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Letters to Dead Authors   By: (1844-1912)

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This etext was prepared from the 1886 Longmans, Green, and Co. edition by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk

LETTERS TO DEAD AUTHORS

Contents:

Preface To W. M. Thackeray To Charles Dickens To Pierre de Ronsard To Herodotus Epistle to Mr. Alexander Pope To Lucian of Samosata To Maitre Francoys Rabelais To Jane Austen To Master Isaak Walton To M. Chapelain To Sir John Maundeville, Kt. To Alexandre Dumas To Theocritus To Edgar Allan Poe To Sir Walter Scott, Bart. To Eusebius of Caesarea To Percy Bysshe Shelley To Monsieur de Moliere To Robert Burns To Lord Byron To Omar Khayyam To Q. Horatius Flaccus

PREFACE

Sixteen of these Letters, which were written at the suggestion of the Editor of the "St. James's Gazette," appeared in that journal, from which they are now reprinted, by the Editor's kind permission. They have been somewhat emended, and a few additions have been made. The Letters to Horace, Byron, Isaak Walton, Chapelain, Ronsard, and Theocritus have not been published before.

The gem on the title page, now engraved for the first time, is a red cornelian in the British Museum, probably Graeco Roman, and treated in an archaistic style. It represents Hermes Psychagogos, with a Soul, and has some likeness to the Baptism of Our Lord, as usually shown in art. Perhaps it may be post Christian. The gem was selected by Mr. A. S. Murray.

It is, perhaps, superfluous to add that some of the Letters are written rather to suit the Correspondent than to express the writer's own taste or opinions. The Epistle to Lord Byron, especially, is "writ in a manner which is my aversion."

LETTER To W. M. Thackeray

Sir, There are many things that stand in the way of the critic when he has a mind to praise the living. He may dread the charge of writing rather to vex a rival than to exalt the subject of his applause. He shuns the appearance of seeking the favour of the famous, and would not willingly be regarded as one of the many parasites who now advertise each movement and action of contemporary genius. "Such and such men of letters are passing their summer holidays in the Val d'Aosta," or the Mountains of the Moon, or the Suliman Range, as it may happen. So reports our literary "Court Circular," and all our Precieuses read the tidings with enthusiasm. Lastly, if the critic be quite new to the world of letters, he may superfluously fear to vex a poet or a novelist by the abundance of his eulogy. No such doubts perplex us when, with all our hearts, we would commend the departed; for they have passed almost beyond the reach even of envy; and to those pale cheeks of theirs no commendation can bring the red.

You, above all others, were and remain without a rival in your many sided excellence, and praise of you strikes at none of those who have survived your day. The increase of time only mellows your renown, and each year that passes and brings you no successor does but sharpen the keenness of our sense of loss. In what other novelist, since Scott was worn down by the burden of a forlorn endeavour, and died for honour's sake, has the world found so many of the fairest gifts combined? If we may not call you a poet (for the first of English writers of light verse did not seek that crown), who that was less than a poet ever saw life with a glance so keen as yours, so steady, and so sane? Your pathos was never cheap, your laughter never forced; your sigh was never the pulpit trick of the preacher. Your funny people your Costigans and Fokers were not mere characters of trick and catch word, were not empty comic masks. Behind each the human heart was beating; and ever and again we were allowed to see the features of the man.

Thus fiction in your hands was not simply a profession, like another, but a constant reflection of the whole surface of life: a repeated echo of its laughter and its complaint. Others have written, and not written badly, with the stolid professional regularity of the clerk at his desk; you, like the Scholar Gipsy, might have said that "it needs heaven sent moments for this skill... Continue reading book >>


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