Always remember that the terms of compliment at the close of a letter—“I have the honor to be your very obedient servant,” etc. are merely forms—“signifying nothing.” Do not therefore avoid them on account of pride, or a dislike to the person addressed. Do not presume, as some do, to found expectations of favor or promotion from great men who profess themselves your obliged servant.
In writing a letter of business it is extremely vulgar to use
satin or glazed gold-edged paper. Always employ, on such occasions, plain
American paper. Place the date at the top of the page, and if you please, the
name of the person at the top also, just above the ‘Sir;’ though this last is
In letters to gentlemen always place the date at the end of the letter, below his name. Use the best paper, but not figured, and never fail to enclose it in an envelope. Attention to these matters is indispensable.
To a person whom you do not know well, say Sir, not ‘Dear Sir.’ It formerly was usual in writing to a distinguished man to employ the form ‘Respected Sir,’ or something of the kind. This is now out of fashion.
There are a great many forms observed by the French in their letters, which are necessary to be known before addressing one of that nation. You will find them in their books upon such subjects, or learn them from your French master. One custom of theirs is worthy of adoption among us: to proportion the distance between the ‘Sir’ and the first line of the letter, to the rank of the person to whom you write. Among the French to neglect attending to this would give mortal offence. It obtains also in other European nations. When the Duke of Buckingham was at the court of Spain, some letters passed between the Spanish minister Olivez and himself,--the two proudest men on earth. The Spaniard wrote a letter to the Englishman, and put the ‘Monsieur’ on a line with the beginning of his letter. The other, in his reply, placed the ‘Monsieur’ a little below it.
A note of invitation or reply is always to be enclosed in an envelope.
Wafers are now entirely exploded. A letter of business is sealed with red wax, and marked with some common stamp. Letters to gentlemen demand red wax sealed with your arms. In notes to ladies employ colored wax, but not perfumed.
This is taken from The Laws of Etiquette.
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