From a Mefite, Announcing a Compendium of Letter Templates
October 28, 2014 3:12 PM   Subscribe

The Art of Letter Writing investigates The New Century Standard Letter-Writer (1900), a collection of example letters for people to use as templates over the course of one's whole life," from A Clerk Apologizing to His Employers, and A Young Lady Desirous of Securing Farm-House Board, to A Gentleman to a Young Lady Friend of His about a Misunderstanding (from Wondermark)
posted by adrianhon (16 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite
it is the fashion, and a mark of bon ton [high society] to enclose one’s letter in an envelope.

As it is once again. I write letters partly to startle the recipients who are not expecting to find some odd handwritten note among the phone bills and grocery store flyers.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:05 PM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

That is so genius! The book, its letters, and the commentary. "Remember: THIS IS A BOOK OF TEMPLATES."
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:23 PM on October 28, 2014

194. Answer to No. 192 (Unfavorable) is a pretty sick burn. Just stomp on the poor man's heart, why don't you?!
posted by basicchannel at 4:31 PM on October 28, 2014

Oh god, I love the exact, fussy, completely comprehensive Victorian conception of equiette dealing with new advancements in technology. It some ways it's comforting, there is always a rule for every possible situation, so long as you read the correct books.

On the other hand, advice books like this are always asperational, and they always come off slightly like someone trying to either impose a very personal ideal of politeness on others or an alien making a list of rules for Humans.

(I have a wax seal and some vellum paper somewhere hmm, who wants letters?)
posted by The Whelk at 4:46 PM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Okay, I wasn't going to say anything, but this is crazypants!

At the end of last month, I went to the discard sale at my local library and returned with an armload of what I believed were long-forgotten, torn up books to add to my collection. Little did I know that two of them would get posts on MeFi within ten days of each other even though I had never heard mention of them even once before! This is great! Nonsense Novels by Stephen Leacock is now a firm favorite of mine, after having torn through it in a day, and my tattered "New Century Standard Letter-Writer" is full of templates for now-improbable situations, and is prefaced by all sorts of amusing advertisements for pamphlets and novelties.

Having read it and thoroughly enjoyed it, I've come to some interesting realizations. Logically, it's obvious that this was written over a hundred years ago and things are very different now, like, no duh, dorkface- but sometimes the little things we take for granted are the most surprising.

Prime example: Lying. It was so easy to lie. Lying seems like it was almost encouraged, as though it were better to have a good made up reason than a lame honest one for not attending something.

The NCSLW in some sections presents templates for invitations to events or requests for services or loans written in the most hilariously verbose and dramatic way possible, and then gives examples of acceptable responses in the affirmative and negative to them. In almost every case it seems that to adequately decline an invitation, or to deny a request, you have to fake a death, or grievous injury/illness. I don't have it in front of me right now, but I'll try to paraphrase what I recall. In one instance, the female recipient of a wedding invitation says, "Oh I'd love to come to the wedding, but my cousin who you never met just died, and I'm so grieved and crying and whatnot, I'd shit all over the beautiful day! Sry!" (Again, paraphrasing) In another case, a young man replies that he was thrown from a horse, and the doctor tells him that he must be confined to his bed for a month. Like, damn!

Funny and over the top as those responses are, it occurs to me that in that day and age, especially over long distances, who would there be to say otherwise!? Without social media, and cheap flights from all over the country to get extended family acquainted, who would know if you invented a third cousin twice removed whose gaudy funeral you had to be at rather than have tea and crumpets with Lady Jane Shaftesburry-upon-Avon next week. Who's to say your lower half wasn't mangled in a bizarre plow accident preventing you from attending your cousin's Thanksgiving brunch? There would be few sensible ways of fact-checking or following up on those claims short of word of mouth or more letters!

In conclusion, our society's collective imagination has suffered from this honest, honest age we live in.
posted by Krazor at 4:47 PM on October 28, 2014 [13 favorites]

I may have loved this post so much that I bought the only copy of the original binding (on Amazon). There's still one on AbeBooks for you!

