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104

An American Courtship.

best Letter-writers and Autobiographers, Mr. Charles Knight gives an amusing example of laconic correspondence between Samuel Foote, the Aristophanes of his day, and his unfortunate mother.

DEAR SAM,—I am in prison for debt; come and assist your loving mother,

E. FOOTE.

Reply: DEAR MOTHER,—So am I, which prevents his duty being paid to his loving mother by her affectionate son,

SAM. FOOTE.

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I lately met with a curious account of a courtship on the other side of the Atlantic at the end of the seventeenth century, in which a very brief epistle holds a prominent place. In 1693, the Rev. Stephen Mix made a journey to Northampton in search of a wife. He arrived at the Rev. Solomon Stoddard's, and informed him of the object of his visit. Mr. Stoddard introduced him to his six daughters, and then retired. Addressing Mary, the eldest, Mr. Mix said that he had lately settled at Wethersfield, was desirous of obtaining a wife, and concluded by offering his heart and hand. The blushing damsel replied that so important a proposal

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· Will You ?' and · Won't I?' 105

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required time for consideration ; and accordingly Mr. Mix left the room in order to smoke a pipe with her father, while she took the case to

avizandum. On her answer being sent for, she requested further time for consideration, and it was agreed that she should send her answer by letter to Wethersfield. In the course of a few weeks, Mr. Mix received her reply, which was soon followed by the wedding :

NORTHAMPTON, 3rd Novr. 1693. REV. STEPHEN Mix.— Yes.—MARY STODDARD.

A certain English nobleman was once so deeply in love with a 'ladye fair' that he resolved to ascertain whether she was willing to become his wife. He happened to meet the object of his affections at a crowded ball, where, however, in consequence of supposed objections on the part of her relatives, or for some other reason, he was unable to dance with her; but in the course of the evening, he contrived to slip a fragment of paper into her hand inscribed with the two words, “Will you?' Not many minutes afterwards, he received from her, in a similar manner, an equally brief and perfectly intelligible reply in these words, Won't I ?' It may perhaps be questioned whether a Scotch

106

Wellington and Talleyrand.

lawyer would be disposed to regard such an answer as indicative of undoubted consent!

A few years before the death of the Duke of Wellington, a captain in a certain regiment of heavy dragoons, which had been ordered to the Cape, applied to his Grace, as commander-inchief, for permission to negotiate a transfer to another corps. The Duke merely turned up the corner of the letter, and wrote the three significant words—Sail or Sell,'—and sent it back to the unfortunate writer.

According to Punch, Sir Charles Napier's despatch to the authorities, announcing the capture of Scinde, was cleverly expressed in a single Latin word—to wit, ' Peccavi' (I have sinn'd).

In reply to a touching letter from a lady, announcing the death of her husband, Talleyrand simply wrote Hélas ! Madame.' Not very long afterwards, the same lady wrote to inform him that she had married another husband, an officer in the army, for whose promotion she urgently pleaded. On this occasion the statesman's reply was as brief as before Ho, ho ! Madame.'

Probably the most laconic correspondence on record, however, is that which took place beA Quaker Correspondence.

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tween two members of the Society of Friends, most of whom are notorious for the paucity of their words. Brother Smith of Leeds being anxious to ascertain from Brother Brown of Sheffield whether he had any news to communicate, sent him a letter, in the shape of a quarto sheet, bearing nothing but a point of interrogation--? (meaning 'what news ?') By return of post, he received a similar sheet in reply, on which nothing whatever was written, thus indicating that his intelligence was Nil!

Business and Official Letters.

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I have already referred to Business Letters as the special branch of correspondence in which the ruder sex' are considered to excel. A thoroughly good business letter, however,

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-everything else thoroughly good,-is by no means a common production. I remember being very much struck by some remarks of a living author, in his elaborate work on the Conquest of Spanish America, regarding the extreme rarity of first-rate men of business, and the various qualifications which they ought to possess, including discretion, tact, knowledge

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Business Letters.

of character, rapidity of thought and action, undisplayed enthusiasm, an ignominious love of details blended with a high power of imagination-a very unusual combination and an entire absence of vanity. Of course all these valuable characteristics are not absolutely essential in the case of the writer of ordinary business letters, but the absence of some of them would assuredly prove highly inconvenient. • The first thing necessary in writing letters of business,' says Lord Chesterfield, ‘is extreme perspicuity. Every paragraph should be so clear and unambiguous that the dullest fellow in the world may not be able to mistake it, nor be obliged to read it twice in order to understand it.'

Accuracy of expression, as contradistinguished from looseness and slovenliness of statement, is of the utmost consequence—not only with the view of saving the time of one's correspondent, but also to prevent what may prove a very serious inisunderstanding. I have known many cases of prolonged litigation, which were chiefly owing to some doubtful or equivocal expressions in the course of a business correspondence.

. Brevity or conciseness is another essential

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