Every day Gezelle received letters from family and friends, former students, scholars, “ear gleaners”, colleagues and missionaries from all over the world. He saved about 7.000 letters dating from 1854 until 1899. The content is sometimes very personal and intimate or just very businesslike.
Gezelle's letters contain a wealth of information on the 19th century. Many letters are still scattered in pieces throughout the collection. Gezelle used to cut them up to reuse the paper for poetry or linguistic notes. Many of these letters were reconstructed. The letters that Gezelle wrote himself are often lost. Only 600 letters were preserved. They are usually addressed to family members or close friends, who returned them to the collection at memorial celebrations. About 700 letters were sent by English correspondents, most of them English immigrant families living in Bruges or English students.
Gezelle sent his first poetry collection to the famous Flemish writer Hendrik Conscience. Conscience is full of praise, but he advises to omit the West Flemish dialect.
“True poets are so rare that one must cheer when discovering one”
On one of his journeys to England, Gezelle writes a letter to his maid Mathilde with details about the murders of Jack the Ripper who was active at the time.
“‘There’s is a murderer in London who has already cut up three women and pulled out the guts, and he leaves printed letters on the street saying he must have nine victims. May God bless and protect us.”
Eugeen Van Oye was Gezelle's most favourite pupil. He had sent Gezelle a rather cold letter during the holidays. Gezelle wanted to regain his interest by writing in a newly acquired language: Hindustani. He had learned that language from a Hindustani convert from Agra who was a student at the Minor Seminary in Roeselare in 1858.
“Hum toomra-pass hindustani-cheetee likna mankta---- that is I want to write to you a hindustani letter”
This letter from the wife of the lithographer Pierre Raoux was not known until recently, because Gezelle had cut it into pieces. The reconstruction reveals new, surprising information about the publication process of one of his poems.
The English letters are sometimes hard to read. A lot of the English correspondents such as Anne Gadd, wrote crosswise in order to save paper.
Joseph Bahri sends Gezelle a letter in Hebrew because he knows that Gezelle is studying this language.
Gustaaf Janssens sends Gezelle explanations of Flemish words illustrating this with a drawing.