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(though perhaps no very good one) that I deferred the troubling you with a letter, when I sent back your papers, in hopes of seeing you at Binfield before this time. If I had met with any fault in your performance, I should freely now (as I have done too presumptuously in conversation with you) tell you my opinion; which I have frequently ventured to give you, rather in compliance with your desires than that I could think it reasonable. For I am not yet satisfied upon what grounds I can pretend to judge of poetry, who never have been practised in the art. There may possibly be some happy genius's, who may judge of some of the natural beauties of a poem, as a man may of the proportions of a building, without having read Vitruvius, or knowing any thing of the rules of architecture; but this, though it may sometimes be in the right, must be subject to many mistakes, and is certainly but a superficial knowledge; without entering into the art, the methods, and the particular excellencies of the whole composure, in all the parts of it.
Besides my want of skill, I have another reason why I ought to suspect myself, by reason of the great affection I have for you; which might give too much bias to be kind to every thing that comes from you. But after all, I must say (and I do it with an old-fashioned sincerity) that I entirely approve of your translation of those pieces of Homer, both as to the versification and the true sense that shines through the whole: nay I am confirmed in my former application to you, and give me leave to renew it upon this occasion, that you would proceed9 in translating that incomparable poet, to make him speak good English, to dress his admirable characters in your proper, significant, and expressive conceptions, and to make his works as useful and instructive to this degenerate age, as he was to our friend Horace, when he read him at Prcemste: Qui, quid sit pulcrum, quid turpe, quid utile, quid non, etc. I break off with that quid non? with which I confess I am charmed.
curious letters of Sir W. Trumbull, written while he was Embassador in France, are preserved in the Paper-office: and some relating to the cruel Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, 1685, are published in the Memoirs of Sir John Dalrymple, vol. i. p. 123.
VOL. VII. P
Upon the whole matter I intreat you to send this presently to be added to the Miscellanies, and I hope it will come time enough for that purpose.
I have nothing to say of my Nephew B—'s observations, for he sent them to me so late, that I had not time to consider them; I dare say he endeavoured very faithfully (though, he told me, very hastily) to execute your commands.
All I can add is, that if your excess of modesty should hinder you from publishing this Essay, I shall only be sorry that I have no more credit with you, to persuade you to oblige the public, and very particularly, dear Sir,
9 Hence it appears that Sir W. Trumbull was the very first person that urged him to undertake a translation of the Iliad of Homer.
FROM SIR WILLIAM TRUMBULL.
March 6, 1713.
I Think a hasty scribble shows more what flows from the heart, than a letter after Balzac's manner1, in studied phrases; therefore I will tell you as fast as I can, that I have received your favour of the 26th past, with your kind present of the Rape of the Lock. You have given me the truest satisfaction imaginable, not only in making good the just opinion I have ever had of your reach of thought, and my Idea of your comprehensive genius; but likewise in that pleasure I take as an Englishman to see the French, even Boileau himself in his Lutrin, out-done in your poem; for you descend, leviore plectra, to all the nicer touches, that your own observation and wit furnish, on such a subject as requires the finest strokes and the liveliest imagination. But I must say no more (though I could a great deal) on what pleases me so much; and henceforth, I hope, you will never condemn me of partiality, since I only swim with the stream, and approve of what all men of good taste (notwithstanding the jarring of parties) must and do universally applaud. I now come to what is of vast moment, I mean the preservation of your health, and beg of you earnestly to get out of all Tavern-company, and fly away tanquam ex incendio. What a misery is it for you to be destroyed by the foolish kindness ('tis all one whether real or pretended) of those who are able to bear the poison of bad wine, and to engage you in so unequal a combat? As to Homer, by all I can learn, your business is done: therefore come away and take a little time to breathe in the country. I beg now for my own sake, and much more for yours; methinks Mr. — has said to you more than once,
1 I wish our author had attended to this observation.
Heu fuge, nate dea, teque his, ait, eripe flammis!
TO SIR WILLIAM TRUMBULL.
March 12, 1713.
Though any thing you write is sure to be a pleasure to me, yet I must own your last letter made me uneasy; you really use a style of compliment, which I expect as little as I deserve it. I know 'tis a common opinion that a young scribbler is as ill pleased to hear truth as a young lady. From the moment one sets up for an author, one must be treated as ceremoniously, that is as unfaithfully,
As a King's favourite, or as a King.
This proceeding, joined to that natural vanity which first makes a man an author, is certainly enough to render him a coxcomb for life. But I must grant it as a just judgment upon poets, that they whose chief pretence is Wit, should be treated as they themselves treat Fools, that is, be cajoled with praises. And, I believe, Poets are the only poor fellows in the world whom any body will flatter.
I would not be thought to say this, as if the obliging letter you sent me deserved this imputation, only it put me in mind of it; and I fancy one may apply to one's friend what Caesar said of his wife; 'It was not sufficient that he knew her to be chaste himself, but she should not be so much as suspected.'
As to the wonderful discoveries, and all the good news you are pleased to tell me of myself, I treat it, as you who are in the secret, treat common news, as groundless reports of things at a distance: which I, who look into the true springs of the affair, in my own breast, know to have no foundation at all. For Fame, though it be (as Milton finely calls it) the last infirmity of noble minds, is scarce so strong a temptation as to warrant our loss of time here: it can never make us lie down contentedly on a death-bed (as some of the Ancients are said to have done with that thought). You, Sir, have yourself taught me, that an easy situation at that hour can proceed from no ambition less noble than that of an eternal felicity, which is unattainable by the strongest endeavours of the wit, but may be gained by the sincere intentions of the heart only. As in the next world, so in this, the only solid blessings are owing to the goodness of the mind, not the extent of the capacity: friendship here is an emanation from the same source as beatitude is there: the same benevolence and grateful disposi