R U There?

I ‘m really quite glad that the phenomenon of txt–that truncation of words and phrases used when the cost of sending data was a lot higher than it is now–has mostly fallen by the wayside. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m in love with words and with finding the precisely right one to communicate what I am thinking of. I’m sure Rebecca M’Nab Soul and I would have gotten along like a house afire.

Who was Rebecca M’Nab Soul? She was the author of an adorable little (literally little—it’s a dainty 3” by 4 ¾”) book called A New and Complete Letter Writer. I have the sixth edition, published in London in 1845. In her preface Ms. Soul states, “Of all the arts that have been discovered, and which have contributed to the benefit, refinement and happiness of man, the art of writing certainly ranks secondary to none; and of the varied species into which this art is modelled, there is none of greater utility and importance than the epistolary form.”

Okay, this probably sounds a little over-done to us…but think about it for a minute. How did people communicate when they weren’t face to face? There were no telephones in widespread use till very late in the 19th century, and no cellphones till more than a century after that. No computers, of course…and even the telegraph was only available well into mid-century and only for the briefest and most urgent communications. The only way to talk to your friends if they weren’t standing next to you was by letter.

And not only friends. Any business that wasn’t transacted face-to-face happened by letter…and here’s where Ms. Soul’s book comes in handy. It’s full of examples of letters to use in any situation, such as Letter from a tradesman in distress, to his principal creditor, requesting time for payment” to “Letter from a young man wishing to commence business, to a rich relative.”

The most entertaining sections of the book, though, are the love letters. Yes, love letters: Ms. Soul has examples of letters for (it seems) almost every romantic situation. How about a “Letter from a young lady to a gentleman who courts her, whom she suspects of infidelity” (“I desire to know, Sir, what sort of acquaintance you can wish to have with another person of character, after making me believe that you wished to be married to me.”)? Or a “Letter from a lady to a gentleman, in answer to a dishonourable proposal” (“Had any part of my conduct authorized the infamous proposal you have had the audacity to make, I should die with shame; but my conscious innocence supports me, and teaches me to scorn your baseness.”)? Or a “Letter from a gentleman to a young lady, proposing an elopement”? (“Distracted at the thought of not being enabled to accomplish my wish of making you my own, since I have exercised all the wit and ingenuity of which I am master, in endeavouring to elicit a consent from the impenetrable heart of my guardian, without effect; I am tempted to make a proposal, which from its hazardous and delicate nature, I am bound to preface with no ordinary caution, lest by too abruptly importing it, I should seal my own doom by the loss of her, for whom I would risk every danger to gain the possession.”)

Hmm. After trying to make my way through that sentence, maybe txt doesn’t look too bad after all.



About Marissa Doyle

Marissa Doyle originally planned to be an archaeologist but somehow got distracted. At long last, after an unsurprisingly circuitous path, she ended up writing historical fantasy for young adults (the Leland Sisters series) and contemporary fantasy for slightly older ones, most recently By Jove from Book View Cafe. She is obsessed by the Regency period, 19th century stuff in general, and her neurotic pet bunny. Visit her at www.marissadoyle.com


R U There? — 6 Comments

  1. Having large hands and long nails I can just manage the keyboard of my tablet with the side of my pinky. Smartphone is too tiny for any messages longer than thx or y, and it takes some 10 minutes to tap in how r u. Goodbye flowery courtesies, welcome back txt.

  2. The glorious ‘modern’ age of British novels began, after all, as eponymously titled epistolary works!

    Letter writing manuals were already provided in the 15th century — that’s how broadly already the ability to write a good letter had become embedded in social and business life.

  3. I am also a txt Luddite–I tend toward complete sentences and was the despair of iPhone’s auto-spelling. But I’m teaching it, and trying to use it, because my thumbs are tired.

    • Ah, but you can turn that puppy off, if you’re so inclined. I did, and even though it takes me a bit longer to type out my messages, at least I know they say what I mean them to say, and not what my (presumably non-sentient, but I’m increasingly suspicious about that) auto-correct thinks they should say.

      Although auto-correct can be uproariously and inappropriately hilarious—which is why I question that non-sentience bit.

  4. Big hands here too–I never use my thumbs to text.

    I’ve been struck by the idea that this little book would be marvelous fun to create a parody of to use in a story…

  5. I love these old guides. I found a real treasure once, a letter guide from the mid 1700s. It was very illuminating.