearly smitten, 18-year-old Michael Jordan wrote the following cheeky letter of apology to then-girlfriend Laquette, after recently making her "look pretty rotten."

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Lelands.

Image: Lelands

Michael Jordan

My Dearest Laquette

How are you and your family doing, fine I hope. I am in my Adv. Chemistry class writing you a letter, so that tell you how much I care for you. I decide to write you because I felt that I made you look pretty rotten after the last night. I want to tell you that I am sorry, and hope that you except my apologie. I know that you feelings was hurt whenever I loss my necklace or had it stolen.

I was really happy when you gave me my honest earn money that I won off the bet. I want to thank you for letting me hold your annual. I show it to everyone at school. Everyone think you are a very pretty young lady and I had to agree because it is very true. Please don't let this go to your head. (smile) I sorry to say that I can't go to the game on my birthday because my father is taking the whole basketball team out to eat on my birthday. Please don't be mad because I am trying get down there a week from Feb. 14. If I do get the chance to come please have some activity for us to do together.

I want you to know that my feeling for you has not change yet. ← (joke) I am finally getting use to going with a girl much smaller than I. I hope you my hint. Well I have spent my time very wisely by write to you. I hope you write back soon. Well I must go, the period is almost over. See you next time around, which I hope comes soon.

With my Best Love

Michael J. Jordan

Wednesday, 29 June 2011


1997: Madonna writes to record producer and longtime collaborator Pat Leonard, and regretfully informs him of her desire to enlist the services of William Orbit to produce the remainder of her latest album, Ray of Light. Her decision to change direction would ultimately prove fruitful, with many critics heralding the finished record as one of her best and her partnership with Orbit as something of a masterstroke.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Julien's.

Image: Julien's

Dear Pat,

Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you. I recieved your letter in NY but I had to leave for Mich, which is where I am right now. I have thought long and hard about what I want to do with our songs, my record, the sound, the vibe etc. I had always intended to do a portion of the record with Nellie Hooper because I like the sound of all of his records and I think he has really good instincts. Then I thought about doing the rest of the record with you not really thinking what the divide would be. This is where my head was at when I left Miami. Then I started thinking about how I didn't want a record that sounds like two different producers worked on it. I allready had that nightmare experience. Then i started leaning towards Nellie doing the whole thing because he's not a song writer and I thought he would treat all songs fairly without favortism and ego involved. I sent all my demos to Nellie to listen to and while he gave it up to a few he made some disturbing remarks about how he was going to have to change the music so much he would want a writers credit. Which of course made me sick. EGO-EGO-EGO!!!! When I was in NY I had to meet with William Orbit which has you know we're trying to do a deal with and he played me more tracks that blew my mind and I mentioned that I would like to write with him and he said he had studio time and why not tomorrow? To make a long story short we ended up doing several tracks together that I absolutely adore and more importantly I love his sound. Suddenly i felt like he knew what direction I wanted to go musically (sonically). I haven't formally asked him to produce my album but I'm going to and I wanted you to know first. I know he will be gobsmacked and humble and eager to please which is not to say that you aren't but I really feel strongly about taking a new direction and William's sound is a complete departure. After making so many records it's what I need to get my blood boiling. I hope you will not be insulted or take offense by this decision. I loved working with you again. You're a brilliant musician/songwriter and I have the utmost respect for you. On top of all that I adore you. You did say you were cool with any decision I made. Obviously if we use any of your programs you will be compensated. I may use a rough vocal or two and I haven't decided if I will use all the songs we wrote. I will keep you posted on everything. I will probably be working all of July and August and September. In any case these are my thoughts for now. I'll be in LA on Monday if you want to write or call.

Take care.



Tuesday, 28 June 2011

I await you Hollywood feverishly

At Long Last LovePeter Bogdanovich's homage to 1930s Hollywood musicals, starring Burt Reynolds and Cybill Shepherd — was famously savaged by critics when released in March of 1975, to the point where it was very quickly pulled from theatres to minimise damage. A response soon materialised from Bogdanovich in the form of the following open letter, printed as a half-page ad in newspapers across the land.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of The L Magazine.

April 1975

In order to suppress my enemies my work will continue to be from one end to the other, a succession of violent, audacious, unfathomable, and subversive wonders that will embrace more mystery, more poetry, more madness, more eroticism, torment, pathos, grandeur, and the cosmology of synthesis because there is no point in bothering to see films that are not sensational!

Thus in accordance with this manifesto of my imaginative autonomy, one could subsequently try to bankrupt systematically the logical meaning of all mechanisms of the rational, practical, and effete form emerging from the 'new' and 'new new' Hollywood who are nothing more than snotty apologists of youth, of revolution, undulation, fossilized excrements of preservation and those who support the collective and therefore opposed to the individual!

I await you Hollywood feverishly,


Josef Bogdanovich

Monday, 27 June 2011

Critics are venomous serpents that delight in hissing

When the movie Gilda was released in 1946 to less-than-stellar reviews, its lead actress, Rita Hayworth, immediately became somewhat dejected. Understandably keen to rebuild the confidence of his biggest star, Columbia Pictures' then-president, Harry Cohn, quickly assembled a list of quotes relating to the supposed uselessness of critics and included them in the following letter.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions, who will be selling the letter in July.


