"Letters should be easy and natural, and convey to the persons to whom we send just what we would say if we were with them."--Chesterfield.

They say nobody has time to write letters these days, and yet the post office department handles millions of them each year. True, they are not the formal, lengthy, somewhat stilted epistles of a century ago, when a lad began his home letters "Honoured Parents," and your correspondent announced, "I take my pen in hand to inform you," etc. The letter of today, however, is not less the messenger of good-will and remembrance than it was in those days. It remains largely the bulletin of business and of family affairs.
The postman's bag! What may it not contain? News of birth or tidings of death, of lover's vows made or broken, of achievements or misfortunes. Every letter is like a new day; we cannot tell what its message may be.
It is no mean accomplishment to be able to write a good letter.

The Essentials
The first essential to letter-writing is to have something to say, and the ability to say it well. This is a talent that may be cultivated. The next requisite is good paper. Better curtail in some other item and allow yourself good, plain, heavy paper and envelopes. Avoid all fancy papers, whether in tint or design. Plain white or cream laid paper is always good form. Whatever the vagaries of the stationer, the plain white, fine quality paper is to be preferred. The intertwined initials of the writer are often placed at the top of the first page, either in the center or at the left-hand corner where the water-mark used to be. These are done in gold or silver, or some pale tint. Just now, the street address of the writer is often engraved across the flap of the envelope. The form of the latter, whether square or oblong, varies according to the passing fashion. Whichever is used, the letter sheet is folded once to fit it. Sealing-wax is little used at present; if at all, the "blob" of wax is small, only large enough to receive the impress of a single initial on the seal.
Use a good black ink. Violet and purple inks are as passe as colored stationery. There is a certain writing-fluid, bluish when first used, and turning black after a few hours' exposure, that is standard.
Write legibly. Handwriting may or may not be an index of character, but it certainly does indicate certain attributes. A cramped, slovenly, awkward handwriting is naturally associated with a careless and uneducated person; whereas a free, graceful and trained hand indicates culture and refinement in the writer. We say again, write legibly. Nothing is more exasperating than certain examples of modern fad-writing, where one might as well attempt to translate a page of Chinese script. Despite the typewriter, one should endeavor to be a good penman, because the typed letter or note is inadmissible in polite society, being reserved for the world of business. Avoid also the microscopic calligraphy with a fine pen; it is very trying to your correspondent's eyes, unless she happens to have a reading-glass conveniently near.
Take pains to make your signature easily decipherable. Remember that while a word may be puzzled out by the context, or by the analogy of its letters to others, the signature has no context, and is often so carelessly written that the letters composing it are indistinguishable. One should be particularly careful in this respect where writing business letters or letters to strangers.

Letter Forms
Ceremonious letters, and notes in the first person are addressed to My dear Mrs. Smith. If Mrs. Smith is a friend or an acquaintance, she is addressed as "Dear Mrs. Smith." This is the American custom, and is an exact reversal of the English. which is, by the way, being more generally adopted in our society. "My dear" certainly seems to the uninitiated, at least, more intimate and familiar than "Dear." A business communication to a stranger begins--
Mrs. Joseph Smith,
Dear Madam:--

There are shades of courtesy to be observed in signing letters. "Sincerely yours" is a little more formal than "Yours sincerely;" "Yours with much regard" is more familiar than "Yours sincerely." "Yours truly" is for the business letter; "Yours affectionately" for the family or those to whom we are much attached. The rule has been to capitalize all the words of the address, but only the first word of the conclusion, as "My Dear Friend Mary" and "Yours sincerely," but of late this rule seems to be broken in regard to the address, which is now often written "My dear Mrs. Smith."

Abbreviations are always incorrect. The month, day and date must be spelled out; the street number and the year are correctly indicated in numerals. The year is sometimes spelled out on formal invitations, but is regarded as an affectation in private correspondence. To indicate a date in numerals, as 3: 18:  '12, is bad form. "Street" is not shortened to "St." and "Avenue" is to be spelled out. The city and state should be written in full. "Cal." and "Col." are often wrongly read by busy railway clerks, and your Colorado letter goes to California.
The character and (&) is never to be employed. "Hon.," "Dr." and "Rev." are permissible on an envelope; "Rev. Father" is incorrect; write "Rev." We do not use "Esq." in America as much as it is used in England, where it is always employed in addressing a letter to an equal, "Mr." being reserved for tradesmen. Here we use "Mr." almost entirely. Christian names are not abbreviated in an address; one should write "George" or "Charles" rather than "Geo." or "Chas."

What Not to Do
A woman is never to be addressed by her husband's title, either verbally or in writing. "Mrs. Dr. Smith" is "Mrs. Lewis Smith"; "Mrs. Judge Morris" is "Mrs. Henry Pond Morris." Of course she would not think of signing herself "Mrs. Dr. Smith." She should sign herself by her own name, "Marion Morris." If necessary to convey the information, she may, in a business note, place Mrs. in brackets, before her name, or after signing her own name, write below it, "Mrs. Henry Pond Morris." This is never done in a social note. Often, upon her marriage a woman includes her maiden name in her signature, thus, "Marion Ames Morris." A hyphen is not used. The four-storied name, as "Marion Helen Ames Morris," is too cumbersome for common use.
A woman uses her husband's full name on her cards. The man, in signing himself, writes his full name "Henry Pond Morris" or "R. P. Morris," rather than "Henry P. Morris."
The postscript has been laughed out of existence. If a few words must be added the "P. S." is omitted. Dodging about on the pages, from first to third, then to second and fourth, is to be avoided. Don't write across your written pages; a plaided letter is so difficult to decipher that one is justified in destroying it unread. One is supposed to have sufficient letter paper on hand. A half sheet should never be used as a means of eking out an epistle. Don't send a blotted, smeared letter.

