A Desk Book on the Etiquette of Social Stationery/Chapter 3
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The Letter on the Desk
THE LETTER ON THE DESK
ONE MAY acquire the art of letter-writing. Few possess it. A glance down the page of a fair example of our correspondence finds it studded with personal "I's" and filled with household groans.
The Letter We Look for The letter which is a joyous thing, bringing with it a subtle touch of the sender, and conveying the sense of a personal chat, is the one we seek at the postman's ring. Many clever, fluent talkers become incoherent at the touch of ink. They cannot put themselves on paper and the non-expressive, disappointing type of letter is the result.
The rigid rules of school-day letter-writing one must needs unlearn in the world's classroom. We have no space for shaded pothooks in the characterized hand which we soon assume after our copy-book graduation. One's chirography may be clear, unique and distinctive, but it is what we write, not how we write, that counts.
The Good Letter The good letter is first well spelled and readable, without doubts of ending g's and uncrossed t's. It is direct and clear, void of rambling sentences which require dissecting at the page end, and lastly, it is a personal pen picture—bringing the sender quickly to the mind's eye, and drawing the cords of friendship close.
Remember that friends, even the best of them, although interested in you and yours, care little to read four well-filled pages of domestic news. The departing cook, the teething baby and the food one's husband cannot eat, are not all-absorbing topics to the recipient, and unless of a serious nature, should be left out, or touched on only in a humorous way. It's an interesting little study in possibilities to put down the serious version (to oneself) of a household problem, and then convert the same situation into jest form. It creates that touch of buoyancy which can show a laugh for a tear, and excites the broad smile of amusement. It may be just the needed change in the point of view which helps the other woman through a weary day. Try it and see how quickly such a letter is answered.
Answering the Letter And speaking of answering, how many of us really do it? We catch up a sheet of paper, cover it with our own absorbing doings, add a hurried line of health inquiry and send it out. Yes, it is worth just about the price of the two-cent stamp, attached with a crooked slant into the envelope corner.
Read over the letter to be answered before you begin to write. It is a notable help and lends many a clue to an interesting line. Bits of news from the doings of mutual friends may be introduced, and the mention or criticism of new books is often an appreciated word to the friend who may not be able to keep in touch with the world's latest accomplishments.
Forms of Address Forms of address are governed by a few well-made laws. In America, My dear is considered more formal than Dear, the opposite being the case abroad. Good breeding directs following the custom of the country in which one resides. The delightfully talkative letter to one's friend and equal may not be headed at all, but assume the charming tone of a continued conversation, as: I am thinking, dear, how much I want to see you.
Formal Address A slight acquaintance is addressed as My dear Mr. Willis, and titles should not be abbreviated to Prof. or Dr.; My dear Doctor is the proper form, while Doc. is the height of vulgarity.
Dear Miss, omitting the name, is equally bad form, but Dear Madam may be used in addressing a woman in the most formal terms.
Addressing the President The President is addressed formally as Sir. The envelope reads:
- The President
- Executive Mansion
- Washington, D. C.
- Executive Mansion
- The President
The Vice-President is addressed as Sir, or
- Mr. Vice-President,
- Mr. Vice-President,
Senators A Senator, Congressman, Mayor or Judge has the prefix Honorable, as
- Hon. James F. Smith
A letter is addressed
- The Honorable James F. Smith
A Governor is addressed as Excellency and Sir. A Bishop in the United States is Most Reverend Sir.
Ministers In addressing a Protestant Minister one uses Dear Mr. Irving, and the envelope reads
- The Rev. John F. Irving
The letters D.D. are added if Mr. Irving is a doctor of divinity. The envelope may also be addressed to
- Reverend Dr. John F. Irving
No form of speech is so incorrectly used as Use of the Third Person the third person. It is only needed in the most formal correspondence, or in the answering of an invitation, but when used in the opening sentence, it must continue to the end, and remain unsigned.
Occasionally we meet such blunders as:
Mrs. John Brown returns the coat purchased yesterday from Smith & Co. I do not like the color.
The note should be couched in the first person throughout, and bear Mrs. Brown's signature, or should read:
Mrs. John Brown returns the coat purchased yesterday from Smith & Co., the color being unsatisfactory.
In the lower left corner Mrs. Brown's address is written, if it does not appear on the paper heading.
The telephone, telegraph and cable have done much to obliterate correspondence. We shorten our lines in these hurried times to note size, although no suspicion of haste must show in the wording.
The Typed Letter Under no consideration is a type-written letter permissible in social usage.
A business letter, however, may be typed and bears the subscription of name and address thus:
Mrs. C. F. Fowler
288 Madison Avenue
Such a letter closes with Yours very truly, and is signed, not typed, with the signature of the sender, or the name of the business firm.
Signatures Many married women use their title incorrectly. A woman does not use initials, or the superscription Mrs. in social correspondence; she signs herself:
Dorothy Hudson Black
If the letter is of a business nature, or the person to whom she writes may not know her husband's name, she adds her married title in brackets beneath, thus:
Dorothy Hudson Black
(Mrs. Charles S. Black)
An unmarried woman writes (Miss) in parentheses when addressing a stranger to distinguish her from a widow. Writing the title of Mrs. is not permissible on a woman's checks, letters or notes, or in fact at all, except when registering at a hotel, or of necessity on a card, should she happen to be without one of her own, or when writing to a servant.
The wife of a doctor is simply Mrs. Charles Brown, and has no claim to title unless she has gained it individually.
Professional Women Professional women use their titles as do men. A practicing woman physician is addressed professionally as:
Dr. Mary T. Jones
A divorced woman is addressed as Mrs., not Miss, even when she has resumed her maiden name. Should she retain her husband's name, she adds her own surname with her Christian name, thus:
Eleanor Stewart Smith
(Mrs. Eleanor Stewart Smith)
Closing the Letter One uses Cordially yours, or Yours very sincerely, in closing letters and notes. It is extremely bad form to omit the word yours in either social or business letter endings. Yours very truly is the approved business form.
Order of Pages Taste and judgment must govern the order of pages. Beginning on the first, turning to the last, and then finishing across the third and second is practical, as the first is turned on the blotter, while the fourth is in progress.
Notes are usually begun on the first and ended on the fourth page, but a formal note or invitation should cover but the first page, and not lengthen to a second.
A note of extreme intimacy may be written inside the sheet from second to third pages.
Folding The letter must be folded evenly to fit the envelope. Using a mismatched envelope is unpardonable, and is classed with the ruled paper and the half sheet.
If extra space is needed to finish the letter, an entire new sheet must be used, even when only a few words are inscribed.
A letter whose margin and heading space is filled in with parting scrawls has a decidedly ill-bred appearance, and needs a chart of directions as well.
An even margin allowed at the left of the page is attractively neat, but often forgotten.
Dates Addressed or monogramed paper is somewhat marred if dated at the head of the page. The date is therefore added after the signature, at the lower left corner and is more elegant if not abbreviated.
An address should be written: 236 Fifth Avenue.
Dates and numbers may be shown in figures, on business letters, but quantities are fully written.