Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Contents

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Introduction. Speaking Letters

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pp. 1-18

The letters Peter Collinson received spoke to him. For this London merchant and ardent botanist, letters held more than inked words on a page. They contained the voices of his friends and acquaintances, and when he cracked open the seal of a letter, they escaped and filled the room. As he wrote to his...

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Chapter 1. The Perils of the Post Office

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pp. 19-46

In 1662, during the depths of winter, John Davys found himself pelted by letters from his employer, Lucy Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon. On the night of 16 February a letter arrived from the Derby post, the next morning the carrier delivered a second one, and then Mr. Strong of Sutton handed...

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Chapter 2. Mapping the Epistolary World

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pp. 47-77

In a letter written in 1697, John Perceval’s tutor sent his two young charges on a hypothetical journey around the world to spread the news of the Treaty of Ryswick, which settled the War of the League of Augsburg. Philip Perceval was to go southeast across the British Channel, along the coasts of France...

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Chapter 3. Networking in the Epistolary World

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pp. 78-112

William Byrd I of Virginia was not one to let a convenient epistolary opportunity pass him by. When he knew of a ship heading eastward, he would hurriedly write multiple letters on a single day to send by the ship’s captain. On 20 May 1684 he wrote nine letters and sent them by Captain Wynne...

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Chapter 4. Nurturing the Epistolary World

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pp. 113-139

In his early twenties, Sir John Perceval set out ‘‘on his travels abroad and saw a good part of Europe.’’¹ During his trip he collected paintings, statues, books, busts, medals, drawings, and acquaintances. One of these acquaintances was Lorenzo Magnolfi, who had deep roots in the Florentine art world and in the...

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Chapter 5. New Networks and Letters Less Familiar

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pp. 140-168

June 1734 found John Perceval, by now the Earl of Egmont, ransacking his houses for lost letters. He confessed to his agent in Ireland, ‘‘I am under the greatest uneasiness about the three volumes of letters relating to my Estate years 1730, 1731 & 1733. I have looked over and over both in town and Country...

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Chapter 6. Stirring News and the Role of the Letter

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pp. 169-196

For the British of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries news was more than words on a page or events told by a friend, it was a living thing. It stirred and made noise. In their letters they referred to it by its state of motion: ‘‘You won’t fail to send me what news you have stirring,’’ ‘‘What is...

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Postscript

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pp. 197-204

When Peter Collinson waxed poetic about his ‘‘speaking letters’’ to John Bartram, the American botanist, in 1762, the networks explored in this book were slipping into the hands of the next generation. Collinson, the youngest of the letter writers examined, died five years later in 1768. His last surviving...

Notes

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pp. 205-254

Index

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pp. 255-262

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 263-264

This book owes its creation to networks of support perhaps even more than the lives it inspects. I was able to lean upon and look to constant nodes of assistance as well as more ephemeral webs that crystallized when needed. I sometimes sit back and visualize this network and the image humbles me and...