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whose more congenial tastes ensure a warm wélcome to all my communications, than to you, who are so often disgusted with my style both in prose and verse, especially since I cannot wish to slacken its nerves, because it is naturally energetic; and to become light, it must be light by affectation.
Suffer me, then, to bid you a long adieu, with a grateful sense of your desire to have instructed, and of the great amusement your wit afforded nie, ere my relish of frolic humour was lost in the gloom of a Parent's death-bed.—He yet lives but I must lose him soon if I live myself. Think of me as a friend, who will always sincerely, and warmly wish your happiness, and pursue, with a distant, but gladdened eye, your bright track of public fame and emolument. My peace requires that I should not be of your correspondence. When you took me up,
measure of mine was so full, that I should neglect all those who have prior claims upon my attention, ere I could answer your letters with any sort of precision. Pain would be attached to the consciousness that beneath your astonishing facility, or plenitude of leisure, my replies must prove
But as the morn-dew on the myrtle leaf
Lichfield, Dec. 23, 1786. One of the oldest, and dearest of my friends, Mrs Mompessan, is coming to me soon. My heart feels gladdened by that consciousness. She is so cheerful, and her mind is so enriched with useful, interesting, and amusing information, that to delight in her society it is not even necessary to love her ;-but to converse with her often, and not to love her, it is very necessary that Nature should have given a dose of opium to the affections.
You know my dear father's late imminent danger, and my sufferings on his account, from my letter to Mr Whalley, sent to Ludlow for your perusal. He continues to amend, though slowly.
I have not yet been lucky enough to meet with Robertson's History, and I did not read Marmontel's Incas, till after I had read Helen's Poem, Peru. On perusing the former, I confess it struck me that the author of the latter might have improved her composition, had she adopted, from
Marmontel, that closeness of plan, in which he is more happy than herself. The general fault of Peru, is, that it seems rather a string of episodes, than a regular series of events, which produced an important revolution of empire. Had the chain of action been more distinctly perceived, and had one Peruvian hero been so much exalted above the rest, as to have appeared the leading character, it would then have been no objection, but an advantage to her poem, that the history had been told in prose before she told it in verse. Numbers so rich and harmonious; scenery so vivid and beautiful; and imagery so well brought to the eye, must have given her work inevitable pre-eminence over any prose descriptions, however elegant and striking. It is the inferiority in point of interest, resulting from a too diffuse spirit of description, where she had better have been dramatic, which turns the balance against her, and in favour of Marmontel.
When I read the Incas, I so strongly felt the possibility of forming a fine epic poem on that story, by following Marmontel's lead in the events and characters, by giving them dramatic energy, and by illustrating them from other sources, by simile, metaphor, and allusion; and by super-adding the picturesque and scenic graces, that I think I should instantly have made the attempt, but for
a consiousness that it must wear an invidious appearance to Miss Williams, and imply a vain, and probably groundless idea of possessing superior powers to hers. Where she has failed in her epic attempt, it was not from want of genius, but of that critical judgment, incompatible with her youth and inexperience.
It is well that I was thus restrained from beginning a work, in which I should not have had leisure to proceed. By want of leisure alone was I compelled to lay aside Telemachus. If I had finished, and made that poem a good one, it would eventually have been no disadvantage, but the contrary, that Fenelon had told the story agreeably in prose. I say eventually, for, if I should complete and publish that work, I should know that an inundation of immediate sarcasm, proceeding from the pens of countless unsuccessful poetasters, would flow through the reviews, magazines, and newspapers, on what they would term the presumption of attempting to excel the composition of Fenelon. But that story is much better calculated for verse, than prose.
I am, however, well aware that the celebrity of fine rhythm is of much slower growth than that of agreeable prose;-but, once established, the poetic influence becomes much more powerful, and, in the end, even more universal. The letters
in prose, between Abelard and Eloisa, are finely written, and warranted original ;-yet are they not an hundredth part so often read as Pope's beautiful epistle, in which he has involved the most striking sentiments and descriptions contained in the whole of those mutual letters. The reverse would happen, for a course of time, were those letters, and the rhyme translation to appear at the same period, and were each of them new to the curiosity of the Public.
That partial, and limited taste for poetic writing, which you, Sophia, profess, is an arcanum of the understanding, into which I cannot penetrate. From sense and
appears to me utterly unaccountable. I must therefore conclude it a prejudice. All prejudices are unworthy a cultivated mind. Your's extends to the names of compositions; my correspondent, Mr 's, to the names of authors. You shut your eyes against the beauties of sentiment, imagery, satire, and landscape, if they appear before you in the lyric, or sonnet measure.
To become superior to this prejudice, you have only to reflect that all the various orders of rhythm, as blank verse, the couplet, the lyric, which is the ode stanza, the elegiac, and the sonnet, are, to all which constitutes genuine poetic excellence, but as the riding-habit, the Italian night-gown,