March 19th, 1946

Dear Rita:-

Virginia tells me you were disappointed by a few of the New York reviews. In the first place, you should only be discouraged if they don't notice you - a personality can only be the subject of criticism after they have been the subject of much conversation. And a person is not a personality until they have been the subject of much conversation. In the second place, why would you weigh the opinion of a couple of probably impotent guys against the hundreds who have seen the picture and told you that you were absolutely great?

If you don't believe me on this score, here are some of the opinions of critics from some of the greatest thinkers of all times.

"Critics! - Appalled I venture on the name, these cut-throat bandits in the paths of fame." Robert Burns.

"A poet that fails in writing becomes often a morose critic. The weak and insipid white wine makes at length excellent vinegar." William Shenstone.

"Critics in general are venomous serpents that delight in hissing." W. B. Daniel.

"Reviewers are usually people who would have been poets, historians, biographers, if they could; they have tried their talents at one or the other, and have failed; therefore they turn critics." S. T. Coleridge.

"Reviewers, with some rare exceptions, are a most stupid and malignant race. As a bankrupt thief turns thief-maker in despair, so an unsuccessful author turns critic." P. B. Shelley.

"For critics I care the five-hundred-thousandth part of the tythe of a half-farthing." Charles Lamb.

"He who would write and can't write can surely review." J. R. Lowell.

"Nature, when she invented, manufactured, and patented her authors, contrived to make critics out of the chips that were left." C. W. Holmes.

"The public is the only critic whose opinion is worth anything at all." Mark Twain.

"Insects sting, not in malice, but because the want to live. It is the same with critics: They desire our blood, not our pain." Nietzsche.

"Criticism is easy and art is difficult." Destouches.

"The pleasure of criticism deprives us of that of being deeply moved by beautiful things." Jean de la Bruyere.

"Criticism is a study by which men grow important and formidable at a very small expense." Samuel Johnson.

"They who write ill and they who ne'er dare write, turn critics out of mere revenge and spite." John Dryden.

"Critics are like eunuchs; they can tell you what to do, but they can't do it themselves!" Harry Cohn.

I am very excited by your performance in GILDA. Pretty soon everyone in the country is going to be. You should be dancing in the streets, baby. I am.


Friday, 24 June 2011

There is no way to replace Walt Disney

On December 15th of 1966, less than two months after the discovery of a malignant tumour in his left lung, Walt Disney passed away. Hours later, his brother Roy sent the following memo to all employees of the company.

In the following days, Roy Disney announced the postponement of his retirement; he then spent the next five years overseeing the completion of his brother's latest project, Walt Disney World, which opened in October of 1971. Two months later, Roy Disney passed away.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Samuel; Image of Walt Disney via.)

Image: Samuel

December 15, 1966


The death of Walt Disney is a loss to all the people of the world. In everything he did Walt had an intuitive way of reaching out and touching the hearts and minds of young and old alike. His entertainment was an international language. For more than forty years people have looked to Walt Disney for the finest in family entertainment.

There is no way to replace Walt Disney. He was an extraordinary man. Perhaps there will never be another like him. I know that we who worked at his side for all these years will always cherish the years and the minutes we spent in helping Walt Disney entertain the people of the world. The world will always be a better place because Walt Disney was its master showman.

As President and Chairman of the Board of Walt Disney Productions, I want to assure the public, our stockholders and each of our more than four thousand employees that we will continue to operate Walt Disney's company in the way that he has established and guided it. Walt Disney spent his entire life and almost every waking hour in the creative planning of motion pictures, Disneyland, television shows and all the other diversified activities that have carried his name through the years. Around him Walt Disney gathered the kind of creative people who understood his way of communicating with the public through entertainment. Walt's ways were always unique and he built a unique organization. A team of creative people that he was justifiably proud of.

I think Walt would have wanted me to repeat his words to describe the organization he built over the years. Last October when he accepted the "Showman of the World" award in New York, Walt said, "The Disney organization now has more than four thousand employees. Many have been with us for over thirty years. They take great pride in the organization which they helped to build. Only through the talent, labor and dedication of this staff could any Disney project get off the ground. We all think alike in the ultimate pattern."

Much of Walt Disney's energies had been directed to preparing for this day. It was Walt's wish that when the time came he would have built an organization with the creative talents to carry on as he had established and directed it through the years. Today this organization has been built and we will carry out this wish.

Walt Disney's preparation for the future has a solid, creative foundation. All of the plans for the future that Walt had begun -- new motion pictures, the expansion of Disneyland, television production and our Florida and Mineral King projects -- will continue to move ahead. That is the way Walt wanted it to be.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Keep drawing

This charming letter was written in 2009 by long-serving Viz cartoonist Graham Dury to a young man named Charlie, in response to some cartoons he sent to the comic's offices. For an aspiring artist and fan of the comic to receive such a positive reply — not to mention the nibs and unwanted Roger Mellie doll — must have been quite something.

All in all an admirable response; worth receiving if only for the letterhead.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Charlie Ray.

Image: Charlie Ray | Click here to embiggen



Thanks very much for sending me some of your cartoons. I showed them to everyone in the office and we all thought they were great. And you obviously have fun drawing them.

