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the view of others; and still do but labour to fall short of our first imagination. The gay colouring which fancy gave at the first transient glance we had of it, goes off in the execution: like those various figures in the gilded clouds, which while we gaze long upon, to separate the parts of each imaginary image, the whole faints before the eye, and decays into confusion.
I am highly pleased with the knowledge you give me of Mr. Wycherley's present temper, which seems so favourable to me. I shall never have such a fund of affection for him as to be agreeable to myself when I am so to him, and cannot but be gay when he is in good humour, as the surface of the earth (if you will pardon a poetical similitude) is clearer or gloomier, just as the sun is brighter or more overcast. 1 should be glad to see the verses to Lintot
which you mention, for, methinks, something oddly agreeable may be produced from that subject—For what remains, I am so well, that nothing but the assurance of your being so can make me better; and if you would have me live with any satisfaction these dark days in which I cannot- see you, it must be by your" writing sometimes to
FROM MR. CROMWELL.
December 7, 1711.
Mr. Wycherley has, I believe, sent you two or three letters of invitation; but you, like the fair, will be long solicited before you yield, to make the favour the more acceptable to the lover. He is much yours by his talk; for that unbounded genius which has ranged at large like a libertine, now seems confined to you: and I should take him for your mistress too by your simile of the sun and earth: 'tis very fine, but inverted by the application; for the gaiety of your fancy and the drooping of his by the withdrawing of your lustre, persuades me it would be juster by the reverse. Oh happy favourite of the Muses! how pernoctare all night long with them? but alas! you do but toy, but skirmish with them, and decline a close engagement. Leave elegy and translation to the inferior class, on whom the Muses only glance now and then, like our winter-sun, and then leave them in the dark. Think on the dignity of Tragedy, which is of the greater poetry, as Dennis says, and foil him at his other weapon, as you have done in Criticism. Every one wonders that a genius like 3 yours will not support the sinking Drama; and Mr. Wilks (though I think his talent is Comedy) has expressed a furious ambition to swell in your buskins. We have had a poor Comedy of Johnson's (not Ben) which held seven nights, and has got him three hundred pounds, for the town is sharp-set on new plays. In vain would I fire you by interest or ambition, when your mind is not susceptible of either; though your authority (arising from the general esteem, like that of Pompey) must infallibly assure you of success; for which in all your wishes you will be attended with those of
3 He shewed his excellent good sense, by not attempting a species of poetry to which he was so much disinclined; I do not say unequal.
December 21, 1711.
If I have not writ to you so soon as I aught, let my writing now atone for the delay; as it will infallibly do, when you know what a sacrifice I make you at this time, and that every moment my eyes are employed upon this paper, they are taken off from two of the finest faces in the universe. But indeed 'tis some consolation to me to reflect, that while I but write this period, I escape some hundred fatal darts from those unerring eyes, and about a thousand deaths or better. Now you, that delight in dying, would not once have dreamt of an absent friend in these circumstances; you that are so nice an admirer of beauty, or (as a Critic would say after Terence) so elegant a spectator of forms; you must have a sober dish of coffee, and a solitary candle at your side, to. write an epistle lucubratory to your friend, whereas I can do it as well with two pair of radiant lights, that outshine the golden god of day and silver goddess of night, and all the refulgent eyes of the firmament.—You fancy now that Sappho's eyes are two of these my tapers, but it is no such matter; these are eyes that have more persuasion in one glance than all Sappho's oratory and gesture together, let her put her body into what moving posture she pleases. Indeed, indeed, my friend, you never could have found so improper a time to tempt me with interest or ambition: let me but have the reputation of these in my keeping, and as for my own, let the devil, or let Dennis, take it for ever. How gladly would I give all I am worth, that is to say, my Pastorals, for one of them, and my Essay for the other; I would lay out all my Poetry in Love; an Original for a Lady, and a Translation for a Waiting-maid ! Alas !. what have I to do with Jane Gray, as long as Miss Molly, Miss Betty, or Miss Patty, are in this world? Shall I write of beauties murdered long ago, when there are those at this instant that murder me? I'll e'en compose my own Tragedy, and the Poet shall appear in his own person, to move compassion: 'twill be far more effectual than Bays's entering with a rope about his neck, and the world will own, there never was a more miserable object brought upon the stage.
Now you that are a critic, pray inform me in what manner I may connect the foregoing part of this letter with that which is to follow, according to the rules? I would willingly have returned Mr. Gay my thanks for the favour of his poem, and in particular for his kind mention of me; I hoped, when I heard a new Comedy had met with success upon the stage, that it had been his, to which I really wish no less; and (had it been any way in my power) should have been very glad to have contributed to its introduction into the world. His verses to Lintot4 have put a whim into my head, which you are like to be troubled with in the opposite page: take it as you find it, the production of half an hour t'other morning. I design very soon to put a task of a more serious nature upon you, in reviewing a piece of mine that may better deserve criticism; and by that time you have done with it, I hope to tell you in person with how much fidelity I am