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Letters in Literature

personal, century, art, epistles, period, public, letter-writing, especially, ad and called

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LETTERS IN LITERATURE. The let ter, primarily a personal and utilitarian com position, passes over into the field of literary interest by processes often gradual and difficult to define; so that, although we commonly dis• tinguish separate types, such as informal letters intended only for the eyes of those directly addressed and formal epistles composed with a view to ultimate publication, the distinction cannot•be made with clearness in the actual his tory of the subject. Out of the private art of personal correspondence there must have arisen, at a very early period, the more public art of the literary letter. It was formerly supposed that the earliest extant collection of formal letters was the series (about 150 in number) of Greek epistles professing to have been written by the tyrant Phalaris, of the 6th century a.c. Around these, near the close of the 17th century, there developed a consider. able controversy, connected with the so-called "Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns"; and Richard Bentley, the philologist, in his famous 'Dissertation on the Letters of Phalaris' (1699), demonstrated — as is now universally admitted — that they are of comparatively late origin, perhaps of the 2d century A.D. Among the early genuine letters of the Greek period are those of the rhetorician Isocrates (d. 338 a.c.), nine in number; these are distinctively public rather than personal in character, being addressed to public persons and dealing largely with political themes. In like manner the philos opher Epicurus (d. 270 a.c.) made use of the epistle for the summary exposition of his doc trines. In the literature of the Romans the letter holds a large place, largely owing to the charm of the numerous letters of Cicero (d. 43 tic.) and Pliny the Younger (d. 113 A.D.). In both these cases the letters were in the first place genuinely personal in character, but were in part written with a view to publication,— Pliny actually editing nine books of his. Of Cicero's one series is made up of letters ad dressed to his friend Atticus, another to his brother Quintus, another ad familiares — to various personal friends. These epistles intro duce us to the social and political life of the great Roman period with an intimacy afforded by no other records of the age, and their form and style set the standard for letter-writing for many centuries. Pliny's letters are perhaps even more attractive than Cicero's because of the greater simplicity of his character; two of them, describing the eruption of Vesuvius in the year 79, are especially famous. Mean time the philosopher Seneca (d. 65 A.n.) had made use of the epistolary form for composi tions of the nature of moral essays, in his 124 letters to Lucilius. Not to pursue the story of Roman letter-writing in detail, we may note that Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, near the close of the 4th century, wrote well-known letters in the manner of Pliny, of which 10 books were published by his son; that Apol linaris Sidontus, prefect and Christian bishop in Gaul in the 5th century, left a large and interesting correspondence descriptive of the provincial life of the empire; and that Cassio dorus, churchman and statesman under Theo doric in the 6th century, left 12 books "vari orum epistolarum? which are perhaps the best source of modern knowledge of the Ostro Gothic dynasty. The Church fathers, too, both in the East and the West, made large use of the letter, whether personal or pastoral; and there were preserved and circulated epistles (to mention only a few names) of Basil and Chrysostom in the Eastern Church, and of Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine and Popes Leo I and Gregory I in the Western. In the mediae

val period the traditions of both sacred and secular epistles were maintained, with em phasis on the former until we approach the time of the Renaissance, when there was a marked revival and cult of the latter. Doubt less for their human interest the letters of Abelard and Heloise in the 12th century, com memorating their ill-fated love, excel all other epistolary compositions of the age. These, of course, were purely personal; but already, as has been hinted, there was growing up an art of rhetorical letter-writing, commonly called ars dictaminis, due in part to the revival of the Ciceronian tradition and in part to the new humanism. The composition, especially, of public letters written by state officers and sec retaries became the subject of treatises and of study in schools. One of the leaders in this art was Alberich (or Alberico) of the monas tery of Monte Cassino (d. 1088), who wrote a Breviarium de Dictaminc, followed, early in the following century, by the model letters (called Rationes Dictandi)of Hugo of Bologna. The rules governing epistolary composition, as formulated by these authorities, were elaborate and severe; thus Alberich taught that every epistle must have five chief divisions, — the salutatio or greeting, the benevolentice captatio or introduction designed to produce a favor able impression, the narratio, the petitio, and the conclusio. Later works also classified the types of letters to be studied, as Didactic, Deliberative, Demonstrative, Judicial, or Famil iar, with many sub-types after the manner of rhetorical pedantry. It is obvious that the epis tolary art would be among those sedulously cultivated in Italy, from the 13th to the 16th centuries; and in fact the collections and treatises representing it during that era are countless. Especially precious are the letters of Dante (such as those addressed to the em peror, Henry VII, to the Italian cardinals, etc.) and of Petrarch; the latter collected his, and prepared them for publication, classifying them as "Familiar Correspondence? °Correspond ence in Old Age ,° without a Title? etc., with a curious appendix called "Epistle to Posterity.' Somewhat later, the letters, of Bembo (d. 1547) and Aretino (d. 1556) were especially valued for their elegance, and were widely collected and republished. At the same period in Spain, Antonio de Guevara distin guished himself as an epistolarian, and his Epistolas Familiares (1539), which came to be called the "Golden Epistles,' were even more largely circulated and imitated than any of the Italian school; they were published in English in both the 16th and 17th centuries. Another Spanish collection of note was that of the let ters of Antonio Perez (d. 1611). Of the early Reformers the chief epistolarian was Erasmus, who recorded the fact that his enormous cor respondence sometimes required him to write 40 letters a day. Though his letter-writing was often informal enough, he also studied the art of the rhetoricians, and himself wrote a manual De Conscribendis Epistolis. The let ters of Melanchthon and of Luther have also, of course, a high place in the personal litera ture of the Reformation; and Ulrich von Hut ten, with collaborating friends, turned the epis tolary art to the uses of satire in his famous 'Letters of Humble Men) Obscu rorum Virorum), published 1515-17.

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