Thursday, 29 November 2012

With deepest sympathy, Fido

On April 12th of 1945, a few months before the end of World War II, the U.S. President of 12 years, Franklin Roosevelt, passed away after suffering a brain haemorrhage. He was 63-years-old. Nine days later, the following letter of condolence was printed in various newspapers, addressed to his beloved dog, Fala. It was written by Bob Hope.

(Source: Bob Hope: A Life In Comedy, by William Robert Faith; Image: President Roosevelt & Fala in 1940, via Flickr.)

April 21, 1945

Dear Fala,

You probably don't remember me. But I knew you back in our kennel days when we were a couple of young pups—in fact we chewed our first bone together, remember? In writing you this letter, I'm speaking for dogs throughout the world. For we are all deeply grieved to hear of the death of your master. Your personal loss is felt by all of us. You know as well as I do that leading a dog's life is no bed of roses. But a dog's life is for dogs. Human beings shouldn't horn in on our territory. But lately a lot of men and women and kids have been leading a dog's life, and your master was one of the humans who didn't like to see that sort of thing happening. That's why we respected him—he wanted to keep human beings in their right place. And he did something about it. He made plans, and people had confidence in his plans because his integrity and sincerity were felt the world over. In other words, he made a lot of people see the light, or as we'd put it, he put them on the right scent. Let's hope they can keep their noses to the ground and work it out for themselves, even though his personal guidance has been taken away from them.

With deepest sympathy,


Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Hot, Hot, Hot

In May of 2000, an episode of Will & Grace aired in which one of its gay characters, Jack, joins an ex-gay ministry in an effort to get close to, and seduce, its formerly gay leader, Bill (played by Neil Patrick Harris). Unsurprisingly, the ex-gay community — people who claim to have suppressed or sometimes even "cured" their homosexuality — weren't depicted in the best of lights. Shortly after the episode was aired, the show's story editor, Jon Kinnally — himself a gay man — received a letter of complaint from Mike Haley, a "former gay man" and Youth & Gender Specialist at Focus on the Family, a Christian organisation which actively promotes sexual orientation conversion therapy.

His letter and a response composed by the Will & Grace staff, both of which were subsequently published by an infuriated Focus on the Family, can be read below. When later questioned about the matter, Jon Kinnally said, "What [Focus on the Family] are doing is reprehensible, wrong, and fear-based."

Transcripts follow. Apologies for the image quality.

(Source: Bradlands, via Will & Grace producer Jeff Greenstein; Image above via.)

June 9, 2000

Mr. Jon Kinnally
Story Editor
Will and Grace
NBC Television Network
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10112-0002

Dear Mr. Kinnally:

I am writing to request a meeting with you regarding a recent episode of Will and Grace. The show in question grossly misrepresented thousands of individuals struggling to come out of homosexuality. As a former gay man, and now a national spokesman and expert on homosexuality and youth issues for Focus on the Family — one of the country's largest organizations who, among other things, assists gays and lesbians who desire to be heterosexual — I know first-hand how frustrating and painful it is to be mocked by those who haven't taken the time to find out what this process is all about. I'm specifically talking about references in the show to former homosexuals, and those wrestling with their sexual identity, as "freaks," "self-loathing closet cases," "morally wrong" and as members of "cults." Nowhere in this episode are we portrayed as honest men and women seeking help.

You may vehemently disagree with this position, but I'd at least like the opportunity to sit down with you and talk about it. Our conversation may not change your mind about the possibility of coming out of homosexuality, but at the very least it will put a real face behind the caricature you depicted on prime time TV. And in the end, hopefully it will encourage you to think twice before ridiculing the belief systems of those who differ from you. With that in mind, please respectfully consider my request, Mr. Kinnally. I can be reached at [redacted]. Thank you.


Mike Haley
Public Policy/Youth & Gender Specialist


July 14, 2000

Mr. Mike Haley
Focus on the Family
8605 Explorer Drive
Colorado Springs, CO 80920

Dear Mr. Haley,

I received your letter dated June 9, and was very interested in your point of view. The issues you raised are the very same ones that we on the Will & Grace writing staff debate on a daily basis. Our decision to present the story on the ex-gay ministry was solely in the interest of creating the most comedic episode possible. And it was certainly not our intention to offend you in any way. But come on, Mike, even you've got to admit that fags trying to pretend they're straight is pretty darn funny.

In response to your request for a meeting, well, I think I can read between the lines on that one. I'm about 6'1", brown hair, green eyes and I'm into rollerblading, baking cookies, and cleaning up afterwards. My dislikes include game-playing, negative attitudes, and condoms.

If any of this interests you, I can be found every Sunday at the Brunch and Beer Bust at the Motherlode in West Hollywood. I do hope you show, because like you, I am an expert on homosexuality, and in my expert opinion, this "hard-to-get thing" you're playing is Hot, Hot, Hot!



Jon Kinnally
Executive Story Editor
Will & Grace

P.S. Keep on watchin'!

Monday, 26 November 2012

Kiss my ass

In 1970, shortly after being elected Attorney General of Alabama, 29-year-old Bill Baxley reopened the 16th Street Church bombing case — a racially motivated act of terrorism that resulted in the deaths of four African-American girls in 1963 and a fruitless investigation, and which marked a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. Baxley's unwavering commitment to the case attracted much hostility, particularly from local Klansmen, and in 1976 he received a threatening letter of protest from white supremacist Edward R. Fields — founder of the "National States' Rights Party" and "Grand Dragon" of the New Order Knights of the Ku Klux Klan — in which he was accused of reopening the case for tactical reasons.

