Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Message in a Bottle

Jacob Howland

When I was 13 years old, I threw a message in a Listerine bottle from an ocean liner in the middle of the Atlantic. More than a year later, I got a letter from Iceland containing my original note, a brief explanation, and a map. Here is my rather earnest message, printed in pencil on a scrap of paper:

Sunday, Sept. 16, 1973


If you have found this bottle, could you please write to me and tell me:

exactly where it was found, and what date it was found.

My address is: J. Howland, 205 Winston Drive, Ithaca, NY 14850 U.S.A.

I thank you very much for your time and trouble.


J. A. Howland

And on the reverse side:

Technical note: this bottle was thrown off the Polish Passenger Liner Stefan Batory, at exactly 12:00 Noon on the 16th of September, 1973. The ship was approx. 200 miles E-NE of Newfoundland.

PS. Please send me your address.

The accompanying letter, also in an adolescent hand, was inscribed in blue pen on lined notebook paper:

Thursday November 28. 1974


I’m going to write you a few lines because I found your botle. I was with two of my friends by the sieaside on 10th of November, shooting birds. There were not many birds so we started shooting on bottles, there are plenty of them. Then suddenly I noticed the little bottle and there I saw the ticket. I was curious so I broke the botle and read the ticket. The bottle has safetly reached land recently. I know that there has before, been found bottles containing letters.

Well I think that is all my information and what you asked for. I think I stop here, because I’m a lazy writer.

Gertur Hjaltasan

Reynivöllum 10 Selfossi


Scrawled on the map, which had obviously been torn from an Atlas, was an arrow pointing to the coast southeast of Reykjavik and the word “Here.”

This experience taught me that the written word has a life of its own. It was only later that I would learn that a book is like a message in a bottle. Once published, it washes up on distant shores, to be discovered—perhaps accidentally, and many years later—by curious readers like my bird-shooting friend. This is one of the special joys of authorship.

About The Author

Jacob Howland

Jacob Howland is the author of the book Plato and the Talmud (2013). His other books include Kierkegaard and Socrates: A Study in Philosophy and Faith (2008), The Paradox of Politi...

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