Dear Johnston, Your request for eighty dollars, I do not think it best to comply with now. At the various times when I have helped you a little, you have said to me “We can get along very well now,” but in a short time I find you in the same difficulty again. ~Abraham Lincoln
Letter writing seems to be a lost art and a lost gift. The joy in both sending and receiving personal correspondence is quickly being lost to the snippets of text in a message on a phone or the verbiage that spills out in an email. Almost anyone can send a text, type an email, or use their voice to tell a device what to type. It is the letters, written by hand with time and thought devoted for a few moments, with a special postage stamp and possibly a seal on the back of the envelope, that are treasured and still hold great value years after the writer and recipient have died. It is in letter writing that we are able to have a conversation delivered by the post office. It is in that type of correspondence that we find Lincoln explaining to his step-brother why he will not lend him eighty dollars and can value his wisdom all these years later.
In my childhood, as soon as we finished opening presents at Christmas, my mother had pen and paper ready for us to write our thank you notes. It wasn’t always my favorite thing to do, but I was glad for the gifts I received, so it seemed a fair trade-off. Receiving letters–that was a treat! Reading what my grandmother had been doing or what boy the friend who moved away thought was cute were happy moments for me. I held onto letters for years. In fact, we have letters that my great-grandparents wrote to each other when they were dating. Reading someone’s letters is something like going back in time and seeing history through their eyes–much more interesting to me than a history book.
Handwritten historical documents hold great value. The Declaration of Independence, believed to be engrossed by Timothy Matlack, after the first draft was penned by Thomas Jefferson, is in beautiful script. The document is still on display in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. all these years later.
If you doubt the value of a letter, consider the letter written in 1953 to 12-year old Michael Crick from his father, Francis. In a letter that sold in 2013 for $5.3 million, Mr. Crick, a British scientist, told his young son about the discovery he and his partner had just made of a thing they called DNA for short. Signed, “lots of love, Daddy,” that letter serves as a reminder of both the sentiment and history that can be contained in a simple handwritten note.
While every generation of students has learned the proper way to write a letter (heading, greeting, body, closing, and a signature), not every child today is being taught to read and write cursive letters. Mastery of cursive isn’t necessary to write a letter, but without that knowledge will be difficult to read great historical documents, like our Declaration, the letter from Crick, or the letter from Lincoln to his step-brother, among many wonderful pieces out there.
Letter-writing doesn’t have to be difficult or involved. Anyone who receives a note letting them know you’re thinking about them will not judge your penmanship nor your style. Sit at a desk or table and get lost in writing to someone you miss, or who misses you. Jot a note on the back of a photograph, pick up a postcard on a trip, or use a sheet of notebook paper, and don’t worry about whether you do it properly. Just do it.
Lincoln’s letter to his step-brother ends “Affectionately, Your brother A. Lincoln.” How will yours begin and end?