September 27, 2009

Sunday Afternoon Post

As much as letter writing was more prevalent in Emily Post's day that it is today, it would be an overstatement to say that it was terribly popular in her time. In her book, Etiquette, Emily laments what she sees as the slow demise of the personal letter, which she estimated at the time to be only ten percent of the contents of an average mail bag in the United States. She sees the practice as, "shrinking" and fears its usurpation by telegrams, telephone messages and post-cards.

Given her feelings about preserving the art of letter writing, however, Emily still feels that certain people just shouldn't bother writing for waste of stationery. Who shouldn't be writing, one might ask? Emily would answer: young people and others that are equally as lazy. Emily writes:
[m]ental effort is one thing that the younger generation of the "smart world" seems to consider it unreasonable to ask ... they let their mental faculties relax, slump and atrophy.

To such as these, to whom effort is an insurmountable task, it might be just as well to say frankly: If you have a mind that is entirely bromidic, if you are lacking in humor, all power of observation, and facility for expression, you had best join the ever-growing class of people who frankly confess, "I can't write letters to save my life!" and confine your literary efforts to picture post-cards with the engaging captions "X is my room," or "Beautiful weather, wish you were here."
Although I can't endorse Emily's generalization about young people (I'm not too far out of my teens myself!), I can agree with her rationale. Emily explains that:
[i]t is not at all certain that your friends and family would not rather have frequent post-cards than occasional letters all too obviously displaying the meagerness of their halting orthography.
Emily is not telling we young folk to give up writing altogether, but is instead encouraging us to package our messages as best we can. And if our messages are short and sweet, they should be expressed as succinctly as possible rather than stretched out over several saccharine pages.

This post is part of an ongoing series of posts highlighting the rules of etiquette as recorded in 1922 by Emily Post in her seminal text Etiquette.

UPDATE: Since writing this post, I stumbled across this article from Autograph Magazine. It seems that Emily Post's distaste for post-cards runs much deeper than I originally thought. The article centers around a piece of fan mail that Emily received, to which she responded, "Why do you write on a postcard? No one ever answers a postcard!!!!"

1 comment:

armchair traveler never! said...

I can´t endorse Emily´s generalization about young people either or I actually do?

I started penpalling aged 7 in my mother tongue (and two years later in English) and I still remember some of the letters written to me by fellow bookworms who were my age at that time, not to mention the ´´philosophical thoughts´´ some included :) and it was delightful!
That correspondence made me discover a lot of things about humans in general and empathy in particular.

I sometimes feel young people back then were more profound. These days my cousins correspond with other kids and the letters seem to mostly revolve around shoe-buying, diets and Twilight... nothing much of substance.

Things have changed a lot in twenty years...