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Letters to Dead Authors

literary, reason and criticism

LETTERS TO DEAD AUTHORS. Of all the volumes of literary criticism in Eng lish published within the past generation per haps none is saner in content and more cap tivating in style than Andrew Lang's 'Letters to Dead Authors.' Written, as the author states, at the request of the editor of the Saint James' Gazette, and published in 1886, this little book originally included 22 "letters," to which were added four others in the American edition of 1891. "For some reason," says the brief preface to the latter edition, "the kind ness of readers has favored a volume which is not the author's favorite." But the reason is plain. Lang has in the main addressed his own favorite authors, and hence writes con amore; yet personal as is his criticism, it yet expresses the attitude of the majority of read ers; and while his estimates, both literary and personal, are in the main °appreciative," they are discriminating and sane. This excellent matter is couched in a style that varies with the subject but is always apt for its purpose— now grave, now gay, now lively, now severe; that ranges from rollicking humor, quiet mirth, sharp satire, to tenderness and pathos, and at times attains a really noble eloquence. In all

this is sheer literary craftsmanship of a hig.h order; and here is sufficient reason why "the kindness of readers has favored the volume.* But the abiding charm of the book lies in 'the fact that one actually feels identified with the writer of it as he talks with many old favorites —Herodotus and Horace, Rabelais and Moliere, Scott and Dumas, Byron, Shelley and Poe, tersely sums up the fundamental qualities of their work and adequately expresses our grati tude for their contribution to the world's store of pleasure, beauty and truth. The warm, human, captivating "literary criticism* in these brief familiar studies is in itself literature of permanent interest and value.