Bless me! what a farrago is my letter! It is like the extracts of books in a monthly magazine! I had no right to censure poor Lord Northesk's ramblings! Lady Strafford will think he has infected me. Good-night, my dear lord and lady! Your ever devoted.
(498) An allusion to Lord Denbigh's figure, and his arms blazoned on a spread eagle.-E.
(499) George, sixth Earl of Northesk, a naval officer of distinction, who attained the rank of admiral of the white. He died in 1792.-E.
(500) In the course of this year a series of violent earthquakes occurred in Calabria and Sicily. In February, the city of Casal Nuova was entirely swallowed up; and the Princess Gerace Grimaldi, with more than four thousand persons, perished in an instant. The inhabitants of Scylla, who, headed by their Prince, had descended from the rock and taken refuge on the sea-shore, were all washed away by an enormous wave, on its return from the land which it had inundated.-E.
(501) Messina, and all the northern parts of Sicily, suffered greatly by the convulsions of nature alluded to in the preceding note.-E.
Letter 262 To The Hon. H. S. Conway. Strawberry Hill, August 15, 1783. (page 330)
The address from the Volunteers is curious indeed, and upon the first face a little Irish. What! would they throw off our Parliament, and yet amend it? It is like correcting a question in the House of Commons, and then voting against it. But I suppose they rather mean to increase confusion here, that we may not be at leisure to impede their progress; at least this may be the intention of the leaders. Large bodies are only led by being earnest in themselves, when their leaders are not so: but my head is not clear enough to apply it to different matters, nor could I do any good if it were. Our whole system is become a disjointed chaos, and time must digest it, or blow it up shortly. I see no way into it, nor expect any thing favourable but from chance, that often stops confusion on a sudden. To restore us by any system, it would require a single head furnished with wisdom, temper, address, fortitude, full and undivided power, and sincere patriotism divested of all personal views. Where is that prodigy to be found? and how should it have the power, if it had all the rest? And if it had the power, how could it be divested of that power again? And if it were not, how long would it retain its virtues? Power and wisdom would soon unite, like Antony and Augustus, to annihilate their colleague virtue, for being a poor creature like Lepidus. In short, the mass of matter is too big for me: I am going Out of the world, and cannot trouble myself about it. I do think of your part in it, and wish to preserve you where you are, for the benefits that you may contribute. I have a high opinion of Mr. Fox, and believe that by frankness you may become real friends, which would be greatly advantageous to the country. There is no competition in my mind where you are concerned: but Fox is the minister with whom I most wish you united,-indeed, to all the rest I am indifferent or adverse: but, besides his superior abilities, he has a liberality of acting that is to my taste; it is like my father's plainness, and has none of the paltry little finesses of a statesman.
Your parties do not tempt me, because I am not well enough to join in them: nor yet will they stop me, though I had rather find only you and Lady Ailesbury and Mrs. Damer. I am not seriously ill; nay, am better upon the whole than I was last year: but I perceive decays enough in myself to be sensible that the scale may easily be inclined to the worst side. This observation makes 'me very indifferent to every thing that is not much at my heart. Consequently what concerns you is, as it has always been for above forty years, a principal object. Adieu!
Letter 263To The Hon. H. S. Conway.(502)
Strawberry Hill, Sunday, August 27, 1783. (page 331)
Though I begin my letter on and have dated it Sunday, I recollect that it may miss you if you go to town on Tuesday, and therefore I shall not send it to the post till to-morrow. I can give you but an indifferent account of myself. I went to Lord Dacre's: but whether the heat and fatigue were too much for me, or whether the thunder turned me sour, for I am at least as weak as small-beer, I came back with the gout in my left hand and right foot. The latter confined me for three days; but though my ankle is still swelled, I do not stay in my house: however I am frightened, and shall venture no more expeditions yet; for my hands and feet are both SO lame, that I am neither comfortable to myself or any body else, abroad, when I must confine them, stay by myself or risk pain, which the least fatigue gives me. At this moment I have a worse embargo even than lameness on me. The Prince d'Hessenstein has written to offer me a visit—I don't know when. I have just answered his note, and endeavoured to limit its meaning to the shortest sense I could, by proposing to give him a dinner or a breakfast. I would keep my bed rather than crack our northern French together for twelve hours.
I know nothing upon earth but my own disasters. Another is, that all yesterday I thought all my gold-fish stolen. I am not sure that they are not; but they tell me they keep at the bottom of the water from the hot weather. It is all to be laded out to-morrow morning, and then I shall know whether they are gone or boiled.
Whenever the weather cools to an English consistence, I will see you at Park-place or in town: but I think not at the former before the end of next month, unless I recover more courage than I have at present; for if I was to get a real fit, and be confined to my bed in such sultry days, I should not have strength to go through it. I have just fixed three new benches round my bowling-green, that I may make four journeys of the tour. Adieu!
As I was rising this morning, I received an express from your daughter, that she will bring Madame de Cambis and Lady Melbourne to dinner here to-morrow. I shall be vastly pleased with the party, but it puts Philip and Margaret to their wit's end to get them a dinner: nothing is to be had here; we must send to Richmond, and Kingston, and Brentford; I must borrow Mr. Ellis's cook, and somebody's confectioner, and beg somebody's fruit, for I have none of these of my own, nor know any thing of the matter: but that is Philip and Margaret's affair, and not mine; and the worse the dinner is, the more Gothic Madame de Cambis will think it.
I have been emptying my pond, which was more in my head than the honour of my kitchen; and in the mud of the troubled water I have found all my gold, as Dunning and Barr'e(503) did last year. I have taken out fifteen young fish of a year and a half old for Lady Ailesbury, and reserved them as an offering worthy of Amphitrite in the vase, in the cat's vase,(504) amidst the azure flowers that blow. They are too portly to be carried in a smelling-bottle in your pocket. I wish you could plan some way of a waterman's calling for them, and transporting them to Henley. They have not changed their colour, but will next year. How lucky it would be, should you meet your daughter about Turnham Green, and turn back with them!
(502) Now first printed.
503) In the preceding year, through the influence of Lord Shelburne, a considerable pension had been granted to Colonel Barr'e, and a peerage and pension to Mr. Dunning.-E.
(504) The china vase in which Walpole's favourite cat Selima was drowned. See Gray's Works, vol. i. p. 6.-E.
Letter 264 To The Earl Of Strafford. Strawberry Hill, Sept. 12, 1783. (page 332)
Your lordship tells me you hope my summer has glided pleasantly, like our Thames- I cannot say it has passed very pleasantly to me, though, like the Thames, dry and low; for somehow or other I caught a rheumatic fever in the great heats, and cannot get rid of it. I have just been at Park-place and Nuneham, in hopes change of air would cure me; but to no purpose. Indeed, as want of sleep is my chief complaint, I doubt I must make use of a very different and more disagreeable remedy, the air of London, the only place that I ever find agree with me when I am out of order. I was there for two nights a fortnight ago, and slept perfectly well. In vain has my predilection for Strawberry made me try to persuade myself that this was all fancy: but, I fear, reasons that appear strong, though contrary to our inclinations, must be good ones. London at this time of year is as nauseous a drug as any in an apothecary's shop. I could find nothing at all to do, and so went to Astley's, 'which indeed was much beyond my expectation. I do not wonder any longer that Darius was chosen king by the instructions he gave to his horse; nor that Caligula made 'his consul. Astley can make his dance minuets and hornpipes: which is more extraordinary than to make them vote at an election, or act the part of a magistrate, which animals of less capacities can perform as dexterously as a returning officer or a master in chancery. But I shall not have even Astley now: her Majesty the Queen of France, who has as much taste as Caligula, has sent for the whole dramatis personae to Paris. Sir William Hamilton was at Park-place, and gave us dreadful accounts of Calabria: he looks much older, and has the patina of a bronze.
At Nuneham I was much pleased with the improvements both within doors and without. Mr. Mason was there; and as he shines in every art, was assisting Mrs. Harcourt with his new discoveries in painting, by which he will unite miniature and oil. Indeed, she is a very apt and extraordinary scholar. Since our professors seem to have lost the art of colouring, I am glad at least that they have ungraduated assessors.
We have plenty and peace at last; consequently leisure for repairing some of our losses, if we have sense to set about the task. On what will happen I shall make no conjectures, as it is not likely I should see much of what is to come. Our enemies have humbled us enough to content them; and we have succeeded so ill in innovations, that surely we shall not tempt new storms in haste.
>From this place I can send your lordship new or entertaining, nor expect more game in town, whither nothing but search of health should carry me. Perhaps it is a vain chase at my age; but at my age one cannot trust to Nature's operating cures without aiding her; it is always time enough to abandon one's self when no care will palliate our decays. I hope your lordship and Lady Strafford will long be in no want of such attentions; nor should I -have talked so Much of my own cracks, had I had any thing else to tell you. It would be silly to aim at vivacity when it is gone: and, though a lively old man is sometimes an agreeable being, a pretending old man is ridiculous. Aches and an apothecary cannot give one genuine spirits; 'tis sufficient if they do not make one peevish' Your lordship is so kind as to accept of me as I am, and you shall find nothing more counterfeit in me than the sincere respect and gratitude with which I have the honour to be your lordship's most devoted humble servant.
Letter 265 To The Earl Of Strafford. Strawberry Hill, Oct. 11, 1783. (page 334)
My rheumatism, I thank your lordship, is certainly better, though not quite gone. It was very troublesome at night till I took the bark; but that medicine makes me sleep like opium. But I will say no more about it, nothing is so troublesome as to talk of chronical complaints: has one any right to draw on the compassion of others, when one must renew the address daily and for months?
