Who says we should never complain? Consider the following. In October 1955 George Lyttleton, a retired Eton master, then seventy-two, was dining with, among others, his former student, the distinguished publisher and man of letters Rupert Hart-Davis. When Lyttleton grumbled that nobody wrote to him anymore, Hart-Davis gallantly promised to do so. Five days later he made good on the pledge; Lyttleton responded; and thus was launched, by a stray bleat of self-pity, a weekly correspondence that, when it ended with Lyttleton’s death in 1962, had generated about six hundred of the most delightful letters in English. These, edited by Hart-Davis, were published between 1978 and 1984, but the six volumes have since gone out of print. This selection is therefore overdue and more than welcome.

The main currency of exchange here is, not surprisingly, literary chatter. Although the two men share many tastes—both revere Carlyle and...


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