More Letters Of Note –
Correspondence Deserving Of A Wider Audience
Compiled by Shaun Usher
Canongate Books – £30.00
If nothing else, this simply wonderful book reiterates the degree to which an entire medium of literary beauty has, for all intents and rather depressing purposes, almost disappeared.
Letter writing, that all too brilliant and potentially poignant pastime, does indeed shed oodles of inadvertent light on who ever is doing the writing. Alas, the mere fact that most letters are quintessentially naked, accounts for their being real and revelatory, personal and perplexing, as well as idiosyncratic and, dare I say it, unnecessarily insulting – if not a tad over the top.
The following 1973 letter (‘Your Type Is A Dime A Dozen’) to Anthony Burgess from none other than Hunter S. Thompson, being a surprisingly perfect example of the latter:
Dear Mr. Burgess,
Herr Werner has forwarded your useless letter from Rome to the National Affairs Desk for my examination and/or reply.
Unfortunately, we have no International Gibberish Desk, or it would have ended up there.
What kind of lame, half-mad bullshit are you trying to sneak over on us? When Rolling Stone asks for ”a thinkpiece,” goddamnit, we want a fucking Thinkpiece… and don’t try to weasel out with any of your limey bullshit about a ”50,000 word novella about the condition humaine, etc…”
Do you take us for a gang of brainless lizards? Rich hoodlums? Dilettante thugs?
You lazy cocksucker. I want that Thinkpiece on my desk by Labor Day. And I want it ready for press. The time has come & gone when cheapjack scum like you can get away with the kind of scams you got rich from in the past.
Get your worthless ass out of the piazza and back to the typewriter. Your type is a dime a dozen around here, Burgess, and I’m fucked if I’m going to stand for it any longer.
Hunter S. Thompson
Suffice to say, not all of the letters throughout this meticulously designed and rather handsome book are of a similar persuasion. I merely wanted to clarify the degree to which honesty prevails throughout these 351 pages, by quoting the above (somewhat colourful communication) in its entirety.
Naturally, there are numerous flip-sides to that of the above.
Richard Burton’s profound proclamation of love towards Elizabeth Taylor amid ‘You’re Off, By God,’ more than substantiates as much: ”You may rest assured that I will not have affairs with any other female. I shall gloom a lot and stare morosely into unimaginable distances and act a bit – probably on the stage – to keep me in booze and butter, but chiefly and above all I shall write. Not about you, I hasten to add. No Millerinski Me, with a double M. There are many other and ludicrous and human comedies to constitute my shroud.”
As does ‘It’s Burning Hell Without you,’ in which Dylan Thomas writes to his wife Caitlin Thomas from New York’s infamous Chelsea Hotel: ”There is nothing to tell you other than that you know; I am profoundly in love with you, the only profundity I know. Every day’s dull torture, & every night burning for you.”
From record producer Steve Albini writing to the band Nirvana, the poetess Sylvia Plath to her family, Marge Simpson to Barbara Bush, John Lennon To Eric Clapton, William Burroughs to Truman Capote, Samuel Goldwyn to Walt Disney and countless others, More Letters Of Note is an outstanding, veritable merry-go-round of personal missives. Replete with a number of excellent photographs and reproductions of some of the letters (including John Lennon’s and David Bowie’s), all of them clearly have something to stay.
A few of which will forever remain in the memory.
None more so than a letter written by US President, Abraham Lincoln (‘Sorrow Comes To All’), to a distraught 22 a year-old, Fanny McCullough whose father, Lieutenant Colonel William McCullough, had been killed in America’s Civil War: ”It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave Father; and, especially that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is common in such cases. In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once. The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer and holier sort than you have known before.”