The aspect of Ireland is very tempestuous.(505) I doubt they will hurt us materially without benefiting themselves. If they obtain very short parliaments, they will hurt themselves more than us, by introducing a confusion that will prevent their improvements. Whatever country does adopt short parliaments, will, I am entirely persuaded, be forced to recur to their former practice; I mean, if the disorders introduced do not produce despotism of some sort or other. I am very sorry Mr. Mason concurs in trying to revive the Associations.(506) Methinks our state is so deplorable, that every healing measure ought to be attempted instead of innovations. For my own part, I expect nothing but distractions, and am not concerned to be so old. I am so old, that, were I disposed to novelties, I should think they little became my age. I should be ashamed, when my hour shall come, to be caught in a riot of country squires and parsons, and haranguing a mob with a shaking head. A leader of faction ought to be young and vigorous. If an aged gentleman does get an ascendant, he may be sure that younger men are counting on his exit, and only flatter him to succeed to his influence, while they are laughing at his misplaced activity. At least, these would be my thoughts, who of all things dread being a jest to the juvenile, if they find me out of my sphere.
I have seen Lord Carlisle's play, and it has a great deal of merit—perhaps more than your lordship would expect. The language and images are the best part, after the two principal scenes, which are really fine.(507)
I did, as your lordship knows and says, always like and esteem Lady Fitzwilliam. I scarce know my lord; but, from what I have heard of him in the House of Lords, have conceived a good opinion of his sense; of his character I never heard any ill; which is a great testimonial in his favour, when there are so many horrid characters, and when all that are conspicuous have their minutest actions tortured to depose against them.
You may be sure, my dear lord, that I heartily pity Lady Strafford's and your loss of four-legged friends. Sense and fidelity are wonderful recommendations; and when one meets with them, and can be confident that one is not imposed upon, I cannot think that the two additional legs are any drawback. At least I know that I have had friends who would never have vexed or betrayed me, if they had walked on all-fours.
I have no news to send your lordship; indeed I inquire for none, nor wish to hear any. Whence is any good to come? I am every day surprised at hearing people eager for news. If there is any, they are sure of hearing it. How can one be curious to know one does not know what; and perpetually curious to know? Has one nothing to do but to hear and relate something new? And why can one care about nothing but what one does not know? And why is every event worth hearing, only because one has not heard it? Have not there been changes enough? divorces enough? bankruptcies and robberies enough? and, above all, lies enough? No: or people would not be everyday impatient for the newspaper. I own, I am glad on Sunday when there is no paper(508) and no fresh lies circulating. Adieu, my good lord and lady! May you long enjoy your tranquillity, undisturbed by villany, folly, and madness!
(505) The Volunteer Corps of Ireland had long entertained projects for reforming the parliamentary representation of the country, and had appointed delegates for carrying that object into effect. In September they met at Dungannon when a plan of reform was proposed and agreed upon, and the 10th of November fixed on for a convention at Dublin of the representatives of the whole body of Volunteers. "Many gentlemen," says Mr. Hardy, in his Memoirs of Lord Charlemont, "must have seen a letter of Mr. Fox, then secretary of state, to General Burgoyne, at that time commander-in-chief in Ireland, on the subject Convention. It was written with the spirit of a patriot and wisdom of a true statesman. In his ardour for a parliamentary reform, he yielded, he said, to none of the Convention, but he dreaded the consequences of such a proceeding; and would, he added, lament it as the deepest misfortune of his life, if, by any untoward Steps then taken, and whilst he was minister, the two kingdoms should be separated, or run the Slightest risk of separation."-E.
(506) "The Yorkshire Association had been formed in 1779, from the gentry of moderate fortunes and the more substantial yeomen., under the pressure of those burdens which resulted from the war with America, with the view of obtaining, first, an economical, and then a parliamentary reform; but in the various changes which soon afterwards perplexed the political world, its first object was almost forgotten, and its most important character was the front Of Opposition which it now maintained against that powerful aristocracy which had long ruled the country with absolute dominion. It now declared against the Coalition administration." Life of Wilberforce, vol. i. p. 51.-E.
(507) Of Lord Carlisle's tragedy, entitled " The Father's Revenge,' Dr. Johnson also entertained a favourable opinion. "Of the sentiments," he says, "I remember not one I wished omitted. in the imagery, I cannot forbear to distinguish the comparison of joy succeeding grief to light rushing on the eye accustomed to darkness. It seems to have all that can be desired to make it please: it is new, just, and delightful. With the characters, either as conceived or preserved, I have no fault to find; but was much inclined to congratulate a writer, who, in defiance of prejudice and fashion, made the Archbishop a good man, and scorned all thoughtless applause which a vicious churchman would have brought him." It was with reference to this tragedy, that Lord Byron regretted the flippant and unjust sarcasms against his noble relation, which he had admitted into the early editions of his "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers," under the mistaken impression that Lord Carlisle had intentionally slighted him.-E.
(508) What would Walpole say, if he could witness the alteration which has taken place in this respect since the year 1783?-E.
Letter 266 To Lady Browne.(509) Berkeley Square, Oct. 19, 1783. (page 336)
As it is not fit my better-half should be ignorant of the state of her worse-half, lest the gossips of the neighbourhood should suspect we are parted; let them know, my life, that I am much better to-day. I have had a good deal of fever, and a bad night on Wednesday; but the last was much better, and the fever is much diminished to-day. In short, I have so great an opinion of town-dried air, that I expect to be well enough to return to Twickenham on Monday; and, if I do, I will call on you that evening; though I have not been out of my house yet. Indeed, it is unfortunate that so happy a couple, who have never exchanged a cross word, and who might claim the flitch of bacon, cannot be well—the one in town, the other in the country.
(509) Now first printed
Letter 267 To Governor Pownall. Strawberry Hill, Oct. 27, 1783. (page 336)
I am extremely obliged to you, Sir, for the valuable communication made to me.(510) It is extremely so to me, as it does justice to a memory I revere to the highest degree; and I flatter myself that it would be acceptable to that part of the world that loves truth; and that part will be the majority, as fast as they pass away -who have an interest in preferring falsehood. Happily, truth is longer-lived than the passions of individuals; and, when mankind are not misled, they can distinguish white from black. I myself do not pretend to be unprejudiced; I must be so to the best of fathers - I should be ashamed to be quite impartial. No wonder, then, Sir, if I am greatly pleased with so able a justification; yet I am not so blinded, but that I can discern solid reasons for admiring your defence. You have placed that defence on sound and nezo grounds; and, though very briefly, have very learnedly stated and distinguished the landmarks of our constitution, and the encroachments made on it, by justly referring the principles of liberty to the Saxon systern, and by imputing the corruptions of it to the Norman. This was a great deal too deep for that superficial mountebank, Hume, to go; for a mountebank he was. He mounted a system in the garb of a philosophic empiric, but dispensed no drugs but what he was authorized to vend by a royal patent, and which were full of Turkish opium. He had studied nothing relative to the English constitution before Queen Elizabeth, and had selected her most arbitrary acts to countenance those of the Stuarts: and even hers he misrepresented; for her worst deeds were levelled against the nobility, those of the Stuarts against the people. Hers, consequently, were rather an obligation to the people; for the most heinous part of despotism is, that it produces a thousand despots instead of one. Muley Moloch cannot lop off many heads with his own hands; at least, he takes those in his way. those of his courtiers; but his bashaws and viceroys spread destruction every where. The flimsy, ignorant, blundering manner in which Hume executed the reigns preceding Henry the Seventh, is a proof how little he had examined the history of our constitution.
I could say much, much more, Sir, in commendation of your work, were I not apprehensive of being biassed by the subject. Still, that it would not be from flattery, I wilt prove, by taking the liberty of making two objections; and they are only to the last page but one. Perhaps you will think that my first objection does show that I am too much biassed. I own I am sorry to see my father compared to Sylla. The latter was a sanguinary usurper, a monster; the former, the mildest, most forgiving, best-natured of men, and a legal minister. Nor, I fear, will the only light in which you compare them, Stand The test. Sylla resigned his power voluntarily, insolently: perhaps timidly. as he might think he had a better chance of dying in his bed, if he retreated, than by continuing to rule by force. My father did not retire by his own option. He had lost the majority of the House of Commons. Sylla, you say, Sir, retired unimpeached; it is true, but covered with blood. My father was not impeached, in our strict sense, Of the word; but, to my great joy, he was in effect. A secret committee, a worse inquisition than a jury, was named; not to try him, but to sift his life for crimes: and Out Of Such a jury, chosen in the dark, and not one of whom he might challenge, he had some determined enemies, many opponents, and but two he could suppose his friends. And what was the consequence ? A man charged with every state crime almost, for twenty years, was proved to have done—what? Paid some writers much more than they deserved, for having defended him against ten thousand and ten 'thousand libels, (some of which had been written by his inquisitors,) all which libels were confessed to have been lies by his inquisitors themselves; for they could not produce a shadow of one of the crimes with which they had charged him! I must own, ,Sir, I think that Sylla and my father ought to be set in opposition rather than paralleled.
