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strong beer; then stepping to a corner, he lugged out the tattered fragments of an unframed picture: "This (says he, with tears) was poor Sir Thomas! once master r of all this drink. He had two sons, poor young masters! who never arrived to the age of his beer; they both fell ill in this very room, and never went out on their own legs." He could not pass by a heap of broken bottles without taking up a piece, to shew us the Arms of the family upon it. He then led us up the Tower by dark winding stone steps, which landed us into several little rooms one above another. One of these was nailed up, and our guide whispered to us as a secret the occasion of it: it seems the course of this noble blood was a little interrupted about two centuries ago, by a freak of the Lady Frances, who was here taken in the fact with a neighbouring Prior, ever since which the room has been nailed up, and branded with the name of the Adultery-chamber. The ghost of Lady Frances is supposed to walk there, and some prying maids of the family report that they have seen a lady in a fardingale through the key-hole; but this matter is hushed up, and the servants are forbid to talk of it.
I must needs have tired you by this long description: but what engaged me in it, was a generous principle to preserve the memory of that, which itself must soon fall into dust, nay perhaps part of it before this letter reaches your hands.
Indeed we owe this old house the same kind of gratitude that we do to an old friend, who harbours us in his declining condition, nay even in his last extremities. How fit is this retreat for uninterrupted study, where no one that passes by can dream there is an inhabitant, and even those who would dine with us dare not stay under our roof! Any one that sees it will own I could not have chosen a more likely place to converse with the dead in. I had been mad indeed if I had left your Grace for any thing but Homer. But when I return to the living, I shall have the sense to endeavour to converse with the best of them, and shall therefore as soon as possible tell you in person how much I am, etc.
7 Not master of this mansion, but of all this drink! The stone steps, and the haunted chamber, and arms on the bottles, are admirable.
THE DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM TO MR. POPE.
You desire my opinion as to the late dispute in France concerning Homer8:' and I think it excusable (at an age, alas! of not much pleasure) to amuse myself a little in taking notice of a controversy, than which nothing is at present more remarkable, (even in a nation who value themselves so much upon the Belles Lettres,) both on account of the illustrious subject of it, and of the two persons engaged in the quarrel.
8 The mildness, civility, and politeness, with which La Motte wrote against the opinions of Mad. D'Acier, make his Discourse on Homer a model of controversy. The lady replied to him with acrimony and vehemence. If he had insinuated that she had wrinkles, or that she had weakened her eyes by poring over Aldus's Aristophanes, she could not have been more exasperated. La Motte, not understanding Greek, was certainly an incompetent judge; and his chief objections arise from the manners of Homer not being like the French manners. The prose of La Motte is far superior to his verse. His Abridgment of Homer is imperfect and uninteresting. He was one of the chief combatants in the groat controversy concerning the respective merits •of the ancients and moderns. He was honoured with the friendship of Fenelon; whose letters to him abound in good sterling judgment, and exquisite taste; particularly one, in which Fenelon makes objections to rhyme, that appear unanswerable. "La rime gene plus qu'elle n'orne les vers. Elle les charge d'epithetes; elle rend souvent la diction forcee, et pleine d'line vaine parure; en allongant les discours, elle les affoiblit. Souvent on a recours a un vers inutile, pour en amener un bon." La Motte was so great an enemy to rhyme, that he addressed an Ode to Cardinal Fleury, in blank verse; in which measure also he wrote the Tragedy of (Edipus, and defended his practice in a spirited preface against some strong objections of Voltaire. His other tragedies in rhyme were, Romulus, the Maccabees, and Ines de Castro; a story on which the Elvira of Mallet is founded.
The one is extraordinary in all the Lyric kind of Poetry, even in the opinion of his very adversary. The other a lady (and of more value for being so) not only of great Learning, but with a Genius admirably turned to that sort of it which most becomes her Sex for softness, gentleness, and promoting of virtue; and such as (one would think) is not so liable as other parts of scholarship, to rough disputes, or violent animosity.
Yet it has so happened, that no writers, even about Divinity itself, have been more outrageous or uncharitable than these two polite authors; by suffering their judgments to be a little warped (if I may use that expression) by the heat of their eager inclinations, to attack or defend so great an Author under debate. I wish for the sake of the public, which is now so well entertained.by their quarrel, it may not end at last in their agreeing to blame a third man who is so presumptuous as to censure both, if they should chance to hear of it.
To begin with matter of fact. M. D'Acier has well judged, that the best of all Poets certainly deserved a better translation, at least into French prose, because to see it done in verse was despaired of: I believe indeed, from a defect in that language, incapable of mounting to any degree of excellence suitable to so very great an undertaking.
She has not only performed this task as well as prose can do it (which is indeed but as the wrong side of tapestry is able to represent the right9), she has added to it also many learned and useful annotations. With all which she most obligingly delighted not only her own sex, but most of ours, ignorant of the Greek, and consequently her adversary himself, who frankly acknowledges that ignorance.
Tis no wonder therefore, if, in doing this, she is grown so enamoured of that unspeakably-charming Author, as to have a kind of horror at the least mention of a man bold enough to blame him.
Now as to M. de la Motte, he being already deservedly famous for all sorts of Lyric Poetry, was so far introduced by her into those beauties of the Epic kind (though but in that way of translation) as not to resist the pleasure and hope of reputation, by attempting that in verse, which had been applauded so much for the difficulty of doing it even in prose; knowing how this, well executed, must extremely transcend the other.
'A thought of Cervantes, borrowed with the freedom of a Lord. W.
But, as great Poets are a little apt to think they have an ancient right of being excused for vanity on all occasions, he was not content to out-do M. D'Acier, but endeavoured to out-do Homer himself, and all that ever in any age or nation went before him in the same enterprize; by leaving out, altering, or adding whatever he thought best.
Against this presumptuous attempt, Homer has been in all times so well defended, as not to need my small assistance; yet, I must needs say, his excellencies are such, that for their sakes he deserves a much gentler touch for his seeming errors. These if M. de la Motte had translated as well as the rest, with an apology for having retained them only out of mere veneration; his judgment, in my opinion, would have appeared much greater than by the best of his alterations, though I admit them to be written very finely. I join with M. de la Motte in wondering at some odd things in Homer, but it is chiefly because of his sublime one, I was about to say his divine ones, which almost surprize me at finding them any where in the fallible condition of human nature.
And now we are wondering, I am in a difficulty to guess what can be the reason of these exceptions against Homer, from one who has himself translated him, contrary to the general custom of translators.