A long, gloomy, lonely day. I thought this evening I would look through a large box I have upstairs full of old letters and papers left to me, and which I have always intended to sort at my leisure. They have been there for years, but I have never had time, in the hurry and business of life, even to glance through them. It is an employment that requires rather a peculiar state of mind, a quiet eddy away from the too rapid swirl of ordinary life. Such an occupation must recall to the memory of anyone who has ever read it Professor Max Müller's preface to his charming little story called 'German Love,' which was published as long ago as 1877. The little book treats of love - the eternal familiar subject - with that touch of genius that makes originality, and the preface fits so curiously with my thoughts to-night that I think I must quote it:

'Who has not once in his life sat down at a desk where shortly before another sat who now rests in the grave? Who has not had to open the locks which for long years hid the most sacred secrets of a heart that now lies hidden in the holy calm of the churchyard? Here are the letters which were so loved by him whom we all loved so well; here are pictures and ribbons, and books with marks on every page. Who can now read and decipher them? Who can gather together the faded and broken leaves of this rose, and endow them once more with living fragrance? The flames which among the Greeks received the body of the departed for fiery destruction - the flames into which the ancients cast everything that had been most dear to the living - are still the safest resting-places for such relics. With trembling hesitation the bereaved friend reads the pages which no eye had ever seen, save the one now closed for ever; and when he has satisfied himself by a rapid glance that these pages and letters contain nothing which the world calls important, he throws them hastily on the glowing coals; they flame up, and are gone.

'From such flames the following pages were saved. They were intended at first for the friends only of the lost one; but as they have found friends amongst strangers they may, since so it is to be, wander forth again into the wide world.'

I began my task, turned over the old mouldy papers of long, long ago, and came across a bundle of the early love-letters of my father and mother. So long as I live I cannot allow them to be consigned to the flames, as Professor Max Müller recommends. They are so simple, so touching and interesting in their old-world language, that my first impulse was to string them together anonymously, adding the little tale of the love affair as perhaps no one but I could do. But even without names this might possibly have shocked the taste of people who are sensitive on the subject of letters. I am not one of those who object to the publishing of love-letters, given sufficient time for personal knowledge and recollection of the writers to have crumbled away. Voltaire said: 'On doit des regards aux vivants: on ne doit aux morts que la vérité.' Had I myself written beautiful love-letters in my youth, it would be a pride and joy to me to think that generations unborn should appreciate and enjoy the depths of my devotion, and forgive my weaknesses for the one great reason which will endure for ever, 'because she loved much.' A little boy asked: 'Why is everyone called "poor" and "good" when they are put into a box in the ground? ' I say: What is it all the world forgives in the future, though at the time society must defend itself by hard judgments and stern morality? What we all think vile and odious, and what shocks all our best sensibility, though it is inevitable, is the publication of even the most commonplace love-letters in the police or divorce courts. But does not love, above everything that we share with our common humanity, belong to all? Is it not the most brilliant, glorious possession we have? Are we not really proud of it even when it is misdirected? Is not the perusal of unselfish, passionate, devoted letters - such as, for instance, Mary Wollstonecraft's letters to Imlay (a perfectly unworthy object) - a better lesson to women than all the articles, all the lectures, and all the sermons ever preached? And why should we not each of us gain strength through the publication of letters which show the weakness of love in gifted beings like Keats and Shelley? I cannot see any objection, and with pride and joy would I have given, to those who cared to read it, this interesting little bundle of papers, yellowed by time, and written by my parents in the sunshine of their youth, portraying that nothing really came between the two but that old struggle - difference of opinion on religious subjects - and also showing the confident hope on both sides that love ought to conquer.

Time crystallises, to my mind, such material into biography; and the more absolutely true biography is, the more interesting it becomes to the public. I have noted down from some book - perhaps Symonds's Life - that 'the first canon in the art of unsophisticated letter-writing is that, just as a speech is intended for hearers rather than for readers, so is a letter meant for the eye of a friend and not for the world. The very essence of good letter-writing is, in truth, the deliberate exclusion of outsiders and the full surrender of the writer to the spirit of egotism - amicable, free, light-handed, unpretending, harmless, but still egotism. The best letters are always improvisations, directly or indirectly, about yourself and your correspondent.' Letters of this kind are, in my opinion, the very ones most worth giving to the public. The man of the world says: 'Burn all letters, and only write insignificant notes with little meaning in them so that there may be nothing for others to keep.' Goethe says: 'Letters are among the most significant memorials a man can leave behind him.' This seems to me true of private individuals, as well as of those who have played a notable or distinguished part on life's stage. But this is not the general opinion - to which I, being only a prudent old woman, am content to bow - and once more return to the box this touching, interesting, and characteristic love-story of my father and mother. I find, however, one letter written by my father, and dated 1834, which is so impersonal and so different from the ordinary love-letter to a young girl that I think it can appear an indiscretion to no one that I should publish it.