Selected English Letters (XV - XIX Centuries)
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London, 7 Feb. o.s. 1749.


You are now come to an age capable of reflection; and I hope you will do, what however few people at your age do, exert it, for your own sake, in the search of truth and sound knowledge. I will confess (for I am not unwilling to discover my secrets to you) that it is not many years since I have presumed to reflect for myself. Till sixteen or seventeen I had no reflection, and for many years after that I made no use of what I had. I adopted the notions of the books I read, or the company I kept, without examining whether they were just or not; and I rather chose to run the risk of easy error, than to take the time and trouble of investigating truth. Thus, partly from laziness, partly from dissipation, and partly from the mauvaise honte of rejecting fashionable notions, I was (as I since found) hurried away by prejudices, instead of being guided by reason; and quietly cherished error, instead of seeking for truth. But since I have taken the trouble of reasoning for myself, and have had the courage to own that I do so, you cannot imagine how much my notions of things are altered, and in how different a light I now see them, from that in which I formerly viewed them through the deceitful medium of prejudice or authority. Nay, I may possibly still retain many errors, which, from long habit, have perhaps grown into real opinions; for it is very difficult to distinguish habits, early acquired and long entertained, from the result of our reason and reflection.

My first prejudice (for I do not mention the prejudices of boys and women, such as hobgoblins, ghosts, dreams, spilling salt, &c.) was my classical enthusiasm, which I received from the books I read, and the masters who explained them to me. I was convinced there had been no common sense nor common honesty in the world for these last fifteen hundred years; but that they were totally extinguished with the ancient Greek and Roman governments. Homer and Virgil could have no faults, because they were ancient; Milton and Tasso could have no merit, because they were modern. And I could almost have said, with regard to the ancients, what Cicero, very absurdly and unbecomingly for a philosopher, says with regard to Plato, Cum quo errare malim quam cum aliis recte sentire. Whereas now, without any extraordinary effort of genius, I have discovered that nature was the same three thousand years ago as it is at present; that men were but men then as well as now; that modes and customs vary often, but that human nature is always the same. And I can no more suppose, that men were better, braver, or wiser, fifteen hundred or three thousand years ago, than I can suppose that the animals or vegetables were better then than they are now. I dare assert too, in defiance of the favourers of the ancients, that Homer's hero Achilles was both a brute and a scoundrel, and consequently an improper character for the hero of an epic poem; he had so little regard for his country, that he would not act in defence of it, because he had quarrelled with Agamemnon about a—; and then afterwards, animated by private resentment only, he went about killing people basely, I will call it, because he knew himself invulnerable; and yet, invulnerable as he was, he wore the strongest armour in the world; which I humbly apprehend to be a blunder; for a horseshoe clapped to his vulnerable heel would have been sufficient. On the other hand, with submission to the favourers of the moderns, I assert with Mr. Dryden, that the Devil is in truth the hero of Milton's poem: his plan, which he lays, pursues, and at last executes, being the subject of the poem. From all which considerations I impartially conclude that the ancients had their excellencies and their defects, their virtues and their vices, just like the moderns: pedantry and affectation of learning clearly decide in favour of the former; vanity and ignorance, as peremptorily, in favour of the latter. Religious prejudices kept pace with my classical ones; and there was a time when I thought it impossible for the honestest man in the world to be saved, out of the pale of the Church of England: not considering that matters of opinion do not depend upon the will; and that it is as natural, and as allowable, that another man should differ in opinion from me, as that I should differ from him; and that, if we are both sincere, we are both blameless, and should consequently have mutual indulgences for each other.

The next prejudices I adopted were those of the beau monde, in which, as I was determined to shine, I took what are commonly called the genteel vices to be necessary. I had heard them reckoned so, and without further inquiry, I believed it; or at least should have been ashamed to have denied it, for fear of exposing myself to the ridicule of those whom I considered as the models of fine gentlemen. But now I am neither ashamed nor afraid to assert, that those genteel vices, as they are falsely called, are only so many blemishes in the character of even a man of the world, and what is called a fine gentleman, and degrade him in the opinion of those very people, to whom he hopes to recommend himself by them. Nay, this prejudice often extends so far, that I have known people pretend to vices they had not, instead of carefully concealing those they had.

Use and assert your own reason; reflect, examine, and analyze everything, in order to form a sound and mature judgement; let no [Greek: outos epha] impose upon your understanding, mislead your actions, or dictate your conversation. Be early what, if you are not, you will when too late wish you had been. Consult your reason betimes: I do not say, that it will always prove an unerring guide; for human reason is not infallible; but it will prove the least erring guide that you can follow. Books and conversation may assist it; but adopt neither, blindly and implicitly: try both by that best rule which God has given to direct us, reason. Of all the troubles, do not decline, as many people do, that of thinking.


Public speaking

London, 9 Dec. o.s. 1749.


It is now above forty years since I have never spoken nor written one single word, without giving myself at least one moment's time to consider, whether it was a good one or a bad one, and whether I could not find out a better in its place. An unharmonious and rugged period, at this time, shocks my ears; and I, like all the rest of the world, will willingly exchange and give up some degree of rough sense, for a good degree of pleasing sound. I will freely and truly own to you, without either vanity or false modesty, that whatever reputation I have acquired as a speaker, is more owing to my constant attention to my diction than to my matter, which was necessarily just the same as other people's. When you come into parliament, your reputation as a speaker will depend much more upon your words, and your periods than upon the subject. The same matter occurs equally to everybody of common sense, upon the same question: the dressing it well, is what excites the attention and admiration of the audience.

It is in parliament that I have set my heart upon your making a figure; it is there that I want to have you justly proud of yourself, and to make me justly proud of you. This means that you must be a good speaker there; I use the word must, because I know you may if you will. The vulgar, who are always mistaken, look upon a speaker and a comet with the same astonishment and admiration, taking them both for preternatural phenomena. This error discourages many young men from attempting that character; and good speakers are willing to have their talent considered as something very extraordinary, if not a peculiar gift of God to his elect. But, let you and I analyze and simplify this good speaker; let us strip him of those adventitious plumes with which his own pride and the ignorance of others have decked him; and we shall find the true definition of him to be no more than this: a man of good common sense, who reasons justly, and expresses himself elegantly, on that subject upon which he speaks. There is, surely, no witchcraft in this. A man of sense, without a superior and astonishing degree of parts, will not talk nonsense upon any subject; nor will he, if he has the least taste or application, talk inelegantly. What then does all this mighty art and mystery of speaking in parliament amount to? Why, no more than this, that the man who speaks in the House of Commons, speaks in that house, and to four hundred people, that opinion upon a given subject which he would make no difficulty of speaking in any house in England, round the fire, or at table, to any fourteen people whatsoever; better judges, perhaps, and severer critics of what he says, than any fourteen gentlemen of the House of Commons.

I have spoken frequently in parliament, and not always without some applause; and therefore I can assure you, from my experience, that there is very little in it. The elegancy of the style and the turn of the periods make the chief impression upon the hearers. Give them but one or two round and harmonious periods in a speech, which they will retain and repeat, and they will go home as well satisfied as people do from an opera, humming all the way one or two favourite tunes that have struck their ears, and were easily caught. Most people have ears, but few have judgement; tickle those ears, and, depend upon it, you will catch their judgements, such as they are.

Cicero, conscious that he was at the top of his profession (for in his time eloquence was a profession), in order to set himself off, defines, in his treatise de Oratore, an orator to be such a man as never was, or never will be; and, by this fallacious argument, says that he must know every art and science whatsoever, or how shall he speak upon them? But with submission to so great an authority, my definition of an orator is extremely different from, and I believe much truer than, his. I call that man an orator who reasons justly, and expresses himself elegantly, upon whatever subjects he treats. Problems in geometry, equations in algebra, processes in chemistry, and experiments in anatomy, are never, that I have heard of, the objects of eloquence; and therefore I humbly conceive that a man may be a very fine speaker, and yet know nothing of geometry, algebra, chemistry, or anatomy. The subjects of all parliamentary debates are subjects of common sense singly.

Thus I write whatever occurs to me, that I think may contribute either to form or inform you. May my labour not be in vain! and it will not, if you will but have half the concern for yourself that I have for you. Adieu.


The new Earl of Chatham

Blackheath, 1 Aug. 1766.


