Friday, 28 September 2012

All prizes, like all titles, are dangerous



In 1926, on discovering that his novel, "Arrowsmith," had been awarded what was then called the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel, author Sinclair Lewis wrote the following letter to the Pulitzer Prize Committee and declined the honour. He remains the only person to have done so.

(Source: The Rise of Sinclair Lewis; Image: Sinclair Lewis, via.)

For Release Thursday, May 26th, 1926

To the Pulitzer Prize Committee,
Courtesy of Mr. Frank D. Fackenthal, Secretary,
Columbia University
New York City

Sirs:—

I wish to acknowledge your choice of my novel "Arrowsmith" for the Pulitzer Prize. That prize I must refuse, and my refusal would be meaningless unless I explained the reasons.

All prizes, like all titles, are dangerous. The seekers for prizes tend to labor not for inherent excellence but for alien rewards: they tend to write this, or timorously to avoid writing that, in order to tickle the prejudices of a haphazard committee. And the Pulitzer Prize for novels is peculiarly objectionable because the terms of it have been constantly and grievously misrepresented.

Those terms are that the prize shall be given "for the American novel published during the year which shall best present the wholesome atmosphere of American life, and the highest standard of American manners and manhood." This phrase, if it means anything whatever, would appear to mean that the appraisal of the novels shall be made not according to their actual literary merit but in obedience to whatever code of Good Form may chance to be popular at the moment.

That there is such a limitation of the award is little understood. Because of the condensed manner in which the announcement is usually reported, and because certain publishers have trumpeted that any novel which has received the Pulitzer Prize has thus been established without qualification as the best novel, the public has come to believe that the prize is the highest honor which an American novelist can receive.

The Pulitzer Prize for Novels signifies, already, much more than a convenient thousand dollars to be accepted even by such writers as smile secretly at the actual wording of the terms. It is tending to become a sanctified tradition. There is a general belief that the administrators of the prize are a pontifical body with the discernment and power to grant the prize as the ultimate proof of merit. It is believed that they are always guided by a committee of responsible critics, though in the case both of this and other Pulitzer Prizes, the administrators can, and sometimes do, quite arbitrarily reject the recommendations of their supposed advisers.

If already the Pulitzer Prize is so important, it is not absurd to suggest that in another generation it may, with the actual terms of the award ignored, become the one thing for which any ambitious novelist will strive; and the administrators of the prize may become a supreme court, a college of cardinals, so rooted and so sacred that to challenge them will be to commit blasphemy. Such is the French Academy, and we have had the spectacle of even an Anatole France intriguing for election.

Only by regularly refusing the Pulitzer Prize can novelists keep such a power from being permanently set up over them.

Between the Pulitzer Prizes, the American Academy of Arts and Letters and its training-school, the National Institute of Arts and Letters, amateur boards of censorship, and the inquisition of earnest literary ladies, every compulsion is put upon writers to become safe, polite, obedient, and sterile. In protest, I declined election to the National Institute of Arts and Letters some years ago, and now I must decline the Pulitzer Prize.

I invite other writers to consider the fact that by accepting the prizes and approval of these vague institutions we are admitting their authority, publicly confirming them as the final judges of literary excellence, and I inquire whether any prize is worth that subservience.

I am, sirs,

Yours sincerely,

(Signed)

Sinclair Lewis

Thursday, 27 September 2012

My wick hath a thief in it



In January of 1824, after weeks of intense suffering at the hands of what he later admitted was simply "a severe cold," renowned essayist and poet Charles Lamb sent the following letter to his good friend and fellow poet, Bernard Barton — a hugely entertaining letter that contains what is surely one of the greatest, most over-dramatic descriptions of a cold ever written.

Apparently, Barton didn't see the funny side. Two weeks later, Lamb wrote again and apologised for causing concern.

(Source: The Letters of Charles Lamb; Image: Charles Lamb, painted by Willam Hazlitt in 1804, via Wikipedia.)

January 9th, 1824

Dear B.B.—

Do you know what it is to succumb under an insurmountable day-mare,—"a whoreson lethargy," Falstaff calls it,—an indisposition to do anything, or to be anything,—a total deadness and distaste,—a suspension of vitality,—an indifference to locality,—a numb, soporifical, good-for-nothingness,—an ossification all over,—an oyster-like insensibility to the passing events,—a mind-stupor,—a brawny defiance to the needles of a thrusting-in conscience. Did you ever have a very bad cold, with a total irresolution to submit to water-gruel processes? This has been for many weeks my lot, and my excuse; my fingers drag heavily over this paper, and to my thinking it is three-and-twenty furlongs from here to the end of this demi-sheet. I have not a thing to say; nothing is of more importance than another; I am flatter than a denial or a pancake; emptier than Judge Parke's wig when the head is in it; duller than a country stage when the actors are off it; a cipher, an o! I acknowledge life at all, only by an occasional convulsional cough, and a permanent phlegmatic pain in the chest. I am weary of the world; life is weary of me. My day is gone into twilight, and I don't think it worth the expense of candles. My wick hath a thief in it, but I can't muster courage to snuff it. I inhale suffocation; I can't distinguish veal from mutton; nothing interests me. 'Tis twelve o'clock, and Thurtell is just now coming out upon the New Drop, Jack Ketch alertly tucking up his greasy sleeves to do the last office of mortality, yet cannot I elicit a groan or a moral reflection. If you told me the world will be at an end to-morrow, I should just say, "Will it?" I have not volition enough left to dot my i's, much less to comb my eyebrows; my eyes are set in my head; my brains are gone out to see a poor relation in Moorfields, and they did not say when they'd come back again; my skull is a Grub-street attic to let—not so much as a joint-stool or a crack'd jordan left in it; my hand writes, not I, from habit, as chickens run about a little, when their heads are off. O for a vigorous fit of gout, cholic, toothache,—an earwig in my auditory, a fly in my visual organs; pain is life—the sharper, the more evidence of life; but this apathy, this death! Did you ever have an obstinate cold,—a six or seven weeks' unintermitting chill and suspension of hope, fear, conscience, and everything? Yet do I try all I can to cure it; I try wine, and spirits, and smoking, and snuff in unsparing quantities, but they all only seem to make me worse, instead of better. I sleep in a damp room, but it does me no good; I come home late o'nights, but do not find any visible amendment! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

It is just fifteen minutes after twelve; Thurtell is by this time a good way on his journey, baiting at Scorpion perhaps; Ketch is bargaining for his cast coat and waistcoat; and the Jew demurs at first at three half-crowns, but on consideration that he may get somewhat by showing 'em in the town, finally closes.

