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as my countrymen, I will tell you, though I have rather turned it over than read it (but no matter; no more have they), that it seems to me above the middling; and now and then, for a little while, rises even to the best, particularly in description. It is often obscure, and even unintelligible; and too much infected with the Hutchinson jargon. In short, its great fault is, that it was published at least nine years too early. And so methinks in a few words, “ à la mode du Temple.” I have very pertly dispatched what perhaps may for several years have employed a very ingenious man worth fifty of myself.
You are much in the right to have a taste for Socrates; he was a divine man. I must tell you, by way of news of the place, that the other day a certain new professor made an apology for him an hour long in the schools; and all the world brought in Socrates guilty, except the people of his own college.
The muse is gone, and left me in far worse company; if she returns, you will hear of her. As to her child* (since you are so good as to inquire after it) it is but a puling chit yet, not a bit grown to speak of; I believe, poor thing, it has got the worms that will
carry it off at last. Mr. Trollope and I are in a course of tarwater; he for his present, and I for my future distempers.
think it will kill me, send away a man and horse directly; for I drink like a fish.
Cambridge, Dec. 11, 1746. I would make you an excuse (as indeed I ought), if they were a sort of thing I ever gave any credit to myself in these cases; but I know they are never true. Nothing
* He here means his Poem, “ De Principiis Cogitandi." See the last Section. »
so silly as indolence when it hopes to disguise itself:
in sweet retired solitude
Were all too ruffled, and sometimes impair’d.
I am not altogether of your opinion as to your historical consolation in time of trouble: a calm melancholy it may produce, a stiller sort of despair (and that
only in some circumstances, and on some constitutions); but I doubt no real comfort or content can ever arise in the human mind, but from hope.
I take it very ill you should have been in the twentieth year of the war,* and yet say nothing of the retreat before Syracuse: is it, or is it not, the finest thing you ever read in your life? and how does Xenophon or Plutarch agree with you? For my part I read Aristotle, his poetics, politics, and morals; though I do not well know which is which. In the first placé, he is the hardest author by far I ever meddled with. Then he has a dry conciseness, that makes one imagine one is perusing a table of contents rather than a book: it tastes for all the world like chopped hay, or rather like chopped logic; for he has a violent affection to that art, being in some sort his own invention; so that he often loses himself in little trifling distinctions and verbal niceties; and, what is worse, leaves you to extricate him as well as you can.' Thirdly, he has suffered vastly from the transcribblers, as all authors of great brevity necessarily must. Fourthly and lastly, he has abundance of fine uncommon things, which make him well worth the pains he gives one. You see what you are to expect from him.
Cambridge, 1747. I had been absent from this place a few days, and at my return found Cibber's bookt upon my table : I return you my thanks for it, and have already run over a considerable part: for who could resist Mrs. Letitia Pilkington's recommendation? (By the way,
* Thucydides, l. vii. + Entitled “ Observations on Cicero's Character," or some such thing; for I have not the book by me, and it has been long since forgot.
any such gentlewoman ?* or has somebody put on the style of a scribbling woman's panegyric to deceive and laugh at Colley?) He seems to me full as pert and as dull as usual. There are whole pages of common-place stuff, that for stupidity might have been wrote by Dr. Waterland, or any other grave divine, did not the flirting saucy phrase give them at a distance an air of youth and gaiety: it is very true, he is often in the right with regard to Tully's weaknesses ; but was there any one that did not see them? Those, I imagine, that would find a man after God's own heart, are no more likely to trust the Doctor's recommendation than the Player's; and as to Reason and Truth, would they know their own faces do you think, if they looked in the glass, and saw themselves so bedizened in tattered fringe and tarnished lace, in French jewels, and dirty furbelows, the frippery of a stroller's wardrobe?
Literature, to take it in its most comprehensive sense, and include every thing that requires invention or judgment, or barely application and industry, seems indeed drawing apace to its dissolution, and remarkably since the beginning of the war. I remember to have read Mr. Spence's pretty book; though (as he then had not been at Rome for the last time) it must have increased greatly since that in bulk. If you ask me what I read, I protest I do not recollect one syllable; but only in general, that they were the best bred sort of men in the world, just the kind of frinds one would wish to meet in a fine summer's evening, if one wished to meet any at all. The heads and tails of the dialogues, published separate in 16mo. would make the sweetest reading in natiur for young gentlemen of family and fortune, that are learning to dance.f I rejoice to hear there is such
* This lady made herself more known some time after the date of this letter.
+ This ridicule on the Platonic way of dialogue (as it was aimed to be, though nothing less resembles it) is, in my opinion, admirable. Lord Shaftsbury was the first who brought it into vogue, and Mr. Spence (if we except a few Scotch
a crowd of dramatical performances coming upon the stage. Agrippina can stay very well, she thanks you, and be damned at leisure : I hope in God you have not mentioned, or shewed to any body that scene (for trusting in its badness, I forgot to caution you concerning it); but I heard the other day, that I was writing a play, and was told the name of it, which nobody here could know, I am sure. The employment you propose to me much better suits my inclination; but I much fear our joint-stock would hardly compose a small volume; what I have is less considerable than you would imagine, and of that little we should not be willing to publish all
十. This is all I can any where find. You, I imagine, may have a good deal more. I should not care how unwise the ordinary run of readers might think my affection for him, provided those few, that ever loved any body, or judged of any thing rightly, might, from such little remains, be moved to consider what he would have been; and to wish that heaven had granted him a longer life and a mind more at ease.
I send you a few lines, though Latin, which you do not like, for the sake of the subject;f it makes part of a large design, and is the beginning of the fourth book, which was intended to treat of the passions. Excuse the three first verses ; you know vanity, with the Romans, is a poetical licence. writers) the last who practised it. As it has now been laid aside some years, we may hope, for the sake of true taste, that this frippery mode of composition will never come into fashion again ; especially since Dr. Hurd has pointed out, by example as well as precept, wherein the true beauty of dialogue-writing consists.
† What is here omitted was a short catalogue of Mr. West's poetry then in Mr. Gray's hands; the reader has seen as much of it in the three foregoing sections as I am persuaded his friend would have published, had he prosecuted the task which Mr. Walpole recommended to him, that of printing his own and Mr. West's poems in the same volume; and which we also perceive from this letter, he was not averse from doing. This therefore seems to vindicate the Editor's plan in arranging these papers ; as he is enabled by it not only to shew what Mr. West would have been, but what Mr. Gray was, I mean not as a poet, for that the world knew before, but as a universal scholar, and (what is still of more consequence) as an excellent moral man.
# The admirable apostrophe to Mr. West, see page 141,