Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A book is like a man

During the nine months of 1951 that saw him working on his novel, East of Eden, author John Steinbeck began each day of writing by penning, in his notebook, a brief letter to his editor and good friend, Pascal "Pat" Covici. Early-1952, with the book finished, Steinbeck wrote him a final letter — a dedication to Covici in which he spoke of the frustrations and insecurities faced by an author during such a process. It can be read below.

(Source: Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters; Image: John Steinbeck, via.)

New York

Dear Pat:

I have decided for this, my book, East of Eden, to write dedication, prologue, argument, apology, epilogue and perhaps epitaph all in one.

The dedication is to you with all the admiration and affection that have been distilled from our singularly blessed association of many years. This book is inscribed to you because you have been part of its birth and growth.

As you know, a prologue is written last but placed first to explain the book's shortcomings and to ask the reader to be kind. But a prologue is also a note of farewell from the writer to his book. For years the writer and his book have been together—friends or bitter enemies but very close as only love and fighting can accomplish.

Then suddenly the book is done. It is a kind of death. This is the requiem.

Miguel Cervantes invented the modem novel and with his Don Quixote set a mark high and bright. In his prologue, he said best what writers feel—the gladness and the terror.

"Idling reader," Cervantes wrote, "you may believe me when I tell you that I should have liked this book, which is the child of my brain, to be the fairest, the sprightliest and the cleverest that could be imagined, but I have not been able to contravene the law of nature which would have it that like begets like—"

And so it is with me, Pat. Although some times I have felt that I held fire in my hands and spread a page with shining—I have never lost the weight of clumsiness, of ignorance, of aching inability.

A book is like a man—clever and dull, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly. For every flowering thought there will be a page like a wet and mangy mongrel, and for every looping flight a tap on the wing and a reminder that wax cannot hold the feathers firm too near the sun.

Well—then the book is done. It has no virtue any more. The writer wants to cry out—"Bring it back! Let me rewrite it or better—Let me burn it. Don't let it out in the unfriendly cold in that condition."

As you know better than most, Pat, the book does not go from writer to reader. It goes first to the lions—editors, publishers, critics, copy readers, sales department. It is kicked and slashed and gouged. And its bloodied father stands attorney.

The book is out of balance. The reader expects one thing and you give him something else. You have written two books and stuck them together. The reader will not understand.

No, sir. It goes together. I have written about one family and used stories about another family as—well, as counterpoint, as rest, as contrast in pace and color.

The reader won't understand. What you call counterpoint only slows the book.

It has to be slowed—else how would you know when it goes fast?

You have stopped the book and gone into discussions of God knows what.

Yes, I have. I don't know why. Just wanted to. Perhaps I was wrong.

The book's too long. Costs are up. We'll have to charge five dollars for it. People won't pay $5. They won't buy it.

My last book was short. You said then that people won't buy a short book.

The chronology is full of holes. The grammar has no relation to English. On page so-and-so you have a man look in the World Almanac for steamship rates. They aren't there. I checked. You've got Chinese New Year wrong. The characters aren't consistent. You describe Liza Hamilton one way and then have her act a different way.

You make Cathy too black. The reader won't believe her. You make Sam Hamilton too white. The reader won't believe him. No Irishman ever talked like that.

My grandfather did.

Who'll believe it?

No children ever talked like that.

(Losing temper as a refuge from despair)
God damn it. This is my book. I'll make the children talk any way I want. My book is about good and evil. Maybe the theme got into the execution. Do you want to publish it or not?

Let's see if we can't fix it up. It won't be much work. You want it to be good, don't you? For instance the ending. The reader won't understand it.

Do you?

Yes, but the reader won't.

My god, how you do dangle a participle. Turn to page so-and-so.

There you are, Pat. You came in with a box of glory and there you stand with an armful of damp garbage. And from this meeting a new character has emerged. He is called the Reader.

He is so stupid you can't trust him with an idea.
He is so clever he will catch you in the least error.
He will not buy short books.
He will not buy long books.
He is part moron, part genius and part ogre.
There is some doubt as to whether he can read.

Well, by God, Pat, he's just like me, no stranger at all. He'll take from my book what he can bring to it. The dull witted will get dullness and the brilliant may find things in my book I didn't know were there.

And just as he is like me, I hope my book is enough like him so that he may find in it interest and recognition and some beauty as one finds in a friend.

Cervantes ends his prologue with a lovely line. I want to use it, Pat, and then I will be done. He says to the reader:

"May God give you health—and may He be not unmindful of me, as well."

John Steinbeck

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Will you please have his place raided?

In September of 1931, with the sale of alcohol still banned in the U.S. due to prohibition, a frustrated housewife named Mrs. Hillyer wrote the following letter to the Seattle Bureau of Prohibition.

Transcript follows.

(Source: National Archives; Image above via.)

Seattle, Wash.
Sept. 22, 1931

Dear Sir:

My husband is in the habit of buying a quart of wiskey every other day from a Chinese bootlegger named Chin Waugh living at 317-16th near Alder street.

We need this money for household expenses. Will you please have his place raided? He keeps a supply planted in the garden and a smaller quantity under the back steps for quick delivery. If you make the raid at 9:30 any morning you will be sure to get the goods and Chin also as he leaves the house at 10 o'clock and may clean up before he goes.

Thanking you in advance,

I remain
yours truly,

Mrs. Hillyer

Monday, 27 February 2012

Deep sickness seized me

In October of 1819, 23-year-old schoolteacher Lucy Thurston and her husband, Asa, left their home in Massachusetts to become members of the first expedition of Christian missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands. Their efforts were welcomed, and for the rest of their lives they educated the locals, helped to build schools and churches, and even translated the Bible. In 1855, 36 years after arriving, and by which time they had five children, Lucy Thurston developed cancer and had no option but to undergo a mastectomy to remove her left breast, an already distressing procedure further worsened by the fact that she was to endure the operation wide-awake, without any form of anaesthetic. A month later, she wrote a letter to her daughter and described the unimaginably harrowing experience. Thankfully, the procedure was a success: Lucy Thurston lived for another 21 years.

Letter taken from the Letters of Note book. More info and reviews can be found here.

(Image: Asa and Lucy Thurston, c.1848, via Wikimedia.)

October 29, 1855

My Dear Daughter Mary:

I have hitherto forborne to write respecting the surgical operation I experienced in September, from an expectation that you would be with us so soon. That is now given up; so I proceed to give a circumstantial account of those days of peculiar discipline. At the end of the General Meeting in June your father returned to Kailua, leaving me at Honolulu, in Mr. Taylor's family, under Dr. Ford's care. Dr. Hillebrand was called in counsel. During the latter part of August they decided on the use of the knife. Mr. Thurston was sent for to come down according to agreement should such be the result. I requested him to bring certain things which I wished, in case I no more returned to Kailua. Tremendous gales of wind were now experienced. One vessel was wrecked within sight of Kailua. Another, on her way there, nearly foundered, and returned only to be condemned. In vain we looked for another conveyance. Meantime, the tumor was rapidly altering. It had nearly approached the surface, exhibiting a dark spot. Should it become an open ulcer, the whole system would become vitiated with its malignity. Asa said he should take no responsibility of waiting the arrival of his father. Persis felt the same. Saturday P.M., the doctors met in consultation, and advised an immediate operation. The next Thursday (12th of September), ten o'clock A.M., was the hour fixed upon. In classifying, the Dr. placed this among "capital operations." Both doctors advised not to take chloroform because of my having had the paralysis. I was glad they allowed me the use of my senses. Persis offered me her parlor, and Asa his own new bridal room for the occasion. But I preferred the retirement and quietude of the grass-thatched cottage. Thomas, with all his effects moved out of it into a room a few steps off. The house was thoroughly cleaned and prettily fitted up. One lady said it seemed as though it had been got up by magic. Monday, just at night, Dr. Ford called to see that all was in readiness. There were two lounges trimmed, one with white, the other with rose-colored mosquito netting. There was a reclining Chinese chair, a table for the instruments, a wash-stand with wash bowls, sponges, and pails of water. There was a frame with two dozen towels, and a table of choice stimulants and restoratives. One more table with the Bible and hymn book.

