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Increase of Correspondence.

191

reports of the Postmaster-General, will furnish some idea of the progressive rate of increase in the number of letters delivered in the three divisions of the United Kingdom :

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Accordingly, in the year 1868, the proportion of letters delivered to the population was, in the case of the whole kingdom, 26 to each person; being 30 to each person in England, 24 to each person in Scotland, and only 10 to each person in Ireland.1 Considering the enormous multitudes in first and second childhood who never write at all, and also those enviable individuals with whom the receipt of a letter constitutes an

1 At the announcement of the death of Morgan Owen, an eminent Welsh bard and antiquary, at the age of 80, about two years ago, it was stated that he had never either written or received a letter during his whole life.

192

Receipt of Letters.

historical event, the appetite or necessity for letter-writing, among certain classes of the community, must be what our old friend Dominie Sampson would have termed prodigious.' What effect the extended use of the telegraph may produce upon correspondence, time alone will show; but it is hardly to be expected that, however cheap the transmission of messages may yet become, the electric wire will take the place of the pen to any great extent, except in the case of certain commercial and political communications.

Receipt of Letters.

The receipt of a budget of letters at one's morning meal is generally productive of a mixture of pleasure and pain. It rarely happens that they are all gratifying. The happiness which we derive from one or two joyous epistles from friends or relatives at a distance is considerably modified by the simultaneous appearance of a bankrupt tradesman's bill, an application for a loan, or the intimation of an unexpected death. Cowper's description of the

A Provost's Correspondence.

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postman of last century is perfectly applicable

to our own day :

'He whistles as he goes, light-hearted wretch,
Cold and yet cheerful messenger of grief
Perhaps to thousands, and of joy to some;
To him indifferent whether grief or joy.'

The multifarious character of the communications received by the chief magistrate of a large community was very happily referred to by a late estimable Lord Provost of the Scottish metropolis, at a dinner which was given to him, about four years ago, by a number of his fellowcitizens' His first magisterial breakfast,' he said, 'is scarcely over, but among the letters and parcels which bestrew his table are several ominously fastened packets unlike anything his previous experience has ever met with; they are opened of course in due turn, and the first is found to contain a considerable volume of manuscript poems, ready for publication, and only awaiting his Lordship's criticism, with perhaps a small advance towards the necessary expenses, to be repaid in any number of copies. Under the next seal is discovered a different surprise, but a no less complimentary tribute to the wisdom of the robe;

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194 The Magisterial Mantle.

it is in the shape of an elaborate essay on a new and easy mode of reducing the national debt; it is very short, only some fifty pages of manuscript; but the author proposes to wait upon his Lordship, and explain, more fully than he can do in such a brief form, his views upon this all-important subject. What an imperishable monument will his Lordship raise for his memory if he accomplish this great work; and the author is prepared to demonstrate that, by the most trifling outlay on the part of his Lordship, the enterprise may be set on foot. If one finds it difficult to settle down calmly to ordinary routine of business after having thus soared amid the loftiest flights of genius, there is surely some excuse. But there is a still greater change effected by this wondrous mantle, for it has only to be placed upon the shoulders of the infant Provost when there appears to be gently distilled into his heart feelings of the most unbounded charity and generosity-a true, sterling benevolence unattained by any ordinary mortal; and, curious to say, by some similar magical influence, the possession of this virtue at once becomes known to every individual upon whom fortune has not

Destruction of Letters.

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cast a favourable eye, and that, too, though he may be far beyond the limits within which a narrow conventionality has prescribed the civic boundaries. The benevolence of the Chief Magistrate knows no such limits; it is privileged with appeals from every quarter of the globe; the more it is appealed to, the more brightly it burns; in fact, it is inextinguishable.'

People act very differently with reference to the destruction of their letters. While some persons have a strong tendency to preserve every letter they receive, others go to the opposite extreme, and systematically indulge in their wholesale extinction. How frequently it happens that the inconsiderate destruction of a letter ultimately proves the source of very great inconvenience! Most sensible persons endeavour to make a selection-retaining their more important letters, and committing the great mass of their correspondence to the flames; but it is sometimes very difficult to draw the line.1

Handwriting.

In an essay on letters and letter-writers, a few words on the subject of handwriting will 1 See Appendix No. VII.

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