From Eaton, Crane & Pike Company's The Etiquette of Letter Writing, (1927 edition):
1. SOCIAL CORRESPONDENCE
Social correspondence assumes added importance as our lives grow busier. Now that the visits of a generation ago which lasted the better part of an afternoon are superseded by a moment's stop in a motor and the dropping of cards; when a note must ofttimes accomplish as much as a lengthy call, it behooves us not only to be correct in our correspondence, but to be gracious as well.
The purpose of this little book is to point the way; to take up some of the phases of social correspondence that are at time puzzling, and to solve some of the problems that have been brought to us for a solution.
To comprehend completely the intricacies of social correspondence, one must first concede its unswerving logic and then bow to the great influence of custom. Logic will always point to the correct method of handling any situation that may arise; custom will influence the details. So that, while there are many rules that must be followed, one may never conclusively state the best method of following them, for custom is a fickle jade, never entirely at rest, never satisfied, always seeking a better way to do the thing -- and often finding it.
To illustrate: there was once a single correct way to word a wedding invitation, illustrated on page 88. Then, someone with due respect for correctness, but a natural wish to be a little more gracious, a little less impersonal, thought out the form shown on page 89, (*) which introduces just the proper degree of personal consideration which spells social success. The first form is still as correct as it ever was; nothing is wrong with it, but custom has improved upon it.
And so runs social life, with logic as the keyboard and custom to improvise.
There is nothing more indicative of good breeding and refinement of taste than correspondence; and today, when the expert assistance of stationers, engravers and authorities on the etiquette of correspondence is readily placed at everyone's disposal, there is no excuse for the mistakes sometimes seen.
To be a really good correspondent is truly an art, perhaps first of all a gift, to be cultivated and developed. One may in spite of every effort still fall short of that goal, but it is always possible to give pleasure by a simple written note or letter, couched in good English and written on stationery that is not only correct but indicative of personal taste. For, stationery is a reflection of one's personality quite as much as the house one lives in or the clothes one wears, as in the choice of decorations or even of foods - they bespeak the occasional need of variety which usually means improvement and their acceptance argues an understanding of and sympathy with, modern needs as much as their avoidance, sooner or later becomes an eccentricity that is just another sign of lack of good breeding.
There are, it is true a number of conventions dictated by good taste to which all of us must adhere; but granting these, there is still room for the development of individuality which make possible in all but the most formal invitations or notes to express clearly the personality of the sender. The study of this phase of individuality is interesting in the extreme.
These conventions change when custom itself has sanctioned some simpler, clearer method of expression or when perhaps a more gracious manner of personalizing the all too cold engraved form has suggested itself. In our hurried days graciousness is all too rare, but its rarity gives it increased importance and makes it doubly welcome.
The conventions of the formal invitation will be given under the proper headings in the following pages. There is nothing that excuses any display of individuality in such cases; it is merely a sign of ignorance and bad taste.
(*) (Ed. note: the entire book is not reproduced on this website. If you wish to consult the examples above, you may be sure to find this handy reference at your local bookstore, or an electronic surrogate such as Bookgreed.com.)
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