When I was young, I met a lot of people who told me that drawing cartoons was a waste of time. If you meet any of these people, don't listen to them! You've got a great talent and you should keep it up.

I've sent you a pen holder and some nibs so as you can have a go at drawing some in ink — we usually draw them in pencil first then go over them. But be careful, as the nibs are sharp.

Oh, and I've put you a Roger Mellie doll in as well because we can't sell them.

Best wishes and keep drawing

Graham Dury

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

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 North Pole, and planted it in the youngster's bedroom. From then on, until 1943, Father Christmas never failed to write to all four of Tolkien's children, and with each passing Winter his enchanting stories from the North Pole became more elaborate and character-filled. In 1976 many of the letters and illustrations were compiled and released in book-form; in 2004 a far more comprehensive and beautifully crafted version was published: Letters from Father Christmas; 25th Anniversary edition.

Below is just one of the letters, penned in 1925 and 'sent' to Tolkien's three sons along with the illustration seen above.

Transcript follows.

Cliff House
Top of the World
Near the North Pole

Xmas 1925

My dear boys,

I am dreadfully busy this year — it makes my hand more shaky than ever when I think of it — and not very rich. In fact, awful things have been happening, and some of the presents have got spoilt and I haven't got the North Polar Bear to help me and I have had to move house just before Christmas, so you can imagine what a state everything is in, and you will see why I have a new address, and why I can only write one letter between you both. It all happened like this: one very windy day last November my hood blew off and went and stuck on the top of the North Pole. I told him not to, but the N.P.Bear climbed up to the thin top to get it down — and he did. The pole broke in the middle and fell on the roof of my house, and the N.P.Bear fell through the hole it made into the dining room with my hood over his nose, and all the snow fell off the roof into the house and melted and put out all the fires and ran down into the cellars where I was collecting this year's presents, and the N.P.Bear's leg got broken. He is well again now, but I was so cross with him that he says he won't try to help me again. I expect his temper is hurt, and will be mended by next Christmas. I send you a picture of the accident, and of my new house on the cliffs above the N.P. (with beautiful cellars in the cliffs). If John can't read my old shaky writing (1925 years old) he must get his father to. When is Michael going to learn to read, and write his own letters to me? Lots of love to you both and Christopher, whose name is rather like mine.

That's all. Goodbye.

Father Christmas

Monday, 20 June 2011

You're a schmuck

In October of 1974, to celebrate his post-retirement comeback, 59-year-old Frank Sinatra appeared in a televised concert at Madison Square Garden, New York. Reviews were mixed, but one person who was particularly unkind to Ol' Blue Eyes was critic Rex Reed, who immediately savaged Sinatra's voice, supposed arrogance, and appearance in his syndicated column. He even called Sinatra "Porky Pig."

Below is a brilliant letter sent to Reed in response to his attack, by a good friend of Sinatra's: Jerry Lewis. It was accompanied by the voucher seen above.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Jerry Lewis Comedy.

Jerry Lewis

December 19, 1974


The term "butt out of what isn't any of your business," I think, is a cop-out! Because if you have any least to your fellow man, as saccharine as that sound, but if it's true.....then you must challenge injustice, intolerance and every other ugly individuals attack on any other matter what...or spend the rest of your "weak, gutless and pointless life doing what most people do"...."butting out of what isn't any of their business." the song says....

That's okay for some people, but some people ain't me!

Hence this note.

SUBJECT: Frank Sinatra

REASON: That's what friends are said attacker needs a slap on wrist (take that any way you want!)
From an old movie! (Not necessarily mine) So you can label: "SOUR GRAPES."

Actually, you made it my business when the newspaper that carries your by-line took my hard earned money and made me pay for it! So the following is my opinion, and mine alone....starting with: "the way you write it could be hazardous for your health." Not because you picked on, slandered, and out and out maliciously ripped apart one of America's heros, but because you chose to hide behind the mask of the fourth estate to soothe what was apparently a heavy, deep-rooted hatred..probably motivated by a "turn-down" by Frank for one of your precious tete-a-tete luncheons so you could ask the heavy question: "what brings you to town?" I repeat, Frank Sinatra is an American hero, and has been for longer than you've JUST BEEN.

And not because he did "All Or Nothing At All" with Harry James at the Rustic Cabin in New Jersey....and continued on and did all the things most people in this country dreamed about doing, but never could, and never would do. Consequently, he became their hero who they could identify being the best singer of lyrics that ever lived....didn't hurt anyone either. But all that really had very little to do with the love identifying that prevailed. It actually was provoked by the underlying feeling audiences have had watching and listening to Frank Sinatra perform all of these years. And that feeling came from the mystique of the "man".....a beautiful man, a caring man, a man who made the words "man's man" something to shoot for, or dream about being. Sure, he did some things wrong, except for all the right reasons....reasons like principal, integrity, concern for his fellow man....etc...etc.

