Victorian Letter Writing and Etiquette

I’ve recently acquired a some new (old) reading material… Chesterfield’s Letter Writer and complete Book of Etiquette,
published in 1857 by Dick & Fitzgerald Publishers, and I must say I am thoroughly enjoying perusing its pages!

Chesterfield’s Letter Writer

In 1857 it sold for 40 cents. I won’t even tell you what I paid for it. There are over 30 pages of advertisements for other books by this publisher
on all sorts of topics, like The Perfect Gentlemen, Snipsnaps and Snickerings of Simon Snodgrass
and How to Cook Potatoes, Apples, Eggs & Fish Four Hundred Ways… hmmm, interesting!

Mixed with hints of proper etiquette are instructions of do’s and don’ts in tactful writing of business letters, familiar letters, condolence letters, letters of apology and of course…love letters. It tells you how to begin, how to organize your ideas (like an outline), grammatical instruction in not being verbose, a reminder to spell correctly and information on paragraphs and punctuation. My favorite hints are the actual sample letters and the “skeleton” examples from which one can choose and just enter the recipients name and personal information, and the proper area to add your gossip before concluding.

I love that letter writing was once taken so seriously. Folks were judged by their letter writing skills…
their word choice, organization, elegance and penmanship. Corresponding with family and friends separated by miles
was different before the days of gummed envelopes, a postal service and now the internet and texting.
It might take half a day to complete a proper letter and after writing and signing the letter,
one would have to entrust it to a messenger who was paid to deliver the written message.
The letter or document was sometimes carried by many hands, over ground by horseback and over water by ship,
before it finally arrived to its intended recipient.
If one wanted to keep the letter or document private, it would need to be sealed closed,
with a wax seal, before handing it off to the messenger for delivery.

The wax seal closure was usually chosen carefully and further enhanced to content of the letter.
This clasped hands in friendship Victorian trinket wax seal was likely used to seal a business letter
or a casual letter to a new acquaintance.

clasped hands wheel wax seal

Later, I’ll be sharing some of the actual letters from from this most fascinating book!  A beautiful nod to days gone by.

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