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of literature, but I apprehend a reference to a few remarkable, and well known, English Letters will be sufficient to vindicate our national honour in this article of taste and refinement.
If we turn to an early season of our epistolary language, we may observe, that the Letter of Sir Philip Sidney, to his sis-ter Lady Pembroke, prefixed, as a dedication to his Arcadia, is distinguished by tender elegance, and graceful affection. The Letters of Essex, the idol and the victim of the imperious and wretched Elisabeth, have been deservedly celebrated for their manly eloquence. At a period still more early, the Letter of Ann Boleyn, to Henry the Eighth, so justly recommended to public admiration by Addison in the Spectator, displays all the endearing dignity of insulted virtue, and impassioned eloquence. I know not any Letter in the female writers of France, distinguished as they are by their epistolary talents, that can be fairly preferred to the pathetic composition of this lovely martyr. The French indeed have one celebrated writer of Letters, the Marchioness de Sevignè, to whom we can hardly produce any individual as an exact parallel. But the Letters of Lady Russel, (not to mention the Letters of Queen Mary to King William) may be cited as equalling those of Madam Sevignè in tenderness of heart; and Lady Mary Wortley Montague is assuredly a powerful rival to the Marchioness, in all the charms of easy, elegant, language, and in vivacity of description. But in the highest charm of epis. tolary writing, the charm of gracefully displaying, without disguise and reserve, a most amiable character, and exciting by that display a tender and lively affection in the reader; in this
epistolary excellence, Lady Mary is indeed as unequal to Madame Sevignè, as a thistle is inferior to a rose.
Maternal tenderness is the most lovely, the most useful and the sublimest quality, that God has given to mortals ! It was the great characteristic of Madame Sevignè, and shews itself so repeatedly in her Letters, that it may sometimes prove wearisome to readers not perfectly prepared to sympathize in her predominant feelings; but I question if any tender parent ever felt fatigued in perusing even the excesses of her maternal solicitude. She has herself explained the powerful charm of her own Letters, by describing in the following words, the Letters of her daughter
“ Je cherché quelquefois où vous pouvez trouver si précise“ ment tout ce qu'il faut penser et dire ; c'est en veritè, dins
votre cæur ; c'est lui, qui ne manque jamais ; et quoique vous “ ayez voulu dire autrefois à la louange de l'esprit, qui veut " contrefaire le cæur, l'esprit manque, il se trompe, il bronche “ à tout moment ; ses allures ne sont point égales, et les gens “ éclairés par le cœur n'y sauroient être trompês. Aimons donc, “ ma fille, ce qui vient si naturellement de ce lieu.”
The enchanting mother of Madame de Grignan had the tenderest of hearts: the mother of the eccentric traveller Wortley Montague, seems to have had a heart of a very different description, when we consider the manner in which she alludes to the indiscretions of her son, and the legacy of a guinea, which she bequeathed to him by her will. The lady, in truth, must have been deplorably deficient in the compassionate virtues of her sex, who could pour forth her spleen with such unmerciful, and
disgusting malevolence on the personal deformity of Pope..ionit has been suggested indeed, that the satirical poet was the aggreso sor, and provoked the indignation of the lady. The respectable writer, who has recently prefixed memoirs of this lady, to an elegant edition of her works; has spoken of her with that natural partiality, which an editor is allowed to feel for an author, whom he has long contemplated with pleasure, and especially when that author appears entitled to peculiar regard, as a lady of distinction. In noticing the quarrel between her Ladyship and Pope, he endeavours to throw the odium of that quarrel entirely on the poet, accusing him of meanness and of absolute falshood in the declaration, by which he had positively asserted, that he was NOT THE AGGRESSOR.---There are no proofs of his falshood: on the contrary, there is a strong presumptive proof, that his declaration was perfectly sincere; as he had before empowered his friend Lord Peterborough, to give the offended lady in private, a similar assurance. Lord Peterborough was, of all men then living, the last person whom Pope, or any of his friends, could think of engaging
" To lend a lie the confidence of truth."
The Letter of Lord Peterborough, in which he relates to Lady Mary his conversation with Pope on this affair, concludes with the following benevolent expressions " I hope this assurance will prevent your further mistakes, and any consequences upon so odd a subject.”
Such was the moral and religious character of Pope, that his serious protestation ought to be candidly received as decisive evidence, unless some very strong and unquestionable proof could be alledged against it, and the following words, in his Letter to Lord Hervey, form a protestation as clear and unequivocal as language can express :
. “ In regard to the Right Honourable Lady, your Lordship's “ friend, I was far from designing a person of her condition by a. “ name so derogatory to her as that of Sappho, a name. prosti“ tuted to every infamous creature, that ever wrote verse or no". vels. I protest I never applied that name to her in any verse " of mine, public or private, and (I firmly believe) not in any « letter or conversation."
The advocate of Lady Mary endeavours to prove the falsity of Pope in this protestation, by adducing passages from his works in which the name of Sappho must evidently belong to the lady in question: bụt the date of those works, in their first publication, is sufficient to vindicate the veracity of the author. He might apply the name of Sappho to Lady Mary, after she had, in the blindness of anger taken the name to herself, without lessening the credit due to his earlier protestation. It should also be remembered, that the person to whom he first applied the name of Sappho, was the unfortunate woman who was tempted by necessity to print the letters of the poet to his early friend Mr. Cromwell; and Pope called her Sappho, in compliment to his friend who had given her the title.
It must however be admitted, that the offensive . couplet, which so wonderfully excited the wrath of Lady Mary, is a disgrace to the poet, from the insufferable indelicacy of its language. But that he asserted an absolute falshood, concerning his own intention, when he wrote it, nothing, but irresistible evidence, should induce the friends of literature to believe. Pope is pečúliarly unfortunate in his two eminent biographers, Johnson and Warton, because each of them had felt the influence of an accidental and personal prejudice against him, which may account for their failing to vindicate his probity with the zeal of truth and affection.
Warton considers him as the aggressor in his quarrel with Lady Mary; yet what is here said on that subject will induce, I trust, every candid reader to credit the express and opposite asa' sertion of the poet.
Johnson, in noticing Pope's vindication of himself, in his Letter to Lord Hervey, says, that “ to a cool reader of the present time it exhibits nothing but tedious malignity.” The critic's censure on this remarkable composition, is a striking proof of his own malevolent prejudice against Pope. A friend to the poet would have justly observed, that his Letter to Lord Hervey is one of the most acute, the most highly polished, and triumphant invectives, that resentment ever drew from a man of genius and virtue, provoked to the utmost by the grossest indignity. It is in miniature, what the oration of Demosthenes concerning the crown, appears on a larger scale, a personal defence, animated' by conscious integrity, and Aaming with proud contempt of an' adversary, not destitute of abilities, but overwhelmed in his furious attack upon a man of superior powers, and lacerated by the shafts of eloquence, sharpened by indignation. The triumph of Pope was indeed as complete as language could render it. But