The curtain was at last drawn up, the day before yesterday, and discovered the new actors together with some of the old ones. I do not name them to you, because to-morrow's Gazette will do it full as well as I could. Mr. Pitt, who had carte blanche given him, named every one of them: but what would you think he named himself for? Lord Privy Seal; and (what will astonish you, as it does every mortal here) Earl of Chatham. The joke here is, that he has had a fall upstairs, and has done himself so much hurt, that he will never be able to stand upon his legs again. Everybody is puzzled how to account for this step; though it would not be the first time that great abilities have been duped by low cunning. But be it what it will, he is now certainly only Earl of Chatham; and no longer Mr. Pitt, in any respect whatever. Such an event, I believe, was never read nor heard of. To withdraw, in the fullness of his power, and in the utmost gratification of his ambition, from the House of Commons, (which procured him his power, and which could alone ensure it to him) and to go into that hospital of incurables, the House of Lords, is a measure so unaccountable, that nothing but proof positive could have made me believe it: but true it is. Hans Stanley is to go ambassador to Russia; and my nephew, Ellis, to Spain, decorated with the red ribband. Lord Shelburne is your secretary of state, which I suppose he has notified to you this post by a circular letter. Charles Townshend has now the sole management of the House of Commons; but how long he will be content to be only Lord Chatham's viceregent there, is a question which I will not pretend to decide. There is one very bad sign for Lord Chatham in his new dignity; which is, that all his enemies, without exception, rejoice at it; and all his friends are stupefied and dumb-founded. If I mistake not much, he will in the course of a year enjoy perfect otium cum dignitate. Enough of politics.

Is the fair, or at least the fat Miss C—— with you still? It must be confessed that she knows the art of courts, to be so received at Dresden and so connived at in Leicester-fields.

There never was so wet a summer as this has been, in the memory of man; we have not had one single day, since March, without some rain; but most days a great deal. I hope that does not affect your health, as great cold does; for with all these inundations it has not been cold. God bless you!




Postponement of a visit

6 May, 1755.


It has been long observed, that men do not suspect faults which they do not commit; your own elegance of manners, and punctuality of complaisance, did not suffer you to impute to me that negligence of which I was guilty, and [for] which I have not since atoned. I received both your letters, and received them with pleasure proportioned to the esteem which so short an acquaintance strongly impressed, and which I hope to confirm by nearer knowledge, though I am afraid that gratification will be for a time withheld.

I have, indeed, published my book, of which I beg to know your father's judgment, and yours; and I have now stayed long enough to watch its progress in the world. It has, you see, no patrons, and I think has yet had no opponents, except the critics of the coffee-house, whose outcries are soon dispersed into the air, and are thought on no more. From this, therefore, I am at liberty, and think of taking the opportunity of this interval to make an excursion, and why not then into Lincolnshire? or, to mention a stronger attraction, why not to dear Mr. Langton? I will give the true reason, which I know you will approve:—I have a mother more than eighty years old, who has counted the days to the publication of my book, in hopes of seeing me; and to her, if I can disengage myself here, I resolve to go.

As I know, dear sir, that to delay my visit for a reason like this will not deprive me of your esteem, I beg it may not lessen your kindness. I have very seldom received an offer of friendship which I so earnestly desire to cultivate and mature. I shall rejoice to hear from you, till I can see you, and will see you as soon as I can; for when the duty that calls me to Lichfield is discharged, my inclination will carry me to Langton. I shall delight to hear the ocean roar, or see the stars twinkle, in the company of men to whom Nature does not spread her volumes or utter her voice in vain.

Do not, dear sir, make the slowness of this letter a precedent for delay, or imagine that I approved the incivility that I have committed; for I have known you enough to love you, and sincerely to wish a further knowledge; and I assure you once more, that to live in a house that contains such a father and such a son, will be accounted a very uncommon degree of pleasure by, dear sir, your most obliged and most humble servant.


A mother's death

23 Jan. 1759.

You will conceive my sorrow for the loss of my mother, of the best mother. If she were to live again, surely I should behave better to her. But she is happy, and what is past is nothing to her; and for me, since I cannot repair my faults to her, I hope repentance will efface them. I return you and all those that have been good to her my sincerest thanks, and pray God to repay you all with infinite advantage. Write to me and comfort me, dear child. I shall be glad likewise, if Kitty will write to me. I shall send a bill of twenty pounds in a few days, which I thought to have brought to my mother; but God suffered it not. I have not power or composure to say much more. God bless you, and bless us all.


A letter of counsel

21 Dec. 1762.


You are not to suppose, with all your conviction of my idleness, that I have passed all this time without writing to my Baretti. I gave a letter to Mr. Beauclerk, who, in my opinion, and in his own, was hastening to Naples for the recovery of his health; but he has stopped at Paris, and I know not when he will proceed. Langton is with him.

I will not trouble you with speculations about peace and war. The good or ill success of battles and embassies extends itself to a very small part of domestic life: we all have good and evil, which we feel more sensibly than our petty part of public miscarriage or prosperity. I am sorry for your disappointment, with which you seem more touched than I should expect a man of your resolution and experience to have been, did I not know that general truths are seldom applied to particular occasions; so that the fallacy of our self-love extends itself as wide as our interest and affections. Every man believes that mistresses are unfaithful, and patrons capricious; but he excepts his own mistress and his own patron. We have all learned that greatness is negligent and contemptuous, and that in courts, life is often languished away in ungratified expectation; but he that approaches greatness, or glitters in a court, imagines that destiny has at last exempted him from the common lot.

Do not let such evils overwhelm you as thousands have suffered and thousands have surmounted; but turn your thoughts with vigour to some other plan of life, and keep always in your mind that, with due submission to Providence, a man of genius has been seldom ruined but by himself. Your patron's weakness or insensibility will finally do you little hurt, if he is not assisted by your own passions. Of your love I know not the propriety, nor can estimate the power; but in love, as in every other passion, of which hope is the essence, we ought always to remember the uncertainty of events. There is indeed nothing that so much seduces reason from her vigilance, as the thought of passing life with an amiable woman; and if all would happen that a lover fancies, I know not what other terrestrial happiness would deserve pursuit. But love and marriage are different states. Those who are to suffer the evils together, and to suffer often for the sakes of one another, soon lose that tenderness of look and that benevolence of mind which arose from the participation of unmingled pleasure and successive amusement. A woman we are sure will not be always fair, we are not sure she will always be virtuous; and man cannot retain through life that respect and assiduity by which he pleases for a day or for a month. I do not however pretend to have discovered that life has anything more to be desired than a prudent and virtuous marriage; therefore know not what counsel to give you.

If you can quit your imagination of love and greatness, and leave your hopes of preferment and bridal raptures to try once more the fortune of literature and industry, the way through France is now open. We flatter ourselves that we shall cultivate with great diligence the arts of peace; and every man will be welcome among us who can teach us anything we do not know. For your part, you will find all your old friends willing to receive you....


Travel in Scotland

Skye, 21 Sept. 1773.


I am so vexed at the necessity of sending yesterday so short a letter, that I purpose to get a long letter beforehand by writing something every day, which I may the more easily do, as a cold makes me now too deaf to take the usual pleasure in conversation. Lady Macleod is very good to me, and the place at which we now are, is equal in strength of situation, in the wildness of the adjacent country, and in the plenty and elegance of the domestic entertainment, to a castle in Gothic romances. The sea with a little island is before us; cascades play within view. Close to the house is the formidable skeleton of an old castle probably Danish, and the whole mass of building stands upon a protuberance of rock, inaccessible till of late but by a pair of stairs on the sea side, and secure in ancient times against any enemy that was likely to invade the kingdom of Skye.

Macleod has offered me an island; if it were not too far off I should hardly refuse it: my island would be pleasanter than Brighthelmstone, if you and my master could come to it; but I cannot think it pleasant to live quite alone.

Oblitusque meorum, obliviscendus et illis.

That I should be elated by the dominion of an island to forgetfulness of my friends at Streatham I cannot believe, and I hope never to deserve that they should be willing to forget me.

It has happened that I have been often recognised in my journey where I did not expect it. At Aberdeen I found one of my acquaintance professor of physic; turning aside to dine with a country gentleman, I was owned at table by one who had seen me at a philosophical lecture; at Macdonald's I was claimed by a naturalist, who wanders about the islands to pick up curiosities; and I had once in London attracted the notice of Lady Macleod. I will now go on with my account.

The Highland girl made tea, and looked and talked not inelegantly; her father was by no means an ignorant or a weak man; there were books in the cottage, among which were some volumes of Prideaux's Connection: this man's conversation we were glad of while we stayed. He had been out, as they call it, in forty-five, and still retained his old opinions. He was going to America, because his rent was raised beyond what he thought himself able to pay.