Clearly I'm going to need to start writing letters...
posted by Gilead at 4:47 PM on October 28, 2014

This sort of thing is very appealing to me. I have long enjoyed sending letters, although a cramping dystonia which has persisted since a foolhardy attempt to make me less sinister has caused me to fall back upon almost anything but handwriting. In college, I would regularly send out letters of seven to ten pages in length on tractor-feed paper, assembled on Appleworks, occasionally doing things to the envelopes which I am sure caused some perplexion at the post office.

Now, I still send roughly two letters per week to friends. Bits of news from home, future plans, thoughts on films or albums we've shared, random musings, anticipation of coming movies, that sort of thing. Questions and ramblings. I still take care with them. John, for example, always gets a stamp from the Harry Potter sets, although I am saving the Snapes in case I ever have to mail myself something.

Letter-writing is regarded as an affectation in an era of emails, which have in turn given way to even terser texts, but it need not be so. Every letter I write says, under it all, "I miss you, I hope you think of me as often as I think of you, perhaps this will cheer you as you read it over lunch" in a way distribution lists and mass text messages do not.
posted by adipocere at 5:21 PM on October 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you're affiliated with a university (or maybe not?) you may be able to see an electronic copy courtesy of the Hathi Trust.
posted by supercres at 5:42 PM on October 28, 2014

Prime example: Lying. It was so easy to lie. Lying seems like it was almost encouraged, as though it were better to have a good made up reason than a lame honest one for not attending something.

It's also like, social face saving. You can't attend an X not cause you think said person is a horrible bore and you'll have a terrible and it's an AWFUL imposition on you they're only asking cause of the rules of decorum, but because Y Happened! And You're so so sad about it! The pretense is kept it up and no one is hurt, it's like past two people talking and just two modes of highly mannered performances hitting each other.
posted by The Whelk at 8:36 PM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

I love these things. I picked up a copy of "The Ladies' & Gentlemen's Letter-Writer" a few years ago when working on a committee. We often had long periods of time waiting and always had to eat lunch together in a cramped room. I or one of the other members would often read aloud to the group. Many invitations and proposals with replies such as: accepting, declining, declining more fully, and the adventurously teasing, "Rejecting a Proposal with a Hint that It Might Be Repeated."
posted by Gotanda at 8:49 PM on October 28, 2014

Boy do I feel bad about sending typewritten letters to friends as an old timey affectation. I remember a joke book my grandpa had with this story:

A man received a letter from his friend. Upon opening he found the envelope contained a hand written letter and some typed pages. Out of consideration for his friend the man immediately put aside the typewritten pages and turned to the written letter. His friend's I'll health made his handwriting thin and hard to read, but the man stuck with it out of respect. Finally having completed it, he gave some attention to the typed letter, which began: "my dear friend, I know my handwriting is not what it was, so out of consideration I have included a typed copy of my letter..."
posted by Naib at 6:08 AM on October 29, 2014

There's a full version on Google Books too. It might be a slightly different edition.
posted by interplanetjanet at 6:26 AM on October 29, 2014

AskMe can be entirely replaced by this book. See below. I bet there's also one for how to dump your significant other.

78. From a Tenant to his Landlord, Complaining of Neglect.

N , March 4, 19—.

Peter Stirling, Esq.,

Dear Sir:—

About three weeks ago, I called your attention to the state of the plumbing in this house, but no notice has been taken of my letter. Unless you send some one at once to attend to this matter, I shall have no alternative but to apply to the Health Department, and whatever they consider necessary I shall have done and charged to you.

Hoping that you will not force me to resort to such extreme measures,

I remain,

Yours obediently,
posted by interplanetjanet at 6:40 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: full of templates for now-improbable situations.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:36 AM on October 29, 2014

You can find these types of things in other languages, marketed to new immigrants who needed to write home and such, and wanted to make sure everything was all correct; Here's a Tablet interview with some academics who just had a book published about Yiddish templates, including a letter from a worried father to a daughter who's been acting up:

"A trustworthy person, one of our friends, has told us that you have been seen going around late at night with young men. You are also seen very frequently at dances, masquerades, and picnics.”
posted by damayanti at 9:26 AM on October 29, 2014

Finally, I can now apply for my dream job--matron at an asylum.
posted by Hypatia at 3:38 PM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

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