« PreviousContinue »
all conspire to put such a pleasure out of my reach. The only holiday I get in the year carries me naturally towards London, to meet my father and brother ; however, I will not despair. I mention these things explicitly now, that there may be no occasion to trouble you any more ; and this, I dare say you will agree with me, is the better plan. I have received and nearly read Georgel.--Ever, my dear friend, yrs. affectionately.
THE SAME TO MRS. MURCHISON.
June 8th, 1837. ENGAGED, my dear madam, to Sir George Philips, or should have been too happy ;—will come in the evening, if possible.
I am surprised that an Archbishop, living in an alluvial country, should be at your table. Are there no bishops among the Silurian rocks !--Ever yours.
Sydney Smith's two jocular epistles may be appropriately followed up by a characteristic letter from the pen of a lamented modern humourist to a friend in New York, on his return froin a visit to America, about thirteen years ago,—I refer to William Makepeace Thackeray. It was written partly on board the Canada, and partly after he had reached London :
On board, last day—May 7, 1856. MY DEAR OLD - I tell you that writing is just as dismal and disgusting as saying good-bye. I hate it, and but for a sense of duty I wouldn't write at all-confound me if I would. But you know, after a fellow has
William M. Thackeray.
been so uncommonly hospitable and kind, and that sort of thing, a fellow ought, you see, to write and tell a fellow that a fellow is very much obliged ; and, in a word, you understand. So you made me happy when I was with you, you make me sorry to come away, and you make me happy now when I think what a kind, generous, friendly W. D. R. you are. You have back in the Bower of Virtue—you'll fill that jug when (sic) one day and drink my health, won't you ; And when you come to Europe, you'll come to me, etc.—and my girls, mind, and we'll see if there is not some good claret at 36 Onslow Square. . . . We have had a dreary rough passage-yesterday the hardest blow of all. I have been ill with one of my old intermittent attacks, after which my mouth broke out with an unusually brilliant eruption, and I am going to Liverpool with a beard eight days' long. It is not becoming in its present stage. I have not been sea-sick; but haven't been well a single day. Wine is ojus to me, segars create loathing ; couldn't I write something funnier and more cheerful ? Perhaps I may when we are fairly into Liverpool ; perhaps we may be there to-night, perhaps not till to-morrow morning, for it blew a hurricane in our face last night, and the odds are we shall not have water enough to pass the bar. Home (viz., 36 Onslow Square, Brompton, London), May 9. We did pass the bar, and didn't I have a good dinner at the Adelphi, and wasn't I glad to get back to town yesterday, and wasn't there a great dinner at the Garrick Club (the annual Shakespeare dinner which ought to have come off on the 23d ult., but was put off on account of a naval review), and didn't I make a Yankee speech, and Oh Lor—haven't I got a headache this morning? I'm ashamed to ask for a sober-water, that's the fact. And so here the old house, the old room, the old teapot by my bedside—the old trees 76
nodding in at the window-it looks as if I'd never been away-and that it's a dream I have been making. Well, in my dream I dreamed that there was an uncommonly good fellow by name W. D. R., and I dreamed that he treated me with all sorts of kindne and I sent him and J. C. B. P. and D. D. (and what 's his name down-stairs ?) my heartiest regards; and when my young women come home, I shall tell them what a deal of kindness their papa had across the water—so good-bye my dear and believe me, always gratefully yours,
W. M. THACKERAY.
Letters in Modern Biographies. A very interesting feature of some of our best modern biographies—such as Lockhart's Life of Sir Walter Scott, and Stanley's Life of Dr. Arnold—is the frequent introduction of letters, by means of which the subjects of the memoirs are made to speak for themselves. The best of all biographies—Boswell's Life of Fohnson--also contains a good many letters from the pen of the great moralist--the comparative brevity of the most of which is explained by the Doctor's avowed objection to the publication of correspondence. “It is now, he said, 'become so much the fashion to publish letters, that, in order to avoid it, I put as little into mine as I can.' 'Do what you
Dr. Johnson's Letlers.
will, sir,' replied Boswell, you cannot avoid it. Should you even write as ill as you can, your letters would be published as curiosities. Most of Johnson's letters exhibit traces of the precise and vigorous style which distinguishes his more important writings, and their comparatively formal character presents a striking contrast to the off-hand, easy, familiar correspondence of many other literary men. Even in his most elaborate productions, his great knowledge of men and manners is imperfectly displayed. It has been said that ‘his maxims perish under that load of words which was designed for their defence and ornament. But it is clear from the remains of his conversation, that he had more of that homely wisdom which nothing but experience and observation can give, than any writer since the time of Swift.'
SAMUEL JOHNSON TO MRS. THRALE. DEAR MADAM,-Since you have written with the attention and tenderness of ancient time, your letters give me a great part of the pleasure which a life of solitude admits. You will never bestow any share of your goodwill on one who deserves better. Those that have loved longest, love best. A sudden blaze of kindness may, by a single blast of coldness, be extinguished ; but that fondness, which length of time has connected with many cir78
The great Lexicographer
cumstances and occasions, though it may for a while be suppressed by disgust or resentment, with or without a cause, is hourly revived by accidental recollections. To those that have lived long together, everything heard and everything seen recalls some pleasure communicated, or some benefit conferred; some petty quarrel, or some slight endearment. Esteem of great powers, or amiable qualities newly discovered, may embroider a day or a week, but a friendship of twenty years is interwoven with the texture of life. A friend may be often found and lost, but an old friend never can be found, and nature has provided that he cannot easily be lost. (After allusions to the Davenants and Lord Kilmurry :-) We all know what death should teach us ; let us all be diligent to learn. Lucy Porter has lost her brother. But whom I have lost—let me not now remember. Let not your loss be added to the mournful catalogue. Write soon again to, Madam, your, etc., SAM'L JOHNSON.
THE SAME TO THE EARL OF CHESTERFIELD.
February 7th, 1755. MY LORD,—I have been lately informed, by the proprietor of the World, that two papers, in which my Dictionary is recommended to the public, were written by your Lordship. To be so distinguished is an honour which, being very little accustomed to favours from the great, I know not well how to receive, or in what terms to acknowledge. When, upon some slight encouragement, I first visited your Lordship, I was overpowered, like the rest of mankind, by the enchantment of your address, and could not forbear to wish that I might boast myself Le vainqueur du vainqueur de la terre ;that I might obtain that regard for which I saw the world contending ; but I found my attendance so little encouraged, that neither pride nor modesty would suffer me