That night I spent in the house alone for the first time. The family had all retired for the night. In the still hour of darkness, I long walked back and forth in the capacious door-yard. Depraved, diseased, helpless, I yielded myself up entirely to the will, the wisdom, and the strength of the Holy One. At peace with myself, with earth, and with heaven, I calmly laid my head upon my pillow and slept refreshingly. A bright day opened upon us. My feelings were natural, cheerful, elevated. I took the Lord at his own word: "As the day is, so shall thy strength be." There with an unwavering heart, I leaned for strength and support. Before dressing for the occasion, I took care to call on Ellen, who had then an infant a week old by her side. It was a cheerful call, made in a common manner, she not being acquainted with the movements of the day. I then prepared myself for the professional call. Dr. Judd was early on the ground. I went with him to Asa's room, where with Asa and Sarah we sat and conversed till other medical men rode up. Dr. Judd rose to go out. I did the same. Asa said: "You had better not go, you are not wanted yet." I replied: "I wish to be among the first on the ground, to prevent its coming butt end first." On reaching my room. Dr. Ford was there. He introduced me to Dr. Hoffman of Honolulu, and to Dr. Brayton of an American Naval ship, then in port. The instruments were then laid out upon the table. Strings were prepared for tying arteries. Needles threaded for sewing up the wound. Adhesive plasters were cut into strips, bandages produced, and the Chinese chair placed by them in the front double door. Everything was now in readiness, save the arrival of one physician. All stood around the house or in the piazza. Dr. Ford, on whom devolved the responsibility, paced the door-yard. I stood in the house with others, making remarks on passing occurrences. At length I was invited to sit. I replied: "As I shall be called to lie a good while, I had rather now stand." Dr. Brayton, as he afterwards said, to his utter astonishment found that the lady to be operated on was standing in their midst.

Dr. Hillebrand arrived. It was a signal for action. Persis and I stepped behind a curtain. I threw off my cap and dressing gown, and appeared with a white flowing skirt, with the white bordered shawl purchased in 1818, thrown over my shoulders. I took my seat in the chair. Persis and Asa stood at my right side; Persis to hand me restoratives; Asa to use his strength, if self-control were wanting. Dr. Judd stood at my left elbow for the same reason; my shawl was thrown off, exhibiting my left arm, breast and side, perfectly bare. Dr. Ford showed me how I must hold back my left arm to the greatest possible extent, with my hand taking a firm hold of the arm of my chair: with my right hand, I took hold of the right arm, with my feet I pressed against the foot of the chair. Thus instructed, and everything in readiness. Dr. Ford looked me full in the face, and with great firmness asked: "Have you made up your mind to have it cut out?" "Yes, sir." "Are you ready now?" "Yes, sir; but let me know when you begin, that I may be able to bear it. Have you your knife in that hand now?" He opened his hand that I might see it, saying, "I am going to begin now." Then came a gash long and deep, first on one side of my breast, then on the other. Deep sickness seized me, and deprived me of my breakfast. This was followed by extreme faintness. My sufferings were no longer local. There was a general feeling of agony throughout the whole system. I felt, every inch of me, as though flesh was failing. During the whole operation, I was enabled to have entire self control over my person, and over my voice. Persis and Asa were devotedly employed in sustaining me with the use of cordials, ammonia, bathing my temples, etc. I myself fully intended to have seen the thing done. But on recollection, every glimpse I happened to have, was the doctor's right hand completely covered with blood, up to the very wrist. He afterwards told me, that at one time the blood from an artery flew into is eyes, so that he could not see. It was nearly an hour and a half that I was beneath his hand, in cutting out the entire breast, in cutting out the glands beneath the arm, in tying the arteries, in absorbing the blood, in sewing up the wound, in putting on the adhesive plasters, and in applying the bandage.

The views and feelings of that hour are now vivid to my recollection. It was during the cutting process that I began to talk. The feeling that I had reached a different point from those by whom I was surrounded, inspired me with freedom. It was thus that I expressed myself. "It has been a great trial to my feelings that Mr. Thurston is not here. But it is not necessary. So many friends, and Jesus Christ besides. His left hand is underneath my head, His right hand sustains and embraces me. I am willing to suffer. I am willing to die. I am not afraid of death. I am not afraid of hell. I anticipate a blessed immortality. Tell Mr. Thurston my peace flows like a river.

"Upward I lift mine eyes.
From God is all my aid:
The God that built the skies,
And earth and nature made.

God is the tower
To which I fly;
His grace is nigh
In every hour."

God disciplines me, but He does it with a gentle hand. At one time I said, "I know you will bear with me." Asa replied, "I think it is you that have to bear from us."

The doctor, after removing the entire breast, said to me, "I want to cut yet more, round under your arm." I replied, "Do just what you want to do, only tell me when, so that I can bear it." One said the wound had the appearance of being more than a foot long. Eleven arteries were taken up. After a beginning had been made in sewing it up, Persis said: "Mother, the doctor makes as nice a seam as you ever made in your life." "Tell me, Persis, when he is going to put in the needle, so that I can bear it." "Now—now—now," etc. "Yes, tell me. That is a good girl." Ten stitches were taken, two punctures at every stitch, one on either side. When the whole work was done, Dr. Ford and Asa removed my chair to the back side of the room, and laid me on the lounge. Dr. Brayton came to my side, and taking me by the hand said: "There is not one in a thousand who would have borne it as you have done."

Up to this time, everything is fresh to my recollection. Of that afternoon and night, I only remember that the pain in the wound was intense and unremitting, and that I felt willing to be just in the circumstances in which I was placed. I am told that Dr. Ford visited me once in the afternoon, and once in the night, that Persis and Asa took care of me, that it seemed as if I suffered nearly as much as during the operation, and that my wound was constantly wet with cold water. I have since told Persis, that "I thought they kept me well drugged with paregoric." He replied, "We did not give you a drop." "Why then do I not remember what took place?" "Because you had so little life about you." By morning light the pain had ceased. Surgeons would understand the expression, that the wound healed by a "union of the first intention."

The morning again brought to my mind a recollection of events. I was lying on my lounge, feeble and helpless. I opened my eyes and saw the light of day. Asa was crossing the room bearing a Bible before him. He sat down near my couch, read a portion, and then prayed.

For several days, I had long sinking turns of several hours. Thursday night, the third of suffering, Thomas rode nearly two miles to the village for the Dr., once in the fore part of the evening, again at eleven. At both times he came. At two o'clock he unexpectedly made his third call that night. It was at his second call that he said to Persis: "In the morning make your mother some chicken soup. She has starved long enough." (They had been afraid of fever.) Persis immediately aroused Thomas, had a chicken caught, a fire made, and a soup under way that same midnight hour. The next day, Friday, I was somewhat revived by the use of wine and soup. In the afternoon, your father arrived. It was the first time since the operation, that I felt as if I had life enough to endure the emotion of seeing him. He left Kailua the same day the operation was performed. A vessel was passing in sight of Kailua. He rowed out in a canoe and was received on board. Hitherto, Persis, Asa and Thomas, had been my only nurses both by day and by night. The doctor gave directions that no one enter the room, but those that took care of me.

For weeks my debility was so great, that I was fed with a teaspoon, like an infant. Many dangers were apprehended. During one day, I saw a duplicate of every person and every thing that my eye beheld. Thus it was, sixteen years before, when I had the paralysis. Three weeks after the operation, your father for the first time, very slowly raised me to the angle of 45 degrees. It seemed as if it would have taken away my sense. It was about this time that I perceptibly improved from day to day, so much so, that in four weeks from my confinement, I was lifted into a carriage. Then I rode with your father almost every day. As he was away from his field of labor, and without any family responsibilities, he was entirely devoted to me. It was of great importance to me, that he was at liberty and in readiness ever to read simple interesting matter to me, to enliven and to cheer, so that time never passed heavily. After remaining with me six weeks, he returned to Kailua, leaving me with the physician and with our children.

In a few weeks, Mother, Mr. Taylor, Persis, Thomas, Lucy, Mary, and George bade farewell to Asa and Sarah, and to little Robert, their black-eyed baby boy. Together we passed over the rough channels up to the old homestead. Then, your father instead of eating his solitary meals, had his family board enlarged for the accommodation of three generations.

And here is again your mother, engaged in life's duties, and life's warfare. Fare thee well. Be one with us in knowledge, sympathy, and love, though we see thee not, and when sickness prostrates, we feel not thy hand upon our brow.

Your loving Mother.

Friday, 24 February 2012

I am your fellow man, but not your slave

In September of 1848, the incredible Frederick Douglass wrote the following open letter to Thomas Auld — a man who, until a decade previous, had been Douglass' slave master for many years — and published it in North Star, the newspaper he himself founded in 1847. In the letter, Douglass writes of his twenty years as a slave; his subsequent escape and new life; and then enquires about his siblings, presumably still "owned" by his old master. He even asks Auld to imagine his own daughter as a slave.

