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A Graphic Epistle.
and cold treats, which our absent friends might have given us without going out of town for them. A friend of mine,' he continues, 'who went to travel, used me far otherwise; for he gave me a prospect of the place, or an account of the people, from every country through which he passed.' He then introduces the following characteristic specimen of his friend's graphic power :
DEAR SIR, I believe this is the first letter that was ever sent you from the middle region, where I am at this present writing. Not to keep you in suspense, it comes to you from the top of the highest mountain in Switzerland, where I am now shivering among the eternal frosts and snows. I can scarce forbear dating it in December, though they call it the first of August at the bottom of the mountain. I assure you, I can hardly keep my ink from freezing in the middle of the dog-days. I am here entertained with the prettiest variety of snow-prospects that you can imagine; and have several pits of it before me, that are very near as old as the mountain itself; for in this country it is as lasting as marble. I am now upon a spot of it which they tell me fell about the reign of Charlemagne or King Pepin. The inhabitants of the country are as great curiosities as the country itself. They generally hire themselves out in their youth, and if they are musquet-proof, until about fifty, they bring home the money they have got, and the limbs they have left, to pass the rest of their time among their native mountains. One of the gentlemen of the place, who has come off with the loss of an eye only, told me, by way of
boast, that there were now seven wooden legs in his family; and that for these four generations, there had not been one in his line that carried a whole body with him to the grave. I believe you will think the style of this letter a little extraordinary; but the rehearsal will tell you that people in clouds must not be confined to speak sense; and I hope we that are above them may claim the same privilege. Wherever I am, I shall always be, sir, your most obedient, most humble ser
A vast amount of pleasure, and even of positive benefit, may unquestionably be derived from the interchange of familiar letters. During the first thirty years of the present century, an interesting correspondence, published in 1834, was carried on between Dr. Jebb, Bishop of Limerick, and his friend Mr. Alexander Knox. In the introduction to his new edition of Burnet's Lives, the Bishop refers in strong language to the many energetic truths, pregnant principles, and happy illustrations, for which he was primarily indebted to the ever-salient mind of Alexander Knox;' while the editor of the correspondence quotes a statement by Knox indicative of the value which he placed upon the Bishop's communications. 'I keep all Mr. Jebb's letters,' he said, 'for I know no such letter-writer in the English language. Every letter of his is
The Verbose Style.
fit to pass, without correction, from the postoffice into the printer's hands.' In one of Jebb's letters to Knox, in 1805, he says, 'Your letter was a cordial to me, and has actually contributed more to support me through a day of illness than you can, perhaps, well conceive. Will not this be a stimulus to you to write often, though it be but half a page? My temperament is such that a little sound wisdom, thrown in at a needful time, cheers my spirits far more than anything which society can afford. Happy as I am in conversing with you, I doubt whether, in the hour of nervous depression, a letter from you would not tend more to calm and compose my mind than even a whole day of actual conversation with you.'
Another frequent blemish, of a very different character from those already referred to, is what may be termed the verbose or exaggerated style, in which adjectives and adverbs are most profusely and unmeaningly introduced. Letters of this complexion hardly ever proceed from the pens of the humbler grades of society. They are almost entirely the productions of a certain class of young ladies, who believe that they are possessed of a romantic turn of mind,
Underlining of Words.
and whose favourite occupation consists in the perusal of 'sensational' novels.
A favourite author refers to the underlining of words as a common practice among female letter-writers. 'Their consciousness of no-meaning,' he says, 'worries them so, that the meaning, which, they are aware, is not in any words they can use, they try to put into them by scoring them like a leg of pork, which their letters now and then much resemble !' He acknowledges, however, that the practice is not confined to the ladies, and that it is frequently indulged in by certain men of vigorous minds— particularly soldiers and men of science-who are more conversant with things than with words, and who have never studied composition as an art. 'In good prose,' says Frederick Schlegel, 'every word should be underlined;' 'that is,' continues Archdeacon Hare, 'every word should be the right word, and then no word would be righter than another. We never meet with italics in Plato or Cicero, or indeed in any of the Greek and Roman writers.' A still more aggravating practice is the underlining of the wrong words, in which some thoughtless correspondents-both male and female
are inclined to indulge. In like manner, many a public speaker, on the platform, in the pulpit, and at the bar, loses a large amount of force by the positively painful habit of accentuating the wrong words. On a hearer with any pretension to culture, such a style of delivery produces the same agreeable sensation as a favourite air played or sung out of tune on a musician with an exquisite ear!
Letters, as well as compositions of a more elaborate kind, are often deformed by the continual occurrence of very long sentences. It has been remarked that long sentences form a striking feature in the writings of Sir William Temple, whose style is usually acknowledged to be singularly lucid and melodious; but in his case, as has been said, it will be found, upon close examination, that 'they are not swollen by parenthetical matter, that their structure is scarcely ever intricate, that they are formed merely by accumulation, and that, by the simple process of now and then leaving out a conjunction, and now and then substituting a full stop for a semicolon, they might, without any alteration in the order of the words, be broken up into very short periods, with no sacri