Letter, in its primitive sense, denotes a character of which the alphabet is composed; but it is commonly used to signify a written address to an absent person. The term letter is often, though ironi-cally,confounded with epistle,which more properly applies to scripture, or the writings of the ancients; but, according to its modern import, to a poetical, or other formal declaration.
A letter ought to consist of three parts ; namely, the introduction, the subject on which it is written, and the conclusion. In familiar correspondence, the first may occasionally be omitted; more rarely the third; but by no means the second, as it is the most essential part of a letter.
If the nature and dignity of style be considered, a letter admits of every modification of language. Hence a confidential tone may prevail in friendly and facetious correspondence ; a middle style, partaking of the serious and didactic, in letters on business, as well as in narratives of events, and philosophy cal disquisitions ; lastly, a sublime style, when sacred duties are to be inculcated, or exalted ideas to be excited.
As a letter is intended to supply the place of verbal conversation, it follows, that the language of civilized life, or social intercourse, is the safest guide to epistolary composition. Let us therefore write as we would speak, if the person to whom the letter is to be directed, were actually present. Hence an easy, and simple arrangement of ideas will, in general, be the most suitable. But, as a letter is a more permanent declaration of sentiments than a verbal profession, the former consequently requires a greater choice of expression, prudence and reflection, than is generally bestowed on oral conversation ; hence, it is not entitled to those concessions or indulgencies which are readily granted to the transitory words of the former. Thus, purity of diction, perspicuity and precision of ideas, together with a lively and unaffected mode of expressing them, are the principal requisites of a good letter.
One of the most necessary rules of letter-writing is conciseness. In addressing our superiors, we ought therefore to make use of no phrases or circumlocutions, which tend to confound rather than to explain the subject.—Diffuseness breeds ambiguity, and often represents a number of words without meaning. Hence a long letter may not unaptly be compared with a tedious person, who is constantly moving, as it were in a circle, but never arrives-at the end of his journey.
A short and satisfactory treatise on the subject of writing letters, appears to us still wanting ; though many useful remarks and rules are interspersed in the works of Ward, Johnson, Blair, and other didactic writers.
Letter. - A new method of copying letters has lately been proposed; which is certainly less expensive, and promises to be nearly as expeditious, as that obtained by means of Copying Machines :- we have, therefore been induced to subjoin the following directions.
First, the letter to be copied, must be written with good black ink, in which a little sugar has been dissolved. Damp, unsized paper, or such as has previously been rendered sufficiently porous by suspending it over steam, is then to be adapted to the size of such letter, and be laid on the writing, which ought to be in a dry state. Several clean sheets are now to be arranged on the copying paper; and a fiat iron, moderately heated, should be passed uniformly over the whole, till it be thoroughly dried. - If the original be written on both sides, it must be placed between a double sheet of such unsized paper, and managed in the manner above directed; when art exact copy will be procured. In this instance, however, the iron must be applied with the greatest expedition, lest the unsized paper become too dry, or communicate its dampness to the ink ; in which cases, either no impression would be taken, or the ink would sink : lastly, the iron ought to be pressed on the paper longer than is usual for single sheets ; in order that the heat may be regularly diffused, and the full effect be ensured.