Two people have alluded to real post of this kind on their blogs recently and opened interesting and intriguing avenues of thought. You may have read their posts yourselves already but if you haven't, have a look; one is Annie at Knitsofacto in her post here about letters written home from her great-great-great uncle while on military service in South Africa in the late 1870s. Letters all the more poignant for their expressed longing for the home he never arrived back to. The other is Judy at I read-I sewed-I crocheted in her post here in which she reflects on the red post boxes that are so distinctive a feature of the British landscape and many of which have been in use for well over a century. As Judy points out, these little red boxes have received into their dark interiors not just bills and official communications in their time, but all people's outpourings of the heart, their news and gossip, invitations and reminiscences and conversations, big and small, in the days before convenient, but evanescent, electronic and telephonic media took the place of snail mail. And at the height of the postal system's glory days in the late 19th / early 20th C you might reasonably expect to receive several deliveries of post a day - at least once in the early morning by breakfast and again some time in the afternoon.
In fact I don't know whether I get more of a thrill from being the one doing the posting or the one receiving post when it comes! Not much in it probably!
When I arrived back from holiday last week I coincidentally and unrelatedly found three interesting pieces of snail mail waiting for me and I can't tell you what a lift to the spirits they were. All three were surprises and all three contained handwritten letters along with other delightful handmade contents. And my enormous delight at the contents was matched by my enormous delight at the letters. Different paper, different envelopes, different handwriting, different sentiments but the common thread was a tangible gesture of friendship and connection hard to beat. Don't get me wrong - I don't want to knock electronic communication - for a start all three unexpected pieces of snail mail were from people I've "met" through blogging; I use electronic communication all the time and mighty convenient it is too; I love writing this blog and being able to read others' blogs and contribute to the conversation that follows in the comments section whenever I can; but there is still something just so lovely about snail mail, especially the unexpected sort.
My parents are enthusiastic genealogists - many of my childhood holidays were spent poking around in ancient English churchyards trying to decipher crumbling inscriptions to locate long dead relatives in their final resting places, an activity which neither my sister nor I relished much, if at all. More interesting, for me anyway, are the hoard of photographs and letters that my parents have collected from all sides of the family, some of them going back to the beginning of the 19th C. My mother showed me a letter this week that I thought I would share with you as this post is about post. It's from the French side of my family written in 1852 from my great-great-great grandmother, Anaïs Préaud, to her sister Augustine. The letter is written on very thin paper about six inches square and Anaïs' six-year old daughter, Marie, my great-great grandmother, has written her own message to her aunt on the back.
As Ecclesiastes says profoundly truthfully (if a little cynically), "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
Just as we 21st C bloggers like to send one another little handmade surprises, the Victorians did too. A hundred and sixty years ago Anaïs was sending her sister, along with her letter, a little something she had made her. I'd love to know what she'd made but it was almost certainly needlework. She writes "Je t'envoie ci inclus un échantillon de mon savoir-faire. Je te prie de l'agréer comme un petit souvenir d'amitié. J'y ai travaillé avec un bien grand plaisir et je souhaite qu'il te plaise." "I enclose a sample of my skill. I hope you will accept it as a little token of affection. I very much enjoyed working on it and I hope you like it." She goes on to ask her sister for a fashion update on embroidery over "pagoda sleeves" and "musketeer collars" which she isn't sure she knows how to do.
On the reverse, little Marie has written in an exquisite hand, that I am very sure I could not have emulated when I was aged six, that she wishes her "lovely niece-spoiling aunt a happy year and good health" and she sends her "a big hug". She signs it off "la petite nièce bien obéissante avec toi, Marie Préaud" One wonders whether she was not always totally "obéissante" with her "petite mère" but saved "obéissance" up for her favourite niece-spoiling aunt!
A huge thank you again to my three bloggy friends for the entrancing surprises they sent me - I treasure them and the letters that accompanied them and perhaps one day, in the next century, I will have a great-great-great granddaughter who will find them among my things and wonder at the friendship that blogging unlocked in 2012.