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owe their merit to style; and from that combined secret he excels all men that ever lived, but Shakespeare, in humour, by never dropping into an approach towards burlesque and buffoonery, when even his humour descended to characters that in any other hands would have been vulgarly low, Is not it clear that Will Wimble was a gentleman, though he always lived at a distance from good company? Fielding had as much humour, perhaps, as Addison ; but, having no idea of grace,
perpetually disgusting. His innkeepers and parsons are the grossest of their profession ; and his gentlemen are awkward, when they should be at
The Grecians had grace in every thing; in poe. try, in oratory, in statuary, in architecture, and, probably, in music and painting. The Romans, it is true, were their imitators, but, having grace too, imparted it to their copies, which gave them a merit, that almost raises them to the rank of originals. Horace's Odes acquired their fame, no doubt, from the graces of his manner and purity of his style, the chief praise of Tibullus and Propertius, who certainly cannot boast of more meaning than Horace's Odes.
Waller, whom you proscribe, Sir, owed his reputation to the graces of his manner, though he frequently stumbled, and even fell flat; but a few of his smaller pieces are as graceful as possible: one might say that he excelled in painting ladies in enamel, but could not succeed in portraits in oil, large as life. Milton had such superior merit, that I will only say, that, if his angels, his Satan, and his Adam, have as much dignity as the Apollo Belvidere; his Eve has all the delicacy and graces of the Venus of Medicis; as his description of Eden has the coloring of Albano. Milton's tenderness imprints ideas as graceful as Guido's Madonnas; and the Allegro, Penseroso, and Comus, might be denominated from the three Graces, as the Italians gave singular titles to two or three of Petrarch's best sonnets.
Cowley, I think, would have had grace, (for his mind was graceful,) if he had had any ear, or if his taste had not been vitiated by the pursuit of wit, which, when it does not offer itself naturally, degenerates into tinsel or pertness. Pertness is the mistaken affectation of grace, as pedantry produces erroneous dignity: the familiarity of the one, and the clumsiness of the other, distort or prevent grace. Nature, that furnishes samples of all qualities, and on the scale of gradation exhibits all possible shades, affords us types that are more opposite than words. The eagle is sublime, the lion majestic, the swan graceful, the monkey pert, the bear ridiculously awkward. I mention these, as more expressive and comprehensive than I could make definitions of my meaning; but I will apply the swan only, under whose wings I will shelter an apology for Racine, whose pieces give me an idea of that bird. The coloring of the swan is pure, his attitudes are graceful; he never displeases you when sailing on his proper element. His feet may be ugly, his notes hissing, not musical, his walk not natural; he can soar, but it is with difficulty :-still the impression the swan leaves, is that of grace. So does Racine.
Boileau may be compared to the dog, whose
sagacity is remarkable, as well as its fawning on its master, and its snarling at those it dislikes. If Boileau was too austere to admit the pliability of grace, he compensates by good sense and propriety. He is like (for I will drop animals,) an upright magistrate, whom you respect, but whose justice and severity leave an awe that discourages familiarity. His copies of the ancients may be too servile; but, if a good translator deserves praise, Boileau deserves more: he certainly does not fall below his originals; and, considering at what period he wrote, has greater merit still. By his imitations he held out to his countrymen models of taste, and banished totally the bad taste of his predecessors. For his Lutrin, replete with excellent poetry, wit, humour and satire, he certainly was not obliged to the ancients. Excepting Horace, how little idea had either Greeks or Romans of wit and humour! Aristophanes and Lucian, compared with moderns, were, the one a blackguard, and the other a buffoon. In my eyes, the Lutrin, the Dispensary, and the Rape of the Lock, are standards of grace and elegance, not to be paralleled by antiquity, and eternal reproaches to Voltaire, whose indelicacy in the Pucelle degraded him as much, when compared with the three authors I have named, as his Henriade leaves Virgil, and even Lucan, whom he more resembles, by far his superiors.
The Dunciad is blemished by the offensive images of the games; but the poetry appears to me admirable; and, though the fourth book has obscurities, I prefer it to the three others : it has descriptions not surpassed by any poet that ever existed, and which surely a writer merely ingenious * will never equal. The lines on Italy, on Venice, on Convents, have all the grace for which I contend as distinct from poetry, though united with the most beautiful ; and the Rape of the Lock, besides the originality of great part of the invention, is a standard of graceful writing.
In general, I believe that what I call grace is denominated elegance; but by grace I mean something bigher : I will explain myself by instances-Apollo is graceful, Mercury elegant: Petrarch, perhąps, owed his whole merit to the harmony of his numbers and the graces of his style. They conceal his poverty of meaning, and want of variety. His complaints too may have added an interest, which, had his passion been successful, and had expressed itself with equal sameness, would have made the number of his sonnets insupportable. Melancholy in poetry, I am inclined to think, contributes to grace, when it is not disgraced by pitiful lamentations, such as Ovid's and Cicero's in their banishments. We respect melancholy, because it imparts a similar affection, pity. A gay writer, who should only express satisfaction without variety, would soon be nauseous.
Madame de Sevigné shines, both in grief and gaiety. There is too much of sorrow for her daughter's absence ; yet it is always expressed by new terms, by new images, and often by wit, whose tenderness has a melancholy air. When she forgets her concern, and returns to her natural disposition, gaiety, every paragraph has novelty: her allusions, her applications are the happiest possible. She has the art of making you acquainted with all her acquaintance, and attaches you even to the spots she inhabited. Her language is correct, though unstudied; and, when her mind is full of any great event, she interests you with the warmth of a dramatic writer, not with the chilling impartiality of an historian. Pray read her accounts of the death of Turenne, and of the arrival of King James in France, and tell me whether
* Pinkerton had said of Pope (Heron's Letters, p. 75.) that “ he could only rank with ingenious men;" and, 11 pages before, that “ his works are superabundant with superfluous and unmeaning verbiage ; his translations even replete with tautology, a fault which is to refinement as midnight is to noon-day; and, what is truly surprising, that the 4th Book of the Dunciad, his last publication, is more full of redundancy and incorrectness than his Pastorals, which are his first.”
do not know their persons as if you had lived at the time. For my part, if allow me 'a word of digression, (not that I have written with any method,) I hate the cold impartiality recommended to historians : “Si vis me flere, dolendum est primum ipsi tibi :” but, that I may not wander again, nor tire, nor contradict you any more, I will finish now, and shall be glad if you will dine at Strawberry Hill next Sunday and take a bed there, when I will tell you how many more parts of your book have pleased me, than have startled my opinions, or perhaps prejudices.
THE HON. HORACE WALPOLE TO MR.
Strawberry Hill, July 27th, 1785. You thank me much more than the gift deserved,