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TO AND FROM
From the Year 1704 to 1710.
Binfieldin Windsor Forest, Dec. 26, 1704'. It was certainly a great satisfaction to me to see and converse with a Man, whom in his writings I had so long known with pleasure; but it was a high addition to it, to hear you, at our very first meeting, doing justice to your dead friend Mr. Dryden. I was not so happy as to know him: Virgilium tanturn vidi*. Had I been born early enough, I must have known and loved him: For I have been assured, not only by yourself, but by Mr. Congreve and Sir William Trumbul, that his personal Qualities were as amiable as his poetical, notwithstanding the many libellous misrepresentations of them, against which the former of these Gentlemen has told me he will one day vindicate him3. I suppose those injuries were begun by the violence of Party, but 'tis no doubt they were continued by envy at his success and fame*: And those Scriblers who attacked him in his latter times, were only like gnats in a summer evening, which are never very troublesome but in the finest and most glorious season; for his fire, like the sun's, shined clearest towards its setting.
1 If one were to judge of this set of Letters by the manner of thinking and turn of expression, one should conclude they had been all mis-titled; and that the letters given to the boy of sixteen, were written by the man of seventy, and so on the contrary; such sober sense, such gravity of manners, and so much judgment and knowledge of composition, enlivened with the sprightliness of manly wit, distinguish those of Mr. Pope: while, on the other hand, a childish jealousy, a puerile affectation, an attention and lying at catch for turns and points, together with a total ignorance and contempt of order, of method, and of all relation of the parts to one another to compose a reasonable whole, make up the character of those of Mr. Wycherley. However, those ingredients in the characters of the two distant ages of life, which Cicero makes Cato so much commend, "Adolescens in quo Senile aliquid, Senex in quo est Adolescens aliquid," seem to have been the cement of their friendship. W.
'The author's age then sixteen. P.
You must not therefore imagine, that when you told me my own performances were above those Critics, I was so vain as to believe it; and yet I may not be so humble as to think myself quite below their notice. For critics, as they are birds of prey, have ever a natural inclination to carrion: and though such poor writers as I are but beggars, no beggar is so poor but he can keep a cur, and no author so beggarly but he can keep a critic. I am far from thinking the attacks of such people either any honour or dishonour even to me, much less to Mr. Dryden. I agree with you that whatever lesser Wits have risen since his death, are but like stars appearing when the sun is set, that twinkle only in his absence, and with the rays they have borrowed from him. Our wit (as you call it) is but reflection or imitation, therefore scarce to be called ours. True Wit, I believe, may be defined a justness of thought, and a facility of expression; or (in the midwife's phrase) a perfect conception, with an easy delivery5. However, this is far from a complete definition; pray help me to a better6, as I doubt not you can.
* When a very young Boy, he prevailed with a friend to carry him to a Coffee-house which Dryden frequented; where he had the satisfaction he here speaks of. W.
'He since did so, in his dedication to the Duke of Newcastle, prefixed to the duodecimo Edition of Dryden's Plays, 1727. P.
4 The fact seems to have been just the reverse. One of the first Satires against him was the Duke of • Buckingham's Rehearsal; and one of the last, Montague's-parody of his Hind and Panthtr. W.
I am, etc.
FROM MR. WYCHERLEY.
Jan. 25, 1704-5.
I Have been so busy of late in correcting and transcribing some of my madrigals for a great man or two who desire to see them, that I have (with your pardon) omitted to return you an answer to your most ingenious letter: so scriblers to the public, like bankers to the public, are profuse in their voluntary loans to it, whilst they forget to pay their more private and particular, as more just debts, to the best and nearest friends. However, I hope you, who have as much go od-nature as good sense (since they generally are companions7,) will have patience with a debtor who has an inclination to pay you his obligations, if he had wherewithal ready about him; and in the mean time should consider, when you have obliged me beyond my present power of returning the favour, that a debtor may be an honest man, if he but intends to be just when he is able, though late. But I should be less just to you, the more I thought I could make a return to so much profuseness of Wit and humanity together; which, though they seldom accompany each other in other men, are in you so equally met, I know not in which you most abound. But so much for my opinion of you, which is, that your Wit and Ingenuity is equalled by nothing but your Judgment or Modesty, which (though it be to please myself) I must no more offend than I can do either right.
4 This is no definition of wit at all, but of good writing in general. W.
• Mr. Locke had given a better. But his Essay was not to our young poet's taste. He had met with it early; but he used to say, he had then no relish for it. W. ,
Therefore I will say no more now of them, than that your good wit never forfeited your good judgment, but in your partiality to me and mine; so that if it were possible for a hardened scribler to be vainer than he is, what you write of me would make me more conceited than what I scrible myself: yet, I must confess, I ought to be more humbled by your praise than exalted, which commends my little sense with so much more of yours, that I am disparaged and disheartened by your commendations; who give me an example of your wit in the first part of your letter, and a definition of it in the last; to make writing well (that is, like you) more difficult to me than ever it was before. Thus the more great and just your example and definition of Wit are, the less I am capable to follow them. Then the best was of shewing my Judgment, after having seen how you write, is to leave off writing; and the best way to shew my friendship to you, is to put an end to your trouble, and to conclude Yours, etc.
7 Good-nature and good sense, it seems, generally are companions, yet under the different names of wit and humanity they seldom accompany each other. But they might keep company or not, just as they pleased, for the Writer was gone in search of Witticisms. W.
March 25, 1705.
I write to you, I foresee a long letter, and ought to beg your patience before-hand; for if it proves the longest, it will be of course the worst I have troubled you with. Yet to express my gratitude at large for your obliging letter, is not more my duty than my interest; as some people will abundantly thank you for one piece of kindness, to put you in mind of bestowing another. The more favourable you are to me, the more distinctly I see my faults: Spots and blemishes, you know, are never