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similar productions, of which there are many with an epistolary designation, do not belong to the proper class of “ Letters ;" to which crass I propose to confine my attention—at the outset simply suggesting to your minds that it is a subject which does not admit of convenient illustration in a Lecture.
I have arranged this subject under the two general divisions “ historical letters” and “ familiar letters ”—an arrangement which may be found convenient in the general consideration of it, but which makes no pretension to any thing of logical precision. Under the first head, I do not propose to limit the class to public or official correspondence, but rather to comprehend such letters, whether public or private, which subserve a knowledge of history, and are thus valuable in the study of it: while the second class, being under a more exact principle of classification, is intended to include those private letters, the nature of which is readily understood by the title “Familiar Letters ;" and the true aim and character of which I will endeavour to explain, when I come to that division of my subject.
Lord Bacon, in his treatise on the Advancement of Learning—that great legacy, so rich in counsel for the guidance of inquiry in various departments of human knowledge, that treasury of sagacious sentences of advice has specially referred to letters among what he calls the “ appendices” to history. “Letters,” he says, are according to all the the variety of occasions, advertisements, advices, directions, propositions, petitions, commendatory, expostulatory, satisfactory; of compliment, of pleasure, of discourse, and all other passages of action. And such as are written from wise men are, of all the words of man, in my judgment, the best ; for they are more natural than orations and public speeches, and more advised than conferences or private ones. So, again, letters of affairs from such as manage them, or are privy to them, are, of all others, the best instructions for history, and, to a diligent reader, the best histories in themselves.”
Another wise counsellor, in a later day, the late Dr. Arnold, speaking words of special advice to the student of history, after noticing that * alchemy which can change apparently dull (historical) materials into bright gold,” adds, “some of the great men of our age have, in all probability, left some memorials of their minds behind them—speeches, it may be, or letters, or a journal ; or, possibly, works of a deeper character, in which they have handled, expressly and deliberately, some of the questions which most interested their generation. Now, if our former researches have enabled us to people our view of the past with many images of events, institutions, usages, titles, etc., to make up with
some completeness what may be called the still life of the picture, we shall next be anxious to people it also with the images of its great individual men, to change it, as it were, from a landscape or a view of buildings, to what may truly be called an historical picture. Whoever has made himself famous by his actions, or even by his rank or position in society, so that his name is at once familiar to our ears, such a man's writings have an interest for us even before we begin to read them; the instant that he gets up, as it were, to address us, we are hushed into the deepest attention. These works give us an insight not only into the spirit of an age, as exemplified in the minds of its greatest men, but they multiply, in some sort, the number of those with whom we are personally and individually in sympathy; they enable us to recognise, amid the dimness of remote and uncongenial ages, the features of friends and of brethren.”
Of the many indications of the great activity and zeal of historical research and study, which distinguishes the present times, none is inore remarkable than the care which has been bestowed in collecting and publishing the letters, official and private, of men eminent in their day and in the thoughts of posterity-men illustrious in civil or military life. Within a short period this has grown to be an extensive and most valuable department of historical literature; and the light that has issued from it has not only dispelled frequently much of traditional, oftrepeated error, but given to the historian, both student and writer, larger privileges of power to gain the truth, and new duties in striving for it. It is within a few years past that English history has been illustrated by the publication of Cromwell's letters, of the letters of the Duke of Marlborough, the Stuart papers, the letters to and from the leader of that luckless family during all their years of hope and despair for the recovery of the throne of England, the correspondence of Lord Chatham, the despatches of Nelson, and all the despatches and general orders of the Duke of Wellington, beginning at a camp in India and closing after the battle of Waterloo. In American history, the contributions of epistolary materials have been no less valuable; for we have the whole series of the letters of Washington, extending through his career of military and civil services, and illustrating both his public and private life; the letters of Dr. Franklin, comprehending a scientific, as well as political, career, and the composite collection of letters from various pens, entitled “The Diplomatic Correspondence of the Revolution and of the period of the Confederation.” Many other collections of letters have appeared both in England and the United States ; but the most important which I have mentioned amply exemplify the extent to which history has of late received contributions of this kind. Their general historical value I need not stop to speak of; but let me remark that, as many minds are attracted by biography, and find in the deeds and words of their fellow-men individually an interest and sympathy more vivid than that which general history inspires, a collection of letters may have such completeness—may be so identified, both as to time and the participation of the writer in public events—that history may be read in the letters, and thus achieved through the medium of biography. It is a method of reading which will be found very agreeable, as well as instructive, and has a peculiar advantage, too, in giving the reader that discipline of mind which may be gained by the effort, to which he is attracted consciously, or unawares, of giving something of historical consistency to the informal and familiar narrative of events found in a series of letters; and, further, the moral discipline of freer opinion, instead of that more submissive process of always having his mind made up for him by that kind of historical dictation of which Charles Lamb complained, when he said, “The modern historian flings at once the dead weight of his own judgment into the scale, and settles the matter," when a wider and more independent sense of truth would come to a less arbitrary conclusion.