At night our beds were made, but we had some difficulty in persuading ourselves to lie down in them, though we had put on our own sheets; at last we ventured, and I slept very soundly in the vale of Glen Morrison, amidst the rocks and mountains. Next morning our landlord liked us so well, that he walked some miles with us for our company, through a country so wild and barren that the proprietor does not, with all his pressure upon his tenants, raise more than four hundred pounds a year for near one hundred square miles or sixty thousand acres. He let us know that he had forty head of black cattle, an hundred goats, and an hundred sheep, upon a farm that he remembered let at five pounds a year, but for which he now paid twenty. He told us some stories of their march into England. At last he left us, and we went forward, winding among mountains, sometimes green and sometimes naked, commonly so steep as not easily to be climbed by the greatest vigour and activity: our way was often crossed by little rivulets, and we were entertained with small streams trickling from the rocks, which after heavy rains must be tremendous torrents.

About noon we came to a small glen, so they call a valley, which compared with other places appeared rich and fertile; here our guides desired us to stop, that the horses might graze, for the journey was very laborious, and no more grass would be found. We made no difficulty of compliance, and I sat down to take notes on a green bank, with a small stream running at my feet, in the midst of savage solitude, with mountains before me, and on either hand covered with heath. I looked around me, and wondered that I was not more affected, but the mind is not at all times equally ready to be put in motion; if my mistress and master and Queeny had been there we should have produced some reflections among us, either poetical or philosophical, for though solitude be the nurse of woe, conversation is often the parent of remarks and discoveries.

In about an hour we remounted, and pursued our journey. The lake by which we had travelled for some time ended in a river, which we passed by a bridge, and came to another glen, with a collection of huts, called Auknashealds; the huts were generally built of clods of earth, held together by the intertexture of vegetable fibres, of which earth there are great levels in Scotland which they call mosses. Moss in Scotland is bog in Ireland, and moss-trooper is bog-trotter: there was, however, one hut built of loose stones, piled up with great thickness into a strong though not solid wall. From this house we obtained some great pails of milk, and having brought bread with us, were very liberally regaled. The inhabitants, a very coarse tribe, ignorant of any language but Erse, gathered so fast about us, that if we had not had Highlanders with us, they might have caused more alarm than pleasure; they are called the Clan of Macrae.

We had been told that nothing gratified the Highlanders so much as snuff and tobacco, and had accordingly stored ourselves with both at Fort Augustus. Boswell opened his treasure, and gave them each a piece of tobacco roll. We had more bread than we could eat for the present, and were more liberal than provident. Boswell cut it in slices, and gave them an opportunity of tasting wheaten bread for the first time. I then got some halfpence for a shilling, and made up the deficiencies of Boswell's distribution, who had given some money among the children. We then directed that the mistress of the stone house should be asked what we must pay her: she, who perhaps had never before sold anything but cattle, knew not, I believe, well what to ask, and referred herself to us: we obliged her to make some demand, and one of the Highlanders settled the account with her at a shilling. One of the men advised her, with the cunning that clowns never can be without, to ask more; but she said that a shilling was enough. We gave her half a crown, and she offered part of it again. The Macraes were so well pleased with our behaviour, that they declared it the best day they had seen since the time of the old Laird of Macleod, who, I suppose, like us, stopped in their valley, as he was travelling to Skye....

I cannot forbear to interrupt my narrative. Boswell, with some of his troublesome kindness, has informed this family and reminded me that the 18th of September is my birthday. The return of my birthday, if I remember it, fills me with thoughts which it seems to be the general care of humanity to escape. I can now look back upon three score and four years, in which little has been done, and little has been enjoyed; a life diversified by misery, spent part in the sluggishness of penury, and part under the violence of pain, in gloomy discontent or importunate distress. But perhaps I am better than I should have been if I had been less afflicted. With this I will try to be content.

In proportion as there is less pleasure in retrospective considerations, the mind is more disposed to wander forward into futurity; but at sixty-four what promises, however liberal, of imaginary good can futurity venture to make? Yet something will be always promised and some promises will always be credited. I am hoping and I am praying that I may live better in the time to come, whether long or short, than I have yet lived, and in the solace of that hope endeavour to repose. Dear Queeny's day is next, I hope she at sixty-four will have less to regret....

You will now expect that I should give you some account of the Isle of Skye, of which, though I have been twelve days upon it, I have little to say. It is an island perhaps fifty miles long, so much indented by inlets of the sea that there is no part of it removed from the water more than six miles. No part that I have seen is plain; you are always climbing or descending, and every step is upon rock or mire. A walk upon ploughed ground in England is a dance upon carpets compared to the toilsome drudgery of wandering in Skye. There is neither town nor village in the island, nor have I seen any house but Macleod's, that is not much below your habitation at Brighthelmstone. In the mountains there are stags and roebucks, but no hares, and few rabbits; nor have I seen anything that interested me as a zoologist, except an otter, bigger than I thought an otter could have been.

You perhaps are imagining that I am withdrawn from the gay and the busy world into regions of peace and pastoral felicity, and am enjoying the relics of the golden age; that I am surveying nature's magnificence from a mountain, or remarking her minuter beauties on the flowery bank of a winding rivulet; that I am invigorating myself in the sunshine, or delighting my imagination with being hidden from the invasion of human evils and human passions in the darkness of a thicket; that I am busy in gathering shells and pebbles on the shore, or contemplative on a rock, from which I look upon the water, and consider how many waves are rolling between me and Streatham.

The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are. Here are mountains which I should once have climbed, but to climb steps is now very laborious, and to descend them dangerous; and I am now content with knowing, that by scrambling up a rock, I shall only see other rocks, and a wider circuit of barren desolation. Of streams, we have here a sufficient number, but they murmur not upon pebbles, but upon rocks. Of flowers, if Chloris herself were here, I could present her only with the bloom of heath. Of lawns and thickets, he must read that would know them, for here is little sun and no shade. On the sea I look from my window, but am not much tempted to the shore; for since I came to this island, almost every breath of air has been a storm, and what is worse, a storm with all its severity, but without its magnificence, for the sea is here so broken into channels that there is not a sufficient volume of water either for lofty surges or a loud roar....



7 Feb. 1775.


I have been lately informed, by the proprietor of The World, that two papers, in which my Dictionary is recommended to the public, are by your lordship. To be so distinguished is an honour, which, being very little accustomed to favours from the great, I know not well how to receive, or in what terms to acknowledge.

When, upon some slight encouragement, I first visited your lordship, I was overpowered, like the rest of mankind, by the enchantment of your address, and could not forbear to wish that I might boast myself le vainqueur du vainqueur de la terre;—that I might obtain that regard for which I saw the world contending; but I found my attendance so little encouraged, that neither pride nor modesty would suffer me to continue it. When I had once addressed your lordship in public, I had exhausted all the art of pleasing which a retired and uncourtly scholar can possess. I had done all I could; and no man is well pleased to have his all neglected, be it ever so little.

Seven years, my lord, have now passed, since I waited in your outward rooms, or was repulsed from your door; during which time I have been pushing on my work through difficulties, of which it is useless to complain, and have brought it at last to the verge of publication, without one act of assistance, one word of encouragement, or one smile of favour. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a patron before.

The shepherd in Virgil grew at last acquainted with Love, and found him a native of the rocks.

Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is no very cynical asperity, not to confess obligations, where no benefit has been received, or to be unwilling that the public should consider me as owing that to a patron, which Providence has enabled me to do for myself.

Having carried on my work thus far with so little obligation to any favourer of learning, I shall not be disappointed though I shall conclude it, if less be possible, with less; for I have been long wakened from that dream of hope in which I once boasted myself with so much exultation.

My Lord,

Your Lordship's most humble, most obedient servant.


A silent friend

13 July, 1779.


What can possibly have happened that keeps us two such strangers to each other? I expected to have heard from you when you came home; I expected afterwards. I went into the country and returned, and yet there is no letter from Mr. Boswell. No ill, I hope, has happened; and if ill should happen, why should it be concealed from him who loves you? Is it a fit of humour, that has disposed you to try who can hold out longest without writing? If it be, you have the victory. But I am afraid of something bad; set me free from my suspicions.

My thoughts are at present employed in guessing the reason of your silence; you must not expect that I should tell you anything, if I had anything to tell. Write, pray write to me, and let me know what is or what has been the cause of this long interruption.


