The Friday Fillip

Here’s a wordy one today. Really wordy. But I thought that you might like to see an example of “old skool” ingenuity as it meets modern technology. I’m talking about the practice of cross-writing in letters. Once, postage was determined by the number of sheets within an envelope and not by weight — actually, I remember pre-stamped, blue, airmail letter “envelopes” that allowed for no enclosures and offered you only a single sheet to write on — and so the frugal took to cross-writing, i.e. turning the written-on page 90 degrees and simply writing across the earlier text. Surprisingly, the eye could decode this cross writing, happily ignoring the “mess” going the other way.

The cross-written letter I offer is one by Jane Austen, now hosted online by the Morgan Library and Museum. (Here’s a link that places the letter on a screen all by itself.) The Flash tool allows you to zoom in and to traverse the document as you wish. The only thing it doesn’t do, oddly in this case, is allow you to spin it 90 degrees to read the “vertical” writing. So I’ve taken a screen shot of some text and rotated it for you, as you’ll see below. Click on either image to enlarge it to readable size.

There’s a great deal of fascinating material, by the way, on the Morgan site, so consider it a “wait-there’s-more” bonus addition to this week’s fillip.

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