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“Such letters," says Lord Bacon, “as are written from wise men, are, of all the words of man, in my judgment, the best ; for they are more natural than orations and public speeches, and more advised than conferences or private ones.” The sources of pleasure and instruction to be found in the private correspondence of eminent persons, have never been fully explored'; much less have they been rendered accessible to the bulk of the reading public. Our language abounds in letters which contain the most vivid pictures of manners, and the most faithful and striking delineations of character; which are full of wit, wisdom, fancy, useful knowledge, noble and pious sentiment.
The task of the Editor has been that of selection from many hundreds of volumes, of classification upon some comprehensive system, and of occasional illustration and explanation. Whilst our earlier literature has been freely laid under contribution, much material has been been derived from the more recent. No letter has been introduced to which it was supposed any exception could be taken on the ground of taste or morals. Those only have been selected whose intrinsic merit was preëminent, or which shed light on some great public transaction, or the character of some distinguished person. Scaliger thought it very impertinent in Montaigne to think the world cared which he liked best, white wine or red; but it is nevertheless true, an unfading freshness of interest hangs around these trivial details which brings us, as it were, into the familiar presence of famous men. And probably very few would sympathize with the sentiment of Wordsworth, that if records of Horace and his contemporaries, composed upon“ the Boswellian plan,” were unearthed from the ruins of Herculaneum, he would regret to hear it, “ lest the beautiful ideal of those illustrious persons should be disfigured by incongruous features."
In the distribution of the letters, some have been found which could have been referred to either of several titles. An approximation, however, to an exact classification has, on the whole, seemed to the Editor much preferable to an arrangement on any other plan.
With one or two exceptions, no translations of foreign letters have been introduced. The principal exception has been in the case of Madame de Sévigné, whose letters have given equal pleasure to men of the world like Horace Walpole, and such scholars as Sir James Mackintosh. The selections have been made with the permission of the publishers, Messrs. Mason Brothers, from the American Edition, edited by Mrs. Hale. It is to be hoped that the promised additions to the “Library of Standard Letters ” may be soon forthcoming
JAMES P. HOLCOMBE. NEW YORK, December, 1865.
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
LETTER III.--Samuel Pepys to Mrs. Steward-A curious Wedding between a Blue-coat
LETTERS IV., V. VI., VII.--Madame de Sévigné to Madame de Coulanges.-A Slip be-
tween Cup and LipEngagement of Mademoiselle, Daughter of the Duke of Orleans, to
D'Æon. Note -Real sex of D’Æon,
LETTTER XLI.-Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton to Miss Buxton.-Dinner with Rothschild