Bill Baxley's famously succinct reply, which was typed on his official letterhead, can be seen below. The next year, a member of the United Klans of America named Robert Chambliss was found guilty of the murders and remained in prison until his death in 1985. Throughout the trial, a young law student named Doug Jones could be found in the gallery, intently watching the case having skipped his classes. 25 years later, then a US Attorney, Jones succesfully prosecuted the last two Klansmen involved in the bombing.

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


February 28, 1976

"Dr." Edward R. Fields
National States Rights Party
P. O. Box 1211
Marietta, Georgia 30061

Dear "Dr." Fields:

My response to your letter of February 19, 1976, is – kiss my ass.


Attorney General

Friday, 23 November 2012

I'll be watching over you

On January 12th of 1997, 41-year-old astronaut Jerry Linenger kissed his pregnant wife and 14-month-old son goodbye, boarded Space Shuttle Atlantis, and headed for Space Station Mir where he joined two Russian cosmonauts. He then remained in Space for a record-breaking 132 days. Below are just three of the dozens of letters he wrote to his young son, John, during his stay.

Jerry returned safely to Earth on May 24th. His wife gave birth to their second son a few months later.

(Source: Letters From Mir; Image: The Linengers on the day of his return to Earth, via NASA.)

23 January 1997

Dear John,

I decided before this flight that I was going to be a good father and write to you every day. This is my first attempt at that.

I realize that you are only one year old, and although I exaggerate your talents like any proud father would, I don't think that you can quite read this yet. No problem. When you can, you will feel good knowing that your father loves you.

Space flight is a dangerous business. I used to be pretty cavalier about it. But just before this launch, I started questioning what I was about to do. You see, I have so, so much to lose now. You and your mother.

I always liked adventures. I remember exhausting the elementary school library of mystery books by someone I think was named Orton. Trying to figure out the ending before the ending. Anticipating. Observing the happenings and trying to predict the outcome. Reading about people who found themselves in unusual and challenging situations, and then seeing how they responded.

Anyway, that curiosity characteristic is what got me on this space station. Oh sure, I went to lots of schools and did pretty well in our great U.S. Navy. In order to become an astronaut, I went through all the mechanics of the application and interview process. But the basic trait of insatiable curiosity is what drove me through all of that.

Space is a frontier. And I am out here exploring. For five months! What a privilege!

But, I sure do miss you. I want most of all to see you come stumbling around the corner, bellow out your big laugh when I give my "surprised to see you" look, and then watch you stumble back out of the room to repeat the same to Mommy in the other room. You are the best son in the world, John.

You know, although I am up here floating above Earth, I am still an Earthling. I feel the pain of separation, the pride of a father, and the loneliness of a husband away from his wife like an Earthling. And maybe even a bit more acutely.

Good night, my son. I'll be watching over you.



29 March 1997

Hello John,

People often ask me what I miss.

You and Mommy, of course. Likewise, family and friends.

But I also miss fresh air blowing in my face. Green, green grass and swaying trees. Birds chirping. Tulips popping up in spring.

Taking hot showers. Lying on the couch. Falling asleep with two big pillows surrounding my head. Diving into the swimming pool after a long, hot run.

Tinkering in the garden. Looking out over the lake as the sun sets. Feeling the warmth of the sun. Gliding across the water in a kayak with fish jumping in my wake.

Pretzels. The smell of popcorn, or better yet, homemade bread baking. Dinner conversations with Mommy. Cuddling.

Silent nights. Crickets. Waves pounding on the shore. Walking barefoot in the sand. Walking. Holding hands.

Basically, I miss the elemental things of Earth that we are blessed with each day on the planet but often take for granted.

After I land, my eyes will be opened as wide as yours always are, John, as I rediscover the little pleasures. Father and son, holding hands and out adventuring together.

Rest up. We will be busy together. Good night.




23 May 1997

Dear John,

I have changed post offices. This letter is being sent down from the space shuttle Atlantis, and in a day or so I will be home.

We closed the hatch last night between the Mir space station and the shuttle in order to be prepared for our early-morning departure. Following a gentle push-off, we began intermittently firing our thrusters. The bursts made loud bang-bang-bang sounds, similar in abruptness to cannon firing. As we moved away, the Mir became smaller, then smaller still. Finally, it was so diminished in size that the space station appeared to be nothing more that a rather insignificant blinking light among the stars.

Surprisingly, I felt very little emotion when leaving my home of the last one hundred and twenty-two days behind. I suppose that I just felt like my time was up, that I had done my duty, and that it was time for me to go. This is in stark contrast to the very strong emotion that I felt upon first seeing the space shuttle Atlantis arrive a few days ago. When I saw Atlantis approaching the Mir, I felt pure elation, pure unbridled joy.

I have an image in my mind of the time you took your first steps. I would move two steps away from you, leaving you standing and holding on, precariously, to the edge of the sofa. You would look at me with questioning eyes. Your eyes reflected what I am sure that you were asking yourself: "Can I do this, or will I fall?" After I would encourage you with a reassuring word or gesture, you would muster up your courage, let go, and walk to me.

