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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 be

A Quaker Correspondence.

107

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.

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,-like 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

108

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 misunderstanding. 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

Prosy Epistles.

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quality in a good business letter. While nothing should be omitted that is calculated to explain the nature of the matter at issue, the particulars ought to be succinctly stated, and every superfluous word carefully excluded. Complimentary expressions and figures of speech are altogether out of place, and a business style ought to be distinguished by its plain and simple character. Unnecessary repetitions and the introduction of irrelevant matter are, of course, quite inadmissible. How frequently one receives long prosy epistles of three or four quarto pages, the purport of which might easily have been stated in half a dozen lines! Few sensible men who have had the experience of an extensive business correspondence are chargeable with the blemishes in question.

Not many years ago, in consequence of the advent of a Conservative Administration, it became necessary for the Prime Minister to make arrangements for the appointment of a new Lord High Commissioner to represent Her Majesty in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. It is said that the post was offered to a certain noble Lord, who wrote four quarto pages in reply, setting forth a

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Exhaustive Replies.

variety of reasons against his acceptance, but briefly indicated his willingness to take the office at the very end of his letter. The Premier, who was very much engrossed with the subject of Reform, only perused the two first pages of the elaborate epistle, and came to the conclusion that his correspondent wished to decline the honour! Application was accordingly made to another nobleman, who appears to have succeeded in saying 'Yes' in a shorter compass, and by whom the duties of the office were most satisfactorily discharged.

In answering a business letter embracing a variety of subjects, and perhaps involving several complicated contingencies, it is very desirable to send an exhaustive reply. Many tolerably intelligent persons fail in this respect-either because they do not carefully peruse their correspondents' statements, or because they are deficient in the faculty of analysis. Of course, some letters are of such a character that a satisfactory answer is simply impossible; but where the meaning of the writer is clear, and his queries quite allowable, he is certainly entitled to a business-like reply.

Official letters have been somewhat severely

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