Our thoughts, as expressed in our respective letters, are much alike, but comparison will prove, what has been so often remarked, that female correspondence has a charm in it of which that of my sex is always devoid.
Earl of Eldon: To his daughter-in-law: Twisss Life of Eldon, ii. 442.
Walpoles Letters are generally considered as his best performances, and, we think, with reason. His faults are far less offensive to us in his correspondence than in his books. His wild, absurd, and ever-changing opinions about men and things are easily pardoned in familiar letters. His bitter, scoffing, depreciating disposition does not show itself in so unmitigated a manner as in his Memoirs. A writer of letters must in general be civil and friendly to his correspondent at least, if to no other person. He loved letter-writing, and had evidently studied it as an art. It was, in truth, the very kind of writing for such a man, for a man very ambitious to rank among wits, yet nervously afraid that, while obtaining the reputation of a wit, he might lose caste as a gentleman. There was nothing vulgar in writing a letter. Not even Ensign Northerton, not even the Captain described in Hamiltons Bawn,and Walpole, although the author of many quartos, had some feelings in common with those gallant officers,would have denied that a gentleman might sometimes correspond with a friend. Whether Walpole bestowed much labour upon the composition of his letters, it is impossible to judge from internal evidence. There are passages which seem perfectly unstudied; but the appearance of ease may be the effect of labour. There are passages which have a very artificial air; but they may have been produced without any effort by a mind of which the natural ingenuity had been improved into morbid quickness by constant exercise. We are never sure that we see him as he was. We are never sure that what appears to be nature is not disguised art. We are never sure that what appears to be art is not merely habit which is become second nature.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay: Horace Walpole, Oct. 1833.
It is difficult to tell to what end we keep these old memorials [letters], for their perusal affords, in most cases, but little pleasure. Many, indeed, are never looked at again, and yet we could not destroy them without a struggle; others only bring forward evidence of words broken, and hopes chilled, and friendships gradually dissolved; of old attachments turned away, and stubborn contradiction of all the trusting in futurity, whose promise we once clung to. One class alone of them can call up our best feelings. If the almost-forgotten memorials of the once dearly loved and long departed can carry our sympathies away from the cold, hard present, over intervening years of struggling and vexatious toil, to that almost holy period of the gone and past, once more, if but for a moment, calling up old thoughts and old affections, or soothing, by one lonely unsuspected burst of tears, overcharged hearts which have long required easing of their burthen, there is yet enoughthere is more than enoughin these old letters to plead an excuse for so sacredly preserving them.