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Letters to Lady Hesketh, etc.
WILLIAM COWPER TO LADY HESKETH.1
WESTON LODGE, Feb. 4, 1789. MY DEAR COUSIN,-A letter of mine is no sooner sealed and sent than I begin to be dissatisfied with, and to hate it. I have accordingly hated the two letters that I have sent to you since your departure, on many accounts, but principally because they have neither of them expressed any proportion of what I have felt. I have mourned for the loss of you, and they have not said so. Deal with them, as you desire me, for another reason, to deal with yours,-burn them, for they deserve it. With Mrs. Unwin's best compliments, I remain, my beloved coz, most truly thine,
THE SAME TO SAMUEL ROSE, ESQUIRE.
THE LODGE, June 8th, 1790.
MY DEAR FRIEND,-Among the many who love and esteem you, there is none who rejoices more in your felicity than myself. Far from blaming, I commend you much for connecting yourself, young as you are, with a well-chosen companion for life. Entering on the state with uncontaminated morals, you have the best possible prospect of happiness, and will be secure against a thousand and ten thousand temptations, to which, at an early period of life, in such a Babylon as you must necessarily inhabit, you would otherwise have been exposed. I see it too in the light you do, as likely to be advantageous to you in your profession. Men of business have a better opinion of a candidate for employment who is married, because he has given bond to the world, as you observe,
1 Lady Hesketh was the daughter of the poet's uncle, Mr. Ashley Cowper, to whose other daughter, Theodora, he was at one time deeply attached.
and to himself, for diligence, industry, and attention. It is altogether, therefore, a subject of much congratulation; and mine, to which I add Mrs. Unwin's, is very sincere. Samson at his marriage proposed a riddle to the Philistines. I am no Samson, neither are you a Philistine; yet expound to me the following, if you can: -What are they which stand at a distance from each other, and meet without ever moving? Should you be so fortunate as to guess it, you may propose it to the company when you celebrate your nuptials; and if you can win thirty changes of raiment by it, as Samson did by his, let me tell you they will be no contemptible acquisition to a young beginner. You will not, I hope, forget your way to Weston, in consequence of your marriage, where you and yours will be always welcome.
Probably the largest published correspondence in the English language, and the last to which I shall refer at any length, is that of Horace Walpole, third son of the Prime Minister, and ultimately fourth Earl of Orford, who was born in 1717, and died in 1797, at the age of fourscore. Mr. Peter Cuningham's edition of his Letters, in nine vols. 8vo, published in 1859, contains no fewer than 2665 epistles, extending over a period of upwards of sixty years. Walpole's letters have been described as 'inimitable pictures of society and of human character, drawn by the hand of one who was a master in the delineation of scenes from familiar life;
Leading Features of
not, it is true, inspiring his figures with poetic truth or serious significance, but shedding over all of them a gaily comic light. They are a kind of satires; and few compositions claiming that name are equal to them in lively wit, in striking grasp of character, in picturesque colouring of incidents, and in apposite, epigrammatic, vigorous language.' Whatever may be thought of Walpole's tastes and friendships in the present day, they were certainly quite sincere; and accordingly it is to be hoped that no impartial reader will acquiesce in Macaulay's estimate of his character, to the effect that affectation is the essence of the man, and if it were taken away nothing would be left.' No doubt, his earliest letters are overloaded with classical quotations; but it ought to be borne in mind, that he wrote at a period when every man of letters considered that an idea was greatly enhanced in value when expressed in Latin; and moreover, the blemish in question entirely disappears in his later life. bulk, as well as the best of his letters,' in the opinion of Mr. Cuningham, 'are addressed to people at a distance: to Mann, in Florence; to Montagu, on the skirts of a Northamptonshire
forest; to Bentley, in exile for debt; to Cole, in the Fens of Cambridgeshire; to Mason, in his Yorkshire parsonage; to blind Madame du Deffand, in the gilded saloons of Paris; and to Lady Ossory, seeking solitude, after her divorce, in the woods of Ampthill. . . . He lived throughout a long life in the best society and in the best clubs. . . . His letters are absolute jests and story-books, and the exact standard of easy, engaging writing. . . . He has the art to interest us in very little matters, and to enliven subjects seemingly the most barren.' Walpole himself tells us that his letters are to be looked upon in their proper character of newspapers,' and that if they possess any excellence in point of style, it must be imputed to his careful study of the correspondence of Madame de Sévigné and his friend Gray. 'I generally write in a hurry,' he informs one of his many correspondents, and say anything that comes into my head. . . . I cannot compose letters like Pliny and Pope.' Elsewhere he says to Montagu, Mine is a life of letter-writing.' Correspondence, in short, was his favourite pursuit.
Letter to Miss Berry.
HORACE WALPOLE TO MISS BERRY.
BERKELEY SQUARE, May 26, 1791. I AM rich in letters from you. I received that by Lord Elgin's courier first, as you expected, and its elder the next day. You tell me mine entertains you ; tant mieux. It is my wish, but my wonder; for I live so little in the world, that I do not know the present generation by sight; for, though I pass by them in the streets, the hats with valences, the folds above the chin of the ladies, and the dirty shirts and shaggy hair of the young men, who have levelled nobility almost as much as the nobility in France have, have confounded all individuality. Besides, if I did go to public places and assemblies, which my going to roost earlier prevents, the bats and owls do not begin to fly abroad till far in the night, when they begin to see and be seen. However, one of the empresses of fashion, the Duchess of Gordon, uses fifteen or sixteen hours of her four-and-twenty. I heard her journal of last Monday. She first went to Handel's music in the Abbey ; she then clambered over the benches, and went to Hastings' trial in the Hall; after dinner, to the play; then to Lady Lucan's assembly; after that to Ranelagh, and returned to Mrs. Hobart's faro-table; gave a ball herself in the evening of that morning, into which she must have got a good way; and set out for Scotland the next day. Hercules could not have achieved a quarter of her labours in the same space of time. . . . The rest of my letter must be literary, for we have no news. (Then follow strictures on Boswell's Life of Dr. Johnson, Burke's Character of Rousseau, etc.) . . . When you return, I shall lend you three volumes in quarto of another work, with which you will be delighted. They are State letters in the reigns of Henry VIII., Mary, Elizabeth, and James; being the correspondence of the Talbot and Howard