Reporters keep asking me whether, after landing, I plan to get out of Atlantis on my own power or be carried off. I will be trying my best to follow in your footsteps, John. I will be giving it everything that I have to walk, or crawl, or do whatever it takes, but to do it on my own, just like you did.

I hope to be standing and holding you in a day or two, John.



Wednesday, 21 November 2012

She is my best friend

In November of 2012, in a heartbreaking, handwritten letter addressed to "a few thousand friends I have not met yet," Fiona Apple announced that she was postponing the South American leg of her tour due to the ill-health of her beloved pit bull, Janet — a 13-year-old rescue dog suffering from Addison's disease and, more worryingly, a tumor on her chest.

The letter can be read below.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Fiona Apple; Image via.)


It's 6pm on Friday, and I'm writing to a few thousand friends I have not met yet. I'm writing to ask them to change our plans and meet a little while later.

Here's the thing.

I have a dog, Janet, and she's been ill for about 2 years now, as a tumor has been idling in her chest, growing ever so slowly. She's almost 14 years old now. I got her when she was 4 months old. I was 21 then — an adult, officially — and she was my kid.

She is a pitbull, and was found in Echo Park, with a rope around her neck, and bites all over her ears and face.

She was the one the dogfighters use to puff up the confidence of the contenders.

She's almost 14 and I've never seen her start a fight, or bite, or even growl, so I can understand why they chose her for that awful role. She's a pacifist.

Janet has been the most consistent relationship of my adult life, and that is just a fact. We've lived in numerous houses, and joined a few makeshift families, but it's always really been just the two of us.

She slept in bed with me, her head on the pillow, and she accepted my hysterical, tearful face into her chest, with her paws around me, every time I was heartbroken, or spirit-broken, or just lost, and as years went by, she let me take the role of her child, as I fell asleep, with her chin resting above my head.

She was under the piano when I wrote songs, barked any time I tried to record anything, and she was in the studio with me, all the time we recorded the last album.

The last time I came back from tour, she was spry as ever, and she's used to me being gone for a few weeks, every 6 or 7 years.

She has Addison's Disease, which makes it more dangerous for her to travel, since she needs regular injections of Cortisol, because she reacts to stress and excitement without the physiological tools which keep most of us from literally panicking to death.

Despite all this, she's effortlessly joyful & playful, and only stopped acting like a puppy about 3 years ago. She is my best friend, and my mother, and my daughter, my benefactor, and she's the one who taught me what love is.

I can't come to South America. Not now. When I got back from the last leg of the US tour, there was a big, big difference.

She doesn't even want to go for walks anymore.

I know that she's not sad about aging or dying. Animals have a survival instinct, but a sense of mortality and vanity, they do not. That's why they are so much more present than people.

But I know she is coming close to the time where she will stop being a dog, and start instead to be part of everything. She'll be in the wind, and in the soil, and the snow, and in me, wherever I go.

I just can't leave her now, please understand. If I go away again, I'm afraid she'll die and I won't have the honor of singing her to sleep, of escorting her out.

Sometimes it takes me 20 minutes just to decide what socks to wear to bed.

But this decision is instant.

These are the choices we make, which define us. I will not be the woman who puts her career ahead of love & friendship.

I am the woman who stays home, baking Tilapia for my dearest, oldest friend. And helps her be comfortable & comforted & safe & important.

Many of us these days, we dread the death of a loved one. It is the ugly truth of Life that keeps us feeling terrified & alone. I wish we could also appreciate the time that lies right beside the end of time. I know that I will feel the most overwhelming knowledge of her, and of her life and of my love for her, in the last moments.

I need to do my damnedest, to be there for that.

Because it will be the most beautiful, the most intense, the most enriching experience of life I've ever known.

When she dies.

So I am staying home, and I am listening to her snore and wheeze, and I am revelling in the swampiest, most awful breath that ever emanated from an angel. And I'm asking for your blessing.

I'll be seeing you.



Friday, 16 November 2012

Wretched woman!

In 1834, 21-year-old Jarm Logue (pictured above some years later) managed to steal his master's horse and escape the life of slavery into which he had been born. Sadly, his mother, brother and sister remained. 26 years later, by which time he had settled down in New York, opened numerous schools for black children, started his own family, become a reverend and noted abolitionist, and authored an autobiography, he received a letter from the wife of his old owner in which she demanded $1000.

That letter, and his furious reply, can be read below.

Note: After escaping slavery, Logue changed his name to Jermain Wesley Loguen.

(Source: Slavery in the United States; Image: J. W. Loguen, via.)

Maury Co., State of Tennessee,
February 20th, 1860.


I now take my pen to write you a few lines, to let you know how well we all are. I am a cripple, but I am still able to get about. The rest of the family are all well. Cherry is as well as Common. I write you these lines to let you the situation we are in—partly in consequence of your running away and stealing Old Rock, our fine mare. Though we got the mare back, she was never worth much after you took her; and as I now stand in need of some funds, I have determined to sell you; and I have had an offer for you, but did not see fit to take it. If you will send me one thousand dollars and pay for the old mare, I will give up all claim I have to you. Write to me as soon as you get these lines, and let me know if you will accept my proposition. In consequence of your running away, we had to sell Abe and Ann and twelve acres of land; and I want you to send me the money that I may be able to redeem the land that you was the cause of our selling, and on receipt of the above named sum of money, I will send you your bill of sale. If you do not comply with my request, I will sell you to some one else, and you may rest assured that the time is not far distant when things will be changed with you. Write to me as soon as you get these lines. Direct your letter to Bigbyville, Maury County, Tennessee. You had better comply with my request.

