In truth, the letter would hardly be interesting in print. Love has a marvelous power of vivifying language and charging the simplest words with the most tender meaning, of restoring to them the power they had when first coined. They are words of fire to those two who know their secret, but not to others. It is generally admitted that the best love-letters would not make very good literature. “Dearest,” begins Herbert, in a burst of originality, felicitously selecting a word whose exclusiveness shuts out all the world but one, and which is a whole letter, poem, confession, and creed in one breath. What a weight of meaning it has to carry! There may be beauty and wit and grace and naturalness and even the splendor of fortune elsewhere, but there is one woman in the world whose sweet presence would be compensation for the loss of all else. It is not to be reasoned about; he wants that one; it is her plume dancing down the sunny street that sets his heart beating; he knows her form among a thousand, and follows her; he longs to run after her carriage, which the cruel coachman whirls out of his sight. It is marvelous to him that all the world does not want her too, and he is in a panic when he thinks of it. And what exquisite flattery is in that little word addressed to her, and with what sweet and meek triumph she repeats it to herself, with a feeling that is not altogether pity for those who still stand and wait. To be chosen out of all the available world—it is almost as much bliss as it is to choose. “All that long, long stage-ride from Blim’s to Portage I thought of you every moment, and wondered what you were doing and how you were looking just that moment, and I found the occupation so charming that I was almost sorry when the journey was ended.” Not much in that! But I have no doubt the Young Lady read it over and over, and dwelt also upon every moment, and found in it new proof of unshaken constancy, and had in that and the like things in the letter a sense of the sweetest communion. There is nothing in this letter that we need dwell on it, but I am convinced that the mail does not carry any other letters so valuable as this sort.
I suppose that the appearance of Herbert in this new light unconsciously gave tone a little to the evening’s talk; not that anybody mentioned him, but Mandeville was evidently generalizing from the qualities that make one person admired by another to those that win the love of mankind.
Mandeville. There seems to be something in some persons that wins them liking, special or general, independent almost of what they do or say.
The mistress. Why, everybody is liked by some one.
Mandeville. I’m not sure of that. There are those who are friendless, and would be if they had endless acquaintances. But, to take the case away from ordinary examples, in which habit and a thousand circumstances influence liking, what is it that determines the world upon a personal regard for authors whom it has never seen?