Cowper and Letter Writing

For many, many years a very dear friend of mine (probably my longest and most continual friend) used to treat me to hand-written letters on a regular basis.  She was, I think, trying to revive the art, and often waxed eloquent as she explained why the internet should not be permitted to be the death knell of hand written letters.  I loved getting her letters, but I don’t love writing them, so I was far more blessed than she in that friendship (and still amll).

I shouldn’t say I don’t love writing letters.  I don’t mind the writing of them.  but I can never find the address, the envelope, and the stamp I need all at the same time, and if I do find an envelope that fits, you can be sure I will have lost my pen in the meantime, so another search must ensue.  If you’ve read Give a Mouse a Cookie/Moose a Muffin, you might have some notion as to how my searches for missing pens there were just here in my hand five seconds ago might go, and why the desk and two whole rooms look like something visited by The Cat in the Hat before I find my pen- and it won’t be the pen I lost, either.  It will be another pen containing purple or green ink instead of the steady black ink the return address and the entire missive within are written in.

But I am trying to be better organized about all these and keep these things where I won’t lose them and they cannot hide from me.  My stamps, for example, now live in the very same Japanese floral zippered pouch in which I keep my spending money, credit cards, library cards and six months worth of receipts that have faded beyond recognition, oh, and a seashell.  The stamps go with the money for obvious reasons, they both are basic ally forms of cash.  The seashell… well, I don’t recall when or why it arrived in this little purse in the first place, but it has been there for so long that if I were to move it I wouldn’t know where it was, and that is not to be thought of.  One or two of the grand-daughters occasionally like to rummage through the various bags and pouches in my purse and one of them is always sure to ask about the seashell when she does.

I have given up on keeping my bedside table tidily organized and spare.  I moved it to another bedroom and replaced it with an entire bookcase, with three good sized shelves.  It stands perpindicular to the head of the bed, and there are boxes lining the shelves, boxes decorated with William Morris wrapping paper and and vintage illustrations of insects and cigar boxes and some Mary Englebreit pictures.  The boxes are there because I can fit ten books in a single box, facing out, in the same space where I could fit five books in the traditional way.  One of those boxes holds stationary, pens, envelopes, stickers for sealing the envelopes, since  I will go on sealing them shut and then remembering I wanted to add a photograph or a bookmark or a postscript, or, oh, well, an entire appendix of post scrips and a second letter.  This arrangement has worked very well for an entire two weeks, so I consider it a grand, no, a Grand, Success.

Of course I worry that my letters are boring, although my godson is too desperate for the companionship of even a boring letter to ever tell me so (and also , mostly, too polite and solicitous of my feelings).  So I have looked around for interesting bits of news or stories to write about, posts about reviving the lost art of letter writing, funny stories of things the grandchildren have said or done, and somehow, while wandering that maze of google searchs (only I use duckduckgo) as one does, I slipped through a magic door into the letters of William Cowper.

“Southey, no mean judge in such a matter, calls Cowper the best of
English, letter-writers. If the first place is shared with him by any
one it is by Byron, rather than by Gray, whose letters are pieces of
fine writing, addressed to literary men, or Horace Walpole, whose
letters are memoirs, the English counterpart of St. Simon. The
letters both of Gray and Walpole are manifestly written for
publication. Those of Cowper have the true epistolary charm. They are
conversation, perfectly artless, and at the same time autobiography,
perfectly genuine, whereas all formal autobiography is cooked. They
are the vehicles of the writer’s thoughts and feelings, and the mirror
of his life. We have the strongest proofs that they were not written
for publication. In many of them there are outpourings of wretchedness
which could not possibly have been intended for any heart but that to
which they were addressed, while others contain medical details which
no one would have thought of presenting to the public eye. Some, we
know, were answers to letters received but a moment before; and Southey
says that the manuscripts are very free from erasures. Though Cowper
kept a note-book for subjects, which no doubt were scarce with him, it
is manifest that he did not premeditate. Grace of form he never lacks,
but this was a part of his nature, improved by his classical training.
The character and the thoughts presented are those of a recluse who was
sometimes a hypochondriac; the life is life at Olney. But simple
self-revelation is always interesting, and a garrulous playfulness with
great happiness of expression can lend a certain charm even to things
most trivial and commonplace. There is also a certain pleasure in
being carried back to the quiet days before railways and telegraphs,
when people passed their whole lives on the same spot, and life moved
always in the same tranquil round. In truth it is to such days that
letter-writing, as a species of literature belongs, telegrams and
postal cards have almost killed it now.  (DHM note: isn’t that funny!? Goldwin Smitih published this in 1880)

