I thoroughly enjoy sending letters and cards. Not that I do it all that often, but when I do, it is a delightful process which requires my best handwriting, prettiest stationary, and the inevitable search in the catch-all drawer for stamps. To some, letter writing is outdated, to others, it only happens on certain occasions, and to a few, it is apart of their daily connection with friends and family. Whatever your fancy, letter writing is a centuries old tradition with as many rules and regulations as one could imagine.
Below are a few selected excerpts on the proper behaviour of letter writing for women.
The Writing Materials
“The selection of the paper ought to always to be in the keeping with the person, age, sex, and circumstances of the correspondents….It is extremely impolite to write upon a single leaf of paper, even it it is a billet; it should always be double, even though we write only two or three lines.”
Spacing the Letter
“If we are writing to a superior, we should leave large spaces between the lines. In writing a familiar letter, it is as well to begin near the top of the sheet, and write compactly, but legibly, leaving a small margin, or none if preferred.”
Folding and Sealing
” Every letter to a superior ought to be folded in an envelope. It shows a want of respect to seal with a wafer; we must use sealing wax. Men usually select red; but young ladies use gilt, rose, and other colors. Both use black wax when they are in mourning….If a friend takes charge of a letter as a favor, it would be quite impolite to put more than one seal upon it. If the letter should be folded in such a manner that, by opening it at the end, its contents may be read, it would be equally regardless of delicate propriety to put a little wax upon the edges. This precaution is only to be used when the letter is sent by post, or an untried domestic.”
Proper Arrangement of what is to be written:
“When you write upon any subject, consider it fully before putting upon paper, and treat of each topic in order, that you may not be obliged to recur to anyone again, after having spoken of another thing, as it confuses the mind. If you have many subjects to treat of in the same letter, commence with the most important; for if the person to whom you write is interrupted while reading it, he will be the more impatient to resume the reading, however little interesting he may find it.”
This particular author also included several examples of letters for a variety of occasions. Here are two in regards to an engagement announcement and bride’s maid inquiry. What a beautiful, if not loquacious, way of sharing the news!
So whether you say it by phone or say it by letter, say it beautifully!
The Ladies Guide to Perfect Gentility by Emily Thornwell (1856)
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