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Week. Besides, our family would have been scandalized to see me write, who take it for granted I write nothing but ungodly verses. I assure you I am looked upon in the neighbourhood for a very well disposed person, no great Hunter indeed, but a great admirer of the noble sport, and only unhappy in my want of constitution for that, and Drinking. They all say 'tis a pity I am so sickly, and I think 'tis pity they are so healthy. But I say nothing that may destroy their good opinion of me: I have not quoted one Latin Author since I came down, but have learned without book a song of Mr. Thomas Durfey's, who is your only Poet of tolerable reputation in this country. He makes all the merriment in our entertainments, and but for him, there would be so miserable a dearth of catches, that, I fear, they would put either the Parson or me upon making some for 'em. Any man, of any quality, is heartily welcome to the best toping table of our gentry, who can roar out some Rhapsodies of his works; so that in the same manner as it was said of Homer to his detractors, What? dares any man speak against him who has given so many men to eat? (meaning the Rhapsodists who lived by repeating his verses,) thus may it be said of Mr. Durfey to his detractors; Dares any one despise him who has made so many men drink? Alas, Sir! this is a glory which neither you nor I must ever pretend to. Neither you with your Ovid, nor I with my Statius, can amuse a board of justices and extraordinary 'squires, or gain one hum of approbation, or laugh of admiration. These Things (they would say) are too studious, they may do well enough with such as love reading, but give us your ancient Poet Mr. Durfey8? Tis mortifying enough, it must be confessed ; but however, let us proceed in the
way that nature has directed us Multi multa
scient, sed nemo omnia, as it is said in the almanack. Let us communicate our works for our mutual comfort: send me elegies, and you shall not want heroics. At present I have only these arguments in prose to the Thebaid, which you claim by promise, as I do your Translation of Pars me Sulmo tenet,— and the Ring; the rest I hope for as soon as you can conveniently transcribe them, and whatsoever orders you are pleased to give me shall be punctually obeyed by
May 10, 1710.
I Had not so long omitted to express my acknowledgments to you for so much good-nature and friendship as you lately shewed me; but that I am but just returned to my own hermitage, from Mr. C*'s, who has done me so many favours, that I am almost inclined to think my friends infect one another, and that your conversation with him has made him as obliging to me as yourself. I can assure you, he has a sincere respect for you, and this, I believe, he has partly contracted from me, who am too full of you not to overflow upon those I converse with. But I must now be contented to converse only with the dead of this world, that is to say, the dull and obscure, every way obscure, in their intellects as well as their persons: or else have recourse to the living dead, the old authors with whom you are so well acquainted, even from Virgil down to Aulus Gellius, whom I do not think a critic by any means to be compared to Mr. Dennis: and I must declare positively to you, that I will persist in this opinion, till you become a little more civil to Atticus. Who could have imagined, that he, who had escaped all the misfortunes of his time, unhurt even by the proscriptions of Antony and Augustus, should in these days find an enemy more severe and barbarous than those tyrants? and that enemy the gentlest too, the best natured of mortals, Mr. Cromwell, whom I must in this compare once more to Augustus; who seemed not more unlike himself in the severity of one part of his life and the clemency of the other, than you. I leave you to reflect on this, and hope that time (which mollifies rocks, and of stiff things makes limber) will turn a resolute critic to a gentle reader; and instead of this positive, tremendous new-fashioned Mr. Cromwell, restore unto us our old acquaintance, the soft, beneficent, and courteous Mr. Cromwell. I expect much, towards the civilizing of you in your critical capacity, from the innocent air and tranquillity of our Forest, when you do me the favour to visit it. In the mean time, it would do well by way of preparative, if you would duly and constantly every morning read over a pastoral of Theocritus or Virgil; and let the lady Isabella put your Macrobius and Aulus Gellius somewhere out of your way, for a month or so. Who knows but travelling and long airing in an open field, may contribute more successfully to the cooling a critic's severity, than it did to the assuaging of Mr. Cheek's anger of old? In these fields, you will be secure of finding no enemy, but the most faithful and affectionate of your friends, etc.
6 He was every summer invited to a fishing-party at Mr. Jones's of Ramsbury, a man of considerable property in Wiltshire. Hartc told me his friend Fenton alluded to this visit in his elegant Epistle to Lombard:
By long experience, Durfey may, no doubt,
May 17, 1710.
After I had recovered from a dangerous illness, which was first contracted in town about a fortnight after my coming hither, I troubled you with a letter and9 paper inclosed which you had been so obliging as to desire a sight of when last I saw you, promising me in return some translations of yours from Ovid. Since when I have not had a syllable from your hands, so that 'tis to be feared that though I have escaped death, I have not oblivion. I should at least have expected you to have finished that elegy upon me, which you told me you was upon the point of beginning when I was sick in London; if you will but do so much for me first, I will give you leave to forget me afterward; and for my own part will die at discretion, and at my leisure. But I fear I must be forced, like many learned authors, to write my own epitaph, if I would be remembered at all. Monsieur de la Fontaine's would fit me to a hair, but it is a kind of sacrilege (do you think it is not ?) to steal epitaphs. In my present living dead condition nothing would be properer than Obtitusque meorum, obliviscendus et illis, but that unluckily I can't forget my friends, and the civilities I received from yourself, and some others. They say indeed 'tis one quality of generous minds to forget the obligation they have conferred, and perhaps too it may be so to forget those on whom they conferred 'em: then indeed I must be forgotten to all intents and purposes! I am, it must be owned, dead in a natural capacity, according to Mr. Bickerstaff; dead in a poetical capacity, as a damned author; and dead in a civil capacity, as a useless member of the Commonwealth. But reflect, dear Sir, what melancholy effects may ensue, if dead men are not civil to one another! If he who has nothing to do himself will not comfort and support another in his idleness: if those who are to die themselves, will not now and then pay the charity of visiting a tomb and a dead friend, and strowing a few flowers over him: in the shades where I am, the inhabitants have a mutual compassion for each other; being all alike Inanes; we saunter to one another's habitations, and daily assist each other in
9 Verses on Silence, in imitation of the Earl of Rochester's poem on Nothing; done at fourteen years old. P.