Page images



April 5th, 1782.

I was hurried out of town without having time to look about me, or to take leave of any of my friends such is the slavery of every appendage to the army. The bearer of this, I expect, will deliver, along with it, the Tales, Dr. Warton's Pamphlet, The History of the Troubadours, and half a dozen franks. Your tragedy shall come to your hands in very few days.

I read your Tales† with that pleasure which I have always found in reading your works. The lighter tales are told in a manner quite sprightly and original. The easy irregularity of the verse will not soon be imitated with equal spirit, though I think in some places the rhymes are too far asunder. Your Translation of Belphegor has more vivacity and humour, and is less circumstantial than that which I told you of, translated by I know not who.

It is impossible to speak too well of the Serious Tales. We have nothing of the kind in the language that can be placed beside the Castle of Argan. The Knight's Adventure would be improved, if the

* William Porden, Esq., one of the most eminent architects of the present day, witness the priucely mansion which he built for Lord Grosvenor at Eaton in Cheshire, was a man of very general information and considerable genius, extremely fond of poetry, and of historical literature. He died in 1823.

+ Tales in Verse. 4to. 1782.

Sorceress had a name. In order to spread your fame as much as lay in my power, I read that story to several of my friends; and I remarked that all of them at first mistook the Lady for an allegorical personage, hight Pleasure. The Talisman is an excellent tale, and displays more contrivance than any of the rest. Perhaps it would be made more pleasing to the ladies, if Alcazor did not so directly express that nothing but hypocrisy was to be expected from woman. This harshness takes from the general amiableness of his character. I think the thought might be insinuated; or such being the general opinion of the world might be made a reason for doubt, and for the consequent resolution. It is no small addition to the other merits of these tales, that the conclusions can never be divined from the antecedent circumstances; and yet they are far from being forced, or unnatural, upon the supposition and systems of the respective stories. The conclusion of the Knight's Adventure is beautiful and pathetic: it is a flower of Italian fragrance. That of the Castle of Argan, my favourite tale, is moral and pathetic, with a simplicity which contrasts finely with the bold fictions that precede. The comparison, made or suggested, of the cottage with the castle, charmed every one who read the tale.

I am less ardent in my admiration of the last story; because its plan and catastrophe are too much like the legendary ballads we have been sickened with for some years past; but it is told with an elegance peculiar to yourself.

May I hope that you will excuse my freedom

in thus forcing my criticisms upon you? You will probably look at this letter by the fire, and, read or unread, can easily deliver yourself from its impertinence.

I am, however, going to be more impertinent still. When I had read the tales, I read over again the second part of Hardyknute; and I must inform you that I have made up my mind with respect to the author of it. I know not whether you will value a compliment paid to your genius at the expense of your imitative art; but certainly that genius sheds a splendor upon some passages which betrays you. I have neither the tales nor the ballads with me; or I should have been tempted to illustrate my opinions by quotations. You will put up a prayer of gratitude for your deliverance.

I took the liberty of lending the Tales to Lady Sheffield, and had not time to get them back before I left London. Her Ladyship has got the Rimes at my recommendation. I regret that my journey must for some days deprive me of the pleasure of reading your comedy. I am impatient to see you in a new character. If there be such a place as Elysium, and if I am to have the honor and happiness of meeting you there, I will not swear that I shall not at first mistake you for an American chief; such a crown of variegated plumes must ornament your head. I think it a scandalous thing that nature should be so lavish of her good gifts to one, and so niggardly to others: it is not treating us like brethren. Should you do me the favour to answer this hasty rambling

scrawl, direct to me, Paymaster, 22nd Dragoons, Canterbury.


Oct. 10th, 1782.

I received the favor of your kind letter of the 25th Inst. on my return out of Northamptonshire. I will not pretend to describe the pleasure it afforded me. I know your praise was never cheap, and value it accordingly; but it has brought me into a very singular situation. Should I think my elegies worthy of the praise you are pleased to bestow upon them, I might perhaps justly incur the censure of unpardonable vanity; and, should I not, I am well aware I should be still more vain; for then I should prefer my own judgment to yours. Vain therefore at all events must I be; and, to add to all this, you tell me you mean to do me the honour of addressing an ode to me on elegiac poetry. Then the triumph of vanity over me must be complete. Be it so; but, mind, you shall bear all the blame also, I protest, I will still continue modest, aye, as modest as a virgin of six years old. I do think you ought to be punished for what you have done. I therefore have sent you the enclosed, but I beg you will not punish

* Samuel Knight, Esq., "Auditor of Trinity College, Cambridge, and author of Elegies and Sonnets, originally published anonymously in 4to, 1785, and again with his name the year following."-Dictionary of Living Authors.

me in return by withholding either your promised ode, or your criticism on my trifles. The glory of being the first elegiac poet in our language, though too great for me to attain, is not too great for me to attempt, since you advise it; but, even attained, how inferior is it to that line of poetry in which you so eminently excel.* I can hardly endure the very thought. You see the pride of my heart your pen, however employed, cannot be idly employed; yet, in the comedy you mention, I could wish you not to sacrifice your own judgment too much to the taste of the town, as you hinted you should do in some degree. That indeed may be necessary. I shall be happy to be favored with a sight of it when we meet.

I will not any longer intrude on your time, which will otherwise, I am sure, be much better employed; for I hope you have by this time finished the troublesome unpoetical business of your removal.


Dec. 9th, 1782.

The politeness of your letter would sooner have

'Discedo Alcæus puncto illius; ille meo quis? Quis nisi Callimachus; si plus adposcere visus, Fit Mimnermus, et optivo cognomine crescit.' Was ever the observation of Horace more completely exemplified?

The Letter to which this is an answer has been recently

« PreviousContinue »