A great man's fortitude

19 June, 1783.

ON Monday the 16th, I sat for my picture and walked a considerable way with little inconvenience. In the afternoon and evening I felt myself light and easy, and began to plan schemes of life. Thus I went to bed, and in a short time waked and sat up, as has been long my custom, when I felt a confusion and indistinctness in my head, which lasted, I suppose, about half a minute. I was alarmed, and prayed God, that however he might afflict my body, he would spare my understanding. This prayer, that I might try the integrity of my faculties, I made in Latin verse. The lines were not very good, but I knew them not to be very good: I made them easily, and concluded myself to be unimpaired in my faculties.

Soon after I perceived that I had suffered a paralytic stroke, and that my speech was taken from me. I had no pain, and so little dejection in this dreadful state, that I wondered at my own apathy, and considered that perhaps death itself, when it should come, would excite less horror than seems now to attend it.

In order to rouse the vocal organs, I took two drams. Wine has been celebrated for the production of eloquence. I put myself into violent motion, and I think repeated it; but all was vain. I then went to bed, and strange as it may seem, I slept. When I saw light, it was time to contrive what I should do. Though God stopped my speech, he left me my hands; I enjoyed a mercy which was not granted to my dear friend Lawrence, who now perhaps overlooks me as I am writing, and rejoices that I have what he wanted. My first note was necessarily to my servant, who came in talking, and could not immediately comprehend why he should read what I put into his hands. I then wrote a card to Mr. Allen, that I might have a discreet friend at hand, to act as occasion should require. In penning this note I had some difficulty; my hand, I knew not how nor why, made wrong letters. I then wrote to Dr. Taylor to come to me, and bring Dr. Heberden: and I sent to Dr. Brocklesby, who is my neighbour. My physicians are very friendly, and give me great hopes; but you may imagine my situation. I have so far recovered my vocal powers, as to repeat the Lord's Prayer with no very imperfect articulation. My memory, I hope, yet remains as it was! but such an attack produces solicitude for the safety of every faculty.




The disconsolate lover


You bid me tell you, my dear L., how I bore your departure for S——, and whether the valley, where D'Estella stands, retains still its looks, or if I think the roses or jessamines smell as sweet as when you left it. Alas! everything has now lost its relish and look! The hour you left D'Estella I took to my bed. I was worn out with fevers of all kinds, but most by that fever of the heart with which thou knowest well I have been wasting these two years—and shall continue wasting till you quit S——. The good Miss S——, from the forebodings of the best of hearts, thinking I was ill, insisted upon my going to her. What can be the cause, my dear L., that I never have been able to see the face of this mutual friend, but I feel myself rent to pieces? She made me stay an hour with her, and in that short space I burst into tears a dozen different times, and in such affectionate gusts of passion, that she was constrained to leave the room, and sympathize in her dressing-room. I have been weeping for you both, said she, in a tone of the sweetest pity—for poor L.'s heart, I have long known it—her anguish is as sharp as yours—her heart as tender—her constancy as great—her virtues as heroic—Heaven brought you not together to be tormented. I could only answer her with a kind look, and a heavy sigh, and returned home to your lodgings (which I have hired till your return) to resign myself to misery. Fanny had prepared me a supper—she is all attention to me—but I sat over it with tears; a bitter sauce, my L., but I could eat it with no other; for the moment she began to spread my little table, my heart fainted within me. One solitary plate, one knife, one fork, one glass! I gave a thousand pensive, penetrating looks at the chair thou hadst so often graced, in those quiet and sentimental repasts, then laid down my knife and fork, and took out my handkerchief, and clapped it across my face, and wept like a child. I could do so this very moment, my L.; for, as I take up my pen, my poor pulse quickens, my pale face glows, and tears are trickling down upon the paper, as I trace the word L——. O thou! blessed in thyself, and in thy virtues, blessed to all that know thee—to me most so, because more do I know of thee than all thy sex. This is the philtre, my L., by which thou hast charmed me, and by which thou wilt hold me thine, while virtue and faith hold this world together. This, my friend, is the plain and simple magic, by which I told Miss —— I have won a place in that heart of thine, on which I depend so satisfied, that time, or distance, or change of everything which might alarm the hearts of little men, create no uneasy suspense in mine. Wast thou to stay in S—— these seven years, thy friend, though he would grieve, scorns to doubt, or to be doubted—'tis the only exception where security is not the parent of danger.

I told you poor Fanny was all attention to me since your departure—contrives every day bringing in the name of L. She told me last night (upon giving me some hartshorn), she had observed my illness began the very day of your departure for S——; that I had never held up my head, had seldom, or scarce ever, smiled, had fled from all society; that she verily believed I was broken-hearted, for she had never entered the room, or passed by the door, but she heard me sigh heavily; that I neither eat, or slept, or took pleasure in anything as before. Judge then, my L., can the valley look so well, or the roses and jessamines smell so sweet as heretofore? Ah me! but adieu—the vesper bell calls me from thee to my GOD.


Le chevalier Shandy

Paris, 19 March, 1762.


This will be put into your hands by Dr. Shippen, a physician, who has been here some time with Miss Poyntz, and is at this moment setting out for your metropolis; so I snatch the opportunity of writing to you and my kind friend Mrs. Garrick. I see nothing like her here, and yet I have been introduced to one half of their best Goddesses, and in a month more shall be admitted to the shrines of the other half; but I neither worship or fall (much) on my knees before them; but, on the contrary, have converted many unto Shandeism; for be it known, I Shandy it away fifty times more than I was ever wont, talk more nonsense than ever you heard me talk in your days—and to all sorts of people. Qui le diable est cet homme-la—said Choiseul t'other day—ce chevalier Shandy? You'll think me as vain as a devil, was I to tell you the rest of the dialogue; whether the bearer knows it or no, I know not. 'Twill serve up after supper, in Southampton-street, amongst other small dishes, after the fatigues of Richard III. O God! they have nothing here, which gives the nerves so smart a blow, as those great characters in the hands of Garrick! but I forgot I am writing to the man himself. The devil take (as he will) these transports of enthusiasm! Apropos, the whole city of Paris is bewitched with the comic opera, and if it was not for the affair of the Jesuits, which takes up one half of our talk, the comic opera would have it all. It is a tragical nuisance in all companies as it is, and was it not for some sudden starts and dashes of Shandeism, which now and then either break the thread, or entangle it so, that the devil himself would be puzzled in winding it off, I should die a martyr—this by the way I never will.

I send you over some of these comic operas by the bearer, with the Sallon, a satire. The French comedy, I seldom visit it—they act scarce in anything but tragedies—and the Clairon is great, and Mile. Dumesnil, in some places, still greater than her; yet I cannot bear preaching—I fancy I got a surfeit of it in my younger days. There is a tragedy to be damned to-night—peace be with it, and the gentle brain which made it! I have ten thousand things to tell you I cannot write, I do a thousand things which cut no figure, but in the doing—and as in London, I have the honour of having done and said a thousand things I never did or dreamed of—and yet I dream abundantly. If the devil stood behind me in the shape of a courier, I could not write faster than I do, having five letters more to dispatch by the same gentleman; he is going into another section of the globe, and when he has seen you, will depart in peace.

The Duke of Orleans has suffered my portrait to be added to the number of some odd men in his collection; and a gentleman who lives with him has taken it most expressively, at full length: I purpose to obtain an etching of it, and to send it you. Your prayer for me of rosy health is heard. If I stay here for three or four months, I shall return more than reinstated. My love to Mrs. Garrick.


An adventure on the road

Toulouse, 14 Aug. 1762.


After many turnings (alias digressions), to say nothing of downright overthrows, stops, and delays, we have arrived in three weeks at Toulouse, and are now settled in our houses with servants, &c., about us, and look as composed as if we had been here seven years. In our journey we suffered so much from the heats, it gives me pain to remember it; I never saw a cloud from Paris to Nismes half as broad as a twenty-four sols piece. Good God! we were toasted, roasted, grilled, stewed and carbonaded on one side or other all the way; and being all done enough (assez cuits) in the day, we were eat up at night by bugs, and other unswept-out vermin, the legal inhabitants (if length of possession gives right) of every inn we lay at. Can you conceive a worse accident than that in such a journey, in the hottest day and hour of it, four miles from either tree or shrub which could cast a shade of the size of one of Eve's fig leaves, that we should break a hind wheel into ten thousand pieces, and be obliged in consequence to sit five hours on a gravelly road, without one drop of water, or possibility of getting any? To mend the matter, my two postillions were two dough-hearted fools, and fell a-crying. Nothing was to be done! By heaven, quoth I, pulling off my coat and waistcoat, something shall be done, for I'll thrash you both within an inch of your lives, and then make you take each of you a horse, and ride like two devils to the next post for a cart to carry my baggage, and a wheel to carry ourselves. Our luggage weighed ten quintals. It was the fair of Baucaire, all the world was going, or returning; we were asked by every soul who passed by us, if we were going to the fair of Baucaire. No wonder, quoth I, we have goods enough! vous avez raison, mes amis....




