Not writing till after I've seen the display at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe. And so I missed the date. It's tomorrow, and I didn't write yesterday because I waited to report on the display at the Schlesinger. It's called What They Wrote, What They Saved: The Personal Civil War (SORRY, I can't get out of the italics now) - a fascinating collection of letters, photographs and journals of the women and families in the North concerned about and involved with the Civil War.
The handwriting is exquisite, and you can see where the writer dipped the pen to refresh the ink supply, with the exception of one young man whose messy handwriting revealed that he was probably suffering from what we would recognize today as PTSS. (Are those the right initials to use for Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome?) There is one whole display case devoted to the communications of the Beecher-Stowe family, and one of the accompanying notes refers to the possibly mythical report of the meeting of Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Beecher Stowe. The president is supposed to have greeted the author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" with the remark:
"So you're the little lady who inspired a war."
I've never read the book that apparently was an international best-seller and hugely influential. I am Canadian, of course, and therefore not personally or emotionally involved with this major American historical event, but I have always been fascinated with women's diaries, letters and journals and with their reactions to circumstances in their lives that were affected by public events. Their personal documents give us insights not otherwise gained. I remember when I was working on my play about Alice James, I was allowed in to the Houghton Library and granted the viewing (and handling) of Alice's letters to her brother, Henry, and Henry's letters to her. I wrote that the ink on the letters was blood-warm. I was reminded of that as I read the material in the Schlesinger display. It makes history so personal.
Oh, I hope people keep on writing letters and diaries!