« PreviousContinue »
sealed ; and the seal usually consisted of a head of the writer, or of one of his ancestors, impressed on wax or chalk. In the twenty-third chapter of the Acts, we have an example of the Roman præloquium in the letter of the chief captain, respecting the Jews' persecution of Paul : 'Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix sendeth greeting. The apostolic epistles furnish other interesting examples. Thus,
Thus, Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father, and Christ Jesus our Lord. Again : ‘James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. The place where the epistle was written, and the name of the person by whom it was sent, are also frequently indicated at the close, as in the case of Paul's epistle to Philemon, which bears to have been written from Rome to Philemon by Onesimus a servant.'
Characteristics of Male and Female
Letter-Writers. In the case of modern correspondence, I presume it will be universally admitted that, apart from other characteristics, the sex of a letterwriter may generally be inferred from the style. If the epistles of the 'Lords of Creation' are more precise and succinct than those of the gentler sex, there can be no doubt that they are quite eclipsed by the ladies in respect to graphic description and liveliness of touch. Of course, I do not refer to dry, matter-of-fact, business letters, on legal, commercial, or scientific subjects—to be afterwards noticed,--in the composition of which the male sex may reasonably be expected to be most successful ; but to that light and airy effusion in the shape of the friendly epistle, with which we are all more or less familiar. Penned without premeditation, the inspiration of the moment-racy, fluent, and natural; here gay and joyous, there serious and grave, full of the most charming detail without being tedious, genial and good-humoured, if not clever and witty, and
overflowing with kindliness and affection,—the really good letter, which is usually the production of a woman's pen, is a positive sweetener of existence. A man, on the other hand, when compelled to indite an epistle without any special text, generally makes a very sorry appearance. In his desire to avoid prolixity, he becomes obscurely brief
every approach to gossip or sentiment is studiously avoided, and he produces a cold, bald, formal outline, without a vestige of either shade or colour; or if he should be disposed to attempt a more lengthened treatment, the result will probably bear an unpleasant resemblance to an essay, a sermon, or a review ! In continual contact with the stern realities of life, and the unceasing cares of business, his time for friendly correspondence is, moreover, generally very limited, and he is too glad to allow his wife or his daughter to wield the pen on his behalf, 1
1 See some interesting criticism on a lady's letter-writing, at p. 96 of Lord Lindsay's recently published Memoir of Lady Anna Mackenzie, Countess of Balcarres and Argyll.
Crossing and Postscripts. It must, however, be admitted that, in addition to certain other blemishes, ladies' letters frequently exhibit two highly objectionable features, in the shape of Crossing and Postscripts. Except, perhaps, in the case of a wife or lover —whose expression of affection is, of course, quite inexhaustible—the practice of crossing letters ought to be universally condemnedmore especially in these days of cheap paper and postage; and when occasionally resorted to, a different coloured ink from that in the body of the letter ought invariably to be used. I believe there are many persons who entertain such a wholesome aversion to crossed letters that they frequently cast them aside without attempting a perusal of their contents.
In his Weekly Register for January 7, 1826, Cobbett beseeches a correspondent not to write across his writing,' which he pronounces to be a practice of female origin ; and Byron, by the
way, in his Don Juan, is not very complimentary to ladies' letters :
“The earth has nothing like a she-epistle, And hardly heaven-because it never ends.
I love the mystery of a female missal,
But full of cunning as Ulysses' whistle,
Take care what you reply to ch a letter.' The following brief effusion from a French lady to her husband may be given as a remarkable exception to the general rule. I do not, of course, venture to recommend it as a model to the affectionate wives of Great Britain and Ireland :
Je vous écris parceque je n'ai rien à faire ;
Je finis parceque je n'ai rien à dire.' Postscripts, again, have been somewhat severely described as embracing the chief point of a lady's letter ; but be this as it may, it cannot be denied that they might generally be rendered unnecessary by the exercise of a very small amount of previous reflection.
I must candidly acknowledge, however, that the ladies are not the sole offenders in the matter of postscripts. I once met with an official letter, extending to about eight lines, from the pen of a learned Scottish lawyer, who held a distinguished place in the literary world. The writer's signature at the bottom of the first page was followed by the words, 'Turn over ;'