Sunday, August 10, 2008

Arranging Personal Letters

Simplicity and clarity lend grace to what we call plain language. The thoughts and ideas that touch another person most profoundly should not be hidden by or entangled in convoluted phrases and unfamiliar words.
The best letters reflect the personality of the writer. In a way, the letter is a gift of that personality to the reader. This idea is reflected in a letter cited for its virtues in Etiquette Letter Writer, published by J. P. Lippincott and Co., Philadelphia, 1875.
To her I very much respect—Mrs. Margaret Clark—Lovely, and oh! that I could write loving, Mrs. Margaret Clark; I pray you let affection excuse presumption.
Having been so happy as to enjoy the sight of your sweet countenance and comely body sometimes, when I had occasion to buy treacle or liquorish [sic] powder at the apothecary’s shop. I am so enamored with you, that I can no more keep close my flaming desire to become your servant. And I am the more bold now to write to your sweet self, because I am now my own man and may match where I please; for my father is taken away, and now I am come into my living.
If you think well of this notion I shall wait upon you as soon as my new clothes is made and hay harvest is in. Your loving servant till death.

Mr. Gabriel Bullock

The virtues of this letter include
  • Mr. Bullock’s intentions and his reason for writing are made plain. There is nothing ambiguous about his feeling for the comely Mrs. Clark.
  • He makes his situation clear. He is obviously a man of substance presenting an honorable proposal.
  • He does not discuss the weather, his health problems, or nasty local gossip. Keep these qualities in mind the next time you write a personal letter to someone.

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