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Angelo Politian
by [?]

Will my letters be condemned for their length? Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, and Cicero, have all written long ones. Will some of them be criticised for their brevity? I allege in my favour the examples of Dion, Brutus, Apollonius, Philostratus, Marcus Antoninus, Alciphron, Julian, Symmachus, and also Lucian, who vulgarly, but falsely, is believed to have been Phalaris.

I shall be censured for having treated of topics which are not generally considered as proper for epistolary composition. I admit this censure, provided, while I am condemned, Seneca also shares in the condemnation. Another will not allow of a sententious manner in my letters; I will still justify myself by Seneca. Another, on the contrary, desires abrupt sententious periods; Dionysius shall answer him for me, who maintains that pointed sentences should not be admitted into letters.

Is my style too perspicuous? It is precisely that which Philostratus admires. Is it obscure? Such is that of Cicero to Attica. Negligent? An agreeable negligence in letters is more graceful than elaborate ornaments. Laboured? Nothing can be more proper, since we send epistles to our friends as a kind of presents. If they display too nice an arrangement, the Halicarnassian shall vindicate me. If there is none; Artemon says there should be none.

Now as a good and pure Latinity has its peculiar taste, its manners, and, to express myself thus, its Atticisms; if in this sense a letter shall be found not sufficiently Attic, so much the better; for what was Herod the sophist censured? but that having been born an Athenian, he affected too much to appear one in his language. Should a letter seem too Attical; still better, since it was by discovering Theophrastus, who was no Athenian, that a good old woman of Athens laid hold of a word, and shamed him.

Shall one letter be found not sufficiently serious? I love to jest. Or is it too grave? I am pleased with gravity. Is another full of figures? Letters being the images of discourse, figures have the effect of graceful action in conversation. Are they deficient in figures? This is just what characterises a letter, this want of figure! Does it discover the genius of the writer? This frankness is recommended. Does it conceal it? The writer did not think proper to paint himself; and it is one requisite in a letter, that it should be void of ostentation. You express yourself, some one will observe, in common terms on common topics, and in new terms on new topics. The style is thus adapted to the subject. No, no, he will answer; it is in common terms you express new ideas, and in new terms common ideas. Very well! It is because I have not forgotten an ancient Greek precept which expressly recommends this.

It is thus by attempting to be ambidextrous, I try to ward off attacks. My critics, however, will criticise me as they please. It will be sufficient for me, my Lord, to be assured of having satisfied you, by my letters, if they are good; or by my obedience, if they are not so.

Florence, 1494.