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into the chapel, you find its altars, like those of the ancients, continually smoking, but it is with the steams of the adjoining kitchen.
And the description of every part of the house is given in the same style, and is crowned with the portrait of an old steward, who is, in fact, the very counterpart of an old steward painted by Addison, and we might fancy we had the Spectator in our hands as we read that
He entertained us as we passed from room to room with several relations of the family, but his observations were particularly curious when we came to the cellar; be informed us where stood the triple row of butts of sack, and where were ranged the bottles of Tent for toasts in a morning; then, stepping to a corner, he tugged out the tattered fragments of an unframed picture. "This," says he, with tears, "was poor Sir Thomas, once master of all this drink."
with the fruits of his painstaking vigilance, and are replete with passages which, even detached from their context, and brought forward as unconnected quotations, must be allowed to contain much that is graceful and charming.
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu has left behind her a collection of letters too remarkable for excellences of the most varied kind to allow us to pass her over in silence. Yet many of her letters have so unstudied and unpremeditated an air, and seem to shine, not from the care that has been bestowed upon them, but because they have emanated from a bright and humorous mind, that it may seem unnatural to treat her as belonging to and representing an epoch when letter-writing was an art. A closer examination of her correspondence will, however, considerably modify the impression which a first perusal conveys; The writer is almost violent in her denunciations of the smooth and florid style of Pope and Bolingbroke; but she very carefully cultivates the style to which she herself gives the preference, and even hints that she moulds it on that of Addison. In her letters to her daughter, the Countess of Bute, she speaks much more freely of herself, and of her own opinions and tastes, than in the letters she addressed to her friends; and when she is writing to her daughter, and the subject of the letter is, as is very often the case, the education of her grand-daughters, she honestly discloses the pains she had herself taken to gain the pen of a ready writer.
It is often the surest method of estimating taste, to notice antipathies, especially where we find a strong judgment pro
When Pope descended to the regions of ordinary letter-writing, and addressed his brother wits in the terms of familiar intercourse, he naturally adopted a style much more simple and unaffected, and one that, in our opinion, is a far better specimen of his skill. Still, the habit and love of seeming elegant, polished, and refined, could not forsake him; and although he felt himself at ease and unconstrained, yet he had his literary reputation to maintain among those who were his most discerning and critical admiIf we compare Swift's letters with his, we cannot but be struck with the differences of thought, manners, and mode of living they betray. Swift writes in a vigorous, manly, and rather caustic style, while Pope cannot feel quite comfortable without one or two fine sentences at the beginning-nounced against something which, beforeband, we should have thought would be as probably liked as disliked. After her quarrel with Pope, Lady Mary was most severe in her criticisms on the wits. She was affronted at their arrogance, and refused to accede to the standard of merit they upheld. Well-turned periods," she says, or smooth lines, are not the perfection of either prose or verse; they may serve to adorn, but can never stand in the place of good sense." And laughing at the way in which Pope and his friends played into each other's hands, she remarks that the confederacy of Bolingbroke with Swift and Pope puts her in mind of that of Bessus and his swordsmen in the King and no King, who endeavored to support themselves by giving certificates of each other's merit
a few sentences of telling description, and a due proportion of general remarks, mildly hinting the depravity of the world, and illustrating the calm and serene philosophy of the writer himself. The letters of Pope and Swift were published in their lifetime, certainly against the inclination of Swift, but perhaps not contrary to the real wishes of Pope. Not that Pope consciously wrote for posterity and the public. He would have taken as much pains to maintain what he thought his proper position in the eyes of Swift, as to be studied a hundred years after as a model letter-writer. But he was not a man ever really to dislike publicity, where he could be as sure that the public would not find him off his guard as in his letters to his distinguished friends. These letters abound
VOL. XXXIV.-NO. II.
