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THE QUALITY of English epistolary correspondence is not surpassed by that of any other European nation. In quantity and variety France is our only successful rival.
So extensive and various are our own collections that he who has not made a diligent hole-and-corner search for himself can have no idea of their scope and character. In putting forth this volume I need scarcely say that it is not, and cannot be, a complete treasury of English letters from the Lancastrian to the Victorian era. I have simply endeavoured, after a careful survey of nearly five hundred volumes, to make my scanty plot of ground' rich with some of the best and brightest flowers of epistolary literature. The preservation of an uniform measure of literary excellence, after the manner of the Golden Treasury of Poetry, was the object which at first was attempted in the process of selection; but as the field of choice, thus limited, proved to be so very narrow, and the authors so few, the addition of letters combining decided literary merit with features of special interest seemed requisite to save the volume from overmuch severity of tone.
Mr. Carlyle somewhere defines good letters as 'an uncounted handful of needles to be collected from an unmeasured continent of hay.' Given sufficient time, opportunity, and inclination, and most men may explore this vast continent; but it is doubtful whether any single traveller would be fortunate enough to pick up all the needles. I am sensible of comparative failure after a long journey of research, and I know that many a gem must still lurk in dark corners; but I must be content to depend on the magic of patience,' and to the kindly assistance of all who may take an interest in this design, to bring many more fine specimens to light.
Most of the letters, it will be observed, are introduced by a critical or explanatory head-note, worded in as condensed a form as possible. As many readers may consider these notes somewhat dogmatic, and even entirely superfluous, it is necessary to state that their introduction, as a prominent and essential feature of the plan, is prompted by the hope that the volume as a whole may commend itself to the young and unenlightened equally with their more cultured elders; especially as, I venture to hope, there will nowhere be found a page to offend the most fastidious reader.
I am not aware of the existence of any comprehensive and well-considered collection of English letters suitable alike for the purposes of instruction and recreation, in spite of the repeated pitiful complaints that the art of letterwriting, so graceful an adornment of our older literature, bas dwindled down to the proverbial ‘hurried scrawl' of the present hour. And yet the study of this art bas not been abandoned for want of, but in spite of, the urgent advocacy of many English classical writers. John Locke, in his essay on Education, remarks: “When they understand how to write English with due connexion, propriety, and order, and are pretty well masters of a tolerable narrative style, they may be advanced to writing of letters; wherein they should not be put upon any strains of wit or compliment, but taught to express their own plain easy sense without any incoherence,