The Lost Art of the Unsent Angry Letter

Posted on April 3, 2014

WHENEVER Abraham Lincoln felt the urge to tell someone off, he would compose what he called a “hot letter.” He’d pile all of his anger into a note, “put it aside until his emotions cooled down,” Doris Kearns Goodwin once explained on NPR, “and then write: ‘Never sent. Never signed.’ ” Which meant that Gen. George G. Meade, for one, would never hear from his commander in chief that Lincoln blamed him for letting Robert E. Lee escape after Gettysburg.

In some ways, little has changed in the art of the unsent letter since Lincoln thought better of excoriating Meade. We may have switched the format from paper to screen, but the process is largely the same. You feel angry. And you construct a retort — only to find yourself thinking better of taking it any further. Emotions cooled, you proceed in a more reasonable, and reasoned, fashion. It’s the opposite of the glib rejoinder that you think of just a bit too late and never quite get to say.

But it strikes me that in other, perhaps more fundamental, respects, the art of the unsent angry letter has changed beyond recognition in the world of social media. For one thing, the Internet has made the enterprise far more public. Truman, Lincoln and Churchill would file away their unsent correspondence. No one outside their inner circle would read what they had written. Now we have the option of writing what should have been our unsent words for all the world to see. There are threads on reddit and many a website devoted to those notes you’d send if only you were braver, not to mention the habit of sites like Thought Catalog of phrasing entire articles as letters that were never sent.

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Category(s):Anger Management

Source material from New York Times


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