Thursday, June 07, 2007

One filing cabinet. 500 years of history.

Albin Schram passed away two years ago in the UK. Recently, an auctioneer from Christie's was summoned to his home where she was lead to a filing cabinet in Albin's laundry room. Inside she found, "A history in miniature of the last 500 years of western civilization and is the most remarkable collection [of letters]...for a generation or more."

Mr. Schram had quietly amassed a collection of letters that rivaled those in museums:

...a love letter by Napoleon; a diplomatic note to the king of France in the hand of Elizabeth I; a letter of condolence by John Donne; a tragic account written in 1545 by John Calvin, the theologian of the Reformation, about the suicide of a friend; and a withering letter by Charlotte Brontë on male shortcomings.

There was a letter by Beethoven, one by Albert Einstein, by Isaac Newton, Hemingway, Frederick the Great, Darwin, Voltaire, Lewis Carroll, Pushkin, Monet, Churchill, Gandhi, Defoe, Tchaikovsky and Dostoevsky.

The entire collection is said to be worth an estimated $3.9 million.

While there's much to be said about the find (the unique choice of storage, the value, the historical significance, etc.), the thing that struck me the most about it was the fact that these were hand written letters. At some point Napoleon sat down with that piece of paper and a quill and used his hand to pour his heart out to Josephine.

There is something inherently enchanting about handwritten communication, whether it be in a journal, letter or poem. There is so much more of the author in something that is written by their own hand rather than systematically pecked out into pixels.

I don't think the correspondence be worth as much, monetarily or otherwise, if they'd had e-mail back then.

I find it disheartening that the chances of someone down the road finding handwritten letters (let alone a whole filing cabinet full of them) from anyone in the early 21st Century is practically nil.

I propose that we take a little more time in how we communicate with others. Write a letter instead of dashing off a quick e-mail to a loved one. Sit down and write (not type) it out. Sure, it might take a little more time. But what is the purpose of writing in the first place, if not to infuse part of you into that which you write? Create something you, or your recipient, will cherish.

See the full story here.