In the 1990s, while working as a full-time archivist in a local repository, a fabulous donation came across my desk. I remember opening an envelope and pulling out letters written by Thomas Jefferson, General Lafayette, and other famous men from United States history. My hands shook. My whole body shook as I kept myself from running across the library to the office of my boss to tell her of our acquisition.
I touched history and it was electrifying.
|Letter by Marquis de Lafayette dated 1831 with translation. |
Courtesy Waltham Public Library, Waltham, Massachusetts.
I was reminded today of the value of encountering the original, though in this case it wasn't actually physically touching a unique piece of history. An article announced that the "Final set of Tudor and Stuart state secrets goes online today." Then I found an article announcing that among these materials are Henry VIII's Love Letters to Anne Boleyn. I grew woozy again. I wanted to run to my someone to tell them of my remarkable find. But, alas, I work in a home office and no one else was home. I had to satisfy myself with tweeting and Facebooking. (If "archive" can be used as a verb, as in "archiving," so can Facebook!)
Henry VIII has always been a fascination of mine. I cannot say that I am a "fan," but his unique life and the distinct changes in society that took place after his reign have excited my brain cells for years. I had never seen a letter written by the King. I had never thought to look for them quite honestly. The good archivists at the National Archives of the UK, like so many forward thinking archivists, were busy preparing their treasure trove for easy access through digitization. Seeing Henry's beautiful handwriting was indeed a treat. Thinking about his "love letters," despite the unusual circumstances of the affair, invited parallels once again to that thread of humanity I envision. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago I tweeted about a modern set of love letters that has been digitized by the Houston Library. (Ah, l'amour!)
Perhaps one day I'll get to touch an actual royal letter. For now, I'm satisfied with getting to see it.