When many think of introduction letters, they think of a time when visiting cards and powdered wigs were en vogue. And they are right. In the 18th and 19th centuries, letters of introduction were an important and necessary way of moving through society, forming business partnerships, and participating in politics.
“When Benjamin Franklin served as Ambassador to France (1776–1785) he was besieged by those traveling to America who desired letters of introduction. With his inimitable sense of style and humor, Ambassador Franklin drafted the following letter:
The bearer of this, who is going to America, presses me to give him a letter of recommendation, though I know nothing of him, not even his name. This may seem extraordinary, but I assure you that it is not uncommon here. Sometimes, indeed, one unknown person brings another, equally unknown, to recommend him; and sometimes they recommend one another. As to this gentleman, I must refer you to himself for his character and merits, with which he is certainly better acquainted than I can possibly be. I recommend him, however, to those civilities which every stranger of whom one knows no harm has a right to; and I request you will do him all good offices.
“In general, a person would not interact socially with others unless they had been properly introduced, whether in person or by letter. A person of lower social status would request a patron of higher social status to write a letter of introduction to a third party, also of higher social status than the first person, but lower than the second person. It was important to observe the niceties of etiquette in requesting, writing and presenting such letters.” (wikipedia.org)
Introduction letters are indeed of the past, but they are also of the present. Instead of being written with quill pens dipped in inkwells, today they are written on a keyboard and sent via email, postal mail, cell phone, or fax. They are letters of recommendation. They are also text messages, a quick and informal way for contemporaries to introduce each other and even arrange blind dates.
Whether in the past or the present, letters of introduction should always be approached with responsibility. When you write these letters you verbally certify the respectability of the person you are introducing. If in any way this person misbehaves, you will assume part of the blame.
When you write letters of introduction you are also asking the person you are addressing to assume responsibility of a stranger – to share his or her resources and time. Make no mistake, it is a big favor you ask. So, you must do so with care and respect.
Before writing a letter of introduction, ask yourself:
- Does the person you are trying to introduce fit the moral, economical, and social standards of your acquaintance?
- Does the person you want to introduce have interests and goals in common with your acquaintance?
- Will it be worth your acquaintances time and money to meet this person?
When asking yourself these questions, be honest.
Be honest about the person’s character, personality, and standing. Be honest about your acquaintance’s personality, character, standing, and tolerances. And be honest about yourself – why are you interested in introducing them.
If after you question yourself, you find this stranger is in any way unsuitable, avoid introducing them. If the opposite, by all means, write that introduction letter.