I found a letter Jane Austen wrote while doing while doing some research on letters for a presentation I made at the Jane Austen Experience last Friday. It’s dated April 25, 1811, and it’s a response to a letter Jane had received from her sister. She writes, “My dearest Cassandra, I can return the compliment by thanking you for the unexpected pleasure of your letter yesterday, and as I like unexpected pleasure, it made me very happy.”
I spoke to a group of people last weekend about my passion for written encouragement and my interest in hand lettering. The most rewarding part of my speaking engagement was meeting a young girl who was also interested in cards and who had recently started to learn hand lettering techniques. She came up to talk to me for a bit about her interest and how she's been learning. She'll pass my skill level in a minute. It was lovely to interact with such a young, creative mind with an interest in cards.
I had never read Jane's letter above before, but the words “unexpected pleasure” stood out to me. Whether you're 10 or 40, who doesn’t like unexpected pleasure? When I think about a letter traveling through the post, I think of how much effort had to go into getting the letter there. The person who wrote the letter had to drop it off somewhere or give it to someone. That person had to take it to a mail center, a person had to take it out of this mail bin, and a person had to put it on that conveyer belt. Someone had to put it on this mail truck, and then finally someone had to drive or walk all the way up to a special place just for a letter to be sent and received.
Letters take a short time to write, it takes many hands who dedicate effort to get it to it’s destination, it may only take a few seconds or minute to read, but there’s nothing like that feeling of unexpected pleasure when you get a letter and think of the person who wrote it and all the hands that touched it to get it to your hands.
The thing is — letters speak. They speak louder than an email, a text or a Facebook message. The fact that ease would be associated with those methods of communication is precisely the reason I love the act of sending a letter. With technology at our fingertips, it’s appealing to use those methods for instant communication. It’s convenient. It’s polished. But it has no unique personality — no defining human features. But letters.
Letters speak through the handwriting of the words on the paper. They speak through the paper itself. “What happened here when that ink was smudged? Why is there a little faded circle there? I wonder what happened when that word had to be written twice.” You can see the real-time progress of this written communication being created. It’s a timeline from start to finish!
Letters speak. They speak a language that communicates, “I saw this, or I made this and thought of you. I took time to sit and write down all of these words to you to capture this moment. I wanted to give you a piece of myself in the form of my own handwriting, which is as unique as a fingerprint. I went to the trouble of finding a stamp for you and licking an envelope for you.”
Letters capture a moment, a season of life. They’re time capsules, and they can be time capsules of so much encouragement and good.