Historical Letters

Learning to read old handwriting

A problem that often confronts people trying to read letters and diaries from the past is that handwriting has changed over the years. Most of us experience difficulties trying to decipher manuscripts written in earlier centuries.

The National Archives has created a set of short lessons to help learn how to read English handwriting from 1500 to 1800.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 09/12 at 08:09 PM
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©2005 Montana Heritage Project

Examining a Woman’s Life in Letters

Drawing on an art form that is rapidly being degraded by technology, author Lee Rostad has brought back to life the story of a remarkable small town Montana woman who lived a passionate and rich life through her letters in the 1920s and 30s.

On Thursday (July 28) at 6:30 p.m. at the Montana Historical Society Rostad will present a free public program based on her recent book Grace Stone Coates: Her Life in Letters.

Coates once advised a friend to “remember that … a stamped, self-addressed envelope is a pulling power that sometimes makes them answer a letter; the envelope lies looking up at them reproachfully every time they turn around, and finally in sheer self-accusation they say something and send it back.”

Rostad has skillfully edited the rich legacy of correspondence to and from Coates and used them to wind together a fascinating biography of a woman who lived out most of her life in the Musselshell Valley.

With her husband Henderson, she moved from Butte to Martinsdale in 1910 and established a general store in what Grace called “an alien land.”

Through her letters and writing Coates created a life that took on a national flair. She immersed herself in poetry, short stories and of course letters, and published two books of poetry and a novel, Black Cherries.

Reaching out from her small town, Coates had a long, personal correspondence with William Saroyan, a young San Francisco writer who later became one of America’s most celebrated writers, who always credited Coates with influencing his work.

She shaped other writers through her reviews and essays in The Frontier, a prominent magazine edited by H.G. Merriam, and regularly exchanged letters with noted Montanans including Charles M. Russell, Frank Bird Linderman and historian James Rankin.

Rostad, who is president of the Montana Historical Society Board of Trustees, also call Martinsdale home and has become a writer and historian worthy in her own right, and uniquely qualified to tell Coates’s story.

The book is an adventure on every page, as Rostad leads the reader to find the person behind the demure housewife who wrote the local news for the county newspaper and often hunted and fished with her husband.

Rostad’s book will be available at the Museum Store, and she will autograph copies after the talk.

Posted by Marcella Sherfy on 07/19 at 08:41 AM
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©2005 Montana Heritage Project

“A sweet burning in my heart,” letter to himself by Jonathan Edwards

Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God. But my first conviction was not so.

“The first instance, that I remember, of that sort of inward, sweet delight in God and divine things, that I have lived much in since, was on reading those words, I Tim. i. 17. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen. As I read the words, there came into my soul, and was as it were diffused through it, a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from any thing I ever experienced before. Never any words of Scripture seemed to me as these words did. I thought with myself, how excellent a Being that was, and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that God, and be rapt up to him in heaven, and be as it were swallowed up in him for ever! I kept saying, and as it were singing, over these words of scripture to myself; and went to pray to God that I might enjoy him, and prayed in a manner quite different from what I used to do; with a new sort of affection. But it never came into my thought, that there was any thing spiritual or of a saving nature in this.

“From about that time, I began to have a new kind of apprehensions and ideas of Christ, and the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by him. An inward, sweet sense of these things, at times, came into my heart; and my soul was led away in pleasant views and contemplations of them. . . .

“This I know not how to express otherwise, than by a calm, sweet abstraction of soul from all the concerns of this world; and sometimes a kind of vision, or fixed ideas and imaginations, of being alone in the mountains, or some solitary wilderness, far from all mankind, sweetly conversing with Christ, and wrapt and swallowed up in God. The sense I had of divine things, would often of a sudden kindle up, as it were, a sweet burning in my heart; an ardour of soul, that I know not how to express.

“After this my sense of divine things gradually increased, and became more and more lively, and had more of that inward sweetness. The appearance of everything was altered; there seemed to be, as it were, a calm, sweet, cast, or appearance of divine glory, in almost everything. God’s excellency, his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in every thing; in the sun, moon, and stars; in the clouds and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature; which used greatly to fix my mind. I often used to sit and view the moon for a long time; and in the day, spent much time in viewing the clouds and sky, to behold the sweet glory of God in these things: in the meantime, singing forth, with a low voice, my contemplations of the Creator and Redeemer. . . .

I felt then great satisfaction, as to my good estate; but that did not content me. I had vehement longingg of soul after God and Christ, and after more holiness, wherewith my heart seemed to be full, and ready to break; which often brought to my mind the words of the Psalmist, Psal. cxix. 28. My soul breaketh for the longing it hath. I often felt a mourning and lamenting in my heart, that I had not turned to God sooner, that I might have had more time to grow in grace. My mind was greatly fixed on divine things; almost perpetually in the contemplation of them. I spent most of my time in thinking of divine things, year after year; often walking alone in the woods, and solitary places, for meditation, soliloquy, and prayer, and converse with God; and it was always my manner, at such times, to sing forth my contemplations. I was almost constantly in ejaculatory prayer, wherever I was. Prayer seemed to be natural to me, as the breath by which the inward burnings of my heart had vent. The delights which I now felt in the things of religion, were of an exceedingly different kind from those before-mentioned, that I had when a boy; and what then I had no more notion of, than one born blind has of pleasant and beautiful colours. They were of a more inward, pure, soul-animating and refreshing nature. Those former delights never reached the heart; and did not arise from any sight of the divine excellency of the things of God; or any taste of the soulsatisfying and life-giving good there is in them.” 4

4 Vol. 1, pp. 60-2. “Found among his papers. . . written near twenty years afterwards, for his own private benefit” (Vol. I, p. 58).  In Dr. Sereno Edwards Dwight (Editor): The Works of President Edwards with a Memoir of His Life ( New York, 1829)

The Puritan Mind. Contributors: Herbert Wallace Schneider - author. Publisher: University of Michigan Press. Place of Publication: Ann Arbor, MI. Publication Year: 1958. Page Number: 111.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 06/12 at 11:35 AM
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