C. L.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Your road manager needs a POKE



In March of 1966, as their Australian tour came to an end, a few members of The Rolling Stones — Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts — decided to unwind by taking a short break in Fiji. It was during that visit, and due in no small part to a flippant remark made by their road manager concerning the quiet reception they received on arrival, that the magnificent letter seen below was sent, by an anonymous local schoolkid, to their hotel.

The letter is currently on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Janet Godley (huge thanks!); Image: The Stones in 1966, via.)



Transcript
To the Rolling Stones,

Just wanted you to know, me and my friends with nearly the whole school, HATE you. Because you don't look like men, you are nothing but ANIMALS, and smell like them too. We know also that you are DIRTY and STINK. You probably never have baths which is typical of English pigs like you. I hope that you hurry up and go away from clean Fiji, because we don't want you here, you PIGS. We HATE HATE HATE you. I am speaking on behalf of 640 kids who all HATE you. So go and pick some pigsty in the slums of smelly England and have your MISERABLE holiday there. Your stupid road manager was upset about no-one greeting you, because we HATE you. Your road manager needs a POKE. If you dare to set foot in Suva, me and my friends will tell some of the MEN of Fiji (Suva), to come and SPIT on you, and go to the TOILET on you. Thats all your worth. So do what I said, and GET OUT, we HATE you.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

This, sir, is my resignation



On December 5th of 1921, future-Nobel laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Faulkner landed a job as a University of Mississippi postmaster. Despite numerous reports of his writing novels on the job, losing and occasionally throwing away mail, ignoring colleagues and customers, playing bridge during opening hours, and regularly turning up late only to leave early, Faulkner somehow held the position for almost three years — until, in September of 1924, a predictably unflattering inspection resulted in him being forced to resign.

He wrote the following letter to his superiors.

(Source: Conversations with William Faulkner & Thomas Lee; Image: William Faulkner in 1940, via LIFE.)

[October, 1924]

As long as I live under the capitalistic system, I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp.

This, sir, is my resignation.

(Signed)

Friday, 21 September 2012

The Vision of Sin



In the 1840s, shortly after reading Alfred Tennyson's poem, "The Vision of Sin," mathematician and "father of the computer," Charles Babbage, wrote the following letter to the poet and suggested an alteration in the name of accuracy.

For a modern day equivalent, see Simon Singh's take on Katie Melua's song, Nine Million Bicycles.

(Source: The Difference Engine: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer; Image: Charles Babbage in 1860, via LIFE.)

Sir:

In your otherwise beautiful poem "The Vision of Sin" there is a verse which reads – "Every moment dies a man, Every moment one is born." It must be manifest that if this were true, the population of the world would be at a standstill. In truth, the rate of birth is slightly in excess of that of death.

I would suggest that in the next edition of your poem you have it read – "Every moment dies a man, Every moment 1 1/16 is born."

The actual figure is so long I cannot get it onto a line, but I believe the figure 1 1/16 will be sufficiently accurate for poetry.

I am, Sir, yours, etc.,

Charles Babbage

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Sin-sationally, Mae West



In 1942, midway through World War II, Hollywood actress Mae West discovered that RAF aircrew had taken to calling their life jackets "Mae Wests" — in part due to rhyming slang, and also as a result of their "bulging" shape when inflated. West, delighted to be playing even a minuscule part in proceedings, immediately wrote the following letter to the RAF.

(Source: Air Force Association, 1943; Image: Mae West posing with a signed "Mae West," via.)

Dear Boys of the RAF:

I have just seen that RAF flyers have a life-saving jacket they call a "Mae West" because it bulges in all the "right places." Well, I consider it a swell honor to have such great guys wrapped up in me, know what I mean?

Yes, it's kind of a nice thought to be flying all over with brave men, even if I'm only there by proxy in the form of a life-saving jacket, or a life-saving jacket in my form. I always thought that the best way to hold a man was in your arms — but I guess when you're in the air a plane is safer. You've got to keep everything under control.

Yeah, the jacket idea is all right and I can't imagine anything better than to bring you boys of the RAF soft and happy landings. But what I'd like to know about that life-saving jacket is — has it got shapely shoulders? If I do get into the dictionary — where they say you want to put me — how will they describe me? As a warm and clinging life-saving garment worn by aviators? Or an aviator's jacket that supplies the woman's touch while the boys are flying around nights? How would you describe me boys? I've been in Who's Who and I know what's what, but it'll be the first time I ever made the dictionary.

Thanks boys.

Sin-sationally,

Mae West

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

What do I want in a doctor?



In 1964, following the retirement of his regular physician, 62-year-old novelist John Steinbeck was asked by his new doctor to complete a routine medical questionnaire for his records. Steinbeck did exactly that, and on reaching the last of its many pages, the Grapes of Wrath author discovered, and left blank, a small space reserved for "any other data you think may be of importance." Instead, he wrote a letter.

John Steinbeck passed away four years later.

(Source: Steinbeck: A Life in Letters; Image: John Steinbeck & his wife, Elaine, in 1963, via Stripes.)

New York

March 5, 1964

Dear Denny:

I have been filling out my mortal record called a medical passport. There it is—all down there—the past and the future just as plain as the varicosities on my mother's legs and my father's vascular difficulties. There is one thing pleasantly unconfusing about medicine. The direction and the end are fixed and the patient never works backward.

It does occur to me that clear as this picture is, there may be other matters, some taken for granted and others ignored intentionally or otherwise. What is the reason for having a doctor at all? It is a very recent conception. I suppose the present day reason from the patient's point of view is to get through his life with as little pain and confusion as possible and out of it neatly and decently. But for the duration the doctor is supposed to listen to frustrations and to cater to various whims of the central nervous system. I am interested in the line in this thesis of disintegration which indicates that on request, you will keep me in sweet ignorance of what is happening to me. I know it is desired in many cases but I can't understand it from my viewpoint.

What do I want in a doctor? Perhaps more than anything else—a friend with special knowledge. If you had never dived and I were with you, it would be my purpose to instruct you in the depths and dangers, of the pleasant and the malign. I guess I mean the same thing somewhat. We are so made that rascally, unsubtle flares may cause a meaningless panic whereas a secret treason may be nibbling away, unannounced or even pleasant as in the rapture of the deep. Two kinds of pain there are—or rather a number of kinds. I think especially of the teaching pain which counsels us not to hurt ourselves as opposed to the blast that signals slow or fast disintegration. Unskilled, we do not know the difference and, I am told, even the skilled lose their knowledge when the thing is in themselves. It seems to me that one would prepare oneself differently to meet these two approaches, if one knew.

Then there is the signal for the curtain. I think, since the end is the same, that the chief protagonist should have the right to judge his exit, if he can, taking into consideration his survivors who are after all, the only ones who matter.

