A letter is a written message from one person to another person through a medium. Letter writing expresses the passing of information and emotion from one person to another. The History of letter writing is very old. The first reserved hand writing letter by Persian queen Atossa around 500 BC. The stamped letter we know today came into being in the reign of queen Victoria in 1840. Before this date letter did not have stamps or envelops and the receiver of the letter had to pay on the receipt. Letters were folded and sealed by wax with ring or hand seal.The leaves of plants and the bark of trees advanced the use of writing. The linden tree was particularly good allowing the folding of its bark. Egyption papyrus made possible the ancient libraries of Alexandria and Pergamum.
The style (pen) used in ancient times was made from wood, menthe or bone shape to a point. A reed was used on papyrus and parchment dipped in Indian/ China ink made from secretion of cuttlefish. The 5th century saw the use of goose quills in saxon England.In the 14th century pencils made from a lead composite became popular and in common use as a writing implement. About the tenth century from the far east to the west came cotton paper which was in common use by the 12th century. A great advance in writing material came in the 14th century with the introduction of paper made from liner rags. This method of making paper continued for several years.Prier to 1840 letter were delivered by carrier coach or horse rider. In may 1840 great Britain introduced first prepaid stamp nation wide postal delivery service. This was soon followed by other countries introducing similar systems.
The united states introduced a limited postal service in August 1842 followed by a uniform 5 cents charge in 1845 and standardised stamps in 1874.The modern day postal system in India was created by the East India company. They established post offices in Bombay, Madras and Calcutta between 1764 and 1766.In due course of time the men of letters started expressing their literature through letter writing. Samuel Richardson, the English Novelist wrote his novel – Pamela, in letter forms our former Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru was an expert letter writer. During freedom movement while he was in jail he wrote letters to his daughter Indira Priyadarshini on the subject of history, Nehru was a kin student of world History.
Later on these letters were compiled in a book form entitled – Glimpses of world History. This Book was praised all over the world. Einstein said – we are awed by the breadth of Nehru’s culture. Children of England will learn English from Mr. Nehru. But now a days letter writing is in decline. Internet, mobile, electronic media all have damaged the art of letter writing. Whatsapp, sms, Instagram, Facebook etc have eaten the letter writing. Now letter writing is an endangered species. We have lost an important intrinsic part of human life. It is unfortunate we have lost a fundamental way of life. Letter writing is a revelation of soul. No doubt about it. So side by side along with the modern communication, we should keep on physical letter writing which will keep us as true human being with aesthetic and cultural sense. We should have a sense of inner beauty.
(The views expressed are the writer’s own.)
Radhakanta Seth is a former Income tax officer in Sambalpur. He is a freelance writer and his articles have been published in some Oriya dailies like Sambad, Samaj, Dharitri, and English dailies like The Telegraph and in a sociological journal ‘Folklore’ published from Kolkata.
He can be reached at [email protected]