Page images
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

ever thou mightest have been rendered; but admirable thou wert, and ever wilt thou be thought so.' She at first adopted the prevailing style of the wits of the day, but her own good sense, as well as foreign travel and extended commerce with the world, ultimately induced her to abandon their formality and affectation; and accordingly her later letters have generally been regarded as her most brilliant productions. The most interesting of these are addressed to the Countess of Oxford, to her own daughter (the Countess of Bute), and to Sir James Steuart. A third edition of her Life and Letters-in two volumes 8vo, edited by her great-grandson, the late Lord Wharncliffe, appeared in 1861.


I tremble for what we are doing. Are you sure you shall love me for ever? shall we never repent? ... Reflect now for the last time in what manner you must take me. I shall come to you with only a nightgown and petticoat, and that is all you will get by me. . . . 'Tis something odd for a woman that brings nothing to expect anything; but after the way of my education, I dare not pretend to live but in some degree suitable to it. I had rather die than return to a dependency upon relations I have disobliged. Save me from that fear if you love




Letters to her Sister, etc.


I don't know very well how to begin. I am perfectly unacquainted with a proper matrimonial style. After all, I think 'tis best to write as if we were not married at all. I lament your absence as if you were still my lover, and I am impatient to hear that you have fixed a time for your return. . .. (After alluding to the children of the family in which she was residing, she thus proceeds :—) It furnishes my imagination with agreeable pictures of our future life; and I flatter myself with the hopes of one day enjoying with you the same satisfactions, and that, after as many years together, I may see you retain the same fondness for me as I shall certainly do for you, when the noise of a nursery may have more charms for us than the music of an opera.

TO HER SISTER (cir. 1727).

My cure for lowness of spirits is not drinking nasty water, but galloping all day, and a moderate glass of champagne at night in good company; and I believe that this regimen, closely followed, is one of the most wholesome that can be prescribed, and may save a world of filthy doses, and more filthy doctor's fees at the year's end. I rode to Twickenham last night, and, after so long a stay in town, am not sorry to find myself in my garden; our neighbourhood is something improved by the removal of some old maids, and the arrival of some fine gentle



(cir. 1750).

To say truth, I think myself an uncommon kind of creature, being an old woman without superstition, peevishness, or censoriousness. I am so far from thinking

[blocks in formation]

my youth was passed in an age of more virtue and sense than the present, that I am of opinion the world improves every day. I confess I remember to have dressed for St. James' Chapel with the same thoughts your daughters will have at the opera, but am not of the Rambler's mind, that the church is the proper place to make love in; and the peepers behind a fan, who divided their glances between their lovers and their prayer-book, were not at all modester than those that now laugh aloud in public walks.

The poet Gray-whose touching 'Elegy' is so universally appreciated-was born in 1716, and died at the age of fifty-five. Although somewhat indisposed to mingle in the society of the great world, he delighted to comment upon its sayings and doings in his letters to his literary friends, which are justly admired for the chasteness of their style and the elegance of their diction. Wherever he went, he made copious notes, and wrote graphic descriptions of everything that came under his observation, to his various correspondents. In 1739, he accompanied Horace Walpole, as travelling companion, in a tour through France and Italy; and his account of all he saw in Florence, Rome, and elsewhere, is characterized by fine taste, as well as profound learning. After two years' travel together, Gray and Walpole sepa


Correspondence with

rated at Reggio, in consequence of 'an unfortunate disagreement arising from the difference of their tempers.' According to his biographer Mason, Gray was curious, pensive, and philosophical; while Walpole was gay, lively, and inconsiderate. About twenty-six years later (1765), he made a journey into Scotland as far as Dunkeld and Killiecrankie; and the description of his tour, in his letters to his friends, abounds with touches of his peculiar style and humour. His interesting correspondence with his friend the Rev. William Mason, was published by the Rev. John Mitford in 1853.



DEAR MASON,-Res est sacra miser (says the poet), but I say it is the happy man that is the sacred thing, and therefore let the profane keep their distance. . . . I am returned from Scotland, charmed with my expedition; it is of the Highlands I speak; the Lowlands are worth seeing once, but the mountains are ecstatic, and ought to be visited in pilgrimage once a year. None but those monstrous creatures of God know how to join so much beauty with so much horror. A fig for your poets, painters, gardeners, and clergymen, that have not been among them; their imagination can be made up of nothing but bowling-greens, flowering shrubs, horse-ponds, Fleetditches, shell grottoes, and Chinese rails. Then I had so beautiful an autumn. Italy could hardly produce a nobler

the Rev. William Mason.



scene, and this so sweetly contrasted with that perfection of nastiness and total want of accommodation, that Scotland only can supply. Oh! you would have blessed yourself. I shall certainly go again; what a pity it is I cannot draw, nor describe, nor ride on horseback. . . . Dr. Balguy says Mrs. Mason is very handsome, so you are his friend for ever. Lord Newnham, I hear, has illhealth of late; it is a nervous case, so have a care: how do your eyes do? Adieu! my respects to the bride. I would kiss her, but you stand by and pretend it is not the fashion, though I know they do so at Hull.-I am, ever yours. T. G.


March 28th, 1767.

MY DEAR MASON,-I break in upon you at a moment when we least of all are permitted to disturb our friends, only to say that you are daily and hourly present to my thoughts. If the worst be not yet passed, you will neglect and pardon me; but if the last struggle be over, -if the poor object of your long anxieties be no longer sensible to your kindness, or to her own sufferings, allow me (at least in idea, for what could I do were I present more than this?) to sit by you in silence, and pity from my heart, not her who is at rest, but you who lose her, May He who made us, the Master of our pleasures and of our pains, preserve and support you. Adieu! I have long understood how little you had to hope.

The letters of another poet-Cowper (b. 1731, d. 1800)—are regarded by many persons as the most delightful correspondence in the English language. Remarkable for their combination

« PreviousContinue »