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FALVEY MEMORIAL LIBRARY
FALVEY MEMORIAL LIBRARY
Chambers's London Journal
Chambers's London Journal of History, Literature, Poetry, Biography, and Adventure, v. 2, no. 67, Se...
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Chambers's London Journal of History, Literature, Poetry, Biography, and Adventure, v. 2, no. 67, September 3, 1842.
Blanchard, Edward Litt Leman.
11 October 2015
London: W. Strange ... W. Clements ... and G. Berger
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i t l l “ BY EDUCATION MEN BECOME EASY ‘:0 LEAD, BUT DIFFICULT To nnivn-iaasr To GOVERN, BUT IMPOSSIBLE ro I-:NsLAVE.”-Lonn BBOUGEAM. t Nuiiorin 67; SATURDAY, (SEPTEMBER 3, isizi. PRICE THREE HALFPENCE. Letters and Letter-writing. XY TIIK lZDITl?ll- TIJERE is, perhaps, no other possible event that would create so great a revolution in the world of letters as Lhe cessation of the post. It would he ii sudden stag- nation of the universal mind, a sevz-ring of the affections and a congelation of thought. Life in such circum- stances would be worse than a blank-it would be death to the soul, but death without its forgetfulnoss. Letters are always interesting, and looking back through the vista ofantiquity at the epistolary correspondence of the ancients, we purpose throwing together a few recollec- tions, arising from some desultory reading on the sub- ject, that may, perhaps, he not deemed unworthy the attention of the reader. The earliest examples of letter-writing are. we be- lieve, those of Plato, which are chiefly remarkable for solidity ofjudgmeiit, and for a sublime :tlllLl luxuriant eloquence; whilst those of Isociates are more fasci- nating from the flowers of rhetoric with which he orna- ments them. Cicero wrote letters in a more‘elegant and flowing style than perhaps any writer before or since, though there is not, however, sullicient liveliuess to he found in any of them, to recommend them as ob- jccts of imitation. The request of Cicero to Lucius Lnceius, to ti-anniit to posterity his life and flame, is con- taint-,d in one ofthe most curious letters the world has seen. llis vanity, the subtlety of the inducements with which he craves posthumous celebrity, and the gross- ness of his tlattery, give a very unfavourable impres- sion of his heart. Ilis letters to Viirro, to Trebatius, to Tiro, and to Titius, are amongst the firmcst supporters of his imperishnble fame. The flattery, amounting to adulation, which degrades the character of Cicero to Matias, is most repiilsive, yet Jlatius receives it wiLh grua: coinplaccn ,. Proudur, tlierefore, may we be of our countryman, Archbishop llerring, ii hen, .10 a ful- some panwgyrist, he replies, “ If I did not know you to be an honest man upon long expericnce,lshou1d takeyou for a designing fool. I return the enclosed without any tbzervations upon it, but that the compliment you can- vcy comes from a man who it is very plain does not l.iion- rue.” Excess of praise has generally as little foundation as excess ofcaluiuny. Seneca was a dog- rnatist in his correspondence, and when he attempted gziiety it hccame him not; his sole endeavours to enliven was by rendering his sentences epigrammatic. The rise of modern epistolary ‘correspondence took place, as might be expected, at an parlior period in FTHDCL‘ than with us; yet, though a style of writing in which, from their character and the ganins of their l:ingiiage, it might have been supposed that the French would have excelled, their collection is inauitely infe- rior to that which we possess. There are but two per- sons of an early date who produced fine specimens, lluhesque and Casaulian. Some authors compare the latter to Grotius and Scaliger. The lctters of Rabelais ETC ‘lit’. but contain much historical information. Of Y0“:-’<1f'S cpistles much the same may he said. The epi. lcsof Cardinal Mazariu are considered as having Eoutriliiited more to his glory than did his political ser- iiccs; and the Abbe de la Cbanihrc says of him. um unless you read his letters you could not suppose him so liorest a man. The style of Descartes is admired and thought superior to that of Balzac, which is still, l:owever, not without its npplaudcrs. The letters of llubcrt Lanquet are political and historical, and afford No. 35.--Vol. ll. much intelligence of the progress of the sciences. Those of Henry Dupuy contain fine sentiments on iiiaii- nors and on virtue. I’atiii’s are simple and lively, hut full of temerity and iiiipious reilection. Balzac took iuhnite pains to excel in the epistolary art, but he is by far too stiff and fund of hyperbole. As he has in this country been recommended forperusal, the reader should be apprised that the French have not much esteem for his writings. Voitura is more natural though not al- ways so correct; even Fontenelle, however excellent as his other works are in this particular, does not excel him in invention and general liveliness of fancy. The correspondence of the Count de Bussy and his friends furnishes, perhaps, one of the most entertaining series of papers extant. Amongst the modern French letter- irriters Madame de Sevigne appears conspicuous. llcr epistles are spirited and sometimes Eippant, but they evince good sense and keen observation. La llarpo manifests that crying sin vanity, and Baron de Grimm, though amusing, is unquestionably course. The fami- liar letters of Racine are such as do honour to his head and heart. Madame de Maintenoa is, in her letters, an agreeable companion, from her refinement and elevated style, but she betrays the artificial complexion of her mind, when she says of the king, “ I always send him from me sighing, but never plunge him into despair." Of late years France has produced nothing worth re- marking in