Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Few Favorite Letters

One of my favorite sites is Letters of Note.

Today's letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Another link is broken," is one I'd liked to have written to my mom.

On January 30th of 1937, two years after his older brother, Baoth, succumbed to meningitis, 16-year-old Patrick Murphy passed away following a seven year battle with tuberculosis. The boys' 20-year-old sister, Honoria, remained. A few days later, the children's distraught parents, Gerald and Sara Murphy, received the following letter of condolence from their friend, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

(Source: The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald; Image: Sara Murphy in 1926 with her children, via.)

January 31, 1937

Dearest Gerald and Sara:

The telegram came today and the whole afternoon was so sad with thoughts of you and the happy times we had once. Another link binding you to life is broken and with such insensate cruelty that it is hard to say which of the two blows was conceived with more malice. I can see the silence in which you hover now after this seven years of struggle and it would take words like Lincoln's in his letter to the mother who had lost four sons in the war to write you anything fitting at the moment. The sympathy you will get will be what you have had from each other already and for a long, long time you will be inconsolable.

But I can see another generation growing up around Honoria and an eventual peace somewhere, an occasional port of call as we all sail deathward. Fate can't have any more arrows in its quiver for you that will wound like these. Who was it said that it was astounding how deepest griefs can change in time to a sort of joy? The golden bowl is broken indeed but it was golden; nothing can ever take those boys away from you now.


If you're in the mood for more reading, Fitzgerald wrote another favorite letter of mine, "Things to worry about." It's was written to his daughter, Scottie, who was away at camp. It's a marvelous list. I feel like I should keep a copy of it in my pocket to remember what is and isn't important in life. And the closing is hilarious and kind of weird.

Another great Letter of Note is by my favorite Hoosier iconoclast, Kurt Vonnegut. The letter is "I am very real," and it's written to a school board member in North Dakota who burned copies of Slaughterhouse-Five after an English teacher in the school system used it as a teaching aid.
The best part:

Perhaps you will learn from this that books are sacred to free men for very good reasons, and that wars have been fought against nations which hate books and burn them.

In a similar circumstance but with a completely different reaction, the inimitable Mark Twain wrote the letter "I am greatly troubled by what you say" after learning the children's department of the Brooklyn Public Library had ordered Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn out of the room.

Twain's delightfully sarcastic reply is exactly the type of funny, revealing letter I would write if I could write funny and revealing letters.

If you haven't already, put Letters of Note in your Google Reader. It will brighten your world. 

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