Mar 19, 2011

Letter-Writing, A Lost Art {Part I}

 Charlotte sighed as she glanced out the lattice window, above the bleak skies poured rain from the heavens; she looked about her father's dark library and shuddered. A dim candle's light flickered on her father's desk across the room was, the only light with which the room was lit. How could one tolerate such a depressing atmosphere? Her elderly Papa stooped over a large brown ledger opened on his old, antiqued desk. Miss Presley sighed once more. Why must England's March weather be so ill? Such sullen weather always made the beautiful, young mistress of the house fall into a state of low-spirits, practically nothing to entertain or amuse her. Her friend's residing in the estates nearby were in the least interested visiting her on such a damp day, nor did her father's rambling of miscellany cheer her spirits; not even a new book sent from her brother in London captivate her attention. 

 Miss Presley turned once more to the view of the lattice window with a clenched jaw. Besides the rain splatters that marked the glass from the deluge of rainfall, from the second story of the estate she had a relatively clear view of the layout of the out-of-door gardens. The knot garden pruned and prim lay ahead whilst the perfectly even hedges their wonderful garden tended bordered her long, deceased mother's rose beds. Of course, 'twas in the midst of March and the roses where not in bloom. 

Suddenly, in the distance she could see a small figure hurriedly dashing through the rainfall. Her curiosity was instantly pricked, and she, like an eager child, stood on the tips of her silken slippered feet to obtain a better view. 'Twas a messenger from the village hiding a parcel of some sort within his drenched coat. A few minutes later a faint knock coming from the front parlor could be heard through the door across the room, ajar; a maid's meek voice answered it in response. 

A maid knocked quietly on her father's study before entering, and scurried across the room with a bundle of papers, neatly tied with a pink ribbon. Charlotte realized it was a bundle of letters; her heart started to beat with excitement. The maid handed the bundle to her, "Post came, Lady Charlotte. The messenger explained that the week's post had been delayed for an extended period of time, Miss," and with a small curtsy she left. 

The delicate scent of lilac blossoms in the spring clung to her bundle of beautifully written letters; the calligraphy in French was definitely in a familiar hand. Charlotte smiled and her eyes brightened with joy. Then suddenly, the clouds outside parted, and cheery sunshine streamed into the dark room, illuminating a beautiful, golden glow. 
Her father, noticing his daughter's delight, inquired, "To what do I owe my daughter's radiant countenance?"
"Oh, Papa," she began. "These are letters, that were delayed for months, from my dear friend in France, Germany and Italy." She pressed them to her heart. "I have been awaiting their delivery!" She tore open the bright red seal, and began to excitedly read the first two beautiful words: My Dearest Miss Charlotte and the treasured contents within.... 

Gracious are like honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to thy body. ~Proverbs 16

'Tis been raining all the day long to-day. The weather can definitely affect one's mood; for me, I do not mind much the pattering out-of-doors, but 'tis always a delight, a wonderful delight to receive a small letter from a dear friend. 

In our lifestyle to-day, we have no practical means of communicating through letter correspondence. We have  in the twenty-first century, computers, text messages, phones, even Skype, making us just a few clicks away from contacting a good friend. Although to-day's technology is both efficient and helpful, lettering has become an age old pastime, fading to time's eternity. Rarely do you hear a person receiving a letter from a friend in conversation, nor do you see a sweetly, hand-written note amongst the piles of junk mail and bills.   

What a lot we lost when we stopped writing letters.  You can't reread a phone call.  
~Liz Carpenter

Tho' 'tis like finding a gem when one does find a hand-written note among the junk.
How charming it is when one thinks of a maiden sitting in a well-lit room with quill pen in hand, a filled ink pot to the side, with a page of parchment lined with calligraphy words.  

In an age like ours, which is not given to letter-writing, we forget what an important part it used to play in people's lives.  ~Anatole Broyard
Lettering writing in the past was not a pastime, as we see to-day, but one of the only means of communication. How different it would be to us to have to wait about a half a month or so to have news in a in the form of a letter from a relative or friend; since the letter was written it might be a month old much could have happened between then!