"The man that does nothing, makes NO mistakes." Well, what about the things that Sinatra did that benefited more people than most people know about? And when will someone write about the "good stuff" people do? And the only reason no one knows about all the "good stuff" is because he chose to keep it all quiet. Never did he allow any of his people to spread word about dollars to those who were in trouble (more dollars than you'll earn in a few lifetimes.) The shows, benefits, personal out-of-the-pocket contributions to various many cases.....when doing a personal appearance for one of many of those charities, he gave dollars out of his own pocket to help them, plus his work, plus his staff, plus his untiring efforts to get things done for the express purpose of just helping. Can you say that? Can anyone you know say that? You bet your ass you couldn't....and I doubt that there are many that could...or ever will be able to ever come close.

All of the above never really needs to be mentioned...because it doesn't make things any better. You did a hatchet job on another human being, the likes of which I doubt we will ever see again in this lifetime.....and why??? Simply because people like you..that seem harmless and certainly timid enough not to cause too much concern....are dangerous! Yes...dangerous! Because you believe, like so many..."it was yesterday's news" may very well have been yesterday's news, but the stigma that surrounds an attack like that can scare a matter who he is.....a scare that creates pain, un-due soul searching, and mental fatigue...only because no matter who writes a piece like that...the recipient of that shot to the heart must, if he has any feelings at all, react sub-consciously, or otherwise it takes a toll. Because it was a dirty, viscous, unfair attack that cannot be answered, or debated, because Frank has no least he hasn't one that gets reproduced like yours does!!

I guess I could go on and on...and I almost feel stupid trying to get through to the brain of someone who might very well be lacking all of the elements which constitute a brain...but nevertheless, I would have felt remiss if I didn't at least let you know what a schmuck you are, you have been, and how sad I feel for the knowledge that you will never be anything else.

I enclose the quote from a rather terrific man, who said it all years ago.....which makes it even more apparent that people like you have been there before, and will be again....and since that is our ultimate fate, this letter really does no more than ease my inners a little bit.

Until I hear from you, and I doubt that I will (I'm told cowardice never shows its ugly head), I hope this letter find you just as you have been, for that's about as great a retribution I know. You can't escape what you are...or do anything about it.

Unless you wish to use the enclosed gift certificate to Menningers Clinic....just fill it need all you can get.

With sympathy.....

I am, sincerely,

A proud friend of someone you wouldn't ever understand.

Friday, 17 June 2011

I can't look you in the voice

The late, great Dorothy Parker had many strings to her bow. She wrote hundreds of poems and short stories, many of which were published in magazines and books; she was a biting and much-loved book critic for The New Yorker in the late 1920s; in the 1930s, she moved to Hollywood to try her hand at making movies and co-wrote two Academy Award-nominated screenplays; she was also a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table, a legendary group of New York City’s brightest and wittiest writers, columnists and comedians who met each day for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan.

She was also human. In June of 1945, whilst suffering from a bout of writer’s block, she sent this dejected telegram to her editor, Pascal Covici.

(This telegram, 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.)


1945 JUN 28 PM 4 37

NBQ209 78=NUJ NEWYORK NY 28 422P
18 EAST 48 ST=



Thursday, 16 June 2011


[Warning: Extremely Colourful Language Ahead]

This incredible, genuine memo, issued to all Major League Baseball teams in 1898 as part of a documented campaign spearheaded by John Brush to rid the sport of filthy language, was discovered in 2007 amongst the belongings of the late baseball historian Al Kermish, also a respected collector of memorabilia. Essentially an on-field code of conduct, most amusing is that the memo was in fact so expletive-laden and obscene as to be "unmailable" to its intended audience via the postal service, and so was delivered by hand to each of the League's 12 clubs and their foul-mouthed players.

A fascinating document.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Robert Edward Auctions. Enormous thanks to Jaime Stearns.)


In a contest between two leading clubs during the championship season of 1897, the stands being crowded with patrons of the game, a gentleman occupying a seat in the front row near the players' bench, asked one of the visiting players who was going to pitch for them. The player made no reply. He then asked a second time. The gentleman, his wife who sat with him, and others of both sexes, within hearing distance, were outraged upon hearing the player reply in a loud, brutal tone, "Oh, go fuck yourself."

On being remonstrated with by his fellow-players, who told him there were ladies present, he retorted he didn't give a damn, that they had no business there anyhow.

This shocking indecency was brought to the attention of the League at the Philadelphia meeting in November, 1897, and a committee was appointed to report upon this baseball crime, define and suggest for it a remedy.

In response to nearly one hundred communications addressed to umpires, managers and club officials, soliciting definite, positive and personal knowledge of obscene and indecent language upon the ball field, the committee received a deluge of information that was so appalling as to be almost beyond belief, showing conclusively and beyond contradiction that there was urgent need for legislative action on the part of the League.

That such brutal language as "You cock-sucking son of a bitch!" "You prick-eating bastard!" "You cunt-lapping dog!" "Kiss my ass, you son of a bitch!" "A dog must have fucked your mother when she made you!" "I fucked your mother, you sister, your wife!" "I'll make you suck my ass!" "You cock-sucker!" and many other revolting terms are used by a limited number of players to intimidate umpires and opposing players, and are promiscuously used upon the ball field, is vouched for by the almost unanimous assertion of those invited to speak, and who are competent to speak from personal knowledge. Whether it be the language quoted above, or some other indecent and infamous invention of depravity, the League is pledged to remove it from the ball field, whether it necessitates the removal of the offender for a day or for all time. Any indecent or obscene word, sentence, or expression, unfit for print or the human ear, whether mentioned in these instructions or not, is contemplated under the law and within its intent and meaning, and will be dealt with without fear or favor when the fact is established by conclusive proof.

