Saturday, October 11, 2008

graciousness and cordiality

Mrs. Oliphant to her publisher Mr Blackwood.

[Champs Elysees, [Feb.] 1865]

I send you with this the second number of 'Miss Marjoribanks,'* which I hope you will like. I am not quite sure myself that there is enough progress made, and I am afraid I am getting into a habit of over-minuteness. Thank you for your letter and the cheque. Happily the air here seems to agree very well with my boys, who can bear the cold much better than the heat, and the little one, Cecco, begins now and then to get a little hazy in his English, and finds French come handier. I was at St Germains for a few days in the end of last month, and was so impressed by it that perhaps I may send you a little paper about it one day or another. I am not in the least disposed to be a Jacobite, and Dundee and Culloden and Professor Aytoun sort of thing have very little effect upon me. But there was something wonderfully touching in that long silent terrace and the thought of all the weary days and miserable hopes and disappointments that must have passed without any record that and the other terrace at Frascati where poor Prince Charlie lies. I was sad enough myself at both places, and no one, being Scotch, could be unmoved by their associations. I got some time ago a most gracious letter from M. de Montalembert, whom I took courage to remind that I had brought a letter to him last year. He writes from La Roche en Bressy with that graceful French politeness which is quite excessive and uncalled for, and at the same time quite delightful. He is to be in Paris after March, and is coming to see me.

March 8.
Don't frighten me, please, about 'Miss Marjoribanks.' I will do the very best I can to content you, but you make me nervous when you talk about the first rank of novelists, &c.: nobody in the world cares whether I am in the first or sixth. I mean I have no one left who cares, and the world can do absolutely nothing for me except giving me a little more money, which, Heaven knows, I spend easily enough as it is. But all the same, I will do my best, only please recognise the difference a little between a man who can take the good of his reputation, if he has any, and a poor soul who is concerned about nothing except the most domestic and limited concerns.

The difference in my books is natural enough when you reflect that the first one was written when I was twenty, and the others were the work of a troubled life not much at leisure. It is only to be expected that one should do a little better when one has come to one's strength. As for your courteous critic's remarks (but it is incredible that a 'Saturday Reviewer' should write such a pretty hand), I am quite conscious of the "to be sures" and the "naturallys," but then a faultless style is like a faultless person, highly exasperating; and if one didn't leave these little things to be taken hold of, perhaps one might fare worse.

April 12.
I am quite delighted with Montalembert. There is a kind of cream of graciousness and cordiality about him which smooths one down all over. I dined there, much, I confess, to my panic, for I don't feel sufficiently sure of my French to be quite comfortable in society: however, they were all very kind. Montalembert gave me the first half-dozen sheets of his third volume, which is now going through the press, to let me see, as he said, what it was like. What do you think about it?

* Eventually published in book form: Miss Marjoribanks (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1866) - 3 vols.

-from The Autobiography and Letters of Mrs. M. O. W. Oliphant / arranged and edited by Mrs. Harry Coghill (Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1899) pp. 168-70.

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