Scenery at Tivoli

Tivoli, 20 May, 1740.

This day being in the palace of his Highness the Duke of Modena, he laid his most serene commands upon me to write to Mr. West, and said he thought it for his glory, that I should draw up an inventory of all his most serene possessions for the said West's perusal. Imprimis, a house, being in circumference a quarter of a mile, two feet and an inch; the said house containing the following particulars, to wit, a great room. Item, another great room; item, a bigger room; item, another room; item, a vast room; item, a sixth of the same; a seventh ditto; an eighth as before; a ninth as above said; a tenth (see No. 1); item, ten more such, besides twenty besides, which, not to be too particular, we shall pass over. The said rooms contain nine chairs, two tables, five stools and a cricket. From whence we shall proceed to the garden, containing two millions of superfine laurel hedges, a clump of cypress trees, and half the river Teverone.—Finis. Dame Nature desired me to put in a list of her little goods and chattels, and, as they were small, to be very minute about them. She has built here three or four little mountains, and laid them out in an irregular semi-circle; from certain others behind, at a greater distance, she has drawn a canal, into which she has put a little river of hers, called Anio; she has cut a huge cleft between the two innermost of her four hills, and there she has left it to its own disposal; which she has no sooner done, but, like a heedless chit, it tumbles headlong down a declivity fifty feet perpendicular, breaks itself all to shatters, and is converted into a shower of rain, where the sun forms many a bow, red, green, blue, and yellow. To get out of our metaphors without any further trouble, it is the most noble sight in the world. The weight of that quantity of waters, and the force they fall with, have worn the rocks they throw themselves among into a thousand irregular craggs, and to a vast depth. In this channel it goes boiling along with a mighty noise till it comes to another steep, where you see it a second time come roaring down (but first you must walk two miles farther) a greater height than before, but not with that quantity of waters; for by this time it has divided itself, being crossed and opposed by the rocks, into four several streams, each of which, in emulation of the great one, will tumble down too; and it does tumble down, but not from an equally elevated place; so that you have at one view all these cascades intermixed with groves of olive and little woods, the mountains rising behind them, and on the top of one (that which forms the extremity of one of the half-circle's horns) is seated the town itself. At the very extremity of that extremity, on the brink of the precipice, stands the Sybil's temple, the remains of a little rotunda, surrounded with its portico, above half of whose beautiful Corinthian pillars are still standing and entire; all this on one hand. On the other, the open Campagna of Rome, here and there a little castle on a hillock, and the city itself at the very brink of the horizon, indistinctly seen (being eighteen miles off) except the dome of St. Peter's; which, if you look out of your window, wherever you are, I suppose, you can see. I did not tell you that a little below the first fall, on the side of the rock, and hanging over that torrent, are little ruins which they show you for Horace's house, a curious situation to observe the

Praeceps Anio et Tiburni lucus, et uda Mobilibus pomaria rivis.

Maecenas did not care for such a noise, it seems, and built him a house (which they also carry one to see) so situated that it sees nothing at all of the matter, and for anything he knew there might be no such river in the world. Horace had another house on the other side of the Teverone, opposite to Maecenas's; and they told us there was a bridge of communication, by which andava il detto Signor per trastullarsi coll' istesso Orazio. In coming hither we crossed the Aquae Albulae, a vile little brook that stinks like a fury, and they say it has stunk so these thousand years. I forgot the Piscina of Quintilius Varus, where he used to keep certain little fishes. This is very entire, and there is a piece of the aqueduct that supplied it too; in the garden below is old Rome, built in little, just as it was, they say. There are seven temples in it, and no houses at all; they say there were none.


A poet's melancholy

London, 27 May, 1742.

Mine, you are to know is a white Melancholy, or rather Leucocholy for the most part; which, though it seldom laughs or dances, nor ever amounts to what one called Joy or Pleasure, yet is a good easy sort of a state, and ca ne laisse que de s'amuser. The only fault is its insipidity; which is apt now and then to give a sort of Ennui, which makes one form certain little wishes that signify nothing. But there is another sort, black indeed, which I have now and then felt, that has somewhat in it like Tertullian's rule of faith, Credo quia impossibile est; for it believes, nay, is sure of everything that is unlikely, so it be but frightful; and on the other hand excludes and shuts its eyes to the most possible hopes, and everything that is pleasurable; from this the Lord deliver us! for none but he and sunshiny weather can do it. In hopes of enjoying this kind of weather I am going into the country for a few weeks, but shall be never the nearer any society; so, if you have any charity, you will continue to write. My life is like Harry the Fourth's supper of Hens, 'Poulets a la broche, Poulets en Ragout, Poulets en Hachis, Poulets en Fricassees '. Reading here, Reading there; nothing but books with different sauces. Do not let me lose my desert then; for though that be Reading too, yet it has a very different flavour. The May seems to be come since your invitation; and I propose to bask in her beams and dress me in her roses.

Et caput in verna semper habere rosa.

I shall see Mr. —— and his Wife, nay, and his Child, too, for he has got a Boy. Is it not odd to consider one's Cotemporaries in the grave light of Husband and Father? There is my lords Sandwich and Halifax, they are Statesmen: Do not you remember them dirty boys playing at cricket? As for me, I am never a bit the older, nor the bigger, nor the wiser than I was then: no, not for having been beyond sea. Pray, how are you?...


The fate of Selima

Cambridge, 1 March, 1747.

As one ought to be particularly careful to avoid blunders in a compliment of condolence, it would be a sensible satisfaction to me (before I testify my sorrow, and the sincere part I take in your misfortune) to know for certain, who it is that I lament. I knew Zara and Selima (Selima, was it? or Fatima?) or rather I knew both of them together; for I cannot justly say which was which. Then as to your handsome Cat, the name you distinguished her by, I am no less at a loss, as well knowing one's handsome cat is always the cat one likes best; or if one be alive and the other dead, it is usually the latter that is the handsomest. Besides, if the point were never so clear, I hope you do not think me so ill-bred or so imprudent as to forfeit all my interest in the survivor; Oh no! I would rather seem to mistake, and to be sure it must be the tabby one that had met with this sad accident. Till this affair is a little better determined, you will excuse me if I do not begin to cry:

Tempus inane peto, requiem, spatiumque doloris.

Which interval is the more convenient, as it gives time to rejoice with you on your new honours. This is only a beginning; I reckon next week we shall hear you are a free-Mason, or a Gormorgon at least. Heigh ho! I feel (as you to be sure have done long since) that I have very little to say, at least in prose. Somebody will be the better for it; I do not mean you, but your Cat, feue Mademoiselle Selime, whom I am about to immortalize for one week or fortnight, as follows.

... There's a poem for you, it is rather too long for an Epitaph.


Publication of the Elegy

Cambridge, 11 Feb. 1751.

As you have brought me into a little sort of distress, you must assist me, I believe, to get out of it as well as I can. Yesterday I had the misfortune of receiving a letter from certain gentlemen (as their bookseller expresses it), who have taken the Magazine of Magazines into their hands. They tell me that an ingenious poem, called Reflections in a Country Churchyard, has been communicated to them, which they are printing forthwith; that they are informed that the excellent author of it is I by name, and that they beg not only his indulgence, but the honour of his correspondence, &c. As I am not at all disposed to be either so indulgent, or so correspondent, as they desire, I have but one bad way left to escape the honour they would inflict upon me; and, therefore, am obliged to desire you would make Dodsley print it immediately (which may be done in less than a week's time) from your copy, but without my name, in what form is most convenient for him, but on his best paper and character; he must correct the press himself, and print it without any interval between the stanzas, because the sense is in some places continued beyond them; and the title must be,—Elegy, written in a Country Churchyard. If he would add a line or two to say it came into his hands by accident, I should like it better. If you behold the Magazine of Magazines in the light that I do, you will not refuse to give yourself this trouble on my account, which you have taken of your own accord before now. If Dodsley do not do this immediately, he may as well let it alone.


At Burnham

[Burnham,] Sept. 1737.