Then there is the daily regimen and I have always considered this a fake in most people—the diet, the exercise, the pills, the rest, the elimination. It is probably true that careful following of learned instructions will prolong a usually worthless life, but it has been my observation that by the time the subject needs such advice, he is too firmly fixed in his habits to take it. Oh! he'll do it for a while, but he soon slips back and that is probably a good thing. Pills he will take but little else unless terror should get to him, in which case, many men and women become voluntary invalids and soon find that they love it.

Of course I love to fool myself as well as the next person, but not to the point where I find it ridiculous. I am trying to give you a graph, Denny, so that you will know what you are dealing with.

I do not think of pain as a punishment and I will avoid it as much as I can. On the other hand, to use a common experience, I would rather have the quick and disappearing pain of the dentist's chair than the drawn out misery of wearing-off novocaine. In most cases, I have been able to separate what hurts from fear of what might hurt.

In reporting effects I am reasonably honest. It is difficult to remember after any trouble has passed. Lastly, I do not find illness an eminence, and I do not understand how people can use it to draw attention to themselves since the attention they draw is nearly always reluctantly given and unpleasantly carried out.

I dislike helplessness in other people and in myself, and this is by far my greatest fear of illness.

Believe me, I would not go on in this vein, and never do, were it not for the nature of this communication.

I shall probably not change my habits very much unless incapacity forces it. I don't think I am unique in this.

Now finally, I am not religious so that I have no apprehension of a hereafter, either a hope of reward or a fear of punishment. It is not a matter of belief. It is what I feel to be true from my experience, observation and simple tissue feeling.

Secondly—I have had a good span of life so that from now on in I should not feel short-changed.

Thirdly—I have lived very fully and vividly and there is no possibility of cosmic pique.

Fourthly—I have had far more than my share of the things men strive for—material things and honors and love.

Fifthly, my life has been singularly free of illness or accident. At any rate the wellness has far overbalanced the sicknesses.

Sixthly—I do not come to you as a sick man.

Oh! I know the heart syncopates and I have fainted twice in my life and a stretch of overindulgence blocked my gall bladder a couple of times, but all in all I am remarkably healthy. And I know that because my curiosity has in no way abated. And as I said before, I would rather live more fully and for a shorter time.

And now the last thing you should know. I love Elaine more than myself. Her well being and comfort and happiness are more important than my own. And I would go to any length to withhold from her any pain or sorrow that is not needful for her own enrichment.

I hope this is of some value to you. Now, we go on from there.

Yours
John

Monday, 17 September 2012

What a world



One icy morning in January of 1984, as the University of Oregon's wrestling team headed to their next tournament in Pullman, Washington, the driver of the bus on which they were travelling lost control of the vehicle on a mountain road and could do nothing to stop it tumbling through the guardrail and over a 300-ft cliff. One boy, Lorenzo West, was killed on impact; another, 20-year-old Jed Kesey, was left brain dead. He passed away within days.

Shortly after Jed's funeral at his family's farm, his dad, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest author Ken Kesey, wrote the following letter to five of his closest friends

(Source: CoEvolution Quarterly; Image: Ken Kesey, via.)

Dear Wendell and Larry and Ed and Bob and Gurney:

Partners, it's been a bitch.

I've got to write and tell somebody about some stuff and, like I long ago told Larry, you're the best backboard I know. So indulge me a little; I am but hurt.

We built the box ourselves (George Walker, mainly) and Zane and Jed's friends and frat brothers dug the hole in a nice spot between the chicken house and the pond. Page found the stone and designed the etching. You would have been proud, Wendell, especially of the box — clear pine pegged together and trimmed with redwood. The handles of thick hemp rope. And you, Ed, would have appreciated the lining. It was a piece of Tibetan brocade given Mountain Girl by Owsley 15 years ago, gilt and silver and russet phoenixbird patterns, unfurling in flames. And last month, Bob, Zane was goose hunting in the field across the road and killed a snow goose. I told him be sure to save the down. Susan Butkovitch covered this in white silk for the pillow while Faye and MG and Gretch and Candace stitched and stapled the brocade into the box.

It was a double-pretty day, like winter holding its breath, giving us a break. About 300 people stood around and sung from the little hymnbooks that Diane Kesey had Xeroxed — "Everlasting Arms," "Sweet Hour of Prayer," "In the Garden" and so forth. With all my cousins leading the singing and Dale on his fiddle. While we were singing "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," Zane and Kit and the neighbor boys that have grown up with all of us carried the box to the hole. The preacher is also the Pleasant Hill School superintendent and has known our kids since kindergarten. I learned a lot about Jed that I'd either forgotten or never known — like his being a member of the National Honor Society and finishing sixth in a class of more than a hundred.

We sung some more. People filed by and dropped stuff in on Jed. I put in that silver whistle I used to wear with the Hopi cross soldered on it. One of our frat brothers put in a quartz watch guaranteed to keep beeping every 15 minutes for five years. Faye put in a snapshot of her and I standing with a pitchfork all Grantwoodesque in front of the old bus. Paul Foster put in the little leatherbound New Testament given him by his father who had carried it during his 65 years as a minister. Paul Sawyer read from Leaves of Grass while the boys each hammered in the one nail they had remembered to put in their pockets. The Betas formed a circle and passed the loving cup around (a ritual our fraternity generally uses when a member is leaving the circle to become engaged) (Jed and Zane and I are all members, y'unnerstand, not to mention Hagen) and the boys lowered the box with these ropes George had cut and braided. Zane and I tossed in the first shovelfuls. It sounded like the first thunderclaps of Revelations...

But it's an earlier scene I want to describe for you all, as writers and friends and fathers...up at the hospital, in cold grey Spokane:

He'd finally started moving a little. Zane and I had been carrying plastic bags of snow to pack his head in trying to stop the swelling that all the doctors told us would follow as blood poured to the bruised brain. And we noticed some reaction to the cold. And the snow I brushed across his lips to ease the bloody parch where all the tubes ran in caused him to roll his arms a little. Then more. Then too much, with the little monitor lights bleeping faster and faster, and I ran to the phone to call the motel where I had just sent most of the family for some rest.

"You guys better get back over here! He's either going or coming."

Everybody was there in less than five minutes — Chuck and Sue, Kit and Zane, Shan and her fiance Jay, Jay's dad Irby, Sheryl and her husband Bill, my mom, Faye...my whole family except for my dead daddy and Grandma Smith down with age and Alzheimer's. Jed's leg was shaking with the force of his heartbeat. Kit and Zane tried to hold it. He was starting to go into seizures, like the neurosurgeon had predicted.