My other objection is still more serious: and if I am so happy as to convince you, I shall hope that you will alter the paragraph; as it seems to impute something to Sir Robert, of which he was not only most innocent, but of which if he had been guilty, I should think him extremely so, for he would have been very ungrateful. You say he had not the comfort to see that he had established his own family by any thing which he received from the gratitude of that Hanover family, or from the gratitude of that country, which he had saved and served! Good Sir, what does this sentence seem to imply, but that either Sir Robert himself, or his family, thought or think, that the Kings George . and II. or England, were ungrateful in not rewarding his services? Defend him and us from such a charge! He nor we ever had such a thought. Was it not rewarding him to make him prime minister, and maintain and support him against his enemies for twenty years together? Did not George I. make his eldest son a peer, and give to the father and son a valuable patent place in the custom-house for three lives? Did not George II. give my elder brother the auditor's place, and to my brother and me other rich places for our lives; for, though in the gift of the first lord of the treasury, do we not owe them to the King who made him so? Did not the late King make my father an earl, and dismiss him with a pension of 4000 pounds a-year for his life? Could he or we not think these ample rewards? What rapacious sordid wretches must he and we have been, and be, could we entertain such an idea? As far have we all been from thinking him neglected by his country. Did not his country see and know these rewards? and could it think these rewards inadequate? Besides, Sir, great as I hold my father's services, they were solid and silent, not ostensible. They were of a kind to which I hold your justification a more suitable reward than pecuniary recompenses. To have fixed the house of Hanover on the throne, to have maintained this country in peace and affluence for twenty years, with the other services you record, Sir, were actions, the 'eclat of which must be illustrated by time and reflection; and whose splendour has been brought forwarder than I wish it had, by comparison with a period very dissimilar! If Sir Robert had not the comfort of leaving his family in affluence, it was not imputable to his King or his country. Perhaps I am proud that he did not. He died forty thousand pounds in debt. That was the wealth of a man that had been taxed as the plunderer of his country! Yet, with all my adoration of my father, I am just enough to own that it was his own fault if he died so poor. He had made Houghton much too magnificent for the moderate estate which he left to support it; and, as he never —I repeat it with truth, never—got any money but in the South Sea and while he was paymaster. his fondness for his paternal seat, and his boundless generosity, were too expensive for his fortune. I will mention one instance, which will show how little he was disposed to turn the favour of the crown to his own profit. He laid out fourteen thousand pounds of his own money on Richmond New Park. I could produce other reasons too why Sir Robert's family were not in so comfortable a situation, as the world, deluded by misrepresentation, might expect to see them at his death. My eldest brother had been a very bad economist during his father's life, and died himself fifty thousand pounds in debt, or more; so that to this day neither Sir Edward nor I have received the five thousand pounds apiece which Sir Robert left us as our fortunes. I do not love to charge the dead; therefore will only say, that Lady Orford (reckoned a vast fortune, which till she died she never proved,) wasted vast sums; nor did my brother or father ever receive but the twenty thousand pounds which she brought at first,'and which were spent on the wedding and christening; I mean, including her jewels.
I beg pardon, Sir, for this tedious detail, which is minutely, perhaps too minutely, true; but, when I took the liberty of contesting any part of a work which I admire so much, I owed it to you and to myself to assign my reasons. I trust they will satisfy you; and, if they do, I am sure you will alter a paragraph against which it is the duty of the family to exclaim. Dear as my father's memory is to my soul, I can never subscribe to the position that he was unrewarded by the house of Hanover.
(510) The Governor's "Character of Sir Robert Walpole." It will be found among the original papers in COXe's Life of Sir Robert.-E.
Letter 268 To Governor Pownall. Berkeley Square, Nov. 7, 1783. (page 339)
You must allow me, Sir, to repeat my thanks for the second copy of your tract on my father, and for your great condescension in altering the two passages to which I presumed to object; and which are not only more consonant to exactness, but, I hope, no disparagement to the piece. To me they are quite satisfactory. And it is a comfort to me too, that what I begged to have changed was not any reflection prejudicial to his memory; but, in the first point, a parallel not entirely similar in circumstances; and, in the other, a sort of censure on 'others to which I could not subscribe. With all my veneration for my father's memory, I should not remonstrate against just censure on him. Happily, to do justice to him, most iniquitous calumnies ought to be removed; and then there would remain virtues and merits enough, far to outweigh human errors, from which the best of men, like him, cannot be exempt. Let his enemies, ay and his friends, be compared with him, and then justice would be done! Your essay, Sir, will, I hope, some time or other, clear the way to his vindication. It points out the true way of examining his character; and is itself, as far as it goes, unanswerable. As such, what an obligation it must be to, Sir, etc.
Letter 269To The Earl Of Strafford. Berkeley Square, Nov. 10, 1783. (page 339)
If I consulted my reputation as 'a writer, which your lordship's partiality is so kind as to allot me, I should wait a few days till my granary is fuller of stock, which probably it would be by the end of next week; but, in truth, I had rather be a grateful, and consequently a punctual correspondent, than an ingenious one; as I value the honour of your lordship's friendship more than such tinsel bits of fame as can fall to my share, and of which I am particularly sick at present, as the Public Advertiser dressed me out t'other day with a heap of that dross which he had pillaged from some other strolling playwrights, who I did not desire should be plundered for me.
Indeed, when the Parliament does meet, I doubt, nay hope, it will make less sensation than usual. The orators of Dublin have brought the flowers of Billingsgate to so high perfection, that ours comparatively will have no more scent than a dead dandelion. If your lordship has not seen the speeches of Mr. Flood and Mr. Grattan,(511) you may perhaps still think that our oyster-women can be more abusive than members of parliament. Since I began my letter, I hear that the meeting of the delegates from the Volunteers is adjourned to the first of February.(512) This seems a very favourable circumstance. I don't like a reformation begun by a Popish army! Indeed, I did hope that peace would bring us peace, at least not more than the discords incidental to a free ,government: but we seem not to have attained that era yet! I hope it will arrive, though I may not see it. I shall not easily believe that any radical alteration of a constitution that preserved us so long, and carried us to so great a height, will recover our affairs. There is a wide difference between correcting abuses and removing landmarks. Nobody disliked more than I the strides that were attempted towards increasing the prerogative; but as the excellence of our constitution, above all others, consists in the balance established between the three powers of King, Lords, and Commons, I wish to see that equilibrium preserved. No single man, nor any private junta, has a right to dictate laws to all three. In Ireland, truly,' a still worse spirit I apprehend to be at bottom; in short, it is frenzy or folly to suppose that an army composed of three parts of Catholics can be intended for any good purposes.
These are my sentiments, my dear lord, and, you know, very disinterested. For myself, I have nothing to wish but ease and tranquillity for the rest of my time. I have no enmities to avenge. I do hope the present administration will last, as I believe there are more honest men in it than in any set that could replace them, though I have not a grain of partiality more than I had for their associates. Mr. Fox I think by far the ablest and soundest head in England, and am persuaded that the more he is tried the greater man he will appear.
Perhaps it is impertinent to trouble your lordship with my creed, it is certainly of no consequence to any body; but I have nothing else that could entertain you, and at so serious a crisis can one think of trifles? In general I am not sorry that the nation is most disposed to trifle; the less it takes part, the more leisure will the ministers have to attend to the most urged points. When so many individuals assume to be legislators, it is lucky that very few obey their institutes.
I rejoice to hear of Lady Strafford's good health, and am her and your lordship's most faithful humble servant.
(511) In the course of a debate in the Irish House of Commons, on the 28th of October, upon Sir Henry Cavendish's motion for a retrenchment of the public expenditure violent altercation had taken place between the rival orators. While Mr. Grattan animadverted, with disgraceful bitterness, on the " broken beak and disastrous countenance" of his opponent, and charged him with betraying every man who trusted in him, Mr. Flood broadly insinuated that Mr. Grattan had betrayed his country for a sum of gold; and, for prompt payment, had sold himself to the minister.-E.
(512) They assembled at Dublin on the 10th of November, when a plan of reform was produced and considered by them; and on the following day Mr. Flood moved, in the House of Commons for leave to bring in a bill for the more equal representation of the people in Parliament. The motion was rejected by 157 votes to 77.-E.
Letter 270 To The Earl Of Strafford. Berkeley Square, Dec. 11, 1783. (page 341)
Your lordship is so partial to me and my idle letters, that I am afraid of writing them; not lest they should sink below the standard you have pleased to affix to them in your own mind, but from fear of being intoxicated into attempting to keep them up to it, which would destroy their only merit, their being written naturally and without pretensions. Gratitude and good breeding compel me to make due answers; but I entreat your lordship to be assured, that, however vain I am of your favour, my only aim is to preserve the honour of your friendship; that it is all the praise I ask or wish; and that, with regard to letter-writing, I am firmly persuaded that it is a province in which women will always shine superiorly; for our sex is too jealous of the reputation of good sense, to condescend to hazard a thousand trifles and negligences, which give grace, ease, and familiarity to correspondence.(513) I will say no more on that subject, for I feel that I am on the brink of a dissertation; and though that fault would prove the truth of my proposition, I will not punish your lordship only to convince you that I am in the right. The winter is not dull or disagreeable; on the contrary, it is Pleasing, as the town is occupied on general subjects, and not, as is too common, on private scandal, private vices, and follies. The India-bill, air-balloons, Vestris, and the automaton, share all attention. Mrs. Siddons, as less a novelty, does not engross all conversation. If abuse still keeps above par, it confines itself to its prescriptive province, the ministerial line. In that walk it has tumbled a little into the kennel. The low buffoonery of Lord Thurlow, in laying the caricatura of the Coalition on the table of your lordship's House, has levelled it to Sadler's Wells; and Mr. Flood, the pillar of invective, does not promise to re-erect it; not, I conclude, from want of having imported a stock of ingredients, but his presumptuous debut on the very night of his entry was so wretched, and delivered in so barbarous a brogue that I question whether he will ever recover the blow Mr. Courtenay gave him.(514) A young man may correct and improve, and rise from a first fall; but an elderly formed speaker has not an equal chance. Mr. Hamilton,(515) Lord Abercorn's heir, but by no means so laconic, had more success. Though his first essay, ii was not at all dashed by bashfulness; and though he might have blushed for discovering so much personal rancour to Mr. Fox, he rather seemed to be impatient to discharge it.
Your lordship sees in the papers that the two Houses of Ireland have firmly resisted the innovations of the Volunteers. Indeed, it was time for the Protestant proprietors to make their stand; for though the Catholics behave decently, it would be into their hands that the prize would fall. The delegates, it is true, have sent over a most loyal address; but I wish their actions may not contradict their words! Mr. Flood's discomfiture here will, I suppose, carry him back to a field wherein his wicked spirit may have more effect. It is a very serious moment! I am in pain lest your county, my dear lord, (you know what I mean) should countenance such pernicious designs.
(513) Some excellent advice on the subject of female letter-writing, will be found in a letter written, in 1809, by Lord Collingwood to one of his daughters:—"No sportsman," says the gallant Admiral, "ever hits a partridge without aiming at it; and skill is acquired by repeated attempts. When you write a letter, give it your greatest care, that it may be as perfect in all its parts as you can make it. Let the subject be sense, expressed in the most plain, intelligible, and elegant manner that you are capable of If in a familiar epistle you should be playful and jocular, guard carefully that your wit be not sharp, so as to, give pain to any person; and before You write a sentence, examine it, even the words which it is composed, that there be nothing vulgar or inelegant in them. Remember, my dear, that your letter is the picture of Your brains; and those whose brains are a compound of folly, nonsense, and impertinence, are to blame to exhibit them to the contempt of the world, or the pity of their friends. To write a letter with negligence, without proper stops, with crooked lines and great, flourishing dashes, is inelegant; it argues either great ignorance of what is proper, or great indifference towards the person to whom it is addressed, and is consequently disrespectful." Memoirs, p. 430.-E.