It's a lengthy letter, but perfectly written and such a valuable read. The final paragraph is also exquisite.

(Source: The Frederick Douglass Papers; Image below via Library of Congress; Image above, of Frederick Douglass, c.1874, via Wikipedia.)


Thomas Auld,


The long and intimate, though by no means friendly, relation which unhappily subsisted between you and myself, leads me to hope that you will easily account for the great liberty which I now take in addressing you in this open and public manner. The same fact may possibly remove any disagreeable surprise which you may experience on again finding your name coupled with mine, in any other way than in an advertisement, accurately describing my person, and offering a large sum for my arrest. In thus dragging you again before the public, I am aware that I shall subject myself to no inconsiderable amount of censure. I shall probably be charged with an unwarrantable if not a wanton and reckless disregard of the rights and proprieties of private life. There are those North as well as South, who entertain a much higher respect for rights which are merely conventional, than they do for rights which are personal and essential. Not a few there are in our country who, while they have no scruples against robbing the laborer of the hard earned results of his patient industry, will be shocked by the extremely indelicate manner of bringing your name before the public. Believing this to be the case, and wishing to meet every reasonable or plausible objection to my conduct, I will frankly state the ground upon which I justify myself in this instance, as well as on former occasions when I have thought proper to mention your name in public. All will agree that a man guilty of theft, robbery, or murder, has forfeited the right to concealment and private life; that the community have a right to subject such persons to the most complete exposure. However much they may desire retirement, and aim to conceal themselves and their movements from the popular gaze, the public have a right to ferret them out, and bring their conduct before the proper tribunals of the country for investigation. Sir, you will undoubtedly make the proper application of these generally admitted principles, and will easily see the light in which you are regarded by me. I will not therefore manifest ill temper, by calling you hard names. I know you to be a man of some intelligence, and can readily determine the precise estimate which I entertain of your character. I may therefore indulge in language which may seem to others indirect and ambiguous, and yet be quite well understood by yourself.

I have selected this day on which to address you, because it is the anniversary of my emancipation; and knowing of no better way, I am led to this as the best mode of celebrating that truly important event. Just ten years ago this beautiful September morning, yon bright sun beheld me a slave—a poor degraded chattel—trembling at the sound of your voice, lamenting that I was a man, and wishing myself a brute. The hopes which I had treasured up for weeks of a safe and successful escape from your grasp, were powerfully confronted at this last hour by dark clouds of doubt and fear, making my person shake and my bosom to heave with the heavy contest between hope and fear. I have no words to describe to you the deep agony of soul which I experienced on that never to be forgotten morning—(for I left by daylight). I was making a leap in the dark. The probabilities, so far as I could by reason determine them, were stoutly against the undertaking. The preliminaries and precautions I had adopted previously, all worked badly. I was like one going to war without weapons—ten chances of defeat to one of victory. One in whom I had confided, and one who had promised me assistance, appalled by fear at the trial hour, deserted me, thus leaving the responsibility of success or failure solely with myself. You, sir, can never know my feelings. As I look back to them, I can scarcely realize that I have passed through a scene so trying. Trying however as they were, and gloomy as was the prospect, thanks be to the Most High, who is ever the God of the oppressed, at the moment which was to determine my whole earthly career. His grace was sufficient, my mind was made up. I embraced the golden opportunity, took the morning tide at the flood, and a free man, young, active and strong, is the result.

I have often thought I should like to explain to you the grounds upon which I have justified myself in running away from you. I am almost ashamed to do so now, for by this time you may have discovered them yourself. I will, however, glance at them. When yet but a child about six years old, I imbibed the determination to run away. The very first mental effort that I now remember on my part, was an attempt to solve the mystery, Why am I a slave? and with this question my youthful mind was troubled for many days, pressing upon me more heavily at times than others. When I saw the slave-driver whip a slave woman, cut the blood out of her neck, and heard her piteous cries, I went away into the corner of the fence, wept and pondered over the mystery. I had, through some medium, I know not what, got some idea of God, the Creator of all mankind, the black and the white, and that he had made the blacks to serve the whites as slaves. How he could do this and be good, I could not tell. I was not satisfied with this theory, which made God responsible for slavery, for it pained me greatly, and I have wept over it long and often. At one time, your first wife, Mrs. Lucretia, heard me singing and saw me shedding tears, and asked of me the matter, but I was afraid to tell her. I was puzzled with this question, till one night, while sitting in the kitchen, I heard some of the old slaves talking of their parents having been stolen from Africa by white men, and were sold here as slaves. The whole mystery was solved at once. Very soon after this my aunt Jinny and uncle Noah ran away, and the great noise made about it by your father-in-law, made me for the first time acquainted with the fact, that there were free States as well as slave States. From that time, I resolved that I would some day run away. The morality of the act, I dispose as follows: I am myself; you are yourself; we are two distinct persons, equal persons. What you are, I am. You are a man, and so am I. God created both, and made us separate beings. I am not by nature bound to you, or you to me. Nature does not make your existence depend upon me, or mine to depend upon yours. I cannot walk upon your legs, or you upon mine. I cannot breathe for you, or you for me; I must breathe for myself, and you for yourself. We are distinct persons, and are each equally provided with faculties necessary to our individual existence. In leaving you, I took nothing but what belonged to me, and in no way lessened your means for obtaining an honest living. Your faculties remained yours, and mine became useful to their rightful owner. I therefore see no wrong in any part of the transaction. It is true, I went off secretly, but that was more your fault than mine. Had I let you into the secret, you would have defeated the enterprise entirely; but for this, I should have been really glad to have made you acquainted with my intentions to leave.

You may perhaps want to know how I like my present condition. I am free to say, I greatly prefer it to that which I occupied in Maryland. I am, however, by no means prejudiced against the State as such. Its geography, climate, fertility and products, are such as to make it a very desirable abode for any man; and but for the existence of slavery there, it is not impossible that I might again take up my abode in that State. It is not that I love Maryland less, but freedom more. You will be surprised to learn that people at the North labor under the strange delusion that if the slaves were emancipated at the South, they would flock to the North. So far from this being the case, in that event, you would see many old and familiar faces back again to the South. The fact is, there are few here who would not return to the South in the event of emancipation. We want to live in the land of our birth, and to lay our bones by the side of our fathers'; and nothing short of an intense love of personal freedom keeps us from the South. For the sake of this, most of us would live on a crust of bread and a cup of cold water.
Since I left you, I have had a rich experience. I have occupied stations which I never dreamed of when a slave. Three out of the ten years since I left you, I spent as a common laborer on the wharves of New Bedford, Massachusetts. It was there I earned my first free dollar. It was mine. I could spend it as I pleased. I could buy hams or herring with it, without asking any odds of any body. That was a precious dollar to me. You remember when I used to make seven or eight, or even nine dollars a week in Baltimore, you would take every cent of it from me every Saturday night, saying that I belonged to you, and my earnings also. I never liked this conduct on your part—to say the best, I thought it a little mean. I would not have served you so. But let that pass. I was a little awkward about counting money in New England fashion when I first landed in New Bedford. I like to have betrayed myself several times. I caught myself saying phip, for fourpence; and at one time a man actually charged me with being a runaway, whereupon I was silly enough to become one by running away from him, for I was greatly afraid he might adopt measures to get me again into slavery, a condition I then dreaded more than death.

I soon, however, learned to count money, as well as to make it, and got on swimmingly. I married soon after leaving you: in fact, I was engaged to be married before I left you; and instead of finding my companion a burden, she was truly a helpmeet. She went to live at service, and I to work on the wharf, and though we toiled hard the first winter, we never lived more happily. After remaining in New Bedford for three years, I met with Wm. Lloyd Garrison, a person of whom you have possibly heard, as he is pretty generally known among slaveholders. He put it into my head that I might make myself serviceable to the cause of the slave by devoting a portion of my time to telling my own sorrows, and those of other slaves which had come under my observation. This was the commencement of a higher state of existence than any to which I had ever aspired. I was thrown into society the most pure, enlightened and benevolent that the country affords. Among these I have never forgotten you, but have invariably made you the topic of conversation—thus giving you all the notoriety I could do. I need not tell you that the opinion formed of you in these circles, is far from being favorable. They have little respect for your honesty, and less for your religion.