I was hindered in my last, and so could not give you all the trouble I would have done. The description of a road, which your coach wheels have so often honoured, it would be needless to give you; suffice it that I arrived safe at my uncle's, who is a great hunter in imagination; his dogs take up every chair in the house, so I am forced to stand at this present writing; and though the gout forbids him galloping after them in the field, yet he continues to regale his ears and nose with their comfortable noise and stink. He holds me mighty cheap, I perceive, for walking when I should ride, and reading when I should hunt. My comfort amidst all this is, that I have at the distance of half a mile, through a green lane, a forest (the vulgar call it a common) all my own, at least as good as so, for I spy no human thing in it but myself. It is a little chaos of mountains and precipices; mountains, it is true, that do not ascend much above the clouds, nor are the declivities quite so amazing as Dover Cliff; but just such hills as people who love their necks as well as I do may venture to climb, and crags that give the eye as much pleasure as if they were more dangerous. Both vale and hill are covered with most venerable beeches, and other very reverend vegetables, that, like most other ancient people, are always dreaming out their old stories to the winds.

And as they bow their hoary tops relate, In murm'ring sounds, the dark decrees of fate; While visions, as poetic eyes avow, Cling to each leaf, and swarm on every bough.

At the foot of one of these squats ME I (ilpenseroso), and there grow to the trunk for a whole morning. The timorous hare and sportive squirrel gambol round me like Adam in Paradise, before he had an Eve; but I think he did not use to read Virgil, as I commonly do there. In this situation I often converse with my Horace, aloud too, that is talk to you, but I do not remember that I ever heard you answer me. I beg pardon for taking all the conversation to myself, but it is entirely your own fault....


The Laureateship

19 Dec. 1757.


Though I very well know the bland emollient saponaceous qualities both of sack and silver, yet if any great man would say to me, 'I make you Rat-catcher to his Majesty, with a salary of L300 a-year and two butts of the best Malaga; and though it has been usual to catch a mouse or two, for form's sake, in public once a year, yet to you, sir, we shall not stand on these things,' I cannot say I should jump at it; nay, if they would drop the very name of the office, and call me Sinecure to the King's Majesty, I should feel a little awkward, and think everybody I saw smelt a rat about me; but I do not pretend to blame any one else that has not the same sensations; for my part, I would rather be serjeant trumpeter or pinmaker to the palace. Nevertheless I interest myself a little in the history of it, and rather wish somebody may accept it who will retrieve the credit of the thing, if it be retrieveable, or ever had any credit. Rowe was, I think, the last man of character that had it. As to Settle, whom you mention, he belonged to my lord mayor, not to the King. Eusden was a person of great hopes in his youth, though at last he turned out a drunken person. Dryden was as disgraceful to the office from his character, as the poorest scribbler could have been from his verses. The office itself has always humbled the professor hitherto (even in an age when kings were somebody), if he were a poor writer by making him more conspicuous, and if he were a good one by setting him at war with the little fry of his own profession, for there are poets little enough to envy even a poet laureate.


A holiday in Kent

Pembroke College, 26 Aug. 1766.


Whatever my pen may do, I am sure my thoughts expatiate nowhere oftener, or with more pleasure, than to Old Park. I hope you have made my peace with Miss Deborah. It is certain, whether her name were in my letter or not, she was as present to my memory as the rest of the little family; and I desire you would present her with two kisses in my name, and one a piece to all the others; for I shall take the liberty to kiss them all (great and small) as you are to be my proxy.

In spite of the rain, which I think continued with very short intervals till the beginning of this month, and quite effaced the summer from the year, I made a shift to pass May and June, not disagreeably, in Kent. I was surprised at the beauty of the road to Canterbury, which (I know not why) had not struck me in the same manner before. The whole country is a rich and well cultivated garden; orchards, cherry grounds, hop grounds, intermixed with corn and frequent villages, gentle risings covered with wood, and everywhere the Thames and Medway breaking in upon the landscape, with all their navigation. It was indeed owing to the bad weather that the whole scene was dressed in that tender emerald green, which one usually sees only for a fortnight in the opening of Spring; and this continued till I left the country. My residence was eight miles east of Canterbury, in a little quiet valley on the skirts of Barham Down; in these parts the whole soil is chalk, and whenever it holds up, in half an hour it is dry enough to walk out. I took the opportunity of three or four days fine weather to go into the Isle of Thanet, saw Margate (which is Bartholomew Fair by the seaside), Ramsgate, and other places there; and so came by Sandwich, Deal, Dover, Folkestone, and Hythe, back again. The coast is not like Hartlepool, there are no rocks, but only chalky cliffs, of no great height, till you come to Dover. There indeed they are noble and picturesque, and the opposite coasts of France begin to bound your view, which was left before to range unlimited by anything but the horizon; yet it is by no means a shipless sea, but everywhere peopled with white sails and vessels of all sizes in motion; and take notice (except in the Isle, which is all corn fields, and has very little enclosure), there are in all places hedgerows and tall trees, even within a few yards of the beach, particularly Hythe stands on an eminence covered with wood. I shall confess we had fires of a night (aye and a day too) several times even in June: but don't go too far and take advantage of this, for it was the most untoward year that ever I remember.

Your friend Rousseau (I doubt) grows tired of Mr. Davenport and Derbyshire; he has picked a quarrel with David Hume, and writes him letters of fourteen pages folio, upbraiding him with all his noirceurs; take one only as a specimen. He says, that at Calais they chanced to sleep in the same room together, and that he overheard David talking in his sleep, and saying, 'Ah! je le tiens, ce Jean-Jacques la.' In short (I fear), for want of persecution and admiration (for these are his real complaints), he will go back to the Continent.

What shall I say to you about the ministry? I am as angry as a common council man of London about my Lord Chatham; but a little more patient, and will hold my tongue till the end of the year. In the meantime I do mutter in secret, and to you, that to quit the House of Commons, his natural strength, to sap his own popularity and grandeur (which no one but himself could have done) by assuming a foolish title; and to hope that he could win by it, and attach to him a court that hate him, and will dismiss him as soon as ever they dare, was the weakest thing that ever was done by so great a man. Had it not been for this, I should have rejoiced at the breach between him and Lord Temple, and at the union between him and the Duke of Grafton and Mr. Conway: but patience! we shall see! Stonehewer perhaps is in the country (for he hoped for a month's leave of absence), and if you see him you will learn more than I can tell you.




Floods in the Arno

From Florence, Nov. 1740.

Child, I am going to let you see your shocking proceedings with us. On my conscience, I believe 'tis three months since you wrote to either Gray or me. If you had been ill, Ashton would have said so; and if you had been dead, the gazettes would have said it. If you had been angry,—but that's impossible; how can one quarrel with folks three thousand miles off? We are neither divines nor commentators, and consequently have not hated you on paper. 'Tis to show that my charity for you cannot be interrupted at this distance that I write to you, though I have nothing to say, for 'tis a bad time for small news; and when emperors and czarinas are dying all up and down Europe, one can't pretend to tell you of anything that happens within our sphere. Not but that we have our accidents too. If you have had a great wind in England, we have had a great water at Florence. We have been trying to set out every day, and pop upon you[1] ... It is fortunate that we stayed, for I don't know what had become of us! Yesterday, with violent rains, there came flouncing down from the mountains such a flood that it floated the whole city. The jewellers on the Old Bridge removed their commodities, and in two hours after the bridge was cracked. The torrent broke down the quays and drowned several coach-horses, which are kept here in stables under ground. We were moated into our house all day, which is near the Arno, and had the miserable spectacles of the ruins that were washed along with the hurricane. There was a cart with two oxen not quite dead, and four men in it drowned: but what was ridiculous, there came tiding along a fat hay-cock, with a hen and her eggs, and a cat. The torrent is considerably abated; but we expect terrible news from the country, especially from Pisa, which stands so much lower, and nearer the sea. There is a stone here, which, when the water overflows, Pisa is entirely flooded. The water rose two ells yesterday above that stone. Judge!

For this last month we have passed our time but dully, all diversions silenced on the Emperor's death, and everybody out of town. I have seen nothing but cards and dull pairs of cicisbeos. I have literally seen so much of love and pharaoh since being here, that I believe I shall never love either again so long as I live. Then I am got into a horrid lazy way of a morning. I don't believe I should know seven o'clock in the morning again if I was to see it. But I am returning to England, and shall grow very solemn and wise! Are you wise? Dear West, have pity on one who has done nothing of gravity for these two years, and do laugh sometimes. We do nothing else, and have contracted such formidable ideas of the good people of England that we are already nourishing great black eyebrows and great black beards, and teasing our countenances into wrinkles.

[Footnote 1: MS. torn here.]