the world ofepistles. The earliest English correspondence, on record. is contained in the l-‘enn collection, so called from having been preserved by a family ofthat name. These letters are truly curious from their relation ofthe latter events of the court and politics of Henry VI., and they proceed through the reign of Edward‘ IV. With regard to style nothing can exceed their tediousness, but the interest they excite, from the intimacy we gain with the principal characters of those bustling and sanguinary Limes, renders the manner in ivhich we obtain it very unimportant. The letters from Anna Boleyne in prison to her murderer, Ilenry VllI., are dignified and deeply atfecting, bearing the stamp of perfect innocence. But. the first English letter which is divested of the still‘ and circumlocutory style adopted by our ancestors, is a very concise, indignant, and pathetic remonstrance from the Earl of Essex 10 Elizabeth. Another proof that an elegant mind will shake off the trammels of barbarous custom is his cpistle to Lord Egerton. Sir Walter Raleigh's letter to Prince llenry is able and spirited. The letters of Bacon, especially those to James I., are as ill C0mpDSr"il as they are servile; one idea only rescues his last letter from the charge of mediocrity. "Tliere is, as I conceive, a kind oflrntcrnity bclwecn great men that are and those that hare been, such living but the several tenses of the same verb." Lord Strai- ford’s advice to his nephew is highly useful, and shoirs ibo admirable qualities of his heart and understanding. There is internal evidence of his innocence in his letter from the Tower, although he makes no attempt to defend his conduct. The letters of Charles I. are cramped and uncouth. That which displays the spirit and loyalty of Lord Derby in refusing to deliver up the Isle of Man to Cromwell's general, is still proudly cited as glorious to our country. But the letter of that rare clrargcger am Countess of Dorset, Pembroke, nnd Montgomery, contains as much matter in two lines as in half-a-dozen letters of her cotemporaries, and from the indomitable spirit evinced is well worth quoting. The insolent minister of an ungrateful court attempted I to compel her to relinquish one of her boroughs. This was her reply :-“ I have been bullied by an usurper; I have been neglected by a court; but I will not be The Cromwellian letters are worthless; those of Boyle Philip Sydney's almost unintelligible. “ ' “ repetitions, r “ with ‘ are so numerous, that it appeared as if been engineers, and had exercised their skill to en- cullises, and every defence which might render it im- pregnable. The next letters of note are those of Lady Russell and Archbishop Tillotson ; their perusal cannot fail to delight, from their true humility and unaffected piety. The correspondence of Pope, Swift, Arbuthnot, and their friends, form an admirable collection; but the celebrity of the writers is a reason why we should be on our guard against their faults. Pope is too formal, studied and artificial; and however interesting his let- ters may be, they cannot be singled out for imitation. Those of Swift, on the contrary, are full of ease, nature, and good sense; and those of Arhuthnot, though his celebrity was less, are not infnrriot to niiy in the collec- tion. The epistles of Lord Bolingbroke are distin- guished by the some forcible energy which characterise his political and philosophical Wl'I[il1gS,bllI there is little simplicity. Gay wrote in a lively strain, but his notes mean nothing; and Shenstone has but one good line in all his letters, and that is where he wishes to see lllrs. 's handwriting, in order to discover her character. Yoriclr is just the same Yoriclr in writing his familiar letters as he is in his celebrated journey, fascinating, joyous, grievous, eccentric, and with the same strong tincture of ufectation. Sterne always wrote as if he were speaking, and invariably spoke as if he were writing. The letters of Lord ClI(‘5i.DTflCIkl to his son, are de- Bvrvedly celebratedas species of composition, but the licentious foppery intermingled with them, will ever act as n pernicious set-off to their value in other respects. The letters of Dr. Johnson, though not free from his usual turgidity, are full of passages pathetic and s&”ect- ing, for few knew better than he how to more the feelings ofothers. Some of his letters to Druniinond, Daretti, and Boswell, are very beautiful, and somewhat in the style of the ancients. Sir William Jones, Beattie, Gibbon, and Cowper, have left us many fine letters; those of the latter, though enveloped in general gloom, have often some lively sallies intermixed. Richardson's letters are eccentric without being entertaining, and those of Lady Wortley Montagiie ure entertaining, without being eccentric. Horace Walpole tried to surpass her and failed ; as forthc usual run ofhis letters they might as well have remained in the same obscurity as they were buried in during the last century. The letters of‘f Junius,” being rather more of a political than a literary nature, we leave to the care of Sir Philip Francis‘: executors. And here for the present concludes our hasty glance at the most celebrated letters of the past age, which we have made rather "ox the purpose of reviving recollections than for atloidiag a detailed view. Of letter-writing in general, we shall speak further at a future time. dictated to by a subject. Your man shan't stand." lnhoared ; Sir William Temple’: disappointing; and Sir About this period terminated the old English tone of letter-writing, and little in it can be commended. Lost in a labyrinth of words, the good people for two hundred years seemed to write in order only to confuse, in r all writers had compass their meaning with bastions, ravines, port-