"Pope," she continues, "has triumphantly | between those most intimately connected. declared that they may do and say what- There was a want of force in the artless com. ever silly things they please, they will still munications of the French lady, and she felt be the greatest geniuses nature ever exhib- a desire for something of the vigor and ited." There was undoubtedly something point that characterized her own mode of of pique in her sentiments on the subject, writing. and she was a good hater; and, hating the wits for Pope's sake, loved to sting them when she could. There was also a feeling of apprehension, not unnatural to one born within an exclusive circle, lest the barrier of that circle should give way if the intrusion of literary eminence were permitted. "It is pleasant," she tells her daughter, "to consider that, had it not been for the goodnature of those very mortals they contemn, these two superior beings (Pope and Swift) were entitled by their birth and hereditary fortune to be only a couple of link-boys.' But we must also add that, though she derived more than she was pleased to own from the men she thus sneered at, she was perfectly right in protesting against the enervating influence of Pope and Bolingbroke upon those who used their style as a means, not of conveying thought, but of concealing the absence of it. "Smooth lines," she protests, in indignation at the court paid by Lord Orrery to Pope's circle, "have as much influence over some people as the authority of the Church in those countries where it cannot only excuse, but sanctify any absurdity or villany whatever."
We may gather, then, that it was Lady Mary's aim to escape, in her letters, equally from all that was conventional and artificial, as from what she thought paltry and twaddling minuteness; and her genius and assiduity enabled her to attain a style which leaves us hardly any thing to wish for. She makes the communication of facts personal to herself, and yet of a general interest, the groundwork of her writing. By doing so she gained a great aid towards preserving herself from the labored nothings that disfigure the letters of Pope; and the varied course of her life supplied her with a succession of personal adventures, the recital of which gave ample scope for her powers of lively narration. She intersperses remarks abounding in sterling good sense, and allusions to individuals, always pointed and sometimes severe. The only defect that we have to notice is a certain hardness and dryness of thought and feeling, though never of language. Even in the first letters she wrote on her way to Constantinople, when her marriage was still a recent event, we feel that, exquisite as is both the matter and the manner, there is something which betrays the coolness and waywardness of disposition that led her to separate from her busband and her daughter, and spend the last twenty years of her life in the solitude of an Italian villa. But her letters are so perfect, they are so shrewd, so easy, so entertaining and graceful, that it seems almost captious to find fault with any thing in them; and it is not only the great success which she attained in letter-writing, but the position she holds in the series of great letter-writers, that deserves to be remarked. On the one hand she acted as a stimulant, as a check, and, to some extent, an example to those in the literary world with whom she corresponded. Pope, for instance, wrote what he considered his very best for her; and she elicited all that he was capable of in the particular line he considered most excellent. On the other hand, she contributed largely to diffuse through the aristocratic circles the notion that elegance in letter-writing was a desirable accomplishment. She may thus be looked on as the precursor of those who represent the next great stage of the art of letterwriting when it became the study, and received the impression, of the exclusive circles.
Lady Mary was equally determined in her disapproval of another model of easy writing, and one whose charms have hitherto defied time and a complete change of manners and tastes. She could not endure Madame de Sevigné. She even carries her adverse opinion so far as to assert that Madame de Sevigné only gives, in a lively manner and fashionable phrases, "mean sentiments, vulgar prejudices, and endless repetitions; sometimes the tittle-tattle of a fine lady, sometimes that of an old nurse, always tittletattle yet well gilt over by airy expressions and a glowing style." She seems to have been insensible to that which constitutes the great fascination of Madame de Sevigne's letters, the faithfulness and simplicity, and at the same time the truth with which home scenes are painted, and the manner in which the reader is transported to the interior life of a family, and made as it were an inmate of the house. Lady Mary treated this as a violation of the rules of good taste; there was not sufficient reserve, sufficient consciousness of the necessity so often felt and acted on in society, of preserving a distance even
We must say, before parting from her, that she far outshone, in our opinion, those whom she thus preceded, and that neither Horace Walpole nor Lord Chesterfield ever produced a letter to be compared with the best of those which she sent from Constantinople and Italy.