But I was going on to relate to you something of my interesting experience. I had not long enjoyed the excellent society to which I have referred, before the light of its excellence exerted a beneficial influence on my mind and heart. Much of my early dislike of white persons was removed, and their manners, habits and customs, so entirely unlike what I had been used to in the kitchen-quarters on the plantations of the South, fairly charmed me, and gave me a strong disrelish for the coarse and degrading customs of my former condition. I therefore made an effort so to improve my mind and deportment, as to be somewhat fitted to the station to which I seemed almost providentially called. The transition from degradation to respectability was indeed great, and to get from one to the other without carrying some marks of one's former condition, is truly a difficult matter. I would not have you think that I am now entirely clear of all plantation peculiarities, but my friends here, while they entertain the strongest dislike to them, regard me with that charity to which my past life somewhat entitles me, so that my condition in this respect is exceedingly pleasant. So far as my domestic affairs are concerned, I can boast of as comfortable a dwelling as your own. I have an industrious and neat companion, and four dear children—the oldest a girl of nine years, and three fine boys, the oldest eight, the next six, and the youngest four years old. The three oldest are now going regularly to school—two can read and write, and the other can spell with tolerable correctness words of two syllables: Dear fellows! they are all in comfortable beds, and are sound asleep, perfectly secure under my own roof. There are no slaveholders here to rend my heart by snatching them from my arms, or blast a mother's dearest hopes by tearing them from her bosom. These dear children are ours—not to work up into rice, sugar and tobacco, but to watch over, regard, and protect, and to rear them up in the nurture and admonition of the gospel—to train them up in the paths of wisdom and virtue, and, as far as we can to make them useful to the world and to themselves. Oh! sir, a slaveholder never appears to me so completely an agent of hell, as when I think of and look upon my dear children. It is then that my feelings rise above my control. I meant to have said more with respect to my own prosperity and happiness, but thoughts and feelings which this recital has quickened unfits me to proceed further in that direction. The grim horrors of slavery rise in all their ghastly terror before me, the wails of millions pierce my heart, and chill my blood. I remember the chain, the gag, the bloody whip, the deathlike gloom overshadowing the broken spirit of the fettered bondman, the appalling liability of his being torn away from wife and children, and sold like a beast in the market. Say not that this is a picture of fancy. You well know that I wear stripes on my back inflicted by your direction; and that you, while we were brothers in the same church, caused this right hand, with which I am now penning this letter, to be closely tied to my left, and my person dragged at the pistol's mouth, fifteen miles, from the Bay side to Easton to be sold like a beast in the market, for the alleged crime of intending to escape from your possession. All this and more you remember, and know to be perfectly true, not only of yourself, but of nearly all of the slaveholders around you.

At this moment, you are probably the guilty holder of at least three of my own dear sisters, and my only brother in bondage. These you regard as your property. They are recorded on your ledger, or perhaps have been sold to human flesh mongers, with a view to filling your own ever-hungry purse. Sir, I desire to know how and where these dear sisters are. Have you sold them? or are they still in your possession? What has become of them? are they living or dead? And my dear old grandmother, whom you turned out like an old horse, to die in the woods—is she still alive? Write and let me know all about them. If my grandmother be still alive, she is of no service to you, for by this time she must be nearly eighty years old—too old to be cared for by one to whom she has ceased to be of service, send her to me at Rochester, or bring her to Philadelphia, and it shall be the crowning happiness of my life to take care of her in her old age. Oh! she was to me a mother, and a father, so far as hard toil for my comfort could make her such. Send me my grandmother! that I may watch over and take care of her in her old age. And my sisters, let me know all about them. I would write to them, and learn all I want to know of them, without disturbing you in any way, but that, through your unrighteous conduct, they have been entirely deprived of the power to read and write. You have kept them in utter ignorance, and have therefore robbed them of the sweet enjoyments of writing or receiving letters from absent friends and relatives. Your wickedness and cruelty committed in this respect on your fellow-creatures, are greater than all the stripes you have laid upon my back, or theirs. It is an outrage upon the soul—a war upon the immortal spirit, and one for which you must give account at the bar of our common Father and Creator.

The responsibility which you have assumed in this regard is truly awful—and how you could stagger under it these many years is marvellous. Your mind must have become darkened, your heart hardened, your conscience seared and petrified, or you would have long since thrown off the accursed load and sought relief at the hands of a sin-forgiving God. How, let me ask, would you look upon me, were I some dark night in company with a band of hardened villains, to enter the precincts of your elegant dwelling and seize the person of your own lovely daughter Amanda, and carry her off from your family, friends and all the loved ones of her youth—make her my slave—compel her to work, and I take her wages—place her name on my ledger as property—disregard her personal rights—fetter the powers of her immortal soul by denying her the right and privilege of learning to read and write—feed her coarsely—clothe her scantily, and whip her on the naked back occasionally; more and still more horrible, leave her unprotected—a degraded victim to the brutal lust of fiendish overseers, who would pollute, blight, and blast her fair soul—rob her of all dignity—destroy her virtue, and annihilate all in her person the graces that adorn the character of virtuous womanhood? I ask how would you regard me, if such were my conduct? Oh! the vocabulary of the damned would not afford a word sufficiently infernal, to express your idea of my God-provoking wickedness. Yet sir, your treatment of my beloved sisters is in all essential points, precisely like the case I have now supposed. Damning as would be such a deed on my part, it would be no more so than that which you have committed against me and my sisters.

I will now bring this letter to a close, you shall hear from me again unless you let me hear from you. I intend to make use of you as a weapon with which to assail the system of slavery—as a means of concentrating public attention on the system, and deepening their horror of trafficking in the souls and bodies of men. I shall make use of you as a means of exposing the character of the American church and clergy—and as a means of bringing this guilty nation with yourself to repentance. In doing this I entertain no malice towards you personally. There is no roof under which you would be more safe than mine, and there is nothing in my house which you might need for your comfort, which I would not readily grant. Indeed, I should esteem it a privilege, to set you an example as to how mankind ought to treat each other.

I am your fellow man, but not your slave,


P. S. I send a copy of the paper containing this letter, to save postage. F. D.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Apple must make Macintosh a standard

In June of 1985, 30-year-old Microsoft CEO Bill Gates sent the following remarkable memo to both the then-CEO of Apple, John Sculley, and then-head of Macintosh development, Jean Louis Gassée, and urged them to spread their wings by licensing their hardware and operating system to other companies. Apple ignored his advice.

Five months after he sent the memo, Windows 1.0 was released. Microsoft's decision to do exactly as Gates had recommended to Apple resulted in market domination. Had Apple taken Gates' advice, things could have been so very different.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has since said:
"The computer was never the problem. The company's strategy was. Apple saw itself as a hardware company; in order to protect our hardware profits, we didn't license our operating system. We had the most beautiful operating system, but to get it you had to buy our hardware at twice the price. That was a mistake. What we should have done was calculate an appropriate price to license the operating system. We were also naive to think that the best technology would prevail. It often doesn't."
(Source: Great Business Letters; Image: Bill Gates in 1985, not long after his advice was ignored, via.)

To: John Sculley, Jean Louis Gassée
From: Bill Gates, Jeff Raikes
Date: June 25, 1985
Re: Apple Licensing of Mac Technology

cc: Jon Shirley


Apple's stated position in personal computers is innovative technology leader. This position implies that Apple must create a standard on new, advanced technology. They must establish a "revolutionary" architecture, which necessarily implies new development incompatible with existing architectures.

Apple must make Macintosh a standard. But no personal computer company, not even IBM, can create a standard without independent support. Even though Apple realized this, they have not been able to gain the independent support required to be perceived as a standard.

The significant investment (especially independent support) in a "standard personal computer" results in an incredible momentum for its architecture. Specifically, the IBM PC architecture continues to receive huge investment and gains additional momentum. (Though clearly the independent investment in the Apple II, and the resulting momentum, is another great example.) The investment in the IBM architecture includes development of differentiated compatibles, software and peripherals; user and sales channel education; and most importantly, attitudes and perceptions that are not easily changed.

Any deficiencies in the IBM architecture are quickly eliminated by independent support. Hardware deficiencies are remedied in two ways:
  • expansion cards made possible because of access to the bus (e.g. the high resolution Hercules graphics card for monochrome monitors)
  • manufacture of differentiated compatibles (e.g. the Compaq portable, or the faster DeskPro).
The closed architecture prevents similar independent investment in the Macintosh. The IBM architecture, when compared to the Macintosh, probably has more than 100 times the engineering resources applied to it when investment of compatible manufacturers is included. The ratio becomes even greater when the manufacturers of expansion cards are included.