Pictures and Garrick

Strawberry Hill, 15 Aug. 1755.


Though I wrote to you so lately, and have certainly nothing new to tell you, I can't help scribbling a line to you to-night, as I am going to Mr. Rigby's for a week or ten days, and must thank you first for the three pictures. One of them charms me, the Mount Orgueil, which is absolutely fine; the sea, and shadow upon it, are masterly. The other two I don't, at least won't, take for finished. If you please, Elizabeth Castle shall be Mr. Muentz's performance: indeed I see nothing of you in it. I do reconnoitre you in the Hercules and Nessus; but in both, your colours are dirty, carelessly dirty: in your distant hills you are improved, and not hard. The figures are too large—I don't mean in the Elizabeth Castle, for there they are neat; but the centaur, though he dies as well as Garrick can, is outrageous. Hercules and Deianira are by no means so: he is sentimental, and she most improperly sorrowful. However, I am pleased enough to beg you would continue. As soon as Mr. Muentz returns from the Vine, you shall have a good supply of colours. In the meantime why give up the good old trade of drawing? Have you no Indian ink, no soot-water, no snuff, no coat of onion, no juice of anything? If you love me, draw: you would if you knew the real pleasure you can give me. I have been studying all your drawings; and next to architecture and trees, I determine that you succeed in nothing better than animals. Now (as the newspapers say) the late ingenious Mr. Seymour is dead, I would recommend horses and greyhounds to you. I should think you capable of a landscape or two with delicious bits of architecture. I have known you execute the light of a torch or lanthorn so well, that if it was called Schalken, a housekeeper at Hampton Court or Windsor, or a Catherine at Strawberry Hill, would show it, and say it cost ten thousand pounds. Nay, if I could believe that you would ever execute any more designs I proposed to you, I would give you a hint for a picture that struck me t'other day in Perefixe's Life of Henry IV. He says, the king was often seen lying upon a common straw-bed among the soldiers, with a piece of brown bread in one hand, and a bit of charcoal in t'other, to draw an encampment, or town that he was besieging. If this is not character and a picture, I don't know what is.

I dined to-day at Garrick's: there were the Duke of Grafton, Lord and Lady Rochford, Lady Holderness, the crooked Mostyn, and Dabreu the Spanish minister; two regents, of which one is lord chamberlain, the other groom of the stole; and the wife of a secretary of state. This is being sur un assez bon ton for a player! Don't you want to ask me how I like him? Do want, and I will tell you.—I like her exceedingly; her behaviour is all sense, and all sweetness too. I don't know how, he does not improve so fast upon me: there is a great deal of parts, and vivacity, and variety, but there is a great deal too of mimicry and burlesque. I am very ungrateful, for he flatters me abundantly; but unluckily I know it. I was accustomed to it enough when my father was first minister: on his fall I lost it all at once: and since that, I have lived with Mr. Chute, who is all vehemence; with Mr. Fox, who is all disputation; with Sir Charles Williams, who has no time from flattering himself; with Gray, who does not hate to find fault with me; with Mr. Conway, who is all sincerity; and with you and Mr. Rigby, who have always laughed at me in a good-natured way. I don't know how, but I think I like all this as well—I beg his pardon, Mr. Raftor does flatter me; but I should be a cormorant for praise, if I could swallow it whole as he gives it me.

Sir William Yonge, who has been extinct so long, is at last dead; and the war, which began with such a flirt of vivacity, is I think gone to sleep. General Braddock has not yet sent over to claim the surname of Americanus. But why should I take pains to show you in how many ways I know nothing?—Why; I can tell it you in one word—why, Mr. Cambridge knows nothing!—I wish you good-night!


Gray's Odes

Strawberry Hill, 25 Aug. 1757.


It is a satisfaction one can't often receive, to show a thing of great merit to a man of great taste. Your Lordship's approbation is conclusive, and it stamps a disgrace on the age, who have not given themselves the trouble to see any beauties in these Odes of Mr. Gray. They have cast their eyes over them, found them obscure, and looked no further, yet perhaps no compositions ever had more sublime beauties than are in each. I agree with your Lordship in preferring the last upon the whole; the three first stanzas and half, down to agonizing King, are in my opinion equal to anything in any language I understand. Yet the three last of the first Ode please me very near as much. The description of Shakespeare is worthy Shakespeare: the account of Milton's blindness, though perhaps not strictly defensible, is very majestic. The character of Dryden's poetry is as animated as what it paints. I can even like the epithet Orient; as the last is the empire of fancy and poesy, I would allow its livery to be erected into a colour. I think blue-eyed Pleasures is allowable: when Homer gave eyes of what hue he pleased to his Queen-Goddesses, sure Mr. Gray may tinge those of their handmaids.

In answer to your Lordship's objection to many-twinkling, in that beautiful epode, I will quote authority to which you will yield. As Greek as the expression is, it struck Mrs. Garrick, and she says, on that whole picture, that Mr. Gray is the only poet who ever understood dancing.

These faults I think I can defend, and can excuse others; even the great obscurity of the latter, for I do not see it in the first; the subject of it has been taken for music,—it is the Power and Progress of Harmonious Poetry. I think his objection to prefixing a title to it was wrong—that Mr. Cooke published an ode with such a title. If the Louis the Great, whom Voltaire has discovered in Hungary, had not disappeared from history himself, would not Louis Quatorze have annihilated him? I was aware that the second would have darknesses, and prevailed for the insertion of what notes there are, and would have had more. Mr. Gray said, whatever wanted explanation did not deserve it, but that sentence was never so far from being an axiom as in the present case. Not to mention how he had shackled himself with strophe, antistrophe, and epode (yet acquitting himself nobly), the nature of prophecy forbade him naming his kings. To me they are apparent enough—yet I am far from thinking either piece perfect, though with what faults they have, I hold them in the first rank of genius and poetry. The second strophe of the first Ode is inexcusable, nor do I wonder your Lordship blames it; even when one does understand it, perhaps the last line is too turgid. I am not fond of the antistrophe that follows. In the second Ode he made some corrections for the worse. Brave Urion was originally stern: brave is insipid and commonplace. In the third antistrophe, leave me unblessed, unpitied, stood at first, leave your despairing Caradoc. But the capital faults in my opinion are these—what punishment was it to Edward I to hear that his grandson would conquer France? or is so common an event as Edward III being deserted on his death-bed, worthy of being made part of a curse that was to avenge a nation? I can't cast my eye here, without crying out on those beautiful lines that follow, Fair smiles the morn? Though the images are extremely complicated, what painting in the whirlwind, likened to a lion lying in ambush for his evening prey, in grim repose. Thirst and hunger mocking Richard II appear to me too ludicrously like the devils in The Tempest, that whisk away the banquet from the shipwrecked Dukes. From thence to the conclusion of Queen Elizabeth's portrait, which he has faithfully copied from Speed, in the passage where she humbled the Polish Ambassador, I admire. I can even allow that image of Rapture hovering like an ancient grotesque, though it strictly has little meaning: but there I take my leave—the last stanza has no beauties for me. I even think its obscurity fortunate, for the allusions to Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, are not only weak, but the two last returning again, after appearing so gloriously in the first Ode, and with so much fainter colours, enervate the whole conclusion.

Your Lordship sees that I am no enthusiast to Mr. Gray: his great lustre has not dazzled me, as his obscurity seems to have blinded his contemporaries. Indeed, I do not think that they ever admired him, except in his Churchyard, though the Eton Ode was far its superior, and is certainly not obscure. The Eton Ode is perfect: those of more masterly execution have defects, yet not to admire them is total want of taste. I have an aversion to tame poetry; at best, perhaps the art is the sublimest of the difficiles nugae; to measure or rhyme prose is trifling without being difficult.


At Lady Suffolk's

Arlington Street, 11 Jan. 1764.

It is an age, I own, since I wrote to you; but except politics, what was there to send you? and for politics, the present are too contemptible to be recorded by anybody but journalists, gazetteers, and such historians! The ordinary of Newgate, or Mr.——, who write for their monthly half-crown, and who are indifferent whether Lord Bute, Lord Melcombe, or Maclean is their hero, may swear they find diamonds on dunghills; but you will excuse me, if I let our correspondence lie dormant rather than deal in such trash. I am forced to send Lord Hertford and Sir Horace Mann such garbage, because they are out of England, and the sea softens and makes palatable any potion, as it does claret; but unless I can divert you, I had rather wait till we can laugh together; the best employment for friends, who do not mean to pick one another's pockets, nor make a property of either's frankness. Instead of politics, therefore, I shall amuse you to-day with a fairy tale.

