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August 21, 1710. Your Letters are a perfect charity to a man in retirement, utterly forgotten of all his friends but you ; for since Mr. Wycherley left London, I have not heard a word from him ; though just before, and once since, I writ to him, and though I knew myself guilty of no offence but of doing sincerely just what he bid me— Hoc mihi libertas, hoc pia lingua dedit; But the greatest injury he does me is the keeping me in ignorance of his welfare, which I am always very solicitous for, and very uneasy in the fear of any indisposition that may befal him. In what I sent you some time ago, you have not verse enough to be severe upon, in revenge for my last criticism ; in one point I must persist, that is to say, my dislike of your Paradise, in which I take no pleasure; I know very well that in Greek it is not only used by Xenophon, but it is a common word for any garden; but in English it bears the signification and conveys the idea of Eden, which alone is (I think) a reason against making Ovid use it; who will be thought to talk too much like a Christian, in your version at least, whatever it might have been in Latin or Greek. As for all the rest of my remarks, since you do not laugh at them as at this, I can be so civil as not to lay any stress upon them (as, I think, I told you be
• Correcting his verses. See the letters in 1706, and the following years, of Mr. Wycherley and Mr. Pope. P.
fore); and in particular in the point of trees enjoying, you have, I must own, fully satisfied me that the expression is not only defensible, but beautiful. I shall be very glad to see your translation of the elegy, Ad amicam navigantem, as soon as you can; for without a compliment to you) every thing you write, either in verse or prose, is welcome to me; and you may be confident (if my opinion can be of any sort of consequence in any thing) that I will never be unsincere, though I may be often mistaken. To use sincerity with you is but paying you in your own coin, from whom I have experienced so much of it; and I need not tell you how much I really esteem you, when I esteem nothing in the world so much as that quality. I know, you sometimes say civil things to me in your epistolary style, but those I am to make allowance for, as particularly when you talk of admiring ; it is a word you are so used to in conversation of Ladies, that it will creep into your discourse, in spite of you, even to your friends. But as women, when they think themselves secure of admiration, commit a thousand negligences, which show them so much at disadvantage and off their guard, as to lose the little real love they had before : so when men imagine others entertain some esteem for their abilities, they often expose all their imperfections and foolish works, to the disparagement of the little wit they were thought master of. I am going to exemplify this to you, in putting into your hands (being encouraged by so much indulgence) some verses of my youth, or rather childhood; which (as I was a great admirer of Waller) were intended
in imitation of his manner; and are, perhaps, such imitations, as those you see in awkward country dames, of the fine and well-bred ladies of the court. If you will take them with you into Lincolnshire, they may save you one hour from the conversation of the country gentlemen and their tenants (who differ but in dress and name), which, if it be there as bad as here, is even worse than my poetry. I hope your stay there will be no longer than (as Mr. Wycherley calls it) to rob the country, and run away to London with your money. In the mean time I beg the favour of a line from you, and am (as I will never cease to be)
Oct. 12, 1710. I DEFERRED answering your last, upon the advice I received, that you were leaving the town for some time, and expected your return with impatience, having then a design of seeing my friends there, among the first of which I have reason to account yourself. But my almost continual illnesses prevent that, as well as most other satisfactions of my life: however, I may say one good thing of sickness, that it is the best cure in nature for ambition, and designs upon the world or fortune : it makes a man
• One or two of these were since printed among other Imitations · done in his youth. P.
pretty indifferent for the future, provided he can but be easy, by intervals, for the present. He will be content to compound for his quiet only, and leave all the circumstantial part and pomp of life to those, who have health vigorous enough to enjoy all the mistresses of their desires. I thank God, there is nothing out of myself which I would be at the trouble of seeking, except a friend; a happiness I once hoped to have possessed in Mr. Wycherley; butQuantum mutatus ab illo !—I have for some years been employed much like children that build houses with cards, endeavouring very busily and eagerly to raise a friendship, which the first breath of any ill-natured by-stander could puff away.—But I will trouble you no farther with writing, nor myself with thinking, of this subject.
I was mightily pleased, to perceive by your quotation from Voiture, that you had tracked me so far as France. You see it is with weak heads as with weak stomachs, they immediately throw out what they received last; and what they read floats upon the surface of the mind, like oil upon water, without incorporating. This, I think, however, cannot be said of the love-verses I last troubled you with, where all (I am afraid) is so puerile and so like the author, that nobody will suspect any thing to be borrowed. Yet you (as a friend, entertaining a better opinion of them) it seems, searched in Waller, but searched in vain. Your judgment of them is (I think) very right,--for it was my own opinion before. If you think them not worth the trouble of correcting, pray tell me so freely, and it will save
me a labour ; If you think the contrary, you would particularly oblige me by your remarks on the seyeral thoughts as they occur. I long to be nibbling at your verses, and have not forgot who promised me Ovid's elegy?, Ad amicam navigantem. Had Ovid been as long composing it, as you in sending it, the lady might have sailed to Gades and received it at her return. I have really a great itch of criticism upon me, but want matter here in the country : which I desire you to furnish me with, as I do you in the town,
Sic servat studii fædera quisque sui.
I am obliged to Mr. Caryl (whom, you tell me, you met at Epsom)for telling you truth, as a man is in these days to any one that will tell truth to his advantage; and I think none is more to mine, than what he told you, and I should be glad to tell all the world, that I have an extreme affection and esteem for you.
Tecum etenim longos memini consumere soles,
In the present improved state of literature, for improved it is, we are surprised to see these critics and poets writing to each other with seriousness and earnestness, about translations of Ovid's Elegies and Epistles; which the youths at the top of our great schools would almost think it a disgrace to be employed about, at present.
But these are the steps by which we are now arrived to a much higher and better taste : and we ought not to think too contemptuously of the means by which we are so much gradually improved.