By Order of the Committee.

[UNMAILABLE. Must be forwarded by Express]

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Gee whiz, that master alarm certainly startled me

Whilst working as "Chief of Apollo Data Priority Coordination" during the Apollo space program — or, as Gene Kranz fondly labelled him, "pretty much the architect for all of the techniques that we used to go down to the surface of the Moon" — NASA engineer Bill Tindall was renowned within the agency for the informal tone of the incredibly important internal memos he sent during his tenure. So much so that these "Tindallgrams" have been circulating amongst enthusiasts ever since, and can be found, in PDF format, at the collectSPACE website.

Below is just one of the hundreds he sent. It was written in November of 1968, just eight months prior to the Apollo 11 spaceflight, and saw Tindall amusingly bring to light a potentially startling problem relating to the Lunar Module.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of collectSPACE. Huge thanks to Mike Harney for bringing it to my attention.

Image: collectSPACE


DATE: November 25, 1968

TO: See list attached
FROM: PA/Chief, Apollo Data Priority Coordination
SUBJECT: LM DPS low level light fixing

I think this will amuse you. It's something that came up the other day during a Descent Abort Mission Mission Techniques meeting.

As you know, there is a light on the LM dashboard that comes on when there is about two minutes worth of propellent remaining in the DPS tanks with the engine operating at quarter thrust. This is to give the crew an indication of how much time they have left to perform the landing or to abort out of there. It compliments the propellant gauges. The present LM weight and descent trajectory is such that this light will always come on prior to touchdown. This signal, it turns out, is connected to the master alarm - how about that! In other words, just at the most critical time in the most critical operation of a perfectly nominal lunar landing mission, the master alarm with all its lights, bells, and whistles will go off. This sounds right lousy to me. In fact, Pete Conrad tells me he labeled it completely unacceptable four or five years ago, but he was probably just an Ensign at the time and apparently no one paid any attention. If this is not fixed, I predict the first words uttered by the first astronaut to land on the moon will be "Gee whiz, that master alarm certainly startled me."

As I understand it, cutting the wire to the master alarm eliminates the low level sensor too. If nothing else can be done, this should be and we'll get along just using the propellent gauges without the light. If possible, a better fix would be to cut the wire on both sides of the master alarm and jumper the signal to the light only.

Incidentally, on the D mission the propellent levels will be low enough when we get to the DPS rendezvous maneuvers - Phasing and Insertion - that if this system is activated prior to ullage, the master alarm will likely go off. I guess it will be standard procedure to punch it off if that happens. But, where this is just an annoyance on D, it is dangerous on G.


Howard W. Tindall, Jr.

PA:HWTindall, Jr.:js

Monday, 13 June 2011

And then...silence

Dear All,

In a move which thankfully won't affect the vast majority of you, I have today disabled comments on Letters of Note. Permanently.

All complaints should be directed towards a section of society to whom the concept of even vaguely civil discussion means nothing. This collective waste of flesh, bone, and dangerously limited brain function have caused me to dread opening each and every "New Comment" notification I've received over the past twelve months or so, to the point where I now cannot continue justifying the moderation of these imbecilic, repugnant grunts when it takes up such an inordinate amount of my willpower and, more importantly, time. I'd rather spend my hours happily expanding the archives of Letters of Note than clean up after a keyboard-wielding gaggle of cowardly, dim-witted, knuckle-dragging reprobates who have nothing better to do than gleefully splash their fetid saliva all over my efforts and then roll around in the puddle until I'm able to press "Delete Comment." I refuse to waste another minute.

As is always the case, this was a small (but fast growing) percentage of readers, and I'd like to thank those of you who have been nothing but polite, constructive, and often insightful when joining in with on-site discussions in the past; because of you there were (and still are — I will decide how best to archive them in the near future) some genuinely valuable comment threads to be found in these parts. Even so, I simply cannot afford to continue mopping up after the trolls who crawl among us, itching to bring down the tone at every available opportunity.

This certainly doesn't signal the end of discussion. In future, should you wish to talk to me about anything relating to either a particular letter or the website as a whole, by all means email me and hang on for a reply. Alternatively, join in the discussion on Twitter where I can be found most days and am much more likely to respond in a quicker fashion, albeit in shorter bursts. I'd be delighted to hear from you.

Now, back to those letters.



Twitter: @LettersOfNote

Friday, 10 June 2011

Immortal Beloved

After his death in 1827, the following love letter was found amongst the personal papers of Ludwig van Beethoven, penned by the composer over the course of two days in July of 1812 while staying in Teplice. The letter's unnamed recipient — Beethoven's "Immortal Beloved" — remains a mystery, and continues to generate debate.

Below are images of the first and last of the letter's ten pages. A full translated transcript follows.

(Source: Pan Macmillan; Image of Beethoven via Wikipedia.)

6 July, morning

My angel, my all, my own self — only a few words today, and that too with pencil (with yours) — only till tomorrow is my lodging definitely fixed. What abominable waste of time in such things — why this deep grief, where necessity speaks?

