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146

Epistolary Blemishes.

advice to those of my readers who may ever happen to be placed in the unpleasant position of either receiving or having to indite an angry effusion. In many instances, the 'golden' course after the receipt of a fiery communication is to take no notice of it; but if an answer should be considered necessary, it is generally desirable not to write by return of post. A few hours of cool reflection has a wonderful effect in modifying the intensity of the first impressions, and in the large majority of cases, the most prudent course is to bottle up a considerable amount of one's original dudgeon. We know from the highest authority that, whether verbal or written, 'a soft answer turneth away wrath.'

Epistolary Blemishes.

A very sudden termination, without the slightest warning, is in great favour with a certain class of correspondents, the most important announcement being immediately followed by the writer's signature. Others, again, endeavour to account for an abrupt close by excusing themselves on the score of being 'in haste to

Stereotyped Conclusions.

147

catch the post,' while a very frequent mode of wind-up consists of a humble apology for this hurried scrawl.' The most common of all con

clusions, however, embraces a series of affectionate messages in the shape of 'kind regards' or best wishes' to Tom, Dick, and Harry, or to 'the family circle;' and in the case of some very generous correspondents, every known relative of the recipient, both direct and collateral, is favoured with a distinct portion of the writer's love! In addition to their many other good qualities, the letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, to which I have already referred, are remarkable for the great variety of style with which they close, as well as for the graceful and pleasing manner in which the writer usually slides into the concluding assurance of her faithfulness or affection.

While speaking of stereotyped and commonplace conclusions, I may briefly refer to one or two other blemishes of pretty frequent occurrence, and of a still more objectionable kind. As a topic of conversation, particularly among comparative strangers, the state of the weather is universally acknowledged to be invaluable, furnishing as it does a safe and prudent intro

148

Meteorological Letters.

duction to more special subjects. The same may be said of all the ordinary events of nature, such as the appearance of the first snowdrop, or the fall of the leaf; but incessant allusion to these matters in the course of a friendly correspondence is very far from edifying. However much interested the recipient of a letter may feel in the meteorological conditions of his own immediate neighbourhood, he is, in most cases, comparatively indifferent respecting the amount of rain or sunshine, or of heat or cold, experienced by his correspondent in some distant part of the kingdom.

Other topics besides the state of the weather are very much out of place in epistolary commerce. As Addison truly remarks, in the Tatler, 'to desire to know how Damon goes on with his courtship to Sylvia, or how the wine tastes at the Old Devil,1 are threadbare subjects,

1 If wine is not a very edifying subject for correspondence, as a perpetual topic of conversation it is even more repulsive to all who possess even the average amount of brains. In these abstemious days, when a long sederunt at the dinner-table is quite a rare occurrence, the tiresome discussion of vintages still constitutes a very common occupation; and the most fluent prosers on the subject are not unfrequently shallow pretenders, who, if blindfolded, could hardly tell the difference between port, claret, and burgundy.

A Graphic Epistle.

149

and cold treats, which our absent friends might have given us without going out of town for them. A friend of mine,' he continues, 'who went to travel, used me far otherwise; for he gave me a prospect of the place, or an account of the people, from every country through which he passed.' He then introduces the following characteristic specimen of his friend's graphic power :

DEAR SIR, I believe this is the first letter that was ever sent you from the middle region, where I am at this present writing. Not to keep you in suspense, it comes to you from the top of the highest mountain in Switzerland, where I am now shivering among the eternal frosts and snows. I can scarce forbear dating it in December, though they call it the first of August at the bottom of the mountain. I assure you, I can hardly keep my ink from freezing in the middle of the dog-days. I am here entertained with the prettiest variety of snow-prospects that you can imagine; and have several pits of it before me, that are very near as old as the mountain itself; for in this country it is as lasting as marble. I am now upon a spot of it which they tell me fell about the reign of Charlemagne or King Pepin. The inhabitants of the country are as great curiosities as the country itself. They generally hire themselves out in their youth, and if they are musquet-proof, until about fifty, they bring home the money they have got, and the limbs they have left, to pass the rest of their time among their native mountains. One of the gentlemen of the place, who has come off with the loss of an eye only, told me, by way of

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Edifying Correspondence.

boast, that there were now seven wooden legs in his family; and that for these four generations, there had not been one in his line that carried a whole body with him to the grave. I believe you will think the style of this letter a little extraordinary; but the rehearsal will tell you that people in clouds must not be confined to speak sense; and I hope we that are above them may claim the same privilege.—Wherever I am, I shall always be, sir, your most obedient, most humble ser

vant.

A vast amount of pleasure, and even of positive benefit, may unquestionably be derived from the interchange of familiar letters. During the first thirty years of the present century, an interesting correspondence, published in 1834, was carried on between Dr. Jebb, Bishop of Limerick, and his friend Mr. Alexander Knox. In the introduction to his new edition of Burnet's Lives, the Bishop refers in strong language to the many energetic truths, pregnant principles, and happy illustrations, for which he was primarily indebted to the 'ever-salient mind of Alexander Knox ;' while the editor of the correspondence quotes a statement by Knox indicative of the value which he placed upon the Bishop's communications. I keep all Mr. Jebb's letters,' he said, 'for I know no such letter-writer in the English language. Every letter of his is

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