Ironic that on the day a poll came out revealing that 31 percent of teens send more than 100 text messages daily, I received my 1851 copy of The American Letter-Writer and Mirror of Polite Behaviour: A Useful Guide in the Art of Letter-Writing with Rules of Conduct for Both Sexes.

I can’t imagine someone from the Civil War era waking up and trying to read a text message or e-mail from today. The flow, grammar (or lack thereof), and overall sentence structure leaves much to be desired to those of us who love the English language.

I thought I’d share with readers the Introduction to this book, which in and of itself is beautiful prose.

The art of letter-writing is one which enters so largely into the daily transactions of life, that those who lack either the taste or the ability to indite a genteel and sensible epistle, are deficient in one of the most important and useful accomplishments that adorn our age and country.

The compilation of an easy, graceful, interesting, and appropriate epistle, is a task that but few are capable of performing with dignity—for the learned often err most grievously in this respect.

Nevertheless, by a little observation and practice, even those who have enjoyed but limited facilities for gaining knowledge, and the acquirements of polite society, will soon be enabled to express in appropriate language their thoughts, and to conduct themselves with that Natural grace and ease, which adds a charm to all personal intercourse; so natural is it for all to learn, when they once possess the inclination to do so.

Philadelphia, July 25, 1851


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