As the independent investment in a "standard" architecture grows, so does the momentum for that architecture. The industry has reached the point where it is now impossible for Apple to create a standard out of their innovative technology without support from, and the resulting credibility of other personal computer manufacturers. Thus, Apple must open the Macintosh architecture to have the independent support required to gain momentum and establish a standard.

The Mac has not become a standard

The Macintosh has failed to attain the critical mass necessary for the technology to be considered a long term contender:
  1. Since there is no "competition" to Apple from "Mac-compatible" manufacturers, corporations consider it risky to be locked into the Mac, for reasons of price AND choice.
  2. Apple has reinforced the risky perception of the machine by being slow to come out with software and hardware improvements (e.g. hard disk, file server, bigger screen, better keyboard, larger memory, new ROM, operating software with improved performance). Furthermore, killing the Macintosh X/L (Lisa) eliminated the alternative model that many businesses considered necessary.
  3. Recent negative publicity about Apple hinders the credibility of the Macintosh as a long term contender in the personal computer market.
  4. Independent software and hardware manufacturers reinforced the risky perception of the machine by being slow to come out with key software and peripheral products.
  5. Apple's small corporate account sales force has prevented it from having the presence, training, support, etc. that large companies would recognize and require.
  6. Nationalistic pressures in European countries often force foreign to consumers [sic] choose local manufacturers. Europeans have local suppliers of the IBM architecture, but not Apple. Apple will lose ground in Europe as was recently exhibited in France.

Apple should license Macintosh technology to 3-5 significant manufacturers for the development of "Mac Compatibles":

United States manufacturers and contacts:

Ideal companies—in addition to credibility, they have large account sales forces that can establish the Mac architecture in larger companies:
  • AT&T, James Edwards
  • Wang, An Wang
  • Digital Equipment Corporation, Ken Olsen
  • Texas Instruments, Jerry Junkins
  • Hewlett Packard, John Young
Other companies (but perhaps more realistic candidates):
  • Xerox, Elliott James or Bob Adams
  • Motorola, Murray A. Goldman
  • Harris/Lanier, Wes Cantrell
  • NBI, Thomas S. Kavanagh
  • Burroughs, W. Michael Blumenthal and Stephen Weisenfeld
  • Kodak
  • 3M
  • CPT
European manufacturers:
  • Siemens
  • Bull
  • Olivetti
  • Phillips
Apple should license the Macintosh technology to US and European companies in a way that allows them to go to other companies for manufacturing. Sony, Kyocera, and Alps are good candidates for OEM manufacturing of Mac compatibles.

Microsoft is very willing to help Apple implement this strategy. We are familiar with the key manufacturers, their strategies and strengths. We also have a great deal of experience in OEMing system software.

  1. The companies that license Mac technology would add credibility to the Macintosh architecture.
  2. These companies would broaden the available product offerings through their "Mac-compatible" product lines:
    • they would each innovate and add features to the basic system: various memory configurations, video display and keyboard alternatives, etc.
    • Apple would lever the key partners' abilities to produce a wide variety of peripherals, much faster than Apple could develop the peripherals themselves.
    • customers would see competition and would have real price/performance choices.
  3. Apple will benefit from the distribution channels of these companies.
  4. The perception of a significantly increased potential installed base will bring the independent hardware, software, and marketing support that the Macintosh needs.
  5. Apple will gain significant, additional marketing support. Everytime a Mac compatible manufacturer advertises, it is an advertisement for the Apple architecture.
  6. Licensing Mac compatibles will enhance Apple's image as a technological innovator. Ironically, IBM is viewed as being a technological innovator. This is because compatible manufacturers are afraid to innovate too much and stray from the standard.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

I should like more money

The great Al Hirschfeld had been supplying his much-loved caricatures to the New York Times for 37 years when, in 1962, tipped over the edge by the newspaper's accounting department, he sent the following amusing letter to the Sunday editor, Lester Markel.

His request for a raise was granted.

Transcript follows.

(Source: The Paper's Papers: A Reporter's Journeys Through the Archives of The New York Times; Image above: Al Hirschfeld in his studio, 1999, via.)

Lester Marel Esq.,
New York Times
West 43rd Street
New York New York

Dear Lester:

I should like more money for my drawings. The realization that I am not a member of a Union, I have no agent, no boodle from a loving relative awaits me, Foundations ask ME for gifts, in short..gevalt! It also occured to me that perhaps the Times management may never offer me a raise and so I make this belated request for myself.

I was thrown into this mercenary mood by a check I received from the Times for my expenses to Philadelphia and return on a drama assignment. My bill for the day in Philly was $20.35. The accounting department in its infinite wisdom deducted .50 cents for 'meal disallowance' and forwarded to me the balance of $19.85. Needless to say, I have returned the offending draft with commendable restraint...offering no suggestion of ultimate disposal by shoving the promissory note up their alimentary canals.

It would be the height of folly to point out to those humorless drones that it was not my intention to rook the Times out of .50 cents. This knowledge gives me small comfort. I find it difficult to explain my sudden need for brooding darkly in corners, frustrated and furious..unhappy and sorry for myself...pride in my work no longer enough to satisfy my ego..I take refuge in wife screaming and child yelling..even thought of shaving off my beard.

To get back on the rational trolley would it not be possible for the Times to put up the extra fare.....

Your friend and mine,


May 30th 1962

Monday, 20 February 2012

Jelly-boned swines

June of 1912 was a bad month for D. H. Lawrence. His lover, Frieda — a married woman with whom he had recently fled to Germany — was being begged to return to the family home in England by her husband (and Lawrence's former professor), Ernest Weekley. In addition, publisher William Heinemann had just decided to reject the first draft of what would eventually become Lawrence's third novel, Sons and Lovers.

Lawrence was furious at his predicament, and so wrote the following letter to his friend and mentor, Edward Garnett, to let off some steam. The paragraph in which he curses the people of England is particularly fantastic.

Sons and Lovers was published the next year, and has since garnered enormous praise. In 1914, Lawrence wed Frieda; they remained married until his death in 1930.

(Source: The Letters of D. H. Lawrence (Cambridge Edition) (Volume 1); Image: D. H. Lawrence in Mexico, 1923, via.)

3 July 1912

Dear Garnett,

Your news of the Trespasser is rather cheering. Everything else is pretty bad. Weekley it seems, is going half crazed. He is fearfully in love with Frieda. There are storms of letters from England, imploring her to renounce for ever all her ideas of love, to go back and give her life to her husband and her children. Weekley would have her back, on those conditions. The children are miserable, missing her so much. She lies on the floor in misery — and then is fearfully angry with me because I won't say "stay for my sake." I say "decide what you want most, to live with me and share my rotten chances, or go back to security, and your children — decide for yourself — Choose for yourself." And then she almost hates me, because I won't say "I love you — stay with me whatever happens." I do love her. If she left me, I do not think I should be alive six months hence. And she won't leave me, I think. God, how I love her — and the agony of it. She is a woman who also makes a man suffer, by being blind to him when her anger or resentment is roused. She is staying in Wolfratshausen with her sister's children for the four nights — her sister is away, and the nurse has just left. The letters today have nearly sent us both crazy. I didn't know life was so hard. But really, for me, it's been a devilish time ever since I was born. But for the fact that when one's got a job on, one ought to go through with it, I'd prefer to be dead any minute. I can't bear it when Frieda is away. I could bang my head against the wall, for relief. It's a bit too much.

And William Heinemann — may his name be used as a curse and an eternal infamy — kindly sends me this letter in the thick of it all.

I had a rather nice letter from somebody — "Hugh Walpole." Is he anybody? Could I wring three ha'porth of help out of his bloody neck. Curse the blasted, jelly-boned swines, the slimy, the belly-wriggling invertebrates, the miserable sodding rotters, the flaming sods, the snivelling, dribbling, dithering palsied pulse-less lot that make up England today. They've got white of egg in their veins, and their spunk is that watery it's a marvel they can breed. They can but frog-spawn — the gibberers! God, how I hate them! God curse them, funkers. God blast them, wish-wash. Exterminate them, slime.

I could curse for hours and hours — God help me.

It doesn't matter a bit what Miss Whale tells any inquiring lady. The trouble is, that Weekley won't get a divorce. I want Frieda free.

