November 29, 2009

Valedictions III: Historic Letter Closings

This is the third post in a three part guest series by PNT.

To close out the three part series on letter closings, I thought it would be fun to dig up some examples of historic letter closings. While most of these valedictions aren’t striking in their originality, it’s interesting to see how letter closings taken as a whole reflect the spirit of the letters.

Einstein to Roosevelt, 1939 – “Very truly yours”
The letter that launched the arms race, Einstein's first letter is a warning to President Roosevelt of the possibility of constructing "extremely powerful bombs of a new type" with hints that the German government might be doing just that. Writing in the gravest of times on the weightiest of matters, one wonders if the scientist’s closing is a mere formality or if it is intended to sincerely express his dedication to the cause during the dark times he foresaw soon ahead.

Click the above text image for the link to download Jane Austen font.

Jane Austen - "Very affectionately yours"
Pride and Prejudice may have begun life as an epistolary novel, and the book retains many full length letters. Outside the whirlwind of her novels, Miss Austen was a prolific letter writer in her own life. Writing mostly to family and friends she was effusively affectionate and what her letter closings lacked in originality they made up for in endearing candor.
Very affectionately yours,

Yours ever,


Civil War Love Letters – “Your own loving and devoted”

In contrast to the above three categories, the Civil War love letters are striking in their variety. Soldiers highly educated and barely literate, writing to wives, girlfriends, even to “Miss Lonelyhearts” ads in a newspaper they picked up along the way. 

As ever your devoted and loving Husband,

Excusebad riting,

Yours affectionately,

yr own loving + devoted,

I am ever yours, Sincerely, [Like good tea and fine scotch, closings blend too. ~ed.]

Lewis Carrol - "A shade more friendly"

Concluding his short essay “Eight or Nine Wise Words about Letter Writing “, Mr. Dodgson advises “If doubtful whether to end with “yours faithfully”, or “yours truly”, or “your most truly”, (there are at least a dozen varieties, before you reach “yours affectionately”), refer to your correspondent’s last letter, and make your winding-up at least as friendly as his: in fact, even if a shade more friendly, it will do no harm!”

Emily Post – “Personal hyphen”

Impeccably reasoned, as always, Mrs. Post provides advice for both types of letters. “An intimate letter”, she says “has no end at all. When you leave the house of a member of your family, you don’t have to think up an especial sentence in order to say good-by. Leave-taking in a letter is the same.”

"The close of a less intimate letter, like taking leave of a visitor in your drawing-room, is necessarily more ceremonious. And the ‘ceremonious close’ presents to most people the greatest difficulty in letter-writing." While she doesn’t provide the sort of short-phrase examples that would fit here, she does explain that almost anything will do that provides the necessary “personal hyphen between the person writing and the person written to.”

Finally, rather than prattling to a summation, I it seems appropriate to leave you with one of my favorite valedictions. So, until next time, I remain

Your most humble and obedient servant,

PNT is a full time law student, part time gentleman adventurer, and inveterate logophile who currently hangs his hat in Washington, D.C.

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