« السابقةمتابعة »
sketched on a sheet of white paper, with the help of a burnt stick, a rude representation of a human eye, and enclosing a small quantity of wool, dispatched it next morning to the impatient swain by the hand of his head scholar, those primitive tokens expressing to Kitty's mind the important words “ I will," * which the teacher, strange to say, understood in the same sense; and their wedding took place, to the unqualified amazement of Kitty's amanuensis.
12. Epistolary forms and fashions have had their mutations, like all other human things. The old Eastern mode of securing letters was by folding them in the shape of a roll, and winding round them a thin cord, generally of silk, as the luxury of letters was known only to the rich.
13. Of all human writings, letters have been preserved in the smallest proportion. How few of those which the bestinformed actors in great events or revolutions must have written have been copied by elder historians or biographers ! Such documents are, by their nature, at once the least accessible and the most liable to destruction. Private interests, feelings, and fears, keep watch against their publication; but even when these were taken out of the way, it is to be feared that the narrow-minded habit of overlooking all their wisdom deemed minute, which has made the chronicles of nations so scanty, and many a life in two volumes such dull reading, also induced learned compilers to neglect, as beneath their search, the old letters bundled up in dusty chest or corner, till they served a succeeding generation for waste paper.
14. Such mistakes have occasioned heavy losses to literature. Time leaves no witnesses in the matters of history and character equal to these. How many a disputed tale, on which party controversy has raged, and laborious volumes have been written, would the preservation of one authentic note have set at rest forever!
15. The practical learning of our times, in its search after confirmation and detail, amply recognizes the importance of old letters; and good service has been done to both history and moral philosophy by those who have given them to the press from state-paper office and family bureau. In such collections one sees the world's talked-of-and-storied people as they were in private business and social relations, and in what might be justly designated the status of their souls.
* Many illiterate people use the word "wool” for will, as Kitty evi. dently did on this occasion,
16. In spite of the proverbial truisms, that paper never refuses ink, and falsehood can be written as well as spoken, the correspondence of every man contains an actual portrait of the writer's mind, visible through a thousand disguises, and bearing the same relation to the inward man that a correct picture bears to the living face; without change or motion, indeed, but telling the beholder of both, and indicating what direction they are likely to take.
17. The sayings of wits and the doings of oddities long survive them in the memory of their generation; the actions of public men live in history, and the genius of authors in their, works; but in every case the individual, him or herself, lives in letters.
18. Madame de Genlis, whose “ Tales of the Castle," and “ Knights of the Swan,” delighted, at least, the juveniles of a now departing generation, was believed to have made a complete conquest, even before first sight, of the nobleman whose name she bears, by a single letter, addressed to a lady, at whose house he was an admiring visitor, when she unadvisedly showed him the epistle. An anxiously sought introduction and a speedy marriage followed; but the scandalmongers of the period averred that their separation, which took place some years after, was owing, among other circumstances, to an anonymous letter received by the baron himself.
19. What strange confidence the age of hoop and periwig* put in letter-writing! Divines published their volumes of controversy or pious exhortation, made up of epistles to imaginary friends. Mrs. Chapone's letters to her niece nourished the wisdom of British belles; while Lord Chesterfield's to his son were the glass of fashion for their brothers; and Madame de Sévigné's to her daughter, written expressly for publication, asforded models for the wit, elegance and sentiment, of every circle wherein her language was spoken.
20. The epistolary style's inherent power of characterization naturally recommended it in the construction of their novels; and many a tale of fame and fashion, in its day, besides “ Sir Charles Grandison," was ingeniously composed of presumed correspondence.
21. Among the old-world stories of Germany are many
* It may not perhaps he generally known that, during the last century, it was customary for gentlemen of all ages to wear wigs, whether their natural hair was good or otherwise ; and that the dress of the ladies of the same period, and still later, was furnished with hoops to spread them out, and give the wearers a dignified appearance. COMPILER.
regarding a fairy chief or king, known from rustic times as Number Nip, or Count-the-Turnips. One of his pranks was played in an ancient inn of Heidelberg, where, on a December night, he mixed the wine with a certain essence distilled frorn the flowers of Elfland, which had the effect of making all whò tasted it tell nothing but truth, with either tongue or pen, until the morning.
