Recently, when traveling in the wilds of Maryland, I bought a book called Letters of the Century. It is, as you can imagine, a collection of letters people wrote to each other across America in the twentieth century. Some are by famous people, like Theodore Roosevelt or Bill Gates, and some are by just people – a man writing to his family back in Sweden or an endorsement letter for a “growth tonic”. So, here, for your enjoyment, are the top ten lines from letters from 1900 – 1900.
America from 1900 – 1909: Kodak introduces the Brownie camera • William McKinley is assassinated by Leon Czolgosz • J.P. Morgan buys out Andrew Carnegie, creating U.S. Steel • The Wrights Brothers first successful flight happens at Kitty Hawk • The first cross country road trip happens, taking 51 days • Typhoid Mary does her thing in New York • The IWW is founded • San Francisco is destroyed in an earthquake • The first Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration • Oklahoma becomes the 46th state in the union • Henry Ford introduces the Model T • The Dixie cup makes its first appearance
1. We know too much of ourselves. Constraint covers us like a curtain. Not being very sure of our own feelings, we are in a fog about the feelings of others. • Joel Chandler Harris to his son, on the importance of letters.
2. As things are now, when in youth a dollar would bring a hundred pleasures, you can’t have it. When you are old, you get it and there is nothing worth buying with it then. • Mark Twain, due to his age,, declining the invitation to travel back to his hometown.
3. Let the world know that Yale is being made a training school for drunkards. • Anonymous Yale Student to Carry Nation, because there was alcohol in certain sauces served at the Yale Dining Hall.
4. I am right here in the capital…four or five blocks from your office. I want to ask you, governor, what in Hell are you going to do about it? • Mother Jones, Wobblie founder, to the governor of Colorado who tried to deport her for aiding strikers.
5. My wife and I often say that we are not in this world for pleasure. But neither were our parents and we are no better than they. • Ulbe Eringa, Dutch immigrant to South Dakota, to sister in Holland.
6. His collar came from Noah’s grab bag, and, if you remember, there was no washing machine on the ark. • a woman named Marianne to Lorna, writing about her divorce lawyer.
7. Spring fills me so full of dreams that try one’s patience in coming time. One has a desire for the air full of spice and odors, and for days like junk of changing colors, and for warmth and ease, and all the other things that you know so well. • Wallace Stevens to his fiance Elsie Moll
8. …you must likewise know that no injury flows from [masturbation], otherwise the world would be filled with human wrecks. • Neurologist Dr. Joseph Collins to a patient convinced masturbation had ruined his life.
9. …wonder of wonders, THE WEARER CAN FASTEN THE BACK OF HER OWN WAIST! • Clarke Sales Company (early zipper manufacturer) trying to popularize the new device. No joke, this letter was written to someone named James M. Joyce.
10. I…vow that I will use the wretched talents that have been given me, and tho I may curse with all my hate the cruelty that gave me a giant’s ambition and a child’s powers, I will not be downed, but hold my head erect, tho it reach no further than the waist of most of my companions. • Carl Van Doren to his mother, angsting out about trying to become a writer while his roommate was studying law.
A zipper is still pretty cool, right? Also, I suggest we all put “training school for drunkards” on our resumes, because, come on.
Check out Letters of the Century here.
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