Sunday, January 23, 2011

“I have received no more than one or two letters in my life

that were worth the postage.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Of course, we know "Henry" was not thrilled with much in his modern world, but he may have appreciated our modern world where the letter is going to be an unknown along with said postage!

I just started the semester, and I teach Composition...basically the art of research...but every semester brings students more attuned to the text message so...
?4U(question for you) the letter going extinct?
We look to the ancients for the art of writing since the pen and paper as we know them today were developed by the Greeks. They employed a writing stylus, made of metal, bone or ivory, to place marks upon wax-coated tablets. The tablets made in hinged pairs, closed to protect the scribe's notes. The first examples of handwriting (purely text messages made by hand) originated in Greece. The Grecian scholar, Cadmus invented the written letter - text messages on paper sent from one individual to another.

According to my research, the Chinese invented and perfected 'Indian Ink'. Originally designed for blacking the surfaces of raised stone-carved hieroglyphics, the ink was a mixture of soot from pine smoke and lamp oil mixed with the gelatin of donkey skin and musk. (I cannot even imagine what that smelled like!)The ink invented by the Chinese philosopher, Tien-Lcheu (2697 B.C.), became common by the year 1200 B.C. Other cultures developed inks using the natural dyes and colors derived from berries, plants and minerals. In early writings, different colored inks had ritual meaning attached to each color.

The invention of inks paralleled the introduction of paper. The early Egyptians, Romans, Greeks and Hebrews used papyrus and parchment papers. One of the oldest pieces of writing on papyrus known to us today is the Egyptian "Prisse Papyrus" which dates back to 2000 B.C.
The Romans created a reed-pen perfect for parchment and ink, from the hollow tubular-stems of marsh grasses, especially from the jointed bamboo plant. They converted bamboo stems into a primitive form of fountain pen. They cut one end into the form of a pen nib or point. A writing fluid or ink filled the stem, squeezing the reed forced fluid to the nib.

By 400 A.D. a stable form of ink was developed, a composite of iron-salts, nutgalls and gum, and it remained in use for centuries. Its color when first applied to paper was a bluish-black, rapidly turning into a darker black and then over the years fading to the familiar dull brown color commonly seen in old documents. Wood-fiber paper was invented in China in 105 A.D., but the Chinese kept it a secret (wonder what they are keeping secret these days?) until the Japanese found out about it around 700 A.D. It was brought to Spain by the Arabs in 711 A.D. Paper was not widely used throughout Europe until paper mills were built in the late 14th century.

So, with that illustrious history, shall letter writing fade away to the cyber message? The voice mail? Nothing to handwriting to ponder...

I am going to encourage writing...even if it is just a few lines in a card! I have handcrafted cards in the shop...getting ready to order more...the inside is blank, allowing you to write...not someone penning words in a cubicle in Hallmark...and I am going to search for some neat old ink pens this spring when the flea markets start up again...a little corner in the shop for the writer.
Even if you write a letter to yourself, it might help you sort through ideas. Or, I read that Elizabeth Edwards wrote a letter to her children throughout her final years...maybe just a letter with a tidbit of sage advice or miss you...wish you were here...imagine the look on someone's face when they open their mailbox and see not form letters, but a hand written envelope.

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