Literature in Letters; Or, Manners, Art, Criticism, Biography, History, and Morals, Illustrated in the Correspondence of Eminent Persons

Edited by JAMES HOLCOMBE, LL. D. New York: D. Appleton & Co. 1866.
THE very comprehensive title of this work leaves us little to say in explanation of its purpose, and we can only speak in compliment of the taste with which the editor has performed a not very arduous task. As a matter of course, the famous epistles of Lady Mary Wortley Montague, Pope, Horace Walpole, Madame de Sevigne, Miss Burney, Lady Russell, and Hannah More go to form a large part of the collection ; but Mr. Holcombe has drawn from other sources epistolary material of interest and value, and has performed a service to literature by including in his book the occasional letters of great men not addicted to letter-writing, but no doubt as natural and true to themselves and their time as habitual letter-writers. It is curious to note the deterioration in the artistic quality of the letters as the period of their production approaches our own, when people dash off their correspondence rapidly and incoherently, instead of bestowing upon it the artifice and care which distinguished the epistolarians of an elder date, whose letters, fastidiously written, faithfully read, and jealously kept and shown about in favored circles, supplied the place of newspapers. The lowest ebb of indifference seems to be reached in a letter by Daniel Webster, written from Richmond, and devoted to some very commonplace and jejune praises of morning and early rising. Except as an instance of our epistolary degeneracy, we could hardly wish it to have a place in Mr. Holcombe’s collection, which is otherwise so judiciously made.