“On Letter Writing”

Posted: August 22, 2015 in Articles
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Yesterday I was reading a hilarious excerpt about writing letters, or epistles, as they were called at the time of writing.  The excerpt was taken from Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in 1822.

In the excerpt, the author describes his intense hatred for writing long, formal letters to people like unfamiliar aunts or uncles.

I was laughing out loud as I read the excerpt; the writing is so funny. And I noticed once again, how well people wrote once upon a time.

While the choice of words is impeccable, and while back then it was considered good writing, I believe that today, this excerpt would be used to exemplify poor writing. The sentences are unusually long with many clauses and sometimes no commas or breaks of any kind for lines at a time. I found one sentence that was the entire paragraph!

I like it anyway. It’s very entertaining! This was one of my favorite sentences:

“As Moore says, ‘Heart speaks to heart’ – I say, then, take always special care to write by candlelight, for not only is the apparently unimportant operation of snuffing the candle in itself a momentary relief to the depressing consciousness of mental vacuum, but not unfrequently that trifling act, or the brightening flame of the taper, elicits, as it were, from the dull embers of fancy, a sympathetic spark of fortunate conception.”

I also learned several new words:

epistolary
felicitously
scribblerinas (that’s not even a word)

and wondered at some witty phrases such as:

“…invidious remark and carping criticism…”
“For my part, I would rather be set to beat hemp, or weed in a turnip field, than to write a letter…”
“I’d rather be a kitten, and cry mew…”

I love reading older books. If you know of any good old books, feel free to let me know about them, because I will certainly read them!

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