Horace Walpole has, perhaps, a greater name as a letter wiiter than any other Englishman. His letters are a valuable source of historical information for a time with respect to which information is scanty; and their liveliness, their point, wit, malice, gossip, and store of anecdote make them pleasant reading for those who have no relish for history. His wit does not seek to conceal itself, or if it throws a veil over the means employed, it affects no disguise as to the end desired. He laid himself out honestly, indefatigably, and openly, to be the letter-writer of his day. He has no real self to which he need pay the tribute of occasional recognition beneath the self which he paraded in court dress before the world. Pope and he both wrote letters as a serious business, in the effective discharge of which their reputation was involved; but they viewed their business in a very different light. Pope, as we have said, sought to establish a neutral ground on which the man of letters and the man of fashion might meet. Horace Walpole aimed only at delighting, amusing, and satisfying the portion of the fashionable world with which he was acquainted. He writes from within the circle which bounds his ambition. He perceived that a style of composition which should be on paper what the conversation of their circle was, if taken at its best, in spoken words, would be closely akin to the aspirations of those with whom he lived, and whom he sought most anxiously to please. Letter-writing in his hands was the written voice of the gay world, and of the most educated and witty of its members. He embraced all that world approved, and nothing it shunned. He did not, like Pope, ask it to make concessions; he did not employ its polished language to express independent thought, keen observation, and original reflection, like Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. He wished to think as his world thought, to write as it wrote, but to give his thoughts a scope, and his language a grace which that world could permit and appreciate. He felt that he could make a new toy for his playmates, and he knew how society pets and rewards its toymakers; and to make the pretty gilded structure, he racked a fertile brain, and labored long and hard. He
made foul copies of his gossiping letters, he studied the French models, he collected stories, he stored up bon mots, he noted the whims, he treasured the oddities, and made a harvest of the follies of his contemporaries.
That his success was great no one can pretend to deny. Looking at the art of letter-writing from the point of view from which he regarded it, we must pronounce his letters masterpieces of skill and ingenuity. But we suspect that few readers could sincerely avow that they have not found them wearisome. We have the sensation after reading a few dozen pages, as if we had been at a ball all night and were not allowed to go home to bed. All is unimpeachable in its elegance, gayety, and effectiveness. But the music will keep jingling in our ears, and the lamps glaring in our eyes, when we long for a backroom and a rushlight. All writing that is produced and adapted for a small and exclusive circle, however it may dazzle and fascinate, must eventually tire us. There is nothing to like, and, apart from his skill in reflecting the feelings and wishes of his associates, nothing to admire in Horace Walpole. He had not even a genuine love of good company, and an unaffected delight in the pleasures of society. He was but the caterer for the tastes of those whom he thought it worth his while to please; and having provided a great variety of smart sentences and piquant stories, and having served them up with much taste and discretion, he sends in his little account, and expects immediate payment in flattery and social applause.
