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EPISTOLARY COMPOSITION, ESSAYS, ETC., ETC.
110. Letters.-VERY few are the persons who do not more or less frequently attempt to express their thoughts and feelings to others by writing letters. It is always regarded as a direct proof of ignorance when an epistle violates the rules of grammar, or is glaringly inconsistent with the primary principles of rhetoric.
A letter should, of course, be properly dated, addressed, signed, and superscribed, and the language should be correct. Perspicuity is essential, for ambiguity is vexatious to the recipient, and unpardonable in the writer. No person should presume to write a letter who has not learned to write his name and other words so that other persons can read them.
111. Familiar Letters.-Letters of friendship may, of course, be written in a careless, confidential style, partaking much of the character of the conversation common between the parties; but every scholar should regard it as unbecoming to write what, so far as the form of the composition is concerned, he would be unwilling to see printed for the public eye.
112. Letters for the Public.-Letters are sometimes written for the public, and made the vehicle of careful, methodical thought. Such letters, though pre
STYLE OF LETTERS.
serving the form of a personal address, and often interspersed with merely personal matters, are much like essays, and may be written in the most elevated and labored style. Such are many of the letters of John Foster. Many biographies abound in the letters of the persons whose characters are described. The let ters of George Washington are written in a noble classical style, almost invariably correct in expression, and always dignified and perspicuous, though often written in great haste.
Correspondents of scientific and other societies often embody their views upon some subject in the form of a letter designed to be read to the whole society, or printed in their transactions. Such writings, though carefully preserving the form of letters in the address and signature, may be written in the style of didactic writings, and yet advantage may be taken of the letter form to express more personal feeling than would be proper in an essay.
Correspondents of newspapers often employ the form of letter-writing in this way. The bulletins of military and naval officers are generally in the form of letters. Happy is the commander who, in addition to efficiency and success, can command a brief and vigorous style. Napoleon was as successful with the pen as with the sword. The reports of Washington were such as might have been expected from his dignified, noble character.
113. Specimen Letter from Writings of Washington.
The following private letter from Washington to Franklin may not be out of place as a specimen. Dr.
Franklin, in the 84th year of his age, wrote a letter to President Washington, in which he spoke of his own excruciating bodily pain, but congratulated the President on the success of his administration, and averred that in whatever state he might be in a future life, he should retain esteem and affection for him, to which Washington thus replied:
"New York, 23 September, 1789. "DEAR SIR,-The affectionate congratulations on the recovery of my health, and the warm expressions of personal friendship which were contained in your letter of the 16th instant, claim my gratitude. And the consideration that it was written when you were afflicted with a painful malady, greatly increases my obligation for it.
"Would to God, my dear sir, that I could congratulate you upcn the removal of that excruciating pain under which you labor, and that your existence might close with as much ease to yourself, as its continuance has been beneficial to our country and useful to mankind; or if the united wishes of a free people, joined with the earnest prayers of every friend to science and humanity, could relieve the body from pains or infirmities, that you could claim an exemption on this score. But this can not be, and you have within yourself the only resource to which we can confidently apply for relief, a philosophic mind.
"If to be venerated for benevolence, if to be admired for talents, if to be esteemed for patriotism, if to be beloved for philanthropy, can gratify the human mind, you must have the pleasing consolation to know that you have not lived in vain. And I flatter myself that it will not be ranked among the least grateful occurrences of your life to be assured, that, so long as I retain my memory, you will be recollected with respect, veneration, and affection by
"Your sincere friend,
ESSAYS, TREATISES, DISSERTATIONS, REVIEWS.
Didactic productions not designed to be pronounced by their authors, but written for the press, claim attention. Under this head must be classed Essays, Tracts, Dissertations, and kindred productions, variously styled views, thoughts, etc.
CHARACTER OF ESSAYS.
114. Essays.-An Essay is a production attempting to present any subject whatever to the reader. Short productions, like many articles in newspapers, and like the papers in Addison's "Spectator," the "Atlantic Monthly," and similar periodicals, are essays. Sometimes the name is given to a long and labored writing. Thus Locke modestly styled his immortal work an "Essay on the Human Understanding," though in fact it is a treatise.
As essays vary in length, subject, and pretension, few general rules on their style can be given. Some of the best specimens of English writing are in this form. It was indeed by this kind of writing that a taste for reading was first cultivated among the people, and some of the earliest essays, such as those found in the "Spectator," "Rambler," etc., are justly ranked among the English classics. In them largely our language was reduced to grammatical correctness and rhetorical force; and though they are often now over-estimated, and perhaps surpassed, yet it should not be forgotten that many of the ablest productions are in this form. Editorials in our best periodicals are often able essays.
An essay should generally have one leading subject, one prominent thought or fact to state, or error to controvert, or end to accomplish. The style should correspond with its purpose, and may vary from the simple and colloquial to the most condensed, abstruse, and profound. It should not be so direct as in the address, and usually the third person should be employed in preference to the first to denote the author; or if
the first person is preferred, the plural number is pref erable to the singular. In this way the character of impersonality is preserved in the author.
115. Reviews.-Reviews are a kind of essays that have sprung up in modern times. This species of writing seems to have grown out of a desire to exercise a kind of literary and moral censorship over the press, by which to give approval and currency to truly valuable works, and thus to introduce them to public favor, and to condemn to oblivion the unworthy. Also they aim often to give an abstract of the most valuable thoughts of the various works published, and to present other opinions upon the same subjects. This censorship has often exerted a great power. Some valuable works have been for a long time doomed to neglect, and inferior works puffed into undeserved notoriety by reviews. The young poet Keats was so affected by the condemnation of his writings by the "Quarterly Review" that it is said his death was hastened, while on the other hand Byron, when receiving like treatment, retorted so violently in his "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers," as to prove that real merit can rise above inconsiderate condemnation and undeserved ridicule.
Of late, as the public have become more intelligent, and the number of independent readers has increased, many a work condemned by reviews has achieved great popularity, and many works highly commended have soon sunk to merited oblivion. Still much of the best writing in the language is in the form of reviews.