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grace and its charm. But such men, even in the soliloquies of thought, will often occupy and please themselves, for the pleasure's sake only, with casting their thoughts into one form or another of language, and making out, perhaps, in the process, what they are worth and whither they tend. And if they do so in talking to themselves, there is no reason why they should do otherwise in writing to their friends.
There is another class of familiar letters which are more likely to be fluently written—those which are to express feelings rather than thoughts. But even these, if the writers are literary men, may
be found to have more than ordinary merits of form. There are letters written by Southey, in moments of absorbing emotion, which are as perfect in diction as if they had been works of art. In his case the words fell naturally into the mould made for them by habit. With others there may be no mould absolutely established, and yet there may be a habit of moulding and shaping ad hoc, which cannot be easily supplanted; and there is no reason why it should; for the process is perhaps not less quieting and soothing than the murmuring twirl of the old woman's spinning-wheel in Wordsworth's sonnet.
Nor is there any reason why letters to friends on ordinary occasions, or on no occasion at all, should not be written in the way which the writer finds most pleasing and amusing to himself, and may believe to be most so to his correspondent. If he should take a fancy, as some men have, to write his letter in verse, we will call it an epistle; if in prose, we may call it a disquisition, a jeu d'esprit, or by any other name that may describe it best ; but if it is good of its kind there is no fault to be found with it.
So much for letters and epistles, and now for dispatches. Difficulties arise chiefly in those written in the exercise of authority, and in those written in submission to it. And they are met with most frequently in the language of praise or of blame to be used by superiors, and in that of deference or deprecation by subordinates. Ben Jonson tells us in his “Discoveries' he has discovered that • there is as great a vice in praising and as frequent as in detracting.' And if this is true in other ways of life, it is especially expedient in official life that praise should be seen to be merited, and that it should be carefully measured in expression. It will be valued accordingly. And so of censure. It will often be most effective in the language of reserve—the thunder-cloud without the thunder. And in this form it leaves itself least open to controversy. The question in what particular case it can or cannot be fairly so used, is of course a question of moral right and justice, to which all questions of official expediency should give place.
I have hardly said enough of the thanks due to Mr. Scoones for the careful execution of his very laborious task. The critical or explanatory head-notes by which the letters are introduced are all that could be desired-clear and judiciously concise. The letters of the earlier ages are of course comparatively few.. Mr. Scoones's collection is of English letters only; and almost all the letters written in English in mediæval times are about some business of the moment, and might have borne the Chinese superscription of a 'necessary communication;' whilst from want of use in writing at all, they were probably written with less ease than the letters in Latin by men of more culture. As the centuries proceed, the supply is more and more abundant; and the only celebrated writer of the present century, of whose letters no specimen is given, is, I think, Lord Brougham. This may be the gain of a loss, for his was not the sort of mind which appears to most advantage in letters. It wanted the tender
grace of not too much. He once said of Sir Charles Wetherall, what is not altogether inapplicable to himself—that he drove a substantive and four with two adverbs for outriders. And there were other and more objectionable exuberances which he knew not how to control. Many letters of his have been recently published in Mr. Macvey Napier's correspondence, and if others extant are like them, no one who wishes well to his memory would desire to see them reproduced. Mr. Scoones's collection could very well spare them; for the volumes of correspondence of eminent men published in this century are numerous beyond all precedent; and as the task of editing falls, for the most part, into the hands of this or that near relative or enthusiastic friend, with a natural tendency to think every word his hero wrote worth reading, they are severally as redundant in material as they are collectively voluminous. There is only one element in which they may be suspected of falling short. The six, eight, or ten volumes of the eminent man's so-called “Correspondence,' are his letters, and, with few exceptions, not his correspondence. Now an eminent or gifted man usually corresponds with either other eminent men or other gifted men who are not eminent. The probability is that their letters are often as well worth reading as his own, but the editor will not make room for them by suppressing those of his own that are of inferior interest. If the good are supplanted by the indifferent, this is not the only evil. What the reader wants is generally to look into the life and nature of the man, and this may often be learnt as truly from the letters written to him as from those written by him. What a man is will be reflected in the tone and demeanour of those who have something to say to him ; and, moreover, the effect of his own letters will gain by intermixture and variety
I began by adverting to the lessons learnt from the letters of successive centuries past, in telling us what were the ways of men, outward and inward, and what the aspects of life in each of them. I will end by asking whether the letters of this century disclose any significant changes of tone and temper of mind, not only between it and its predecessors, but between itself in its beginnings and in its approaching end? To one who has lived through it and on whom any changes there may be have crept by slow degrees, they will be less obvious than to others; and it is a question therefore which I will rather ask than attempt to answer.
