Pine Nuts: The swan song of American letter writing

McAvoy Layne

American letter writing was at one time an art form, an expression of self that was both effusive and elegant. I cite a love letter from a private in the Civil War…

“Oh sweet dear Delilah, come lend me an ear,

I trust that you’ll never repeat what you hear.

But when I gaze into your big brown eyes,

I feel so enraptured my heart fairly flies.

You listen so patiently to my troubles,

They all float away like gossamer bubbles.

So come hear the secrets I tell no other,

Not even my dear sweet sainted mother.

I’d tell you it’s love, but I ain’t no fool,

It can’ be, Delilah, you big dumb old mule.”

Moving ahead to the gold rush we find letter writing still very much a visual art and performance art unto itself. I quote from an excellent book just published by University of Nevada Press, The Gold Rush Letters of Ethan Allen & Hosea B. Grosh, edited by Nevada historians extraordinaire, Ronald M. James & Robert E. Stewart…

“All will be right yet! Thank God that our debt is incurred in California where a wide field is open to anyone who is the sum of a man.

My dearest love to all, truly your son, Allen.”

Moving along to the late Victorian era, circa 1900, we find letter writing continues to hold its robust form…

“Dear Lucy, I have just had a long interview with a mutual friend who has surprised me by repeating your unfounded assertions with regard to me. Of course, what is merely your opinion, and I have no right to resent, though I regret that it should be so unfavorable, but I have a right to demand your grounds for asserting that I am an errant flirt, a hypocrite, and concerned in more than one dishonorable transaction.”

Then along comes email and American letter writing goes on a diet…

“Hey Matt,

I’m really interested in working with you. I can’t tell you a single detail about the project because it’s so amazing that you’d probably steal it and make billions of dollars within the first few days. I told my uncle about it and he literally pissed his pants. We’re talking a nine figure income here, and a potential change in everything we’ve ever known about anything.”

Next comes texts, and letter writing begins to write its own swan song. I cite this text from a sorority member to her sisters concerning being matched with Sigma Nu fraternity for Greek Week…

“For those of you that have your heads stuck under rocks, which apparently is the majority of this chapter, we have been effing up in terms of night time events and general social interactions with Sigma Nu. I’ve been getting texts on texts about people literally being so effing awkward and so effing boring. If you’re reading this right now and saying to yourself, ‘But oh effen gee, I’ve been having so much fun with my sisters this week!’, then punch yourself in the face right now so that I don’t have to effing find you on campus to do it myself!”

It’s saddening to think that a private in the Civil War could write a more graceful communiqué than a college student of the 21st century, but that might be 2M2H or 2MI…9 (parent watching)…*s* (smile).

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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