22. The series of quarrels which took place in consequence, round the kitchen fire, belong not to the present subject; but in the red parlor there sat—all from Vienna—a poet, a student, a merchant, and a priest. After supper, each of these remembered that he had a letter to write, — the poet to his mistress, the merchant to his wife, the priest to the bishop of his diocese, and the student to his bachelor uncle, Herr Weisser, of Leopoldstadt, who had long declared him his heir.
23. Somehow, next morning, they were all at the postoffice, beseeching their letters back; but the mail had been dispatched, and the tale records how, after that evening's correspondence, the poet's liege lady dismissed him, the merchant and his wife were divorced, the priest never obtained preferment, and none of the letters were answered except the student's, whom Herr Weisser complimented on having turned out such a prudent, sensible young man, but hoped he would n't feel disappointed, as himself intended to marry immediately.
24. There are printed samples with whose writers fame has been busy; but who can say what curiosities of letterwriting daily mingle with the mass that pours through the post-office ? Can it be this continual custody and superintendence of so large a share of their fellow-creatures' wisdom, fortune and folly, that endows post-office functionaries in every quarter with such an amount of proverbial crustiness, if the word be admissible? Do they, from the nature of their business, know too much about the public to think them worth civility, so that nobody has yet discovered a very polite post master or man?
25. A strange life the latter leads in our great cities. The truest representative of destiny seems his scarlet coat,* seen far through street and lane. At one door he leaves the news of failure and ruin, and at another the intelligence of a legacy. Here his message is the death of a friend, while to the next neighbor he brings tidings of one long absent, or
* In Scotland, where this piece was written, the "scarlet coat” is worn by the postman, and is ihe badge by which he is recognized.
the increase of kindred; but without care or knowledge of their import, he leaves his letters at house after house, and
way, like a servant of time and fortune, as he is, to return again, it may be, with far different news, as their tireless wheels move on.
26. Are there any who have never watched for his coming? The dwellers in palaces and garrets, large families and solitary lodgers, alike look out for him with anxious hope and fear. Strange it is for one to read over those letters so watched and waited for, when years have passed over since their date, and the days of the business, the friendship, or perhaps the wooing, to which they belong, are numbered and finished !
27. How has the world without and within been altered to the correspondents, since they were written? Has success or ill-fortune attended the speculations by which they set such store? What have been their effects on outward circumstances, and, through that certain channel, on the men ? Has the love been forgotten? Have the friends become strange, or enemies? Have some of them passed to the land whose inhabitants send back no letters? And how have their places been filled ? Truly, if evidence were ever wanting regarding the uncertainty of all that rests on earth, it might be found in a packet of old letters.
* This reading — caws, instead of calls author.
is sanctioned by the gifted
3. The wind-flower and the violet, they perished long ago, And the wild-rose and the orchis died amid the summer glow ; But on the hill the golden-rod, and the aster in the wood, And the yellow sun-flower by the brook, in autumn beauty stood, Till fell the frost from the clear cold heaven, as falls the plague on men, And the brightness of their smile was gone from upland, glade and
glen. 4. And now, when comes the calm, mild day, as still such days will
come, To call the squirrel and the bee from out their winter home, When the sound of dropping nuts is heard, though all the trees are
5. And then I think of one who in her youthful beauty died,
1. The taste of the English in the cultivation of the land, and in what is called landscape gardening, is unrivaled. They have studied nature intently, and discovered an exquisite sense of her beautiful forms and harmonious combinations. Those charms which, in other countries, she lavishes in wild solitudes, are here assembled round the haunts of domestic life. They seem to have caught her coy and furtive graces, and spread them, like witchery, about their rural abodes.
2. Nothing can be more imposing than the magnificence of English park scenery. Vast lawns, that extend like sheets of vivid green, with here and there clumps of gigantic trees, heaping up rich piles of foliage. The solemn pomp of groves and woodland glades, with the deer trooping in silent herds across them; the hare bounding away to the covert, or the pheasant suddenly bursting upon the wing. The brook, taught to wind in natural meanderings, or expanded into a glassy lake; the sequestered pool, reflecting the quivering
* In the volume from which this beautiful extract was taken (Newman's Rhetoric) the author's name is not given. The style is that of nur gifted countryman who has written so beautifully on " Forest Trees.”