(514) Mr. Flood took his seat for Winchester on the 8th of December, and on the same evening addressed the House in Opposition to Mr. Fox's East India bill. "He spoke," says Wraxall, "with great ability and good sense, but the slow, measured, and sententious style of enunciation which characterized his eloquence, appeared to English ears cold and stiff: unfortunately, too, for Flood, one of his own countrymen, Courtenay, instantly Opened on him such a battery of ridicule and wit, as seemed to overwhelm the new Member. He made no attempt at reply, and under these circumstances began the division. It formed a triumphant exhibition Of ministerial strength, the Coalition numbering 208; while only 102 persons, of whom I was one, followed Pitt into the lobby yet, within twelve days afterwards he found himself first minister, and so remained above seventeen years."-E.
(515) John James Hamilton. In 1789, he succeeded his uncle as ninth Earl of Abercorn, and second Viscount Hamilton; and in 1790, was created Marquis of Abercorn.-E.
Letter 271 To The Hon. H. S. Conway. Berkeley Square, Wednesday, May 5, 1784. (page 342)
Your cherries, for aught I know, may, like Mr. Pitt, be half ripe before others are in blossom; but at Twickenham, I am sure, I could find dates and pomegranates on the quickset hedges, as soon as a cherry in swaddling-clothes on my walls. The very leaves on the horse-chestnuts are little snotty-nosed things, that cry and are afraid of the north-wind, and cling to the bough as if old poker was coming to take them away. For my part, I have seen nothing like spring but a chimney-sweeper's garland; and yet I have been three days in the country-and the consequence was, that I was glad to come back to town. I do not wonder that you feel differently; any thing is warmth and verdure when compared to poring over memorials. In truth, I think you will be much happier for being out of Parliament. You could do no good there; you have no views of ambition to satisfy: and when neither duty. nor ambition calls, (I do not condescend to name avarice, which never is to be satisfied, nor deserves to be reasoned with, nor has any place in your breast,) I cannot conceive what satisfaction an elderly man can have in listening to the passions or follies of others: nor is eloquence such a banquet, when one knows that, whoever the cooks are, whatever the sauces, one has eaten as good beef or mutton before, and perhaps, as well dressed. It is surely time to live for one's self, when one has not a vast while to live; and you, I am persuaded, Will live the longer for leading a country life. How much better to be planting, nay, making experiments on smoke (if not too dear), than reading applications from officers, a quarter of whom you could not serve, nor content three quarters! You had not time for necessary exercise : and, I believe, would have blinded yourself. In short, if you will live in the air all day, be totally idle, and not read or write a line by candle-light, and retrench your suppers, I shall rejoice in your having nothing to do but that dreadful punishment, pleasing yourself. Nobody has any claims on you; you have satisfied every point of honour; you have no cause for being particularly grateful to the Opposition; and you want no excuse for living for yourself. Your resolutions on economy are not only prudent, but just; and, to say the truth, I believe if you had continued at the head of the army, you would have ruined yourself You have too much generosity to have curbed yourself, and would have had too little time to attend to doing so. I know by myself how pleasant it is to have laid up a little for those I love, for those that depend on me, and for old servants. Moderate wishes may be satisfied; and which is still better, are less liable to disappointment.
I am not preaching, nor giving advice, but congratulating you it is certainly not being selfish, when I rejoice at your being thrown by circumstances into a retired life, though it will occasion my seeing less of you; but I have always preferred what was most for your own honour and happiness; and as you taste satisfaction already, it will not diminish, for they are the first moments of passing from busy life to a quiet one that are the most irksome. You have the felicity of being able to amuse yourself with what the grave world calls trifles , but as gravity does not happen to be wisdom, trifles are full as important as what is respected as serious; and more amiable, and generally more innocent. Most men are bad or ridiculous, sometimes both: at least my experience tells me what my reading had told me before, that they are so in a great capital of a sinking 'country. If immortal fame is his object, a Cato may die but he will do no good. If only the preservation of his virtue had been his point, he might have lived comfortably at Athens, like Attieus who, by the way, happens to be as immortal; though I will give him credit for having had no such view. Indeed, I look upon this country as so irrecoverably on the verge of ruin, from its enormous debt, from the loss of America, from the almost as certain prospect of losing India, that my pride would dislike to be an actor when the crash may happen.
You seem to think that I might send you more news. So I might, if I would talk of elections;(516) but those, you know, I hate, as, in general, I do all details. How Mr. Fox has recovered such a majority I do not guess, still less do I comprehend how there could be so many that had not voted, after the poll had lasted so long.(517) Indeed, I should be sorry to understand such mysteries.-Of new peers, or new elevations I hear every day, but am quite ignorant which are to be true. Rumour always creates as many as the King, when he makes several. In fact, I do know nothing. Adieu!
P. S. The summer is come to town, but I hope is gone into the country too.
(516) The Parliament had been dissolved in March, and a new one was summoned to meet on the 18th of May.-E.
(517) Mr. Pitt says in a letter to Mr. Wilberforce, of the 8th of April, "Westminster goes on well, in spite of the Duchess of Devonshire and the other women of the people; but when the poll will close is uncertain." At the close of it, on the 17th of May, the numbers were, for Hood 6694, Fox 6233, Wray 5998. Walpole, whose delicate health at this time confined him almost entirely to his house, went in a sedan-chair to give his vote for Mr. Fox. "Apropos of elections," writes Hannah More to her sister," I had like to have got into a fine scrape the other night. I was going to pass the evening at Mrs. Cole's, in Lincoln's-inn Fields. I went in a chair: they carried me through Covent-Garden: a number of people, as I went along, desired the men not to go through the Garden, as there were a hundred armed men, who, suspecting every chairman belonged to Brookes's, would fall upon us. In spite of my entreaties, the men would have persisted; but a stranger, out of humanity, made them set me down; and the shrieks of the wounded, for there was a terrible battle, intimidated the chairmen, who were at last prevailed upon to carry me another way. A vast number of people followed me, crying out, 'it is Mrs. Fox: none but Mr. Fox's wife would dare to come into Covent-Garden in a chair; she is going to canvass in the dark!' Though not a little frightened, I laughed heartily at this; but shall stir no more in a chair for some time." Memoirs, vol. I. p. 315.-E.
Letter 272 To Miss Hannah More.(519) May 6, 1784 (page 344)
Mr. Walpole thanks Miss More a thousand times, not only for so obligingly complying with his request, but for letting him have the satisfaction of possessing and reading again and again her charming and very genteel poem, the "Bas Bleu." He ought not, in modesty, to commend so much a piece in which he himself is flattered; but truth is more durable than blushing, and he must be just, though he may be vain. The ingenuity with which she has introduced, so easily, very difficult rhymes, is admirable; and though there is a quantity of learning, it has all the air Of negligence, instead of that of pedantry. As she, commands him, he will not disobey; and, so far from giving a single copy, he gives her his word that it shall not go out of his hands. He begs his particular compliments to Mrs. Garrick, and is Miss More's most devoted and much obliged humble servant.
(519) Walpole's intimacy with Miss Hannah More commenced in the year 1781. The following passages occur in her letters of that and the following year:—"Mr. Walpole has done me the honour of inviting me to Strawberry Hill: as he is said to be a shy man, I must consider this as a great compliment."—" We dined the other day at Strawberry Hill, and passed as delightful a day as elegant literature, high breeding, and lively wit can afford. As I was the greatest stranger, Mr. Walpole devoted himself to my amusement with great politeness."-E.
Letter 273 To The Hon. H. S. Conway. Strawberry Hill, May 21, 1784. (page 345)
I am perfectly satisfied with your epitaph,(520) and would not have a Syllable altered. It tells exactly what it means to say, and that truth being an encomium, wants no addition or amplification. Nor do I love late language for modern facts, nor will European tongues perish since printing has been discovered. I should approve French least of all; it would be a kind of insult to the vanquished: and, besides, the example of a hero should be held out to his countrymen rather than to their enemies. You must take care to have the word caused, in the last line but one, spelt rightly, and not caus'd.
I know nothing of the Parliament but what you saw in the papers. I came hither yesterday, and am transported, like you, with the beauty of the country; ay, and with its perfumed air too. The lilac-time scents even the insides of the rooms.
I desired Lady Ailesbury to carry you Lord Melcombe's Diary.(521) It is curious indeed; not so much from the secrets it blabs, which are rather characteristic than novel, but from the wonderful folly of the author, who was so fond of talking of himself, that he tells all he knew of himself, though scarce an event that does not betray his profligacy; and (which is still more surprising that he should disclose) almost every one exposes the contempt in which he was held, and his consequential' disappointments and disgraces! Was ever any man the better for another's experience? What a lesson is here against versatility! I, who have lived through all the scenes unfolded, am entertained; but I should think that to younger readers half the book must be unintelligible. He explains nothing but the circumstances of his own situation; and, though he touches on many important periods, he leaves them undeveloped, and often undetermined. It is diverting to hear him rail at Lord Halifax and others, for the very kind of double-dealing which he relates coolly of himself in the next page. Had he gone backwards, he might have given half a dozen volumes of his own life, with similar anecdotes and variations. I am most surprised, that when self-love is the whole groundwork of the performance, there should be little or no attempt at shining as an author, though he was one. As he had so much wit too, I am amazed that not a feature of it appears. The discussion in the appendix, on the late Prince's question for increase of allowance, is the only part in which there is sense or honesty. There is, in the imperfect account of Rochfort, a strong Circumstance or two that pleased me much. There are many passages that will displease several others throughout.