Why, why, why was I born an Englishman! — my cursed, rotten-boned, pappy-hearted countrymen, why was I sent to them. Christ on the cross must have hated his countrymen. "Crucify me, you swine." — "Put in your nails and spear, you bloody nasal sour-blooded swine, I laugh last." God, how I hate them — I nauseate — they stink in sourness.

They deserve it that every great man should drown himself. But not I (I am a bit great).

My dear Garnett, at this eleventh hour I love you and understand you a bit. Don't sympathise with me, don't.

Yours sincerely,


P.S. And Heinemann, I can see, is quite right, as a business man.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Go easy with my money

In April of 1961, the inimitable Groucho Marx received a glossy annual report from the Franklin Corporation, a company in which he had recently become an investor. After flicking through the report, Groucho had some concerns, and so wrote the following letter to the company's President, Herman Goodman, to inform him.

(Source: The Groucho Letters; Image: Groucho Marx at 85, via.)

April 24, 1961

Dear Mr Goodman:

I received the first annual report of the Franklin Corporation and though I am not an expert at reading balance sheets, my financial advisor (who, I assure you, knows nothing) nodded his head in satisfaction.

You wrote that you hope I am not one of those borscht circuit stockholders who get a few points' profit and hastily scram for the hills. For your information, I bought Alleghany Preferred eleven years ago and am just now disposing of it.

As a brand new member of your family, strategically you made a ghastly mistake in sending me individual pictures of the Board of Directors. Mr Roth, Chairman of the Board, merely looks sinister. You, the President, look like a hard worker with not too much on the ball. No one named Prosswimmer can possibly be a success. As for Samuel A. Goldblith, PhD., head of Food Technology at MIT, he looks as though he had eaten too much of the wrong kind of fodder.

At this point I would like to stop and ask you a question about Marion Harper Jr. To begin with, I immediately distrust any man who has the same name as his mother. But the thing that most disturbs me about Junior is that I don't know what the hell he's laughing at. Is it because he sucked me into this Corporation? This is not the kind of face that inspires confidence in a nervous and jittery stockholder.

George S. Sperti, I dismiss instantly. Any man who is the President of an outfit called Institutum Divi Thomae will certainly bear watching. Is he trying to impress stockholders with his knowledge of Latin? If so, why doesn't he read, "Winnie ille Pu"? James J. Sullivan, I am convinced, is Paul E. Prosswimmer photographed from a different angle.

Offhand, I would say that I have summed up your group fairly accurately. I hope, for my sake, that I am mistaken.

In closing, I warn you, go easy with my money. I am in an extremely precarious profession whose livelihood depends upon a fickle public.

Sincerely yours,

Groucho Marx
(temporarialy at liberty)

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Interviews are pure twaddle

In December of 1888, shortly before becoming editor of the Ladies' Home Journal, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward Bok visited Mark Twain at his home to conduct an interview, the intention being to publish the resulting write-up in Bok's weekly syndicated column. The chat went well; the next day he wrote the piece, and sent a copy to Twain for approval.

That piece never appeared in print. Instead, Bok became the owner of the following letter from Twain, in which he explains the uselessness of interviews.

(Source: The Complete Letters Of Mark Twain; Image: Mark Twain in 1909, via Library of Congress.)

My Dear Mr. Bok,

No, no. It is like most interviews, pure twaddle and valueless.

For several quite plain and simple reasons, an "interview" must, as a rule, be an absurdity, and chiefly for this reason—It is an attempt to use a boat on land or a wagon on water, to speak figuratively. Spoken speech is one thing, written speech is quite another. Print is the proper vehicle for the latter, but it isn't for the former. The moment "talk" is put into print you recognize that it is not what it was when you heard it; you perceive that an immense something has disappeared from it. That is its soul. You have nothing but a dead carcass left on your hands. Color, play of feature, the varying modulations of the voice, the laugh, the smile, the informing inflections, everything that gave that body warmth, grace, friendliness and charm and commended it to your affections—or, at least, to your tolerance—is gone and nothing is left but a pallid, stiff and repulsive cadaver.

Such is "talk" almost invariably, as you see it lying in state in an "interview." The interviewer seldom tries to tell one how a thing was said; he merely puts in the naked remark and stops there. When one writes for print his methods are very different. He follows forms which have but little resemblance to conversation, but they make the reader understand what the writer is trying to convey. And when the writer is making a story and finds it necessary to report some of the talk of his characters observe how cautiously and anxiously he goes at that risky and difficult thing. "If he had dared to say that thing in my presence," said Alfred, taking a mock heroic attitude, and casting an arch glance upon the company, "blood would have flowed."

"If he had dared to say that thing in my presence," said Hawkwood, with that in his eye which caused more than one heart in that guilty assemblage to quake, "blood would have flowed."

"If he had dared to say that thing in my presence," said the paltry blusterer, with valor on his tongue and pallor on his lips, "blood would have flowed."

So painfully aware is the novelist that naked talk in print conveys no meaning that he loads, and often overloads, almost every utterance of his characters with explanations and interpretations. It is a loud confession that print is a poor vehicle for "talk"; it is a recognition that uninterpreted talk in print would result in confusion to the reader, not instruction.

Now, in your interview, you have certainly been most accurate; you have set down the sentences I uttered as I said them. But you have not a word of explanation; what my manner was at several points is not indicated. Therefore, no reader can possibly know where I was in earnest and where I was joking; or whether I was joking altogether or in earnest altogether. Such a report of a conversation has no value. It can convey many meanings to the reader, but never the right one. To add interpretations which would convey the right meaning is a something which would require—what? An art so high and fine and difficult that no possessor of it would ever be allowed to waste it on interviews.

No; spare the reader, and spare me; leave the whole interview out; it is rubbish. I wouldn't talk in my sleep if I couldn't talk better than that.

If you wish to print anything print this letter; it may have some value, for it may explain to a reader here and there why it is that in interviews, as a rule, men seem to talk like anybody but themselves.

Very sincerely yours,

Mark Twain

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

I love my wife. My wife is dead.

Richard Feynman was one of the best-known and most influential physicists of his generation. In the 1940s, he played a part in the development of the atomic bomb; in 1986, as a key member of the Rogers Commission, he investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and identified its cause; in 1965, he and two colleagues were awarded the Nobel Prize “for their fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics, with deep-ploughing consequences for the physics of elementary particles.” He was also an incredibly likeable character, and made countless other advances in his field, the complexities of which I will never be able understand.

In June of 1945, his wife and high-school sweetheart, Arline, passed away after succumbing to tuberculosis. She was 25-years-old. 16 months later, in October of 1946, Richard wrote his late wife a heartbreaking love letter and sealed it in an envelope. It remained unopened until after his death in 1988.

(Source: The Letters of Note book - reproduced with permission of Richard Feynman's Estate.)

October 17, 1946


I adore you, sweetheart.

I know how much you like to hear that — but I don't only write it because you like it — I write it because it makes me warm all over inside to write it to you.

It is such a terribly long time since I last wrote to you — almost two years but I know you'll excuse me because you understand how I am, stubborn and realistic; and I thought there was no sense to writing.

But now I know my darling wife that it is right to do what I have delayed in doing, and that I have done so much in the past. I want to tell you I love you. I want to love you. I always will love you.

I find it hard to understand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead — but I still want to comfort and take care of you — and I want you to love me and care for me. I want to have problems to discuss with you — I want to do little projects with you. I never thought until just now that we can do that. What should we do. We started to learn to make clothes together — or learn Chinese — or getting a movie projector. Can't I do something now? No. I am alone without you and you were the "idea-woman" and general instigator of all our wild adventures.

When you were sick you worried because you could not give me something that you wanted to and thought I needed. You needn’t have worried. Just as I told you then there was no real need because I loved you in so many ways so much. And now it is clearly even more true — you can give me nothing now yet I love you so that you stand in my way of loving anyone else — but I want you to stand there. You, dead, are so much better than anyone else alive.

I know you will assure me that I am foolish and that you want me to have full happiness and don't want to be in my way. I'll bet you are surprised that I don't even have a girlfriend (except you, sweetheart) after two years. But you can't help it, darling, nor can I — I don't understand it, for I have met many girls and very nice ones and I don't want to remain alone — but in two or three meetings they all seem ashes. You only are left to me. You are real.

My darling wife, I do adore you.

I love my wife. My wife is dead.


