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August 25, 2018



It is a truth universally acknowledged that letter-writing is going (has gone) out of fashion.  My generation (c.1950s) are probably the last for whom letters were still the main form of communication despite the arrival of telephone and fax machines. My grandfathers’ generation (c.1870s) was the last for whom letters had been the ONLY way to communicate.  I don’t know whether it is true, but my Dad said that his father was accustomed to write a letter 2 or 3 times a week to his greatest friend - often just to describe a day’s hunting.

My contemporaries still write sporadic thank-you letters and letters of condolence but nowadays there are so many ways to say it electronically. How shall the historical researchers of the future ‘read’ this era?  Letters (and, I suppose, diaries) have been the only source of real insight into the feelings and opinions of their long-dead writers.    One cannot believe that a ‘What’s App’ message will be revealing in quite the same way.

Apparently we are still keen senders of cards in this country: birthday cards, sympathy cards, congratulations, new babies and ones that seem to be designed only to remind the recipient of creeping decrepitude. I am somewhat heartened to notice a type of card which is a ‘new kid on the block’.  These are little cards with a pretty or humorous image and the words ‘Just To Say’ on the front.   The words are diffident, almost apologetic, but they draw the writer in as much as they do the reader, performing the same function as the atmospheric story openings provided by teachers to inspire their pupils, ‘It was a dark and stormy night’, for example.  Before they know it, the ‘just to say’ card writer is obliged to expand on these helpful opening words.  They are not just signing a card; they are writing a letter.

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