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looked upon all of them no better than amusements. To make them the ultimate end of our pursuit, is a miserable and short ambition, which will drop from us at every little disappointment here, and even, in case of no disappointments here, will infallibly de sert us hereafter. The utmost fame they are capable of bestowing,- is never worth the pains they cost us, and the time they lose us. If you attain the top of your desires that way, all those who envy you will do you harm; and of those who admire you, few will do you good. The unsuccessful writers are your declared enemies, and probably the successful your secret ones: for those hate not more to be excelled, than these to be rivalled: and at the upshot, after a life of perpetual application, you reflect that you have been doing nothing for yourself, and that the same or less industry might have gained you a friendship that ca'n never deceive or end, a satisfaction, which praise cannot bestow nor vanity feel, and a glory, which (though in one respect like fame, not to be had till after death) yet shall be felt and enjoyed to eternity. These, dear Sir,areunfeignedly my sentiments,whenever I think at all: for half the things that employ our heads deserve not the name of thoughts, they are only stronger dreams of impressions upon the imagination: our schemes of government, our systems of philosophy, our golden worlds of poetry, are all but so many shadowy images, and airy prospects, which arise to us but so much the livelier and more frequent, as we are more overcast with the darkness, and disturbed with the fumes, of human vanity. The same thing that makes old men willing to leave
this world, makes me willing to leave this poetry, long habit, and weariness of the same track. Homer will work a cure upon me; fifteen thousand verses are equivalent to fourscore years, to make one old in rhyme: and I should be sorry and ashamed, to go on jingling to the last step, like a waggoner's horse, in the same road, and so leave my bells to the next silly animal that will be proud of them. That man makes a mean figure in the eyes of Reason, who is measuring syllables and coupling rhymes, when he should be mending his own soul, .and securing his own immortality. If I had not this opinion, I should be unworthy even of those small and limited parts which God has given me; and unworthy of the friendship of such a man as you. I am
July 25, 1714.
I Have no better excuse to offer you, that I have omitted a task naturally so pleasing to me as conversing upon paper with you, but that my time and eyes have been wholly employed upon Homer6, whom, I almost fear, I shall find but one way of imitating, which is, in his blindness. I am perpetually afflicted with head-achs, that very much affect my sight, and indeed since my coming hither I have scarce passed an hour agreeably, except that in which I read your letter. I would seriously have you think, you have [no man who more truly knows to place a right value on your friendship, than he who least deserves it on all other accounts than his due sense of it. But, let me tell you, you can hardly guess what a task you undertake, when you profess yourself my friend; there are some Tories who will take you for a Whig, some Whigs who will take you for a Tory, some Protestants who will esteem you a rank Papist, and some Papists who will account you a Heretic.
6 Of the state of his mind, after he had undertaken to translate the Iliad, he gave the following account to Mr. Spence. from whose anecdotes I transcribed it. "What horrible moments does one feel after having engaged for a large work; in the beginning of my translating Homer, I wished any body would hang me, a hundred times! It sat so very heavily on my mind at first, that I often used to dream of it; and even do so sometimes still to this day: my dream usually was, that I had set out on a very long journey, puzzled which way to take, and full of fears that I should never get to the end of it. When I fell into the method of translating thirty or forty lines, before I got up, and piddled with it the rest of the morning, it went on easily enough; and, when I was thoroughly got into the way of it, I did the rest with pleasure."
I find by dear experience, we live in an age, where it is criminal to be moderate; and where no one man can be allowed to be just to all men. The notions of right and wrong are so far strained, that perhaps to be in the right so very violently may be of worse consequence than to be easily and quietly in the wrong. I really wish all men so well, that, I am satisfied, but few can wish me so; but if those few are such as tell me they do, I am content, for they are the best people I know. While you believe me what I profess as to religion, I can bear any thing the bigoted may say; while Mr. Congreve likes my poetry, I can endure Dennis, and a thousand more like him; while the most honest and moral of each party think me no ill man, I can easily bear that the most violent and mad of all parties rise up to throw dirt at me.
I must expect an hundred attacks upon the publication of my Homer. Whoever in our times would be a professor of learning above his fellows, ought at the very first to enter the world with the constancy and resolution of a primitive Christian, and be prepared to suffer all sort of public persecution. It is certainly to be lamented that if any man does but endeavour to distinguish himself, or gratify others by his studies, he is immediately treated as a common enemy, instead of being looked upon as a common friend; and assaulted as generally as if his whole design were to prejudice the State or ruin the Public. I will venture to say, no man ever rose to any degree of perfection in writing, but through obstinacy and an inveterate resolution against the stream of mankind: so that if the world has received any benefit from the labours of the learned, it was in its own despite. For when first they essay their parts, all people in general are prejudiced against new beginners; and when they have got a little above contempt, then some particular persons, who were before unfortunate in their own attempts, are sworn foes to
them only because they succeed Upon the whole,
one may say of the best writers, that they pay a severe fine for their fame, which it is always in the power of the most worthless part of mankind to levy upon them when they please. I am, etc.
TO MR. JERVAS.
July 28, 1714.
I Am just entered upon the old way of life again, sleep and musing. It is my employment to revive the old of past ages to the present, as it is yours to transmit the young of the present, to the future. I am copying the great Master in one art, with the same love and diligence with which the painters hereafter will copy you in another.
Thus I should begin my Epistle to you, if it were a Dedicatory one. But as it is a friendly letter, you are to find nothing mentioned in your own praise but what one only in the world is witness to, your particular good-natured offices to me.
I am cut out from any thing but common acknowledgments, or common discourse: the first you would take ill, though I told but half what I ought: so, in short, the last only remains.
And as for the last, what can you expect from a man who has not talked these five days? who is withdrawing his thoughts, as far as he can, from all the present world, its customs, and its manners, to be fully possessed and absorpt in the past? When people talk of going to Church, I think of sacrifices and libations; when I see the parson, I address him as Chryses priest of Apollo: and instead of the Lord's prayer, I begin,
God of the silver bow, etc.