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Letter Forms


In 1899 Rafael Diez de la Cortina published the first edition of his book "Modelos para Cartas" or "Letter Forms". This book was an authoritative work on letter writing in both Spanish and English. It ran into many editions; we are reproducing extracts from the 26th edition of 1908. Nowadays the book is an excellent insight into the style of both languages as used at that time. There are examples of business letters and family letters. There is a section about social etiquette which seems very quaint and amusing now. The book concludes with a series of historic letters, written by famous and influential people of the past. Even today we can learn much from the ability of these people to use language.

Spanish Version


 

LETTERS - english version

Prologue:The author's thanks to helpers.
To Sr. Juan Vásquez de Mella:
".....still young, but already a notable debater, a most eloquent orator, profound scholar, and extraordinary intelligence, he has deigned to honour and enrich this work of mine....."
And to Sr. A. Taltavull:
".....for the valuable co-operation he has given me in the production of this work....."

Vásquez de Mella replies:
".....In the vast American continent, there are two languages that almost partition its dominions; Spanish and English. To put them in relation, study their similarities, and let the same lips recite the verses of Calderón and of Lord Byron, is to unite two souls, associate two civilisations, and discover that occult spiritual bond that unites, in some mysterious way, characters and dispositions as different as the Saxon and the Spanish....."

Instructions for writing
"Express your thoughts in simple language and in legible writing, which should also be clear and bold. Never write carelessly or hurriedly; read the letter before sending; and in writing more than one letter at a time, be careful that they are not put in the wrong envelopes. Great attention should be paid to correct punctuation.
The shape and size of paper and envelopes are not so important as the quality. They should be plain white with no coloured border, except the black border when in mourning, and of substantial texture.
Notwithstanding the above, note paper and square envelopes are usually used for love letters. It is of frequent occurrence to write on the first, third and fourth pages of the sheet, leaving the second blank.
The address of the writer is now neatly engraved at the head of the sheet, in preference to any other ornament. Avoid elaborate display in writing materials.
In regard to the size of paper and envelopes for commercial letters, the usage allows more latitude. The flat sheet is taking the place of the folded sheet of four pages. The name of the firm is printed at the head and also on the envelopes, which are mostly white, yellow or blue.
The most important commercial concerns no longer write their correspondence by hand; they use instead typewriting machines, by which method space is saved and the appearance of the written matter improved."

Business letters
"Suspension of a firm":
"Dear Sirs, - You have assisted us in our business for so many years with so much liberality and friendliness, that it pains us doubly to have to apprise you today of the undoubtedly unexpected news of our insolvency. You were informed of the heavy losses we sustained last year through the failure of our local bank, which almost exhausted our funds, and now we have to acquaint you with the swindling of our bookkeeper, whose victims we have been to the extent of twenty thousand dollars. This has crippled us for the time being.
Under these circumstances we have to ask the sympathy of the commercial world, and hope you will not deny us yours. You have it in your power to ameliorate our situation considerably, if, after convincing yourself of the correctness of the enclosed balance sheet, you consent to our offer to pay 15 per cent. to our creditors.
We remain, dear sirs,
Yours truly,
G. Cooney and Munroe."

Cards and calls:
"Gentlemen's visiting cards should be small, and those for ladies should be of medium size. It is not the fashion to have the names of two married people printed on one card.
Unmarried ladies should have their names printed below their mother's. It is customary to print the address on the lower right hand corner, and it is no longer the custom to turn down the card when making a visit.
The hours for calling are usually between three and six o'clock.
When a stranger arrives in city he is first called upon. It is not considered good form to invite people to one's house before having left cards at theirs.
About the number of cards to be left the following is the usual custom: Upon one married lady visiting another, one of the lady's cards and two of her husband's must be left.
Upon a married lady with a daughter in society, two of the lady's and three of the husband's.
No lady leaves her own card upon a gentleman; she sends the card of her husband or son, if she chooses.
A young lady leaves her mother's card when the latter is an invalid or elderly, and it is considered as if the mother had called in person.
When a lady is paying formal visits, she need not necessarily ask whether the lady upon whom she is calling is at home, but simply leave the cards, unless she is under obligation of courtesy and wants to see her in person.
When a gentleman calls after receiving hospitality, he should leave cards for all the ladies of the family and one for the gentleman representing the head of the house.
A card should never be left by a young gentleman for a young lady without also including one for her mother.
When a gentleman calls upon a lady who is a guest in the household, he should send a card to the lady of the house, even though he is unacquainted with her.
Cards are left in person on hearing of the illness or death of a friend or of any trouble which society can sympathise with. Cards may be left within a month of the death of a person.
It is better to leave cards in the hall when entering an afternoon reception or tea; this reminds the hostess that she is your debtor for a visit.
Visits should be returned within seven days at most, or immediately should there have been received an invitation to some entertainment."