Can our love persist otherwise than through sacrifices, than by not demanding everything? Canst thou change it, that thou are not entirely mine, I not entirely thine? Oh, God, look into beautiful Nature and compose your mind to the inevitable. Love demands everything and is quite right, so it is for me with you, for you with me — only you forget so easily, that I must live for you and for me — were we quite united, you would notice this painful feeling as little as I should . . .

. . . We shall probably soon meet, even today I cannot communicate my remarks to you, which during these days I made about my life — were our hearts close together, I should probably not make any such remarks. My bosom is full, to tell you much — there are moments when I find that speech is nothing at all. Brighten up — remain my true and only treasure, my all, as I to you. The rest the gods must send, what must be for us and shall.

Your faithful


Monday evening, 6 July

You suffer, you, my dearest creature. Just now I perceive that letters must be posted first thing early. Mondays — Thursdays — the only days, when the post goes from here to K. You suffer — oh! Where I am, you are with me, with me and you, I shall arrange that I may live with you. What a life!

So! Without you — pursued by the kindness of the people here and there, whom I mean — to desire to earn just as little as they earn — humility of man towards men — it pains me — and when I regard myself in connection with the Universe, what I am, and what he is — whom one calls the greatest — and yet — there lies herein again the godlike of man. I weep when I think you will probably only receive on Saturday the first news from me — as you too love — yet I love you stronger — but never hide yourself from me. Good night — as I am taking the waters, I must go to bed. Oh God — so near! so far! Is it not a real building of heaven, our Love — but as firm, too, as the citadel of heaven.

Good morning, on 7 July

Even in bed my ideas yearn towards you, my Immortal Beloved, here and there joyfully, then again sadly, awaiting from Fate, whether it will listen to us. I can only live, either altogether with you or not at all. Yes, I have determined to wander about for so long far away, until I can fly into your arms and call myself quite at home with you, can send my soul enveloped by yours into the realm of spirits — yes, I regret, it must be. You will get over it all the more as you know my faithfulness to you; never another one can own my heart, never — never! O God, why must one go away from what one loves so, and yet my life in W. as it is now is a miserable life. Your love made me the happiest and unhappiest at the same time. At my actual age I should need some continuity, sameness of life — can that exist under our circumstances? Angel, I just hear that the post goes out every day — and must close therefore, so that you get the L. at once. Be calm — love me — today — yesterday.

What longing in tears for you — You — my Life — my All — farewell. Oh, go on loving me — never doubt the faithfullest heart

Of your beloved


Ever thine.
Ever mine.
Ever ours.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

I cannot remain silent

April 29th, 1865: Queen Victoria, still grieving and "utterly broken-hearted" following the death of Prince Albert four years previous, writes an empathetic letter of condolence to Mary Todd Lincoln following the recent assassination of her husband, Abraham Lincoln.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

April 29, 1865

Dear Madam,

Though a Stranger to you I cannot remain silent when so terrible a calamity has fallen upon you & your Country & must personally express my deep & heartfelt sympathy with you under the shocking circumstances of your present dreadful misfortune —

No one can better appreciate than I can, who am myself utterly broken-hearted by the loss of my own beloved Husband, who was the Light of my Life, — my Stay — my all, — what your sufferings must be; and I earnestly pray that you may be supported by Him to whom Alone the sorely stricken can look for comfort, in this hour of heavy affliction.

With the renewed Expression of true sympathy, I remain,

dear Madam,

Your Sincere friend

Victoria Rg

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Your ever gracious tenant, Bruce Springsteen

Early-1975, just months before the release of Born to Run — the breakthrough album that would see him almost immediately catapulted to mega-stardom — Bruce Springsteen was hand-writing apologetic notes to his "landlordess," Marilyn Rocky, due to late rent payments. The autograph practice was soon put to good use as, according to Marilyn, by August of that year the house in Long Branch, New Jersey, "was under siege" as a result of her tenant's newfound fame.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Terry Burr.

Image: Terry Burr

Dear Landlordess,

This is the only water bill I have. I think there was one other one but it wasn't much and I took care of it myself. Anyway they haven't sent any notices so I guess it's O.K.

Sorry if the rent is late this month but I forgot to tell the office in N.Y. that they were gonna send it out. If you don't have it now it's in the mail and should arrive tomorrow or the next day.

Your ever gracious tenant

Bruce Springsteen

P.S. Do you like this classy writin' paper?

P.S.S. I'm practicing my autograph. Whadya think?

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

It is a good thing to be laughed at

Although tame by today's standards, when it was first aired by the BBC in 1962, the late-night satirical TV show That Was The Week That Was broke new ground as its incredibly talented cast and crew mocked the political establishment in a manner previously unseen on television, live to millions of viewers. Unsurprisingly, the reaction from some was heated. Immediately after the first episode was broadcast, Reginald Bevins — then-Postmaster General and minister in charge of broadcasting — angrily informed enquiring journalists, "I'm going to do something about this." Unfortunately for him, then-Prime Minister Harold Macmillan — a regular target of the show — didn't share his opinion, and quickly sent him the following memo.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of the National Archives.

Broadcasting (Gen)

Admiralty House
Whitehall. S.W.1

Post Master General

I hope you will not repeat not take any action about "That was the week that was" without consulting me.

