Monday, 31 December 2012

Best of 2012

Happy New Year!

2012 has been an incredible year for Letters of Note, with over 30 million visits to its 900+ letters. Of those featured in the past 12 months, the 15 most-read are as follows, beginning with the most popular:

1. To My Old Master

A stunning letter from an ex-slave to his former master which, when first featured on Letters of Note back in January, was read by millions of people in a matter of days.

2. Our differences unite us

A letter to Barack Obama from the young daughter of a gay couple, and the U.S. President's response.

3. Love, Dad

A wonderful letter of advice from Ronald Reagan to his soon-to-be-wed 26-year-old son.

4. What a world

Author Ken Kesey writes a remarkably touching letter to his closest friends following the tragic death of his 20-year-old son.

5. Part of this world, part of another

During production of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Gene Wilder writes to the movie's director, Mel Stuart, and offers some feedback on Wonka's costume.

6. He is called Mick Jagger

18-year-old Keith Richards writes to his aunt after meeting Mick Jagger.

7. I am very real

A powerful letter from Kurt Vonnegut to the head of a school board who recently ordered copies of Slaughterhouse-Five to be burned.

8. Live like a mighty river

Beautiful advice from poet Ted Hughes to his son, Nicholas, on living life to its fullest.

9. Damn you all to hell

A typically charming letter from Tom Hanks in response to a request to appear on the Nerdist podcast.

10. Nothing good gets away

Author John Steinbeck writes to his son with some invaluable advice on love.

11. I like words

In my humble opinion the greatest job application letter ever penned, written by an aspiring screenwriter who later went on to win an Academy Award for his work.

12. Everything comes to an end

When author Stieg Larsson died in 2004, his partner found a letter in his belongings, "To be opened only after my death."

13. How could you go ahead of me?

A heartbroken 16th-century widow writes a moving letter to her recently deceased husband.

14. I shall always be with you

The night before her execution in 1950, Czech politician Milada Horáková writes a farewell letter to her daughter.

15. Love is love, and there will never be too much

A wonderful letter from Fiona Apple, on the subject of love.

I hope you've enjoyed them as much as I have. See you all in 2013.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Day beneath London during WWII, via The Atlantic (Larger)

It's time to sign-off for Christmas.

To those who enjoy this time of year, I wish you all a wonderful, festive, laughter-filled holiday; to those who don't, I just hope it's painless and fast-moving for you. Huge thanks to everyone who has continued to visit Letters of Note throughout 2012, and thanks for — and sorry for possibly not replying to — all the lovely tweets, emails and letters. Your feedback and suggestions are always appreciated.

I'm not sure when I'll return with new letters, but it won't be too long. If you're desperate in the meantime, I suggest looking through the archive; if you've already done that, I suggest maybe writing letters of your own to those who least expect them.

Merry Christmas!


America is like that second kind of Christmas

In November of 1959, as a shocked American public were hit with the news that a number of their favourite quiz shows had in fact been rigged for some time, author John Steinbeck wrote the following letter to his friend, politician Adlai Stevenson, and spoke of his concern at such a morally bankrupt turn of events occurring in his increasingly gluttonous country.

(Source: America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction; Image: John Steinbeck, via.)

New York
Guy Fawkes Day

Dear Adlai,

Back from Camelot, and, reading the papers, not at all sure it was wise. Two first impressions. First, a creeping, all pervading nerve-gas of immorality which starts in the nursery and does not stop before it reaches the highest offices both corporate and governmental. Two, a nervous restlessness, a hunger, a thirst, a yearning for something unknown—perhaps morality. Then there's the violence, cruelty and hypocrisy symptomatic of a people which has too much, and last, the surly ill-temper which only shows up in human when they are frightened.

Adlai, do you remember two kinds of Christmases? There is one kind in a house where there is little and a present represents not only love but sacrifice. The one single package is opened with a kind of slow wonder, almost reverence. Once I gave my youngest boy, who loves all living things, a dwarf, peach-faced parrot for Christmas. He removed the paper and then retreated a little shyly and looked at the little bird for a long time. And finally he said in a whisper, "Now who would have ever thought that I would have a peach-faced parrot?"

