My Dagger into Yow

Ian Donaldson

  • BuyThe Correspondence of Sir Philip Sidney edited by Roger Kuin
    Oxford, 1381 pp, £250.00, July 2012, ISBN 978 0 19 955822 3

Letters, Robert Lovelace remarks in Clarissa, are a way of ‘writing from the heart’. A brilliant letter-writer though a terrible etymologist, Lovelace finds warrant for this belief in the word correspondence: letters (so he thinks) touch the core, the coeur, of their senders’ being, revealing their innermost thoughts and sensations, showing their essential character. Letters in the pre-modern period didn’t always work quite like this, however, as both Lovelace and his creator had reason to know. They rarely came straight from the heart, and were seldom free of what Lovelace calls ‘the fetters prescribed by method or study’. At school, children were exposed from an early age to the letters of Cicero and other classical masters. Those nervous or incapable of writing like this, could, as Richardson had discovered to his profit early in his publishing career, purchase volumes of model letters in English, replete with flourishes and sentiments often alien to the sender, but part nevertheless of the rhetorical currency required for any respectable courtship or commercial transaction.

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