Thursday, July 3, 2014

Lewis Carroll's Letter Writing Advice

Boy Posting Letter 1887



Excerpts from "Eight or Nine Wise Words about Letter Writing" by Lewis Carroll 

§ 2. How to begin a Letter.

If the Letter is to be in answer to another, begin by getting out that other letter and reading it through, in order to refresh your memory, as to what it is you have to answer, and as to your correspondent’s present address (otherwise you will be sending your letter to his regular address in London, though he has been careful in writing to give you his Torquay address in full).
Next, Address and Stamp the Envelope. “What! Before writing the Letter?” Most certainly. And I’ll tell you what will happen if you don’t. You will go on writing till the last moment, and just in the middle of the last sentence, you will become aware that ‘time’s up!’ Then comes the hurried wind-up—the wildly-scrawled signature—the hastily-fastened envelope, which comes open in the post—the address, a mere hieroglyphic—the horrible discovery that you’ve forgotten to replenish your Stamp-Case—the frantic appeal, to every one in the house, to lend you a Stamp—the headlong rush to the Post Office, arriving, hot and gasping, just after the box has closed—and finally, a week afterwards, the return of the Letter, from the Dead-Letter Office, marked “address illegible”!
Next, put your own address, in full, at the top of the note-sheet. It is an aggravating thing——I speak from bitter experience——when a friend, staying at some new address, heads his letter “Dover,” simply, assuming that you can get the rest of the address from his previous letter, which perhaps you have destroyed.
Next, put the date in full. It is another aggravating thing, when you wish, years afterwards, to arrange a series of letters, to find them dated “Feb. 17”, “Aug. 2”, without any year to guide you as to which comes first. And never, never, dear Madam (N.B. this remark is addressed to ladies only: no man would ever do such a thing), put “Wednesday”, simply, as the date!
That way madness lies.

§ 4. How to end a Letter.

If doubtful whether to end with ‘yours faithfully’, or ‘yours truly’, or ‘yours most truly’, &c. (there are at least a dozen varieties, before you reach ‘yours affectionately’), refer to your correspondent’s last letter, and make your winding-up at least as friendly as his; in fact, even if a shade more friendly, it will do no harm!
A Postscript is a very useful invention: but it is not meant (as so many ladies suppose) to contain the real gist of the letter: it serves rather to throw into the shade any little matter we do not wish to make a fuss about. For example, your friend had promised to execute a commission for you in town, but forgot it, thereby putting you to[Pg 22] great inconvenience: and he now writes to apologize for his negligence. It would be cruel, and needlessly crushing, to make it the main subject of your reply. How much more gracefully it comes in thus! “P.S. Don’t distress yourself any more about having omitted that little matter in town. I won’t deny that it did put my plans out a little, at the time: but it’s all right now. I often forget things, myself: and ‘those who live in glass-houses, mustn’t throw stones’, you know!”
When you take your letters to the Post, carry them in your hand. If you put them in your pocket you will take a long country-walk (I speak from experience), passing the Post-Office twice, going and returning, and, when you get home, will find them still in your pocket.
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