Mail Snail

In December 1924, a postal inspector from Corinth, Miss., leveled a series of charges against the postmaster at the University of Mississippi. “You mistreat mail of all classes,” he wrote, “including registered mail; … you have thrown mail with return postage guaranteed and all other classes into the garbage can by the side entrance,” and “some patrons have gone to this garbage can to get their magazines.”

The slothful postmaster was William Faulkner. He had accepted the position in 1921 while trying to establish himself as a writer, but he spent most of his time in the back of the office, as far as possible from the service windows, in what he called the “reading room.” When he wasn’t reading or writing there he was playing bridge with friends; he would rise grumpily only when a patron rapped on the glass with a coin.

It was a brief career. Shortly after the inspector’s complaint, Faulkner wrote to the postmaster general: “As long as I live under the capitalistic system, I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp. This, sir, is my resignation.”