but another girl may not have been so fortunate, and her ignorance must be taken as our reason for pointing out what appears to be familiar facts.
We begin with the subject of business letters, and the first thing we shall say about them is—Be very particular about their appearance. There is a proverb, to be sure, warning us that appearances are deceitful, but that proverb is only true occasionally; in general we may safely draw an inference as to the writer from the look of her letter. An ill-folded, clumsy, up-and-down-hill, blotted, greasy-looking letter almost certainly comes from an untidy house and a stupid girl, whereas a neat, carefully-written epistle suggests just as surely the opposite.
In friendly letters our correspondents know something about us beforehand, but in business we may be writing to perfect strangers, who can only judge of us by the figure we cut on a sheet of note-paper. To secure prompt attention and a polite reply, no plan works so well as putting good taste into the appearance of letters. They are really a part of ourselves, and a girl should as soon think of sending them marked with carelessness to either a friend or a stranger as of going to make a call in a patched frock, a faded hat, and gloves with holes.
An indispensable point in a business letter is to have the meaning quite clear. It must say exactly what the writer intends, leaving nothing to be guessed at.
And after clearness the next point is shortness. A brief letter makes far more impression than a long one, besides which it usually gets attended to at once. We have known a man open a lady's letter on a matter of business, and, seeing it a long rigmarole, put it at once in his pocket and let it lie there forgotten for a week.
That long letters receive most notice is a mistake into which girls fall very often, but she who aspires to be a real business woman must give herself to the study of such short epistles as that of the officer who sent in as his official report, "Sir,—I have the honour to inform you that I have just shot a man who came to kill me.—Your obedient servant, ——."
All letters should be headed with the address from which they were written, the day of the month, and the year; in this way:—
2, Ireland Avenue,
Stratford-on-Avon, 9th October, 1886.
It is an irritating peculiarity with many people unaccustomed to business to be careless on this point. Common sense suggests that they should mend their ways, and by putting the date and a full address on every letter, save their correspondents sometimes a good deal of trouble.
There is a short way, occasionally employed, of writing the date; for example, 4 / 7 / 86; meaning the 4th day of the 7th month (July, that is) of 1886. This contraction—which is improved by having the month put in Roman figures (as, 4 / vii. / 86)—is handy now and again, but it does not strike one as looking particularly well at the head of a letter.
Put the name of the person to whom the letter is written at the beginning or the end. Long ago, when envelopes were not in use, this did not matter so much, because the name of the person addressed could be seen by turning to the postal direction; but nowadays the envelope bearing the address is dropped into the waste-paper basket, and a second address is required to give the letter completeness, and enable third parties, perhaps, to understand it.
As to how to begin, whether "Sir" or "Madam," or "Dear Sir" or "Dear Madam," everyone may please herself, only taking note that the "Dear" should be omitted when any special reason exists for being distant and formal. Not, however, that the word when used in a business letter has anything of an affectionate meaning. It is just one of the drops of oil used to keep the machinery of human intercourse working smoothly. Perhaps it originally crept in to soften the sharp effect of "Sir," which sounds for all the world as if it would snap a correspondent's head off.
"Dear Sir" and "Dear Sirs" are both right, but "Dear Gentlemen" is not, though there seems no reason against it. If you begin "Sir" you must not end "I remain, dear sir." The beginning and the end should be all of a piece, and in both places the same form of address should be used.
In concluding a business letter you may say "yours respectfully," or "your obedient servant," or "yours truly," or "yours faithfully," according to the degree of intimacy existing between you and your correspondent. But really there are no very nice distinctions to be observed between such phrases, and their use may safely be left to every girl's common sense and discretion.
Take pains to sign your name always so that people can read it. Some, out of pure affectation, conceal what they call themselves under a scribble which none can read—"a hopeless puzzle of intemperate scratches." How is a stranger, getting a letter signed in this way, to know to whom to send a reply, unless, as is sometimes done, he cuts out the signature, pastes it on the envelope, and adds the address? But illegible signatures, it must be confessed, are more often a man's folly than a woman's.
Always, too, sign your name the same way: get into the habit of it. Don't let it be to-day "Mary G. Snodham," and to-morrow "Mary Snodham," and the day after "M. G. Snodham." If character comes out anywhere in writing, it is in the signature, and it ought to be every day the same, the same in words, the same in writing, and the same in flourishes—that is to say, if there are any flourishes.
When you send a Post Office order to anyone, however, you may make an exception to this rule. It is a good plan to sign a letter accompanying such an order with initials only. When this is done, should the letter fall into the hands of dishonest people, the chances are considerably reduced of their knowing the name of the sender so as to get payment of the order. In getting the money for a Post Office order it is always necessary, as perhaps you know, to tell at the post-office who sent it.
When you (we shall call you Elizabeth Fisher) are asked to write a letter in the name of another person (call her Janet Constable), how should you sign it? Not, certainly, by just writing Janet Constable; that would be highly improper. To put another person's name to any letter or document whatever, even in fun, is not even to be dreamt about. You must sign—
for Janet Constable,
Or, if you like it better—
p. Elizabeth Fisher.
In this case the p. stands for per, and means that Janet Constable signs the letter by or through you. You may write per in full, if you like.
Sometimes you may have to write inquiring about the character of people or their standing from a money point of view. In doing so, put the name or names on a slip of paper and gum it at the foot of your letter, so that it can be easily torn off. Your correspondent can then at once destroy the slip, and should your letter or her reply afterwards be read by other people, they will probably be none the wiser, for they will only see in your letter an inquiry regarding the person or persons "noted at foot," and in hers an answer about the person or persons "about whom you inquire."
All enclosures sent in a letter should be mentioned in a note in the left-hand bottom corner after signing one's name. Thus:—
Postal Order, 10s. 6d.
Recipe for cooking rattlesnakes.
Pattern: the Tullochgorum mantle.
We have spoken about the clearness and brevity