Are you a Model Letter Writer?
The Model Letter Writer
Or, Art of Polite Correspondence
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Complete Essay on Letter Writing,
Also A Course Of Interesting Letters On
BUSINESS, LOVE, COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE
BY: NELLIE GREENWAY (c. 1910)
This book is AMAZING! Never mind that the book is literally crumbling in my very hands, it is a gem in the rough. What really caught my eye was the introduction which is a 28 page Essay on Letter Writing. Oh yes, this is definitely up my ally.
I hope to give my readers little snippets of this charming book over time. But, dear reader, be sure to have a dictionary close at hand. You will find, sadly, that our vocabulary has quite shrunk over time. So let us begin with a portion from the Essay.
CONCISENESS OR PROLIXITY OF STYLE
Conciseness is one of the charms of letter -writing: we do not mean to say that a letter should not contain sufficient facts , ideas, and feelings; but they ought to be as briefly expressed as perspicuity and elegance will permit. If we encounter an idea with verbiage, it loses it power. There are some persons who, when they express a feeling or a thought, of which simplicity should be the charm, clothe it with all the verbs they possess: this is like wearing one's whole wardrobe at once;the figure is lost in the mass of drapery. Lengthened periods are as much out of place in a letter as they would be in conversation, of which letters may be called the prototype; for they tire the reader even more than they would the hearer : when written, their faults are also perceived with much less difficulty than when spoken. Our style of course, may rise with our subject: but all parade of words should be dropped in a familiar epistle. The death of a friend or relation , a calamity, or any circumstance of grave importance should not be communicated in the same manner as a trifling occurrence , or even a happy event: brevity, in these cases , is beauty; in those it would be deemed unfeeling and abrupt. "You ask me to send you news of your favorite school-fellow, Harriet:--she is married." This mode of communicating such an even is unexceptionable: but it would be most improper to state the death of a person in the same manner;that is, by merely substituting "dead" for "married." In announcing the death if a friend, we should communicate the fact in a way comporting with the gravity of the subject as thus--"It is with melancholy feelings I reply to your inquiries respecting our old school-fellow, Charles Grosvenor. A few weeks ago he was the animated and intelligent companion of all around him,but he was seized with a typhus fever , the violence of which baffled the skill of his physicians, and terminated his life last week, at the house of his father."
But in aiming at the acquirement of an elegant and easy brevity, it is incumbent on us at once to avoid falling into a rugged or an enigmatical style, and becoming so concise as to be unintelligible. Boileau, echoing Horace, says, "J evite d'être long ,et je divines obscure." This is a fault which must be avoided; it is even better to be prol 'x and intelligible than brief and obscure.
To an absent friend, an elaborate letter will be most welcome: a stranger, a superior , or a person of whom the writer is seeks something, will recoil from a "folio of four pages" and, perhaps, throw it aside unread ,or, at best, but slightly skimmed over. When the party, to whom a letter is addressed , is uninterested in the subject on which it is written, the writer of it should display a brevity, which will attract attention, and insure a perusal : no unnecessary ornament should be used, nor , in fact, anything introduced but what is important and bears strongly on the case stated, or the inquiry made.
All these little personal details and trifling circumstances which are so delightful in a letter from a friend, would fatigue and disgust a stranger, or a superior, to whom they are destitute of interest.
Lessons I learned from this portion:
1. Too much flowery talk in a letter loses power.
2. There is a balance between too much information and too little. Avoid coldness with excessive conciseness.
3. Be sure to approach subjects of gravity (death of a friend, calamity ) with great care and sensitivity.
4. Be conscience of your relationship with the recipient . If the recipient is a total stranger, then there needs to be brevity and a "getting to the point" in the letter.
I hope you have enjoyed this little lesson on letter writing from the past.