The large collection of Cowper’s letters is probably seldom taken from
the shelf; and the “Elegant Extracts” select those letters which are
most sententious, and therefore least characteristic. Two or three
specimens of the other style may not be unwelcome or needless as
elements of a biographical sketch; though specimens hardly do justice
to a series of which the charm, such as it is, is evenly diffused, not
gathered, into centres of brilliancy like Madame de Sevigne’s letter on
the Orleans Marriage. Here is a letter written, in the highest spirits
to Lady Hesketh.”

“Olney, _Feb. 9th_, 1786.

“MY DEAREST COUSIN,–I have been impatient to tell you that I am
impatient to see you again. Mrs. Unwin partakes with me in all my
feelings upon this subject, and longs also to see you. I should have
told you so by the last post, but have been so completely occupied by
this tormenting specimen, that it was impossible to do it. I sent the
General a letter on Monday, that would distress and alarm him; I sent
him another yesterday, that will, I hope, quiet him again. Johnson has
apologized very civilly for the multitude of his friend’s strictures;
and his friend has promised to confine himself in future to a
comparison of me with the original, so that, I doubt not, we shall jog
on merrily together. And now, my dear, let me tell you once more, that
your kindness in promising us a visit has charmed us both. I shall see
you again. I shall hear your voice. We shall take walks together. I
will show you my prospects, the hovel, the alcove, the Ouse and its
banks, everything that I have described. I anticipate the pleasure of
those days not very far distant, and feel a part of it at this moment.
Talk not of an inn! Mention it not for your life! We have never had
so many visitors, but we could easily accommodate them all; though we
have received Unwin, and his wife, and his sister, and his son all at
once. My dear, I will not let you come till the end of May, or
beginning of June, because before that time my greenhouse will not be
ready to receive us, and it is the only pleasant room belonging to us.
When the plants go out, we go in. I line it with mats, and spread the
floor with mats; and there you shall sit with a bed of mignonette at
your side, and a hedge of honeysuckles, roses, and jasmine; and I will
make you a bouquet of myrtle every day. Sooner than the time I mention
the country will not be in complete beauty.

“And I will tell you what you shall find at your first entrance.
Imprimis, as soon as you have entered the vestibule, if you cast a look
on either side of you, you shall see on the right hand a box of my
making. It is the box in which have been lodged all my hares, and in
which lodges Puss at present; but he, poor fellow, is worn out with
age, and promises to die before you can see him. On the right hand
stands a cupboard, the work of the same author, it was once a
dove-cage, but I transformed it. Opposite to you stands a table, which
I also made; but a merciless servant having scrubbed it until it became
paralytic, it serves no purpose now but of ornament; and all my clean
shoes stand under it. On the left hand, at the further end of this
superb vestibule, you will find the door of the parlour, into which I
will conduct you, and where I will introduce you to Mrs. Unwin, unless
we should meet her before, and where we will be as happy as the day is
long. Order yourself, my cousin, to the Swan at Newport, and there you
shall find me ready to conduct you to Olney.

“My dear, I have told Homer what you say about casks and urns, and have
asked him whether he is sure that it is a cask in which Jupiter keeps
his wine. He swears that it is a cask, and that it will never be
anything better than a cask to eternity. So if the god is content with
it, we must even wonder at his taste, and be so too.

“Adieu! my dearest, dearest cousin.
W. C.”

I am afraid my own letters will never, ever be this charming and entertaining, but then, this is probably not at all the sort of thing my godson would enjoy receiving, either.

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Letter Writing

I had a bunch of cute stationary, and in that collection was some I made myself with rubber stamps and coloured papers.  But in the last year when I was madly purging everything for the move to Malaysia, that stationary went to a thrift shop.  I wasn’t going to be using it in Malaysia, and keepting stationary in storage for 2 years just seemed silly.