It is a good thing to be laughed at.

It is better than to be ignored.



Monday, 6 June 2011

You are directly responsible for the loss of our son's life

The following angry letter was sent to then-U.S. President Harry Truman in 1953 by the father of George Banning, a young soldier who had recently been killed whilst serving in the Korean War. When Truman passed away 20 years later, this letter was discovered in his desk along with Banning's posthumously awarded Purple Heart.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of the Truman Library.

Nursery Rd
New Canaan

Mr. Truman

As you have been directly responsible for the loss of our son's life in Korea, you might just as well keep this emblem on display in your trophy room, as a memory of one of your historic deeds.

Our major regret at this time is that your daughter was not there to receive the same treatment as our son received in Korea.


William Banning

Friday, 3 June 2011

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 including religion, marriage, superstition, and money. A wonderful letter.

It's also worth noting that this letter is featured in the equally delightful, highly recommended book, Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of the Archives of American Art.

Image: AAA


December 2nd 1927

Dear Charles:-

A few notes:

1. I bought some brown shoes six or eight years ago, and have worn them off and on ever since. I have also taken to brown oxfords.

2. I have now seen about twelve movies, four or five of them to the end. I liked them all pretty well, but am not tempted to go back.

3. My favorite drinks, in order, are: beer in any form, Moselle, Burgundy, Chianti, gin and ginger-beer, and rye whiskey. I use Swedish punch only as a cocktail flavor. I dislike Scotch, and seldom drink it. It makes me vaguely uneasy. I also dislike Rhine wine, save the very best. I never have a head-ache from drink. It fetches me by giving me pains in the legs. When I get stewed I go to sleep, even in the presence of women and clergymen.

4. Curiously enough, I greatly dislike the common American dirty stories, and avoid the men who tell them habitually. They seem dull to me. I love the obscene, but it must have wit in it.

5. As for politics, I always go to national conventions, and have missed very few in 28 years.

6. Of my inventions I am vainest of Bible Belt, booboisie, smuthound and Boobus americanus.

7. I have been in the Johns Hopkins Hospital but once, and then it was for medicine, not for surgery. I think all of the Baltimore hospitals are good, but prefer those run by nuns.

8. I changed my collar to a lower level two years ago.

9. I never use mullen on my hair. Nothing but soap and water ever touches it. George has gone gray greasing his hair.

10. I believe in marriage, and have whooped it up for years. It is the best solution, not only of the sex question, but also of the living question. I mean for the normal man. My own life has been too irregular for it: I have been to much engrossed in other things. But any plausible gal who really made up her mind to it could probably fetch me, even today. If I ever marry, it will be on a sudden impulse, as a man shoots himself. I'll regret it bitterly for about a month, and then settle down contentedly.

11. I believe in and advocate monogamy. Adultery is hitting below the belt. If I ever married the very fact that the woman was my wife would be sufficient to convince me that she was superior to all other women. My vanity is excessive. Wherever I sit is the head of the table. This fact makes me careless of ordinary politeness. I don't like to be made much of. Such things please only persons who are doubtful about their position. I was sure of mine, such as it is, at the age of 12.

12. Pilsner should be in Roman type, and begin with a capital.

13. I usually lie to women. They expect it, and it is pleasant to watch them trying to detect it. They seldom succeed. Women have a hard time in this world. Telling them the truth would be too cruel.

14. I am completely devoid of religious feeling. All religions seem ridiculous to me, and in bad taste. I do not believe in the immortality of the soul, nor in the soul. Ecclesiastics seem to me to be simply men who get their livings by false pretenses. Like all rogues, they are occasionally very amusing.

15. I can't get rid of certain superstitions, and suspect that there must be some logical basis for them. My mother and father both died on the 13th.

16. I am always in trouble around Christmas, and usually about a woman. The fact makes me dread the season.

17. I have another superstition: that all men who try to injure me die. I happens almost invariably. Of the six bitterest enemies I had two years ago, five are dead, all suddenly and unexpectedly.

18. My belief is that happiness is necessarily transient. The natural state of a reflective man is one of depression. The world is a botch. Women can make men perfectly happy, but they seldom know how to do it. They make too much effort: they overlook the powerful effect of simple amiability. Women are also the cause of the worst kind of unhappines

19. I have little belief in human progress. The human race is incurably idiotic. It will never be happy.

20. I believe the United States will blow up within a century.

21. Being an American seems amusing to me, but not exhilirating. But I am very proud of the fact that I am a native and citizen of the Maryland Free State. I like to believe that I have had a hand in keeping it free.

22. I hope to write at least one good book before I die. Those that I have done are all transient and trivial: they will be forgotten in 25 years. I have ideas for five good books, but shall be content if I manage to write one.

23. I live pretty well, but am careful about money, and greatly dislike extravagant persons. I believe that it is discreditable to be needy. Economic independence is the foundation of the only sort of freedom worth a damn.

24. Most people regard me as very energetic. I am actually very lazy, and never work when I don't want to. On most days I take a nap. I also take frequent short holidays. But I dislike long ones.

25. I drink exactly as much as I want, and one drink more.

26. I never lecture, not because I am a bad speaker, but simply because I detest the sort of people who go to lectures, and don't want to meet them. So with the fools who go to public dinners.

