Page images
PDF
EPUB

while he was living. Sometimes, indeed, before he issued a volume, he waited till the writer was buried, and thus, as Dr. Arbuthnot wittily said, “ added a new terror to death.” But Pope has himself been accused of selling by an agent his own letters to Curll; certainly they were carefully prepared for publication, and are epigrammatic, witty, reflective, wise, or merry, as the occasion demands. They are excellent in their way, but too artificial. The correspondence of Pope, when a mere boy, with old Wycherley, the playwright and man about town, whose verses he improved and “touched up,” shew how great a master he was at a very early age. The letters to Swift, Gay, Arbuthnot, St. John, Craggs, and others, shew how truly friendly the band of men of letters was, and prove how good and true not only John Gay (whom all loved) was, but also how fine in character were Addison and Swift. A curious and most charming collection by Swift deserves to be read, because it places the character of that very great man in a true light. When this “Jove in a thatched hut,” this most powerful man in England, in the 'cassock of a curate, was in London, writing for and advising the Ministry, he was also in correspondence with a young lady, whom he tenderly loved ; and his “little letters," as he called them, to Stella, tell of his hopes and fears, his doings and sayings, his love and his hate, during his stay in London. To her he opens all his heart; and in these letters we can see how tender that heart was.

Two other letter-writers, perfect adepts, ought not to be passed over; and they both belong to this period, or about it—they are Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, a manly woman, and Horace Walpole, afterwards Lord

WALPOLE.- CHESTERFIELD.

197

Orford, a sort of womanly man.

It is hard to say which is the better letter-writer. We believe that Lady Mary is. Certainly Walpole is the more gossiping, scandalous, light, and ill-natured; and certainly also Lady Mary, while possessing the weightier and more sensible style, retails matter of more permanent value. She went with her husband to Constantinople, whither he was sent as ambassador, and her letters describe the Turks as they were one hundred and fifty years ago with a liveliness and vigour that have seldom been equalled, and have never been surpassed. Walpole's letters, on the other hand, together with his Reminiscences,” consisting of letters addressed to his nieces, and his letters to Sir Horace Mann, relate to the Court, courtly people, and to the celebrities in statesmanship, literature, and art, of his time. They are written on a French model, are full of sharp epigrammatic sayings, and retail anecdote and scandal in profusion. They give us a picture of life and a picture of the Court from the point of view which an old man of the world, with a not very strong head, and a not very warm heart, would take; but they are so lively, and written in so easy a manner,

that we hardly ever tire of reading them.

Another book, which passes under the name of letters, belonging to this time, may here be noticed. is well worth reading, because of its worldly wisdom“Chesterfield's Letters to his Son.” These are essays, in the epistolary form, on men, manners, and thingson the

way

of life of a man of fashion and the world. The advice is given in a direct style, and is sometimes very wise and judicious, although it is based upon the selfish principle of going through life easily, and of

making the best of this world. Johnson, to whom the character of Lord Chesterfield was repugnant, said that they taught the “manners of a dancing-master, and the morals of a whore ;" still there are many very valuable hints to be found in them. Indeed, had the advice been given from a higher principle, it would have been all that could be wished. In reading his sophistical maxims, it is curious to find an old man of the world selfishly instructing his son to put in practice for his own ease the very duties which Christianity teaches us to undertake for the good of others.

There are many other celebrated collections of letters which may be read with advantage as an addition to history, to morals, or to biography. The letters of the Stuart family regard the history of the Young Pretender, those of the Duke of Marlborough illustrate times of that brilliant general and bad man; the letters and orders, or despatches, of General Washington, and those of Benjamin Franklin, treat of the causes of the revolution in the American colonies, and of the formation of that Republic, the rapid history of which is still growing. The leiters of Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington show what those two great men were; while letters of Burns, Byron, Moore, and the correspondence of statesmen and artists, reveal to us the inner life of their writers, who are scarcely to be estimated without some such guides. Indeed, we may conclude, with Lord Bacon, when speaking of letters, that “such as are written from wise men are of all the words of men (somewhat) the best : they are more natural than orations or public speeches, and more advised than conferences or private ones.” Lastly, and especially as regards the historical value of let

BACON ON LETTERS.

199

ters, we cannot urge more weighty words than his : "Letters of affairs from such as manage them, or are privy to them, are, of all others, the best instructions for history, and to a diligent reader the best histories themselves.” This remark we may adopt, even though we wrench it from the restricted application to State papers and the official letters of statesmen which its great author gave it.

[graphic][merged small][merged small]

HATEVER may be urged in favour of the

corruption of human nature, there is in every man not wholly depraved an everpresent hatred of vice and contempt of

folly; there is moreover a love of virtué, and an admiration of that which is noble and pure. These two parallel feelings—which exist even in the breasts of those who often fail to act according to their impulses-produce in poetry what is called satire. This is considered by some a wicked species of composition, but, if fitly exercised, it has goodness for its end, and is a salutary check upon sin and folly.

Looked at thus, satirical literature is not only an important, but an improving study. In addition to this, it has another aspect, which makes it interesting to him who would educate himself, and learn the manners of his fellow men. In picturing the vices of mankind; in pointing out the meannesses, the weaknesses, and the follies of the age, which the satirist is required to do, he is also obliged to picture the customs, actions, and modes of thought of those whom he censures.

« PreviousContinue »