Letter Writing Tips from Sir Thomas More

Sir Thomas More’s work for Henry VIII often took him away from his beloved children for long stretches of time. Keep in mind that this was 500 years before phones, e-mail or Skype. Letters were the only way he could keep connected to his growing children and their changing world.  The letters he sent home were obviously cherished, as they were kept safe for years after his execution (even though the King and Thomas Cromwell were intent on destroying all of Sir Thomas’s writings). His collected letters were finally published in 1557.

One of the sweetest, I think, is a letter written in 1522. You can almost feel Sir Thomas’s homesickness, as he fairly begs for letters from his children. And always the teacher, he outlines for them how best to write a good letter:

Now I expect from each of you a letter almost every day. I will not admit excuses—John makes none—such as want of time, sudden departure of the letter-carrier, or, want of something to write about. No one hinders you from writing, but, on the contrary, all are urging you to do it. And that you may not keep the letter-carrier waiting, why not anticipate his coming, and have your letters written and sealed, ready for anyone to take?

How can a subject be wanting when you write to me, since I am glad to hear of your studies or of your games, and you will please me most if, when there is nothing to write about, you write about that nothing at great length. Nothing can be easier for you, since you are girls, loquacious by nature, who have always a world to say about nothing at all.

One thing, however, I admonish you, whether you write serious matters or the merest trifles, it is my wish that you write everything diligently and thoughtfully . . . I strictly enjoin that whatever you have composed you carefully examine before writing it out clean; and in this examination, first scrutinise the whole sentence and then every part of it. Thus, if any solecisms have escaped you, you will easily detect them. Correct these, write out the whole letter again, and even then examine it once more, for sometimes, in rewriting, faults slip in again that one had expunged. By this diligence your little trifles will become serious matters; for while there is nothing so neat and witty that will not be made insipid by silly and inconsiderate loquacity, so also there is nothing in itself so insipid, that you cannot season with grace and wit if you give a little thought to it. Farewell, my dear children.


About elizabethcarden

A wife, mom and writer of historical fiction (but sadly, not of thank you notes).
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2 Responses to Letter Writing Tips from Sir Thomas More

  1. Laura says:

    Did my late night text message from Mexico inspire this? I’m pretty sure it was not diligently or thoughtfully written. 🙂

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