Introductions
"A gentleman should never bow to a lady when first meeting her after an introduction, until she gives him some sign of recognition. Ladies and gentlemen should not shake hands with each other when introduced. A bow is sufficient acknowledgement of the introduction. Persons of the same sex may do as they please.
A host or hostess is not supposed to be cognizant of differences that may exist between some of his or her guests when introducing them, and they should forget their difficulties, at least while attentions are being shown to them."

Etiquette at balls
"It is the custom for a gentleman to engage a partner for the cotillon, for instance, before the evening of the dance, and he usually sends the lady a bouquet of flowers, with his card enclosed in an envelope.
The fashion of carrying bouquets to a ball is rapidly passing away, due to the rivalry to which it has given rise."

Engagement
"When a gentleman feels that his relations with a young lady are such as to warrant his making an offer of marriage to her, it is more manly and straightforward for him to make the petition verbally, than in writing."

Letters to family and friends
"A friend asks a favour from another.":
"Do not be surprised at my importuning you once more to come to my rescue in this trying hour of distraction. Without means to meet pressing obligations, I do not know what would become of me if I could not count upon friends who in times past, and under identical circumstances, have give me proofs of their esteem. I am need of some funds; fifty dollars would get me out of my difficulties; if your confidence in me remains unshaken, and you can spare this amount, believe me, I shall be very much obliged to you."

 

Spanish Epistles

1. Abd-el-Kader
From Abd-el-Kader, addressed to a young lady during his sojourn in Paris, which we give as a model of the passionately beautiful oriental stye. With the letter he sends her a costly ring.

"Glory to thee, angel of love and grace; may Allah protect thy youth and watch over thine innocence. Heaven is in thine eyes, and night in thy heart, white dove, whiter even than the Arabian mare: fear the enemy hovering over the head of thy couch and coveting thy charms. The serpent glides over thy virgin breast, which it would sting with its venom. repel it until the day when Allah shall bless thy union. May this ring, the only pleasant memory of my captivity, guide thee as a talisman. Should one day find thee weak in battling against the seductions of the tempter, glance at it and say: 'Love is but a delusion when it trespasses the limits of human laws; it is a paroxysm of dishonour and of shame.' Be thou chaste spouse and sainted mother, daughter of Allah, and thou shalt live for ever."

2. Juan de Padilla
From Juan de Padilla addressed to Maria Pacheco, his wife, just before his execution.

"Madam - I would consider myself indeed blessed did not your sorrow pain me more than death; which, being certain to come to all, signally does God favour him to whom He sends it, though bewailed by many while in the discharge of a duty.
I would I had more space in which to write some thoughts for your consolation: it neither is granted me, nor would I willingly defer any longer receiving the crown for which I hope.
You are prudent, madam, weep your unhappiness, not my death, which, being of the just, should be mourned by no one.
My soul, I possess nought else, I leave in your hands; dispose of it, madam, as you would of that which has best loved you. To Pero Lopez I write not because I dare not, for though I was his son in daring to lose my life, I was not his heir in good fortune. I will no longer expatiate, lest I annoy the executioner who awaits my coming, and fearing to give ground for the suspicion that it is in order to lengthen my life that I lengthen my letter. My valet Sosa, witness of the events as also of my secret wishes, will tell you what is here wanting, and so I remain, quitting this sorrow, and awaiting the sword of your grief and of my rest. Villalar, April 24, 1521. Juan de Padilla."

3. Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616)
Miguel de Cervantes, on his deathbed, dedicating his last work to Count de Lemos.

"Sir - Would that the old ballad so celebrated in its day commencing with the line: "The foot already in the stirrup" were not so appropriate a heading for this epistle. But, alas! almost with the same words I can commence and say:
The foot already in the stirrup,
Struggling in the pangs of death,
Noble lord I thus address you.

Yesterday I received Extreme Unction, and today I write this letter. My time is brief; the pangs increase, hope vanishes; yet I stake my life on the desire I have of living. I would lengthen it until I could kiss the feet of your excellency, and perhaps such would be my joy at seeing your excellency in good health once more in Spain that my life would be renewed. But if it be decreed that I lose it, the will of Heaven is accomplished! At least be cognisant of my wish, and be assured that in me your excellency has so devoted a servant that he would trespass the very bounds of death in trying to prove his good will.
With all this, as in prophecy, I rejoice at the arrival of your excellency; and I doubly rejoice that my long delayed hopes are realised in the fame of your excellency's goodness.
I still have in mind some ideas, and sketches of the 'Semanas del Jardin' and of the famous 'Bernardo'. If it should be my good fortune (which would be nothing short of a miracle) that Heaven prolong my life, you will see them, as also the end of 'Galatea', which I know your excellency fancies. So with these works my wish to please you is continued.
May the powerful God guard your excellency.
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Madrid, April 19, 1616."

4. Princess de los Ursinos
From the Princess de los Ursinos to the Marchioness de Noailles, giving an account of the inconveniences of her position as keeper of the Queen's wardrobe.

"My Lady - In what a position I find myself! Heavenly Father! I have not one moment of repose, not even time to confer with my secretary. It is useless to think of rest after Their Majesties' dinner, or to enjoy mine when hungry. Rare luck, indeed, if I can have a hurried bite, and it surprises me when I am not called away just as I am about to be seated at table. In truth, how Madame de Maintenon would laugh did she but know all the details of my charge!
Tell her, I pray you, that it is I who enjoy the honour of picking up the robe of His Majesty Philip V of Spain, when he retires for the night, and of handing it to him, together with his toilet slippers, when he rises in the morning. All this I could endure patiently were it not that every night when the King retires to the Queen's apartment, the Count of Benavente appears and confides to my care His Majesty's sword, a cuspidor and a night lamp, in handling which I generally soil my gown. Oh! all this is too grotesque!
His Majesty is so accustomed to my serving him, that sometimes he has the kindness to have me called two hours before the time I would like to rise. The Queen takes part in these jokes; and still, as yet, I have not succeeded in gaining the confidence she displayed towards her Piemontese maids of honour. this astonishes me, for I serve her better, and I am sure they did not remove her shoes, nor did they bathe her feet as promptly as I do.
Princesa de los Ursinos Madrid, November 12, 1701."

 

English Epistles

1. Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)
Oliver Cromwell to his son H. Cromwell
"Son - I have seen your letter written unto Mr. Secretary Thurloe, and do find therefore that you are very apprehensive of the carriage of some persons with you towards yourself and the public affairs. I do believe there may be some particular persons, who are not very well pleased with the present condition of things, and may be apt to show their discontent as they have opportunity; but this should not make too great impression on you. Time and patience may work them to a better frame of spirit, and bring them to see that which for the present seems to be hid from them; especially if they shall see your moderation and love towards them, whilst they are found in other ways towards you; which I earnestly desire you to study and endeavour all that lies in you, whereof both you and I too shall have the comfort, whatsoever the issue and event thereof be.
For what you write of more help, I have long endeavoured it, and shall not be wanting to send you some further addition to the council as soon as men can be found out who are fit for that trust. I am also thinking of sending over to you a fit person, who may command the North of Ireland, which I believe stands in great need of one, and am of your opinion, that Trevor and Colonel Mervin are very dangerous persons, and may be made the heads of a new rebellion; and therefore I would have you move the council, that they be secured in some very safe place, and the further out of their own countries the better.
I commend you to the Lord, and rest your affectionate father.
November 21, 1655."