PS Please excuse my not mailing this — but I don't know your new address.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

I feel happy tonight

On July 2nd of 1944, as she travelled by train from Chicago to San Francisco, author and aviator Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote the following beautiful letter to her husband, Charles Lindbergh — an aviation pioneer who, 17 years previously, in 1927, flew from New York to Paris in the Spirit of St. Louis to much acclaim.

They remained married until Charles' death in 1974, by which time they had both had extramarital affairs and Charles had fathered several children by women other than his wife. They had also faced — and somehow dealt with despite intense, previously unrivalled media coverage — the kidnapping and murder of their 20-month-old son, Charles, Jr.

(Source: War Within & Without; Image: Charles & Anne Lindbergh in 1929, via Shorpy.)

July 2nd

Dear Charles,

I am on my way West. I hope to meet you. I feel madly extravagant and altogether quite mad, speeding over the country with not much certainty of when or where I'll meet you.

But I feel happy tonight. I have sat and watched the cornfields of Iowa darken, seen the homesteads pass by—a white house, a red barn and a brave cluster of green trees in the midst of oceans of flat fields—like an oasis in a desert. The glossy flanks of horses and the glossy leaves of corn. And I have been overcome by the beauty and richness of this country I have flown over so many times with you. And overcome with the beauty and richness of our life together, those early mornings setting out, those evenings gleaming with rivers and lakes below us, still holding the last light. Those fields of daisies we landed on—and dusty fields and desert stretches. Memories of many skies and many earths beneath us—many days, many nights of stars. "How are the waters of the world sweet—if we should die, we have drunk them. If we should sin—or separate—if we should fail or secede—we have tasted of happiness—we must be written in the book of the blessed. We have had what life could give, we have eaten of the tree of knowledge, we have known—we have been the mystery of the universe.”

Good night—


Monday, 13 February 2012

Never from so many at once

In 1932, a Mrs Randolph Frothingham, then President of the "Woman Patriot Corporation," wrote a lengthy letter to the US government and demanded that Albert Einstein be barred from the country due to his being "affiliated with more anarchist and Communist groups than Josef Stalin himself." The charges against him spanned 16 pages, and included observations such as, "[He is] a German who cannot talk English."

On hearing the news, Einstein responded by way of the following open letter. It was printed in the New York Times.

(Source: Einstein Archives, via Einstein on Politics; Image: Albert Einstein, via.)

3rd December, 1932

Never yet have I experienced from the fair sex such energetic rejection of all advances; or, if I have, never from so many at once.

But are they not quite right, these watchful citizenesses? Why should one open one's doors to a person who devours hard-boiled capitalists with as much appetite and gusto as the Cretan Minotaur in days gone by devoured luscious Greek maidens, and on top of that is low-down enough to reject every sort of war, except the unavoidable war with one's own wife? Therefore give heed to your clever and patriotic womenfolk and remember that the Capitol of mighty Rome was once saved by the cackling of its faithful geese.

Albert Einstein

Friday, 10 February 2012

The love of a parasite is worth nothing

In May of 1948, author Ayn Rand received a letter from a fan named Joanne Rondeau. In it, she asked Rand to explain a sentence in her bestselling 1943 novel, The Fountainhead, which reads:
To say 'I love you' one must first know how to say the 'I'.
Rand responded with the following letter.

(Source: Little Big Book Of Life; Image: Ayn Rand, via.)

May 22, 1948

Dear Ms. Rondeau:

You asked me to explain the meaning of my sentence in The Fountainhead: "To say 'I love you' one must first know how to say the 'I."

The meaning of that sentence is contained in the whole of The Fountainhead. And it is stated right in the speech on page 400 from which you took the sentence. The meaning of the "I" is an independent, self-sufficient entity that does not exist for the sake of any other person.

A person who exists only for the sake of his loved one is not an independent entity, but a spiritual parasite. The love of a parasite is worth nothing.

The usual (and very vicious) nonsense preached on the subject of love claims that love is self-sacrifice. A man's self is his spirit. If one sacrifices his spirit, who or what is left to feel the love? True love is profoundly selfish, in the noblest meaning of the word — it is an expression of one's highest values. When a person is in love, he seeks his own happiness — and not his sacrifice to the loved one. And the loved one would be a monster if she wanted or expected such sacrifice.

Any person who wants to live for others — for one sweetheart or for the whole of mankind — is a selfless nonentity. An independent "I" is a person who exists for his own sake. Such a person does not make any vicious pretense of self-sacrifice and does not demand it from the person he loves. Which is the only way to be in love and the only form of a self-respecting relationship between two people.

Ayn Rand

Thursday, 9 February 2012

I shall always be near you

In 1861, as the American Civil War approached, a 32-year-old lawyer named Sullivan Ballou left his wife of five years and two sons at home, and joined the war effort as a major in the Union Army. On July 14th of that year, acutely aware that particularly perilous times were ahead, he wrote, but didn't send, the following beautiful letter to his wife, in which he eloquently warned her of the dangers he faced and spoke of his love for both his family and country. Sadly, two weeks after penning his letter later, Sullivan was killed in the First Battle of Bull Run—the first major conflict of a war that lasted four years and cost the lives of approximately 750’000 people—along with 93 of his men. The letter was later found amongst his belongings and then then delivered to his widow, but has since been lost; this copy, thought to have been transcribed by a relative, is held at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.

Sarah, who was 24 when he died, never remarried. She passed away at 80 years of age, and is now buried alongside her husband in Providence, Rhode Island.

Transcript follows.

(This letter, along with 124 other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, Letters of Note; Image: Sullivan Ballou, via Wikipedia.)

Camp Clark
Washington D. C.

July 14th 1861

My Very dear Wife

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days perhaps tomorrow and lest I should not be able to write you again I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I am am no more. Our movement may be one of a few days duration and be full of pleasure. And it may be one of severe conflict and death to me “Not my will but thine O God be done” if it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my Country I am ready. I have no misgivings about or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution; and I am willing perfectly willing to lay down all my joys in this life to help maintain this Government and to pay that debt.

But my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours,– and replace them in this life with care and sorrow– when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children, is it weak or dishonorable that while the banner of purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, underneath my unbounded love for you my dear wife and children should struggle in fierce though useless contest with my love of Country.

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last perhaps before that of Death. And I suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart am communing with God my Country and thee. I have sought most closely and diligently and often in my breast for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of all that I love and I could not find one. A pure love of my Country and of the principles I have advocated before the people and the name of honour that I love more than I fear death, have called upon me and I have obeyed.

Sarah my love for you is deathless it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence can break. And yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly with all those chains to the battlefield the memories of all the blissful moments I have enjoyed with you come crowding over me, and I feel most deeply grateful to God and you that I have enjoyed them so long. And how hard it is for me to give them up; and burn to ashes the hopes of future years when God willing we might still have loved and loved together and see our boys grow up to honourable manhood around us. I know I have but few and small claims upon Divine Providence but something whispers to me perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not my dear Sarah never forget how much I loved you nor that when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless how foolish I have sometimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness and struggle with all the misfortunes of this world to shield you and my children from harm but I cannot I must watch you from the spirit world and hover near you while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight – and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But Oh Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they love I shall be always with you in the brightest day and the darkest night amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours always always and when the soft breeze fans your cheek it shall be my breath or the cool air your throbbing temple it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah, do not mourn me dead think I am gone and wait for me for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys they will grow as I have done and never know a father’s love and care.

Little Willie is too young to remember me long but my blue eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood.

Sarah I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two Mothers I call Gods blessings upon them.

Oh! Sarah I wait for you then come to me and lead thither my children.


Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The suspense was unbearable

In 1965, a popular British comic by the name of "Eagle" published the following dramatic letter from an an avid young reader. In fact, that 12-year-old boy was Douglas Adams, future author of, most notably, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and this very short story was his first published work.

(Source: The Salmon of Doubt; Image: Douglas Adams.)

January 23, 1965

Dear Editor,

The sweat was dripping down my face and into my lap, making my clothes very wet and sticky. I sat there, walking, watching. I was trembling violently as I sat, looking at the small slot, waiting—ever waiting. My nails dug into my flesh as I clenched my hands. I passed my arm over my hot, wet face, down which sweat was pouring. The suspense was unbearable. I bit my lip in an attempt to stop trembling with the terrible burden of anxiety. Suddenly, the slot opened and in dropped the mail. I grabbed at my Eagle and ripped off the wrapping paper.

My ordeal was over for another week!

