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own highest prerogative—original invention ! His 66 Castle of Otranto" is the first of its genus, and has consecrated him the founder of that delightful school of literary fiction, of which Radcliffe, Scott, and a host of far inferior spirits, are but the disciples ;t while his “ Cor
* “ It was an attempt to blend the two kinds of romance," says its author, “ the ancient and the modern. In the former, all was im. agination and improbability : in the latter, nature is always intended to be (and sometimes has been) copied with success. Invention has not been wanting ; but the great resources of fancy have been dammed up, by a strict adherence to common life. But if in the latter species nature has cramped imagination, she did but take her revenge, having been totally excluded from old romances. The actions, sentiments, conversations, of the heroes and heroines of ancient days, were as unnatural as the machines employed to put them in motion."— Preface to the second edition of Otranto.
+ The first imitation of Otranto was “ The Old English Baron,” of which Walpole gives the following notice.
" I have seen, too, the criticism you mention on “The Castle of Otranto,' in the preface to • The Old English Baron.' It is not at all oblique, but, though mixed with high compliments, directly attacks the visionary part, which, says the author or authoress, makes one laugh. I do assure you, I have not had the smallest inclination to return that attack. It would even be ungrateful, for the work is a professed imitation of mine, only stripped of the marvellous—and so entirely stripped, except in one awkward attempt at a ghost or two, that it is the most insipid dull nothing you ever saw. It certainly does not make one laugh ; for what makes one doze, seldom makes one merry.”-Cor. respondence of Horace Walpole.
respondence” has supplied to British literature that elegant branch of familiar composition, so long a desideratum. The letters of Horace Walpole have almost the merit of original inventions, compared with all the printed collections which preceded his own, (with the sole exception of those of his contemporary, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.*) The letters of Howell (deemed models in their time) had long been condemned by the standard simplicity of modern taste, which loves epigrams, and hates essays; and had already taken their places on the dusty shelves
“ With all such reading as is never read.”
* Lady M. W. Montagu's letters, judged by the conventional standard of modern refinement, must be deemed occasionally vulgar, coarse, and indelicate ; but they are clever, spirited, and easy, and invaluable for the traits of manners they have preserved of her own times. Her anecdotes of her friends, Moll Skerratt, Peg Pelham, Biddy Noel, and the pretty fellows,—her lady-like remedy against spleen, galloping all day, and champagne at night,—are exquisite. Her account also of the state of morals, in those good old times, is worth quoting:
:-“ When honour, virtue, and reputation, are laid aside like crumpled ribbons, the forlorn state of matrimony is as much ridiculed by young ladies as by young fellows.”_See her Letters, Vol. I.
It is worth adding, that Lady Mary was so sensible of the superiority of her own letters over those of her contemporaries, that she makes the following prophecy of their future success :-“ The last pleasant work that fell in my way, was Madame de Sevigne's Letters : very pretty they are; but I assure you, without the least vanity, that mine will be full as interesting in forty years.”
The quaint and peremptory style of Swift's never very familiar epistles (his Journal to Stella excepted), though certainly a pure and sterling specimen of the English language of the Augustan day, wanted that laissez-aller charm, which is the perfection of letter-writing; and Pope's Voiturelike and spirituel epistles, have all the air of being got up for print, and were evidently as much intended for the public and his publisher, as for his mistress or his friend.* Even Addison's "Letters, (to whose style and “study” we are ordered by the once colossal dictator of literature-ponderous but not powerful—already a Hercules without his club -to “ give up our days and nights,”—a false and despotic counsel ! as if every age has not necessarily its own style, dependent upon the progress of society and the development of human intellect and science)—even Addison's “ Letters," cold, formal, and studied, are as devoid of originality as the travels of which they are supposed to be a journal;* while Richardson's epistles to his literary ladies are tiresoine as the homilies of his own “good Mrs. Norton.” Gay (and perhaps Arbuthnot sometimes) has alone given to his letters the charm of that exquisite simplicity, which was the characteristic feature of the talent of the English La Fontaine ; and Sterne, whose letters, though witty and agreeable, are affected, came rather too late to be offered as an exception to the studied and pedantic style, which left England without a good letter-writer, while France justly boasted so many.
* See Pope's love-letter to Lady M. W. Montagu, in which he talks of “ Momus his project,” and gets in, neck and shoulders, Herod and Herodias, Jupiter and Curtius, to show off his power of “ wit and raillery,” and prove the strength of his passion by the force of his learning. 6 Before Addison and Swift,” says Walpole, “ style was scarce aimed at even by our best authors.'
Good letter-writing is but guod conversation carried on by the pen, a familiar talking upon paper, the intimate chit-chat of the fire-side on its travels by post, not invented solely for some “ wretch's
.66 Mr. Addison travelled through the poets, and not through Italy; for all his ideas are borrowed from descriptions, and not from the reality.”-Correspondence of Horace Walpole
aid,” but resorted to by the fond and the feeling to cheat absence of its pang; or by the intellectual, and the social, “ for the better carrying on” of that intercourse of mind and imagination, without which life is a blank; or by the gay, and the siping, for the circulation of those petty interests and every-day incidents and events, which, if important to none, are resources to all, which prevent time from stagnating, and which originate ideas, the lightness of which gives temporary relief from the great penalties of existence, deep thinking and deep feeling. The best letter, therefore, is that which makes the least demand upon the mind, and the most upon the fancy and the heart. He who writes to be studied, rarely writes to be read; he who writes to be admired, rarely writes to please. Ye Sevignés, and ye Ninons,* to whom l'esprit Rambouillet was a source of perpetual ridicule, I invoke the careless spirit that
* I allude here to Ninon's genuine letters, many of which are to be found scattered through the works of St. Evremond, and her supposed letters, addressed to the Marquis de Sévigné. “Les vraies lettres de Ninon,” says a modern French critic, “ étoient moins recherchés et plus délicates, quoique le tour en soit singulier et qu'elles soient remplies de morale et brillantes d'esprit.”