A Letter Book Selected with an Introduction on the History and Art of Letter-Writing

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Language: English
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PREFACE

When my publishers were good enough to propose that I should undertake this book, they were also good enough to suggest that the Introduction should be of a character somewhat different from that of a school-anthology, and should attempt to deal with the Art of Letter-writing, and the nature of the Letter, as such. I formed a plan accordingly, by which the letters, and their separate Prefatory Notes, might be as it were illustrations to the Introduction, which was intended in turn to be a guide to them. Having done this with a proper Pourvu que Dieu lui prête vie referring to both book and author, I thought it well to look up next what had been done in the way before me, at least to the extent of what the London Library could provide me in circumstances of enforced abstinence from the Museum and from "Bodley." From its catalogue I selected a curious eighteenth-century Art of Letter Writing, and four nineteenth and earliest twentieth century books—Roberts's History of Letter Writing (1843) with Pickering's ever-beloved title-page and his beautiful clear print; the Littérature Epistolaire of Barbey d'Aurevilly—a critic never to be neglected though always to be consulted with eyes wide open and brain alert; finally, two Essays in Dr. Jessopp's Studies by a Recluse and in the Men and Letters of Mr. Herbert Paul, once a very frequent associate of mine. The title of the first mentioned book speaks it pretty thoroughly. "The Art of Letter Writing: Divided into Two Parts. The First: Containing Rules and Directions for writing letters on all sorts of subjects [this line as well as several others is Rubricked] with a variety of examples equally elegant and instructive. The Second: a Collection of Letters on the Most interesting occasions of life in which are inserted—The proper method of Addressing Persons of all ranks; some necessary orthographical directions, the right forms of message for cards; and thoughts upon a multiplicity of subjects; the whole composed upon an entirely new plan—chiefly calculated for the instruction of youth, but may be [sic] of singular service to Gentlemen, Ladies and all others who are desirous to attain the true style and manner of a polite epistolary intercourse." May our own little book have no worse fortune! Mr. Roberts's avowedly restricts itself to the fifth century as a terminus ad quem, though it professes to start "from the earliest times," and its seven hundred pages deal very honestly and fully with their subjects. The essays of Dr. Jessopp and Mr. Paul are of course merely Essays, of a score or two of pages: though the first is pretty wide in its scope. There would be nothing but good to be said of either, if both had not been, not perhaps blasphemous but parsimonious of praise, towards "Our Lady of the Rocks." It cannot be too often or too solemnly laid down that an adoration of Madame de Sévigné as a letter-writer is not crotchet or fashion or affectation—is no result of merely taking authority on trust....