Eight Or Nine Wise Words About Letter-Writing

which their author had printed and used to send to his acquaintance, accompanied by a small case for postage-stamps.

It consists of forty pages, and is published by Emberlin and Son, Oxford; and these are the contents:

On Stamp-Cases, 5
How to begin a Letter, 8
How to go on with a Letter, 11
How to end a Letter, 20
On Registering Correspondence, 22

In this little script, also, there are the same sparkles of wit which betoken that nimble pen, as, for example, under ‘How to begin a Letter’:

‘“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!”’

From section 3: ‘How to go on with a Letter.’—‘A great deal of the bad writing in the world comes simply from writing too quickly. Of course you reply, “I do it to save time.” A very good object, no doubt, but what right have you to do it at your friend’s expense? Isn’t his time as valuable as yours? Years ago I used to receive letters from a friend—and very interesting letters too—written in one of the most atrocious hands ever invented. It generally took me about a week to read one of his letters! I used to carry it about in my pocket and take it out at leisure times, to puzzle over the riddles which composed it—holding it in different positions and at different distances, till at last the meaning of some hopeless scrawl would flash upon me, when I at once wrote down the English under it. And when several had been thus guessed the context would help one with the others, till at last the whole series of hieroglyphics was deciphered. If all one’s friends wrote like that, life would be entirely spent in reading their letters!’

Rule for correspondence that has, unfortunately, become controversial.

Don’t repeat yourself.—When once you have had your say fully and clearly on a certain point, and have failed to convince your friend, drop that subject. To repeat your arguments all over again, will simply lead to his doing the same, and so you will go on like a circulating decimal. Did you ever know a circulating decimal come to an end?

Rule 5.—‘If your friend makes a severe remark, either leave it unnoticed, or make your reply distinctly less severe; and if he makes a friendly remark, tending towards making up the little difference that has arisen between you, let your reply be distinctly more friendly.

‘If, in picking a quarrel, each party declined to go more than three-eighths of the way, and if in making friends, each was ready to go five-eighths of the way—why, there would be more reconciliations than quarrels! Which is like the Irishman’s remonstrance to his gad-about daughter: “Shure, you’re always goin’ out! You go out three times for wanst that you come in!”’

Rule 6.—‘Don’t try to get the last word.... (N.B.—If you are a gentleman and your friend a lady, this rule is superfluous: You won’t get the last word!)’

Let the last word to-day be part of another rule, which gives a glimpse into that gentle heart:

‘When you have written a letter that you feel may possibly irritate your friend, however necessary you may have felt it to so express yourself, put it aside till the next day. Then read it over again, and fancy it addressed to yourself. This will often lead to your writing it all over again, taking out a lot of the vinegar and pepper and putting in honey instead, and thus making a much more palatable dish of it!’

‘Quis desiderio sit pudor aut modus
Tam cari capitis?’

W. H. D.
November 1907.



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