J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Letters, They Got Letters

Ed St. Germain at AmericanRevolution.org has announced the online posting of the complete Complete Letter-Writer: Or, Polite English Secretary, published in London in 1758.

This is one of a number of collections of "Letters on the most common Occasions in Life" published in the century to provide readers with genteel models of correspondence and, by implication, behavior. I can't help but think, though, that part of these books' appeal was how they seemed to offer a peek into other people's business, especially courtships—even if those other people were probably fictional. In any event, they promised help to folks faced with the need to write such awkward missives as:

  • "From a Brother at home to his Sister abroad on a Visit, complaining of her not writing"—interesting that in this scenario the sister is abroad and the brother is home feeling neglected; alas, these pages are missing, so all we have online is the sister's very brief apology to her brother and "dear Mamma"
  • "From a young Woman just gone to Service [i.e., working as a maid], to her Mother at Home"
  • "From a young Apprentice to his Father, to let him know how he likes his Place, and goes on"
  • "To a young Lady, cautioning her against keeping Company with a Gentleman of a bad Character"
  • "From a Tradesman to his Correspondent, requesting the Payment of a Sum of Money"
  • "A Young Lady's Answer to a Gentleman's Letter, who professes an Aversion to the tedious Forms of Courtship" and "The Lady's Reply to another Letter from the same Gentleman, wherein he more explicitly avows his Passion"
  • "From a young Tradesman to a Lady he has seen in Publick" and "From a Relation of the Lady, in answer to the last"—I thought the second would be a rebuff, but things look good for the young tradesman!
  • "From a Gentleman who died at Constantinople, to a Friend in England; giving him an Account of the Manner of his Death"—quite a feat, that.
  • A plethora of love letters
  • Model letters from such authors as Alexander Pope, John Locke, and George Farquhar
The book's table of contents lists page numbers, but the online edition doesn't use pagination. Instead, if you're looking for a particular letter, note the part of the book where it appears and how far along in that part, then scroll down in the corresponding webpage.

The site indicates this resource comes to the world through the generosity of Tina Buchanan. And, of course, Ed St. Germain.

(Today's illustration, courtesy of the Library of Congress, is Thomas Jefferson's letter to Benjamin Banneker, trying to brush aside his racist remarks about African-Americans in Notes on the State of Virginia. An awkward situation for which no letter-writing manual offered a solution.)

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