Mr. Coxe's Travels(522) are very different: plain, clear, sensible, instructive, and entertaining. It is a noble work, and precious to me who delight in quartos: the two volumes contain twelve hundred pages; I have already devoured a quarter, though I have had them but three days. [The rest of this letter is lost.]
(520) An epitaph for the monument erected by the states of Jersey to the memory of Major Pearson, killed in the attack of that island by the French in January 1781.
(521) "The Diary of George Bubb Dodington, Baron of Melcombe Regis, from March 8, 1749, to February 6, 1761; published by Henry Penruddocke Wyndham."
(522) Travels into Poland, Russia, Sweden, and Denmark; interspersed with Historical Relations and Political Inquiries; by William Cox, M. A.," in two volumes quarto.-E.
Letter 274 To The Countess Of Ailesbury. Strawberry Hill, Tuesday night, June 8, 1784. (page 346)
You frightened me for a minute, my dear Madam; but every letter since has given me pleasure, by telling me how rapidly you recovered, and how perfectly well you are again. Pray, however, do not give me any more such Joys. I shall be quite content with your remaining immortal, without the foil of any alarm. You gave all your friends a panic, and may trust their attachment without renewing it. I received as many inquiries the next day as if an archbishop was in danger, and all the bench hoped he was going to heaven.
Mr. Conway wonders I do not talk of Voltaire's Memoirs. Lord bless me! I saw it two months ago; the Lucans brought it from Paris and lent it to me: nay, and I have seen most of it before; and I believe this an imperfect copy, for it ends no how at all. Besides, it was quite out of my head. Lord Melcombe's Diary put that and every thing else out of my mind. I wonder much more at Mr. Conway's not talking of this! It gossips about the living as familiarly as a modern newspaper. I long to hear what say about it. I wish the newspapers were as accurate! They have been circumstantial about Lady Walsingham's birthday clothes, which to be sure one is glad to know, Only unluckily there is no such person. However, I dare to say that her dress was very becoming, and that she looked charmingly.
The month of June, according to custom immemorial, is as cold as Christmas. I had a fire last night, and all my rose-buds, I believe, would have been very glad to sit by it. I have other grievances to boot; but as they are annuals too,—videlicet, people to see my house,— I will not torment Your ladyship with them: yet I know nothing else. None of my neighbours are come into the country yet: one would think all the dowagers were elected into the new Parliament. Adieu, my dear Madam!
Letter 275 To The Hon. H. S. Conway. Strawberry Hill, June 25, 1784. (page 347)
I can answer you very readily in your own tone, that is, about weather and country grievances, and without one word of news or politics; for I know neither, nor inquire of them.(523) I am very well content to be a Strulbrug, and to exist after I have done being: and I am still better pleased that you are in the same way of thinking, or of not thinking; for I am sure both your health and your mind will find the benefits of living for yourself and family only. It were not fit that the young should concentre themselves in so narrow a circle; nor do the young seem to have any such intention. Let them mend or mar the world as they please; the world takes its own way upon the whole; and, though there may be an uncommon swarm of animalcules for a season, things return into their own channel from their own bias, before any effectual nostrum or fumigation is discovered. In the mean time, I am for giving all due weight to local grievances, though with no natural turn towards attending to them: but they serve for conversation. We have no newly invented grubs to eat our fruit; indeed, I have no fruit to be eaten: but I should not lament if the worms would eat my gardener, who, you know, is so bad an one that I never have any thing in my garden. I am now waiting for dry weather to cut my hay; though nature certainly never intended hay should be cut dry, as it always rains all June. But here is a worse calamity; one is never safe by day or night: Mrs. Walsingham, who has bought your brother's late house at Ditton, was robbed a few days ago in the high road, within a mile of home, at seven in the evening. The di'a nimorum gentium pilfer every thing. Last night they stole a couple of yards of lead off the pediment of the door of my cottage. A gentleman at Putney, who has three men servants, had his house broken open last week, and lost some fine miniatures, which he valued so much that he would not hang them up. You may imagine what a pain this gives me in my baubles! I have been making the round of my fortifications this morning, and ordering new works.
I am concerned for the account you give me of your brother. Life does not appear to be such a jewel as to preserve it carefully for its own sake. I think the same of its good things; if they do not procure amusement or comfort, I doubt they only produce the contrary. Yet it is silly to repine; for, probably, whatever any man does by choice, he knows will please him best, or at least will prevent greater uneasiness. I therefore, rather retract my concern; for, with a vast fortune, Lord Hertford might certainly do what he would: and if, at his age, he can wish for more than that fortune will obtain, I may pity his taste or temper; but I shall think that you and I are much happier who can find enjoyments in an humbler sphere, nor envy those who have no time for trifling'. I, who have never done any thing else, am not at all weary of my occupation. Even three days of continued rain have not put me out of humour or spirits. C'est beaucoup dire for an Anglais. Adieu! Yours ever.
(523) "As politics spoil all conversation, Mr. Walpole, the other night, proposed that every body should forfeit half a crown who said any thing tending to introduce the idea, either of ministers or opposition. I added, that whoever mentioned pit-coal or a fox-skin muff, should be considered as guilty; and it was accordingly voted." Hannah More, March 8, 1784.-E.
Letter 276 To The Hon. H. S. Conway. Strawberry Hill, June 30, 1784. (page 348)
Instead of coming to you, I Am thinking of packing up and going to town for winter, so desperate is the weather! I found a great fire at Mrs. Clive's this evening, and Mr. Rafter hanging over it like a smoked ham. They tell me my hay will be spoiled for want of cutting; but I had rather it should be destroyed by standing than by being mowed, as the former will cost me nothing but the crop, and 'tis very dear to make nothing but a water-souchy of it.
You know I have lost a niece, and found another nephew: he makes the fifty-fourth reckoning both sexes. We are certainly an affectionate family, for of late we do nothing but marry one another. Have not You felt a little twinge in a remote corner of your heart on Lady Harrington's death?(524) She dreaded death so extremely that I am glad she had not a moment to be sensible of it. I have a great affection for sudden deaths; they save oneself and every body else a deal of ceremony.
The Duke and Duchess of Marlborough breakfasted here on Monday, and seemed much pleased, though it rained the whole time with an Egyptian darkness. I should have thought there had been deluges enough to destroy all Egypt's other plagues: but the newspapers talk of locusts: I suppose relations of your beetles, though probably not so fond of green fruit; for the scene of their campaign is Queen square, Westminster, where there certainly has not been an orchard since the reign of Canute.
I have, at last, seen an air-balloon; just as I once did see a tiny review, by passing one accidentally on Hounslow-heath. I was going last night to Lady Onslow at Richmond, and over Mr. Cambridge's field I saw a bundle in the air not bigger than the moon,(525) and she herself could not have descended with more composure if she had expected to find Endymion fast asleep. It seemed to 'light on Richmond-hill; but Mrs. Hobart was going by, and her coiffure prevented my seeing it alight. The papers say, that a balloon has been made at Paris representing the castle of Stockholm, in compliment to the King of Sweden; but that they are afraid to let it off: so, I suppose, it will be served up to him in a dessert. No great progress.. surely, is made in these airy navigations, if they are still afraid of risking the necks of two or three subjects for the entertainment of a visiting sovereign. There is seldom a feu de joie for the birth of a Dauphin that does not cost more lives. I thought royalty and science never haggled about the value of blood when experiments are in the question.
I shall wait for summer before I make you a visit. Though I dare to say that you have converted your smoke-kilns into a manufacture of balloons, pray do not erect a Strawberry castle in the air for my reception, if it will cost a pismire a hair of its head. Good night! I have ordered my bed to be heated as hot as an oven, and Tonton and I must go into it.
(524) See vol. i. p. 379, letter 143.-E.(525) "Lunardi's nest," says Hannah More, " when I saw it yesterday, looking like a pegtop, seemed, I assure you, higher than the moon, 'riding towards her highest noon.'"-E.
Letter 277 To The Earl Of Strafford. Strawberry Hill, August 6, 1784. (page 349)
I am very sorry, my dear lord, that I must answer your lordship's letter by a condolence. I had not the honour Ur of being acquainted with Mrs. Vyse, but have heard so much good of her, that it is impossible not to lament her. Since this month began we have had fine weather; and 'twere great pity if we had not, when the earth is covered with Such abundant harvests! They talk of an earthquake having been felt in London. Had Sir William Hamilton been there, he would think the town gave itself great airs. He, I believe, is putting up volcanos in his own country. In my youth, philosophers were eager to ascribe every uncommon discovery to the Deluge; now it is the fashion to solve every appearance by conflagrations. If there was such an inundation upon the earth, and such a furnace under it, I am amazed that Noah and company were not boiled to death. Indeed, I am a great sceptic about human reasonings; they predominate only for a time, like other mortal fashions, and are so often exploded after the mode is passed, that I hold them little more serious, though they call themselves wisdom. How many have I lived to see established and confuted! For instance, the necessity of a southern continent as a balance was supposed to be unanswerable; and so it was, till Captain Cook found there was no such thing. We are poor silly animals: we live for an instant upon a particle of a boundless universe, and are much like a butterfly that should argue about the nature of the seasons and what creates their vicissitudes, and does not exist itself to see one annual revolution of them!
Adieu! my dear lord! If my reveries are foolish, remember, I give them for no better, If I depreciate human wisdom, I am sure I do not assume a grain to myself; nor have any thing to value myself upon more than being your lordship's most obliged humble servant.
Letter 278 To Mr. Dodsley.(526) Strawberry Hill, August 8, 1784. (page 350)
I must beg, Sir, that you will tell Mr. Pinkerton, that I am much obliged to him for the honour he is willing to do me, though I must deg his leave to decline it. His book(527) deserves an eminent patron: I am too inconsiderable to give any relief to it, and even in its own line am unworthy to be distinguished. One of my first pursuits was a collection of medals; but I early gave it over, as I could not afford many branches of virt'u, and have since changed or given away several of my best Greek and Roman medals. What remain, I shall be glad to show Mr. Pinkerton; and, if it would not be inconvenient to him to come hither any morning by eleven o'clock, after next Thursday, that he Will not only see my medals, but any other baubles here that can amuse him. I am, Sir, your most obedient humble servant.
