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January, 1747 It is doubtless an encouragement to continue writing to you, when you tell me you answer me with pleasure. I have another reason which would make me very copious, had I any thing to say; it is, that I write to you with equal pleasure, though not with equal spirits, nor with like plenty of materials: please to subtract then so much for spirit, and so much for matter; and you will find me, I hope, neither so slow nor so short, as I might otherwise seem. Besides, I had a mind to send you the remainder of Agrippina, that was lost in a wilderness of papers. Certainly you do her too much honour: she seemed to me to talk like an Oldboy, all in figures and mere poetry, instead of nature and the language of real passion. Do you remember Approchez-vous, Neron?* _Who would not rather have thought of that half line than all Mr. Rowe's flowers of eloquence? However, you will find the remainder here at the end in an outrageous long speech: it was begun above four years ago (it is a misfortune
my age, else I might have added), when I was very young. Poor West put a stop to that tragic torrent he saw breaking in upon him :-have a care, I warn you not to set open the flood-gate again, lest it drown you and me and the bishop and all.
I am very sorry to hear you treat philosophy
* Agrippina, in Racine's tragedy of Britannicus
and her followers like a parcel of monks and hermits, and think myself obliged to vindicate a profession I honour, bien que je n'en tienne pas boutique (as Mad. Sevigné says). The first man that ever bore the name, if you remember, used to say, that life was like the Olympic games (the greatest public assembly of his age and country), where some came to shew their strength and agility of body, as the champions; others, as the musicians, orators, poets and historians, to shew their excellence in those arts; the traders to get money; and the better sort to enjoy the spectacle, and judge of all these. They did not then run away from society for fear of its temptations; they passed their days in the midst of it: conversation was their business: they cultivated the arts of persuasion, on purpose to shew men it was their interest, as well as their duty, not to be foolish, and false, and unjust; and that too in many instances with success; which is not very strange: for they shewed by their life that their lessons were not impracticable; and that pleasures were no temptations, but to such as wanted a clear perception of the pains annexed to them.* But I have done preaching a la Grecque. Mr. Ratcliffet made a shift to behave very rationally without their instructions, at a season which they took a great deal of pains to fortify themselves and others against: one would not desire to lose one's head with a better grace. I am particularly satisfied with the humanity of that last embrace to all the people about him. Sure it must be somewhát embarrassing to die before so much good company!
* Never perhaps was a more admirable picture drawn of true philosophy and its real and important services; services not confined to the speculative opinions of the studious, but adapted to the common purposes of life, and promoting the general happiness of mankind; not upon the chimerical basis of a system, but on the immutable foundations of truth and virtue.
+ Brother to the Earl of Derwentwater. He was executed at Tyburn, December, 1746, for having been concerned in the rebellion of Scotland.
You need not fear but posterity will be ever glad to know the absurdity of their ancestors : the foolish will be glad to know they were as foolish as they, and the wise will be glad to find themselves wiser. You will please all the world then; and if you recount miracles you will be believed so much the sooner. We are pleased when we wonder; and we believe because we are pleased. Folly and wisdom, and wonder and pleasure, join with me in desiring you would continue to entertain them: refuse us if you can. Adieu, dear Sir!
Stoke, June 12, 1750. As I live in a place, where even the ordinary tattle of the town arrives not till it is stale, and which produces no events of its own, you will not desire any excuse from me for writing so seldom, especially as of all people living I know you are the least a friend to letters spun out of one's own brains, with all the toil and constraint that accompanies sentimental productions. I have been here at Stoke a few days (where I shall continue good part of the summer); and having put an end to a thing, whose beginning you have seen long ago, I immediately send it you.* You will, I hope, look upon it in the light of a thing with an end to it; a merit that most of my writings have wanted, and are like to want, but which this epistle I am determined shall not want, when it tells you that I am ever
Not that I have done yet; but who could avoid the temptation of finishing so roundly and so cleverly in the manner of good Queen Anne's days? Now I have talked of writings, I have seen a book, which is by this time in the press, against Middleton (though without naming him), by Asheton. As far as I can judge from a very hasty reading, there are things in it new and ingenious, but rather too prolix, and the style here and there favouring too strongly of sermon. I imagine it will do him credit. So much for other people, now to self again. You are desired to tell me your opinion, if you can take the pains, of these lines. I am once more
MY DEAR SIR, Ash-Wednesday, Cambridge, 1751.
You have indeed conducted with great decency my little misfortune : you have taken a pater
This was the Elegy in the Churchyard.
nal care of it, and expressed much more kindness than could have been expected from so near a relation. But we are all frail; and I hope to do as much for you another time.
another time. Nurse Dodsley has given it a pinch or two in the cradle, that (I doubt) it will bear the marks of as long as it lives. But no matter : we have ourselves suffered under her hands before now; and, besides, it will only look the more careless, and by accident as it were. I thank you for your advertisement, which saves my honour, and in a manner bien flatteuse pour moi, who should be put to it even to make myself a compliment in good English.
You will take me for a mere poet, and a fetcher and carrier of singsong, if I tell you that I intend to send you the beginning of a drama ;* not mine, thank God, as you'll believe, when you hear it is finished, but wrote by a person whom I have a very good opinion of. It is (unfortunately) in the manner of the ancient drama, with choruses, which I am, to my shame, the occasion of; for, as great part of it was at first written in that form, I would not suffer him to change it to a play fit for the stage, as he intended, because the lyric parts are the best of it, and they must have been lost. The story is Saxon, and the language has a tang of Shakespear, that suits an old-fashioned fable very well. In short, I don't do it merely to amuse you, but for the sake of the author, who wants a judge, and so I would lend him mine : yet not without your leave, lest you should have us up
• This was the Elfrida of Mr. Mason.