A missing letter?

A missing letter?

Working in detail through each of the Forbes diaries (which start in 1850 and end near the start of 1918, although not all are extant) has been a revelatory activity. It has pushed home much about the interconnected lives and business activities of the people concerned, and has also raised many interesting points about diaries and their relationship to letters and other more miscellaneous forms of writing. At a number of points these latter kinds of writing have been inserted into the pages of a diary; and when these enclosures have dates, perhaps unexpectedly these are largely not coterminous with those of the diary entry concerned and nor does their content relate to diary content. It might have been that the diary was momentarily a kind of container, rather like putting something on a shelf; it might have been that the enclosure was to keep the writer‘s place in the diary, to save them having to leaf through the next time they wrote an entry; it might have been that the document concerned had a more diverse relationship to the diary entry which the writer knew about but we later readers do not. And it might of been for other reasons now unrecoverable because so mundane and ordinary and embedded in the everyday lives of the people concerned.

What kind of enclosures do these comments refer to? There are slips of paper with prices of oxen or horses or goods, either being sold or being bought; there are letters to different members of the Forbes family; there are occasional telegrams about not very important things; there are lists; there are a few pressed flowers; and there is one letter written by Kate Forbes. This letter was addressed to a local clergyman who ministered to the Christian/Kolwa workers at Athole, Canon Mercer. It has taken on a mysterious quality because it was certainly present when I was working through the diary in question, but elaborate searches subsequently have failed to find it. Each of the Forbes diaries is presently a separate database, so trying to find it has been like the proverbial needle in a haystack. Each diary-database has had to be searched through using a variety of search terms: Mercer, letter, enclosure, note, being the main ones. But nothing!

It must be there, it can’t have been imagined, but how daft not to make a note of it at the time. When I saw it, I had been immediately curious as to whether the enclosed letter had been sent or whether what had been placed in the diary was a draft, and promised myself I would read it as a treat once the detailed work on the diaries was done. Relying on memory, memory has let me down, for I can’t remember either which year out of all the many possible diaries it was in, or the form of words used in the database to indicate its presence. More mysteriously, searching all the individual databases has come up with nothing, it just can’t be found. The other items referred to earlier have all appeared in the searches, but not the Canon Mercer letter. Why on earth not? How could it have been written about that didn’t include one of the search terms? Could I have imagined it?

So the curiosity remains – was it an unsent letter, was it a draft of something that was dispatched, did it have a date of writing, what was its content about, did this relate in any way to one of the diary entries? Or am I so immersed in the world of letters that I have imagined its existence?

Last updated:  8 August 2019