(526) Now first collected.
(527) The first edition of Pinkerton's "Essay on Medals" was published by Dodsley, in two volumes octavo, in this year, without the name of the author.-E.
Letter 279 To The Hon. H. S. Conway. Strawberry Hill, August 14, 1784. (page 350)
As Lady Cecilia Johnston offers to be postman, I cannot resist writing a line, though I have not a word to say. In good sooth, I know nothing hear Of nothing but robberies and housebreaking; consequently never think of ministers, India directors, and such honest men. Mrs. Clive has been broken open, and Mr. Raftor miscarried, and died of the fright. Lady Browne has lost all her liveries and her temper, and Lady Blandford has cried her eyes out on losing a lurch and almost her wig. In short, as I do not love exaggeration, I do not believe there have been above threescore highway robberies within this week, fifty-seven houses that have been broken open, and two hundred and thirty that are to be stripped on the first opportunity. We are in great hopes, however, that the King of Spain, now he has demolished Algiers, the metropolitan see of thieves, will come and bombard Richmond, Twickenham, Hampton-court, and all the suffragan cities that swarm with pirates and banditti, as he has a better knack at destroying vagabonds than at recovering his own.
Ireland is in a blessed way; and, as if the climate infected every body that sets foot there, the viceroy's aides-do-camp have blundered into a riot, that will set all the humours afloat. I wish you joy of the summer being come now it is gone, which is better than not coming at all. I hope Lady Cecilia will return with an account of your all being perfectly well. Adieu! Yours ever.
Letter 280 To John Pinkerton, Esq.(528) Strawberry Hill, August 24, 1784. (page 351)
I am much obliged to you, Sir, for the pieces you have sent me of your own composition.(529) There is great poetic beauty and merit in them, with great knowledge of the ancient masters and of the best of the modern. You have talents that will succeed in whatever you pursue, and industry to neglect nothing that will improve them. Despise petty critics, and confute them by making your works as perfect as you can.
I am sorry you sent me the old manuscript; because, as I told you, I have so little time left to enjoy any thing, that I should think myself a miser if I coveted for a moment what I must leave so soon. I shall be very glad, Sir, to see you here again, whenever it is convenient to you.
(528) This is the first of the series of letters addressed by Mr. Walpole to Mr. Pinkerton. They are taken from his " Literary Correspondence," first printed in 1830, in two volumes octavo, by Dawson Turner, Esq. M.A. F.R.S. from the originals in his valuable collection. Mr. Pinkerton was born at Edinburgh, in February 1758, and died at Paris in May 1826. "He was," says Mr. Dawson Turner, "a man of a capacious mind, great acuteness, strong memory, restless activity, and extraordinary perseverance: the anecdotes contained in this correspondence afford a striking proof of the power of talent,, and industry to raise their possessor in the scale of society, as well as in the opinion of the world: unfortunately, they are also calculated to read us another and not less instructive lesson, that somewhat more is required to turn such advantages to their full account; and that the endowments of the mind, unless accompanied by sound and consistent principles, can tend but little to the happiness of the individual, or to the good of society."-E.
(529) In 1781, Mr. Pinkerton had published an octavo volume entitled "Rimes;" a second edition of which, with additions, appeared in the following year.-E.
Letter 281 To The Earl Of Strafford. Strawberry Hill, Sept. 7, 1784. (page 351)
The summer is come at last, my lord, drest as fine as a birthday, though with not so many flowers on its head. In truth, the sun is an old fool, who apes the modern people of fashion by arriving too late: the day is going to bed before he makes his appearance; and one has scarce time to admire his embroidery of green and gold. It was cruel to behold such expanse of corn every where, and yet see it all turned to a water-souchy. If I could admire Dante,—which, asking Mr. Hayley's pardon, I do not,—I would have written an olio of jews and Pagans, and sent Ceres to reproach Master Noah with breaking his promise of the world never being drowned again. But this last week has restored matters to their old channel; and I trust we shall have bread to eat next winter, or I think we must have lived on apples, of which to be sure there is enough to prevent a famine. This is all I know, my lord; and I hope no news to your lordship. I have exhausted the themes of air-balloons and highwaymen; and if you will have my letters, you must be content with my commonplace chat on the seasons. I do nothing worth repeating, nor hear that others do: and though I am content to rust myself, I should be glad to tell your lordship any thing that would amuse you. I dined two days ago at Mrs. Garrick's -with Sir William Hamilton, who is returning to the kingdom of cinders. Mrs. Walsingham(530) Was there with her son and daughter. He is a very pleasing young man; a fine figure; his face like hers, with something of his grandfather, Sir Charles Williams, without his vanity: very sensible, and uncommonly well-bred. The daughter is an imitatress of Mrs. Damer, and has modelled a bust of her brother. Mrs. Damer herself is modelling two masks for the keystones of the new bridge at Henley. Sir William, who has seen them, says they are in her true antique style. I am in possession of her sleeping dogs in terra cotta. She asked me if I would consent to her executing them in marble for the Duke of Richmond? I said gladly; I should like they should exist in a more durable material; but I would not part with the original, Which is sharper and more alive. Mr. Wyat the architect saw them here lately; and said, he was sure that if the idea was given to the best statuary in Europe, he would not produce so perfect a group. Indeed with those dogs and the riches I possess by Lady Di,(531) poor Strawberry may vie with much prouder collections.
Adieu, my good lord! when I fold up a letter I am ashamed of it; but it is your own fault. The last thing I should think of would be troubling your lordship with such insipid stuff, if you did not command it. Lady Strafford will bear me testimony how often I have protested against it.
(530) Charlotte, daughter of Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, Bart, married to the Hon. Robert Boyle Walsingham.-E.
(531) The number of original drawings by Lady Diana Beauclerc, at Strawberry Hill.
Letter 282 To John Pinkerton, Esq.(532) Strawberry Hill, Sept. 27, 1784. (page 353)
I have read your piece, Sir, very attentively; and, as I promised, will give you my opinion of it fairly. There is much wit in it, especially in the part of Nebuchadnezer and the dialogue is very easy, and the dinouement in favour of Barbara interesting. There are, however, I think, some objections to be made, which, having written so well, you may easily remove, as they are rather faults in the mechanism than in the writing. Several scenes seem to me to finish too abruptly, and not to be enough connected. Juliana is not enough distinguished, as of an age capable of more elevated sentiments: her desire of playing at hot-cockles and blind-man's-buff sounds more childish than vulgar. There is another defect, which is in the conduct of the plot: surely there is much too long an interval between the discovery of the marriage of Juliana and Philip, and the anger of her parents. The audience must expect immediate effect from it; and yet the noise it is to make arrives so late, that it would have been forgotten in the course of the intermediate scenes.
I doubt a little, whether it would not be dangerous to open the piece with a song that must be totally incomprehensible to at least almost all the audience. It is safer to engage their prejudices by something captivating. I have the same objection to Julia's mistaking deposit for posset, which may give an ill turn: besides, those mistakes have been too often produced on the stage: so has the character of Mrs. Winter, a romantic old maid; nor does she contribute to the plot or catastrophe. I am afraid that even Mrs. Vernon's aversion to' the country is far from novel; and Mr. Colman, more accustomed to the stage than I am, would certainly think so. Nebuchadnezer's repartees of "Very well, thank you!" and bringing in Philip, when bidden to go for a rascal, are printed in the Terrce Filius, and, I believe, in other jest-books; and therefore had better be omitted.
I flatter myself, Sir, you will excuse these remarks; as they are intended kindly, both for your reputation and interest, and to prevent them being made by the manager, or audience, or your friends the reviewers. I am ready to propose your piece to Mr. Colman at any time; but, as I have sincerely an opinion of your parts and talents, it is the part of a friend to wish you to be very correct, especially in a first piece; for, such is the ill-nature of mankind, and their want of judgment too, that, if a new author does not succeed in a first attempt on the stage, a prejudice is contracted against him, and may be fatal to others of his productions, which might have prospered, had that bias not been taken. An established writer for the stage may venture almost any idleness; but a first essay is very different.
Shall I send you your piece, Sir; and how? As Mr. Colman's theatre will not open till next summer, you will have full time to make any alterations you please. I mean, if you should think any of my observations well founded, and which, perhaps, are very trifling. I have little opinion of my own sagacity as a critic, nor love to make objections; nor should have taken so much liberty with you, if you had not pressed it. I am sure in me it is a mark of regard, and which I never pay to an indifferent author: my admiration of your essay on medals was natural, uninvited, and certainly unaffected. My acquaintance with you since, Sir, has Confirmed my opinion of your good sense, and interested me In behalf of' your works; and, having lived SO long in the world myself, if My experience can be of any service to you, I cannot withhold it when you ask it; at the same time leaving you perfectly at liberty to reject it, if not adopted by your own judgment. The experience of old age Is very likely to be balanced by the weaknesses incident to that age. I have not, however, its positiveness yet; and willingly abandon my criticism to the vigour of your judgment.
(532) Now first collected.
Letter 283 To John Pinkerton, Esq.(533) Strawberry Hill, Oct. 6, 1784. (page 354)
You have accepted my remarks with great good-humour, Sir: I wish you may not have paid too much regard to them: and I should be glad that you did not rest any alterations on my single judgment, to which I have but little respect myself. I have not thought often on theatric performances, and of late not at all. A chief ground of my observations on your piece proceeded from having taken notice that an English audience is apt to be struck with some familiar sound, though there is nothing, ridiculous in the passage; and fall into a foolish laugh, that often proves fatal to the author. Such was my objection to hot-cockles. You have, indeed, convinced me that I did not enough attend to your piece, as a farce; and, you must excuse me, my regard for you and Your wit made me consider it rather as a short comedy. Very probably too, I have retained the pedantic impression,, of the French, and demanded more observance of their rules than is necessary or just: yet I myself have often condemned their too delicate rigour. Nay, I have wished that farce and speaking harlequins were more encouraged, in order to leave open a wider field of invention to writers for the stage. Of late I have amply had my wish: Mr. O'Keefe has brought our audiences to bear with every extravagance; and, were there not such irresistible humour in his utmost daring, it would be impossible to deny that he has passed even beyond the limits of nonsense. But I confine this approbation to his Agreeable Surprise. In his other pieces there is much more untempered nonsense than humour. Even that favourite performance I wondered that Mr. Colman dared to produce.
