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LETTERS TO HER DAUGHTER
GEORGE AUGUSTUS SALA
THE BADDINGTON PEE RAGE," TWICE ROUND THE CLOCK,"
ETC., ETC., ETC.
HOULSTON AND WRIGHT,
65, PATERNOSTER ROW.
Souw 123-41 4407
I INTENDED these Letters to be the confidences and counsels of a garrulous old woman of the world—made more talkative by the confinement of an invalid's sofa—but withal, in spite of her age and her ill health, as shrewd, as caustic, and as humorous as I have known many old women of the world to be. The charitable criticat a loss, like the schoolmaster, to know “where to have” me, will scarcely, I hope, accuse me of an egotistical desire, in calling my imaginary letter-writer, Lady Chesterfield, née Constance Sevignier, to provoke comparisons or to establish a parallel between these essays and the elaborate epistolary performances of the vivacious widow of Louis the Fourteenth's time, or the polished exercitations of Philip Dormer Stanhope. As well were these the supposititious communications of a west-country foxhunter, might I call them “provincial letters.” Nor, again, in an age when burlesque is the vogue, and the most brilliant achievements of human genius have been impudently and senselessly caricatured, shall I find, it is to be hoped, wiseacres to reprehend me for an attempt to parody some of the most skilful and polished compositions in the English language. I know, from long experience in the craft, that many professional critics confine their labours to reviewing the title and imprint of a book-a few lines of its exordium, and the last phrase or so of its peroration.
Of such was the clerical gentleman (to whom I hereby return my sincerest thanks) who, writing in the Era newspaper, happening to
stumble over a perhaps not very courtly anecdote related by Lady Chesterfield in illustration of some whimsical theory, gravely recorded his opinion that the whole series of letters had been written by a costermonger in petticoats.” Have you never observed that the people most prone to accuse you of coarseness in diction almost invariably, in reprehending you, employ themselves the very coarsest language? Thus I am emboldened to think that ordinarily candid critics will acquit me of an endeavour to imitate or to parody the letters of Lord Chesterfield to his son ; that they will find no parallel passages, no similitude in theory, no identity in expression, no similarity in illustration.
This little book may suffer, I am perfectly willing to admit, under one very serious imputation; and it has from first to last one grievous artistic fault. It is certain that, although Lady Chesterfield does not talk exactly like a costermonger,
she talks a great deal too much like a man. It would be easy to beg the question—to say that I have known this masculine old lady's prototype, an ancient woman who had seen cities and men, who had read men's books, and kept men's conversation, ay, and done men's work in her time, without losing her better feminine qualities, or abating in one jot in her love and sympathy for her own sex. It would be as easy to assume that long illness and comparative solitude had cast my elderly heroine's thoughts into a somewhat sterner mould than is the matrix of the majority of female reflections; and that the remembrance of the world in which she lived years ago-under many aspects a sterner, stronger, more outspoken world than this dainty community of 1860– mingled with later environments of books and newspapers, and the conversation of the cynics and valetudinarians of an inland bathing-place-might not improbably produce a frame of mind favourable for discoursing on human nature and human things in the manner affected by the old lady who prattles through my pages. But I disdain such artifices, and candidly acknowledge that Lady Chesterfield writes likes a man, for the reason that her amanuensis was a man-myself. Had I seriously endeavoured to give a thoroughly feminine stamp to these letters, the work would have gained in artistic completeness, in symmetry, in illusion ; but it would have lost in vigour, in force, and in real truth. Little enough of those qualities may remain, as it is, in the book ; but the very paucity of goodness is an additional reason for not losing what little there may be. I could have made Lady Chesterfield write, think, feel, as the greater portion of women write and think and feel; but she would have been at the best but a hobbling, hunchbacked, paralytic shadow, more crippled and more inert than the verbose old lady whom I have stretched to chat and grumble, and distribute praise and blame, on her sofa at Pumpwell-le-Springs.
Deprecating comparison, it may be remarked, that the greatest “fictional ” letter-writers who have gone before me have resembled, not their ideal heroes and heroines, but, with scarcely an exception, themselves alone. Does the “ Citizen of the World ” write more like a Chinese Mandarin, or like Oliver Goldsmith of Green Arbour Court? Is it more a Persian Sophi or M. de Montesquieu who indites the
Lettres Persanes ? ” Can any one fail to recognise Mr.