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ON LETTERS AND LETTER-WRITERS. Some of the pleasantest moments in life are those which in. tervene between the arrival of the post and the opening a letter. It is the prettiest flurry—the happiest mixture of gratification and suspense. We love to toy with our own impatience, and prolong our uncertainty by the very means which we take to end it. To look at the date on the franked cover (a franked letter is the best because the longest)--to find that that tells us nothing, for, no disrespect to noble lords and honourable gentlemen, they are often sufficiently unintelligible; then to turn to the seal, and learn from the aristocratic coat of arms, the finely cut head, or the pretty womanly device, which of our correspondents is to charm us by kindness, or amuse us by wit; and then to cut carefully round the seal, or tear it hastily open, according as the writer is more or less dear. All this is delightful. The very adjuncts come in for a share in our love. Seals, for instance, are always interesting. Many of the antique heads have a grace and beauty quite inimitable; a letter sealed with such a one conveys a valuable present; and some of the moderns are almost equally lovely. Milton's fine face makes as fine a seal; so does Raphael's. I wonder whether any one has ever adopted the beautiful head of Cardinal Bentivoglio, with the name for a motto—" Ben' ti voglio;" the conceit seems too obvious to have escaped notice. Of the countless hieroglyphics which ladies use, that which pleases me best is the heart's-ease, a simple little flower, easy to imitate and difficult to mistake, whose rounded and shapely blossom contrasts well with the slender truncated leaves, and which is so fertile in pleasant associations as to require no motto. Heart'sease, pensée, viola tricolor, love in idleness-no flower is so rich in pretty names. Such a seal is fit for all ages, occasions, and conditions, partaking of the nature of the charming little plant, which flourishes alike in field or garden, and continues in bloom half the year round. Hand-writings are more interesting still, even those on the outside of letters. What infinite variety! what shades of difference! what family likenesses! what striking contrasts! The best and the worst that I ever saw were those of two of our greatest scholars, the late Professor Porson and Dr. P. The Professor's was clear, delicate, and beautiful; as fine, I suppose, as the Greek character for which he was so celebrated: the Doctor's is utterly indescribable. The specimen, with a sight of which I was favoured, was a letter to a friend, which did not, to my eyes at least, afford the slightest clue as to the language in which it was written: I rather think it was English; indeed there were two short scratches near the top, which being interpreted might mean Dear Sir; as to the rest of the epistle it might have been called Arabic with perfect impunity, nobody could have proved that the character belonged to any other tongue; I question whether the learned Doctor himself could have decyphered it two days after date. Lawyers generally write a good deal alike, so do young ladies under twenty. But what a contrast between the short, stiff, compact, upright characters of the one class, and the fine, free, flowing lines—the absolute copper-plate of the other: “ As light and slender as her jasmines grow.” The subjects on which they write are not more different.
Next to receiving a letter from a favourite correspondent is the pleasure of writing one-a pleasure which, in every sense of the word, does the heart good. How delightful it is to sit down and prattle to a dear friend just as carelessly as if we were seated in real talk, with our feet on the fender, by that glimmering fire-light when talk comes freest; sure that every half word will be understood, that every trifle will interest, and every story amuse; feeling, as it were, an echo in the mind which tells what will be the answer; seeing, as in a camera lucida, the reflection produced. How delightful it is to pour out all one's thoughts and fancies with such a certainty of indulgence and sympathy; and with what a glow of affection does one think of that indulgent and sympathizing correspondent. Even in addressing a common acquaintance there is a kindlier feeling, a courtesy which tends to endear and to familiarize; and to a friend-oh! one never loves any of one's friends half so well as when writing to them! Every act of kindness, every amiable quality rushes on the memory and the imagination, softened by the real absence, and heightened by the ideal presence. This constant sense of the presence of her correspondent is the greatest charm of that queen of letter-writers, Madame de Sevigné. We feel, throughout, that every thought, every word, is addressed to one individual, and to one only—the daughter, the idolized daughter, who filled that warm heart. The exquisitely humorous and entertaining letters of Madame de Sevigné's ardent admirer, Horace Walpole, want this attraction; but they have another which almost compensates for its absence-that of giving, quite unconsciously, the finest possible portrait of his own peculiarities. A small collection of Voltaire's letters is called “ Voltaire peint par lui-même;" this title would exactly suit the correspondence of Horace Walpole. There he stands with all his tastes, natural and artificial, his love of lilacs and of old china, of stained glass and of Charles the Second's beauties, his schemes for flattering court-ladies, and his old bachelor ways; his delicious vanity, his amusing stinginess, his goodhumour and his bad. We are as perfectly acquainted with Strawberry Hill and its master, from reading his letters, as if we 'had lived there with him all our lives, especially from the letters to Mr. Cole, where he lets himself out more completely than any where else, lays aside his civility with his court-dress, and puts on superciliousness with his night-gown and slippers.