Up till this time everybody had been exhorting him to "Hang on, Old Timer. Stick it out. This thing can't pin you. You're too tough, too brave. Sure it hurts but you can pull through it. Just grit your teeth and hang on." Now we could see him trying, fighting. We could see it in his clenching fists, his threshing legs. And then aw Jesus we saw it in his face. The peacefully swollen unconscious blank suddenly was filled with expression. He came back in. He checked it out, and he saw better than we could begin to imagine how terribly hurt he was. His poor face grimaced with pain. His purple brow knitted and his teeth actually did try to clench on the tubes.

And then, O my old buddies, he cried. The doctors had already told us in every gentle way they could that he was brain dead, gone for good, but we all saw it...the quick flickerback of consciousness, the awful hurt being realized, the tears saying "I don't think I can do 'er this time, Dad. I'm sorry, I truly am..."

And everybody said, "It's okay, ol' Jedderdink. You know better than we do. Breathe easy. Go on ahead. We'll catch you later down the line."

His threshing stopped. His face went blank again. I thought of Old Jack, Wendell, ungripping his hands, letting his fields finally go.

The phone rang in the nurses' quarters. It was the doctor, for me. He had just appraised all the latest readouts on the monitors. "Your son is essentially dead, Mr. Kesey. I'm very sorry."

And the sorrow rung absolutely honest. I said something. Zane picked up the extension and we watched each other while the voice explained the phenomena. We said we saw it also, and were not surprised. Thank you...

Then the doctor asked a strange thing. He wanted to know what kind of kid Jed was. Zane and I both demanded what he meant. He said he was wondering how Jed would have felt about being an organ donor. Our hearts both jumped.

"He would love it! Jed's always been as generous as they come. Take whatever you can use!"

The doctor waited for our elation to ease down, then told us that to take the kidneys they had to take them before the life support was turned off. Did we understand? After a while we told him we did.

So Faye and I had to sign five copies apiece, on a cold formica countertop, while the machine pumped out the little "beep...beep...beep..." in the dim tangle of technology behind us. In all my life, waking and dreaming, I've never imagined anything harder.

Everybody went in and told him goodbye, kissed his broken nose, shook his hand, squeezed his big old hairy foot...headed down the corridor. Somebody said it might be a good idea to get a scrip for some kind of downers. We'd all been up for about 40 hours, either in the chapel praying like maniacs, or at his bedside talking to him. We didn't know if we could sleep.

Chuck and I walked back to the intensive care ward to ask. All the doctors were there, bent over a long list, phoning numbers, matching blood types, ordering nurses...in such a hurry they hardly had time to offer sympathy. Busy, and justly so. But the nurses, the nurses bent over their clipboards, could barely see to fill out the forms.

They phoned the hotel about an hour later to tell us it was over, and that the kidneys were in perfect shape. That was about four in the morning. They phoned again a little after six to say that the kidneys were already in two young somebodies.

What a world.

We've heard since that they used twelve things out of him, including corneas. And the redwinged blackbirds sing in the budding greengage plumtree.

With love,

Ken

P.S. When Jed's wallet was finally sorted out of the debris and confusion of the wreck it was discovered that he had already provided for such a situation. He had signed the place on his driver's license indicating that he wanted to be an organ donor in the event of etc., etc. One man gathers what another man spills. 

Friday, 14 September 2012

There is no money in answering letters



In 1961, comedian Groucho Marx and filmmaker Woody Allen met for the first time and embarked on a friendship that would last 16 years. Groucho—the elder of the pair by 45 years—reminded Woody of "a Jewish uncle in my family, a wisecracking Jewish uncle with a sarcastic wit," whilst Woody was, according to Groucho in 1976, "the most important comic talent around." In March of 1967, following a lengthy break in their correspondence that Woody found infuriating, Groucho finally wrote him a letter.

(Reprinted by permission of Groucho Marx Productions, Inc.)

March 22, 1967

Dear WW:

Goodie Ace told some unemployed friend of mine that you were disappointed or annoyed or happy or drunk that I hadn't answered the letter you wrote me some years ago. You know, of course, there is no money in answering letters—unless they're letters of credit from Switzerland or the Mafia. I write you reluctantly, for I know you are doing six things simultaneously—five including sex. I don't know where you get the time to correspond.

Your play, I trust, will still be running when I arrive in New York the first or second week in April. This must be terribly annoying to the critics who, if I remember correctly, said it wouldn't go because it was too funny. Since it's still running, they must be even more annoyed. This happened to my son's play, on which he collaborated with Bob Fisher. The moral is: don't write a comedy that makes an audience laugh.

This critic problem has been discussed ever since I was Bar Mitzvahed almost 100 years ago. I never told this to anyone, but I received two gifts when I emerged from childhood into what I imagine today is manhood. An uncle, who was then in the money, presented me with a pair of long black stockings, and an aunt, who was trying to make me, gave me a silver watch. Three days after I received these gifts, the watch disappeared. The reason it was gone was that my brother Chico didn't shoot pool nearly as well as he thought he did. He hocked it at a pawnshop at 89th Street and Third Avenue. One day while wandering around aimlessly, I discovered it hanging in the window of the hock shop. Had not my initials been engraved on the back, I wouldn't have recognized it, for the sun had tarnished it so completely it was now coal black. The stockings, which I had worn for a week without ever having them washed, were now a mottled green. This was my total reward for surviving 13 years.

And that, briefly, is why I haven't written you for some time. I'm still wearing the stockings—they're not my stockings anymore, they're just parts of my leg.

You wrote that you were coming out here in February, and I, in a frenzy of excitement, purchased so much delicatessen that, had I kept it in cold cash instead of cold cuts, it would have taken care of my contribution to the United Jewish Welfare Fund for 1967 and '68.

I think I'll be at the St. Regis hotel in New York. And for God's sake don't have any more success—it's driving me crazy. My best to you and your diminutive friend, little Dickie.

Groucho

Thursday, 13 September 2012

A degenerate sort of cult



In the year 112 AD, Pliny the Younger — Roman governor of Bithynia (now northern Turkey) — faced a problem: An obscure Jewish sect called "Christianity" had begun to spread through the region, resulting in numerous complaints from locals and calls for the immediate execution of those who refused to worship the Roman gods. Seeking assistance on how to deal with this "wretched cult," Pliny wrote the following letter — a letter which remains one of the earliest written accounts of Roman conflict with Christians — to Roman Emperor Trajan and asked who to punish, and to what extreme. Trajan's reply also follows.

(Source: The Letters of the Younger Pliny.)

To the Emperor Trajan

It is my custom to refer all my difficulties to you, sir, for no one is better able to resolve my doubts and inform my ignorance.

