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London's PeopleVictorian Etiquette IV: Letter Writing
Posted on May 23, 2005 - 08:37 AM by Bill McCann

The London Journal, launched in 1845, was one of the most widely read publications of nineteenth-century Britain. Its weekly appearance ushered in the period when mass-market reading, in a modern sense, was born. Between April 12 and August 30 1845, the Journal carried seventeen articles under the heading "Etiquette for the Millions," written by G.W.M Reynolds. They were clearly aimed at educating the mass readership (mostly the newly emerging middle-classes) in the behaviour expected of them in public. At times trenchant, the views expressed in the articles describe a view of society that is very, very different from that which we experience today. But, perhaps, one that many sections of modern society hanker after. Her we learn the conventions for letter-writing. The Penny Post had been introduced as recently as 1842, and many of the conventions for letter writing in the new circumstances were still being formulated when this article was written. There was, of course, a gret obsession with the proper modes of address to be used when writing to titled persons and those below them in the order of precedence!

Great care and attention should be devoted to epistolary correspondence, as nothing exhibits want of taste and judgement, so much as a slovenly letter. Indeed, there are many persons who undertake to form an estimate of persons' characters by heir letters; and, although we do not go quite so far as to admit the invariable truth of the criterion, we consider the test to be in very many instances a correct one.

Since the establishment of the penny postage it is recognised as a rule that all letters should be post-paid; and in the long run the advantages between correspondents is reciprocal. If postage stamps be used, they should be fixed n the right-hand upper corner of the letter when folded, if the letter be simply paid at the office when it is posted, the word "Prepaid" should be written in the same corner. There are some cases in which, when you write to a stranger, you should not put him to any expense incurred by a reply; such as soliciting some information valuable only to yourself, requesting the autograph of an eminent person, etc. etc. You should then write your address upon an envelope on which a stamp is fixed, and enclose it in your letter to the stranger to whom you are addressing yourself. It is improper to content yourself with merely enclosing a postage stamp to frank the reply which you desire.

The paper on which you write should always be clean, and neatly folded. On the right-hand corner at the top of the paper should be written your address and the date; and in the left-hand corner at the bottom should be written the name of the person whom you are addressing.

Care must be taken in giving titled persons to whom you write their proper distinctions. The modes of address are as follow:

  • To Queen Victoria address "To the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty;" commence your letter with "Madam," and conclude by designating yourself "Your Majesty's most faithful subject and dutiful servant."
  • to a foreign sovereign address "To His Majesty the King of - ," or "To Her Majesty the Queen of - ," and use "Sire," or "Madam," respectively. Conclude with styling yourself "Your majesty's most humble, dutiful, and devoted servant."
  • **Throughout letters to the above, use always "Your Majesty" instead of "you" and "Your Majesty's" instead of "yours."
    • To Royal Princes address "To His Royal Highness the Duke of - ;" commence your letter with "Sir," and conclude by designating yourself "Your Royal Highness's most dutiful and obedient humble servant."
    • To Royal Princesses address "To Her Royal Highness the Princess - ;" commence your letter with "Madam," and conclude by designating yourself "Your Royal Highness's most obedient and devoted humble servant."
    • **Throughout letters to the above, use always "Your Royal Highness" and "Your Royal Highness's"
    And so we progress down through the individual addresses due to the precedent ranks of
    • Dukes,
    • Duchesses,
    • Archbishops,
    • Marquises,
    • Marchioneses,
    • Earls,
    • Viscounts,
    • Barons,
    • Countesses,
    • Viscountesses,
    • Baronesses,
    • Baronets,
    • Knights,
    • the wives of Baronets and Knights,
    • Privy Councillors,
    • Lords of the Admiralty,
    • Bishops,
    but note that the wives of Archbishops and Bishops have no ennobling distinctions,
    • Deans,
    • Archdeacons,
    • Doctors of Divinity,
    • Doctors of Laws
    The wives of Doctors of Divinity or Laws have no titles; it is therefore incorrect to style the "Mrs. Doctor - ,"

    Then come Governors of Colonies and Ambassadors [where one must be on one's guard since:-] The mode of commencing letters to Ambassadors will depend upon their rank; thus to a Spanish nobleman for instance, the address must be "My Lord;" to a French nobleman the address must be always "Sir," as the distinction "Monseigneur ("My Lord") is now only used in France in respect to Princes of the Blood, Archbishops and Bishops.

    We then have brief mention of other addresses

    • To The Right Honourable the Lord High Chancellor,
    • To The Right Honourable the Lord Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench (or Common Pleas,)
    • To The Right Honourable the Lord Chief Baron of the Court of the Exchequer,
    • His Honour the Master of the Rolls,
    • His Honour the Vice Chancellor of England,
    • His Honour Vice Chancellor Knight Bruce (or J. Wigram);
    • The Honourable Mr. Baron Park,
    • The Honourable Mr. Justice Maule,
    • The Right Honourable the Lord Mayor of London,
    • Admiral the Right Honourable Lord Saint Vincent G.C.B.,
    • General the Honourable Sir Edward Paget, G.C.B.,
    • Admiral Sir Robert Stopford and
    • "To Mr. Alderman "
    until we are told that:-
    • Captain is the lowest grade in military rank which must be specified in the address of a letter: thus, if you write to a subaltern, address "To - Esq., 60th Regiment."

    G.W.M. Reynolds.
    The London Journal,
    For the week ending May 3, 1845.



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