Famous Letters and Diaries

There are many letters that have remained throughout history. Some are historic, other political and some are love letters, but each is a sign of the times in which it was written and has its own significance. Diaries have also provided historians and people insight into the past. They have been used by many famous people to document what was happening to them and what was happening to their country at the time.

The Bixby Letter is one of Abraham Lincoln's most famous pieces of literature. It was written on 21 November 1864 to Widow Lydia Bixby, the mother of five soldiers who had fallen during the Civil War (1861-1865). There is still controversy over whether Lincoln himself or his personal secretary John Hay wrote the letter. However, the letter has remained relevant over the years because of its precise and powerful use of the English language. Another famous letter by Lincoln is the one he wrote on 22 August 1862 to Horace Greeley, who was the editor of the New York Tribune, in response to an editorial challenging Lincoln and his administration's leadership.

The Ballou Letter was written on 14 July1861 by Sullivan Ballou to his wife Sarah in which he outlines his fears and wishes for her a week before he and his fellow soldiers died. Another famous letter is that to Ludwig van Beethoven's "Immortal Beloved." The famous composer wrote the letter in July 1806 to an unknown woman with whom he had a secret and passionate affair that is believed to have inspired some of his most cherished pieces.

One of Napoleon Bonaparte's passions beyond military and political control was his wife Josephine. In his letter written in December 1795, shortly before they married, he wrote to her and of their love prolifically.

One of the most famous diaries is that of Anne Frank. In her personal diary "Kitty," Frank depicted her life in hiding during World War II (1939-1945). The diary described the life of Frank's family and four friends in Amsterdam during the German occupation, where she was forced to hide because she and her family were Jewish. Frank chronicles the life of her and her family from 12 June 1942 to 1 August 1944. It was originally published by her father, Otto Frank, who found the book when he returned to Amsterdam. The original title was The Backhouse: Diary Notes from 12 June 1942-1 August 1944, but it was later published as The Diary of a Young Girl.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, or Lewis Carroll, is best known for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but he also kept several diaries. However the diaries for the period between 1853 and 1863 have disappeared and it appears that someone has deliberately removed these pages. According to many scholars these pages, which seem to cover the period between the ages of 22 and 32, have been removed by Dodgson's family because they wanted to hide personal information they did not want to share.

One of the most important diaries in history is that of Samuel Pepys. The diary is a personal record of his life and the writing indicates that Pepys never intended to publish it. He had the pages bound into six volumes and catalogued in his personal library. Pepys wrote the diary in shorthand and it had to be translated using a key that he provided in his personal library. The diary recorded ten years of his life, documenting the women he courted, his friends and business dealings, while also providing an accurate account of life in London in the 1660s.

Another famous diarist was Virginia Woolf. Several personal diaries and letters documenting her life have been published. Woolf's diary was highly personal and documented each day, describing feelings between her and her husband, the writer Leonard Woolf. She began keeping a diary around January 1897 when she was 15 years old. The diaries provide insight into her feelings and the way she developed her character, as well as into the impact of depression on her later in life.

There are a number of diaries from US presidents, including George Washington, John Quincy Adams and Thomas Jefferson. However, the diary of President Harry S. Truman is considered unique. In his diary, Truman wrote notes and comments throughout the day and jotted down comments about appointments he had. They were not official diary entries, but are very poignant and reveal the President's feeling. The diary provides great insight into the day-to-day life of a president.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

A Treasury of the World's Great Letters: From Ancient Days to Our Own Time
M. Lincoln Schuster.
Simon & Schuster, 1940
Temporarily FREE! The Lewis and Clark Journals: An American Epic of Discovery
Gary E. Moulton; Meriwether Lewis; William Clark.
University of Nebraska Press, 2003
Mr. Franklin: A Selection from His Personal Letters
Leonard W. Labaree; Benjamin Franklin; Whitfield J. Bell Jr.
Yale University Press, 1956
Inside Lincoln's Cabinet: The Civil War Diaries of Salmon P. Chase
David Donald; Salmon P. Chase.
Longmans, Green, 1954
The Business of Being Buffalo Bill: Selected Letters of William F. Cody, 1879-1917
Sarah J. Blackstone.
Praeger Publishers, 1988
Journal of First Voyage to America
Christopher Columbus.
Albert & Charles Boni, 1924
The Exploration Diaries of H. M. Stanley: Now First Published from the Original Manuscripts
Richard Stanley; Alan Neame; Henry M. Stanley.
Vanguard Press, Inc., 1961
Jane Austen's Letters
Deirdre Le Faye; Jane Austen.
Oxford University Press, 1995 (3rd edition)
Letters of Sigmund Freud
Ernst L. Freud; Tania Stern; James Stern; Sigmund Freud.
Basic Books, 1960
The Pillow-Book of Sei Shonagon
Arthur Waley; Sei Shonagon.
Houghton Mifflin, 1929
The Heart of Emerson's Journals
Bliss Perry; Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1926
FREE! The Heart of the Puritan: Selections from Letters and Journals
Elizabeth Deering Hanscom.
The Macmillan Company, 1917
A Second Treasury of the World's Great Letters
Wallace Brockway; Bart Keith Winer.
Simon & Schuster, 1941
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