27. I have been reported engaged during the past year to six women. It consoles me to reflect that all were charming, and that all save five were beautiful. The total net worth ran to $2500.

28. I dislike receiving presents, and never accept them if I can get out of it. But I like giving them to women and children. Many a worthy gal has lost a handsome beau by giving me something nifty.

29. My apologies for inflicting so long a letter upon you.


(Signed, 'Mencken')

Thursday, 2 June 2011

You are an "eight ulcer man on four ulcer pay."

On the evening of December 5th, 1950, a carefully selected 3500-strong audience filled Washington's Constitution Hall to witness a singing performance by Margaret Truman, the only child of then-U.S. President Harry Truman (also in attendance), and, despite the generally held consensus that her singing talents were lacking, a wave of positive reaction greeted her after the concert. One person who refused to feign delight was the Washington Post's music critic, Paul Hume, whose honest review the next morning contained the following:
Miss Truman is a unique American phenomenon with a pleasant voice of little size and fair quality [...] Miss Truman cannot sing very well. She is flat a good deal of the time - more last night than at any time we have heard her in past years [...] There are few moments during her recital when one can relax and feel confident that she will make her goal, which is the end of the song [...] Miss Truman has not improved in the years we have heard her; she still cannot sing with anything approaching professional finish. She communicates almost nothing of the music she presents.
The President was livid, and instantly fired off the following threatening letter to Hume. The next day it was front page news.

Transcript follows.

(Source: "Florence"; Image above, via.)


Dec. 6. 1950

Mr. Hume:-

I've just read your lousy review of Margaret's concert. I've come to the conclusion that you are an "eight ulcer man on four ulcer pay."

It seems to me that you are a frustrated old man who wishes he could have been successful. When you write such poppy-cock as was in the back section of the paper you work for it shows conclusively that you're off the beam and at least four of your ulcers are at work.

Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!

Pegler, a gutter snipe, is a gentleman alongside you. I hope you'll accept that statement as a worse insult than a reflection on your ancestry.


Wednesday, 1 June 2011

May I suggest that Mr. Bond be armed with a revolver?

Late-May of 1956, James Bond author Ian Fleming received a politely critical letter from a firearms expert named Geoffrey Boothroyd. It began:
I have, by now, got rather fond of Mr. James Bond. I like most of the things about him, with the exception of his rather deplorable taste in firearms. In particular, I dislike a man who comes into contact with all sorts of formidable people using a .25 Beretta. This sort of gun is really a lady's gun, and not a really nice lady at that. If Mr. Bond has to use a light gun he would be better off with a .22 rim fire; the lead bullet would cause more shocking effect than the jacketed type of the .25.

May I suggest that Mr. Bond be armed with a revolver?
Boothroyd's long letter continued in a similar vein, filled with incredibly detailed weaponry suggestions for 007. Fleming, delighted to be furnished with such expert advice, immediately replied with the letter seen below, and, as a result of their subsequent correspondence, equipped Bond with a Walther PPK in the novel Dr. No. And the name of Bond's new armourer? Major Boothroyd.

Update: The BBC have footage of Boothroyd talking about this very exchange, introduced by Sean Connery. (Thanks, Simon!)

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Bloomsbury Auctions.

(The copyright in this letter is owned by the Ian Fleming Estate and is reproduced here with the Estate's permission. Further use of the letter is not permitted without the Estate's express permission.)


31st May, 1956

Dear Mr Boothroyd,

I really am most grateful for your splendid letter of May 23rd.

You have entirely convinced me and I propose, perhaps not in the next volume of James Bond's memoirs but, in the subsequent one, to change his weapons in accordance with your instructions.

Since I am not in the habit of stealing another man's expertise, I shall ask you in due course to accept remuneration for your most valuable technical aid.

Incidentally, can you suggest where I can see a .38 Airweight in London. Who would have one?

As a matter of interest, how do you come to know so much about these things? I was delighted with the photographs and greatly impressed by them. If ever there is talk of making films of some of James Bond's stories in due course, I shall suggest to the company concerned that they might like to consult you on some technical aspects. But they may not take my advice, so please do not set too much store by this suggestion.

From the style of your writing it occurs to me that you may have written books or articles on these subjects. Is that so?

Bond has always admitted to me that the .25 Beretta was not a stopping gun, and he places much more reliance on his accuracy with it than in any particular qualities of the gun itself. As you know, one gets used to a gun and it may take some time for him to settle down with the Smith and Wesson. But I think M. should advise him to make a change; as also in the case of the .357 Magnum.

He also agrees to give a fair trial to the Bern Martin holster, but he is inclined to favour something a little more casual and less bulky. The well-worn chamois leather pouch under his left arm has become almost a part of his clothes and he will be loath to make a change though, here again, M. may intervene.

At the present moment Bond is particularly anxious for expertise on the weapons likely to be carried by Russian agents and I wonder if you have any information on this.

As Bond's biographer I am most anxious to see that he lives as long as possible and I shall be most grateful for any further technical advices you might like me to pass on to him.

Again, with very sincere thanks for your extremely helpful and workmanlike letter.

Yours sincerely



G. Boothroyd, Esq.,
17, Regent Park Square,
Glasgow, S