And then the two disasters happened at once, my godson was incarcerated, and we weren’t going to Malaysia.  Well, not going to Malaysia has turned out not to be a disaster for several reasons, but the reasons I won’t be going are pretty awful.  But anyway, my godson…. he wants letters. He can’t get email or text messages.  And I had hardly any paper the house at all- printer paper, mostly.  Scrap paper.  Origami paper.  But all stationary and extra blank journals and notebooks had been purged.  I could type him some letters, but that seemed impersonal.  I tore out some pages from the back of journals I was using. I even used a couple pages torn out of the back of an old journal where I kept notes from my oceanography and zoology courses in college- it had not been purged because I loved those closses very much, and because the notebook was purchased in Japan and I liked the style. It was like our black and white composition notebooks, except it was a sturdy, well sewn hard-back.   That notebook is 33 years old.  I finally decided to go shopping for some new stationary since I am writing to him often.


My friends, nobody sells stationary anymore.  They sell thank-you cards, but I could not find blank notecards at any of my usual places. I couldn’t find notepads of pastel sheets of paper such as I used to use for stationary.  I found rows and rows of thank-you cards, which is apparently the primary occasion anybody sends out batches of letters.  Eventually, I found something at Tuesday Morning, but it was floral and girly, which is fine for me, but I wanted something else for my godson.  I did find some cute things at Current online when I remembered that it existed- I liked a set of cards with colourful birds on a wire, trees at the edges, and a spot to personalize with your name. I was going to personalize with “All of God’s Children” instead.  But then they wanted five or six dollars for shipping, so I didn’t.


I found some things at Amazon, and I’m still looking for exactly what I want.  I can’t tell you, I will just know when I see it.  I saw some pretty Chinese brush painting designs in the pads with matching envelopes style I used to buy for a couple dollars.  It was 8 dollars.  Is this where I snarl at people to get off my lawn and tell long stories about how things were different when I was young and you could buy candy bars for a dime?

I found a lot of things on Amazon, and that’s where I will probably be buying my stationary, but I really prefer to touch and handle stationary before I buy it.  It needs to feel and smell just right.

I’ve decided that when I am writing my godson in the old-fashioned way, I will also occasionally send the grandbabies a note as well, and maybe some other friends here and there.I do understand why hardly anybody snailmails anybody these days, .55 for a stamp alone could do it.  But there is something special about having a tangible, pretty, personally written note in your friend’s handwriting that you can keep and read again years later if you wanted to.

Whatabout y’all?  Any of y’all hand write letters? What are your favourite sources of stationary supplies?

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Having relieved some feelings temporarily at least by the previous post, I saw Little Women.  I loved it with a couple minor caveats.  But why is nobody else mentioning that bird picture on the wall?  I want it.  Anybody else?

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There are no distractions

I keep trying to blog about other things than, you know, the nightmare that is my marriage.  But whatever I start to write about turns into the nightmare that is my marriage.  In counseling yesterday my counselor asked what I was feeling, and I said a lot of horror. Just horror.  She asked me to unpack that a little and basically I said it’s like I thought I had this great box of chocolates but it turns out it was a box of cockroaches.  And slugs. And leeches.  And slime mold.

I have a cool idea for some pictures in my room- it’s a bit creative, making something new of something different, using (mostly) what I have on hand, and what I’ve thrifted quite thriftily. I am happily working on it, creative work gives me deep satisfaction.  And I hear a voice echoing in my head, another personality test of some sort, listing what traits you value most and those you value least. All of the traits, ALL of them, that I think are my best qualities are valued least. Creativity? Who needs that? Shrug.  Why bother? Seems like a waste of time to me.

I start to sing along to a song in a show- and I hear that voice again, “What’s the point of listening to a song if you’re just going to drown it out? If I can hear you over other people it’s too loud.”

And I remember, not very long ago, spending time with a family who needed help as they were going through some nightmare issues with immigration, and I played with their toddler and entertained him by singing, no critic he, and the parents tell my husband how much my singing blessed them, too, and isn’t he thrilled to have me singing around the house.  He enthusiastically lies, and says he is.  And he looks at me with that telling smirk.

All the kind comments here… especially the ones telling me how much things I’ve written here have helped you.  They are encouraging, and they are also guilt inducing.  What do I know? Who am I to be giving anybody any advice about anything at all?  I was married to somebody I thought was a good person for 37 years and he wasn’t in the marriage at all, he brought porn into it and kept it between us, secretly, obsessively, for nearly four decades. He lied about so many things for so long it became the default habit, and it was always my fault.  He was thinking of other women pretty much all the time. He describes what he has done as something ‘that happened to’ him.  I can’t get a straight answer from him about anything in a timely fashion even now- not even if I ask a fairly simple question.

