December 27, 2010

'How Shall I Word It?'

I have now read two installments of Beerbohm's And Even Now:  Essays (1922), and if I may use a culturally alien metaphor, he has struck two rising line drives clean over the fence.  The second, a review of letter-writing manuals, includes a few models, or samples, that Beerbohm feels have been omitted from the standard works.  Such as...

Letter to Member of Parliament Unseated at General Election

Dear Mr. Pobsby-Burford,

Though I am myself an ardent Tory, I cannot but rejoice in the crushing defeat you have just suffered in West-Odgetown. There are moments when political conviction is overborne by personal sentiment; and this is one of them. Your loss of the seat that you held is the more striking by reason of the splendid manner in which the northern and eastern divisions of Odgetown have been wrestled from the Liberal Party. The great bulk of the newspaper-reading public will be puzzled by your extinction in the midst of our party’s triumph. But then, the great mass of the newspaper-reading public has not met you. I have. You will probably not remember me. You are the sort of man who would not remember anybody who might not be of some definite use to him. Such, at least, was one of the impressions you made on me when I met you last summer at a dinner given by our friends the Pelhams. Among the other things in you that struck me were the blatant pomposity of your manner, your appalling flow of cheap platitudes, and your hoggish lack of ideas. It is such men as you that lower the tone of public life. And I am sure that in writing to you thus I am but expressing what is felt, without distinction of party, by all who sat with you in the late Parliament.

The one person in whose behalf I regret your withdrawal into private life is your wife, whom I had the pleasure of taking in to the aforesaid dinner. It was evident to me that she was a woman whose spirit was well-nigh broken by her conjunction with you. Such remnants of cheerfulness as were in her I attributed to the Parliamentary duties which kept you out of her sight for so very many hours daily. I do not like to think of the fate to which the free and independent electors of West Odgetown have just condemned her. Only, remember this: chattel of yours though she is, and timid and humble, she despises you in her heart.

I am, dear Mr. Pobsby-Burford,
Yours very truly,
Harold Thistlake.

Beerbohm concludes, after several similarly lucid examples, "But enough!  I never thought I should be so strong in this line.  I had not foreseen such copiousness and fatal fluency.  Never again will I tap these deep dark reservoirs in a character that had always seemed to me, on the whole, so amiable."


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