I understand that you are a preacher. As the Southern people are so bad, you had better come and preach to your old acquaintances. I would like to know if you read your Bible? If so can you tell what will become of the thief if he does not repent? and, if the the blind lead the blind, what will the consequence be? I deem it unnecessary to say much more at present. A word to the wise is sufficient. You know where the liar has his part. You know that we reared you as we reared our own children; that you was never abused, and that shortly before you ran away, when your master asked if you would like to be sold, you said you would not leave him to go with anybody.

Sarah Logue.


Syracuse, N.Y., March 28, 1860.


Yours of the 20th of February is duly received, and I thank you for it. It is a long time since I heard from my poor old mother, and I am glad to know she is yet alive, and, as you say, "as well as common." What that means I don't know. I wish you had said more about her.

You are a woman; but had you a woman's heart you could never have insulted a brother by telling him you sold his only remaining brother and sister, because he put himself beyond your power to convert him into money.

You sold my brother and sister, ABE and ANN, and 12 acres of land, you say, because I ran away. Now you have the unutterable meanness to ask me to return and be your miserable chattel, or in lieu thereof send you $1000 to enable you to redeem the land, but not to redeem my poor brother and sister! If I were to send you money it would be to get my brother and sister, and not that you should get land. You say you are a cripple, and doubtless you say it to stir my pity, for you know I was susceptible in that direction. I do pity you from the bottom of my heart. Nevertheless I am indignant beyond the power of words to express, that you should be so sunken and cruel as to tear the hearts I love so much all in pieces; that you should be willing to impale and crucify us out of all compassion for your poor foot or leg. Wretched woman! Be it known to you that I value my freedom, to say nothing of my mother, brothers and sisters, more than your whole body; more, indeed, than my own life; more than all the lives of all the slaveholders and tyrants under Heaven.

You say you have offers to buy me, and that you shall sell me if I do not send you $1000, and in the same breath and almost in the same sentence, you say, "you know we raised you as we did our own children." Woman, did you raise your own children for the market? Did you raise them for the whipping-post? Did you raise them to be driven off in a coffle in chains? Where are my poor bleeding brothers and sisters? Can you tell? Who was it that sent them off into sugar and cotton fields, to be kicked, and cuffed, and whipped, and to groan and die; and where no kin can hear their groans, or attend and sympathize at their dying bed, or follow in their funeral? Wretched woman! Do you say you did not do it? Then I reply, your husband did, and you approved the deed—and the very letter you sent me shows that your heart approves it all. Shame on you.

But, by the way, where is your husband? You don't speak of him. I infer, therefore, that he is dead; that he has gone to his great account, with all his sins against my poor family upon his head. Poor man! gone to meet the spirits of my poor, outraged and murdered people, in a world where Liberty and Justice are MASTERS.

But you say I am a thief, because I took the old mare along with me. Have you got to learn that I had a better right to the old mare, as you call her, than MANNASSETH LOGUE had to me? Is it a greater sin for me to steal his horse, than it was for him to rob my mother's cradle and steal me? If he and you infer that I forfeit all my rights to you, shall not I infer that you forfeit all your rights to me? Have you got to learn that human rights are mutual and reciprocal, and if you take my liberty and life, you forfeit your own liberty and life? Before God and High Heaven, is there a law for one man which is not a law for every other man?

If you or any other speculator on my body and rights, wish to know how I regard my rights, they need but come here and lay their hands on me to enslave me. Did you think to terrify me by presenting the alternative to give my money to you, or give my body to Slavery? Then let me say to you, that I meet the proposition with unutterable scorn and contempt. The proposition is an outrage and an insult. I will not budge one hair's breadth. I will not breathe a shorter breath, even to save me from your persecutions. I stand among a free people, who, I thank God, sympathize with my rights, and the rights of mankind; and if your emissaries and venders come here to re-enslave me, and escape the unshrinking vigor of my own right arm, I trust my strong and brave friends, in this City and State, will be my rescuers and avengers.

Yours, &c.,
J.W. Loguen

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

I will always be there with you

On May 1st of 2003, just weeks after being deployed to Iraq, Army Pfc. Jesse A. Givens, of Springfield, Missouri was killed when his tank fell into the Euphrates river. He was 34-years-old. Shortly after his death, the following farewell letter was delivered to his bereaved wife, Melissa, and his 6-year-old stepson, Dakota ("Toad").

Melissa and Jesse's unborn child, Carson ("Bean"), entered the world on the 29th of May, a few weeks after his father's death.

Transcript follows.

(Source: If You're Reading This...; Image above: "Toad," Melissa, & "Bean," via)


Please only read if I don't come home. Please put it away and hopefully you will never have to read it.



My family:

I never thought I would be writing a letter like this, I really don't know where to start. I've been getting bad feelings though and well if you are reading this....

I am forever in debt to you, Dakota, and the Bean. I searched all my life for a dream and I found it in you. I would like to think that I made a positive difference in your lives. I will never be able to make up for the bad. I am so sorry. The happiest moments in my life all deal with my little family. I will always have with me the small moments we all shared. The moments when you quit taking life so serious and smiled. The sounds of a beautiful boy's laughter or the simple nudge of a baby unborn. You will never know how complete you have made me. Each one of you. You saved me from loneliness and taught me how to think beyond myself. You taught me how to live and to love. You opened my eyes to a world I never dreamed existed. I am proud of you. Stay on the path you chose. Never lose sight of what is important again, you and our babies.