{Miss Bennett does not look the slightest bit pleased reading Mr. Darcy's Faithful Narrative

So much might have changed between the date of the letter written and the date received. Think of it: your cousin sends a letter to let your family know that your aunt is ever so ill, and by the time you reply to the letter, she might be dead for over a month! {Not exactly the most wonderful, uplifting news;)}. 

~Brief Synopsis of the History of Letter Writing~

The Victorian Art of Letter Writing
Before the age of mass e-mails and faxes, handwritten letters were considered the only acceptable means of intimate correspondence. Victorians wrote letters of apology, letters of congratulations, letters of introduction, just to mention a few. The proper Victorian lady was obliged to convey news and information through an attractive letter. Her talent for letter-writing was not only a social obligation, but a skill that she was expected to cultivate, naturally or through practice. Her aptitude for letter-writing indicated fine breeding. Both ladies and gentlemen were judged not only by the elegance and economy of words chosen, but by their penmanship.
The correct choice of stationery was crucial to making a suitably genteel impression, although the definition of acceptable stationery changed with every decade. Colored notepaper adorned with flowers in the corner was in common use in the 1850s, and was appropriate for intimate letters. By the turn of the century, however, only heavy, white or cream tinted, unruled paper was considered tasteful. Monogrammed stationery enjoyed a vogue in the mid-1800's, but by the end of the century, was hopelessly out of fashion. Equally important was the choice of ink. When inspired, writers of the 19th century took pen in hand, dipped the point into an inkwell and set their ideas on paper. 

The talent of writing agreeable letters is peculiarly female.  ~Henry Tilney

Indeed,  many have not explored the beautiful art of letters; 'tis indeed quite sad to never throughout one's life receive a hand-written letter! 
When it rains, I think to myself, "Ah, it is time to write letters!":) What 
Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind them.  
~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

 I am one a mission to recover the lost art of letter writing! 

It is one of my dear wishes to uncover an old bundle of letters, neatly tied with strings, red wax seal still sticking to the faded envelopes. The content within the letters a story of a friendly relationship with a friend, or a courtship with a dashing captain!;) My dream has been half-fulfilled, for Mother's first father, deceased when she was a little younger than me, wrote love letters-*clearing of throat* mushy love letters to her mother when he was in the war {WWI?}. He was a very skilled artist and his letters were filled of drawings and talented sketches. His neat, slanted hand-writing makes me smile, for it reminds me of such old-fashioness!:) I was lucky enough to keep a few in my journal. 

Letters are like a piece of history, but when you write a letter and receive one in return, rereading it a few months later, it's a little bit of history of your own. 

~Writing Your Letter: Lettering Tips~
Letter writing is not only a relaxing pastime, but is good exercise for an idle mind. It improves one's grammar, spelling, and composition while brightening another's day with your experimentation of words and sentences. 
The post office has a great charm at one point of our lives.  When you have lived to my age, you will begin to think letters are never worth going through the rain for.  ~Jane Austen

~Writing a Friendly Letter~

I learned how to letter from my schooling curriculum, giving me the basics. For those who do not know where to start when it comes to lettering, I have compiled a few instructions, an example, the do's and don'ts of lettering, and some tips for you:
{Note: I am not an expert on letter writing; therefore, the tips below are helpful and can be applied to my own frequently made mistakes as well. I am not judging anyone of the letters I receive through pointing out these frequently mistakes and mentioning these strong do's and dont's below; these are merely friendly suggestions one does not have to take;)}

The structure of a letter consists of four main points:

The salutation, the beginning or Dear _________, of the letter, followed by a comma, of course;); depending on the formality, one may begin by writing 
"Dearest Miriam, To My Dear Friend, or just Dear Miriam,"
The body is the message of the letter,
The closing which consists of the ending of the letter and the complimentary closing followed by a comma {Yours truly, Love, Sisters in Christ, etc.},
Your signature. {In your prettiest handwriting}

Most of us will focus on the body of the paper, the message or the content of what you want to say. {Some of the tips below are from my grammar book in my A Beka studies}

Of course, the first step is neat and the best handwriting possible. A sloppy, messy handwriting that is hard to read makes the letter feel...rushed, like the writer did not take that much time to write the letter because they did not care. 

