First Aid to the Illiterate

IT was once remarked of Lord Northcliffe’s inauguration of the tabloid press that, whereas he had formerly published newspapers for those who could not think, he had now begun to publish them for those who could not read. Attention deserves to be called to a similar service now being performed in our own land. This amounts to nothing less than making the art of correspondence possible for those who cannot write.

I refer, of course, to the institution known as the greeting card. Its development is rapidly reaching the point where one no longer need take pen in hand, whether the message to be sent be one of congratulation, condolence, gratitude, or what not. Almost every conceivable contingency is covered by the appropriate card. Have you been on a week-end visit, and do you desire to express the pleasure that you feel sure your visit was intended to give you? Nothing easier. No need of head-scratching and searching for something fresh among the well-worn bread-and-butter formulæ. Just ask your stationer. He will furnish you with something like this: —

To my Kind Hostess

Wherever I may chance to roam,
There’s one place where I feel at home.
That is n’t hard to guess; now, is it?
— My thanks for a most lovely visit.

Now all that remains is (1) to have a public stenographer typewrite your signature, or (2) to make your mark in the presence of two witnesses — and the thing is done.

The occasion just alluded to is, of course, comparatively simple and uncomplicated. The ingenuity of the greeting-card manufacturers actually extends far beyond this. A not very diligent search will reveal such niceties as these: ‘To my Daughter-in-Law on her Twenty-Seventh Birthday,’ or ‘To my Neighbor, with Congratulations on the Successful Removal of his Tonsils — With (or Without) Ether,’ or ‘To my Great-Niece on her Graduation from Finishing School with Honors (or, if you prefer, — as you probably will, — Honours) in French and Dietetics.’ However, much as has been accomplished already, something still remains to be done before the greeting card shall have completely superseded the handwritten or typewritten letter.

Why, for example, should it not be used in the business as well as the social world? Might not a clerk, instead of essaying the difficult task orally, send the following to his employer?

To my Honored Employer

I wonder if it really pays
To work so long without a raise,
While you make money like a mint.
— Will you not take this gentle hint?

And would it not rejoice the heart of the employer to turn to his greeting-card file and dispatch this reply?

To a Former Employee

To do this makes us very sad,
But times are hard, and business bad.
Your services we’ll really miss —
Two weeks’ wages go with this.

Another suggestion, for business use, is that of a series of cards for collecting bad debts. After the bill has remained unpaid for some little time, the series might begin thus: —

To a Valued Customer

Although we hate to bother you,
May we suggest this bill is due?
It has been due, in fact, since May.
We shall be grateful if you’ll pay.

The rest of the series may be left to the imagination. Dr. Johnson once remarked of bill collectors, ‘They grow daily more importunate and clamorous, and raise their voices in time from mournful murmurs to raging vociferations.’ The greeting card is admirably adapted to keep pace with these nuances of tone.

A brave start, by the way, has been made in the use of greeting cards for still another purpose — a message such as many people feel impelled to send to public personages. Thus, Colonel and Mrs. Lindbergh recently received thousands of copies of one and the same greeting card, thoughtfully prepared in advance, to congratulate them on the birth of their son. We Americans, it has been noted, are more and more giving up any foolish notion of allowing a public person to have any private life. Apart from this, there are endless possibilities of addressing conspicuous figures in our national life in terms of congratulation or otherwise, without the bother of actually composing those terms. For instance: ‘To President Hoover, on Signing the Tariff Bill.’ (An excellent illustration for this, incidentally, would be the President, as visualized in the Times editorial, signing the bill with one hand while holding his nose with the other.) Or there is this suggestion: ‘To Mr. Grundy, on his Retirement from the Senate.’ Finally, from an enthusiastic minority looking forward to an event that now seems impossibly distant: ‘To Amos ’n’ Andy, on their Last Appearance on the Air.’