[Letter-writing manual - Gellert, Christian Fürchtegott]. Briefe, und Abhandlung vom guten Geschmacke in Briefen.

Probably Germany, ca. 1810.

8vo (125 x 187 mm). German manuscript in brown ink on paper. (1 blank leaf), title-leaf (lower two-thirds repaired), 210 (but: 208) numbered pp. (omitting pp. 124-125), 3 final blank pp. Very attractive contemporary half calf with red and green spine label. Coloured paper pastedowns. Silk ribbon.


Very pretty and meticulously penned, privately compiled guide to the art of letter writing, partly based on C. F. Gellert's classic "Briefe, nebst einer praktischen Abhandlung von dem guten Geschmacke in Briefen" (first published in 1751), excerpted and paraphrased by the scribe and supplied with his extensive additional examples and discussions.

The manuscript begins with a restatement of Gellert's famous definition of a letter: "The first thing we think of regarding a letter is this, that it takes the place of a conversation. Yet it is not a conversation proper". The text tends to follow the printed book, paraphrasing, abridging, expanding, or quoting verbatim; but on p. 86 begins a chapter "On the external arrangement of letters" not found in Gellert, treating the formal constitution of a letter: the various types of paper, the positioning of salutation and closing on the page, improper salutations, use of envelopes, seals and sealing wax, etc. The examples provided here are not found in Gellert, either, and would appear to be the compiler's own invention: "To a Lady Friend" (signed "Forget-Me-Not"), "A Son's Letter to his Father", "A Brother's Answer to his Sister who has Written that They Have Won the Lottery Together" ("Me and you, winners in the lottery? And ten ducats at that? Well shiver my timbers! What lovely medicine for a foot-sore student"), "A Lady's Congratulations on the Birth of a Child", "Letter of Rejection" ("I still love freedom too dearly, am yet too young"), "To the priest L. (from Carlsbad)": "I have enjoyed the honour of speaking with our German Voltaire, the privy counsellor Goethe. He much favours the French nation, and especially Napoleon. How else could it be, as Napoleon himself invited him to sup with him in Weimar [...] To my pleasure, a travelling musician played several songs by Schiller on his guitar" (p. 136f.), "Thanks for Kind Sentiments", "Thanks for the Offer of Friendship", "To a Noble Friend for his Confidence", "A Young Lady Thanking her Aunt for a Gift", etc.

Later, the writer again draws from Gellert's printed work, inserting the final letter from the book: "To Baron Gr., From the Country", before adding a letter of congratulation, an account of travel adventures, a reminder "To a Late Payer", a letter demanding reimbursement for a loan to a nobleman, as well as an "Appendix" discussing the importance of legible handwriting and providing recipes for "good and well-flowing ink", how to cut quills, and how to make a leather writing case.

Prettily bound, with insignificant staining to covers. The green spine label bears the initials "A.B.", possibly denoting the unidentified compiler. Later autograph ownership of the Czech painter Josef Ferdinand Hettes (1864-1927) to flyleaf. Lower two-thirds of the title-page removed and rebacked, otherwise a clean, well-preserved and often amusing document of German epistolary culture in the late 18th and early 19th century.