Man of Letters: The Early Life and Love Letters of Robert Chambers

Man of Letters: The Early Life and Love Letters of Robert Chambers

Man of Letters: The Early Life and Love Letters of Robert Chambers

Man of Letters: The Early Life and Love Letters of Robert Chambers

Excerpt

The first part of this book is about Peebles at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and the early years of Robert Chambers, who was born there in 1802. It is compiled mainly from Robert's own papers which include several auto-biographical pieces.

His brother William also left some reminiscences and I have used them too, but with caution, sometimes changing an unimportant word for continuity. When William's Memoir was published in 1872 he had twice been Lord Provost, and was a pillar of respectability in Edinburgh. The Memoir quotes Robert's writings extensively, but a comparison with the original reveals that William was being selective, and had not hesitated to amend them as he thought fit. Sometimes he seems to have had clarity in mind, sometimes dignity, and sometimes he appears to be disagreeing with Robert's version of events. The letter dated 13th April 1829 in the present collection makes an interesting comparison with William's extracts from it in the Memoir. Of the two brothers Robert seems, in dozens of instances, to be the more accurate, and I have followed him where there is a conflict.

The second part is set in Edinburgh, where Robert, starting at the age of thirteen, tried to make his way in the world following a series of catastrophes which had left the family bankrupt and almost starving. After some daunting setbacks his prodigious capacity for hard work began to bring him success as a bookseller and writer, and by the time he was twenty-one he was famous.

The third part mainly consists of letters written by Robert to his wife-to-be. Like many love letters they radiate growing affection, humour, despair, hope, annoyance, and confusion. The lovers have rows and reconciliations. Only one half of the correspondence has been found and there are tantalising gaps. Though it is hard to believe, during the six-month period covered by the letters Robert wrote two large books between attending to customers in his bookshop; thus he was very busy and many of the letters had to be written late at night after an excessively long day. They are uncorrected emotional outpourings, but the style is easy and elegant -- a product of the age and of Edinburgh.

I have transcribed the letters as accurately as I can, but some of them are very difficult to read. Robert wrote at tremendous speed in a fine . . .

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