Then there is the other kind of Christmas with present piled high, the gifts of guilty parents as bribes because they have nothing else to give. The wrappings are ripped off and the presents thrown down and at the end the child says—"Is that all?" Well, it seems to me that America now is like that second kind of Christmas. Having too many THINGS they spend their hours and money on the couch searching for a soul. A strange species we are. We can stand anything God and nature can throw at us save only plenty. If I wanted to destroy a nation, I would give it too much and would have it on its knees, miserable, greedy and sick. And then I think of our "Daily" in Somerset, who served your lunch. She made a teddy bear with her own hands for our grandchild. Made it out of an old bath towel dyed brown and it is beautiful. She said, "Sometimes when I have a bit of rabbit fur, they come out lovelier." Now there is a present. And that obviously male teddy bear is going to be called for all time MIZ Hicks.

When I left Bruton, I checked out with Officer 'Arris, the lone policeman who kept the peace in five villages, unarmed and on a bicycle. He had been very kind to us and I took him a bottle of Bourbon whiskey. But I felt it necessary to say—"It's a touch of Christmas cheer, officer, and you can't consider it a bribe because I don't want anything and I am going away..." He blushed and said, "Thank you, sir, but there was no need." To which I replied—"If there had been, I would not have brought it."

Mainly, Adlai, I am troubled by the cynical immorality of my country. I do not think it can survive on this basis and unless some kind of catastrophe strikes us, we are lost. But by our very attitudes we are drawing catastrophe to ourselves. What we have beaten in nature, we cannot conquer in ourselves.

Someone has to reinspect our system and that soon. We can't expect to raise our children to be good and honorable men when the city, the state, the government, the corporations all offer higher rewards for chicanery and deceit than probity and truth. On all levels it is rigged, Adlai. Maybe nothing can be done about it, but I am stupid enough and naively hopeful enough to want to try. How about you?



Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Your loving Santa Claus

During Christmas in the 1870s, when he wasn't sending horse-led sleighs piled high with food and toys to his less fortunate neighbours, the inimitable Mark Twain could usually be found at the family home with his wife and young children, often pretending to be Santa Claus. On Christmas morning of 1875, Twain's 3-year-old daughter, Susie, awoke to find the following charming letter on her bed.

(Source: Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children.)

Palace of St. Nicholas.
In the Moon.
Christmas Morning.

My dear Susie Clemens:

I have received and read all the letters which you and your little sister have written me by the hand of your mother and your nurses; I have also read those which you little people have written me with your own hands—for although you did not use any characters that are in grown peoples' alphabet, you used the characters that all children in all lands on earth and in the twinkling stars use; and as all my subjects in the moon are children and use no character but that, you will easily understand that I can read your and your baby sister's jagged and fantastic marks without any trouble at all. But I had trouble with those letters which you dictated through your mother and the nurses, for I am a foreigner and cannot read English writing well. You will find that I made no mistakes about the things which you and the baby ordered in your own letters—I went down your chimney at midnight when you were asleep and delivered them all myself—and kissed both of you, too, because you are good children, well trained, nice mannered, and about the most obedient little people I ever saw. But in the letter which you dictated there were some words which I could not make out for certain, and one or two small orders which I could not fill because we ran out of stock. Our last lot of kitchen furniture for dolls has just gone to a very poor little child in the North Star away up, in the cold country above the Big Dipper. Your mama can show you that star and you will say: "Little Snow Flake," (for that is the child's name) "I'm glad you got that furniture, for you need it more than I." That is, you must write that, with your own hand, and Snow Flake will write you an answer. If you only spoke it she wouldn't hear you. Make your letter light and thin, for the distance is great and the postage very heavy.

