Revue égyptologique — N.S.1.1919

Page: 199
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I

SOME PRIVATE LETTERS OF THE ROMAN PERIOD

FROM THE LONDON COLLECTION

The value and interest of papyrology are manifold, illustrating as the science does
so many and so various subjects of historical study; but one of its chief charms con-
sists in the immediacy of contact into which it brings us with the life of Graeco-
Roman Egypt and so, in some measure, of the Graeco-Roman world generally. Where
the historian gives us but generalizations, the broad outlines and large processes of
man's life and social activity, or, at best, revivifies for us the personalities of indivi-
duels exceptional by their talents, their fortunes or their station, the papyrus docu-
ment puts us en rapport with the common man; with some single man représentative
of thousands like himself, but none the less a concrète individual, with his own
destiny, passions, and humours.

Ail this is true; yet, true as it is and great as is the interest which our study thus
acquires, it must be confessed that the generality of papyri are far less personal than
we coulcl wish; and when we turn, as those who are not specialists usually do turn,
from the officiai documents and légal transactions, with their stereotyped and unex-
pressive formulae, to private letters, in hope to find there some more intimate révél-
ation of personality, our disappointment is apt to be the greater. The interests of
thèse ancient letter-writers were depressingly narrow in their range; the abrupt and
embarrassed sentences often convey little or no meaning to us who are ignorant of the cir-
cumstances to which they refer ; and the conventional phrases, repeated parrot-like from
writer to writer, carry as little of individual feeling as the " Dear Sir", " Yours truly",
or "Hoping this finds you well as it leaves me at présent"' of their modem counter-
parts. Nevertheless we meet, ever and anon, with a letter which, whether by reason
of a more intense feeling, of spécial circumstances, or of a higher degree of éducation
in the writer, seems to bring us into touch with a human soul at one moment, if no
more, of its passage, stormy or tranquil, through this world; and such letters will
always have, not to the "gênerai reader" only but to ail who value history primarily
for its révélation of human life, a quite peculiar appeal. Their number, if small in

1. A letter received by the "Séparation Allowances" branch of a Government Office early in the war,
complaining of non-payment of an allowauce, ends thus :— "I have not received my money yet. We have
had no food in the house for two days. Hoping you are the same, Yours, etc." The writer had used a phrase
much in vogue arnong the less literate portion of the cornmunity without any sensé of its relation to the con-
text.
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