Dakota, you are more son than I could ever ask for. I can only hope I was half the dad. I used to be your "danny" but no matter what, it makes me proud that you chose me. You taught me how to care until it hurts, you taught me how to smile again. You taught me that life isn't so serious and sometimes you have to play. You have a big, beautiful heart. Through life you need to keep it open and follow it. Never be afraid to be yourself. I will always be there in our park when you dream so we can still play. I hope someday you will have a son like mine. Make them smile and shine just like you. I love you Toad. I hope someday you will understand why I didn't come home. Please be proud of me. Please don't stop loving life. Take in every breath like it's your first. I love you Toad. I will always be there with you. I'll be in the sun, shadows, dreams, and joys of your life.

Bean, I never got to see you but I know in my heart you are beautiful. I know you will be strong and big-hearted just like your mom and brother. I will always have with me the feel of the soft nudges on your mom's belly, and the joy I felt when we found out you were on your way. I dream of you every night, I will always. Don't ever think that since I wasn't around that I didn't love you. You were conceived of love and I came to this terrible place for love. I love you as I do your mom and brother with all my heart and soul. Please understand that I had to be gone so that I could take care of my family. I love you Bean.

I have never been so blessed as the day I met Melissa Dawn Benfield. You are my angel, soulmate, wife, lover, and best friend. I am so sorry. I did not want to have to write this letter. There is so much more I need to say, so much more I need to share. A lifetime's worth. I married you for a million lifetimes. That's how long I will be with you. Please keep our babies safe. Please find it in your heart to forgive me for leaving you alone. Take care of yourself, believe in yourself, you are a strong, big hearted woman. Teach our babies to live life to its fullest, tell yourself to do the same. Don't forget to take Toad to Disney World. I will be there with you. Melissa, I will always want you need you and love you in my heart, mind, and soul. Do me one favor, after you tuck Toad and Bean in, give them hugs and kisses from me. Go outside, look at the stars and count them. Don't forget to smile.

Love Always
Your husband

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

For your first Christmas

In December of 1915, as his infant grandson began to enjoy his very first Christmas, 60-year-old American journalist and diplomat Walter H. Page decided to mark the occasion by writing him the following letter — a wonderful, heartwarming celebration of their common interests which, as a result of its charm, was later published for wider consumption.

(Source: Dear Boy, Dear Girl; Image: Walter Hines Page, via NYPL.)

London, Christmas, 1915.


For your first Christmas, I have the honour to send you my most affectionate greetings; and in wishing you all good health, I take the liberty humbly to indicate some of the favours of fortune that I am pleased to think I enjoy in common with you.

First—I hear with pleasure that you are quite well content with yourself—not because of a reasoned conviction of your own worth, which would be mere vanity and unworthy of you, but by reason of a philosophical disposition. It is too early for you to bother over problems of self-improvement—as for me it is too late; wherefore we are alike in the calm of our self-content. What others may think or say about us is a subject of the smallest concern to us. Therefore they generally speak well of us; for there is little satisfaction in speaking ill of men who care nothing for your opinion of them. Then, too, we are content to be where we happen to be—a fact that we did not order in the beginning and need not now concern ourselves about. Consider the eternal coming and going of folk. On every road many are travelling one way and an equal number are travelling the other way. It is obvious that, if they were all content to remain at the places whence they set forth, the distribution of the population would be the same. Why therefore move hither and yon at the cost of much time and labour and money, since nothing is accomplished thereby? We spare ourselves by being content to remain where we are. We thereby have the more time for reflection. Nor can we help observing with a smile that all persons who have good reasons to see us themselves make the necessary journey after they discover that we remain fixed.

Again, people about us are continually doing this service and that for some other people—running errands, mending fences, bearing messages, building, and tearing down; and they all demand equal service in return. Thus a large part of mankind keeps itself in constant motion like bubbles of water racing around a pool at the foot of a water-fall—or like rabbits hurrying into their warrens and immediately hurrying out again. Whereas, while these antics amuse and sadden us, we for the most part remain where we are. Hence our wants are few; they are generally most courteously supplied without our asking; or, if we happen to be momentarily forgotten, we can quickly secure anything in the neighbourhood by a little judicious squalling. Why, then, should we whirl as bubbles or scurry as rabbits? Our conquering self-possession gives a masterful charm to life that the victims of perpetual locomotion never seem to attain.

You have discovered, and my experience confirms yours, that a perpetual self-consciousness brings most of the misery of the world. Men see others who are richer than they; or more famous, or more fortunate—so they think; and they become envious. You have not reached the period of such empty vanity, and I have long passed it. Let us, therefore, make our mutual vows not to be disturbed by the good luck or the good graces of others, but to continue, instead, to contemplate the contented cat on the rug and the unenvious sky that hangs over all alike.

This mood will continue to keep our lives simple. Consider our diet. Could anything be simpler or better? We are not even tempted by the poisonous victuals wherewith mankind destroys itself. The very first sound law of life is to look to the belly; for it is what goes into a man that ruins him. By avoiding murderous food, we may hope to become centenarians. And why not? The golden streets will not be torn up and we need be in no indecent haste to travel even on them. The satisfactions of this life are just beginning for us; and we shall be wise to endure this world for as long a period as possible.