Your remark, that a piece full of marked characters would be void of nature, is most just. This is so strongly my opinion, that I thought it a great fault in Miss Burney's Cecilia, though it has a thousand other beauties, that she has laboured far too much to make all her personages talk always in character; whereas, in the present refined or depraved state of human nature, most people endeavour to conceal their real character, not to display it. A professional man, as a pedantic fellow of a college or a seaman, has a characteristic dialect; but that is very different from continually letting out his ruling passion. This brings me, Sir, to the alteration you offer in the personage of Mrs. Winter, whom you wittily propose -to turn into a mermaid. I approve the idea much: I like too the restoration of Mrs. Vernon to a plain reasonable woman. She will be a contrast to the bad characters, and but a gradation to produce Barbara, without making her too glaringly bright without any intermediate shade. In truth, as you certainly may write excellently if you please, I wish you to bestow your utmost abilities on whatever you give to the public. I am wrong when I would have a farce as chaste and sober as a comedy; but I would have a farce made as good as it can be. I do not know how that is to be accomplished; but I believe you do. You are so obliging as to offer to accept a song of mine, if I have one by me. Dear Sir, I have no more talent for writing a song than for writing an ode like Dryden's or Gray's. It is a talent per se; and given, like every other branch of genius, by nature alone. Poor Shenstone was labouring through his whole life to write a perfect song, and, in my opinion at least, never once succeeded; not better than Pope did in a St. Cecilian ode. I doubt whether we have not gone a long, long way beyond the possibility of writing a good song. All the words in the language have been so often employed on simple images (without which such a song cannot be good), and such reams of bad verses have been produced in that kind, that I question whether true simplicity itself could please now. At least we are not likely to have any such thing. Our present choir of poetic virgins write in the other extreme. They colour their compositions so highly with choice and dainty phrases, that their own dresses are not more fantastic and romantic. Their nightingales make as many divisions as Italian singers. But this is wandering from the subject; and, while I only meant to tell you what I could not do myself, I am telling you what others do ill..I will yet hazard one other opinion, though relative to composition in general. There are two periods favourable to poets: a rude age, when a genius may hazard any thing, and when nothing has been forestalled - the other is, when, after ages of barbarism and incorrection, a master or two produces models formed by purity and taste: Virgil, Horace, Boileau, Corneille, Racine, Pope., exploded the licentiousness that reigned before them. What happened? Nobody dared to write in contradiction to the severity established; and very few had abilities to rival their masters. insipidity ensues, novelty is dangerous, and bombast usurps the throne which had been debased by a race of fain'eants. This rhapsody will probably convince you, Sir, how much you was mistaken in setting any value on my judgment.
February will certainly be time enough for your piece to be finished. I again beg you, Sir, to pay no deference to my criticisms, against your own cool reflections. It is prudent to consult others before one ventures on publication; but every single person is as liable to be erroneous as an author. An elderly man, as he gains experience, acquires prejudices too: Day, old age has generally two faults; it is too quick-sighted into the faults of the time being, and too blind to the faults that reigned in his own youth, which, having partaken of or having admired, though injudiciously, he recollects with complacence. A key in writers for I confess, too, that there must be two distinct views of writers 4 the stage, one of which is more allowable to them than to other authors. The one is durable fame; the other, peculiar to dramatic authors, the view of writing to the present taste, (and, perhaps, as you say, to the level of the audience). I do not mean for the sake of profit; but even high comedy must risk a little of its immortality by consulting the ruling taste; and thence comedy always loses some of its beauties, the transient, and some of its intelligibility. Like its harsher sister satire, many of its allusions must vanish, as the objects it aims at correcting ceases to be in vogue; and, perhaps, that cessation, the natural death of fashion, is often ascribed by an author to his own reproofs. Ladies would have left off patching on the Whig or Tory side of their face, though Mr. Addison had not written his excellent Spectator.(534) Probably even they who might be corrected by his reprimand, adopted some new distinction as ridiculous; not discovering that his satire was levelled at their partial animosity, and not at the mode of placing their patches; for, unfortunately, as the world cannot be cured of being foolish, a preacher who eradicates one folly, does but make room for some other.
(533) Now first collected.
(534) The singularly clever and witty paper here alluded to was written by Addison himself; it is No. 81, "Female Party-spirit Discovered by Patches," and was published June 2, 1711-D. T.
Letter 284 To The Hon. H. S. Conway. Strawberry Hill, Oct. 15, 1784. (page 356)
As I have heard nothing from you, I flatter myself Lady Ailesbury mends, or I think you would have brought her again to the physicians. you will, I conclude, next week, as towards the end of it the ten days they named will be expired. I must be in town myself about Thursday, on some little business of my own.
As I was writing this, my servants called me away to see a balloon. I suppose Blanchard's, that was to be let off from Chelsea this morning. I saw it from the common field before the window of my 'round tower. It appeared about the third of the size of the moon, or less, when setting, something above the tops of the trees on the level horizon. It was then descending; and, after rising and declining a little, it sunk slowly behind the trees, I should think about or beyond Sunbury, at five minutes after one. But you know I am a very inexact guesser at measures and distances, and may be mistaken in many miles; and you know how little I have attended to those airgonaut;. only t'other night I diverted myself with a sort of meditation on future airgonation, supposing that it Will not only be perfected, but will depose navigation. I did not finish it, because I am not skilled, like the gentleman that used to write political ship-news, in that style, which I wanted to perfect my essay -. but in the prelude I observed how ignorant the ancients Were in supposing that Icarus melted the wax of his Wings by too near access to the sun, whereas he would have been frozen to death before he made the first post on that road. Next, I discovered an alliance between Bishop Wilkins's art Of flying, and his plan of an universal language the latter of which he no doubt calculated to prevent the want of an interpreter when he should arrive at the moon.
But I chiefly amused myself with ideas of the change that would be made in the world by the substitution of balloons to ships. I supposed our seaports to become deserted villages; and Salisbury-plain, Newmarhet-heath, (another canvass for alteration of ideas,) and all downs (but the Downs) arising into dock-yards for aerial vessels. Such a field would be ample in furnishing new speculations. But to come to my ship-news:—
"The good balloon Dedalus, Captain Wing-ate, will fly in a few days for China; he will stop at the top of the Monument to take in passengers.
"Arrived on Brand-sands, the Vulture, Captain Nabob; the Tortoise snow, from Lapland; the Pet-en-l'air, from Versailles; the Dreadnought, from Mount Etna, Sir W. Hamilton commander; the Tympany, Montgolfier; and the Mine-A-in-a-bandbox, from the Cape of Good Hope. Foundered in a hurricane, the Bird of Paradise, from Mount Ararat. The Bubble, Sheldon, took fire, and was burnt to her gallery; and the phoenix is to be cut down to a second-rate."
In those days Old Sarum will again be a town and have houses in it. There will be fights in the air with wind-guns and bows and arrows; and there will be prodigious increase of land for tillage, especially in France, by breaking up all public roads as useless. But enough of my fooleries; for which I am sorry you must pay double, postage.
Letter 285 To John Pinkerton, Esq.(535) October 28, 1784. (page 358)
I would not answer your letter, Sir, till I could tell you that I had put Your play into Mr. Colman's hands, which I have done. He desired my consent to his carrying it into the country to read it deliberately: you shall know as soon as I receive his determination. I am Much obliged to you for the many civil and kind expressions in your letter, and for the friendly information you give me. Partiality, I fear, dictated the former; but the last I can only ascribe to the goodness of your heart. I have published nothing Of any size but the pieces you mention, and one or two small tracts now out of print and forgotten. The rest have been prefaces to my Strawberry editions, and to a few other publications; and some fugitive pieces which I reprinted several years ago in a small volume, and which shall be at your service, with the Catalogue of Noble Authors.
With regard to the bookseller who has taken the trouble to collect my writings, (amongst which I do not doubt but he will generously bestow on me many that I did not write, according to the liberal practice of such compilers,) and who also intends to write my life, to which, (as I never did any thing Worthy of the notice of the public) he must likewise be a volunteer contributor, it Would be vain for me to endeavour to prevent such a design. Whoever has been so ill advised as to throw himself on the public, must pay such a tax in a pamphlet or magazine when he dies; but, happily, the insects that prey on carrion are still more short-lived than the carcases were, from which they draw their nutriment. Those momentary abortions live but a day, and are thrust aside by like embryos. Literary characters, when not illustrious, are known only to a few literary men; and amidst the world of books, few readers can come to my share. Printing, that secures existence (in libraries) to indifferent authors of any bulk, is like those cases of Egyptian mummies which in catacombs preserve bodies of one knows not Whom, and which are scribbled over with characters that nobody attempts to read, till nobody understands the language in which they were written. I believe therefore it Will be most wise to swim for a moment on the passing current, secure that it will soon hurry me into the ocean where all things are forgotten. To appoint a biographer is to bespeak a panegyric; and I doubt whether they who collect their books for the Public, and, like me, are conscious of no intrinsic worth, do but beg mankind to accept of talents (whatever they were) in lieu of virtues. To anticipate spurious publications by a comprehensive and authentic one, is almost as great an evil: it is giving a body to scattered atoms; and such an act in one's old age is declaring a fondness for the indiscretions of Youth, or for the trifles of an age which, though more mature, is only the less excusable. it is most true, Sir, that, so far from being prejudiced in favour of my own writings I am persuaded that, had I thought early as I think now, I would never have appeared as an author. Age, frequent illness and pain, have given me as many hours of reflection in the intervals of the two latter, as the two latter have disabled from reflection; and, besides their showing me the inutility of all our little views, they have suggested an observation that I love to encourage in myself from the rationality of it. I have learnt and practised the humiliating task of comparing myself with great authors; and that comparison has annihilated all the flattery that self-love could suggest. I know how trifling my own writings are, and how far below the standard that constitutes excellence: as for the shades that distinguish the degrees of mediocrity, they are not worth discrimination; and he must be very modest, or easily satisfied, who can be content to glimmer for an instant a little more than his brethren glow-worms. Mine, therefore, you find, Sir, is not humility, but pride. When young, I wished for fame; not examining whether I was capable of attaining it, nor considering in what lights fame was desirable. There are two sorts of fame; that attendant on the truly great, and that better sort that is due to the good. I fear I did not aim at the latter, not- discovered, till too late, that I could not compass the former. Having neglected the best road, and having, instead of the other, strolled into a narrow path that led to no good worth seeking, I see the idleness of my journey, and hold it more graceful to abandon my wanderings to chance or oblivion, than to mark solicitude for trifles, which I think so myself.