Placing the Stamp
Several years ago silly girls occasionally inquired through the newspapers as to "the significance" of the postage stamp when placed in certain positions on the envelope. One paper made reply that to place it anywhere but on the upper right hand corner of the envelope indicated that the sender was a first-class idiot. The answer was widely copied and the inquiries ceased. The stamp is placed there for convenience in canceling, that being done by a machine in all but the smaller offices.
The last item to be remembered is, spell correctly, though it is one of much importance. A misspelled word is a grievous error in a letter--worse than a blot. Keep a dictionary on the desk; when in doubt look up the word, and then take pains to fix it in mind so as to have no further trouble with it.

When to Write

Notes of invitation should be promptly answered. So should business letters. As for friendly letters, were they answered at once, by both parties, the exchange would be so brisk that too much time would be thus occupied. One may let a reasonable time elapse before replying; this depending upon the intimacy. Friends whose time is much taken up with other cares, but who do not wish to lose touch with each other, not infrequently agree to exchange letters at certain dates or anniversaries. Both may write simultaneously, or one write and the other reply.
Make it a point to re-read the letter you are about to answer, and take pains to reply to any questions your correspondent may have asked. Nothing is more maddening than to make several important inquiries and find them wholly ignored while your friend tells you how busy she is, how many engagements she has in the future, how tired she is, and prefaces these uninteresting details with a long apology for her silence. Who was it said "An apology is a mistaken explanation"?
Postal cards are not considered in correspondence. They are to be used only for business, or where one is traveling and wishes to inform her friends of her whereabouts. The picture or souvenir postals are largely used for this purpose. But the postal card, in correspondence, is like a call when the lady is out and you do not leave your card--it doesn't count.
In regard to love-letters, bear in mind what Rousseau says:
"To write a good love-letter you ought to begin without knowing what you mean to say, and finish without knowing what you have written." Then, having unbosomed yourself, don't send it.

Care in Writing
It is well to remember, that once you have dropped a letter into the box, it is no longer yours. It belongs to the person to whom it is addressed. If you have been indiscreet, the matter is out of your hands. Therefore, he careful what you write. You cannot tell what use your correspondent may make of it. Your friend may be trustworthy, but careless; some one may be dishonest enough to read it; it may be lost. It is a good plan to write nothing you would not be willing to have read before a roomful of people who know that you wrote it.
Avoid personalities. Don't commit your unflattering opinions of other people to paper. The letter is a witness whose veracity is unquestioned.
Don't read your letters to others, unless they are family letters in which all may rightly have a share. A letter is a private communication.

Keeping Letters
It is a bad plan to keep old letters, especially if they are of a personal nature, or if they contain confidences or secrets. When the owner dies, there is no knowing to what use they may be put. One regrets the publication of the private letters of great men and women, showing, as they so often do, the foolish, silly, conceited side of a character we have admired. Private letters are often disillusioning, or betray the presence of the skeleton of the family, unhappiness or disgrace.
The safest way is to keep a letter till it is answered, then destroy it, This does away with a lot of useless lumber.

Letters of Congratulation and Condolence

It is not possible to give forms for letters of this character. They are meaningless unless they come from the heart, and should be characterized by sincerity. Nevertheless, they should be written, and promptly, as also letters of acknowledgment of gifts, favors offered, and the "bread-and-butter letter"--the missive you write to your hostess after a few days' visit.
Letters of condolence are especially difficult to write. One so fears to wound instead of comforting. If one can offer some quotation that has been a personal help in time of sorrow, it is often grate¬fully appreciated. But because we "don't know what to say" we must not omit writing. The letter is often a greater kindness than the call, which is a tax upon the strength of the mourner.
"The path of sorrow, and that path alone, leads to the land where sorrow is unknown; no traveler ever reached that blessed abode who found not sorrows in his road."
"Wherever souls are being tried and ripened in whatever common¬place and homely way, there God is hewing out the pillars for His temple."
Do not think you must write a long letter. A few well chosen phrases, sincere expressions of feeling, are more grateful to one who grieves. One may say:

My dearest Friend:--
It is with sincerest sorrow I have just heard of your great bereavement. I cannot hope to comfort you; God only can do that, but I want to say how deeply and tenderly I feel for you in your sad affliction.
Believe me, most faithfully yours,

On the other hand, if we must congratulate, we may write:

I have just heard of your engagement to Mr. Blank, and wish to be among the first of your friends to express my sympathy with you in your happiness. I have known Mr. Blank for some time, and greatly admire his many good qualities. I am sure you are very happy with him, and will be more so as you grow together in marriage. Hoping good fortune and joy may always be your portion in life, and present bliss an earnest of more in store for you, I am,     Most sincerely yours,

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