And sleep is good—long sleep and often; and your age and mine permit us to indulge in it without the sneers of the lark or the cock or the dawn.

I pray you, sir, therefore, accept my homage as the philosopher that you are and my assurance of that high esteem indicated by my faithful imitation of your virtues. I am,

With the most distinguished consideration,
With the sincerest esteem, and
With the most affectionate good wishes,

Your proud,


Thursday, 8 November 2012

The sacrifice is not in vain

In November of 1918, just days after the end of World War I was announced, a young soldier named Richard Hogan was hospitalised in France with influenza. Two weeks later, he passed away. Shortly after his burial, Maude Fisher, the American Red Cross nurse who had cared for him during his final days, wrote the following heartfelt letter of sympathy to his mother.

(Source: War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars.)

November 29th, 1918

My dear Mrs. Hogan:

If I could talk to you I could tell you so much better about your son's last sickness, and all the little things that mean so much to a mother far away from her boy.

Your son was brought to this hospital on the 13th of November very sick with what they called Influenza. This soon developed into Pneumonia. He was brave and cheerful though, and made a good fight with the disease. Several days he seemed much better, and seemed to enjoy some fruit that I brought him. He did not want you to worry about his being sick, but I told him I thought we ought to let you know, and he said all right.

He became very weak towards the last of his sickness and slept all the time. One day while I was visiting some of the other patients he woke up and seeing me with my hat on asked the orderly if I was his sister come to see him. He was always good and patient and the nurses loved him. Everything was done to make him comfortable and I think he suffered very little, if any pain.

He laughed and talked to the people around him as long as he was able. They wanted to move him to another bed after he became real sick and moved the new bed up close to his, but he shook his head, that he didn't want to move. The orderly, a fine fellow, urged him. "Come on, Hogan," he said, "Move to this new bed. It's lots better than the one you're in." But Hogan shook his head still.

"No", he said, "No, I'll stay where I am. If that bed was better than mine, you'd 'a' had it long ago."

The last time I saw him I carried him a cup of hot soup, but he was too weak to do anything but taste it, and went back to sleep.

The Chaplain saw him several times and had just left him when he breathed his last on November 25th, at 2:30 in the afternoon.

He was laid to rest in the little cemetery of Commercy, and sleeps under a simple white wooden cross among his comrades who, like him, have died for their country. His grave number is 22, plot 1. His aluminum identification tag is on the cross, and a similar one is around his neck, both bearing his serial number, 2793346.

The plot of the grave in the cemetery where your son is buried was given to the Army for our boys and the people of Commercy will always tend it with loving hands and keep it fresh and clean. I enclose here a few leaves from the grass that grows near in a pretty meadow.

A big hill overshadows the place and the sun was setting behind it just as the Chaplain said the last prayer over your boy.

He prayed that the people at home might have great strength now for the battle that is before them, and we do ask that for you now.

The country will always honor your boy, because he gave his life for it, and it will also love and honor you for the gift of your boy, but be assured, that the sacrifice is not in vain, and the world is better today for it.

From the whole hospital force, accept deepest sympathy and from myself, tenderest love in your hour of sorrow.


Maude B. Fisher

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Some annoying news

Dear All,

I have some annoying news.

Despite our very best efforts, publication of the Letters of Note book — which, as you may know, was due out in time for Christmas — has been delayed until early next year.

In short, producing the book has been like wading through a sea of treacle, due in no small part to the hundreds of permissions needed before it can go to print. I was prepared for an almighty slog in that regard, but unfortunately I underestimated just how long the process can sometimes take, particularly when every single angle needs to be covered.

There are a couple of silver linings to this slow-moving cloud, though. It seems the vast majority of the letters shortlisted for the book will make it to print, as very few people have declined; also, as a result of this delay I will now be able to include some stunning letters that have featured on the website quite recently, and which would otherwise have missed the cut. That is actually very exciting.

We have a book cover designed. We have page layouts ready to go. We even have enough letters to make a great Letters of Note book. What we don't have, however, is enough to make the perfect Letters of Note book — the book I've been imagining for the past few years, and the book that will be published, but just a little later than expected — and for that reason we very recently decided to postpone its publication. I promise you, it will be worth the wait.

I'm very sorry for the delay, and for possibly ruining some Christmas present choices. Believe me, I'm frustrated too. If you have any questions, you can either email me at or the lovely folks at Unbound at Also, if you supported the book at Unbound all those months ago, you should soon receive a message similar to this one via the email address supplied at the time.

Yours apologetically,


P.S. To ensure that the book is as good as it should be, I'll be updating this website a little less in the coming months — maybe 2 or 3 times per week. I'll be sporadically tweeting too.

Please advise

I think it's safe to assume that the advice reluctantly given in response to this wonderful memo, sent by record producer Teo Macero to executives at Columbia Records, was essentially, "Let Miles Davis call his next album whatever he wants." And rightly so. As we now know, the title stayed, and Bitches Brew was released to the public four months later. It is now considered one of the most influential jazz albums of all time.

(Source: Cord Jefferson, via eagle pelican; Image: Miles Davis, via.)


FROM: Teo Macero
DATE: November 14, 1969

RE: MILES DAVIS CS 9961 XSM 151732/3 PROJECT # 03802

Miles just called and said he wants this album to be titled:


Please advise.