2. From the Earl of Oxford to Mr. Pope
"Sir - I received your packet, which could not but give me great pleasure, to see you preserve an old friend in your memory; for it must needs be very agreeable to be remembered by those we highly value. But then how much shame did it cause me when I read your very fine verses enclosed! My mind reproached me how far short I came of what your great friendship and delicate pen would partially describe me. You ask my consent to publish it; to what straits doth this reduce? I look back indeed to those evenings I have usefully and pleasantly spent with Mr. Pope, Mr. Parnelle, Dean Swift, the Doctor, etc. I should be glad the world knew you admitted me to your friendship, and since your affection is too hard for your judgement, I am content to let the world know how well Mr. Pope can write upon a barren subject. I return you an exact copy of the verses, that I may keep the original, as a testimony of the only error you have been guilty of. I hope very speedily to embrace you in London, and to assure you of the particular esteem and friendship wherewith I am yours, etc."

3. The Earl of Essex to Queen Elizabeth.
"From a mind delighting in sorrow, from spirits wasted with passion, from a heart torn in pieces with care, grief and travel, from a man that hateth himself and all things that keepeth him alive, what service can Your Majesty expect, since your service past deserves no more than banishment or proscription in the cursedest of all other countries? Nay, nay, it is your rebel's pride and success that must give me leave to ransom my life out of this hateful prison of my loathed body; which if it should happen so, Your Majesty shall have no cause to mislike the fashion of my death, since the course of my life could never please you. Your Majesty's exiled servant."

4. Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
From Mr. Pope to H. Cromwell Esq.
"May 19, 1708
You talk of fame and glory, and of the great men of antiquity; pray tell me, what are all your great dead men, but so many little living letters? What a vast reward is here for all the ink wasted by writers, and all the blood spilt by princes? There was in old time one Severus, a Roman emperor. I dare say you never called him by any other name in your life; and yet in his days he was styled Lucius, Septimius, Severus, Pius, Pertinax, Augustus, Parthicus, Adiabenicus, Arabicus, Maximus, and what not? What a prodigious waste of letters has time made! What a number have here dropped off, and left the poor surviving seven unattended! For my own part, four are all I have to care for; and still I will be judged by you if any man could live in less compass? Well, for the future I will drown all high thoughts in the lethe of cowslip wine; as for fame, renown, reputation, take them, critics! If ever I seek for immortality here, may I be damned, for there is not so much danger in a poet's being damned:
Damnation follows death in other men,
But your dam'd poet lives and writes again."

5. From James Howell Esq. to the Right Honourable the Lady Elizabeth Digby
"Westminster, 5th of August.
Madam - It is no improper comparison that a thankful heart is like a box of ointment, which keeps the smell long after the thing is spent. Madam, without vanity be it spoken, such is my heart to you, and such are your favours to me; the strong aromatic odour they carried with them diffused itself through all the veins of my heart, especially through the left ventricle, where the most illustrious blood lies; so that the perfume of them remains still fresh within me, and is like to do, while that triangle of flesh dilates and shuts itself within my breast. Nor doth its perfume stay there, but as all smells naturally tend upward, it hath ascended to my brain, and sweetened all the cells thereof, especially the memory, which may be said to be a cabinet also to preserve courtesies; for though the heart be the box of love, the memory is the box of lastingness; the one may be termed the source whence the motions of gratitude flow, the other the cistern that keeps them.
But your ladyship will say, these are words only; I confess it, it is but a verbal acknowledgement; but, madam, if I were made happy with an opportunity, you shall quickly find these words turned to actions, either to go, to run, or ride upon your errand. In expectation of such a favourable occasion, I rest, madam, your ladyship's most humble and enchained servitor."