Saturday, 10 April 2010


Two handwritten letters came this morning addressed to Philip Stewart Esquire. It is a quaint old way of suggesting that a man was not quite Sir So-and-So but nearly. It comes from old French 'escuyer' from Latin 'scutarius' shield-bearer to a knight. I didn't think anyone under the age of 80 wrote 'Esquire', and sure enough one letter was from a lady aged 98, but the other was from an ex-student of mine aged not much more than 45.

My former student told me she refuses to use e-mail because it makes the pace of life too fast. She harks back to the days of Jane Austen, when letters were like small books and visits lasted for months (ouch!). I think, though, that if you added together all the e-mails I send and receive, the content would fill a small book every year, and it's nice to find out quickly if anything good or bad has recently happened to your friends.

But I do wonder how biographers and historians will write about this generation. Unless you print out your e-mails and store them safely, there will be hardly any trace of your passage in 100 years time. There is no guarantee that anything stored on magnetic or optical media will survive. So we should at least write our memoirs and print them out before our memories fade. Perhaps we need archive libraries where they could be stored in confidence until whatever release date we choose.

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