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short, and besides has this remarkable in it, that it was the production of four o'clock in the morning, while I lay in my bed tossing and coughing, and all unable to sleep.
Ante omnes morbos importunissima tussis,
Sufficiant tua vox dulcis, nec vultus amatus. Do not mistake me, I do not condemn Tacitus : I was then inclined to find him tedious: the German sedition sufficiently made up for it; and the speech of Germanicus, by which he reclaims his soldiers, is quite masterly. Your new Dunciad I have no conception of. I shall be too late for our dinner if I write any more.
London, April, Thursday. You are the first who ever made a muse of a cough; to me it seems a much more easy task to versify in one's sleep (that indeed you were of old famous for*), than for want of it. Not the wakeful nightingale (when she had a cough) ever sung so sweetly. I give you thanks for your warble, and wish you could sing yourself to rest. These wicked remains of your illness will sure give way to warm weather and gentle exercise; which I hope you will not omit as the season advances. Whatever low spirits and indolence, the effect of them, may advise to the contrary, I pray you add five steps to your
* I suppose at Eton School.
walk daily for my sake; by the help of which in a month's time, I propose to set you on horseback.
I talked of the Dunciad as concluding you had seen it; if
you have not, do you choose I should get and send it to you? I have myself, upon your recommendation, been reading Joseph Andrews. The incidents are ill laid and without invention; but the characters have a great deal of nature, which always pleases even in her lowest shapes. Parson Adams is perfectly well; so is Mrs. Slipslop, and the story of Wilson; and throughout he shews himself well read in stage-coaches, country squires, inns, and inns of court. His reflections upon high people and low people, and misses and masters are very good. However the exaltedness of some minds (or rather as I shrewdly suspect their insipidity and want of feeling or observation) may make them insensible to these light things (I mean such as characterize and paint nature), yet surely. they are as weighty and much more useful than your grave discourses upon the mind,* the passions, and what not. Now as the paradisaical pleasurest of the Mahometans consist in playing upon the flute and lying with Houris, be mine to read eternal new romances of Marivaux and Crebillon.
You are very good in giving yourself the trouble to read and find fault with my long harangues. Your freedom (as you call it) has so little need of apologies, that I should scarce excuse your treating me any otherwise; which, whatever compliment it might be to my vanity, would be making a very ill one to my understanding. As to matter of style, I have this to say; the language
* He seems here to glance at Hutchinson, the disciple of Shaftsbury; of whom he had not a much better opinion than of his master.
+ Whimsically put.--- But what shall we say of the present taste of the French, when a writer whom Mr. Gray so justly esteemed as M. Marivaux is now held in such contempt, that Marivauder is a fashionable phrase amongst them, and signifies neither more nor less, than our own fashionable pbrase of prosing? As to Crebillon, 'twas his “ Egaremens du Caur et de l'Esprit” that our author chiefly esteemed; he had not, I believe, at this time published his more licentious pieces.
of the age* is never the language of poetry; except among the French, whose verse, where the thought or image does not support it, differs in nothing from prose. Our poetry, on the contrary, has a language peculiar to itself; to which almost every one, that has written has added something by enriching it with foreign idioms and derivatives : nay sometimes words of their own composition or invention. Shakspeare and Milton have been great creators this way; and no one more licentious than Pope or Dryden, who perpetually borrow expressions from the former. Let me give you some instances from Dryden, whom every body reckons a great master of our poetical tongue.
Full of museful mopings-unlike the trim of lovema pleasant beverage—à roundelay of love--stood silent in his mood-with knots and knares deformed-his ireful moodin proud array
-his boon was granted-and disarray and shameful rout-wayward but wise--furbished for the field—the foiled dodderd oaks-disherited--smouldring flames retchless of laws--crones old and ugly-the beldam at his side-the grandam-hag-villanize his father's fame.
But they are infinite : and our language not being a settled thing (like the French) has an undoubted right to words of an hundred years old, provided antiquity have not rendered them unintelligible. In truth, Shakspeare's language is one of his principal beauties; and he has no less advantage over your Addisons and Rowes in this, than in those other great excellencies you mention. Every word in him is a picture. Pray put me the following lines into the tongue of our modern dramatics :
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph: * Nothing can be more just than this observation; and nothing more likely to preserve our poetry from falling into insipidity, than pursuing the rules here laid down for supporting the diction of it; particularly with respect to the drama.
I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,
Into this breathing world, scarce half made upAnd what follows. To me they appear untranslatable; and if this be the case, our language is greatly degenerated. However, the affectation of imitating Shakspeare may doubtless be carried too far; and is no sort of excuse for sentiments ill-suited, or speeches ill-timed, which I believe is a little the case with me.
I guess the most faulty expressions may be these-silken son of dalliance—drowsier pretensions—wrinkled beldamsarched the hearer's brow and riveted his eyes in fearful · ecstasy. These are easily altered or omitted: and indeed if the thoughts be wrong or superfluous, there is nothing easier than to leave out the whole. The first ten or twelve lines are, I believe, the best ;* and as for the rest, I was betrayed into a good deal of it by Tacitus; only what he has said in five words, I imagine I have said in fifty lines: such is the misfortune of imitating the inimitable. Now, if you are of my opinion, una litura may do the business better than a dozen ; and you need not fear unravelling my web. I am a sort of spider; and have little else to do but spin it over again, or creep to some other place and spin there. Alas! for one who has nothing to do but amuse himself, I believe 'my amusements are as little amusing as most folks. But no matter; it makes the hours pass, and is better than εν αμαθία και αμoυσία καταβιώναι. . Adieu !
To begin with the conclusion of your letter, which is Greek, I desire that you will quarrel no more with your
* The lines which he means here are from--Thus ever grave and undisturb'd reflection—to Rubellius lives. For the part of the scene, which he sent in his former letter, began there.
manner of passing your time. In my opinion it is irreproachable, especially as it produces such excellent fruit; and if I, like a saucy bird, must be pecking at it, you ought to consider that it is because I like it. No una litura I beg you, no unravelling of your web, dear Sir! only pursue it a little further, and then one shall be able to judge of it a little better. You know the crisis of a play is in the first act; its damnation or salvation wholly rests there. But till that first act is over, every body suspends his vote; so how do you think I can form, as yet, any just idea of the speeches, in regard to their length or shortness? The connexion and symmetry of such little parts with one another must naturally escape me, as not having the plan of the whole in
my neither can I decide about the thoughts whether they are wrong or superfluous; they may have some future tendency which I perceive not. The style only was free to me, and there I find we are pretty much of the same sentiment: for you say the affectation of imitating Shakspeare may doubtless be carried too far; I say as much and no more.
For old words we know are old gold, provided they are well chosen. Whatever Ennius was, I do not consider Shakspeare as a dunghill in the least; on the contrary, he is a mine of ancient ore, where all our great modern poets have found their advantage. I do not know how it is; but his old expressions* have more energy in them than ours, and are even more adapted to poetry; certainly, where they are judiciously and sparingly inserted, they add a certain grace to the composition ; in the same manner as Poussin gave a beauty to his pictures by his knowledge in the ancient
Shakspeare's energy does not arise so much from these old expressions (most of which were not old in his time), but from his artificial management of them. This artifice in the great poet is developed with much exactness by Dr. Hurd in
note on this passage in Horace's Ep. ad Pisones.
Dixeris egregiè, notum si callida verbum
See Hurd's Horace, vol. first, edit. fourth, p. 49.