To all readers of history, whether the taste be for pure history or for biography, a letter will often give a reality to an historical occurrence, the truth of which is otherwise much less life-like. Allow me to give an illustration of this in a well-known incident in our own history. I refer to what may be considered the very last fact in the history of the war of American Independence, the shaking of hands as it were, when the fighting was done, the reception by George the Third of the first American ambassador, which consummated the treaty of peace, and the recognition by Great Britain of the United States among the nations of the earth. The pertinacity with which the British monarch had protracted the war, while it showed the unwise statesmanship of the times, illustrated two traits in the king's character—his obstinacy and his honesty. He probably thought he had no more right to consent to the partition of the British Empire than to pawn or part with the crown jewels; and thus an unwise and unnatural war was lengthened Gut, even after the question of independence was practically settled. The obstinacy of the sovereign had, however, an element of uprightness in it, which may be spoken of with respect, especially when one reflects on what is not so generally known, that anxiety and sleeplessness, during the American war, are believed, by those who had opportunities of judging, to have laid the foundation of that mental malady with which
George the Third was afflicted during many of the latter years of his life. The first American minister to his court, was, let it be remembered, John Adams, one whose name could not but have been familia to the king as one of the earliest and most strenuous of the leaders of colonial resistance. The interview on his reception was one full of impressive recollections for both, accompanied with more than ordin ary emotion, and it comes within the scope of general history to record that it was conducted in a manner honourable to each. It is, however, Mr. Adam's letter to Mr. Jay that alone produces an adequate concep
tion of the interyiew. Mr. Adams mentions, that his first thought and intention was to deliver his credentials silently and retire, but being advised by several of the other foreign ministers to make a speech, he made a short address to the king, concluding with the expression of he hope of “ being instrumental in restoring an entire esteem, confiden ce, and affection, or, in better words, the old good-nature and the old goo humour, between people who, though separated by an ocean, and under different governments, have the same language, a similar religion, and kindred blood.”
This was well said—worthy of the representative of the young nation—manly thoughts and feelings, well meant and well worded. Mr. Adams, in his letter, goes on to say:
“ The King listened to every word I said with dignity, but with an apparent emotion. Whether it was the nature of the interview, or whether it was my visible agitation, for I felt more than I did or could express, that touched him, I cannot say but he was much affected, and answered me with more tremor than I had spoken with, and said
“Sir, the circumstances of this audience are so extraordinary, the language you have now held is so extremely proper, and the feelings you have discovered so justly adapted to the occasion, that I must say that I not only receive with pleasure the assurance of the friendly dispositions of the United States, but that I am very glad the choice has fallen upon you to be their minister. I wish you, sir, to believe, and that it may be understood in America, that I have done nothing in the late contest but what I thought myself indispensably bound to do by the duty which I owed to my people. I will be very frank with you. I was the last to consent to the separation; but the separation having been made, and having become inevitable, I have always said, as I say now, that I would be the first to meet the friendship of the United States as an independent power.' . . Mr. Adams adds, “He (the king) was much affected, and I was not less so;" and certainly the occasion, as thus pictured in a letter was one fitted to awaken no small
emotion, a conflict of many emotions, for how at that moment, must the memories of twenty years of civil strife, with all its varying fortunes and hopes, have risen up to the minds of those two men as they were thus confronted! If there had been obstinacy and wrong in the royal policy which had assented to the first restrictive measure on American trade in 1764, to the Stamp Act, to the Boston Port Bill, to the conduct of the war, at once cruel and imbecile, to that greatest and most tyrannic error, fatal of itself to reconciliation, the hiring of the Hes sians—there was on the other hand good feeling and a manly frankness in tue expression, at the close of twenty years after the beginning of the colonial difficulties, of a solicitude that it might be understood in America that in all, he had done nothing but what he thought himself in duty bound to do.
Not the least interesting portion of such a letter is that which describes what passed after the formalities of the interview were over. “ The King," writes Mr. Adams, “ then asked me whether I came last from France, and upon my answering in the affirmative, he put on an air of familiarity, and smiling, or rather laughing, said, There is an opinion among some people that you are not the most attached of all your countrymen to the manners of France. I was surprised at this, because I thought it an indiscretion and a departure from dignity. I was a little embarrassed, but determined not to deny the truth, on the one hand, nor leave him to infer from it any attachment to England, on the other. I threw off as much of gravity as I could, and assumed an air of gayety and a tone of decision as far as was decent, and said, That opinion, sir, was not mistaken. I must avow to your majesty I have no attachment but to my own country. The king replied, as quick as lightning, An honest (man) will never have any other.”
I have quoted these passages to show how a letter may place a familiar piece of history in a more vivid light of truth and reality than more historic narration gives to it; illustrating Horace Walpole's remark that “nothing gives so just an idea of an age as genuine letters nay, history waits for its last seal from them."
It is in another letter from John Adams to John Jay that there occurs a character of George the Third, as just, probably, as has been written. • The King, I really think,” says Mr. Adams, “ is the most accomplished courtier in his dominions; with all the affability of Charles the Second, he has all the domestic virtues and regularity of conduct of Charles the First. He is the greatest talker in the world, and a tenacious memory stored with resources of small talk, concerning all the little things of life, which are inexhaustibl. But so much of his time