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To the Revd. WILLIAM UNWIN.
August 24, 1786. MY DEAR FRIEND,
I catch a minute by the tail and hold it fast, while I write to you. The moment it is fled I must go to breakfast. I am still occupied in refining and polishing, and shall this morning give the finishing hand to the seventh book. F does me the honour to say, that the most difficult, and most interesting parts of the poem, are admirably rendered. But because he did not express himself equally pleased with the more pedestrian parts of it, my labour therefore has been principally given to the dignification of them; not but that I have retouched considerably, and made better still the best. In short, I hope to make it all of a piece, and shall exert myself to the utmost to secure that desirable point. A story-teller, so very circumstantial as Homer, must of necessity present us often with much matter in itself, capable of no other embellishment than purity of diction, and harmony of versification, can give to it. Hic labor, hoc opus est. For our
language, unless it be very severely chastised, has not the terseness, nor our measure the music of the Greek. But I shall not fail through want of industry.
We are likely to be very happy in our connexion with the Throckmortons. His reserve and mine wear off; and he talks with great pleasure of the comfort that he proposes to himself from our winter-evening conversations. His purpose seems to be, that we should spend them alternately with each other. Lady Hesketh transcribes for me at present. When she is gone, Mrs. Throckmorton takes up that business, and will be my lady of the inkbottle for the rest of the winter. She solicited hersell that office.
Mr. Throckmorton will (I doubt not) procure Lord Petre's name, if he can, without any hint from me. He could not interest himself more in my success than he seems to do. Could he get the Pope to subscribe, I should have him; and should be glad of him, and the whole Conclave.
You are my mahogany box, with a slip in the lid of it, to which I commit my productions of the lyric kind, in perfect confidence that they are safe, and will go no farther. All who are attached to the jingling art have this peculiarity, that they would find no pleasure in the exercise, had they not one friend at least to whom they might publish what they have composed. If you approve my Latin, and your Wife and Sister my English, this together, with the approbation of your Mother, is fame enough for me.
He who cannot look forward with comfort, must find what comfort he can in looking backward. Upon this principle, I the other day sent my imagination upon a trip, thirty years behind me. She was very obedient, and very swift of foot, presently performed her journey, and at last set me down in the sixth form at Westminster. I fancied myself once more a schoolboy, a period of life in which if I had never tasted
true happiness, I was at least equally unacquainted with its contrary. No manufacturer of waking dreams ever succeeded better in his employment than I do. I can weave such a piece of tapestry in a few minutes, as not only has all the charms of reality, but is embellished also with a variety of beauties, which though they never existed, are more captivating than any that ever did accordingly I was a school-boy in high favour with the master, received a silver-groat for my exercise, and had the pleasure of seeing it sent from form to form, for the admiration of all who were able to understand it. Do you wish to see this highly applauded performance? It follows on the other side.
To the Revd. WILLIAM UNWIN.
MY DEAR WILLIAM.
;. You are sometimes indebted to bad weather, but more frequently to a dejected
state of mind, for my punctuality as a correspondent. This was the case when I composed that tragi-comic ditty for which you thank me, my spirits were exceeding low, and having no fool or jester at hand, I resolved to be my own. The end was answered ; 1 laughed myself, and I made you laugh. Sometimes I pour out my thoughts in a mournful strain, but those sạble effusions your Mother will not suffer me to send you, being resolved that nobody shall share with me the burthen of my melancholy but herself. In general you may suppose that I am remarkably sad when I seem remarkably merry. The effort we make to get rid of a load, is usually violent in proportion to the weight of it. I have seen at Sadler's Wells, a tight little fellow dancing, with a fat man upon his shoulders ; to those who looked at him, he seemed insensible of the incumbrance, but if a physician had felt his pulse, when the feat was over, I suppose he would have found the effect of it there. Perhaps you remember the Undertakers' dance in the Rehearsal, which they perform in crape hat-bands and blackcloaks, to the tune of “Hob or Nob; one of the sprightliest airs in the world. Such is my fiddling, and such is my dancing; but they serve a purpose