Page images


Modes of Address.

Modes of Address and Superscriptions.

The mode of address has varied considerably at different periods. I have already referred to the quaint mixture of formality and affection in the letters of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as illustrated by the Eglinton correspondence. At a comparatively recent date, boys and girls at school were taught to address their fathers and mothers, in their letters, as 'Honoured Sir,'' Honoured Madam,' or 'Honoured Parent;' but the existing style of 'My dear Father,' and 'My dearly beloved Mother,' if not so reverential in its tone, seems to indicate a greater amount of love and affection. Formerly, it was the custom, excepting in the case of very old and intimate friends, to commence every letter with the word 'Sir' or Madam,' which are now confined to the corre-spondence of strangers. Respected Sir' appears to be quite obsolete. According to one of the many 'Complete Letter-Writers,' ""Dear Sir" and "Dear Madam" are justified by a very slight acquaintanceship. In more advanced intimacy,' we are further informed, ' especially in the case of the male sex-we may proceed to

'My Dearest Wife.'


"My dear Sir"-"My dear Mr. Jones"My dear Friend "--" Dear Jones"-" My dear Jones," etc.' The illustrious author of Waverley must have been influenced by a belief in this delicate graduation when he sat down, on one occasion, to indite an epistle to his friend Tom Moore, which he commenced, in an unguarded moment, with the formal exordium of 'My dear Sir.' Drawing his pen through the unintended words, he wrote immediately below them, 'Damn Sir-My dear Moore.' I have sometimes thought that, except in the case of the Mormons, the expression 'My dearest Wife,' so frequently adopted by affectionate husbands, is open to very grave objection-implying, as it does, in strict grammar, at least two other partners-a 'dear' and a 'dearer.' When applied to a special friend, or to a particular son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, or aunt, the superlative epithet may, of course, be used quite correctly; but even in these instances, it is questionable whether the person who indulges in it really means what he says. The close of a letter to a perfect stranger is sometimes calculated to provoke a smile; but still more ludicrous is the concluding mutual assurance of two




inveterate foes, engaged in an angry correspon


I have the honour to be, Sir, your

most obedient, humble servant!'

Modes of address in the inside of letters naturally suggest a few remarks on outside addresses or superscriptions, to which also incidental allusion has already been made. In the case of the upper ten thousand,' the proper form of superscription is well defined, and most of the letter-writing manuals embrace detailed instructions to the uninitiated. Among the other ranks of society, however, a considerable amount of confusion has for some time prevailed with respect to designations. I should, perhaps, be more correct in saying that the 'names of worship' are now generally regarded as common property; and while among the softer sex, not only lady's-maids, but even the rulers of the kitchen, are indignant at the omission of Miss' or Mrs.,' the humblest butler considers himself quite as much entitled to the addition of Esquire' as the master whom he serves, although the said master's blood may happen to be as red as that of the Douglases or the Howards. According to one of the most recent Manuals of Letter-writing, 'the title of

Mr. and Esquire.


Esquire has become so common that it has ceased to be a mark of particular respect, and it is better generally to use plain Mr. instead, except when writing to members of Parliament, landed proprietors, and gentlemen of the legal and medical professions.' 'By all means,' the same authority seriously continues, 'avoid putting a handle on both ends of a name, by writing Mr. John Smith, Esq.' A late eminent sculptor, however, is said to have had such a weakness for squirearchical distinction that in writing, on one occasion, to a Scotch member of Parliament regarding the sale of a bas-relief, he thus expressed himself:

'John G-, Esq. presents his compliments to Mr. D- and begs to state that John G-, Esq. is prepared to dispose of the piece of sculpture in question for the sum of £50. John G-, Esq. will be glad to learn,'


Some years ago, an English gentleman made several unsuccessful applications for letters at one of the Brazilian post-offices. At length the postmaster allowed him to examine the unclaimed letters, among which he found a good many bearing his name, followed by the word Esquire.' On this being pointed out to


Nice Distinctions.


the postmaster, he innocently explained that he thought the letters in question were intended for a Mr. Esquire! A friend of my own, whom I shall call William Wallace, was once paying a visit at a country-house, where the footman happened to bear the same Christian name and surname as himself; and one 'fine' morning a letter duly addressed 'William Wallace, Esq.,' was put into his hands, on the reasonable assumption that it was intended for him. perusing its contents, he was somewhat puzzled by most of the writer's allusions; but the mystery was eventually solved by the discovery that the letter was intended for the gentleman in plush! I have heard of an eccentric member of the English Bar, with a great respect for blood, who employs three different styles of address on letters to his male correspondents. In the case of a well-born gentleman, he writes the designation without abbreviation, and with a small initial letter,-thus, 'esquire.' To a person generally acknowledged as a gentleman, he condescends to give the abbreviated designation of Esq.,'-the initial, however, being a capital letter; while a doubtful individual must be satisfied with the letter E,' followed by an

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »