Pen to Paper


Have you noticed that letters and correspondence have been in the news just lately? Earlier in the month, one of the last letters to have been written on the Titanic, the day before the ship sank, was sold for a record-breaking price. Written by an American businessman, Oscar Holverson, to his mother, on Titanic headed notepaper, it fetched an incredible £126,000. Sadly, the writer perished in the disaster, but his wife survived and the unposted letter, stained by the waters of the Atlantic, was subsequently found in her husband's pocket book.

Amazingly, despite the water damage, it is still possible to read Mr. Holverson's observations on the luxury liner, which he described as "... giant in size and fitted up like a palatial hotel". He also comments about his fellow passengers including one of the world's richest men, John Jacob Astor, of whom he writes: "He looks like any other human being even thou (sic) he has millions of money."

What struck me about this story wasn't the selling price of the letter, but the fact that these precious first-hand observations had survived and, 105 years after the disaster, offer us a poignant glimpse of a passenger's final, unfinished voyage home. It also highlighted a time-honoured form of communication that is now in decline, but for me it still retains a sense of magic and romance; letter writing.

Today, the idea of a handwritten letter is regarded by the younger generation as bizarre and archaic. It is, perhaps, hardly surprising. They have grown up in a world with texts, emails and social networking sites at their fingertips. No longer do they reach for a pen, they are more likely to swipe or tap at a screen. However, there are us vintage scribing stalwarts who, even though we keenly hammer away at our keyboards, will not forsake our fountain pens!

I love receiving a proper handwritten letter. Right from the moment the envelope comes through your letter box it sparks your curiosity. Who's it from? What news does it bring? Reading a handwritten letter immediately brings you closer to the writer. When you unfold the paper and see their words inscribed on the page, it creates a personal connection which only handwriting can give. This inked inscription is a genuine reflection of them and is as unique as a fingerprint.

Contrast this with an email "pinging" into your inbox and it doesn't have quite the same effect. Ingenious and instantaneous as emails are, they are also intangible and slightly impersonal. They provide a crucial link in the 21st century, but if you want something meaningful and lasting then, for me, it has to be the traditional combination of pen, paper and post.

How many of you have kept a cherished correspondence from the past? What stories these can tell: a wartime romance; a lasting friendship; a family saga. Events, thoughts and feelings, when recorded in a person's own hand, seem to imply a greater openness, depth and reveal more about the writer. You form a mental picture of them in your mind. Emails don't have this impact purely because they appear on screen and are in type.

Despite my praise of the handwritten letter, I firmly believe that the ease and convenience of emails has encouraged more people to keep in touch using the written word, which is definitely a good thing. The correspondence we receive from Evergreen readers is always a joy - whether it comes by email or post. Many of these letters, posing intriguing questions and sharing amusing or interesting anecdotes, can be found in the regular "Clippings" section. You can find out what has prompted readers to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, in the winter issue, which is published on 22nd November (click here for subscriptions).

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