There was a word or two in your mama's letter which I couldn't be certain of. I took it to be "trunk full of doll's clothes." Is that it? I will call at your kitchen door about nine o'clock this morning to inquire. But I must not see anybody and I must not speak to anybody but you. When the kitchen doorbell rings, George must be blindfolded and sent to open the door. Then he must go back to the dining room or the china closet and take the cook with him. You must tell George he must walk on tiptoe and not speak—otherwise he will die someday. Then you must go up to the nursery and stand on a chair or the nurse's bed and put your ear to the speaking tube that leads down to the kitchen and when I whistle through it you must speak in the tube and say, "Welcome, Santa Claus!" Then I will ask whether it was a trunk you ordered or not. If you say it was, I shall ask you what color you want the trunk to be. Your mama will help you to name a nice color and then you must tell me every single thing in detail which you want the trunk to contain. Then when I say "Good bye and a merry Christmas to my little Susie Clemens," you must say "Good bye, good old Santa Claus, I thank you very much and please tell that little Snow Flake I will look at her star tonight and she must look down here—I will be right in the west bay window; and every fine night I will look at her star and say, 'I know somebody up there and like her, too.'" Then you must go down into the library and make George close all the doors that open into the main hall, and everybody must keep still for a little while. I will go to the moon and get those things and in a few minutes I will come down the chimney that belongs to the fireplace that is in the hall—if it is a trunk you want—because I couldn't get such a thing as a trunk down the nursery chimney, you know.

People may talk if they want, until they hear my footsteps in the hall. Then you tell them to keep quiet a little while till I go back up the chimney. Maybe you will not hear my footsteps at all—so you may go now and then and peep through the dining-room doors, and by and by you will see that thing which you want, right under the piano in the drawing room-for I shall put it there. If I should leave any snow in the hall, you must tell George to sweep it into the fireplace, for I haven't time to do such things. George must not use a broom, but a rag—else he will die someday. You must watch George and not let him run into danger. If my boot should leave a stain on the marble, George must not holystone it away. Leave it there always in memory of my visit; and whenever you look at it or show it to anybody you must let it remind you to be a good little girl. Whenever you are naughty and somebody points to that mark which your good old Santa Claus's boot made on the marble, what will you say, little sweetheart?

Goodbye for a few minutes, till I come down to the world and ring the kitchen door-bell.

Your loving

Santa Claus

Whom people sometimes call "The Man in the Moon"

Friday, 14 December 2012

Dear Friends

On December 14th of 1999, a few weeks after discovering he had colon cancer, cartoonist Charles Schulz wrote the following open letter and announced his retirement from drawing the Peanuts comic strip — a widely adored publishing phenomenon that was read by hundreds of millions of people during its 50 year lifespan.

Sadly, just two months after writing the letter, on February 12th of 2000, Charles Schulz passed away. The next day, the last Peanuts strip was published as planned.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Gary Teesdale.)


December 14, 1999

Dear Readers, Colleagues, Fellow Cartoonists and Friends near and far:

I have always wanted to be a cartoonist, and I feel very blessed to have been able to do what I love for almost 50 years. That all of you have embraced Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Lucy and Linus and all the other PEANUTS characters has been a constant motivation for me.

It is important for me to tell you personally that I have decided to retire from drawing the PEANUTS comic strip, after the daily release of Monday, January 3rd, 2000 (and Sunday release of February 13th), in order to concentrate on my treatment for and recuperation from colon cancer. Although I feel better following my recent surgery, I want to focus on my health and my family without the worry of a daily deadline.

Thank you for your kindness and support over the years and for the outpouring of good wishes since my surgery.



Charles M. Schulz

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Keep the faith

I can offer very little in the way of context when it comes to the following letter, however I'm not sure much is needed. What I do know is that it was written in the late-1960s by Frank Sinatra, and given to his daughter, Nancy.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Frank Sinatra: An American Legend, via Jeremy; Image: Frank & Nancy, via .)

from the desk of

Chicken — a thought.

Strange, but I feel the world we live in demands that we be turned out in a pattern which resembles, in fact, is a facsimile of itself. And those of us who roll with the punches, who grin, who dare to wear foolish clown faces, who defy the system — well, we do it, and bully for us!

Of course, there are those who do not. And the reason I think is that, (and I say this with some sadness) those up-tight, locked in people who resent and despise us, who fear us, and are bewildered by us, will one day come to realize that we possess rare and magical secrets, and more — love.

Therefore, I am beginning to think that a few, (I hope many) are wondering if maybe there might be value to a firefly, or an instant-long roman candle.

Keep the faith


Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Creditors are tough in Ethiopia

I'm currently reading an old book about "collection letters" — yes, I am committed — and thought I'd share a couple that were sent to late-paying subscribers of TIME magazine in the 1930s. They were, I understand, in circulation concurrently alongside other examples, and different letters were sent according to each subscriber's situation. I have no idea whether this still happens.

