Eight or Nine Wise Words about Letter-Writing/On registering Correspondence

§ 5. On registering Correspondence.

Let me recommend you to keep a record of Letters Received and Sent. I have kept one for many years, and have found it of the greatest possible service, in many ways: it secures my answering Letters, however long they have to wait; it enables me to refer, for my own guidance, to the details of previous correspondence, though the actual Letters may have been destroyed long ago; and, most valuable feature of all, if any difficulty arises, years afterwards, in connection with a half-forgotten correspondence, it enables me to say, with confidence, "I did not tell you that he was 'an invaluable servant in every way', and that you couldn't 'trust him too much'. I have a précis of my letter. What I said was 'he is a valuable servant in many ways, but don't trust him too much'. So, if he's cheated you, you really must not hold me responsible for it!"

I will now give you a few simple Rules for making, and keeping, a Letter-Register.

Get a blank book, containing (say) 200 leaves, about 4 inches wide and 7 high. It should be well fastened into its cover, as it will have to be opened and shut hundreds of times. Have a line ruled, in red ink, down each margin of every page, an inch off the edge (the margin should be wide enough to contain a number of 5 digits, easily: I manage with a 3/4 inch margin: but, unless you write very small you will find an inch more comfortable).

Write a précis of each Letter, received or sent, in chronological order. Let the entry of a 'received' Letter reach from the left-hand edge to the right-hand marginal line; and the entry of a 'sent' Letter from the left-hand marginal line to the right-hand edge. Thus the two kinds will be quite distinct, and you can easily hunt through the 'received' Letters by themselves, without being bothered with the 'sent' Letters; and vice versâ.

Use the right-hand pages only: and, when you come to the end of the book, turn it upside-down, and begin at the other end, still using right-hand pages. You will find this much more comfortable than using left-hand pages.

You will find it convenient to write, at the top of every sheet of a 'received' Letter, its Register-Number in full.

I will now give a few (ideal) specimen pages of my Letter-Register, and make a few remarks on them: after which I think you will find it easy enough to manage one for yourself.

29217 /90.
(217) Ap. 1 (Tu.) Jones, Mrs. am sendg, as present from self and Mr. J., a white elephant.
(218) do. Wilkins & Co. bill, for grand piano, £175 10s. 6d. [pd
221, 2
(219) do. Scareham, H. [writes from 'Grand Hotel, Monte Carlo'] asking to borrow £50 for a few weeks (!)

(220) do. Scareham, H. would like to know object, for wh loan is asked, and security offered.
(221) Ap. 3. Wilkins & Co. in previous letter, now before me, you undertook to supply one for £120: declining to pay more.
(222) do. Cheetham & Sharp. have written 221—enclosing previous letter—is law on my side? [
(223) Ap. 4. Manager, Goods Statn, G. N. R. White Elephant arrived, addressed to you—send for it at once—'very savage'.

29225 /90.
(225) Ap. 4. (F) Jones, Mrs. thanks, but no room for it at present, am sending it to Zoological Gardens.
(226) do. Manager, Goods Statn, G. N. R. please deliver, to bearer of this note, case containg White Elephant addressed to me.
(227) do. Director Zool. Gardens. (enclosing above note to R. W. Manager) call for valuable animal, presented to Gardens.
(228) Ap. 8. Cheetham & Sharp. you misquote enclosed letter, limit named is £180.
(229) Ap. 9. Director, Zoo. Gardens. case delivered to us contained 1 doz. Port—consumed at Directors' Banquet—many thanks.
(230) do. T Jones, Mrs. why call a doz. of Port a 'White Elephant'?
(231) do. T Jones, Mrs. 'it was a joke'.


29233 /90.
(233) Ap. 10. (Th) Page & Co. orderg Macaulay's Essays and "Jane Eyre" (cheap edtn).
(234) do. Aunt Jemima—invitg for 2 or 3 days after the 15th.[
(235) do. Lon. and West. Bk. have recevd £250, pd to yr Acct fm Parkins & Co. Calcutta[en
(236) do. Aunt Jemima—cannot possibly come this month, will write when able.[
(237) Ap. 11. Cheetham and Co. return letter enclosed to you.[x
(238) do. Morton, Philip.Could you lend me Browning's 'Dramatis Personæ' for a day or 2?
(239) Ap. 14. Aunt Jemima, leaving house at end of month: address '136, Royal Avenue, Bath.'[
(240) Ap. 15. Cheetham and Co., returng letter as reqd, bill 6/6/8.[