I have never been present at an examination of Christians. Consequently, I do not know the nature or the extent of the punishments usually meted out to them, nor the grounds for starting an investigation and how far it should be pressed. Nor am I at all sure whether any distinction should be made between them on the grounds of age, or if young people and adults should be treated alike; whether a pardon ought to be granted to anyone retracting his beliefs, or if he has once professed Christianity, he shall gain nothing by renouncing it; and whether it is the mere name of Christian which is punishable, even if innocent of crime, or rather the crimes associated with the name.

For the moment this is the line I have taken with all persons brought before me on the charge of being Christians. I have asked them in person if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and a third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution; for whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakable obstinacy ought not to go unpunished.

Now that I have begun to deal with this problem, as so often happens, the charges are becoming more widespread and increasing in variety. An anonymous pamphlet has been circulated which contains the names of a number of accused persons. Among these I felt that I should dismiss any who denied that they were or ever had been Christians when they had repeated after me a formula of invocation to the gods and had made offerings of wine and incense to your statue (which I had ordered to be brought into court for this purpose along with the images of the gods), and furthermore had reviled the name of Christ—none of which things, I understand, any genuine Christian can be induced to do.

Others, whose names were given to me by an informer, first admitted the charge and then denied it; they said that they had ceased to be Christians two or more years previously, and some of them even twenty years ago. They all did reverence to your statue and the images of the gods in the same way as the others, and reviled the name of Christ. They also declared that the sum total of their guilt or error amounted to no more than this: they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately among themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery and adultery, to commit no breach of trust and not to deny a deposit when called on to restore it. After this ceremony it had been their custom to disperse and reassemble later to take food of an ordinary, harmless kind; but they had in fact given up this practice since my edict, issued on your instructions, which banned all political societies. This made me decide that it was all the more necessary to extract the truth by torture from two slave-women, whom they call deaconesses. I found nothing but a degenerate sort of cult carried to extravagant lengths.

I have therefore postponed any further examination and hastened to consult you. The question seems to me worthy of your consideration, especially in view of the number of persons endangered; for a great many individuals of every age and class, both men and women, are being brought to trial, and this is likely to continue. It is not only the towns, but villages and rural districts too which are infected through contact with this wretched cult. I think though that it is still possible for it to be checked and directed to better ends, for there is no doubt that people have begun to throng the temples which had been almost entirely deserted for a long time; the sacred rites which had been allowed to lapse are being performed again, and flesh of sacrificial victims is on sale everywhere, though up till recently scarcely anyone could be found to buy it. It is easy to infer from this that a great many people could be reformed if they were given an opportunity to repent.

---------------------------

Trajan's response:

You have followed the right course of procedure, my dear Pliny, for it is impossible to lay down a general rule to a fixed formula. These people must not be hunted out; if they are brought before you and the charge against them is proved, they must be punished, but in the case of anyone who denies that he is a Christian, and makes it clear that he is not by offering prayers to our gods, he is to be pardoned as a result of his repentance however suspect his past conduct may be. But pamphlets circulated anonymously must play no part in any accusation. They create the worst sort of precedent and are quite out of keeping with the spirit of our age.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Please send in your letters



When, in September of 1965, it was suggested to Charles Bukowski that a collection of his letters would be an attractive proposition for publishers and the reading public, the legendary poet quickly set about recovering as much material as he could by way of the following form letter — written in his own inimitable style and sent to everyone with whom he had previously corresponded.

Unfortunately, and despite a healthy response to his plea, that particular collection didn't materialise. Thankfully, many since have.

(Source: Selected Letters Volume 2 (v. 2); Image: Charles Bukowski, via Bukowski Quotes.)

an open letter to those who hold my letters to their bellies in the dark closets their lives

Dear mr. miss, mrs. queer, lesbian and so forth,

what the hell, they are stacking the stuff up to smear us like fly smear and you hold onto a couple of ten cent baubles, these editors are attempting to collect a collection, that's profound enough, and a dog with 3 legs staggers, dogs, flies, ach! what I mean is, don't be that way – when I wrote you to begin with, I wrote you because I thought you were a real person not a real estate salesman of sorts, and look look, I am drinking here now and I think the sky will fall down, I look around in panic, 45 years dripping from my belly and you hold onto a couple of letters, it's this, it is a collection, and, shit, it may be YOUR LAST CHANCE AT IMMORTALITY, ah haha ha!

when I wrote these letters I wrote them to you and I wasn't thinking about a collection because as you must know I was mostly very poor and very unknown and still am, yet, some find interest in these drunken wailings, are you going to kill me like being a screw in a jail? are you going to half-kill me like a whore taking my wallet while I sleep? are you going to fire me like the factory foreman because orders have fallen off? are you going to kick me out like the landlord because I can't pay the rent, WHAT I AM TRYING TO SAY IS THIS: ARE YOU GOING TO BE LIKE THE REST OF THE WORLD OR ARE YOU GOING TO BE LIKE THE PERSON I THOUGHT I WAS WRITING TO? if this sounds like I am begging, then I am: I am begging for faith and a little bit to go on with.

I don't know the actualities, maybe a big name publisher, maybe just shit smeared onto toilet paper with fingernails, but when I wrote you I felt you, the sound and realness of you, the you you you, myself directing the arrow the heart the crooked music of what was left after the factory the racetrack whatever whatever. I can't feel you'll let me down; I can't feel you've grown that dead, if it's only money money, my god, I'll try to send you a little each day each week each month; whatever I have.

I ask you out of whatever is left of my soul, out of what tiny bit of gentility and mirror of a sweat shot of sun I have left, please send in your letters and you'll be received where you should be received: where I met you, say, peeling an orange and talking about Picasso, anything, guts, spirals, pawnshop brokers, rain, almost love, broken doors, donkeys without names. I guess I must sound like a cocksucking preacher, I am tired. I only want all the parts to be all the parts like the river running after the 6 horse. I can't say anymore, your move and the night grows dank with the sweat of violets pimping.

love, ya ya ya.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Sympathy begins at home



In February of 1905, the following letter was sent to an aspiring writer by Jack London — the renowned author responsible for, most notably, White Fang and The Call of the Wild. In actual fact, it was a form letter used many times by London until, a couple of years later, he vowed to read and respond to as many manuscripts as possible in an effort to better study his fellow man. An example of such a response, written nine years later, can be seen here.

(Source: No Mentor but Myself; Image: Jack London, via.)

Oakland, California
Febraury 20, 1905

Dear Sir:

Every time a writer tells the truth about a manuscript (or book), to a friend-author, he loses that friend, or sees that friendship dim and fade away to a ghost of what it was formerly.

Every time a writer tells the truth about a manuscript (or book), to a stranger-author, he makes an enemy.

If the writer loves his friend and fears to lose him, he lies to his friend.

But what's the good of straining himself to lie to strangers?

And, with like insistence, what's the good of making enemies anyway?