I beg your pardon for talking so much of myself; but an answer was due to the unmerited attention which you have paid to my writings. I turn with more pleasure to speak on yours. Forgive me if I shall blame you, whether you either abandon your intention, or are too impatient to execute it.(536) Your preface proves that you are capable of treating the subject ably; but allow me to repeat, that it is a work that ought not to be performed impetuously. A mere recapitulation of authenticated facts would be dry; a more enlarged plan would demand much acquaintance with the characters of the actors, and with the probable sources of measures. The present time is accustomed to details and anecdotes; and the age immediately preceding one's own is less known to any man than the history of any other period. You are young en - ugh, Sir, to collect information on many particulars that will occur in your progress, from living actors, at least from their contemporaries; and, great as your ardour may be, you will find yourself delayed by the want of materials, and by further necessary inquiries. As you have a variety of talents, why should not you exercise them on works that will admit of more rapidity; and at the same time, in leisure moments, commence, digest, and enrich your plan by collecting new matter for it?
In one word, I have too much zeal for your credit, not to dissuade you from precipitation in a work of the kind you meditate. That I speak sincerely you are sure; as accident, not design, made you acquainted with my admiration of your tract on medals. If I wish to delay your history, it must be from wishing that it may appear with more advantages; and I must speak disinterestedly, as my age will not allow me to hope to see it, if not finished soon. I should not forgive myself if I turned you from prosecution of your work; but, as I am certain that my writings can have given you no opinion of my having sound and deep judgment, pray follow your own, and allow no merit but that of sincerity and zeal to the sentiments of yours, etc.
(535) Now first collected.
(536) Of writing a history of the reign of George the Second.
Letter 286 To Miss Hannah More. Strawberry Hill, Nov. 13, 1784. (page 360)
Thank you a thousand times, dear Madam, for your obliging letter and the new Bristol stones you have sent me, which would pass on a more skilful lapidary than I am for having been brillianted by a professed artist, if you had not told me that they came shining -out of a native mine, and had no foreign diamond-dust to polish them. Indeed, can one doubt any longer that Bristol Is as rich and warm a soil as India? I am convinced it has been so of late years, though I question its having been so luxuriant in Alderman Canning's days; and I have MORE reasons for thinking so, than from the marvels' of Chatterton.—But I will drop metaphors, lest some nabob should take me au pi'e de la lettre, fit out an expedition, plunder your city, and massacre you for weighing too many carats.
Seriously, Madam, I am surprised-and chiefly at the kind of genius of this unhappy female.(537) Her ear, as you remark, is perfect but that, being a gift of nature, amazes me less. Her expressions are more exalted than poetic; and discover taste, as you say, rather than discover flights of fancy and wild ideas, as one should expect. I should therefore advise her quitting blank verse, which wants the highest colouring, to distinguish it from prose; whereas her taste, and probably good sense, might give sufficient beauty to her rhymes. Her not being learned is another reason against her writing in blank verse. Milton employed all his reading, nay, all his geographic knowledge, to enrich his language, and succeeded. They who have imitated him in that particular, have been mere monkeys; and they who neglected it, flat and poor.
Were I not persuaded by the samples you have sent me, Madam, that this woman has talents, I should not advise encouraging her propensity, lest it should divert her from the care of her family, and, after the novelty is over, leave her worse than she was. When the late Queen patronized Stephen Duck,(538) who was only a wonder at first, and had not genius enough to support the character he had promised, twenty artisans and labourers turned poets, and starved.(539) Your poetess can scarce be more miserable than she is, and even the reputation of being an authoress may procure her customers: but as poetry is one of your least excellencies, Madam (your virtues will forgive 'me), I am sure you will not only give her counsels for her works, but for her conduct; and your gentleness will blend them so judiciously, that she will mind the friend as well as the mistress. She must remember that she is a Lactilla, not a Pastora; and is to tend real cows, not Arcadian sheep.
What! if I should go a step farther, dear Madam, and take the liberty of reproving you for putting into this poor woman's hands such a frantic thing as The Castle of Otranto? It was fit for nothing but the age in which it was written: an age in which much was known; that -required only to be amused, nor cared whether its amusements were conformable to truth and the models of good sense; that could not be spoiled; was in no danger of being too credulous and rather wanted to be brought back to imagination, than to be led astray by it:-but you will have made a hurly-burly in this poor woman's head, which it cannot develop and digest.
I will not reprove, without suggesting something in my turn. Give her Dryden's Cock and Fox, the standard of good sense, poetry, nature, and ease. I would recommend others of his tales: but her imagination is already too gloomy, and should be enlivened; for which reason I do not name Mr. Gray's Eton Ode and Churchyard.' Prior's Solomon (for I doubt his Alma, though far superior, is too learned for her limited reading,) would be very proper. In truth, I think the cast of the age (I mean in its compositions) is too sombre. The flimsy giantry of Ossian has introduced mountainous horrors. The exhibitions at Somerset-house are crowded with Brobdignag ghosts. Read and explain to her a charming poetic familiarity called the Blue-stocking Club. If she has not your other pieces, might I take the liberty, Madam, of begging you to buy them for her, and let me be in your debt? And that your lessons may win their way more easily, even though her heart be good, will you add a guinea or two, as you see proper? And though I do not love to be named, yet, if it would encourage a subscription, I should have no scruple. It will be best to begin moderately! for, if she should take Hippocrene for Pactolus, we may hasten her ruin, not contribute to her fortune.
On recollection, you had better call me Mr. Anybody, than name my name, which I fear is in bad odour at Bristol, on poor Chatterton's account; and it may be thought that I am atoning his ghost: though, if his friends would show my letters to him, you would find that I was as tender to him as to your milkwoman: but that they have never done, among other instances of their injustice. However, I beg you to say nothing on that subject, as I have declared I would not.
I have seen our excellent friend in Clarges-street: she complains as usual of her deafness; but I assure you it is at least not worse, nor is her weakness. Indeed I think both her and Mr. Vesey better than last winter. When will you blue-stocking yourself and come amongst us? Consider how many of us are veterans; and, though we do not trudge on foot according to the institution, we may be out at heels-and the heel, you know, Madam, has never been privileged.
(537) Mrs. Yearsley, the milkwoman of Bristol, whose talent was discovered by Miss Hannah More, who solicited for her the protection of Mrs. Montagu, in a prefatory letter prefixed to her Poems, published in quarto, in the year 1785.-E.
(538) Some of Stephen Duck the thresher's verses having been shown to Queen Caroline she settled twelve shillings a-week upon him, and appointed him keeper of her select library at Richmond.(539) He afterwards took orders, and obtained the living of Byfleet, in Surrey; but growing melancholy, in 1750, he threw himself into the river, near Reading, and was drowned. Swift wrote upon him the following epigram—
The thresher, Duck, could o'er the Queen prevail; The proverb says, No fence against a flail; >From threshing corn, he turns to thresh his brains, For which her Majesty allow him grains; Though 'tis confest, that those who ever saw His poems, think them all not worth a straw. Thrice happy Duck! employ'd in threshing stubble, Thy toil is lessen'd, and thy profits double."-E.
(539) "Robert Bloomfield," says Mr. Crabbe, in his journal for 1817, "had better have rested as a shoemaker, or even a farmer's boy; for he would have been a farmer perhaps in time, and now he is an unfortunate poet." Poor John Clare, it will be recollected, died in a workhouse.-E.
Letter 287 To The Hon. H. S. Conway. Sunday Night, Nov. 28, 1784. (page 362)
I have received the parcel of papers you sent me, which I conclude come from Lord Strafford, and will apply them as well as I possibly can, you may be sure, but with little hope of doing any good: humanity is no match for cruelty. There are now and then such angelic beings as Mr. Hanway and Mr. Howard; but our race in general is pestilently bad and malevolent. I have been these two years wishing to promote my excellent friend Mr. Porter's plan for alleviating the woes of chimney-sweepers, but never could make impression on three people; on the contrary, have generally caused a smile.
George Conway's intelligence of hostilities commenced between the Dutch and Imperialists makes me suppose that France will support the former—or could they resist? Yet I had heard that France would not. Some have thought, as I have done, that a combination of partition would happen between Austria, France, and Prussia, the modern law of nations for avoiding wars. I know nothing: so my conjectures may all be erroneous; especially as one argues reason; a very inadequate judge, as it leaves passions, caprices, and accidents, out of its calculation. It does not seem the interest of France, that the Emperor's power should increase in their neighbourhood and extend to the sea. Consequently it is France's interest to protect Holland in concert with Prussia. This last is a transient power, and may determine on the death of the present King; but the Imperial is a permanent force, and must be the enemy of France, however present connexions may incline the scale.
In any case, I hope we shall no way be hooked into the quarrel not only from the impotence of our circumstances, but as I think it would decide the loss of Ireland, which seems tranquillizing: but should we have any bickering with France, she would renew the manoeuvres she practised so fatally in America. These are my politics; I do not know with whose they coincide or disagree, nor does it signify a straw. Nothing will depend on my opinion; nor have I any opinion about them, but when I have nothing at all to do that amuses me more, or nothing else to fill a letter.