Examples serve but very feebly to illustrate his peculiar manner, as it is by a combination of little things well put together, and not by the excellence of detached passages, that his letters impress us. He dovetails his mosaic so skilfully, that we are struck with admiration at the work when completed, but each component fragment is nearly worthless by itself. All that we can arrive at by the most careful examination of his style, is the more accurate perception of the labor and the success with which he aimed at writing as fine folks talk. It is true that French letter-writing has so far furnished him with an example, that his style has in some measure the appearance of being borrowed and not original. But he borrowed because what he thus acquired was the most ready aid he could have in the task he set himself. Paris gave the laws of society to the circle in which he moved, and he was too wise to neglect the obvious aid to be derived
from cultivating the acquaintance of the law-imaginary elevation. He always writes as if giver; but it is exaggeration to speak of him he were an observer from the outside of the as a copyist. He did but faithfully reflect subjects of his comments. He lets the pathe current language, manners, and thoughts geant pass and notes its various scenes, adof a society which was colored by the influ- mitting his correspondent to the spectacle. ence of a rear neighbor, and if he had not Sometimes he speaks as if he were moved been the favorite of Madame du Deffand; by public events and felt indignation, interest, and an ardent reader of French literature, he sympathy, and other emotions of honest men; would not have been an adequate exponent and indeed he was in all sincerity possessed of English society in the circles of the beau of a few good feelings, being a pious son and monde. He never was, and never wished to a stanch friend. But his political and public be, an exponent of English society at large cares sat very lightly on him. When he the society which included all the educated, writes of foreign affairs, of the war, and of the wealthy, and the noble; society in its the measures of ministers, he uses the strongwider sense; the society of Chatham, of Lord est language, and fires up and blazes with Chesterfield, Johnson, Churchill, of the bet- indignant virtue; for good society expects ter bishops, and of the country gentlemen that a party man should talk like his party. who could write and read and keep sober But when he has to speak of the proceedonce or twice a week; this society was caviare ings of the House of Commons, of which he to the dapper little antiquarian of Twicken- was a member, he is again the careless obham, who had, however, sense enough to feel server, amusing and amused; for if he wrote there was something in the world above him, more warmly he might be expected to act though he had vanity enough to believe there more energetically, and good society is timid, was a great deal beneath him. He was the and distrusts energy unless overpoweringly Hierophant of the few, the spokesman of the triumphant. In short, he lived and wrote initiated, and eschewed all who spoke the for the narrow society he moved in, and any vulgar tongue, and who had other interests one who thus limits himself must be what and acquaintances than his own. Bishop Warburton termed him, "a coxcomb." Warburton indeed said "an insufferable coxcomb;" but we, who cannot be annoyed by him, and are amused and entertained with his writings, must allow him at least to be "sufferable."
The decade from 1755 to 1765 may perhaps be taken as the period in which his powers were at their best, although long afterwards he wrote with scarcely any diminution of vivacity and neatness. Taking up the volumes of his correspondence which contain the letters written during these ten years, we find amid the greatest diversity of matter, the utmost uniformity of manner. Every letter is conceived in the same spirit, and is planned to produce the same effect. His style never or seldom alters. He was remarkably fond of short sentences and rapid transitions from one subject to another, the cunning of his art being displayed in the skill with which abruptness was avoided in the passage. Not to fatigue, not to bore, to be various, smart, and short, is the acme of the kind of conversational success which he admired, and it was the success that he sought to rival on paper. He inserted touches of malice and irony; he insinuated, guessed, supposed, invented, and related, so that no letter he wrote could possibly be thought dull. He possessed in perfection the secret of pleasing a correspondent by speaking of men and things as if he were superior to all except the person he addresses. He knew how men were tickled by this tacit compliment, and how obliged they felt to the writer who placed them on this
When we turn from the letters of Horace Walpole to those of Lord Chesterfield, it is hardly too much to say that we pass from the littleness of the great world to its greatness. Both writers cultivated the art of letter-writing as one properly belonging to the station of a gentleman. Both wrote for a limited circle; both loved to impress upon their correspondents and the world at large that their literary success was a mere accident of, and accessory to, their advantages of birth. But Chesterfield always wrote as if he were above the world to which he bowed, and could contemplate the splendid crowd he strove to eclipse with a complacent indifference. He was, in reality, of a mind and character far above the level of those to whose opinions and pursuits he lent the sanction of his approval. He plays with the world as with a gilded toy, proud of his right to take the plaything in his familiar grasp, but still contriving to let spectators know that he could pull it to pieces if he had a mind. He worked out for himself a theory of living, determined the end he thought it worth while to pursue, ascertained by keen
