Sure, it might seem like a crazy idea to recommend someone you don’t even know. And you might think that’s a relatively new etiquette problem unique to the modern social web.
You would be wrong.
In fact, this problem has been occurring for centuries. Fortunately, one of history’s greatest networkers, Benjamin Franklin, has some advice on how to solve it:
To a friend. Passy. [Date unknown.]
Permit me to mention to you that, in my opinion, the natural complaisance of this country often carries people too far in the article of recommendations. You give them with too much facility to persons of whose real characters you know nothing, and sometimes at the request of others of whom you know as little. Frequently, if a man has no useful talents, is good for nothing and burdensome to his relations, or is indiscreet, profligate, and extravagant, they are glad to get rid of him by sending him to the other end of the world; and for that purpose scruple not to recommend him to those they wish should recommend him to others, as "un bon sujet, plein de mérite," &c. &c. In consequence of my crediting such recommendations, my own are out of credit, and I cannot advise anybody to have the least dependence on them. If, after knowing this, you persist in desiring my recommendation for this person, who is known neither to me nor to you, I will give it, though, as I said before, I ought to refuse it.
These applications are my perpetual torment.
You can have no conception how I am harassed. All my friends are sought out and teazed to teaze me. Great officers of all ranks, in all departments; ladies, great and small, besides professed solicitors, worry me from morning to night. The noise of every coach now that enters my court terrifies me. I am afraid to accept an invitation to dine abroad, being almost sure of meeting with some officer or officer’s friend, who, as soon as I am put in good humor by a glass or two of champaigne, begins his attack upon me. Luckily I do not often in my sleep dream of these vexatious situations, or I should be afraid of what are now my only hours of comfort. If, therefore, you have the least remaining kindness for me, if you would not help to drive me out of France, for God’s sake, my dear friend, let this your twenty-third application be your last.
"Model of a Letter of Recommendation of a person you are unacquainted with."
Paris, 2 April, 1777.
"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 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 knowns no harm, has a right to; and I request you will do him all the good offices, and show him all the favor, that, on further acquaintance, you shall find him to deserve. I have the honor to be, &c."