One of my favorite finds ever.
In a letter written around November, 1851, Herman Melville excitedly muses to his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne about acquiring a personal paper-mill so he could “write a thousand—a million—billion thoughts, all under the form of a letter to you”.
The sentiment says a lot regarding Melville’s insatiable thirst for intellectual stimulation being limited by the technology of the day. It was only seven years earlier—in 1844—when Charles Fenerty revolutionized paper manufacturing with his wood pulping experiments. By the time Melville wrote his letters, newspapers around the world were just beginning to adopt Fenerty’s cheaper and easier process. It would still be many years before acquiring a personal stash of paper was conceivable even for the likes of a mildly famous author.
It makes me wonder if the modern Melvilles and Flauberts channel their predecessors now that they have access to email; an invention that outpaces even the contemporary accessibility of reams of paper at the local office-supply box store. Maintaining a significantly long correspondence of meaningful letters has always been my ideal use case for the ubiquity of email. When compared to the realities of 1850’s letter writing, one would imagine less time being spent on the ephemeral communiques of social network posts and limitations of 140-character tweets. Instead, an endless scrolling wall of impulsive thoughts, quips and advertisements has replaced the monolithic block of text that constitutes an actual well-thought out letter. It may be wishful thinking, but I would love to be the Melville to someone’s Hawthorne.