When a strong and active mind breaks down suddenly, in the midst of business, it is worn out by worry rather than over-work. Brainlabour may be too severe, or ordinary exercise prolonged until it produces serious exhaustion ; but the mere draining of resources, however inexpedient, is not disease, and seldom inflicts permanent injury. A temporary collapse of the mental powers may be caused by excessive or too continuous exertion, just as a surface well may be emptied by pumping it out more rapidly than it is refilled, but the apparatus is not thereby disorganised, and time will remedy the defect. When rest is not followed by recovery, the recuperative faculty itself, an integral part of the intellectual organism, must be impaired or disabled. This is not unfrequently the case when the possessor of a worried and weakened brain in vain seeks refuge from the supposed effects of over-work' in simple idleness. Something more than exhaustion has occurred, and rest alone will not cure the evil. The faculty of repair is not in a condition to restore the equilibrium between potential energy and kinetic force. Divers hypotheses have been suggested to explain this state of matters. The mind has been compared to a muscle overstrained by a too violent effort, or paralysed by excessive exertion. The two phenomena have little similarity, and no new light is thrown on the nature of mental collapse, by the comparison. Perhaps a closer parallel might be found in the state which ensues when the tension of a muscular contraction is so high that spasm passes into rigidity, and molecular disorganisation ensues. Meanwhile, however interesting these speculations may prove to the physiologist, they bring no relief to the sufferer. It is easy to see that a worse evil than simply using up his strength too rapidly has befallen him, but no one knows precisely what has happened. To cover the enigma, without solving it, .over-work' is taken to mean more than work over the normal, in quantity, quality, and time, but no attempt is made to determine how excess, in either or all of these particulars, can bring about the disability and decrepitude we bewail. It is to the investigation of this mystery attention needs to be directed. If it should be possible to ascertain why a mind previously healthy, and still apparently intact, breaks down instantly and
thoroughly under a strain not exceptionally great, and, collapse having once occurred, recovery follows tardily and is rarely complete, it will probably be within the scope of common sense to draw some practical conclusions as to the prevention, and it may be the cure, of what is in truth becoming a scourge of mental industry already almost decimating the ranks of the army of progress, in every field of intellectual enterprise at home and abroad.
A certain degree of tension is indispensable to the easy and healthful discharge of mental functions. Like the national instrument of Scotland, the mind drones wofully and will discourse most dolorous music, unless an expansive and resilient force within supplies the basis of quickly responsive action. No good, great, or enduring work can be safely accomplished by brain-force without a reserve of strength sufficient to give buoyancy to the exercise, and, if I may so say, rhythm to the operations of the mind. Working at high-pressure may be bad, but working at low-pressure is incomparably
As a matter of experience, a sense of weariness commonly precedes collapse from over-work’; not mere bodily or nervous fatigue, but a more or less conscious distaste for the business in hand, or perhaps for some other subject of thought or anxiety which obtrudes itself. It is the offensive or irritating burden that breaks the back. Thoroughly agreeable employment, however engrossing, stimulates the recuperative faculty while it taxes the strength, and the supply of nerve-force seldom falls short of the demand. When a feeling of disgust or weariness is not experienced, this may be because the compelling sense of duty has crushed self out of thought. Nevertheless, if the will is not pleasurably excited, if it rules like a martinet without affection or interest, there is no verve, and like a complex piece of machinery working with friction and heated bearings, the mind wears itself away
and a break-down ensues. Let us look a little closely at this matter.
The part which a stock of energy' plays in brain-work can scarcely be exaggerated. Reserves are of high moment everywhere in the animal economy, and the reserve of mental force is in a practical sense more important than any other. It may happen that mere strength of mind carries a body with scarcely a vestige of power in reserve through some crisis of extraordinary difficulty, but the mental exploit is full of danger. The residual air in a lung is the basis of the respiratory process; the sustained tension of the smaller arteries transforms the pulsating current of blood thrown into the system by the heart to a continuous circulation; the equilibriated tonicity of opposing muscles gives stability to the apparatus of motion, and renders specific combinations of movement possible. What is true of the physical is also true of the mental constitution; the residual force, the tension, the tonicity, of mind, form the basis of intellectual action. It is not necessary to discuss the relations of