29242 /90.
(242) Ap. 15. (Tu) Page & Co. bill for books, as ordered, 15/6[
(243) do. ¶ do. books
(244) do. Cheetham and Co. can understand the 6/8—what is £6 for?
(245) Ap. 17. ¶ Morton, P. 'Dramatis Personæ', as asked for.[retd
(246) do. Wilkins and Co. with bill, 175/10/6. and ch. for do.[en
(247) do. Page and Co. bill, 15/6, postal J/Σ 107258 for 15/- and 6 stps.
(248) Cheetham and Co. it was a 'clerical error' (!)
(249) Ap. 19. Morton, P. returning Browning with many thanks.
(250) do. Wilkins and Co. receptd bill.

I begin each page by putting, at the top left-hand corner, the next entry-number I am going to use, in full (the last 3 digits of each entry-number are enough afterwards); and I put the date of the year, at the top, in the centre.

I begin each entry with the last 3 digits of the entry-number, enclosed in an oval (this is difficult to reproduce in print, so I have put round-parentheses here). Then, for the first entry in each page, I put the day of the month and the day of the week: afterwards, 'do.' is enough for the month-day, till it changes: I do not repeat the week-day.

Next, if the entry is not a letter, I put a symbol for 'parcel' (see Nos. 243, 245) or 'telegram' (see Nos. 230, 231) as the case may be.

Next, the name of the person, underlined (indicated here by italics).

If an entry needs special further attention, I put [ at the end: and, when it has been attended to, I fill in the appropriate symbol, e.g. in No. 218, it showed that the bill had to be paid; in No. 222, that an answer was really needed (the 'x' means 'attended to'); in No. 234, that I owed the old lady a visit; in No. 235, that the item had to be entered in my account book; in No. 236, that I must not forget to write; in No. 239, that the address had to be entered in my address-book; in No. 245, that the book had to be returned.

I give each entry the space of 2 lines, whether it fills them or not, in order to have room for references. And, at the foot of each page I leave 2 or 3 lines blank (often useful afterwards for entering omitted Letters) and miss one or 2 numbers before I begin the next page.

At any odd moments of leisure, I 'make up' the entry-book, in various ways, as follows:—

(1) I draw a second line, at the right-hand end of the 'received' entries, and at the left-hand end of the 'sent' entries. This I usually do pretty well 'up to date'. In my Register the first line is red, the second blue: here I distinguish them by making the first thin, and the second thick.

(2) Beginning with the last entry, and going backwards, I read over the names till I recognise one as having occurred already: I then link the two entries together, by giving the one, that comes first in chronological order, a 'foot-reference' (see Nos. 217, 225). I do not keep this 'up-to-date', but leave it till there are 4 or 5 pages to be done. I work back till I come among entries that are all supplied with 'foot-references', when I once more glance through the last few pages, to see if there are any entries not yet supplied with head-references: their predecessors may need a special search. If an entry is connected, in subject, with another under a different name, I link them by cross-references, distinguished from the head- and foot-references by being written further from the marginal line (see No. 229). When 2 consecutive entries have the same name, and are both of the same kind (i.e. both 'received' or both 'sent') I bracket them (see Nos. 242, 243); if of different kinds, I link them with the symbol used for Nos. 219, 220.

(3) Beginning at the earliest entry not yet done with, and going forwards, I cross out every entry that has got a head- and foot- reference, and is done with, by continuing the extra line through it (see Nos. 221, 223, 225). Thus, wherever a break occurs in this extra line, it shows there is some matter still needing attention. I do not keep this anything like 'up to date', but leave it till there are 30 or 40 pages to look through at a time. When the first page in the volume is thus completely crossed out, I put a mark at the foot of the page to indicate this; and so with pages 2, 3, &c. Hence, whenever I do this part of the 'making up', I need not begin at the beginning of the volume, but only at the earliest page that has not got this mark.

All this looks very complicated, when stated at full length: but you will find it perfectly simple, when you have had a little practice, and will come to regard the 'making-up' as a pleasant occupation for a rainy day, or at any time that you feel disinclined for more severe mental work. In the Game of Whist, Hoyle gives us one golden Rule, "When in doubt, win the trick"—I find that Rule admirable for real life: when in doubt what to do, I 'make-up' my Letter-Register!