Page:Studies of a Biographer 4.djvu/96

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82
STUDIES OF A BIOGRAPHER

first-rate letters should imply a certain detachment. The writer should be able to play a little with his subject: to tell a bit of news so as to give the picturesque aspects; to insinuate a humorous or melancholy reflection without falling into sermonising; and, in short, to put into a few lines the effect of a whole evening of spontaneous and discursive chat. Southey, having to squeeze in a letter between an epic and a quarterly review, is too eager and impetuous. He goes to the point at once like a good man of business, and cannot give the effect of leisurely and amused reflection. The reader has to supply a good deal from independent knowledge, or to gather it from the general result of the correspondence. Then we gradually become aware of those admirable moral qualities of which Thackeray speaks. He takes up one burthen after another as all in the day's work so simply that we may fail to notice the energy implied in his forty years of unremitting labour. It is quite natural, when one comes to think of it, that his brain should have given way at last: but at any given moment he seems to be working as smoothly and unconsciously as a well-oiled steam-engine. There are no creaks and groans and whinings, and one can forget that there