Furthermore, a known writer is overwhelmed by requests from strangers to read their work and pass judgment upon it. This is properly the work of a literary bureau. A writer is not a literary bureau. If he is foolish enough to become a literary bureau, he will cease to be a writer. He won't have time to write.

Also, as a charitable literary bureau, he will receive no pay. Wherefore he will soon go bankrupt and himself live upon the charity of friends (if he has not already made them all his enemies by telling them the truth), while he will behold his wife and children went their melancholy way to the poorhouse.

Sympathy for the struggling unknown is all very well. It is beautiful—but there are so many struggling unknowns, something like several millions of them. And sympathy can be worked too hard. Sympathy begins at home. The writer would far rather allow the multitudinous unknowns to remain unknown than to allow his near and dear ones to occupy pauper pallets and potter's fields.

Sincerely yours,

Jack London

Thursday, 6 September 2012

How could you go ahead of me?



In April of 1998, shortly after excavating an ancient tomb in Andong City, South Korea, archaeologists were stunned to find the coffin of Eung-Tae Lee — a 16th-century male, now mummified, who, until his death at the age of 30, had been a member of the ancient Goseong Yi clan. Resting on his chest was the following moving letter, written by his pregnant widow and addressed to the father of their unborn child. Also found in the tomb, placed beside his head, were the sandals pictured above, woven from hemp bark and his distraught wife's own hair.

Translated transcript follows.

(Source: Archaeological Institute of America, via John Johnson; Image of sandals via.)



Transcript
To Won's Father

June 1, 1586

You always said, "Dear, let's live together until our hair turns gray and die on the same day." How could you pass away without me? Who should I and our little boy listen to and how should we live? How could you go ahead of me?

How did you bring your heart to me and how did I bring my heart to you? Whenever we lay down together you always told me, "Dear, do other people cherish and love each other like we do? Are they really like us?" How could you leave all that behind and go ahead of me?

I just cannot live without you. I just want to go to you. Please take me to where you are. My feelings toward you I cannot forget in this world and my sorrow knows no limit. Where would I put my heart in now and how can I live with the child missing you?

Please look at this letter and tell me in detail in my dreams. Because I want to listen to your saying in detail in my dreams I write this letter and put it in. Look closely and talk to me.

When I give birth to the child in me, who should it call father? Can anyone fathom how I feel? There is no tragedy like this under the sky.

You are just in another place, and not in such a deep grief as I am. There is no limit and end to my sorrows that I write roughly. Please look closely at this letter and come to me in my dreams and show yourself in detail and tell me. I believe I can see you in my dreams. Come to me secretly and show yourself. There is no limit to what I want to say and I stop here.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

I have not shot her yet



In 1927, the year after her first collection of poetry, Enough Rope, was published to rave reviews, the eternally sarcastic and rightly celebrated satirist, critic, and founding member of the Algonquin Round Table, Dorothy Parker, found herself in hospital suffering from exhaustion—a condition brought on, in part, by a turbulent affair with American publisher Seward Collins during which they travelled to Europe and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Her time in hospital was a welcome respite from the madness, but also irritatingly uneventful. On May 5th, she wrote a humorous letter to Collins and gave him an entertaining update on her visit.

Related: Parker's telegram to her editor in 1945.

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

The Presbyterian Hospital
In the City of New York
41 East 70th St.

May 5, I think

Dear Seward, honest, what with music lessons and four attacks of measles and all that expense of having my teeth straightened, I was brought up more carefully than to write letters in pencil. But I asked the nurse for some ink—just asked her in a nice way—and she left the room and hasn't been heard of from that day to this. So that, my dears, is how I met Major (later General) Grant.

Maybe only the trusties are allowed to play with ink.

I am practically bursting with health, and the medical world, hitherto white with suspense, is entertaining high hopes—I love that locution—you can just see the high hopes, all dressed up, being taken to the Hippodrome and then to Maillard's for tea. Or maybe you can't—the hell with it.

This is my favorite kind of hospital and everybody is very brisk and sterilized and kind and nice. But they are always sticking thermometers into you or turning lights on you or instructing you in occupational therapy (rug-making—there's a fascinating pursuit!) and you don't get a chance to gather any news for letter-writing.

Of course, if I thought you would listen, I could tell you about the cunning little tot of four who ran up and down the corridor all day long; and I think, from the way he sounded, he had his little horse-shoes on—some well-wisher had given him a bunch of keys to play with, and he jingled them as he ran, and just as he came to my door, the manly little fellow would drop them and when I got so I knew just when to expect the crash, he'd fool me and run by two or even three times without letting them go. Well, they took him up and operated on his shoulder, and they don't think he will ever be able to use his right arm again. So that will stop that god damn nonsense.

And then there is the nurse who tells me she is afraid she is an incorrigible flirt, but somehow she just can't help it. She also pronounces "picturesque" picture-skew, and "unique" un-i-kew, and it is amazing how often she manages to introduce these words into her conversation, leading the laughter herself. Also, when she leaves the room, she says "see you anon." I have not shot her yet. Maybe Monday.

And, above all, there is the kindhearted if ineffectual gentleman across the hall, where he lies among his gallstones, who sent me in a turtle to play with. Honest. Sent me in a turtle to play with. I am teaching it two-handed bridge. And as soon as I get really big and strong, I am going to race it to the end of the room and back.

I should love to see Daisy, but it seems that there is some narrow-minded prejudice against bringing dogs into hospitals. And anyway, I wouldn't trust these bastards of doctors. She would probably leave here with a guinea-pig's thyroid in her. Helen says she is magnificent—she has been plucked and her girlish waist-line has returned. I thought the dear devoted little beast might eat her heart out in my absence, and you know she shouldn't have meat. But she is playful as a puppy, and has nine new toys—three balls and six assorted plush animals. She insists on taking the entire collection to bed with her, and, as she sleeps on Helen's bed, Helen is looking a little haggard these days.

At my tearful request, Helen said to her "Dorothy sends her love."

"Who?" she said.

I am enclosing a little thing sent by some unknown friend. Oh, well.

And here is a poem of a literary nature. It is called Despair in Chelsea.
Osbert Sitwell
Is unable to have a satisfactory evacuation.
His brother, Sacheverel,
Doubts if he ever'll.
This is beyond doubt the dullest letter since George Moore wrote "Esther Water." But I will write you decent ones as soon as any news breaks. And after my death, Mr. Conkwright-Shreiner can put them in a book—the big stiff.

But in the meantime, I should love to hear how you are and whatever. And if in your travels, you meet any deserving family that wants to read "Mr. Fortune's Maggot," I have six copies.

