Here’s how the notorious British explorer Richard Francis Burton addressed a bitter enemy who was working behind his back to sully his reputation:
“Sir,—I have been indebted to the kindness and consideration of my friend Dr. Shaw, for a sight of your letter addressed to him the 10th of October last from Zanzibar. I shall not attempt to characterize it in the terms that best befit it. To do so, indeed, I should be compelled to resort to language “vile” and unseemly as your own. Nor can there be any necessity for this. A person who could act as you have acted must be held by everyone to be beneath the notice of any honourable man. You have addressed a virulent attack on me to a quarter in which you had hoped it would prove deeply injurious to me: and this not in the discharge of any public duty, but for the gratification of a long-standing private pique. You sent me no copy of this attack, you gave me no opportunity of meeting it; the slander was propagated as slanders generally are, in secret and behind my back. You took a method of disseminating it which made the ordinary mode of dealing with such libels impossible, while your distance from England puts you in a position to be perfectly secure from any consequence of a nature personal to yourself. Such being the case, there remains to me but one manner of treating your letter, and that is with the contempt it merits.”
I first saw this while reading Candice Millard’s River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Nile over the summer. I thought of it again after reading David French’s harrowing account of the slander he is forced to endure from far-right nutjobs. I like to imagine this to be the kind of rhetoric that Renaissance educators would have trained their pupils to conjure at a moment’s notice.