#Good Writing

Simple Letters From Long Ago Could Be Beautiful

In 1776, Henry Knox and his wife nearly every morning sat at No. 1 Broadway in New York, enjoying breakfast while enjoying eye-soothing views of New York Harbor.

It was, of course, a time of war. Knox, a former bookseller from Boston, had earned the title of Chief Artillery Officer for daringly transporting some 60 tons of cannon and other war material from Ft. Ticonderoga in New York to Boston.

Knox’s Noble Train of Artillery

One day Knox and Lucy awoke to breakfast, looked out to see the green-and-brown waters sparkling, and found their formerly untrammeled view marked by dozens of ships from what was then the world’s greatest Navy. The British are coming!

Knox urged his wife to leave, knowing what was to come. She took his advice a few weeks later and while in Connecticut he wrote her the following flowing lines:

“The great being who watches the hearts of the children of men knows I value you above every blessing, and for that reason I wish you to be at such a distance of the horrid scenes of war. We are fighting for our country, for posterity perhaps. On the success of this campaign the happiness or misery of millions may depend.” (Taken from “1776,” by David McCullough.)

It’s striking to think of the gravity with which people sometimes spoke with one another. In the age of information, do we think the newer mediums — email, text messages, etc. — will change the gravity with which people approach language? I hope not.

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