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LITERARY CORRESPONDENCE WITH LORD MONBODDO, MR. TYRWHITT, AND DR. VINCENT.
THE progress of Mr. Burgess's literary life and occupations at Oxford are so graphically developed by the letters of Mr. Tyrwhitt, and by those of some few among his other correspondents, that we shall subjoin, with brief occasional comments, a further selection of them.
TO MR. BURGESS.
You have indulged me in such a liberty, or rather licence, of criticism upon the communications with which you have occasionally favoured me, that I should deem myself unworthy of your present confidence if I did not use the same freedom in giving you my sentiments of your Αναθημα.
A Greek epigram is certainly an ornamentum ambitiosum; a sort of hors d'œuvre, which, if not very exquisite, had better be spared
quia cœna sine isto. I conceive,
poterat duci therefore, the
utmost severity of morose criticism can never be
more properly exerted than in a matter of this kind.
[After several critical remarks upon the epigram, and objections to particular words, Mr. T. adds:—]
I would not have you be offended or mortified with the number of them, as I scarcely remember to have read a modern Greek poem, from the time of Politian to the present, which was not equally open to censure.
I do not know that Bentley has any where, in any writing of his own, explained the doctrine of the digamma in general.
I am glad you continue your researches among the Bodleian MSS., but (begging your pardon) I should think you might give us something better from thence than a metaphrase of Homer. That it may afford some light to a few passages, is very possible; but I am sure your time may be better employed than in publishing it at length.
I AM greatly and sincerely obliged to you for. your remarks on my Epigram, but was not aware
that I should have given you so much trouble. To confess the truth, I looked upon it with some degree of complacency, and began to have a more favourable opinion of the practicability of Greek composition, than Mr. Dawes, from his better experience, had. The mortification which so many errors -if pointed out by another person might have occasioned, was entirely prevented by the real favour of your criticisms.
Your remark on the ill success of Greek composition from the time of Politian to the present is a douceur which I found little difficulty in admitting.
Donare, et pretium dicere muneris ;
so I cannot repay you myself in kind; but send you, inclosed, some verses of a lady in London, an acquaintance of mine, which I think very good. She is the widow of Commodore Walsingham,
lately lost; and is by inheritance a wit and a poet; for she is the daughter of Sir Charles Hanbury Williams. And, indeed, she is in every respect a very accomplished woman. The card with which she accompanied the verses is as well turned as any thing of the kind I ever saw; but you are to remember that poets deal in fiction, or, at least, in very extravagant hyperboles.
But lest you should think that, because I cannot write verses, nobody in Scotland can, I send you, likewise, inclosed, a copy of verses that I think truly classical, written by a friend of mine at the bar in Scotland, Mr. M'Laurin.
As to your verses, I must tell you freely, that I like the Latin very much better than the English. The Latin are an excellent imitation of Horace's familiar epistolary style; for they are sermoni propiora, affecting nothing of the tumor and pomp of heroic verse which Horace could write too, and could rise even to a higher style of poetry, - I mean the Ode; but he knew how to suit his style to his subject, and could practise his own rule —
Descriptas servare vices, operumque colores.
You have marked your age by a much more memorable event than the consulship of Lollius and Lepidus.
I think it not amiss that you should follow the advice once given to a young student,—
det primos versibus annos
Mæoniumque bibat felici pectore fontem.
But attend to what follows,
Mox et Socratico plenus grege, &c.
I would, therefore, have you use poetry only as the amusement of your youth, and apply your Greek learning to its proper use the study of the Greek arts and sciences, and particularly the science of sciences, I mean Philosophy, in which you will find the principles of all arts and sciences, even of the popular arts, such as Poetry and Rhetoric, as Aristotle has very clearly shown. At the same time, you have no reason to regret the time that you have hitherto bestowed upon Philology, which is the best introduction to Philosophy, and does much better before it than to follow after it; for it was a fall of my friend, poor Mr. Harris, as he observed to me last time I saw him, to descend from Philosophy to Philology.
I have not had time yet to read much of the philological work you have sent me. have sent me. In the Preface, I observe, you make very honourable mention of me, for which I thank you.
I am much pleased with what you say of the digamma. It is, I think, perfectly clear that the sound, if not the character, of the digamma was used by the Arcadians and Ænotores, who imported the Latin dialect into Latium. And it is clear, from the passage of the Halicarnassian, which you have quoted, and defended against a most audacious criticism of Dawes, that it was noted by the character among the Latins; the sound of which, V