One of the most entertaining collections of noble epistles is that of Lord Shaftesbury to Mr.
Molesworth. His Lordship had been advised to marry, and had fixed his attention on a cousin of his correspondent's, whom he employed as his plenipotentiary in the affair. Nothing can be more diverting than the way in which this grave philosopher, politician, and valetudinarian sets, about making the best of himself in the eyes of a fair lady-his profound gravity ; his awkward gallantry; his fits of shyness; the manner in which he contrives to convince every body that he is not in love, merely by dint of repeating that he is; and, above all, the high gusto with which he falls into politics or morality, the return to the natural and the true, from that which was with him purely factitious and artificial ;-all this makes Lord Shaftesbury's love-affair almost as diverting as that of Don Quixotte. The Dulcinea in question was a young heiress, and her father would have nothing to say to a lover, whose strong mind was probably as much a disadvantage as his infirm body. He himself seems sensible that the report of his “ bookishness," as he calls it, was very little in his favour, and endeavours to erase the impression, by declaring that he has left off study and taken to lady's games. To prove that his offer was disinterested, as soon as his first courtship was fairly over, he made his addresses to a lady of small fortune, by whom he was accepted. He was too lucky in getting any wife; he deserved to have died an old bachelor, if only for saying a short time after his wedding, by way of compliment to the state, that he was almost as comfortable after marriage as before, at which he seems tolerably astonished. The best thing in Lord Shaftesbury's letters is his theory of letter-writing. He says to Mr. Molesworth, “ It is really a solemn law which I impose on myself, in respect my near friends, never to write but with the freedom, hastiness, and incorrectness of common talk, that they may have all as it comes uppermost; and for this I can appeal to my late letters and all that I have writ you on my love-subject, for I am confident I never so much as read over one that I wrote you on that head.” If ever this theory was completely carried into practice it was by Cowper, in those letters which throw open so charmingly his most charming character, and which have all the peculiar merits of his poetry, with a tenderness and sweetness, a spirit of indulgence and of love to his kind, which his poetry has not. That love returns with interest upon its author. No one can read his happier letters without feeling almost a personal affection for the man who wrote them, whilst those in which his bright spirit was clouded excite a painful pity, an
overwhelming foreboding of his fate which strikes cold to the very heart. I know no tragedy, not even Lear, so pathetic as the real history of Cowper.
I believe there is no regular collection of Hume's letters.* They are found sometimes scattered in different books, vigorous, lively, and healthy as self-sown flowers. One of them in Dugald Stewart's Life of Adam Smith is singularly delightful. Mr. Hume wrote to inform his friend of the success of the Theory of Moral Sentiments; and the manner in which he dallies with the good news, the pretty trifling, the sportive tossing about, are as graceful and good-humoured as the frolics of a child at play with a cowslip-ball. One can conceive nothing more gratifying to literary ambition than to be told of such a triumph by such a correspondent, Gray's letters are very clever, very poetical, very picturesque, but they want the good-nature, the constitutional kindliness: respect and admire him we must, and we do; but to love a man dead or alive it is necessary that he should know how to love too. In this point of view Dr. Johnson's are admirable. Their style is, to be sure, any thing rather than epistolary, but they seem always written either to do good or to give pleasure, and the kindness and condescension of some of them—that in a large round hand to Mr. Boswell's little girl for example, can never be sufficiently praised.
