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NINETEENTH CENTURY LETTERS
“It is usually assumed that even the best of the letter-writers of the nineteenth century are inferior to those of the eighteenth, that they fall short of the standard set by Lady Mary, Walpole, Gray, Cowper, and their contemporaries in the 'golden age of letter-writing.' Inasmuch as we are not altogether clear as to the particular desiderata which we should demand in a letter, such a judgment as to the respective products of the two centuries is venturesome.
“Without question the changes that took place during the nineteenth century in the method of disseminating public information wrought in some degree to an enrichment in the content of letters. In the older time, the correspondent was in duty bound to
. furnish the kind of news which, at a later day, the newspaper conveyed more satisfactorily; he often loaded his pages with matter which no grace of manner could invest with charm, and he left little room for discussing, what now interests us most, himself and his little, immediate world.
"Often, indeed, the eighteenth century letter-writer was quite disinclined to say much either about himself or about his immediate world. Until fairly late in the century he was likely to be a man untouched by romanticism, unaccustomed to introspection, and inattentive to Nature. Whatever the affectations and excesses to which the Romantic Movement led, it made possible, in the happier instances, an absorbing self-portrayal; and, no less important, 'it opened the eyes of men and women to the beauty of flower and tree, of mountain and torrent, of soughing wind and gleaming star, to all the incredible pageantry of the physical world which Wordsworth and Coleridge and Shelley and Keats knew and interpreted. As the crest of the romantic wave passed, the egotism that had at times been portentous was relieved by a growth in the power of self-criticism, and by an increase in appreciation of the value of perspective. Men seemed less inspired but more normal. They acquired a taste for looking at things from more than one point of view. Still subjective, still observant, they became more tolerant and more urbane. In no type of literature is the effect of these changes more noteworthy than in the letter; in no form of writing is there a clearer or happier reflection of the state of literary taste and feeling that resulted from the rise of romanticism and its subsequent gradual adjustment to everyday human life. Without wishing to be dogmatic, or to underestimate the achievement of a remoter past, one is surely warranted in regarding many of the letters of the latter part of the nineteenth century as eminently felicitous examples of epistolary correspondence. To read the letters of Edward FitzGerald, of George Meredith, and of Robert Louis Stevenson is to feel the subtle and lasting charm that is induced by blending in one genre deftly-depicted personality, a comfortable sense of intimacy, and the alert urbanity of cultivated society. Whatever the future development of the letter may be - a development that the postal card, the telegraph, the telephone, and the typewriter will probably affect but slightly — it is scarcely conceivable that there should be for generations to come a significant and satisfying letter-literature which will not owe its salient merits to the heritage bequeathed by letter-writers of the nineteenth century.” 1 1 From Introduction to Nineteenth Century Lellers, by B. J. Rees.
thistles as he might prefer; a library and To THOMAS DE QUINCEY
pantry within, and huge stack of turf
fuel without; fenced off from his neighCRAIGENPUTTOCK, 11th December, 1828.
bours by fir woods, and, when he pleased,
by cast-metal railing, so that each might My dear Sir,
feel himself strictly an individual, and Having the opportunity of a frank, I free as a son of the wilderness; but the cannot resist the temptation to send you whole settlement to meet weekly over a few lines, were it only to signify that coffee, and there unite in their Miserere, two well-wishers of yours are still alive in or what were better, hurl forth their dethese remote moors, and often thinking fiance, pity, expostulation, over the whole of you with the old friendly feelings. My universe, civil, literary, and religious. wife encourages me in this innocent pur- I reckon this place a much fitter site for pose: she has learned lately that you were such an establishment than your Lake inquiring for her of some female friend; Country -- a region abounding in natural nay, even promising to visit us here
beauty, but blown on by coach-horns, fact of the most interesting sort to both betrodden by picturesque tourists, and
I am to say, therefore, that your otherwise exceedingly desecrated by too presence at this fireside will diffuse no
