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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 257 pages of information about The Best Letters of Charles Lamb.

LXXI.

TO WALTER WILSON.

December 16, 1822.

Dear Wilson,—­Lightning I was going to call you.  You must have thought me negligent in not answering your letter sooner.  But I have a habit of never writing letters but at the office; ’tis so much time cribbed out of the Company; and I am but just got out of the thick of a tea-sale, in which most of the entry of notes, deposits, etc., usually falls to my share.

I have nothing of De Foe’s but two or three novels and the “Plague History.” [1] I can give you no information about him.  As a slight general character of what I remember of them (for I have not looked into them latterly), I would say that in the appearance of truth, in all the incidents and conversations that occur in them, they exceed any works of fiction I am acquainted with.  It is perfect illusion.  The author never appears in these self-narratives (for so they ought to be called, or rather auto-biographies), but the narrator chains us down to an implicit belief in everything he says.  There is all the minute detail of a log-book in it.  Dates are painfully pressed upon the memory.  Facts are repeated over and over in varying phrases, till you cannot choose but believe them.  It is like reading evidence given in a court of justice.  So anxious the story-teller seems that the truth should be clearly comprehended that when he has told us a matter of fact or a motive, in a line or two farther down he repeats it with his favorite figure of speech, “I say” so and so, though he had made it abundantly plain before.  This is in imitation of the common people’s way of speaking, or rather of the way in which they are addressed by a master or mistress who wishes to impress something upon their memories, and has a wonderful effect upon matter-of-fact readers.  Indeed, it is to such principally that he writes.  His style is everywhere beautiful, but plain and homely. “Robinson Crusoe” is delightful to all ranks and classes; but it is easy to see that it is written in phraseology peculiarly adapted to the lower conditions of readers,—­hence it is an especial favorite with seafaring men, poor boys, servant-maids, etc.  His novels are capital kitchen-reading, while they are worthy, from their deep interest, to find a shelf in the libraries of the wealthiest and the most learned.  His passion for matter-of-fact narrative sometimes betrayed him into a long relation of common incidents, which might happen to any man, and have no interest but the intense appearance of truth in them, to recommend them.  The whole latter half or two-thirds of “Colonel Jack” is of this description.  The beginning of “Colonel Jack” is the most affecting natural picture of a young thief that was ever drawn.  His losing the stolen money in the hollow of a tree, and finding it again when he was in despair, and then being in

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