1. Involving the Opening: Do not begin by saying "How are you? I hope you are fine. I am doing well."

Instead write something like:
 Thank you so much for your previous letter; it was a delight to read and your kind words were such an encouragement, brightening my day. 
I hope since last receiving word of you, you are fairing well, dear friend. 

2. Make the reader {to whom is receiving the letter} feel special and appreciated. 
They might spend a great deal of their time writing a letter, and appreciation that is expressed in the letter is always nice, no? Take a good amount of time to make the letter special. 

3.Do not write a lengthy apology for not having written sooner.
This tip, I can take as well. It is very nice to express your apology, though, but do not take up to much of your room.

4. Do not overuse the pronoun I
I :) am now attempting to rewrite sentences by leaving out the pronoun I. I mean, can it not be tiring to hear I did so-and-so or I went there? 

5. Be sure to answer any questions that the other person asked. 
Unanswered questions are always annoying sometimes. Corresponding through letters is designed to become more acquainted with your friend and vice versa. Likewise asked a few questions of your own. Do not answer questions like "Yes, I like those too. Yes, I write novels. No, I do not like that." What is that????
Instead write:
You mentioned in your last letter __________; I prefer pink over green. 

6. Be Creative and rewrite sentences that may be too short or too wordy.
 Let your point come across without being too wordy nor too abrupt.

7. Paragraphs: Do not be afraid of making new paragraphs. Again, be sure that your paragraphs are just the right length, not too wordy nor too short. Have a good flow throughout the letter. 

8. Have the Right Flow 
Let your sentences flow. Do not put Hope all is well with you too in the middle of your paragraph. 
If you forget to mention something in a different paragraph make a post script at the bottom of the letter, saying:
 I forgot to mention earlier in this letter that I_______

Suit the letter to the receiver's age and interests. 
If the letter mentions a pastime for example, quilting, write either: 
I have never attempted quilting before but hope to in the future. Do you quilt often? 
Indeed, I have tried my hand at quilting in the past and a few projects have resulted in success. 

9. Sometimes it might help to type a first draft of your letter, print it, and copy it into handwriting. 

10. Avoid using contractions and text lingo. {It's, I've, I'm, etc.} Contractions are in our slang everyday language, used in conversation and emails {hardly used in textes anymore;)}, but make the letter educated and more "proper" per say. Text lingo is used for texting and emails only! 

11. Include specific details, colorful descriptions, narration, or quotes, whenever possible. 
Letters should be a recent account or glimpse into another's life through their own words. 

The best time to frame an answer to the letters of a friend, is the moment you receive them.  Then the warmth of friendship, and the intelligence received, most forcibly cooperate.  ~William Shenstone
12. Timing.
Timing is another key essential in letter writing. 'Tis hard to keep up with letters, I know from experience. Do not lengthen the time between letters; if your friend responds quickly, do the same. If you receive a friend's letter, it might be a good idea to wait a week or so before replying. Do not respond too quickly, for it might pressure the your friend to write a quick reply as well, and would you not prefer a well-written, letter than a fast reply?    

Then there's the joy of getting your desk clean, and knowing that all your letters are answered, and you can see the wood on it again.  ~Lady Bird Johnson

13. Neatness.
Neatness is a HUGE factor in letter-writing. It is not enjoyable to read a letter in which the reader has to decipher a code like the Rossetti Stone!:) If you make a mistake, neatly cross it out; do not scribble it, for your eyes will be instantly drawn to a ink blot than a neatly crossed out word.

14. Closing.
Do not close a letter by:
Well, cannot think of anything else to say. Got to go. 
Instead write:
Hope this letter finds my dear friend well and enjoying the beautiful sunshine God has blessed us with. Please give my best to your dear family.


16. Include something special within the letter. 
Whether be a sticker or a sweet picture of yourself, it adds a bit more charm to the letter. I usually add potpourri or dried lavender to my letters for an old-fashion flare {and scent}.  