frequent resort; whereas here, though ordinary gladness over all members of still in communication with the manufacthe household ; that our warmest wel- turing world, we have a solitude altocome, and such solacements as even the gether Druidical - grim hills tenanted desert does not refuse, are at any time chiefly by the wild grouse, tarns and and at all times in store for one we love so brooks that have soaked and slumbered well. Neither is this expedition so im- unmolested since the Deluge of Noah, practicable. We lie but a short way out and nothing to disturb you with speech, of your direct route to Westmoreland; except Arcturus and Orion, and the Spirit communicate by gravelled roads with of Nature, in the heaven and in the earth, Dumfries and other places in the habit- as it manifests itself in anger or love, and able globe. Were you to warn us of your utters its inexplicable tidings, unheard by approach, it might all be made easy the mortal ear. But the misery is the enough. And then such a treat it would almost total want of colonists! Would be to hear the sound of philosophy and you come hither and be king over us; literature in the hitherto quite savage then indeed we had made a fair beginning, wolds, where since the creation of the and the "Bog School” might snap its world no such music, scarcely even artic- fingers at the Lake School” itself, and
“ ” ulate speech, had been uttered hope to be one day recognized of all men. dreamed of! Come, therefore, come and But enough of this fooling. Better see us; for we often long after you. Nay, were it to tell you in plain prose what I can promise, too, that we are almost a little can be said of my own welfare, and unique sight in the British Empire; such inquire in the same dialect after yours. a quantity of German periodicals and It will gratify you to learn that here, in mystic speculation embosomed in plain the desert, as in the crowded city, I am Scottish Peatmoor being nowhere else moderately active and well; better in that I know of to be met with.
health, not worse; and though active In idle hours we sometimes project only on the small scale, yet in my own founding a sort of colony here, to be opinion honestly, and to as much result called the “Misanthropic Society”; the as has been usual with me at any time. settlers all to be men of a certain philo- We have horses to ride on, gardens to sophic depth, and intensely sensible of the cultivate, tight walls and strong fires to present state of literature; each to have defend us against winter; books to read, his own cottage, encircled with roses or paper to scribble on; and no
thing, at least in this visible earth, to you are well loved here, and none feels' make us afraid; for I reckon that so se- better than I what a spirit is for the prescurely sequestered are we, not only would ent eclipsed in clouds. For the present it no Catholic rebellion, but even no new can only be; time and chance are for Hengist and Horsa invasion, in anywise all men; that troublous season will end ; disturb our tranquillity. True, we have and one day with more joyful, not deeper no society; but who has, in the strict or truer regard, I shall see you “yourself sense of that word? I have never had again.” Meanwhile, pardon me this inany worth speaking much about since I trusion; and write, if you have a vacant came into this world : in the next, it may hour which you would fill with a good acbe, they will order matters better. Mean- tion. Mr. Jeffery [sic] is still anxious to while, if we have not the wheat in great know you ; has he ever succeeded ?
We quantity, we are nearly altogether free are not to be in Edinburgh, I believe, till from the chaff, which often in this matter spring; but I will send him a letter to is highly annoying to weak nerves. My you (with your permission) by the first wife and I are busy learning Spanish; conveyance.
Remember me with best far advanced in Don Quixote already. regards to Professor Wilson and Sir W. I purpose writing mystical Reviews for Hamilton, neither of whom must forget somewhat more than a twelve month me; not omitting the honest Gordon, to come; have Greek to read, and the who I know will not. whole universe to study (for I understand The bearer of this letter is Henry Inglis, less and less of it); so that here as well a young gentleman of no ordinary talent as elsewhere I find that a man may “dree and worth, in whom, as I believe, es steckt his wierd” (serve out his earthly appren- gar viel. Should he call himself, pray ticeship) with reasonable composure, and let this be an introduction, for he reverwait what the flight of years may bring ences all spiritual worth, and you also him, little disappointed (unless he is a will learn to love him. -- With all friendly fool) if it brings him mere nothing save sentiments, I am ever, my dear sir, most what he has already - a body and a soul faithfully yours, more cunning and costly treasures than
T. CARLYLE. all Golconda and Potosi could purchase for him. What would the vain worm,
To EMERSON man, be at? Has he not a head, to speak
