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Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe

By Sharpe, Charles Kirkpatrick, Allardyce, Alexander, Bedford, W. K. Riland (William Kirkpatrick Riland) (1888) in two volumes.


The correspondence contained in these two volumes has been selected from a very large mass of papers, now the property of the Rev. W. K. R. Bedford, Sutton Coldfield, the nephew and literary executor of Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe. The materials of which the present work is made up consist of autograph letters of Mr Sharpe to his mother and other members of his family; of rough drafts of letters in his own handwriting ; of various fragmentary memoranda, also autograph ; and of letters to Mr Sharpe, almost all in the originals. In addition to these, a note-book of Mr Sharpe, into which he had copied his more important correspondence from 1810 to 1815, with a few entries of a later date, has furnished a number of the most complete and interesting letters in both volumes.

Mr Sharpe’s correspondence naturally divides itself into two parts: the letters connected with his residence at Oxford, and with the friendships which he had formed there; and those belonging to his Edinburgh life, when he had in a great measure retired from society and devoted himself to literary, artistic, and antiquarian pursuits. The former collection is by far the more bulky and important, and a larger space has been assigned to the letters which represent it than chronological symmetry would otherwise have suggested. The letters addressed to Mr Sharpe by his Oxford friends are also of more consequence than those of the correspondents of his later years, which are, in the majority of instances, briefer notes, thanking him for antiquarian or artistic favours, or soliciting the assistance of his experience or taste. Several hundreds of letters, from David Laing, Robert Chambers, Thomas Thomson, W. B. D. D. Turnbull, and other gentlemen engaged in historical and antiquarian work, have been examined and passed over with the exception of a few illustrative specimens. Without Mr Sharpe’s replies, which, however, generally found their way to the public indirectly through the works on which his correspondents were engaged, it would have served no object to print these letters beyond showing to how great an extent his attainments were drawn upon, and how liberally his stores were opened to his friends.

When the first volume had passed through the press, and the second had been already arranged for the printer, Mr Bedford was successful in obtaining, through the kindness of some friends whose interest had been excited in the work, a number of additional letters, which now appear in the second volume. This acquisition was of all the more importance, because, in the correspondence originally put into my hands, the later years of Mr Sharpe’s life were very inadequately represented by letters from himself. The use to which Mr Sharpe’s letters were put by Lady Charlotte Bury, as explained by Mr Bedford in his Memoir, caused Mr Sharpe to be more guarded in his general correspondence; and it is fortunate that the most recently recovered letters were addressed to friends to whom he could reveal himself in his own playful and natural character.

In the selection and arrangement of the letters, very considerable difficulties had to be encountered. By far the greater number were undated, and many presented no references by which the dates might be accurately fixed. Not a few had found their way into covers evidently belonging to other letters, thereby increasing a confusion already chaotic. By exercising considerable pains, it is believed that the exact dates, or at least the closest approximation to them, have been fixed upon.

It may be necessary to explain why so large a number of letters to Mr Sharpe has been included in the present volumes. Not only did it seem that these letters were of service as the best illustrations of Mr Sharpe’s own letters, but that they added not less than those did to our knowledge of him. Living as he did so much in isolation, Mr Sharpe’s biography is written in his correspondence, and the interest of most of the letters addressed to him supersedes any need of an apology.

A great deal has been said of the licence which Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe allowed himself in writing, of a weakness for scandal, and of a fondness for employing expressions which refinement had rendered obsolete even in his day. His own letters, written to his intimates, and never intended for publication, will

show how far these allegations go. They are printed as he wrote them; in very few instances has it been found necessary to omit passages; and where suppression has been deemed expedient, it has been fully as often in the letters of his correspondents as in his own. When allowance is made for Mr Sharpe’s affectation of archaism, the correspondence is neither better nor worse in tone than the epistolce familiares of men of wit and of the world during his day.

The number of letters which it was desirable to compress into two volumes has not admitted of very full annotation, especially in the more recent letters, but notes have been given where it seemed that the interests of the reader required them. For many of these notes I have been indebted to Mr Bedford, who has also read the proof - sheets, and solved many difficulties which must otherwise have been insurmountable.

Throughout the progress of the work Mr Bedford and I have met with most prompt and ready response to all the applications we have made to those into whose hands the fragments of Charles Sharpe’s writings and sketches had found their way. From the Abbotsford collection downwards, there has been a general consensus on the part of possessors of his works to assist, as far as possible, in placing his reputation on a basis of such security as the present publication can establish.

Edinburgh, Oct. 1888.

Volume 1  |  Volume 2



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