Elderfield Otterbourne Winchester
Febry 7th [1899?]1

MS Princeton University, Parrish Collection

Dear Sir
I have been so much interested by the book you have kindly sent me, in common with rest of the Author’s Society and, having had a little correspondence with you many years ago, when you were editing the English Plutarch, I venture to write, thinking you may care to hear some experiences of a long life of writing, not from necessity but because I had something to say.

The passion for telling a story developed itself early, but began to take shape after reading Alisons history of the Retreat from Moscow. My father was an exact and fastidious man and he criticised and condemned every awkward expression in my MS till I could not get on, and it was laid aside for some years. Then the desire to make the beauty of Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi known to him led to my translating it – but as another translation came out, the only benefit was the training in language, and when I next attempted original composition, it passed muster though much corrected.

That was my training in style, except the knowing his great admiration for the scene of Bertram’s return to Ellangowan, and Morton’s to his home. When people ask me how to form a style, I always tell them ‘Take care of your grammar and your style will take care of itself’ – Though I do not know whether this is right, and of course there is an arrangement of syllables necessary –

Nothing taught me so much as to the keeping to a story and the subordination of details as Sir Joshua Reynold’s old Letters on Art.

Conversations benefitted by the habit of early youth, in gaieté du coeur of writing down in dramatic fashion the actual talks of a large merry party and I should recommend the habit as giving life to dialogue.

Being a strong and practical man, my Father looked into publishing accounts, and came to most of your conclusions. ‘The Little Duke’ was actually printed at Winchester and published on commission but my Father died suddenly while I was still very young, and being no accountant I was glad to leave things in the hands of J.W. Parker to whom Sir John Taylor Coleridge had recommended me for the Heir of Redclyffe, 1750 first Edition half profits, on his giving up I passed to Macmillan and I do not think I have had any cause to complain. Curiously however the Daisy Chain, though brought out in awkward form, and never advantageously received has in the long run been more successful than any book, though Heartsease reached 2000 the first year.

My books for poor children remained with Mozley for whom I edited the Monthly Packet, and for his successors, for more than 30 years, with fair success in its own field, juvenile (not children’s) and religious. Thus I have had experience in editorship enough to go along with what you say as to the hopelessness of the poor people who begin to write for a purpose – Also in general of recommendations. Only one of mine succeeded that of the author of Mademoiselle Mori, who would have done as well without it.

One other curious fact I may mention. ‘John Inglesant’ was sent me from the Guardian with a large parcel of other books. The small type, the awkward form and generally local or provincial appearance made me suppose it was a strictly private or provincial sort – and left it to the last

Then of course I saw what a remarkable book it was. I reviewed it there, and told others of it, especially Mr St John Tyrwhitt. After a time Mr Gladstone took it up, and it was the book of the day, though Mr Shorthouse had tried in vain to publish it and did so at his own expense.

I sometimes wonder if it lives. He has done nothing to equal it.

And – if you are not tired of this long letter, I should like to add that often in first efforts there is a charm of freshness and spontaneity not to be found in later work, though that may be really superior and better in workmanship. Peter Simple, Harry Lorrequer, Waverley, perhaps Pickwick, Alice in Wonderland, Reata are all specimens of what I mean. One feels the enjoyment of the story-teller before he has to work up to his former performance.

Begging you to excuse me for this long egotistical letter

Yours sincerely
C M Yonge

The Society has twice successfully interfered on my behalf2

1Tentatively dated on the assumption that 'the book you have sent me' refers to Besant's The Pen and the Book (London: Burleigh 1899).
2One of these occasions may have been the episode described in 'The Art of Authorship' The Author I (16 June 1890), 44-46, in which CMY is mentioned among those bamboozled by George Bainton into supplying them with descriptions of their writing practices which he subsequently had published as The Art of Authorship (London: Clarke 1890).
Cite this letter

The Letters of Charlotte Mary Yonge(1823-1901) edited by Charlotte Mitchell, Ellen Jordan and Helen Schinske.

URL to this Letter is: https://c21ch.newcastle.edu.au/yonge/3394/to-sir-walter-besant-2

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