Tuesday, February 26, 2008

18th Century Letter Writing

The Instructor, or American Young Man's Best Companion Containing Spelling, Reading, Writing, and Arithmetick
Fisher, George
Published by Isaiah Thomas, Worcester
Location of original: Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts

Letter Writing

I discovered some facts about writing in the 18th century which I found to be of particular interest.

First when researching letter writing on ECCO the amount of manuals dealing in epistolary etiquette was staggering. Manuals included example letters, and rules for writing in various situations all published at the same time as Clarissa. In addition these letter manuals were, for the most part, geared towards men. However, other research suggested that much of the 18th century population could write by the end of the century however not all could read and write. Many people were able to copy letters or words from other documents yet needed help reading or creating letters. Without the aid of individuals to help with writing letters many would remain incoherent.

Also, there were specific styles of writing which were used in different types of letters. Women most often used a style called Italian Hand of which I have provided an illustration. There was no standardized spelling at the time so there might have been multiple spellings for any given word. However the letter Y was often used in place of an E as in the word THY but it would be pronounced the same as the.

http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~awoodley/crossedletter.html -source

Letters were written in a very different way than they are today. For one thing, they were what we now call "cross-letters" thanks to the style in which most letters were written. The reason for this is that the recipient of a letter paid a fee based on the letter's size and the distance it travelled. Smaller letters were cheaper; therefore, a cross writing style would better conserve space and allow more to be said for a smaller fee.

The letter shown on the right can be deciphered in this manner:

My Dear Herb

I have treated you very badly in not writing but the truth is I have been so hard put for time that I have not been able to do so. Your letter reached me, about a month after it was written. I hope this will find you in Rome. Will you tell Samuel that I have not got time to write and that I am sorry to say I shall not be able to get abroad this year after all and so unless he can get to England, I shall not have the pleasure of seeing him. I suppose we shall see you up here next term at least at Oxford. You already know my eyes have been bad and have thrown me back considerably, I am very much.......

the crossed lines continue from the other side of the letter....

feet deep here and I very nearly killed myself the other day up et....

Every quill pen was unique, and some took to the task of writing better than others (Letter-writing, 1). It could be hard to find a well-cut quill pen, and it took a skilled hand to do it right.

1 comment:

Ezra N G said...

WOW. They know how to express one self. I shall start to do it from now on.