“Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter-Writing” (Lewis Carroll)

When one thinks of Lewis Carroll they probably think of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” not his 1890 Essay: “Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter-Writing.”   

The short 35 page hardcover booklet contained useful tips for composing, writing, mailing, and recording letters and is available for free on Project Gutenberg (On Twitter @gutenberg_org).  The Kindle version on Amazon gives a “43 pages” as its print length.

From Wiki: “This essay is of some importance in philately because it was part of the “Wonderland” Postage-Stamp-Case, which was first sold in 1889 by Emberlin and Son.”

Attribution: Image (upper left) Lewis Carroll [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.  The Wonderland Postage-Stamp Case, inside view. It was enclosed to the pamphlet by Lewis Carroll: Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter-Writing. Lewis Carroll. 6th ed. Oxford: 1890. 

There are five sections – 1) On Stamp-Cases; 2) How to begin a Letter;  3) How to go on with a Letter; 4) How to end a Letter; and 5) On registering Correspondence.

From Section 3 “How to go on with a Letter” contains nine rules for letter writing (highlights):

  • “1st Rule. Write legibly.
  • 2nd Rule. Don’t fill more than a page and a half with apologies for not having written sooner! The best subject, to begin with, is your friend’s last letter.
  • 3rd Rule. Don’t repeat yourself.
  • 4th Rule. When you have written a letter that you feel may possibly irritate your friend, however necessary you may have felt it to so express yourself, put it aside till the next day. Then read it over again, and fancy it addressed to yourself.
  • 5th Rule. If your friend makes a severe remark, either leave it unnoticed, or make your reply distinctly less severe: and if he makes a friendly remark, tending towards “making up” the little difference that has arisen between you, let your reply be distinctly more friendly.
  • 6th Rule. Don’t try to have the last word!
  • 7th Rule. If it should ever occur to you to write, jestingly, in dispraise of your friend, be sure you exaggerate enough to make the jesting obvious: a word spoken in jest, but taken as earnest, may lead to very serious consequences.
  • 8th Rule. When you say, in your letter, “I enclose cheque for £5,” or “I enclose John’s letter for you to see,” leave off writing for a moment—go and get the document referred to—and put it into the envelope. Otherwise, you are pretty certain to find it lying about, after the Post has gone!
  • 9th Rule. When you get to the end of a notesheet, and find you have more to say, take another piece of paper—a whole sheet, or a scrap, as the case may demand: but whatever you do, don’t cross! Remember the old proverb Cross-writing makes cross reading.”

The advice still applies and transcends whether we are using snail-mail, email, or Social Media for communicating.   The 8th Rule is so true to stop and go find what ever is being enclosed.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”  – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Here’s to our knowing where we want to go with improved letter writing along the way!
Anchors Aweigh,  






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