Page images

Prosy Epistles.


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


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

Official Letters.


criticised, and most of us have, no doubt, been amused by the description of 'Barnacles' and the Circumlocution Office,' in the graphic pages of Dickens. Delay' and 'Evasion' are. hard words to hurl against the officers of any public department with reference to their procedure, although, in some instances, it is to be feared that such a charge may be fully justified. 'Red-tape' is another favourite watchword of an ungrateful public. My judgment in the matter will naturally be regarded with suspicion, but I must take leave to say that I believe the evils complained of have been grossly exaggerated, and that the correspondence of most of our public offices has long been conducted in a very creditable manner. I make this statement after fifteen years' experience of official life, during which I have been in pretty frequent communication with most of the principal public departments. As to Delay, an extra pressure of business must sometimes, of course, necessitate the suspension of a reply, but I feel satisfied that promptitude and punctuality are the ordinary characteristics of most of the departments in question. Still less can I admit the more serious charge of

I 12


Evasion. Certain formalities of style are, of course, unavoidable; but where a plain and legitimate question is put, a direct and exhaustive answer is usually given, and the convenient services of red-tape' are only resorted to in the case of unreasonable and impertinent correspondents.

[ocr errors]


From business and official communications to love-letters is a somewhat violent, but withal a pleasant transition. Speaking of love-letters generally, Moore remarks, in his Life of Byron, that such effusions are but little suited to the public eye. It is the tendency,' he continues, 'of all strong feeling, from dwelling constantly on the same idea, to be monotonous; and those often-repeated vows and verbal endearments which make the charm of true love-letters to the parties concerned in them, must for ever render even the best of them cloying to others.' This is probably a very accurate description of the large majority of love-letters; but there is a higher class of these productions, in which true affection is touchingly portrayed, and

Doree v. Dean.


which the most indifferent outsider' regards with some degree of interest. The genuine love-letter, however, in which the heart really speaks, is rarely exposed to the public gaze, and hence the difficulty of producing favourable examples. On the other hand, unfortunately, whole volumes might be filled with those screeds of sickly sentimentalism which so frequently appear in the columns of the newspaper-greatly to the satisfaction of all 'sensational' readers. Witness the published correspondence in the celebrated trial of Madeleine Smith, and in the still more recent case of Longworth v. Yelverton.

In the reported actions for breach of promise of marriage, these miserable effusions occupy a very prominent place. It appears to be an established rule that no courtship can be properly conducted without the intervention of love-letters, even where the parties concerned happen to live within a gunshot of each other. This was amusingly illustrated a few years ago in the case of Samuel Dean and Ann Doreethe scene of courtship being Bethnal Green in the great metropolis. The fair plaintiff lived in Wellington Row, and her faithless admirer


« PreviousContinue »