The Letters of Joseph Dennie: 1768-1812

The Letters of Joseph Dennie: 1768-1812

The Letters of Joseph Dennie: 1768-1812

The Letters of Joseph Dennie: 1768-1812

Excerpt

Letter-writing as an art has become a matter of interest to antiquarians; it is no longer a living form of aesthetics. In the eighteenth century, however, men still devoted to their letters attention similar to that of which the essay, novel, history, and political treatise were deemed worthy. Such men as Lord Chesterfield, Dr. Johnson, Thomas Gray, and Horace Walpole stand eminent in the ranks of English letter-writers of that century. Their letters are more than mere catalogues of events; they discuss theology, philosophy, history, politics, literature, manners, and their contemporaries, in language that is sometimes heavy with dignity, sometimes vivid and sparkling, but always vital with their own personality.

In this tradition appeared in America, toward the end of the century, Joseph Dennie, essayist, lawyer, editor, carrying on with his parents and his college classmates what he styled "epistolary conversations." His many letters which are preserved still convey to the reader a vivid picture of the man who inscribed them. Some of them have been printed; but many exist only in the original manuscript and are therefore not readily accessible.

An edition of the letters of Joseph Dennie was first suggested to me as a task for a master's thesis by Dr. Milton Ellis. I found the task interesting and at times fascinating. For valuable assistance in its execution I owe many debts of gratitude. I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness to the officers of the Widener Library of Harvard University, particularly to Mr. W. B. Briggs and Mr. R. H. Haynes, for generously assigning to me a room in which I might copy the letters preserved in the Treasure Room, and for free access to the reference books in the library; and to Alfred C. Potter, Librarian, for permission to reprint the letters contained in the Dennie Papers. To the Massachusetts Historical Society I am indebted for courtesy extended to me on several occasions, for the use of the Pickering Papers and the Vose Letters there preserved and of reference books, and for permission to reprint the Dennie letters included in the Pickering Papers. To the New England Historic Genealogical Society I owe a similar debt for the use of many histories, genealogies, and directories not easily procurable elsewhere. I have also had access to the stacks of the Bangor Public Library . . .

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