Page images
PDF
EPUB

which wants correction in several particulars. The specific amendment which you propose, and to which I object, is the addition of a's and 's to our terminations. To change s for a in the plural number of our substantives and adjectives would be so violent an alteration, that I believe neither the power of Power, nor the power of Genius would be able to effect it. In most cases I am convinced that very strong innovations are more likely to make impression than small and almost imperceptible differences, as in religion, medicine, politics, &c.; but I do not think that language can be treated in the same manner, especially in a refined age. When a nation first emerges from barbarism, two or three masterly writers may operate wonders; and the fewer the number of writers, as the number is small at such a period, the more absolute is their authority. But when a country has been polishing itself for two or three centuries, and when consequently authors are innumerable, the most supereminent genius (or whoever is esteemed so, though without foundation,) possesses very limited empire, and is far from meeting implicit obedience. Every petty writer will contest very novel institutions; every inch of change in any language will be disputed; and the language will remain as it was, longer than the tribunal which should dictate very heterogeneous alterations. With regard to adding a or o to final consonants, consider, Sir, should the usage be adopted, what havoc would it make! All our poetry would be defective in metre, or would become at once as obsolete as Chaucer; and could

we promise ourselves, that, though we should acquire better harmony and more rhymes, we should have a new crop of poets, to replace Milton, Dryden, Gray, and, I am sorry you will not allow me to add, Pope! You might enjoin our prose to be reformed as you have done by the Spectator in your letter XXXIV, but try Dryden's Ode by your new institution.

I beg your pardon for these trivial observations: I assure you I could write a letter ten times as long, if I were to specify all I like in your work. I more than like most of it; and I am charmed with your glorious love of liberty, and your other humane and noble sentiments. Your book I shall with great pleasure send to Mr. Colman : may I tell him, without naming you, that it is written by the author of the Comedy I offered to him? He must be struck with your very handsome and generous conduct in printing your Encomiums on him, after his rejecting your piece. It is as great as uncommon, and gives me as good an opinion of your heart, Sir, as your book does of your great sense. Both assure me that you will not take ill the liberty I have used in expressing my doubts on your plan for amending our language, or for any I may use in dissenting from a few other sentiments in your work—as I shall in what I think your too low opinion of some of the French writers, of your preferring Lady Mary Wortley to Madame de Sevigné, and of your esteeming Mr. Hume a man of a deeper and more solid understanding than Mr. Gray. In the two last articles it is impossible to think more differently than we

one,

do. In Lady Mary's Letters, which I never could read but once, I discovered no merit of any sort ; yet I have seen others by her (unpublished,) that have a good deal of wit; and for Mr. Hume, give me leave to say that I think your opinion, that he might have ruled a state, ought to be qualified a little; as in the very next page you say, his History is a mere apology for Prerogative, and a very weak

If he could have ruled a state, one must presume, at best, that he would have been an able tyrant; and yet I should suspect that a man, who, sitting coolly in his chamber, could forge but a weak apology for the prerogative, would not have exercised it very wisely. I knew personally and well both Mr. Hume and Mr. Gray, and thought there was no degree of comparison between their understandings; and, in fact, Mr. Hume’s writings were so superior to his conversation, that I frequently said he understood nothing till he had written upon

it. What you say, Sir, of the discord in his history from his love of prerogative and hatred of churchmen, flatters me much; as I have taken notice of that very unnatural discord in a piece I printed some years ago, but did not publish, and which I will show to you when I have the pleasure of seeing you here ; a satisfaction I shall be glad to taste, whenever you will let me know you are at leisure after the beginning of next week.

THE HON. HORACE WALPOLE TO MR.
PINKERTON.

June 26th, 1785. I have sent your book to Mr. Colman, Sir, and must desire you in return to offer my grateful thanks to Mr. Knight, who has done me an honor, to which I do not know how I am intitled, by the present of his poetry, which is very classic, and beautiful, and tender, and of chaste simplicity.

To your book, Sir, I am much obliged on many accounts; particularly for having recalled my mind to subjects of delight, to which it was grown dulled by age and indolence. In consequence of

your reclaiming it, I asked myself whence you feel so much disregard for certain authors whose fame is established : you have assigned good reasons for withholding your approbation from some, on the plea of their being imitators : it was natural then, to ask myself again, whence they had obtained so much celebrity. I think I have discovered a cause, which I do not remember to have seen noted; and that cause I suspect to have been, that certain of those authors possessed grace ;-do not take me for a disciple of Lord Chesterfield, nor imagine that I mean to erect grace into a capital ingredient of writing ; but I do believe that it is a perfume that will preserve from putrefaction, and is distinct even from style, which regards expression. Grace, I think, belongs to manner. It is from the

• This letter is likewise printed, but not accurately, in the Private Correspondence of the Hon. Horace Walpole, iv. p. 391. No other of Walpole's letters to Pinkerton, except No. 33 of this series, appears in that publication.

charm of grace that I believe some authors, not in your favor, obtained part of their renown: Virgil in particular; and yet I am far from disagreeing with you on his subject in general. There is such a dearth of invention in the Æneid, (and when he did invent, it was often so foolishly,) so little good sense, so little variety, and so little power over the passions, that I have frequently said, from contempt for his matter, and from the charm of his harmony, that I believe I should like his poem better, if I was to hear it repeated, and did not understand Latin. On the other hand, he has more than harmony : whatever he utters is said gracefully, and he ennobles his images, especially in the Georgics; or at least it is more sensible there from the humility of the subject. A Roman farmer might not understand his diction in agriculture; but he made a Roman courtier understand farming, the farming of that age, and could captivate a lord of Augustus' bed-chamber, and tempt him to listen to themes of rusticity. On the contrary, Statius and Claudian, though talking of war, would make a soldier despise them as bullies. That graceful manner of thinking in Virgil seems to me to be more than style, if I do not refine too much ; and I admire, I confess, Mr. Addison's phrase, that Virgil "tossed about his dung with an air of majesty.” A style may be excellent without grace : for instance, Dr. Swift's. Eloquence may bestow an immortal style, and one of more dignity ; yet eloquence may want that ease, that genteel air that flows from or constitutes grace. Addison himself was master of that grace, even in his pieces of humour, and which do not

« PreviousContinue »