CHELSEA, LONDON, 8 December, 1837. of nothing else a head (be it with a hat or without one) full of far richer things My dear Emerson, than Windsor Palace, or the Brighton How long it is since you last heard of Teapot added to it? What are all Dres- me I do not very accurately know; but den picture galleries and magazines des it is too long. A very long, ugly, inert, arts et des métiers to the strange painting and unproductive chapter of my own hisand thrice wonderful and thrice precious tory seems to have passed since then. workmanship that goes on under the Whenever I delay writing, be sure matters cranium of a beggar? What can be go not well with me; and do you in that added to him or taken from him by the case write to me, were it again and over hatred or love of all men? The grey again — unweariable in pity. paper or the white silk paper in which I did go to Scotland, for almost three the gold ingot is wrapped; the gold is months; leaving my Wife here with her inalienable; he is the gold. But truce Mother. The poor Wife had fallen so also to this moralising. I had a thousand weak that she gave me real terror in the things to ask concerning you: your em- spring-time, and made the Doctor look ployments, purposes, sufferings, and pleas- very grave indeed: she continued too ures. Will you not write to me? will weak for travelling: I was worn out as I you not come to me and tell? Believe it, had never in my life been. So, on the longest day of June, I got back to my ter, he has lived, he is alive. Across Mother's cottage; threw myself down, several unsuitable wrappages, of ChurchI may say, into what we may call the of-Englandism and others, my heart "frightfullest magnetic sleep," and lay loves the man. He is one, and the best, there avoiding the intercourse of men. of a small class extant here, who, nigh Most wearisome had their gabble become; drowning in a black wreck of Infidelity almost unearthly. But indeed all was (lighted up by some glare of Radicalism unearthly in that humour. The gushing only, now growing dim too) and about to of my native brooks, the sough of the old perish, saved themselves into a Coleridsolitary woods, the great roar of old native gian Shovel-hattedness, or determination Solway (billowing fresh out of your Atlan- to preach, to preach peace, were it only tic, drawn by the Moon): all this was a the spent echo of a peace once preached. kind of unearthly music to me; I cannot He is still only about thirty; young; tell you how unearthly. It did not bring and I think will shed the shovel-hat yet me to rest; yet towards rest I do think : perhaps. Do you ever read Blackwood? at all events, the time had come when This John Sterling is the “New ContribuI behoved to quit it again. I have been tor” whom Wilson makes such a rout here since September: evidently another about, in the November and prior month: little “chapter" or paragraph, not alto- “Crystals from a Cavern," &c., which gether inert, is getting forward. But it is well worth your while to see. Well, I must not speak of these things. How and what then, cry you? - Why then,
? — can I speak of them on a miserable scrap this John Sterling has fallen overhead in of blue paper? Looking into your kind love with a certain Waldo Emerson; that eyes with my eyes, I could speak: not is all. He saw the little Book Nature here. Pity me, my friend, my brother; lying here; and, across a whole silva yet hope well of me: if I can in all senses) silvarum of prejudices, discerned what was rightly hold my peace, I think much will in it; took it to his heart, — and indeed
, yet be well with me. SILENCE is the into his pocket; and has carried it off to great thing I worship at present; almost Madeira with him; whither unhappily the sole tenant of my Pantheon. Let (though now with good hope and expeca man know rightly how to hold his peace. tation) the Doctors have ordered him. I love to repeat to myself, “Silence is of This is the small piece of pleasant news, Eternity." Ah me, I think how I could that two sky-messengers (such they were rejoice to quit these jarring discords and both of them to me) have met and recjargonings of Babel, and go far, far away! ognized each other; and by God's blessing I do believe, if I had the smallest com- there shall one day be a trio of us : call you petence of money to get "food and
that nothing? warmth" with, I would shake the mud And so now by a direct transition I am of London from my feet, and go and bury got to the Oration. My friend ! you know myself in some green place, and never not what you have done for me there. print any syllable more. Perhaps it is It was long decades of years that I had better as it is.
heard nothing but the infinite jangling But quitting this, we will actually and jabbering, and inarticulate twittering speak (under favour of “Silence") one and screeching, and my soul had sunk very small thing; a pleasant piece of news. down sorrowful, and said there is no There is a man here called John Sterling articulate speaking then any more, and (Reverend John of the Church of England thou art solitary among stranger-creatoo), whom I love better than anybody tures, and lo, out of the West comes a I have met with, since a certain sky-mes- clear utterance, clearly recognizable as a senger alighted to me at Craigenputtock, man's voice, and I have a kinsman and and vanished in the Blue again. This brother: God be thanked for it! I could Sterling has written; but what is far bet- have wept to read that speech; the clear