Blessed are those who have a capacious purpose-built library in the west wing, to which one retires in the late afternoon to select an edifying tome, sink into a sumptuous rolled-arm velour armchair contiguous to a broad window's expansive views, and indulgently ruminate as the late sun lengthens shadows on the fountain splashing in the rose gardens outside.

Unfortunately I'm not one of those, and when there's no room for more bookcases in the house, some culling is necessary to accommodate new acquisitions. This is a highly fraught and emotionally draining business, requiring poring through every single tome to assess its worth relative to its fellows — akin to having a flock of ex-pet lambs, then ruefully deciding which to despatch to the works when capacity has been exceeded.

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However, some good may come from the exercise, especially if you happen to turn up a favourite that has languished unnoticed for a while.


One such gem I unearthed is the Complete Letter-Writer for Ladies and Gentlemen, 1909 edition, price one shilling, containing "practical information on the subject of correspondence, and specimen letters that may be adapted to meet almost any case."

The subtitle contains the caveat "to meet almost any case", but the manual — No. 3 in Ward Lock & Co, Ltd's comprehensive series of "Useful Books" — does its darnedest to cover every possible situation.

Topics are listed in broad categories such as "Social Invitations, informal and formal, with Replies", "Brief notes in complimentary form", "Letters Relating to Betrothal and Marriage"' and such like, with respective ladies' and gentlemen's sections.

For example, in the Ladies' section, specimen letter No. 100 is "From a Lady writing to another about a Nursery Governess", while No. 78 is "To the Sanitary Inspector, complaining of Defective Drains", and No. 76 is "To a Doctor who is a Stranger". All critical areas of pragmatic daily feminine affairs.

Meanwhile, in the Gentlemen's section, specimen No. 179 is "From a Gentleman who has seen a Lady in Public to her Mother", No. 103 addresses "To a Landlord from a Tenant, complaining of Damage by a Fall of Ceiling', while No. 109 is for "Introducing the Captain of a Ship". Again, it pays to be prepared for such left-field situations.

Yet perhaps Ward Lock & Co's zeal to cover every contingency is no better exemplified than with specimen No. 150 in the Ladies' section: "Answer to a Missionary's Proposal Affirmatively". This hitherto had no doubt been a sorely neglected specialist correspondence.

The supplicated, fair-sexed correspondent dealing with this eventuality is given such useful sample lines as: "You ask me if I will accompany you to Africa, and share the trials of a missionary's life there, and I answer that I will, believing it to be my duty to join in so noble an undertaking as the wife of one whom I esteem." This template undoubtedly empowered countless legions of young women to realise their life ambitions, complete with the invocation that perhaps "the Almighty will strengthen both my heart and my hands, and enable me to be useful as your helpmeet in your distant home."

Obviously times change, and, if Ward Lock & Co had a contemporary self-help written communication guide, it would no doubt embrace the digital context.

For example, a new improved "Useful Series" edition may include a sample composition for a "Cone-head President of the United States of America Wishing to Twitter on the Topic of Preferences for Future Immigrants ".

It would probably read something along the lines of: "Only bull-sh**ters like Bannon or Hag-Face Hillary would let in low-life voodoo banana-pickers instead of rich Danish developers or hot Swedish TV hostesses with happy t**s."

Obviously there's a market niche for missionary work to help guide the modern-media correspondent. And, as the above amply demonstrates, how fruitful communication may be achieved without sacrificing the social niceties .