17. Envelope
Since the envelope is a 'first impression,' make it look pretty and pleasing. 
Neatly write the address and return address before  you seal your letter. If you make a mistake, rewrite the whole envelope. Make sure that the shipping information is accurate and neat so the postman can read it easily. Add perhaps, a few flourishes around the bare corners or sweet notes on the back, before the reader opens their letter. 
If wax seals are available, I highly encourage you to use them. Practice the seal to drip properly. Make sure that the wax is hardened properly. Sometimes if it is not, the receiver will find a letter with a glob of smeared wax.
A technique I came up with myself is:
 When the wax is still hardening and you need the wax to harden quickly, place the letter in the freezer for a minute. The temperature difference hardens the wax quickly.  

18. Stationary
Use special paper or stationary. Sometimes the simplest stationary you can find is a very pretty piece of parchment. If stationary or parchment is not available, use a pretty card, but avoid using printer paper. 
If possible, try to use unlined paper.

19. Practice your handwriting. 
Perhaps, you might want to try your hand at just a phrase such as, "To My Dear Friend" or "To Miss _____"
or even the address. Just make sure the envelope is neat and pretty, and pleasing to the eye.  

20. Use proper grammar and spelling.

*panting* That is a lot of information to take in at once, but it is staying here for awhile ;). Feel free to take the information, though, as I will be improving my letter writing as well. 
~Sample Letters~

To My Dear Friend~
   Thank you so much for your sweet, little note that you sent me a few weeks past. I thoroughly enjoyed the vivid glimpse of your current life as well as the beautiful little present you included for me which I shall treasure always. In fact, it is displayed on my atop my desk so that when I glance at the beautiful thing, it shall remind me of you. What a wonderful friend God has blessed me with!
   When I received your letter, I read it in the garden and am including a pressed flower from our peach tree which is bursting with color. Its delicate petals shimmer in the wind, while the bees heartily buzz about their work, and little green sprigs of leaves are starting too grow. How odd that the flowers come before the leaves!
   Might I ask what has been occupying your crafting endeavors as of late? I have been busily knitting a present for my previous violin teacher's birthday, as well as hard at work with my fingerless gloves. You mentioned in your latest letter, if I knew how to crochet. Indeed, I have been crocheting for the past few years, learning out of a book called Klutz Crocheting and various video tutorials from the internet. In fact, if you would like, I could send you a written tutorial I have just recently found in the future for your enjoyment. I have yet to learn how to read a pattern. 
 How have your studies been fairing as of late? Are there any subjects you are particularly enjoying amid the others? High school is definitely a different atmosphere, and I am thankful that I am homeschooled by my dear mother. 
 Perhaps, 'tis a bit early, but are you planning your summer already? My mind has been swirling with so many ideas and goals I am determined to accomplish this summer, and my list of goals are growing by the day. I do hope to spend more time in your company comes summertime. 
 We-my family and I- have been planning a week-long trip to Los Angeles at the end of the month. 'Tis very exciting, yet I do wish you could join us. 'Twill not be the same without you, dear friend. Remember the summer trip we took together? Ah, sweet memories! Oh, how I long to go back to the summertime cabin again!
Well, I must close, dearest friend, yet I hope this finds you well and happy, seeing at least a few signs of spring amongst the snow. Please give your family my best. 
Love in Christ,
~Miss Grace~
P.S. I read this quote in a book and it reminded me of you, since you mentioned that you are interested in quill pens:
O nature's gift-my grey goose-quill!
Slave of my thoughts, obedient to my will,
Torn from thy parent bird to form a pen,
That mighty instrument of little men!
~Lord Bryon
Is it not lovely? Instantly reminded me of you, my dear friend! Blessings!

Dear Grace,
   How delighted I was to receive your letter in the post! 'Twas such a surprise, and I appreciate the swift response as well as the lovely details you included, making me feel very special. Is not receiving letters from friends such a treasure? Your kind words brightened my day and really made me thankful to have a friend like you.
 Oh, your peach tree sounds lovely! We have been experiencing a bit of spring weather as well and our newly planted cherry tree, as of last year, has been receiving a few blooms. Thank the Lord that the harshness of winter has passed. Although I do enjoy the holidays at the beginning of the year, it is always a welcomed sight to see spring again. 
 My studies have been going quite well, thank you for asking. I have been recently enjoying memorizing poems in my English class by Shakespeare, more specifically The Quality of Mercy. Have you memorized Shakespeare yet? I peeked into my literature book and cannot wait to read the scenes of Romeo and Juliet soon to come in my Love unit. Here is a few lines of which I have memorized from The Quality of Mercy {pardon my punctuation}: 
The quality of mercy is not strain'd 
It dropeth from the gentle rain of heaven and 
Falls upon the ground beneath: it is twice bless'd 
It blessed him that gives and him that takes....

