Page images


The Ettrick Shepherd.

Quaint and Pithy Letters.

Apropos to the correspondence of eminent individuals, I may here introduce a few curiously expressed epistles from my own collection of autographs, which embraces a goodly array of the celebrities of the present century; and, of course, an additional amount of interest is attached to them from the circumstance-so far, at least, as I am aware of their never having been published. Towards the end of the year 1813, the 'Ettrick Shepherd' writes from Edinburgh to his brother William, with reference to his celebrated poem, The Queen's Wake, and various other matters :


EDIN., Novr. 28, 1813.

DEAR BROTHER,-I have been very much to blame in not answering your letter, but the truth is that I never write any letters. The one of yours which I received in Athol I cannot lay my hands upon, but I know I objected particularly to the terms perfect breed and perfection of a breed. I received all my things in the box safe, and I find them of excellent quality. I am sorry I have not got a copy of the Wake to you, tho' I sent for one. I send you the Review and Mag. You shall have a copy of the poem soon. I will see my nephew Robert today, as I am bound to the south.

Mr. Gray has a good

Lady Charlotte Bury.


letter from you, which I understand he has been reading in all the literary circles of Edinr., to show them, as he says, that the genius of the family is not all concentred in one head. For God's sake, take some thought of your wases and weres, has and have, is and are, etc. Excuse me, my dear William, for, believe me, the writing of a letter is now the greatest penance I suffer.I am your affectionate brother,


A few years later, Lady Charlotte Bury indites a somewhat comical note to Mr. Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, the Horace Walpole of Scotland (from whom I received it), towards the close of which she abruptly substitutes the first for the third person! Lady Charlotte was the daughter of the fifth, and aunt of the eighth and present Duke of Argyll. She was twice married, first to Colonel John Campbell of the family of Shawfield; and secondly (in 1818) to the Rev. Edward Bury :



30th December 1826.

LADY CHARLOTTE BURY ventures to request a favour of Mr. Sharpe. If he has not forgotten that such a person is in existence, she hopes she may avail herself of old acquaintanceship; if he has, she can only plead Mr. Sharpe's well-known ability and learning on matters


'Style' of the Third Person.

such as she is about to address him, and trust to his politeness to forgive her.

Lady Charlotte Bury is very anxious to obtain every species of information respecting her family of Argyll -and if Mr. Sharpe will in any way assist her to do this, either by reference or by sending her any papers or documents, she will be very seriously obliged to him. There was a lady of the family who was a poetess-now whether bad or good, Lady C. would give the world for her poetry-but the most trifling circumstances will be all accounted valuable. Accept [the third person puzzles me] accept then, I pray, my compts. and good wishes and excuses, and forgive this chambermaid piece of eloquence. CHARLOTTE MARIA BURY.

Although the 'style' of the third person may be found suitable for invitations to dinner and certain other formal communications, there can be no doubt that it proves highly inconvenient when the note extends to any length. In such a case the result is generally far from elegant, and even the most skilful use of the pronouns is productive of ambiguity; e.g., ‘Mrs. Smith presents her compliments to Mrs. Simpson, and will feel extremely obliged by her informing her whether she could conveniently favour her with an interview in the course of to-morrow afternoon, as she is anxious to make some inquiries respecting her present housekeeper.- 18 CAMBRIDGE SQUARE, 20th November 1869.' Here

Henry Cockburn.


we have no fewer than five hers, of which three are applicable to Mrs. Smith and two to Mrs. Simpson; and two shes which are equally divided between them.

[ocr errors]

In the beginning of the year 1834, the genial friend and biographer of Lord Jeffrey pens a highly characteristic epistle to Mr. James Bridges, Writer to the Signet, who at that time held the post of agent for the Edinburgh 'Improvement' Commissioners. Except perhaps Sir Walter Scott, no native of Modern Athens' ever loved his ' own romantic town' more dearly, or more ardently desired to preserve its historical memorials, than Henry Cockburn. His natural indignation at the wanton removal of Trinity College Church, 'the finest Gothic fragment in Edinburgh,' must still be fresh in the recollection of his right-thinking fellow-citizens; but it is painful to acknowledge that, in these days of 'enlightened progress,' there are not many shoulders left to wear his chivalric mantle.

7th Janr. 1834.

MY DEAR SIR,-So the Lawnmarket house is at last to come down! You know that I have long had my patriotic eye on the three carved stones which have so long looked down on the last sufferings of my poor


Thomas Campbell.

clients below. Do tell the Commissioners to save them from the sale of the materials, which I see advertised for the 17th. They are of no value to any sane man; but very tempting to an idiot like me who has a taste for trash. Besides, I was expressly promised them by Provost Trotter as a bribe. You remember the zeal with which, when they were in the dead-thraw, I helped on these improvements, and I flatter myself that your ears yet ring with the various eloquent speeches I made in their behalf. To the public, this was, and is to remain, all pure public virtue. But, among ourselves, it was all with a view to these three carved stones-what are called by botanists stone pines. If any demur be made about them, I shall plot in the Faculty against the removal of the County Hall. But the Commissioners have too much justice. If any one of them talks of a price, tell him first, that anything so base would destroy the charm ; and secondly, that to make up for this, I mean to go and act white-bonnet at the sale of the other materials. So let the bribe stand.-Yours faithfully,


When living with a private tutor in Kent some five-and-twenty years ago, we frequently spent a portion of the winter evenings in reading aloud, and in going through one of Campbell's poems, a certain line presented itself, the meaning of which was acknowledged to be extremely doubtful. As I was then very anxious to obtain the author's autograph, I determined to present my compliments and to request him, as politely as possible, to interpret

« PreviousContinue »