Hill’s Manual of Social and Business Forms


I was recently introduced to the wonders of a series of books published in the late 19th century: Hill’s Manual of Social and Business Forms, a self-proclaimed “guide to correct writing with approved methods in speaking and acting in the various relations of life.” Aside from their role as the Holy Grail of research for Victorian-era America, these books offer up a wealth of invaluable advice on the craft of writing: how to hold a pen, how to sit at a desk, how to punctuate, how and when to use profanity. These volumes are also chock full of amazing illustrations like the ones included here.

I’m afraid the advice on penmanship is lost on me. (When was the last time I wrote in longhand?) Likewise, the “proper” writing positions are of dubious ergonomic value. Mechanics aside, the advice on the craft of writing itself is as prescient as ever:

It is not sufficient, however, that the student merely study the theory of writing. To be proficient there must be actual practice. To conduct this exercise to advantage it is necessary to have the facilities for writing well.


Preach it. Likewise, the arguments for learning to write well are quite charming:

The consciousness to the lady or gentleman of being able to write a letter that shall win the admiration and praise of the friend to whom it is written is a source of unspeakable pleasure to the writer, and to possess this ability throughout our lifetime is to be proficient in an accomplishment which adds to our happiness, as does excellence in oratory, painting or music. Good writing is a fine art, and is to the eye what good language is to the ear.

The books themselves are gorgeous, and well worth picking up for one’s own library. I’m thinking of reproducing a series of the amazing illustrations for use as wall art.


In not entirely related news, I’m off to a writing retreat in Colorado! There are worse ways to spend a week than at a hot springs resort with a talented bunch of neo-pros. Updates as I can manage them. Until then, work on that writing posture!