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sciously disclosed through that story, that gained the confidence and the heart of the nation.*
I proceed to the second division of my lecture, to be more briefly disposed of, the subject of familiar letters that correspondence which, like conversation, is held with the unreserved confidence of private life, and without a purpose of publication. It is worthy of notice that this did slowly and late take a place in English literature-a fact which, if reflected upon, is, in some measure, illustrative of the character of the race, and of some worthy traits in that character. There is a passage in the brief memoir of the poet Cowley, written by his friend Dr. Sprat, and addressed to another friend, which has a bearing on this subject, and which has often been referred to with complaint. “ There was,” he says, “one kind of prose wherein Mr. Cowley was excellent; and that is his letters to his private friends. In those he always expressed the native tenderness and innocent gayety of his mind. I think, sir, you and I have the greatest collection of this sort. But I know you agree with me that nothing of this sort should be published ; and herein you have always consented to approve of the modest judgment of our countrymen above the practice of some of our neighbours and chiefly of the French. I make no manner of question but the English, at this time, are infinitely improved in this way above the skill of former ages; yet they have been always judiciously sparing in printing such composures, while some other witty nations have . tired all their presses and readers with them. The truth is, the letters that pass between particular friends, if they are written as they ought to be, can scarce ever be fit to see the light. They should not consist of fulsome compliments, or tedious politics, or elaborate elegancies, or general fancies; but they should have a native clearness and shortness, a domestical plainness, and a peculiar kind of familiarity, which can only affect the humour of those for whom they were intended. The very same passages which make writings of this nature delightful among friends, will lose all manner of taste when they come to be read by those that are indifferent. In such letters, the souls of men should appear undressed; and in that negligent habit they may be fit to be seen by one or two in a chamber, but not to go abroad in the street.”
* At this time (February, 1855) the world is studying with intense interest the despatches and other letters, public and private, from the new scene of blood in the Crimea. The Anglo-French alliance, che might imagine, has had its influence on national style. For though the despatches of Lord Raglan and his generals have all the precision and business-like simplicity of his countrymen on such occasions, florid French despatch-writing, with phrases about “the sun of Austerlitz” and “conquering a peace," has nearly disappeared. It died with Marshal St. Arnaud at Alma; for General Canrobert writes with the precision and directness of an Englishman. It is very curious, too, to observe the indifference with which, in his letters to his government, he refers to topics which, twenty years ago, a Bonapartist could not think of without fury. In his despatch of 28th November to the Minister of War, speaking of the first onset of the Russians at Inkermann, ho says, “Lord Raglan tells me the firing was as severe as at any time at Waterloo !” W. B. R.
This is, indeed, very tantalizing, especially so, for Cowley's delightful prose-essays have a savour of what must have made his familiar letters most excellent of their kind; the passage described, indeed, the very perfection of such letters in the very reason given for withholding them. However one may dissent from the reasoning, and still more regret the application of it, it is entitled to some
respect as having a basis of sound sense, and expressive of a just feeling—that honourable spirit which is, I believe, an element in the character of our race. It was so formerly, more so than now; for that “modest judgment,” which the biographer of Cowley spoke of as restraining the publication of private correspondence, has grown to be old-fashioned ; and the barriers of reserve have been broken down by the cupidity of booksellers, the vanity of authors, and the vicious curiosity of readers. If this department of English literature has, in late years, received many and valuable additions, it has not been all clear gain : the sanctities of domestic life and the proprieties of official life have been violated; the world has intruded where it had no title to enter, and often learned what it had far better remained ignorant of; the happy confidence of social communion has been startled in its security; and the author can write a familiar note without misgiving of future publication.
When Pope's correspondence was surreptitiously published by an unscrupulous bookseller, Dr. Arbuthnot wittily spoke of Curll, the publisher, as a new terror of death.* When the letters of Robert Burns were first
* Dr. Johnson once remarked that the practice of publishing the letters of literary men bad grown so common, that he made it a point to put as little as possible in his own. There wili be found in the London Quarterly Review, a few years back, an excellent essay on this subject in its relation to official life, on the subject of the posthumous publication of Lord Malmesbury's journals and letters. Our American diplomatic subordinates have, of late years, committed the grosser scandal of scribbling for home newspapers. A greater indecorum, and one more detrimental to public interests, can hardly be conceived. W. B. R.
given to the world, disclosing the deplorable frailties of his life—not as a wise and feeling biographer might have done, but in the dark colours of the frenzy of genius, conscious of guilt and never wholly divorced from a soul of goodness—a fellow-poet, strong in the might of a life ef irreproachable purity, and yet compassionate of his frail brother, protested in earnest prose against the world's right to penetrate into the privacy of an author's life. I refer to a pamphlet of Wordsworth's, in which, among other remarks, he observed that “ The Life of Johnson by Boswell had broken through many pre-existing delicacies, and afforded the British public an opportunity of acquiring experience, which before it had happily wanted.” A younger poet, Mr. Tennyson, has also made his protest against the growing evil, in some vigorous stapzas addressed to a friend, and entitled “The Age of Trreve
“ You might have won the poet's dame,
If such be worth the winning now,
And gained a laurel for your brow, Of sounder leaf than I can claim.
But you have made the wiser choice;
life that moves to gracious ends, Through troops of unrecording friends, A deedful life, a silent voice.
And you have missed the irreverent doom
Of those that wear the poet's crown;
Hereafter neither knave nor clown Shall hold their orgies at your tomb.
For now the poet cannot die,
Nor leave his music as of old,
But round him, ere he scarce be cold, Begins the scandal and the cry:
"Give out the faults he would not show!
Break lock and seal ! betray the trust!
Keep nothing sacred: 'tis but just
Ah, shameless ! for he did but sing
A song that pleased us from its worth:
No public life was his on earth,
He gave the people of his best :
His worst he kept, his best he gave.
My curse upon the clown and knave
Who makes it sweeter seem to be,
The little life of bank and brier,
The bird that pipes his lone desire,
Than he that warbles long and loud,
And drops at glory's temple-gates,
For whom the carrion vulture waits,
The volume which is, I believe, the earliest collection of letters, is a singular exception to that old-fashioned English reserve which I have spoken of-the volume
* On a kindred subject, that of the rash, posthumous publication of private diaries, or rather of the faithful performance of duty to the dead in their suppression, the reader is referred to the conduct of Lady Bute, the daughter of Lady Mary Wortley Montague, in the introductory anecdotes prefixed to Lord Wharncliffe's edition, p. 21. I may here observe that nothing more clearly shows the popular and cursory character of these lectures, (and this was my brother's view of them,) than that among the poets he does not mention Thomson or Collins, or, among the letter-writers, Lady Mary Wortley Montague. W. B. R.