(Signed, 'Teo')

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Our differences unite us

In 2012, 10-year-old Sophia Bailey-Klugh wrote and illustrated an endearing letter to U. S. President Barack Obama and, as the daughter of a gay couple, thanked him for supporting same-sex marriage. Her letter, and the reply she soon received, can be seen below.

Transcripts follow each letter.

(Huge thanks to Sophia's family for allowing us to feature her letter.)

Dear Barack Obama,

It's Sophia Bailey Klugh. Your friend who invited you to dinner. You don't remember okay that's fine. But I just wanted to tell you that I am so glad you agree that two men can love each other because I have two dads and they love each other. But at school kids think that it's gross and weird but it really hurts my heart and feelings. So I come to you because you are my hero. If you were me and you had two dads that loved each other, and kids at school teased you about it, what would you do?

Please respond!

I just wanted to say you really inspire me, and I hope you win on being the president. You would totally make the world a better place.

Your friend Sophia

P.S. Please tell your daughters Hi for me!

President Barack Obama

November 1, 2012

Miss Sophia Bailey-Klugh

Dear Sophia,

Thank you for writing me such a thoughtful letter about your family. Reading it made me proud to be your president and even more hopeful about the future of our nation.

In America, no two families look the same. We celebrate this diversity. And we recognize that whether you have two dads or one mom what matters above all is the love we show one another. You are very fortunate to have two parents who care deeply for you. They are lucky to have such an exceptional daughter in you.

Our differences unite us. You and I are blessed to live in a country where we are born equal no matter what we look like on the outside, where we grow up, or who our parents are. A good rule is to treat others the way you hope they will treat you. Remind your friends at school about this rule if they say something that hurts your feelings.

Thanks again for taking the time to write to me. I'm honored to have your support and inspired by your compassion. I'm sorry I couldn't make it to dinner, but I'll be sure to tell Sasha and Malia you say hello.


(Signed, 'Barack Obama')

Time & the hour run through the roughest day

While studying in Germany in May of 1900, pioneering American psychologist William James discovered that his 13-year-old daughter, Peggy, was finding it incredibly difficult to adjust to life at school in England, many hundreds of miles from home. In an effort to lift her from this emotional slump, James wrote to her with the following advice.

It's interesting to note, particularly given the subject matter, that Willam James was the older brother of novelist Henry James, who 17 years earlier wrote this amazing letter of advice to a depressed friend.

(Source: The Letters of William James, via Phil Oliver; Image: William James, via.)

Villa Luise,

May 26, 1900

Darling Peg,—

Your letter came last night and explained sufficiently the cause of your long silence. You have evidently been in a bad state of spirits again, and dissatisfied with your environment; and I judge that you have been still more dissatisfied with the inner state of trying to consume your own smoke, and grin and bear it, so as to carry out your mother's behests made after the time when you scared us so by your inexplicable tragic outcries in those earlier letters. Well! I believe you have been trying to do the manly thing under difficult circumstances, but one learns only gradually to do the best thing; and the best thing for you would be to write at least weekly, if only a post-card, and say just how things are going. If you are in bad spirits, there is no harm whatever in communicating that fact, and defining the character of it, or describing it as exactly as you like. The bad thing is to pour out the contents of one's bad spirits on others and leave them with it, as it were, on their hands, as if it was for them to do something about it. That was what you did in your other letter which alarmed us so, for your shrieks of anguish were so excessive, and so unexplained by anything you told us in the way of facts, that we didn't know but what you had suddenly gone crazy. That is the worst sort of thing you can do. The middle sort of thing is what you do this time—namely, keep silent for more than a fortnight, and when you do write, still write rather mysteriously about your sorrows, not being quite open enough.

Now, my dear little girl, you have come to an age when the inward life develops and when some people (and on the whole those who have most of a destiny) find that all is not a bed of roses. Among other things there will be waves of terrible sadness, which last sometimes for days; and dissatisfaction with one's self, and irritation at others, and anger at circumstances and stony insensibility, etc., etc., which taken together form a melancholy. Now, painful as it is, this is sent to us for an enlightenment. It always passes off, and we learn about life from it, and we ought to learn a great many good things if we react on it right. (For instance, you learn how good a thing your home is, and your country, and your brothers, and you may learn to be more considerate of other people, who, you now learn, may have their inner weaknesses and sufferings, too.) Many persons take a kind of sickly delight in hugging it; and some sentimental ones may even be proud of it, as showing a fine sorrowful kind of sensibility. Such persons make a regular habit of the luxury of woe. That is the worst possible reaction on it. It is usually a sort of disease, when we get it strong, arising from the organism having generated some poison in the blood; and we mustn't submit to it an hour longer than we can help, but jump at every chance to attend to anything cheerful or comic or take part in anything active that will divert us from our mean, pining inward state of feeling. When it passes off, as I said, we know more than we did before. And we must try to make it last as short as time as possible. The worst of it often is that, while we are in it, we don't want to get out of it. We hate it, and yet we prefer staying in it—that is a part of the disease. If we find ourselves like that, we must make ourselves do something different, go with people, speak cheerfully, set ourselves to some hard work, make ourselves sweat, etc.; and that is the good way of reacting that makes of us a valuable character. The disease makes you think of yourself all the time; and the way out of it is to keep as busy as we can thinking of things and of other people—no matter what's the matter with our self.