I try to think about other things, do other things, put this thing, this slimy box of cockroaches and slugs, behind me, in the garbage where it belongs.  I was reading about a small kerfluffle in Journo land- Felicia Somnez used twitter in the minutes after the news of the death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and 7 other people in a helicoptor crash, to talk about the rape accusations a few years ago.  People objected.  Some people sent her mean private messages.  So she posted screenshots that included personal info, like work emails.  Her paper suspended her temporarily. They got pushback from some other journalists.  Then somebody else posted about her participation in this unsavory bit of cancel culture.  (There are unsavory details of the specifics of some intimate encounters, just so you know).  And then I read this:

“I felt my identity had been annihilated,” he says. “Once your identity has been annihilated, who are you? The self that I was had been murdered, and I was never going to get that back.”

And there I was again.  I am not the person I thought I was. I didn’t have the relationship, the future, the status, the existence that I thought I had. I wasn’t a wife. I was cover, camoflage,  for gaining trust, for soliciting funds for an adulterer to do his thing.  I was a foil he could use to make himself look good to other people. I was baggage to be jettisoned when everything else was set in place, abandoned in another country for a younger, slimmer model who did not inconveniently speak English so couldn’t talk back, call out garbage, or voice opinions (for cultural and linguistic reasons).

Who am I instead? What did I know? What have I ever known?  Everything I thought was true about my marriage was completely, utterly false.

“Isn’t it possible,” my counselor says, ” that you could have known what you were talking about and still experienced what you experienced?”

I don’t know.  How would I know?

I listened to The Like Factor, which is an audible book I got to help me with my introversion, that tongue cloven to the roof of my mouth when faced with people, only coming loose in order to blurt the most awkward, unhelpful, off putting things possible.  It wasn’t really much help with that, although a  few things were interesting (guys who wanted to impress girls while bar-hopping would go to ATM machines and look around for receipts with the bank balance on them, saving the ones with the highest balance. They’d stuff these in their pockets and when a girl asked for their numbers, they’d pull out the ATM receipt as scrap paper to write their number on the back, giving the impression of more wealth than they had).  The author is a former FBI agent, specializing in interrogations and getting people to think he liked them so he could get them to spill the beans.  It seems a good distraction.  He explains some tips on how to know somebody is lying- not that any one of them guarantees the person is lying or not lying, just that these factors indicate you should look further, these answers more often than not indicate something is wrong, usually the person is lying, although other factors could be involved.  And I have to pull the car over (I listen to audible books mostly while driving) because I am sobbing, shaking, sick to my stomach.  Every. Single. One. All of them, questions I have asked, questions I have asked *recently,* since the alleged ‘I’ve revealed all, there is nothing left’ moment-  the answers I received are textbook examples of the answers people who are probably lying will give.

I receive a letter from my poor incarcerated grandson, he’s been told. This breaks my heart. I wasn’t going to tell him until he gets out because I didn’t want him hurt even more, given where he is and how hard this is for him. Instead of addressing his pain, he tells me how sorry he is, and that he’s there for me if I just want to write out my sorrows and send them to him to read, he’s there for that. He is fifteen years old. He tells me they have to stay in their rooms for all but about four or five hours a day, and it’s the silence that gets him, he is alone with his own thoughts, fears, worries, and feelings and it’s nearly unbearable.  Then he tells me never mind, it’s only feelings and he will just have to thug it out.  I have wept more over him than over this sham of a marriage, and I water his letter afresh with my tears.  He also asks for photographs of the various family members and any I have with him, so I overcompensate and order forty. I htink I will have to spread them out and send four or five at a time.

I read the Orestes, Agamemnon, The LIbation Bearers and the Furies.  Here is something distant, far, distracting…

In visions of the night, like dropping rain,   Descend the many memories of pain Before the spirit’s sight: through tears and dole   Comes wisdom o’er the unwilling soul—

I read of friendly words masking dark thoughts, of hatred given where love was due,

Alas, that none of mortal men Can pass his life untouched by pain! Behold, one woe is here— Another loometh near.

Wisdom is child of pain, and born with many a tear…

Well. I hope so.  But how many tears?

It’s just feelings.  I guess I will have to just thug it out.

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“We all knew about Epstein…”

Says… Cindy McCain.

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