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dashes, is inelegant; it argues either great ignorance of what is proper, or great indifference towards the person to whom it is addressed, and is consequently disrespectful. It makes no amends to add an apology for having scrawled a sheet of paper; or bad pens, for you should mend them; or want of time, for nothing is more important to you, or to which your time can more properly be devoted. I think I can know the character of a lady pretty nearly by her handwriting. The dashers are all impudent, however they may conceal it from themselves or others; and the scribblers flatter themselves with the vain hope, that, as their letter cannot be read, it may be mistaken for sense.'
Among other curious characteristics of modern times, most persons must have been struck by the vast number of begging-letters which find their way into the hands of a sympathizing public; and of late years it would appear that the fabrication of these documents has become a regular branch of
business.1 Although invariably cast aside by every one who pretends to possess the smallest amount of common sense, in many instances, unfortunately, they attain their unworthy object, and thus the evil is steadily perpetuated. Usually characterized by an utter disregard of logic, grammar, and orthography, they are sometimes very skilfully put together; and, from time to time, very elaborate examples are quoted in the public prints. It has been alleged that the most frequent recipients of begging-letters are ladies and clergymen,2 in consequence of their being generally regarded as more compassionate and tender-hearted than unsentimental, cold, cast-iron men of the world. Sterne takes the same view of the
1 During the year 1867, upwards of 2000 begging-letters were investigated by the 'Mendicity Society,' Red Lion Square, London, of which more than one half were found to be undeserving of notice.
2 A late legal friend,- -a shrewd observer of human nature,systematically disregarded all testimonials as to character and qualifications granted by clergymen, whose certificates he considered far too laudatory to be consistent with truth. There can be no doubt that many others besides clergymen are too much disposed, in writing such documents, to over-estimate the good, and to overlook the bad points of the parties to whom they relate; and accordingly the testimonial system is now beginning to be very generally distrusted.
ladies; but Dr. Johnson is of a directly opposite opinion. 'A beggar in the street,' he says, 'will more readily ask alms from a man, though there should be no marks of wealth in his appearance, than from even a well-dressed woman;' which he accounted for by the great degree of carefulness as to money that is to be found in the female sex. One of the most common forms of application is to send a book, print, or other article, with an earnest solicitation that it may be purchased for the benefit of the writer; which failing, it is delicately suggested that a few postage-stamps may be transmitted along with the proffered enclosure, to defray the cost of circulars. Even if this modest proposal should not be complied with, it is requested that the circular itself may be returned, with the view of its being sent to some other person! The following is a choice specimen of a comparatively recent production in the begging line, copied from the columns of a weekly journal :—
SIR,-At the suggestion of a friend, I sent my book and sermons, and if you could send anything for them, or obtain any subscribers, I should feel deeply grateful; for through having expended all my time and means upon the gratuitous delivery of my sermons and lectures in the
A distressed Usher.
hope of doing good, I am left without a shilling. Unless
I can immediately meet a £10 the printing, I shall be ruined.
so ill I can scarcely write.
bill to finish paying for The thought makes me
If you could in the smallest degree assist me in this my great extremity of need, I should feel so thankful, and shortly repay you, for then brighter days would dawn upon me. I entreat you to grant my request, or a debtors' prison awaits me, and the disgrace would kill me. God grant that you may not refuse me, and may his blessing rest upon you and all dear to you, prays yours truly, De-.
Oh! save me from the sad fate that awaits me.
As an example of a different style, I may also give an extract from an epistle addressed to a nobleman by a distressed usher upwards of twenty years ago, in which the writer mentions, among other particulars connected with his early history, that he was educated either for a clergyman, an officer of marines, or a cadet in the E.I. Company's service!' He then proceeds to make a very touching statement :—
An early marriage, at Gretna Green, irrevocably estranged my relations from me, blasted all my prospects in life, and doomed me, before I was eighteen years of age, to become a teacher of youth, in which capacity, on the small salary of a school-assistant, I have had to contend with the serious cares of rearing fourteen children, the
The ideal Begging-Letter Writer. 163
eight youngest of whom, with their poor mother, who has been a cripple from the painful effects of rheumatism, are still dependent upon me for support. . . . Twenty years ago, my Lord, there were in this part of the country, about twenty-four boarding-schools; but they have all disappeared except five, and those, also, are waning. In one of those five, to which the publication of Nicholas Nickleby appears to have given the coup-degrace, I was engaged more than seventeen years; but my services are no longer wanted.
The following graphic description of the ideal begging-letter writer is from the pen of Charles Dickens:
The natural phenomena of which he has been the victim are of a most astounding nature. He has had two children who have never grown up: who have never had anything to cover them at night; who have been continually driving him mad by asking in vain for food; who have never come out of fevers and measles (which, I suppose, has accounted for his fuming his letters with tobacco-smoke, as a disinfectant); who have never changed in the least degree through fourteen long revolving years. As to his wife, what that suffering woman has undergone, nobody knows. She has always been in an interesting situation through the same long period, and has never been confined yet. His devotion to her has been unceasing. He has never cared for himself; he could have perished-he would rather, in short--but was it not his Christian duty as a man, a husband, and a father, to write begging-letters when he looked at her? (He has usually remarked that he would call in the evening for an answer to this question.)
He has been the sport of the strangest misfortunes.