Love
Dorothy

I promised my mother on her deathbed I would never write a postscript, but I had to save the wow for the finish. I have lost twenty-two pounds.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

First you have to kick my arse



In November of 1987, shortly after the release of Sting's second solo album, ...Nothing Like The Sun, a scathing article about the musician (titled, "Bring Me the Head of Gordon Sumner"; reprinted here) was published in The Village Voice, written unflinchingly by critic Howard Hampton. In it, Hampton described Sting's latest music as, amongst many other things, "perfumed gunk," compared it unfavourably to the output of Hasil Adkins, and later called Sting himself "contemptible."

Within days of the article's publication, Sting responded furiously with the following letter. It was published in the paper's next issue.

Note: Sting misspelled "eunuch," and was actually incorrect about Rupert Murdoch in one respect — he hadn't owned the paper since 1985.

(Source: Donald Houghton; Image: Sting, via.)

Dear Editor:

Oscar Wilde—"The school of criticism wherein the worst is championed as the best, and the best as the worst, is merely a form of autobiography."

Mmm...maybe you've got a point there, Oscar; let me try and explain this to Howard Hampton.

Oh Howard, why do I see you so clearly? The curse of psychic powers wedded to the transparency of your writing reveals you as a eunich at a Lester "Gang Bangs" masturbating dryly over pictures of war atrocities, wallowing in the squalid enormities of History's charnel house. Nothing beautiful can be tolerated in your world because without hatred you feel nothing, you love perversion and despise life. I'm so glad you despise me.

You patronise Hasil Adkins because he is inept (not necessarily a bad thing—I'm no critic). Because he's inept, he doesn't threaten the fragility of your self-esteem, your tenuous but essential feeling of superiority over the rest of the human race; you hate music and you hate people. This isn't Hasil's fault either—it's just that the only way you can get any attention in the big world is to threaten to smash my head against your wall—music criticism in the Fourth Reich.

If as you say the average fascist scumbag wouldn't be in the least offended by my work, then how come it got up your nose so successfully you dipshit fascist simpleton?

As far as "feelings, politics, hope, all [being] traduced into commodities"—let's try and forget that The Village Voice is owned by Rupert (every writer has his price) Murdoch. At this rate Howard you could end up as editor and be even more helpful to him in his worldwide crusade to depoliticize the populace by supplying them with meaningless, mind-numbing garbage.

"Punchy, Wunchy, Wicky, Wacky, Woo."

Who knows, when Ollie is Prez, you could be the new Goebbels. You're perfect—your writing has all the hysteria and self-loathing of the child molester, the sickening, rhetorical violence of the neo-Nazi.

So I've filed you away with a select and thankfully small group of psycho-sickos who want to torture my children or take a razor to my face; on and on they rant in a closed loop of unspeakable fantasy, repeatedly grabbing their crotches and telling me how baad they are.

And so Herr Hampton, if we do indeed have a date and you want my head splattered against your wall—first you have to kick my arse—unfortunately, you just ain't baad enough.

Bye for now.

Love,

Sting
Manhattan

P.S. I do hope this letter makes you famous.

Monday, 3 September 2012

I shall always be with you



On June 8th of 1950, nine months after being arrested by the Czech secret police on suspicion of leading a plot to overthrow the Communist regime, 48-year-old socialist politician Milada Horáková was found guilty of "high treason" following a show trial that was broadcast on national radio, and in which she remained defiant. On the 27th of that month, despite international outcry and a petition signed by, amongst others, Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill, Milada Horáková was executed at Prague's Pankrác Prison.

The night before her death, she wrote the following letter to her 16-year-old daughter.

In 1991, President Václav Havel posthumously awarded Horáková the Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk.

(Source: George Mason University, via Mark Edwards; Image: Milada Horáková on trial, via YouTube.)

My only little girl Jana,

God blessed my life as a woman with you. As your father wrote in the poem from a German prison, God gave you to us because he loved us. Apart from your father's magic, amazing love you were the greatest gift I received from fate. However, Providence planned my life in such a way that I could not give you nearly all that my mind and my heart had prepared for you. The reason was not that I loved you little; I love you just as purely and fervently as other mothers love their children. But I understood that my task here in the world was to do you good by seeing to it that life becomes better, and that all children can live well. And therefore, we often had to be apart for a long time. It is now already for the second time that Fate has torn us apart. Don't be frightened and sad because I am not coming back any more. Learn, my child, to look at life early as a serious matter. Life is hard, it does not pamper anybody, and for every time it strokes you it gives you ten blows. Become accustomed to that soon, but don't let it defeat you. Decide to fight. Have courage and clear goals and you will win over life. Much is still unclear to your young mind, and I don't have time left to explain to you things you would still like to ask me. One day, when you grow up, you will wonder and wonder, why your mother who loved you and whose greatest gift you were, managed her life so strangely. Perhaps then you will find the right solution to this problem, perhaps a better one than I could give you today myself. Of course, you will only be able to solve it correctly and truthfully by knowing very, very much. Not only from books, but from people; learn from everybody, no matter how unimportant! Go through the world with open eyes, and listen not only to your own pains and interests, but also to the pains, interests and longings of others. Don't ever think of anything as none of your business. No, everything must interest you, and you should reflect about everything, compare, compose individual phenomena. Man doesn't live in the world alone; in that there is great happiness, but also a tremendous responsibility. That obligation is first of all in not being and not acting exclusive, but rather merging with the needs and the goals of others. This does not mean to be lost in the multitude, but it is to know that I am part of all, and to bring one's best into that community. If you do that, you will succeed in contributing to the common goals of human society. Be more aware of one principle than I have been: approach everything in life constructively—beware of unnecessary negation—I am not saying all negation, because I believe that one should resist evil. But in order to be a truly positive person in all circumstances, one has to learn how to distinguish real gold from tinsel. It is hard, because tinsel sometimes glitters so dazzlingly. I confess, my child, that often in my life I was dazzled by glitter. And sometimes it even shone so falsely, that one dropped pure gold from one's hand and reached for, or ran after, false gold. You know that to organize one's scale of values well means to know not only oneself well, to be firm in the analysis of one's character, but mainly to know the others, to know as much of the world as possible, its past, present, and future development. Well, in short, to know, to understand. Not to close one's ears before anything and for no reason—not even to shut out the thoughts and opinions of anybody who stepped on my toes, or even wounded me deeply. Examine, think, criticize, yes, mainly criticize yourself don't be ashamed to admit a truth you have come to realize, even if you proclaimed the opposite a little while ago; don't become obstinate about your opinions, but when you come to consider something right, then be so definite that you can fight and die for it. As Wolker said, death is not bad. Just avoid gradual dying which is what happens when one suddenly finds oneself apart from the real life of the others. You have to put down your roots where fate determined for you to live. You have to find your own way. Look for it independently, don't let anything turn you away from it, not even the memory of your mother and father. If you really love them, you won't hurt them by seeing them critically—just don't go on a road which is wrong, dishonest and does not harmonize with life. I have changed my mind many times, rearranged many values, but, what was left as an essential value, without which I cannot imagine my life, is the freedom of my conscience. I would like you, my little girl, to think about whether I was right.

