History of Letter Writing in England

Published: 11th May 2011
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Letters were extensively written to exchange messages during the 18th century in England. At that time, as there were no other means of communication like telephone and fax, people wrote innumerable letters throughout their lives to convey messages. Letter writing was, therefore, a necessary writing skill that everyone learnt and practiced.

Literary scholars had introduced a style of letter writing known as the period style. Normally, all business correspondence was in this style only. It was much different from today’s style of writing that focuses on brevity to such an extent that even word spellings are truncated. Earlier, quill pens were used to write letters. They were long pens with a feather on top. Each pen was designed to have a unique cut. It was a precious possession that people transferred to their next generation.

In those days, different types of paper were used for different letters. For example, laid paper was commonly used in formal letter writing. Moreover, letters were written following certain guidelines. For example, a letter began with the sender’s address followed by a salutation like Dear, My Dear, Dear Sir or Dear Madam. In formal letters, the year was included as a part of the date. The receiver’s name and title was also mentioned. Even the closing note was very different from that of today. Some of the examples are:

• I have the honor to be…
• With best love
• Yours ever
• Your Obliged
• Very Respectful
• I am yours ever…

After a letter was written, sealing wax was used to bind the letter pages. The color of the wax symbolized the nature of a message. For example, black wax signified the notification of someone’s death in a family. As there were no envelopes to enclose the letter, the name and address of the recipient was written on a sheet of paper and was folded around the letter. Later on, when envelopes and postage stamps were introduced, the value of a stamp was determined according to the number of sheets written. Therefore, it was a common practice to write small letters and fill a page completely to reduce the number of pages. Unlike today, it was the recipient who paid the postage charge.

If you want to explore the period style of writing, you can read various classics, letters, and other literary works of that era. Some of the literary works include a series of letters containing dialogues between literary characters.

To know more on specific letter types, check Approval Letters.

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