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Friday, July 29, 2016

Cache of undelivered 17th century letters

From The Guardian

An appeal for help from a desperate woman has been opened and read more than 300 years after the man it was sent to refused to accept delivery – not surprisingly, since the wealthy merchant in The Hague must have suspected it contained the unwelcome news that he was about to become a father.
The letter is part of an extraordinary trove of thousands of pieces of correspondence, never delivered, many still unopened and sealed closed, found packed into a leather trunk and stored away for centuries in the Netherlands.

The collection includes letters from aristocrats, spies, merchants, publishers, actors, musicians, barely literate peasants and highly educated people with beautiful handwriting, and are written in French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Latin.

One of the letters that has been transcribed and translated is from a woman writing to a Jewish merchant in The Hague on behalf of “a mutual friend”. The friend was a singer with the Hague opera who had left for Paris, where she discovered the disastrous truth. She needed money from the merchant to return.

“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,” it says.

The letter is marked “niet hebben”, indicating that the man refused to accept it. The fate of the poor singer is unknown. Daniel Starza Smith, of Oxford University, said the man was undoubtedly the father of the child – the true cause of the singer’s departure.

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