According to the book, the second example was, rather unsurprisingly, the least effective of the two.

(Source: Successful Collection Letters; Image via.)


Dear Mr _______:

Our accounting department does solemnly affirm, maintain, and assert that you owe us $2.50.

We hate to get excited about $2.50. We also dislike the usual "collection letter" that bursts into tears in the first paragraph and yells for the law in the second.

Trouble is, though, that you and 999 other subscribers--all holding out $2.50--leave us $2,500 in the hole. It is this little problem in elementary arithmetic that shakes our faith in humanity.

So (to quote from an esteemed contemporary) won't you "obey that impulse" and send us your check today for $2.50, for in this case procrastination is certainly the thief of Time.

Sincerely yours,

(Signed, 'Francis DeW. Pratt')

Circulation Manager

The Weekly News Magazine

Dear Subscriber:

Creditors are tough in Ethiopia.

When an Ethiopian owes money, his creditor may take him in tow until he pays up. A chain is welded around the delinquent wrist and from then on he is led about at the pleasure of the other fellow. When his custodian drops in for a soda, or its Ethiopian equivalent, he may be hitched like a horse, outside.

Such is the relation of debtor and creditor in the late kingdom of Haile Selassie, Power of Trinity I, Conquering Lion of Judah.

What happens when a ninety pound creditor gets hitched to a two hundred pound debtor is not explained in the current dispatches.

But it doesn't matter much, because in our particular case, we would greatly prefer to revers the Ethiopian order of things. It would be much simpler and considerably more civilized for you to take TIME with you, wherever you go, than vice versa.

Our bill for your current subscription is enclosed. Wonder if you wouldn't like to pay it now and thus keep TIME coming right along.


(Signed, 'Charles Mason')

Credit Manager

Friday, 7 December 2012

It's a virus

In 2002, after reading an article by The Doors' John Densmore on the subject of musicians allowing their work to be featured in commercials, Tom Waits — a songwriter who, a decade previous, successfully sued Frito Lay for more than $2m after they ripped off one of his songs to sell Doritos, and has sued others since — wrote the following letter to The Nation and reiterated his opinion on the subject.

(Source: The Nation; Image: Tom Waits, via.)

Woodland Hills, Calif.

Thank you for your eloquent "rant" by John Densmore of The Doors on the subject of artists allowing their songs to be used in commercials ["Riders on the Storm," July 8]. I spoke out whenever possible on the topic even before the Frito Lay case (Waits v. Frito Lay), where they used a sound-alike version of my song "Step Right Up" so convincingly that I thought it was me. Ultimately, after much trial and tribulation, we prevailed and the court determined that my voice is my property.

Songs carry emotional information and some transport us back to a poignant time, place or event in our lives. It's no wonder a corporation would want to hitch a ride on the spell these songs cast and encourage you to buy soft drinks, underwear or automobiles while you're in the trance. Artists who take money for ads poison and pervert their songs. It reduces them to the level of a jingle, a word that describes the sound of change in your pocket, which is what your songs become. Remember, when you sell your songs for commercials, you are selling your audience as well.

When I was a kid, if I saw an artist I admired doing a commercial, I'd think, "Too bad, he must really need the money." But now it's so pervasive. It's a virus. Artists are lining up to do ads. The money and exposure are too tantalizing for most artists to decline. Corporations are hoping to hijack a culture's memories for their product. They want an artist's audience, credibility, good will and all the energy the songs have gathered as well as given over the years. They suck the life and meaning from the songs and impregnate them with promises of a better life with their product.

Eventually, artists will be going onstage like race-car drivers covered in hundreds of logos. John, stay pure. Your credibility, your integrity and your honor are things no company should be able to buy.


Wednesday, 5 December 2012

I love June Carter, I do

On March 1st of 1968, 13 years after first meeting and just a week after he proposed to her on stage during a concert, the great Johnny Cash married fellow country singer June Carter. They remained together until her death, 35 years later. Shortly after June passed away, Johnny wrote the following note. He died two months later, four months after his wife.

Transcript follows.

(Source: House of Cash; Image above, via.)

July 11 2003

I love June Carter, I do. Yes I do. I love June Carter I do. And she loves me.

But now she's an angel and I'm not. Now she's an angel and I'm not.