observation the most appropriate means, and applied them with happy natural tact and unflinching resolution and perseverance. Of these means he perceived that the power of writing letters that should combine elegance, worldly wisdom and good sense was among the most prominent; and that the art of letter-writing formed a distinguishing barrier to separate his microcosm from the larger and more vulgar world without. It is manner, and not matter, that places a Rubicon between the provinces of the elegant and the inelegant it is not that the urbanus does different things from the rusticus, but he does them in a different way. It is said that in an examination for various fellowships at an Oxford College, where good breeding is the test of excellence, the crucial experiment is made by cunningly contriving that the candidates, being asked to dinner by the electors, shall eat cherry or damson pie. *Amidst the flow of pleasant small-talk, the electors secretly watch with the keenest accuracy how the candidates severally dispose of the stones; and he who drops them like pearls from his mouth, or still better, makes them seem like the world in the system of the Eleatics, at once to be and not to be, is rewarded with £100 a-year. Letter-writing was the cherry pie of Lord Chesterfield, or at any rate, one of his cherry pies. All the world eats cherry pies, but only a few can manage the stones; all the world writes letters, but only a few can write letters that satisfy the rules of art. And, if we may pursue the comparison, as, in the case of the college of which we have spoken, this stone-disposing skill gives the admission into a corporate society, the members of which are attached and bound to each other by the consciousness that all belong to the same society, and by mutual respect for each other's adroitness, so the letter-writers of high society would, in the opinion of Lord Chesterfield, gain the feeling of a brotherhood by the recognition on the part of every writer of the elegancies of his correspondent. To write a good letter was to be a gentleman on paper, and though the excellence of letterwriting must, in one sense, be unavoidably a literary one, yet the art was, in the phase it assumed under Lord Chesterfield, regarded in an aspect as far from its literary one as possible.
The most characteristic of Lord Chesterfield's letters are undoubtedly those to his son, for he expounded the whole of his social and moral scheme with much precision and openness for the benefit of the dull, deceitful, awkward youth whom he hoped to train into
a model of elegance. We cannot help suspecting that Lord Chesterfield, in these famous letters, is sometimes soliloquizing when he pretends to be addressing his correspondent, and that he would have owned, if hard pressed, that he himself was the imaginary object to whom those stately and graceful periods were directed. He can hardly makebelieve sufficiently strong to persuade us or himself that he is writing to less than another Chesterfield. But whatever were his real feelings in addressing his hopeless son, it is certain that he never neglected to write in a manner that should do justice to himself. He never descends beneath the dignity of a great nobleman; he carefully avoids any thing like the petulance, the gossiping, the small littlenesses of Horace Walpole. If we do not find his letters absolutely to our taste, it is because we cannot now feel as the society of his day felt, and as he wished his son should feel; it is not that, if we could throw ourselves into the atmosphere of that society, we should detect any point in which Lord Chesterfield fell below it, or indeed any point in which he did not resolutely keep himself and his little world up to the very highest pitch which was compatible with the principles on which that society was based. Perhaps the very essence of all the letters to Mr. Stanhope, the best specimen of all that is good and all that is bad in Lord Chesterfield's correspondence, is to be found in the letters addressed to his son when at Paris in 1751. Let any one read the letters of that year, who wishes to catch truly the destinies of Lord Chesterfield's mental portrait. He will find much, perhaps, to make him congratulate himself that the past is past, that the days of George II. are no more; but he will. confess that here, if anywhere, is the success attained which that society admired, that here the most faithful reflection of the spirit of those times is offered, and that many great qualities of the intellect and some of the heart must be united before such thoughts can be clothed in such language.
We must hasten on to the last of the stages of letter-writing which we have pointed out, and speak of the art as it appears in the hands of those who, building their success on the labors of their predecessors, but having no direct or conscious aim, carry into simple and natural life the beauties and graces we have hitherto seen blooming in an artificial soil. That which has been premeditated, becomes unpremeditated and spontaneous. The art is lost, but yet the fruits of the art are perpetually present. We seem.