Richardson's correspondence has been called disappointing. What did his readers expect? What did they desire? Surely more news of their old acquaintance; of Lovelace and Clarissa, of Clementina and Sir Charles. Richardson is himself so completely identified with his personages, that one has scarcely any other idea of him than as a sort of male grandmamma Shirley, nor of his flower-garden of young ladies, than as so many Lucy and Nancy Selby's, and Patty and Kitty Holles's in real life. We expect them to talk all Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison, varied with a little touch of Pamela. They do so, and we ought to like them the better for it. I don't suppose they would talk half so well on any other subject. Then there is the delightful flirtation with Lady Bradshaigh! The whole range of English comedy does not contain a more ridiculous situation than that of poor Richardson fretting and fuming in the Park, whilst his treacherous Incognita is surveying him snugly at her leisure. And his doleful complaint! and her coquettish apology! and the quarrel! and the reconciliation! Oh! there is nothing better in Congreve. Four letters from Mrs. Klopstock in this collection are indescribably sweet and touching; her character, her situation, her early death, have an interest much heightened by her pretty foreign idiom. I doubt whether any
Our Correspondent is mistaken. An interesting volume of JIumc's private Correspondence was published last year. Vol. II, No. 8.-1821.
Englishwoman could write English so beautifully—she would want the charming imperfection; and I am afraid, in spite of the gallant compliments so often lavished on female letterwriting, that we Englishwomen are as inferior to men in epistolary composition, as we confessedly are in most other things. England has no Madame de Sevigné. Strong feeling has sometimes struck out flashes of womanly tenderness, or of a bold and noble spirit; such as the affecting note of Lady Russell to her husband, or the manly and indignant letter of Anne Countess of Dorset, Pembroke, and Montgomery; but these are only flashes. We have no Madame de Sevigné. We have, to be sure, Lady M. W. Montagu, whose letters may vie with Pope and his whole galaxy for wit, and surpass them for ease; and her namesake, Mrs. Montague, almost as witty till she unluckily became wise; and Mrs. Carter, Miss Talbot, Mrs. Hamilton, and Miss Smith, all so remarkable for unaffectedness and sound good sense; and Mrs. Wolstonecraft with her dangerous eloquence; and Mrs. Grant of Laggan, with her vivid picturesqueness, and her fine feeling of the beautiful and the fine. These we have, and for these we are grateful: but we have no Madame de Sevigné.
GERMAN POPULAR AND TRADITIONARY LITERATURE.
THERE exists, at present, a very large and increasing class of readers, for whom the scattered fragments of olden time, as preserved in popular and traditionary tales, possess a powerful attraction. The taste for this species of literature has particularly manifested itself of late; the stories which had gone out of fashion during the prevalence of the prudery and artificial taste of the last century, began, at its close, to reassert every where their ancient empire over the mind. Our literati had fancied themselves, and persuaded the world to think itself, too wise for such amusements
- they considered themselves as come to man's estate, and determined, on a sudden, to put away childish things. The curious mementos of simple and primitive society, the precious glimmerings of historic light, which these invaluable relics have preserved, were rejected as beneath the dignity to which these philosophers aspired; and even children began to be fed with a stronger diet.
A better taste, say the patrons of these blossoms of nature and fancy, is now springing up. Our scholars busy themselves in tracing out the genealogy and mythological connexions of Tom Thumb and Jack the Giant Killer; and surely if the grave and learned embark in these speculations, we are justified in expecting to be able to welcome the æra when our children shall be allowed once more to regale themselves with that mild food which will enliven their imaginations, and tempt them on through the thorny paths of edu