I have no doubt you are doing as well as you know how, darling little Peg; but we have to learn everything, and I also have no doubt that you'll manage it better and better if you ever have any more of it, and soon it will fade away, simply leaving you with more experience. The great thing for you now, I should suppose, would be to enter as friendlily as possible into the interest of the Clarke children. If you like them, or acted as if you liked them, you needn't trouble about the question of whether they like you or not. They probably will, fast enough; and if they don't, it will be their funeral, not yours. But this is a great lecture, so I will stop. The great thing about it is that it is all true.

The baths are threatening to disagree with me again, so I may stop them soon. Will let you know as quick as anything is decided. Good news from home: the Merrimans have taken the Irving Street house for another year, and the Wambaughs (of the Law School) have taken Chocorua, though at a reduced rent. The weather here is almost continuously cold and sunless. Your mother is sleeping, and will doubtless add a word to this when she wakes. Keep a merry heart—"time and the hour run through the roughest day"—and believe me ever your most loving


Thursday, 1 November 2012

Vast riddles

In the mid-1920s, a decade prior to the release of James Joyce's final novel, Finnegans Wake, extracts of what was then known as his "Work in Progress" were being published in journals and passed around literary circles, to a largely baffled audience. (If you've never read, or attempted to read Finnegans Wake, a quick look at its opening episode is advised.)

Below are two equally interesting letters written in response to those early glimpses, the first sent to Joyce in 1928 by an unimpressed H. G. Wells; the second written in the style of Finnegan's Wake a few months later by a Russian MIT graduate named Vladimir Dixon, a mysterious figure who for decades afterwards was believed by many, including Joyce's publisher, Sylvia Beach, to be Joyce himself.

(Sources: James Joyce's World & The Oxford Book of Letters; Image: James Joyce in 1934, via.)

Lou Pidou,
Saint Mathieu,
Grasse, A.M.

November 23, 1928

My dear Joyce:

I've been studying you and thinking over you a lot. The outcome is that I don't think I can do anything for the propaganda of your work. I have enormous respect for your genius dating from your earliest books and I feel now a great personal liking for you but you and I are set upon absolutely different courses. Your training has been Catholic, Irish, insurrectionary; mine, such as it was, was scientific, constructive and, I suppose, English. The frame of my mind is a world wherein a big unifying and concentrating process is possible (increase of power and range by economy and concentration of effort), a progress not inevitable but interesting and possible. That game attracted and holds me. For it, I want a language and statement as simple and clear as possible. You began Catholic, that is to say you began with a system of values in stark opposition to reality. Your mental existence is obsessed by a monstrous system of contradictions. You may believe in chastity, purity and the personal God and that is why you are always breaking out into cries of cunt, shit and hell. As I don't believe in these things except as quite personal values my mind has never been shocked to outcries by the existence of water closets and menstrual bandages — and undeserved misfortunes. And while you were brought up under the delusion of political suppression I was brought up under the delusion of political responsibility. It seems a fine thing for you to defy and break up. To me not in the least.

Now with regard to this literary experiment of yours. It's a considerable thing because you are a very considerable man and you have in your crowded composition a mighty genius for expression which has escaped discipline. But I don't think it gets anywhere. You have turned your back on common men — on their elementary needs and their restricted time and intelligence, and you have elaborated. What is the result? Vast riddles. Your last two works have been more amusing and exciting to write than they will ever be to read. Take me as a typical common reader. Do I get much pleasure from this work? No. Do I feel I am getting something new and illuminating as I do when I read Anrep's dreadful translation of Pavlov's badly written book on Conditioned Reflexes? No. So I ask: Who the hell is this Joyce who demands so many waking hours of the few thousand I have still to live for a proper appreciation of his quirks and fancies and flashes of rendering?

All this from my point of view. Perhaps you are right and I am all wrong. Your work is an extraordinary experiment and I would go out of my way to save it from destructive or restrictive interruption. It has its believers and its following. Let them rejoice in it. To me it is a dead end.

My warmest wishes to you Joyce. I can't follow your banner any more than you can follow mine. But the world is wide and there is room for both of us to be wrong.

H.G. Wells



27 Avenue de l'Opéra, Paris I.

Dear Mister Germ's Choice,

in gutter dispear I am taking my pen toilet you know that, being Leyde up in bad with the prewailent distemper (I opened the window and in flew Enza), I have been reeding one half ter one other the numboars of "transition" in witch are printed the severeall instorments of your "Work in Progress".

you must not stink I am attempting to ridicul (de sac!) you or to be smart, but I am so disturd by my inhumility to onthorstand most of the impslocations constrained in your work that (although I am by nominals dump and in fact I consider myself not brilliantly ejewcatered but stil of above Avveroege men's tality and having maid the most of the oporto unities I kismet) I am writing you, dear mysterre Shame's Voice, to let you no how bed I feeloxerab out it all.

I am uberzeugt that the labour involved in the compostition of your work must be almost supper humane and that so much travail from a man of your intellacked must ryeseult in somethink very signicophant. I would only like to know have I been so strichnine by my illnest white wresting under my warm Coverlyette that I am as they say in my neightive land "out of the mind gone out" abd unable to combprehen that which is clear or is there really in your work some ass pecked which is Uncle Lear?

please froggive my t'Emeritus and any inconvince that may have been caused by this litter.

Yours veri tass

Vladimir Dixon