Another value is work. I don't know which to assign the first place and which the second. Learn to love work! Any work, but one you have to know really and thoroughly. Then don't be afraid of any thing, and things will turn out well for you.

And don't forget about love in your life. I am not only thinking of the red blossom which one day will bloom in your heart, and you, if fate favors you, will find a similar one in the heart of another person with whose road yours will merge. I am thinking of love without which one cannot live happily. And don't ever crumble love—learn to give it whole and really. And learn to love precisely those who encourage love so little—then you won't usually make a mistake. My little girl Jana, when you will be choosing for whom your maiden heart shall burn and to whom to really give yourself remember your father.

I don't know if you will meet with such luck as I, I don't know if you will meet such a beautiful human being, but choose your ideal close to him. Perhaps you, my little one, have already begun to understand, and now perhaps you understand to the point of pain what we have lost in him. What I find hardest to bear is that I am also guilty of that loss.

Be conscious of the great love and sacrifice Pepik and Veruska are bringing you. You not only have to be grateful to them...you must help them build your common happiness positively, constructively. Always want to give them more for the good they do for you. Then perhaps you will be able to come to terms with their gentle goodness.

I heard from my legal representative that you are doing well in school, and that you want to continue...I was very pleased. But even if you would one day have to leave school and to work for your livelihood, don't stop learning and studying. If you really want to, you will reach your goal. I would have liked for you to become a medical doctor—you remember that we talked about it. Of course you will decide yourself and circumstances will, too. But if you stand one day in the traditional alma mater and carry home from graduation not only your doctor's diploma, but also the real ability to bring people relief as a doctor—then, my little girl...your mother will be immensely pleased...But your mother would only be...truly happy, no matter where you stand, whether at the operating table, at the...lathe, at your child's cradle or at the work table in your household, if you will do your work skillfully, honestly, happily and with your whole being. Then you will be successful in it. Don't be demanding in life, but have high goals. They are not exclusive of each other, for what I call demanding are those selfish notions and needs. Restrict them yourself. Realize that in view of the disaster and sorrow which happened to you, Vera, Pepicek, grandmother and grandfather...and many others will try to give you what they have and what they cannot afford. You should not only not ask them for it, but learn to be modest. If you become used to it, you will not be unhappy because of material things you don't have. You don't know how free one feels if one trains oneself in modesty...how he/she gets a head start over against the feeble and by how much one is safer and stronger. I really tried this out on myself And, if you can thus double your strength, you can set yourself courageous, high goals...Read much, and study languages. You will thereby broaden your life and multiply its content. There was a time in my life when I read voraciously, and then again times when work did not permit me to take a single book in my hand, apart from professional literature. That was a shame. Here in recent months I have been reading a lot, even books which probably would not interest me outside, but it is a big and important task to read everything valuable, or at least much that is. I shall write down for you at the end of this letter what I have read in recent months. I am sure you will think of me when you will be reading it.

And now also something for your body. I am glad that you are engaged in sports. Just do it systematically. I think that there should be rhythmic exercises, and if you have time, also some good, systematic gymnastics. And those quarter hours every morning! Believe me finally that it would save you a lot of annoyance about unfavorable proportions of your waist, if you could really do it. It is also good for the training of your will and perseverance. Also take care of your complexion regularly—I do not mean makeup, God forbid, but healthy daily care. And love your neck and feet as you do your face and lips. A brush has to be your good friend, every day, and not only for your hands and feet; use it on every little bit of your skin. Salicyl alcohol and Fennydin, that is enough for beauty, and then air and sun. But about that you will find better advisors than I am.

Your photograph showed me your new hairdo; it looks good, but isn't it a shame to hide your nice forehead? And that lady in the ball gown! Really, you looked lovely, but your mother's eye noticed one fault, which may be due to the way you were placed on the photograph—wasn't the neck opening a little deep for your sixteen years? I am sorry I did not see the photo of your new winter coat. Did you use the muff from your aunt as a fur collar? Don't primp, but whenever possible, dress carefully and neatly. And don't wear shoes until they arc run down at the heel! Are you wearing innersoles? And how is your thyroid gland? These questions don't, of course, require an answer, they are only meant as your mother's reminders.

In Leipzig in prison I read a book—the letters of Maria Theresa to her daughter Marie Antoinette. I was very much impressed with how this ruler showed herself to be practical and feminine in her advice to her daughter. It was a German original, and I don't remember the name of the author. If you ever see that book, remember that I made up my mind at that time that I would also write you such letters about my experiences and advice. Unfortunately I did not get beyond good intentions.

Janinko, please take good care of Grandfather Kral and Grandmother Horakova. Their old hearts now need the most consolation. Visit them often and let them tell you about your father's and mother's youth, so that you can preserve it in your mind for your children. In that way an individual becomes immortal, and we shall continue in you and in the others of your blood.

And one more thing—music. I believe that you will show your gratitude to Grandfather Horak for the piano which he gave you by practicing honestly, and that you will succeed in what Pepik wants so much, in accompanying him when he plays the violin or the viola. Please, do him that favor. I know that it would mean a lot to him, and it would be beautiful. And when you can play well together, play me the aria from Martha: "My rose, you bloom alone there on the hillside," and then: "Sleep my little prince" by Mozart, and then your father's favourite largo: " Under your window" by Chopin. You will play it for me, won't you? I shall always be listening to you.

Just one more thing: Choose your friends carefully. Among other things one is also very much determined by the people with whom one associates. Therefore choose very carefully. Be careful in everything and listen to the opinions of others about your girlfriends without being told. I shall never forget your charming letter (today I can tell you) which you once in the evening pinned to my pillow, to apologize when I caught you for the first time at the gate in the company of a girl and a boy. You explained to me at that time why it is necessary to have a gang. Have your gang, little girl, but of good and clean young people. And compete with each other in everything good. Only please don't confuse young people's springtime infatuation with real love. Do you understand me? If you don't, aunt Vera will help you explain what I meant. And so, my only young daughter, little girl Jana, new life, my hope, my future forgiveness, live! Grasp life with both hands! Until my last breath I shall pray for your happiness, my dear child!

I kiss your hair, eyes and mouth, I stroke you and hold you in my arms (I really held you so little.) I shall always be with you. I am concluding by copying from memory the poem which your father composed for you in jail in 1940...

[There followed a poem written by her husband about the birth of their daughter, and a reading list.]