“I am going to tell you a thing the most astonishing, the most surprising, the most marvelous, the most miraculous, the most magnificent, the most confounding, the most unheard of, the most singular, the most extraordinary, the most incredible, the most unforeseen, the greatest, the least, the rarest, the most common, the most public, the most private till today, the most brilliant, the most enviable; in short, a thing of which there is but one example in past ages, and that not an exact one neither; a thing that we cannot believe at Paris; how then will it gain credit at Lyons? a thing which makes everybody cry, ‘Lord, have mercy upon us!’ a thing which causes the greatest joy to Mme de Rohan and Mme de Hauterive; a thing, in fine, which is to happen on Sunday next, when those who are present will doubt the evidence of their senses; a thing which, though it is to be done on Sunday, yet perhaps will not be finished on Monday. I cannot bring myself to tell you: guess what it is. I give you three times to do it in. What, not a word to throw at a dog? Well then, I find I must tell you.”
Isn’t that the best opening to a letter you’ve ever heard? How could you NOT read on? It’s byÂ Marie de Rabutin-Chantal,Â Marquise de SÃ©vignÃ© and IÂ found it in a first edition of The World’s Great Letters.
(Antique stores, rummage sales, Etsy, used bookshops, Ebay – nowhere is safe from me. I found this at the spectacular Quadrant Book Mart and Coffee Shop.)[Organic locally-sourced yummies amidst ceiling-high used-book towers! Have I taken you? Shame on me! Let’s go right now!]
The editor of the collection of letters “from ancient days to our own time, containing the characteristic and crucial communications, and intimate exchanges and cycles of correspondence, of many of the outstanding figures of world history, and some notable contemporaries“, the man who “selected, edited, and integrated with biographical backgrounds and historical settings and consequences” was Mr. M. Lincoln Schuster.Â And despite all his editing and integration, the unimaginative, thoughtless, maddening M. Lincoln didn’t bother to say WHAT IT WAS that Marie was so riled up to tell her daughter FranÃ§oise. Ass.
Well. It turns out that her cousin Phillipe Emanuel de Coulanges had become engaged to the king’s cousin, who was the granddaughter of King Henry IV and in line for the throne herself. Big news for family! But even without being a seventeenth-century French courtier, you can’t help but get caught up and carried along in her bubbly excitement. She ends:
“What glorious matter for talk! If you should burst forth like a bedlamite, say we have told you a lie, that it is false, that we are making a jest of you, and that a pretty jest it is, without wit or invention; in short, if you abuse us, we shall think you quite in the right; for we have done just the same things ourselves. Farewell, you will find by the letters you receive this post, whether we tell you truth or not.”
I love it.
We jot off Post-It notes, text message without looking, throw one-line emails to the wind and call all that corresponding and communicating. At least, I know I do.
Do we even remember the joy and fun and excitement of writing or reading a letter like this? A real, juicy, gossipy, breezy letter?Â I think it’s time we did.
(P.S. You can read the full text of a book of Mme de Sevigne’s letters here.)
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