This section is from the book "Hill's Manual Of Social And Business Forms: A Guide To Correct Writing", by Thos. E. Hill. Also available from Amazon: Hill's Manual Of Social And Business Forms: The How-To-Do-Everything Book Of Victorian America.
YOU have thoughts that you wish to communicate to another through the medium of a letter. Possibly you have a favor to bestow. Quite as likely you have a favor to ask. In either case you wish to write that letter in a manner such as to secure the respect and consideration of the person with whom you correspond.
The rules for the mechanical execution of a letter are few; understanding and observing the rules already considered for composition, the writer has only to study perfect naturalness of expression, to write a letter well.
The expression of language should, as nearly as possible, be the same as the writer would speak. A letter is but a talk on paper. The style of writing will depend upon the terms of intimacy existing between the parties. If to a superior, it should be respectful: to inferiors, courteous; to friends, familiar; to relatives, affectionate.
Do not be guilty of using that stereotyped phrase,
Dear Friend :
Be original. You are not exactly like any one else. Your letter should be a representative of yourself, not of anybody else. The world is full of imitators in literature, who pass on, leaving no reputation behind them. Occasionally originals come up, and fame and fortune are ready to do them service. The distinguished writers of the past and present have gone aside from the beaten paths. Letter writing affords a fine opportunity for the display of originality. In your letter be yourself; write as you would talk.
* In the preparation of this chapter the author gathered many valuable suggestions from "Frost's Original Letter-Writer," and other works on epistolary correspondence, published by Dick & Fitzgerald, New York.
Bear in mind the importance, in your correspondence, of using always the most chaste and beautiful language it is possible to command, consistent with ease and naturalness of expression. Especially in the long letters of friendship and love - those missives that reveal the heart - the language should show that the heart is pure. Let your letter be the record of the fancies and mood of the hour; the reflex of your aspirations, your joys, your disappointments; the faithful daguerreotype of your intellectuality and your moral worth.
You little dream how much that letter may influence your future. How much it may give of hope and happiness to the one receiving it. How much it may be examined, thought of, laughed over and commented on; and when you suppose it has long since been destroyed, it may be brought forth, placed in type, and published broadcast to millions of readers.
When, in after years, the letter you now write is given to the world, will there be a word, an expression, in the same that you would blush to see in print ?
Write in the spirit of cheerfulness. It is unkind to the correspondent to fill the sheet with petty complainings, though there are occasions when the heart filled with grief may confide all its troubles and sorrows to the near friend, and receive in return a letter of sympathy and condolence, containing all the consolation it is possible for the written missive to convey.
To be written correctly according to general usage, a letter will embrace the following parts: 1st, the date; 2nd, complimentary address; 3rd, body of the letter; 4th, complimentary closing; 5th signature; 6th, superscription.
The above shows the position of the several parts of an ordinary letter.
The following position of the several parts of a letter should be observed:
1. Write the date near the upper right hand corner of the sheet.
2. Commence the complimentary address on the line next beneath one inch from the left side of the sheet.
3. The body of the letter should be commenced nearly under the last letter of the complimentary address.
4. Begin the complimentary closing on the line next beneath the body of the letter, one half of the distance from the left to the right side of the page.
5. The center of the signature may be under the last letter of the complimentary closing.
6. The name and address of the person written to should come on the line beneath the signature, at the left of the sheet.
Of late years it has become common, in business letters, instead of giving name and address at the close, to write the same at the commencement; thus,
To the Business Man.
Mr. William B. Ashton,
Washington, D. C Dear Sir:
Your note of the 1st inst. received, etc
To the Married Woman.
Mrs. Helen E. King.
Baltimore, Md. Dear Madam :
Enclosed find check for, etc.
To the Unmarried Woman.
Miss Harriet A. Kendall,
Lowell, Mass. In reply to your favor of the 4th ult., etc.
Note-. - It is customary to address the married woman by the name which she uses on her cards. It is optional with the lady whether she uses her own name, •• Mrs. Helen E. King,' or that of her husband, " Mrs. Chas. H. King. "