D. N. Adams (12)
Brentwood, Essex

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Happy Birthday, Dickens

Image: Charles Dickens, via Lenin Imports

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of someone who, hopefully, needs no introduction: Charles Dickens — a man who wrote so many letters (some 15'000 have survived) it's a wonder he ever found time to write the novels he did. Last month I featured the bleakest of letters, in which Dickens informs his wife of the death of their daughter; today, in an effort to redress the balance, I've picked a few of his more light-hearted missives.

First, a lovely letter to a Mary Talfourd, the daughter of a close friend, in 1841. Mary had recently invited Dickens to her forthcoming birthday party, but unfortunately he couldn't attend. Instead, he sent her the following endearing explanation.

(Source: Charles Dickens, by Belle Moses.)

Dec. 16th. 1841

My dear Mary,

I should be delighted to come and dine with you on your birthday and be as merry as I wish you to be always; but as I am going within a few days afterward, a very long distance from home, and shall not see any of my children for six long months, I have made up my mind to pass all that week at home for their sakes; just as you would like your papa and mamma to spend all the time they could possibly spare with you, if they were about to make a dreary voyage to America; which is what I am going to do myself.

But, though I cannot come to see you on that day, you may be sure I shall not forget that it is your birthday, and that I shall drink your health and many happy returns in a glass of wine, filled as full as it will hold. And I shall dine at half-past five myself, so that we may both be drinking our wine at the same time; and I shall tell my Mary (for I have got a daughter of the same name, but she is a very small one as yet) to drink your health, too, and we shall try and make believe that you are here, or that we are in Russell Square, which is the best thing we can do, I think, under the circumstances.

You are growing up so fast that by the time I come home again, I expect you will be almost a woman; and in a very few years we shall be saying to each other, 'Don't you remember what the birthdays used to be in Russell Square?' and 'How strange it seems!' and 'How quickly time passes!' and all that sort of thing, you know. But I shall always be very glad to be asked on your birthday, and to come if you will let me, and to send my love to you, and to wish that you may live to be very old and very happy, which I do now with all my heart.

Believe me always,

My dear Mary,

Yours affectionately,


In 1838, as he completed his third novel, Nicholas Nickleby, Dickens received a helpful letter from a 6-year-old fan named Hasting Hughes. Young Hasting had been reading the previously serialised version of the story, and had some changes to suggest with regard to certain characters; Dickens replied as follows (take note of the clever excuse, in the final paragraph, for the letter's brevity).

(Source: The Letters of Charles Dickens from 1833 to 1870.)

Doughty Street, London.

Dec. 12th. 1838.

Respected Sir,

I have given Squeers one cut on the neck and two on the head, at which he appeared much surprised and began to cry, which, being a cowardly thing, is just what I should have expected from him—wouldn't you?

I have carefully done what you told me in your letter about the lamb and the two "sheeps" for the little boys. They have also had some good ale and porter, and some wine. I am sorry you didn't say what wine you would like them to have. I gave them some sherry, which they liked very much, except one boy, who was a little sick and choked a good deal. He was rather greedy, and that's the truth, and I believe it went the wrong way, which I say served him right, and I hope you will say so too.

Nicholas had his roast lamb, as you said he was to, but he could not eat it all, and says if you do not mind his doing so he should like to have the rest hashed to-morrow with some greens, which he is very fond of, and so am I. He said he did not like to have his porter hot, for he thought it spoilt the flavour, so I let him have it cold. You should have seen him drink it. I thought he never would have left off. I also gave him three pounds of money, all in sixpences, to make it seem more, and he said directly that he should give more than half to his mamma and sister, and divide the rest with poor Smike. And I say he is a good fellow for saying so; and if anybody says he isn't I am ready to fight him whenever they like—there!

Fanny Squeers shall be attended to, depend upon it. Your drawing of her is very like, except that I don't think the hair is quite curly enough. The nose is particularly like hers, and so are the legs. She is a nasty disagreeable thing, and I know it will make her very cross when she sees it; and what I say is that I hope it may. You will say the same I know—at least I think you will.

I meant to have written you a long letter, but I cannot write very fast when I like the person I am writing to, because that makes me think about them, and I like you, and so I tell you. Besides, it is just eight o'clock at night, and I always go to bed at eight o'clock, except when it is my birthday, and then I sit up to supper. So I will not say anything more besides this—and that is my love to you and Neptune; and if you will drink my health every Christmas Day I will drink yours—come.

I am,

Respected Sir,

Your affectionate Friend.


P.S. I don't write my name very plain, but you know what it is you know, so never mind.

Finally, a humorous letter of complaint written by Dickens in 1863 to Sir John Bennett, the watchmaker responsible for recently cleaning a clock of his.

(Source: A Week's Tramp in Dickens-Land, by William R Hughes.)

Gad's Hill Place,
Higham by Rochester, Kent,
Monday night, Fourteenth September, 1863

My dear Sir,

Since my hall clock was sent to your establishment to be cleaned it has gone (as indeed it always has) perfectly well, but has struck the hours with great reluctance, and after enduring internal agonies of a most distressing nature, it has now ceased striking altogether. Though a happy release for the clock, this is not convenient to the household. If you can send down any confidential person with whom the clock can confer, I think it may have something on its works it would be glad to make a clean breast of,

Faithfully yours,


Monday, 6 February 2012

My muse is not a horse

In 1996, following the success of his band's ninth studio album, Murder Ballads, word reached Nick Cave that he had been nominated for an MTV Award, as Best Male Artist. That nomination was soon withdrawn, however, as a result of the following rejection letter from Mr. Cave to the event's organisers. Nick very kindly agreed to read the letter aloud at Letters Live in December 2013; footage of that reading can be enjoyed in the above video.

21 Oct 96

To all those at MTV,

I would like to start by thanking you all for the support you have given me over recent years and I am both grateful and flattered by the nominations that I have received for Best Male Artist. The air play given to both the Kylie Minogue and P. J. Harvey duets from my latest album Murder Ballads has not gone unnoticed and has been greatly appreciated. So again my sincere thanks.

Having said that, I feel that it's necessary for me to request that my nomination for best male artist be withdrawn and furthermore any awards or nominations for such awards that may arise in later years be presented to those who feel more comfortable with the competitive nature of these award ceremonies. I myself, do not. I have always been of the opinion that my music is unique and individual and exists beyond the realms inhabited by those who would reduce things to mere measuring. I am in competition with no-one.

My relationship with my muse is a delicate one at the best of times and I feel that it is my duty to protect her from influences that may offend her fragile nature.

She comes to me with the gift of song and in return I treat her with the respect I feel she deserves — in this case this means not subjecting her to the indignities of judgement and competition. My muse is not a horse and I am in no horse race and if indeed she was, still I would not harness her to this tumbrel — this bloody cart of severed heads and glittering prizes. My muse may spook! May bolt! May abandon me completely!

So once again, to the people at MTV, I appreciate the zeal and energy that was put behind my last record, I truly do and say thank you and again I say thank you but thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Nick Cave

Friday, 3 February 2012

Nor was there a stock comedy Negro

In 1943, Alfred Hitchcock approached author John Steinbeck and asked him to write the script for his next movie, Lifeboat. Steinbeck agreed, and quickly supplied the director with a novella. Over the coming months, Hitchcock gradually modified the story with the assistance of other writers, and in January of 1944, just before it premiered, Steinbeck watched the finished movie.

Steinbeck was mortified with what he saw, in particular the depiction of an African American sailor named Joe, and so wrote the following letter to 20th Century Fox to make his feelings known. A month later he sent a telegram, also seen below, to his agent and instructed her to have his name removed from the credits. The studio ignored his request.

(Source: Steinbeck: A Life in Letters; Image: John Steinbeck, by Peter Stackpole, via Life.)

New York
January 10, 1944

Dear Sirs:

I have just seen the film Lifeboat, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and billed as written by me. While in many ways the film is excellent there are one or two complaints I would like to make. While it is certainly true that I wrote a script for Lifeboat, it is not true that in that script as in the film there were any slurs against organized labor nor was there a stock comedy Negro. On the contrary there was an intelligent and thoughtful seaman who knew realistically what he was about. And instead of the usual colored travesty of the half comic and half pathetic Negro there was a Negro of dignity, purpose and personality. Since this film occurs over my name, it is painful to me that these strange, sly obliquities should be ascribed to me.

John Steinbeck


[A month later, to his agent, Annie Laurie Williams]

FEBRUARY 19, 1944