A trunk of unopened letters written in French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, and Latin being studied by researchers at top universities have revealed insight into the lives of European people from all walks of life. Sent between 1680 and 1706, the 2,600 undelivered or denied letters were presented to The Hague in 1926 in a linen-lined trunk that had been held by married couple Simon de Brienne and Maria Germain, the postmaster and mistress, perhaps in hopes they would eventually reach their intended recipient. Notes from musicians, actors, peasants, spies, aristocrats, and merchants are among the collection — of which 600 letters are unopened and now being carefully scanned by scholars from Leiden, Oxford, MIT and Yale — that includes letters from women intending to reach former lovers.
In one note, a woman included a paper dove holding a flaming heart and lamented “the fidelity which you promised me and which I have given with all my soul” to a man who never received her words. Another woman wrote to a Jewish merchant on behalf of a “mutual friend,” a singer who found herself pregnant after meeting him on tour with the Hague opera. “You can divine without difficulty the true cause of her despair. I cannot put it into so many words; what I ought to say to you is so excessive. Content yourself with thinking on it, and returning her to life by procuring her return,” the friend writes. The letter was marked “niet hebben” by the postmaster, meaning the merchant refused to accept it. (At the time, postage was expected to be paid by the mail recipient.)
“Something about these letters frozen in transit makes you feel like you’ve caught a moment in history off guard,” Daniel Starza Smith, of Oxford University, said to The Guardian. “Many of the writers and intended recipients of these letters were people who travelled throughout Europe, such as wandering musicians and religious exiles. The trunk preserves letters from many social classes, and women as well as men.”
Some of the letters are folded so intricately so as to create their own envelope and many were written without punctuation, preserving the quality of the spoken language of the times. At a time of political change and upheaval throughout Europe, some of the letters speak to religious discrimination and a highway robbery. A 1702 letter from a man to his brother includes a warning to avoid Paris, as the army was targeting musicians. “If you come here, do not bring your instrument or anything else,” he writes.
Read the full story at The Guardian.