Last year, when I was working in the British Library, going through many many old newspapers, I wandered down to one of their display galleries of written treasures during my lunch break. It was chock-full of amazing, significant and beautiful works of the written word from history - especially British history but also documents from all over the world. As I came to the final displays, I saw Handel's Messiah, original scribbled Beatles lyrics, Charlotte Bronte, and ...
Jane Austen. Her writing desk, with the original Persuasion and some of her juvenilia, in her own hand.
I just about burst into tears. There's something about seeing something in someone's own hand. It gives them reality in a way that seeing a painting or photo of them will never give. It proves they existed. It excites me. And of course the fact that it was Jane Austen made it even more moving.
Last night at our Bible study we read the last chapter of 1 Corinthians, in which Paul wrote, "I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand." This excited me.
Today, I went and got out my two shoeboxes full of snail mail which I've kept from the last decade or so, and read through them. That excited me.
And I wonder, in this digital age, when we have so many more opportunities for spreading the written word than ever before, are we nevertheless losing something? J. K. Rowling likes to write in her own hand, I know, and just imagine how valuable those papers will be one day. But she's an oddity among authors. I think it will be a sad day when the original copy of all our great works of the written word will be ... a print-out.