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April 27, 1708.
I Have nothing to say to you in this letter; but I was resolved to write to tell you so. Why should not I content myself with so many great Examples of deep Divines, profound Casuists, grave Philosophers, who have written, not letters only, but whole Tomes and voluminous Treatises about nothing? Why should a fellow like me, who all his life does nothing, be ashamed to write nothing; and that to one who has nothing to do but to read it? But perhaps you'll say, the whole world has something to do, something to talk of, something to wish for, something to be employed about: But pray, Sir, cast up the account, put all these somethings together, and what is the sum total but just nothing? I have no more to say, but to desire you to give my service (that is nothing) to your friends, and to believe that I am nothing more than
Your, etc. Ex nihilo nil fit. Lucr.
May 10, 1708.
You talk of fame and glory, and of the great men of Antiquity: Pray, tell me, what are all your great dead men, but so many little living letters? What a vast reward is here for all the ink wasted by Writers, and all the blood spilt by Princes ! There was in old time one Severus a Roman Emperor. I dare say you never called him by any other name in your life: and yet in his days he was styled Lucius, Septimius, Severus, Pius, Pertinax, Augustus, Parthicus, Adiabenicus, Arabicus, Maximus, and what not? What a prodigious waste of letters has time made what a number have here dropt off, and left the poor surviving seven unattended ! For my own part, four are all I have to take care for: and I'll be judged by you if any man could live in less compass? Well, for the future I'll drown all high thoughts in the Lethe of cowslip-wine; as for Fame, Renown, Reputation, take them, Critics Tradam protervis in Mare Criticum Ventis.
If ever I seek for Immortality here, may I be damned, for there's not so much danger in a poet's being damned:
Damnation follows death in other men,
LETTER IV. Nov. 1, 1708. I HAVE been so well satisfied with the country ever since I saw you, that I have not once thought of
the Town, or enquired of any one in it besides Mr. Wycherley and yourself. And from him I under
^tand of your journey this summer into Leicestershire; from whence I guess you are returned by this time, to your old apartment in the widow's corner, to your old business of comparing Critics, and reconciling Commentators, and to your old diversions of a losing game at piquet with the ladies, and half a play, or a quarter of a play at the theatre: where you are none of the malicious audience, but the chief of amorous spectators; and for the infirmity of one6 sense, which there, for the most part, could only serve to disgust you, enjoy the vigour of another, which ravishes you.
[' You know, when one sense is supprest,
according to the poetical, not the learned8, Dodwell; who has done one thing worthy of eternal memory; wrote two lines in his life that are not nonsense!] So you have the advantage of being entertained with all the beauty of the boxes, without being troubled with any of the dulness of the stage. You are so good a critic, that it is the greatest happiness of the modern Poets that you do not hear their works: And next, that you are not so arrant a critic, as to damn them (like the rest) without hearing. But now I talk of those critics, I have good news to tell you concerning myself, for which I expect you should congratulate with me; It is that, beyond all my expectations, and far above my demerits, I have been most mercifully reprieved by the sovereign power of Jacob Tonson, from being brought forth to public punishment; and respited from time to time from the hands of those barbarous executioners of the Muses, whom I was just now speaking of. It often happens, that guilty Poets like other guilty Criminals when once they are known and proclaimed, deliver themselves into the hands of justice, only to prevent others from doing it more to their disadvantage, and not out of any ambition to spread their fame, by being executed in the face of the world, which is a fame but of short continuance. That poet were a happy man who could but obtain a grant to preserve his ninety-nine years; for those names very rarely last so many days, which are planted either in Jacob Tonson's, or the Ordinary of Newgate's Miscellanies.
* His hearing. P.
7 Omitted by the author in his own edition. P.
8 Alluding to Mr. Henry Dodwell, the celebrated nonjuror, a man of very great and extensive learning, author of the Dissertions on Cyprian, Irenseus, of the Annals of Dionysius Halicarnassus, Thucydides, Xenophon, and Velleius Paterculus, of a curious volume of Camdenian Lectures, and the Greek and Roman Cycles, of a Dissertation on the Paucity of Martyrs in the Primitive Church, and other important subjects; but disgraced himself by maintaining a paradox on the Natural Mortality of the Soul, which was ably confuted by several Divines.
I have an hundred things to say to you, which shall be deferred till I have the happiness of seeing you in town, for the season now draws on, that invites every body thither. Some of them I had communicated to you by letters before this, if I had not been uncertain where you passed your time the last season: So much fine weather, I doubt not, has given you all the pleasure you could desire from the country, and your own thoughts the best company in it. But nothing could allure Mr. Wycherley to our forest: he continued (as you told me long since he would) an obstinate lover of the town, in spite of friendship and fair weather. Therefore henceforward, to all those considerable qualities I know you possessed of, I shall add that of prophecy. But I still believe Mr. Wycherley's intentions were good, and am satisfied that he promises nothing, but with a real design to perform it: How much soever his other excellent qualities are above my imitation, his sincerity, I hope, is not; and it is with the utmost that I am,
Jan. 22, 1708-9.
1 Had sent you the inclosed papers9 before this time, but that I intended to have brought them myself, and afterwards could find no opportunity of sending them without suspicion of their miscarrying, not that they are of the least value, but for fear somebody might be foolish enough to imagine them so, and inquisitive enough to discover those faults which I (by your help) would correct. I therefore beg the favour of you to let them go no farther than your chamber, and to be very free of your remarks in the
9 This was a trauslation of the first book of Statius, done when the Author was but fourteen years old, as appears by an advertisement before the first edition of it in a miscellany published by B. Lintot. 8vo. 1711. P.