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MR. GRAY TO DR. WHARTON.
Stoke, August 19, 1748. I am glad you have had any pleasure in Gresset; he seems to me a truly elegant and charming writer; the Mechant is the best comedy I ever read; his Edward I can scarce get through, it is puerile ; though there are good lines, such as this for example:
.“ Le jour d'un nouveau regne est le jour des ingrats.” But good lines will make any thing rather than a good play: however, you are to consider this is a collection made up by the Dutch booksellers; many things unfinished, or written in his youth, or designed not for the world, but to make his friends laugh, as the lutrin vivant, &c. There are two noble lines ; which as they are in the middle of an Ode to the King, may perhaps have escaped you:
“Le cri d'un peuple heureux est la seule eloquence,
“Qui sçait parler des Rois." Which is very true, and should have been a hint to himself not to write odes to the king at all.
As I have nothing more to say at present, I fill my paper with the beginning of an essay; what name to give it I know not; but the subject is the Alliance of Education and Government: I mean to shew that they must both concur to produce great and useful men. I desire your judgment upon it before I proceed any further.
The first fifty-seven verses of an ethical essay accompanied this letter, which I shall here insert, with about fifty lines more, all of them finished in his highest man
Had this noble design been completed, I may, with great boldness, assert, that it would have been one of the most capital poems of the kind that ever appeared either in our own, or any language. I am not able to
inform the reader how many essays he meant to write upon the subject; nor do I believe that he had ever so far settled his plan as to determine that point : but since his theme was as extensive as human nature an observation he himself makes in a subsequent letter on the "Esprit des Loix"), it is plain the whole work would have been considerable in point of size. He was busily employed in it at the time when M. de Montesquieu's book was first published: on reading it, he said the baron had forestalled some of his best thoughts; and yet the reader will find, from the small fragment he has left, that the two writers differ a little in one very material point, viz. the influence of soil and climate on national manners.* Some time after he had thoughts of resuming his plan, and of dedicating it, by an Introductory Ode to M. de Montesquieu ; but that great man's death, which happened in 1755, made him drop his design finally
On carefully reviewing the scattered papers in prose, which he writ, as hints for his own use in the prosecution of this work, I think it best to form part of them into a kind of commentary at the bottom of the pages; they will serve greatly to elucidate (as far as they go) the method of his reasoning.
COMMENTARY. The Author's subject being (as we have seen) THE NECESSARY ALLIANCE BETWEEN A GOOD FORM OF GOVERNMENT AND A GOOD MODE OF EDUCATION, IN ORDER TO PRODUCE THE HAPPINESS OF MANKIND, the Poem opens with two simi
NOTES. As sickly plants, &c. 1.1.] If any copies of this Essay would have authorized me to have made an alteration in the disposition of the lines, I would, for the sake of
* See L'Esprit deg Loix, Liv. xiv, cbap. 2, &r.
And as in climes, where Winter holds his reign,
5 The soil, though fertile, will not teem in vain, Forbids her gems to swell, her shades to rise, Nor trusts her blossoms to the churlish skies : So draw mankind in vain the vital airs, Unform'd, unfriended, by those kindly cares, That health and vigour to the soul impart, Spread the young thought, and warm the opening heart: So fond Instruction on the growing powers Of nature idly lavishes her stores, If equal Justice with unclouded face
20 And blast the blooming promise of the year.
This spacious animated scene survey,
30 They follow pleasure, and they fly from pain ;
COMMENTARY. les; an uncommon kind of exordium : but which I suppose the Poet intentionally chose, to imitate the analogical method he meant to pursue in his subsequent reasonings. 1st. He asserts that men without education are like sickly plants in a cold or barren soil (line 1 to 5, and 8 to 12); and 2dly, he compares them, when unblest with a just and well-regulated government, to plants that will not blossom or bear fruit in an unkindly and inclement air (1. 5 to 9, and 13 to 22). Having thus laid down the two propositions he means to prove, he begins by examining into the characteristics which (taking a general view of mankind) all men have in common one with another (l. 22 to 39); they covet pleasure and avoid pain (1. 31);
NOTES. perspicuity, bave printed the first twelve in the following manner; because I think the poetry would not have been in the least hurt by such a transposition, and the Poet's meaning would have been much more readily perceived. I put them down here for that purpose.
