« PreviousContinue »
Now the golden Morn aloft
Till April starts, and calls around
The sleeping fragrance from the ground;
New-born flocks, in rustic dance,
And, lessening from the dazzled sight,
Yesterday the sullen year
Smiles on past Misfortune's brow
While Hope prolongs our happier hour;
Still, where rosy Pleasure leads,
The hues of bliss more brightly glow,
See the wretch that long has tost
A third of these ideas I find in his commonplace book, on the same page with his argument for the BARD.* I do not believe that he evereven began to compose the Ode itself, but the thought is as follows:
"All that men of power can do for men of genius is to leave them at their liberty, compared to birds that, when confined to a cage, do but regret the loss of their freedom in melancholy strains, and lose the luscious wildness and happy luxuriance of their notes, which used to make the woods resound."
Those who are conversant in the arrangement of a lyrical composition, will easily perceive, from this short argument, that the Ode would have opened with a simile; which, when adorned with
* I shall insert this, with some remarks upon it, in my additional notes to his Poems.
those thoughts that breathe and words that burn, that Mr. Gray's muse could so richly supply, would have been at once a fine exordium, and at the same time a natural introduction to the truth he meant to impress. This, however, could hardly have been done without some little aid borrowed from satire for however true his proposition may be, that "all that men of power can do for men of genius is to leave them at their liberty;" or, as I should put it, "that their best patronage signifies nothing if it abridges them of that liberty;" yet the fact is, that neither of the parties are convinced of this truth till they have tried the experiment, and find some reason or other (no matter whether good or bad) to think they had better never have tried it. Mons. d'Alembert, who has written an excellent essay on this subject, which Mr. Gray greatly admired, and which perhaps gave him the first idea of this intended Ode, puts one of the more common of these reasons in so lively a manner, that it may not be amiss here to
"Parmi les grands seigneurs les plus affables il en est peu qui se depouillent avec des gens de lettres de leur grandeur, vraie ou pretendue, jusqu'au point de l'oublier tout-a-fait. C'est ce qu'on apperçoit sur tout dans les conversations, où l'on n'est pas de leur avis. Il semble qu'a mesure que l'homme d'esprit s'eclipse, l'homme de qualité se montre; et paroisse exiger la deference dont l'homme d'esprit avoit commencè par dispenser. Aussi le commerce intime des grands avec les gens de lettres ne finit que trop souvent par quelque rupture eclatante; rupture
qui vient presque toujours de l'oubli des regards reciproques auxquelles on a manquè de part ou d'autre, peut etre même des deux côtés."* However, I think a man of letters ought to have other reasons besides this for breaking such a connexion after it has been once formed.
I have now given the reader the best account in my power of what our Author's unfinished lyrical ideas consisted: I believe they are all that he in any sort committed to paper, and probably those which he immediately alluded to in the preceding letter.
MR. GRAY TO MR. STONHEWER.+
August 21, 1755.
I THANK you for your intelligence about Herculaneum, which was the first news I received of it. I have since turned over Monsignor Baiardi's book, where I have learned how many grains of modern wheat the Roman Congius, in the capitol, holds, and how many thousandth parts of an inch the Greek foot consisted of more (or less, for I forget which) than our own. He proves also by
Essai sur la Societé des Grands avec les Gens de Lettres; Melanges de Litterature et Philosophie," tom. 2d, p. 134.
Now auditor of excise. His friendship with Mr. Gray commenced at college, and continued till the death of the latter.
I believe the book here ridiculed was published by the authority of the King of Naples. But afterwards, on finding how ill qualified the author was to execute the task, the business of describing the antiquities found at Herculaneum was put into other hands; who have certainly, as far as they have gone, performed it much better.
many affecting examples, that an antiquary may be mistaken: that, for any thing any body knows, this place under ground might be some other place, and not Herculaneum; but nevertheless, that he can shew for certain, that it was this place and no other place; that it is hard to say which of the several Hercules's was the founder; therefore (in the third volume) he promises to give us the memoirs of them all; and after that, if we do not know what to think of the matter, he will tell us. There is a great deal of wit too, and satire and verses, in the book, which is intended chiefly for the information of the French King, who will be greatly edified without doubt.
I am much obliged to you also for Voltaire's performance; it is very unequal, as he is apt to be in all but his dramas, and looks like the work of a man that will admire his retreat and his LemanLake no longer than till he finds an opportunity to leave it: however, though there be many parts which I do not like, yet it is in several places excellent, and every where above mediocrity. As you have the politeness to pretend impatience, and desire I would communicate, and all that, I annex a piece of the prophecy; † which must be true at least, as it was wrote so many hundred years after the events.
* I do not recollect the title of this poem, but it was a small one which M. de Voltaire wrote when he first settled at Ferney. By the long residence he has since made there, it appears either that our Author was mistaken in his conjecture, or that an opportunity of leaving it had not yet happened.
+ The second antistrophe and epode, with a few lines of the third strophe of his Ode, entitled the Bard, were here inserted.