As we inch towards the end of this diabolical year, it gives me great pleasure to announce the return of the Letters of Note newsletter following a hiatus during which I worked on six more themed books in the Letters of Note series (visit books.lettersofnote.com to see the covers). At some point in the near future I’ll go into more detail about these beautiful little collections, but the upshot of nearing the end of that long process is that I am now able to spend time on things like this.
Couple of things before I begin:
First off, the newsletter is now powered by Substack. Your reading experience will not really change; however, I am now able to offer subscriptions and take money from you all, which has always, since day one back in 2009, been my ultimate aim (I’m kidding! I swear! Come back! How do I delete this!). More info here, but to clarify: you do not need to pay a penny to receive this newsletter. It’s just that, should you wish to become a paying subscriber and receive an extra post each month, you now can. If you’d rather not, I will still write to you and love you. There’s a pandemic on, after all.
Secondly, the newsletter now lives at news.lettersofnote.com (geddit?) which I reckon is both clever and useful. It can be read there or in your inbox. I tried importing the old newsletter but I am simply too stupid.
That’s the housekeeping done. Thanks for your patience.
Give a horse a nut
Please be upstanding for John Ruskin, an English art critic whose letters are peppered with highly quotable nuggets like these. Were I this good, I would do nothing but write letters.
Beethoven always sounds to me like the upsettings of bags of nails, with here and there an also dropped hammer.
John Ruskin | Letter to John Brown, 6 Feb 1881
When I begin to think at all, I get into such states of disgust and fury at the way the mob is going on that I choke; and have to go to the British Museum and look at Penguins till I get cool. I find Penguins at present the only comfort in life. One feels everything in the world so sympathetically ridiculous, one can't be angry when one looks at a Penguin.
John Ruskin | Letter to C. E. Norton, 1860
A horse is certainly the awkwardest of all animals with his hands. Perhaps there may be other animals who are as unsafe on their legs, though I know of none. But, with his hand, he is certainly the clumsiest creature living. Look at those miserable hoofs of his, and compare them with a cat’s claws, or a squirrel’s. Give a horse a nut—and see if he can hold it as a squirrel can.
John Ruskin | Letter to Tinie Horn, 31 Aug 1857
Above: A genuine letter of complaint to Steven Spielberg, as reprinted in the long out-of-print and unbearably charming book, Letters to E.T. I recommend tracking a copy down. You will cry—especially in the current climate.
Let yourself be inert
Now there is one thing I can tell you: you will enjoy certain pleasures you would not fathom now. When you still had your mother you often thought of the days when you would have her no longer. Now you will often think of days past when you had her. When you are used to this horrible thing that they will forever be cast into the past, then you will gently feel her revive, returning to take her place, her entire place, beside you. At the present time, this is not yet possible. Let yourself be inert, wait till the incomprehensible power ... that has broken you restores you a little, I say a little, for henceforth you will always keep something broken about you. Tell yourself this, too, for it is a kind of pleasure to know that you will never love less, that you will never be consoled, that you will constantly remember more and more.
—From a letter in 1907. Marcel Proust writes to Georges de Lauris, whose mother had just died.
Happy birthday, Letterheady
Above is the magnificent letterhead once used by legendary photographer Richard Avedon, as cropped from a letter sold at auction in August for $100. Thankfully I only spotted it today, long after the hammer fell. But the timing was especially fortuitous as today happens to be the 11th anniversary of Letterheady, a blog I began almost in tandem with Letters of Note in an effort to catalogue stationery of note such as this. No Twitter header or profile page will ever come close. Below are just a few of my favourites.
Above: Harpo Marx
Above: Virginia Woolf
Above: Margaret Kilgallen
Above: Bill Watterson
Above: Marcel Marceau
…I do remember being fascinated by the Kinsey Report on the sexual habits of the American male, in which we learned that one out of every eight American men has had intercourse with animals. At any large party, I couldn't help glancing around to try and guess which of the men had done it—and with whom? Man's best friend? A sheep? A horse? The report was disappointingly reticent on this score. Have the Animal Rights advocates been heard from on this subject? For is it not possible that a reader of the Kinsey Report might become so titillated as to have a go with a pig, just to see what it's like?
—Final paragraph of a letter to the New York Times Book Review, April 1992. The full thing will feature in Letters of Note: Sex, out early-2021.
Finally, if you're out of ideas for Christmas gifts, I may have the answer: the last ever special editions of Letters of Note, More Letters of Note, & Lists of Note. They are unavailable in shops—collectors’ items!—and I’m selling this final batch directly. They are hefty, handsome, coffee table books, they can be unsigned/signed/personalised/gift-wrapped, and they can be sent pretty much anywhere. More info at books.lettersofnote.com.
Have a lovely weekend.
Yours in letters,