Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

communicate about one subject, should be exhausted before he proceeds to another, so that he may not recur to it in the course of the letter.

By this means, all the materials of the letter will be arranged in proper order, and any misapprehension of the contents in the mind of the correspondent will be prevented.

A letter should be begun about one-third from the top of the page; and it may be needless to mention that the handwriting should be perfectly clear and legible, and that the most scrupulous attention be paid to the orthography and punctuation. Capital initials should never be used with nouns, unless when they are proper names, or happen to begin a sentence.*

With respect to the division of syllables, it should be remembered : Never to divide monosyllables, or words pronounced as monosyllables ; such as “robbed,” “sinned,” &c. The syllables of a proper noun should never be divided ; for example, it would be wrong to write Lon-don (the first syllable in one line and the second in the next)or Canter-bury, or Mr. John-son, &c. It may

be here useful to caution the learner against committing another very common fault in letterwriting ; viz. writing the word "yours” with an apostrophe before the final s (your's). This should never be done. The apostrophe is properly used only in nouns, to distinguish the possessive singular from the plural, and is never correctly applied to pronouns of

any class.

Another point for consideration is the length of a letter. If we write with some special purpose, the letter should contain nothing but the one subject; but if, as is often the case, we write to friends at a distance, a longer letter will be naturally expected. It would be strange, indeed, to write a very short note from Calcutta to London.

* This rule should be carefully observed, as there seems just now a tendency in some to revive the obsolete practice of writing every noun with a capital initial.

The practice of “holiday letter" writing is not to be recommended. There is nothing spontaneous or natural in holiday letters. They are, in general, stiff, formal compositions, always inspected by the teacher before they are despatched, and are, therefore, no criterion of a pupil's progress either in sense or style.

Many of our great writers are distinguished for the natural grace and ease of their epistolary style. The letters of Cowper, Gray, Lady Wortley Montagu, Pope, and others, specimens of which are here subjoined, are among the most celebrated.

SPECIMENS OF LETTERS,

To Joseph Hill, Esq.

June 25th, 1785. My dear friend, I write in a nook that I call

my

boudoir. It is a summer-house not much bigger than a sedan chair, the door of which opens into the garden, that is now crowded with pinks, roses, and honeysuckles, and the window into my neighbour's orchard. It formerly served an apothecary, now dead, as a smoking room ; and under my feet is a trap-door, which once covered a hole in the ground, where he kept his bottles.

a

At present, however, it is dedicated to sublime uses. Having lined it with garden mats, and furnished it with a table and two chairs, here I write all that I write in summer time, whether to my friends or to the public. It is secure from all noise, and a refuge from all intrusion ; for intruders sometimes trouble me in the winter evenings at Olney. But, thanks to my boudoir, I can now hide myself from them. A poet's retreat is sacred: they acknowledge the truth of that proposition, and never presume to violate it.

The last sentence puts me in mind to tell you that I have ordered my volume to your door. My bookseller is the most dilatory of all his fraternity ; it is more than a month since I returned him the last proof, and consequently, since the printing was finished. I sent him the manuscript at the beginning of last November, that he might publish it when the town was full, and he will hit the exact moment when it is entirely empty. Patience, you will perceive, is in no situation exempt from the severest trials, a remark that may serve to comfort you under the numberless trials of your own.

Yours, &c.,

WILLIAM COWPER.

To the Countess of Bute.

Louvère, July 20th, N.S., 1755. My dear Child,

I have now read over the books you were so good to send, and intend to say something of them all, though some are not worth speaking of. I shall begin, in respect to his dignity, with Lord Bolingbroke, who is a glaring proof how far vanity can blind a man, and how easy it is to varnish over, to one's self, the most criminal conduct. He declares he always loved his country, though he confesses he endeavoured to betray her to popery and slavery ; and loved his friends, though he abandoned them to distress, with all the blackest circumstances of treachery. His account of the Peace of Utrecht is almost equally unfair or partial. I shall allow that, perhaps, the views of the Whigs, at that time, were too vast, and the nation, dazzled by military glory, had hopes too sanguine ; but surely the same terms that the French consented to at the Treaty of Gertrudenberg, might have been obtained ; or, if the displacing of the Duke of Marlborough raised the spirits of our enemies to a degree of refusing what they had before offered, how can he excuse the guilt of removing him from the head of a victorious army, and exposing us to submit to any articles of peace, being unable to continue the war? I agree with him, that the idea of conquering France is a wild, extravagant notion, and would, if possible, be impolitic; but she might have been reduced to such a state as would have rendered her incapable of being terrible to her neighbours for some ages : nor should we have been obliged, as we have done almost ever since, to bribe the French ministers to let us live in quiet. So much for his political reasonings, which, I confess, are delivered in a florid easy style; but I cannot be of Lord Orrery's opinion that he is one of the best English writers. Well turned periods, or smooth lines, are not the perfection either of prose or verse; they may serve to adorn, but can never stand in the place of good sense. Copiousness of words, however ranged, is always false eloquence, though it will ever impose on some sort of understandings. How many readers and admirers has Madame de Sévigné, who only gives us, 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 tittle-tattle ; yet so well gilt over by airy expressions end a flowing style, she will always please the same people to whom Lord Bolingbroke will shine as a first-rate author. She is so far to be excused, that her letters were not intended for the press ; while he labours to display to posterity all the wit and learning he is master of, and sometimes spoils a good argument by a profusion of words, running out into several pages a thought that might have been more clearly expressed in a few lines, and, what is worse, often falls into contradiction and repetitions, which are almost unavoidable to all voluminous writers, and can only be forgiven to those retailers whose necessity compels them to diurnal scribbling, who load their meaning with epithets, and run into digressions, because (in the jockey phrase), it rids ground, that is, it covers a certain quantity of paper, to answer the demand of the day. A great part of Lord Bolingbroke's letters are designed to show his reading, which, indeed, appears to have been very extensive; but I cannot perceive that such a minute account of it can be of any use to the pupil he intends to instruct; nor can I help thinking he is far below either Tillotson or Addison in style, though the latter was sometimes more diffuse than his judgment approved,

« PreviousContinue »