As sickly plants betray a niggard earth,
Their judgment mends the plan their fancy draws,
Say, then, through ages by what fate confined
50 The blue-eyed myriads from the Baltic coast.
COMMENTARY. they feel gratitude for benefits (1. 34); they desire to avenge wrongs, which they effect either by force or cunning (1. 35); they are linked to each other by their common feelings, and participate in sorrow and in joy (1. 36,37). If then all the human species agree in so many moral particulars, whence arises the diversity of national characters ? This question the Poet puts at 1. 38, and dilates upon to 1. 64. Why, says he, have some nations shewn a propensity to commerce and industry; others to war and rapine; others to ease and pleasure ? (l. 42 to 46.) Why have the Northern people overspread, in all ages, and prevailed over the Southern ?
NOTES. Has Scythia breath'd, 8c. l. 47.] The most celebrated of the early irruptions of the Scythians into the neighbouring countries is that under the conduct of Madyes, about the year of the creation 3350, when they broke into Asia, during the reign of Cyaxares, king of the Medes, and conqueror of the Assyrians, plundered it at discretion, and kept possession of it during twenty-eight years. Many successive incursions, attended with every kind of desolation, are enumerated by historians; particularly those, in A. D. 252, during the reign of Gallus and Volusianus, and in 261, under that of Gallienus. Under the Greek emperors also, to mention only the years 1053 and 1191, it appears that the Scythians still continued their accustomed ravages. In later times, the like spirit of sudden and destructive invasion has constantly prevailed; and these same Scythians, under their modern name of Tartars, have, at different periods, overrun Asia, and even some parts of Europe : it is sufficient, on this point, to recal to the reader's memory the names of GingisChan, Octaï, and Tamerlane.
The blue-eyed myriads, fc. 1.51.] The different nations of Germans, who inhabited or bordered on this coast, have been always distinguished by their various emigrations in search of a better soil and climate, and of a more commodious settlement. The reader will readily recollect the expedition of the Teutones, who joined the Cimbri, when they invaded the Roman territories to the united amount, it is said, of 300,000 fighting men; the many inroads of the Germans into Gaul, under the conduct of Ariovistus; and the numerous irruptions into the Roman empire, of the Suevi, the Goths, the Vandals, and lastly of the Lombards ; most of which nations came originally from the coasts here mentioned. The epithet, “ blueeyed,” exhibits a distinguishing feature of the ancient Germans; and is particularly remarked by Tacitus and Juvenal. “Truces et cærulei oculi,” observes the former, “ de Popul. German. cap. 4." and the latter, “ Cærula quis stupuit Germani lumina?” « Sat. 13. ver, 164."
The prostrate South to the destroyer yields
80 The stubborn elements confess her sway;
COMMENTARY. (1.46 to 58.) Why has Asia been time out of mind, the seat of despotism, and Europe that of freedom ? (1. 59 to 64.) Are we from these instances to imagine men, necessarily enslaved to the inconveniences of the climate where they were born? (1. 64 to 72.) Or are we not rather to suppose there is a natural strength in the human mind, that is able to vanquish and break through them? (1. 72 to 84.) It is confessed, however, that men receive an early tincture from the situation they are placed in, and the climate which produces them (1. 84 to 88). Thus the inha
NOTES. With grim delight, &c. I. 54.] It may not be improper here, after admiring the noble vein of poetical expression and imagery which adorns this description, to relate an incident in itself curious, which shews the propriety of it. The Normans, who came originally from Norway and Scandinavia, having, after a century of ravages, settled themselves in Neustria (since called Normandy) in 912, were invited into the southern parts of Italy, in the year 1018, by Gaimar, prince of Salerno, The ambassadors, by his particular direction, carried with them a quantity of citrons, and of other rare fruits, as the most alluring proof of the mildness of the climate. He thought (and the event shewed he was right in thinking so, that this “brood of winter," delighted with the taste and fragrance of these delicacies, would the more readily consent to his proposal. [See Leo Ostiensis in his“ Chron. Cassin.”and Petavius,“- Rationarium Temp. pars prim. lib. vii.”] Mr. Gray's judg. ment, in what remains to us of this essay, is very remarkable. He borrows from poetry his imagery, his similes, and his expressions; but his thoughts are taken, as the nature of the Poem requires, from history and observation.