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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

XI. Letter-Writers

§ 5. Mann and other Correspondents

Mann was an early friend of Walpole, and his appointment in 1737 as assistant to Charles Fane (afterwards second viscount Fane), envoy extraordinary at the court of Florence, by Sir Robert Walpole, was entirely owing to this intimacy. In 1740, Mann became Fane’s successor, and Walpole visited him at Florence in the same year. After returning to England in September, 1741, Walpole never saw his friend again. Mann never left Italy, although, in 1755, he succeeded his elder brother in the possession of the family estate at Linton, Kent. His chief duties were to look after the two “pretenders” and to entertain distinguished English travellers in Italy. He was kept informed by Walpole of all that was going on in England, and he returned the favour by writing continuously in reply, though, it must be said, giving Walpole lead in return for his gold. It should, however, not be overlooked, that, when writing to Mann and other friends abroad, Walpole always feared the opening of his letters at the post office. He complains to the earl of Hertford:

  • As my letters are seldom proper for the post now I begin them at any time, and am forced to trust to chance for a conveyance. This difficulty renders my news very stale.
  • Walpole, writing to Lady Ossory, praised women as far better letter-writers than men. When he wrote “I could lay down as an infallible truth in the words of my god-father, Pennis non homini datis, the English of which is, ‘It was not given to man to write letters,’” it is just possible that it occurred to him how the dictum might apply to his friend Mann. Some of Walpole’s best letters were addressed to his frequent correspondent Lady Ossory. Mary Berry would have stood higher in the numerical list; but Walpole did not become intimate with her and her father and sister until late in his life (in the winter of 1788). Madame Du Deffand’s letters to Walpole were first printed by Miss Berry and afterwards reprinted in Paris. A complete edition of these letters, edited by the late Mrs. Toynbee, was published in 1912. Walpole’s letters to Madame Du Deffand were burnt at his particular request. It is supposed that he did not wish them to be published, lest his French should be criticised. He wrote to Mason: “Mme. Du Deffand has told me that I speak French worse than any Englishman she knows.” A little too much has been made of Walpole’s gallicisms, although there certainly is a remarkable one in the preface to Historic Doubts on Richard III:
  • It is almost a question whether if the dead of past ages could revive, they would be able to reconnoitre the events of their own times as transmitted to us.
  • Thomas Pitt, first Lord Camelford (nephew of the great Chatham), writing to judge Hardinge in 1789, refers to the translation of Walpole’s Essay on Gardening by the duc de Nivernais:
  • I shall be glad to see the work of M. de Nivernois, if it answers at all to the specimens you have sent me. The truth is that, as Mr. Horace Walpole always thinks in French he ought never to write in English; and I dare be sworn Nivernois’ translation will appear the more original work of the two.
  • Did Hannah More venture to “chaff” Walpole when she sent him anonymously a clever letter dated “Alamode Castle, June 20, 1840” and headed it “A Specimen of the English language, as it will be written and spoken in the next century. In a letter from a lady to her friend in the reign of George V”? Walpole acknowledged this letter (5 April, 1785) with cordiality and much praise, to show that “his withers were unwrung.” Walpole expressed to Lady Ossory (Christmas day, 1781) his opinion that “Letters ought to be nothing but extempore conversation upon paper,” and, doubtless, his conversation was much like his letters, and as excellent. His wit was ready and brilliant in both forms of communication. He was himself proud of the witty apophthegm which he seems to have first imparted to Mann by word of mouth:
  • Recollect what I have said to you, that this world is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel. This is the quint-essence of all I have learnt in fifty years!
  • At any rate, the saying has found its way into books of familiar quotations.