I appreciate the quote by Lord Bryon that you included in your past letter's postscript; how thoughtful of you to send it to me! I have written the quote in my little book that my parents gave me for Valentine's this past February, with which I now call 'My Quote Book: A Little Collection of Quotes' for the quotes I collect throughout the years. 
   My crafting has been very slow. I have recently attempted a bit more card-making, but time does not permit me to practice this new pastime often. Sewing classes have been every Tuesday afternoon, which I am enjoying, but have not yet learned to make an apron. ;) 
  How lovely that you are going on a trip soon! I shall be praying for your safety, dear friend. I am sure you will have a delightful-and relaxing-time in Los Angeles. Shall you be visiting Disney Land on your trip down South?
And I'm really tired, so I'll stop there. Besides, I think you have the right idea!:) If you have any questions, I will be happy to answer them as best I can on the subject.
May the Lord bless your evening!
Many Blessings,


  1. Dearest Grace, What a lovely post! Thank you for sharing! =)
    Love from your friend,

  2. Dear Grace (for though you don't know me, I feel that I know you, and love you as a sister in Christ), I must say that I love your writing. It's old-fashioned and refreshing like the rain on the roses in an English garden (something I've been priviledged to see in person!) :-) Coming to your blog is a relief from my busy life, a chance to stop and catch my breath. I can almost smell the lavendar in your letters. Your blog truly is a blessing to me.

    Your writing will grow as you do, but I hope it never changes much. We need more people who can give that restfulness in this world. God has blessed you with the ability to give that, keep using it for Him!

    Do you talk the way you write? Though I'm far from California, I hope to one day have the chance to meet you in person, so I can judge for myself! :-)

  3. WHEW! That is quite a lot!! Still, that is very good information. Much as I love blogs, email, etc, I do so LOVE to get a letter in the mail!
    (speaking of which, I shall hopefully reply to yours as soon as possible! maybe this afternoon...).
    It definitely is fun to recieve a letter.
    Thanks for all the writing tips! I will have to print it out and study it. :)

    Much love,

  4. I love reading and writing letters. Since I was 8, I have been collecting pen pals and writing back and forth. Often I would not know the person very well, and it was the only way we communicated. I've lost and gained some over the years, many of my old ones don't write me at all any more. Some of them still send me an occasional Christmas card, and I have some new ones, and I would be happy to have more.

    Getting a letter has always been very exciting, and I can't tell you how many times I'll say how much more fun a letter is than an email. It's something you hold in your hand, you can use pretty stationery (which I have quite a collection of) and it's just much more special.

    Thank you for the post. Those are gorgeous pictures!!

    ~Melody ( )

  5. Grace,
    Thank you so much for these tips! I love getting letters to, though not very often. I have never used wax, but I have always wanted to! I love the pictures and quotes, thanks for sharing them!
    Your Sister In Christ,

  6. What a lovely post!
    Speaking of letters, sorry that I haven't written you back, I've been very busy. I plan to write back today.

    with much love,

  7. What a lovely long post Grace! Thank you for the tips. I will use them for letter writing. ;) Speaking of letters, I got yours today! Thanks so much. *winks*

  8. Those are good points :-)
    Also the story you had of the girl who lived in England and din't like the damp weather...Well I live In England and the weather can get depressing :-)
    ~Olivia Rooney

  9. Hi the article is very informative and it's fantastic...really very well written this post..


  10. Dear Grace,
    Thank you so much for this post! I enjoyed reading it and the tips were very helpful! Since I love writing letters, and now that we are corresponding, I hope that my letters are a joy and encouragement to you (as well as written in a elegant manner and spelled properly...:D But the best thing about friends is that even if something is misspelled or grammatically wrong, a good friend would not mind and is happy to receive a letter! :D I hope to be like that!)
    Blessings to you dear Sister in Christ!