I was desired to be at my Lady Suffolk's on New Year's morn, where I found Lady Temple and others. On the toilet Miss Hotham spied a small round box. She seized it with all the eagerness and curiosity of eleven years. In it was wrapped up a heart-diamond ring, and a paper in which, in a hand as small as Buckinger's, who used to write the Lord's Prayer in the compass of a silver penny, were the following lines:

Sent by a sylph, unheard, unseen, A new-year's gift from Mab our queen: But tell it not, for if you do, You will be pinch'd all black and blue. Consider well, what a disgrace, To show abroad your mottled face: Then seal your lips, put on the ring, And sometimes think of Ob. the King.

You will easily guess that Lady Temple was the poetess, and that we were delighted with the genteelness of the thought and execution. The child, you may imagine, was less transported with the poetry than the present. Her attention, however, was hurried backwards and forwards from the ring to a new coat, that she had been trying on when sent for down; impatient to revisit her coat, and to show the ring to her maid, she whisked upstairs; when she came down again, she found a letter sealed, and lying on the floor—new exclamations! Lady Suffolk bade her open it: here it is:

Your tongue, too nimble for your sense, Is guilty of a high offence; Hath introduced unkind debate, And topsy-turvy turn'd our state. In gallantry I sent the ring, The token of a love-sick king: Under fair Mab's auspicious name From me the trifling present came. You blabb'd the news in Suffolk's ear; The tattling zephyrs brought it here, As Mab was indolently laid Under a poppy's spreading shade. The jealous queen started in rage; She kick'd her crown, and beat her page: 'Bring me my magic wand ', she cries; 'Under that primrose, there it lies; I'll change the silly, saucy chit, Into a flea, a louse, a nit, A worm, a grasshopper, a rat, An owl, a monkey, hedgehog, bat. But hold, why not by fairy art Transform the wretch, into—? Ixion once a cloud embraced, By Jove and jealousy well placed; What sport to see proud Oberon stare And flirt it with a—!' Then thrice she stamped the trembling ground, And thrice she waved her wand around; When I, endow'd with greater skill, And less inclined to do you ill, Mutter'd some words, withheld her arm, And kindly stopp'd the unfinish'd charm. But though not changed to owl or bat, Or something more indelicate; Yet, as your tongue has run too fast, Your boasted beauty must not last. No more shall frolic Cupid lie In ambuscade in either eye, From thence to aim his keenest dart To captivate each youthful heart: No more shall envious misses pine At charms now flown, that once were thine: No more, since you so ill behave, Shall injured Oberon be your slave.

There is one word which I could wish had not been there, though it is prettily excused afterwards. The next day my Lady Suffolk desired I would write her a patent for appointing Lady Temple poet laureate to the fairies. I was excessively out of order with a pain in my stomach, which I had had for ten days, and was fitter to write verses like a poet laureate, than for making one; however, I was going home to dinner alone, and at six I sent her some lines, which you ought to have seen how sick I was, to excuse; but first, I must tell you my tale methodically. The next morning by nine o'clock Miss Hotham (she must forgive me twenty years hence for saying she was eleven, for I recollect she is but ten) arrived at Lady Temple's, her face and neck all spotted with saffron, and limping. 'Oh, madam!' said she, 'I am undone for ever if you do not assist me!' 'Lord, child,' cried my Lady Temple, 'what is the matter?' thinking she had hurt herself, or lost the ring, and that she was stolen out before her aunt was up. 'Oh, madam,' said the girl, 'nobody but you can assist me!' My Lady Temple protests the child acted her part so well as to deceive her. 'What can I do for you?' 'Dear madam, take this load from my back; nobody but you can.' Lady Temple turned her round, and upon her back was tied a child's waggon. In it were three tiny purses of blue velvet; in one of them a silver cup, in another a crown of laurel, and in the third four new silver pennies, with the patent, signed at top, 'Oberon Imperator'; and two sheets of warrants strung together with blue silk according to form; and at top an office seal of wax and a chaplet of cut paper on it. The warrants were these:

From the Royal Mews: A waggon with the draught horses, delivered by command without fee.

From the Lord Chamberlain's Office: A warrant with the royal sign manual, delivered by command without fee, being first entered in the office books.

From the Lord Steward's Office: A butt of sack, delivered without fee or gratuity, with an order for returning the cask for the use of the office, by command.

From the Great Wardrobe: Three velvet bags, delivered without fee, by command.

From the Treasurer of the Household's Office: A year's salary paid free from land-tax, poundage, or any other deduction whatever, by command.

From the Jewel Office: A silver butt, a silver cup, a wreath of bays, by command without fee.

Then came the Patent:

By these presents be it known, To all who bend before our throne, Fays and fairies, elves and sprites, Beauteous dames and gallant knights, That we, Oberon the grand, Emperor of fairy-land, King of moonshine, prince of dreams, Lord of Aganippe's streams, Baron of the dimpled isles That lie in pretty maidens' smiles, Arch-treasurer of all the graces Dispersed through fifty lovely faces, Sovereign of the slipper's order, With all the rites thereon that border, Defender of the sylphic faith, Declare—and thus your monarch saith: Whereas there is a noble dame, Whom mortals Countess Temple name, To whom ourself did erst impart The choicest secrets of our art, Taught her to tune the harmonious line To our own melody divine, Taught her the graceful negligence, Which, scorning art and veiling sense, Achieves that conquest o'er the heart Sense seldom gains, and never art; This lady, 'tis our royal will, Our laureate's vacant seat should fill: A chaplet of immortal bays Shall crown her brow and guard her lays; Of nectar sack an acorn cup Be at her board each year filled up; And as each quarter feast comes round A silver penny shall be found Within the compass of her shoe— And so we bid you all adieu!

Given at our palace of Cowslip Castle, the shortest night of the year.


And underneath,


How shall I tell you the greatest curiosity of the story? The whole plan and execution of the second act was laid and adjusted by my Lady Suffolk herself and Will. Chetwynd, Master of the Mint, Lord Bolingbroke's Oroonoho-Chetwynd; he fourscore, she past seventy-six; and what is more, much worse than I was, for, added to her deafness, she has been confined these three weeks with the gout in her eyes, and was actually then in misery, and had been without sleep. What spirits, and cleverness, and imagination, at that age, and under those afflicting circumstances! You reconnoitre her old court knowledge, how charmingly she has applied it! Do you wonder I pass so many hours and evenings with her? Alas! I had like to have lost her this morning! They had poulticed her feet to draw the gout downwards, and began to succeed yesterday, but to-day it flew up into her head, and she was almost in convulsions with the agony, and screamed dreadfully; proof enough how ill she was, for her patience and good breeding make her for ever sink and conceal what she feels. This evening the gout has been driven back to her foot, and I trust she is out of danger. Her loss would be irreparable to me at Twickenham, where she is by far the most rational and agreeable company I have....


A quiet life

Strawberry Hill, 11 June, 1765.

I am almost as much ashamed, Madam, to plead the true cause of my faults towards your ladyship, as to have been guilty of any neglect. It is scandalous, at my age, to have been carried backwards and forwards to balls and suppers and parties by very young people, as I was all last week. My resolutions of growing old and staid are admirable: I wake with a sober plan, and intend to pass the day with my friends—then comes the Duke of Richmond, and hurries me down to Whitehall to dinner—then the Duchess of Grafton sends for me to too in Upper Grosvenor Street—before I can get thither, I am begged to step to Kensington, to give Mrs. Anne Pitt my opinion about a bow-window—after the loo, I am to march back to Whitehall to supper—and after that, am to walk with Miss Pelham on the terrace till two in the morning, because it is moonlight and her chair is not come. All this does not help my morning laziness; and by the time I have breakfasted, fed my birds and my squirrels, and dressed, there is an auction ready. In short, Madam, this was my life last week, and is I think every week, with the addition of forty episodes.—Yet, ridiculous as it is, I send it to your ladyship, because I had rather you should laugh at me than be angry. I cannot offend you in intention, but I fear my sins of omission are equal to a good many Christian's. Pray forgive me. I really will begin to be between forty and fifty by the time I am fourscore: and I truly believe I shall bring my resolutions within compass; for I have not chalked out any particular business that will take me above forty years more; so that, if I do not get acquainted with the grandchildren of all the present age, I shall lead a quiet sober life yet before I die....


Gray's death

Paris, 12 Aug. 1771.


I am excessively shocked at reading in the papers that Mr. Gray is dead! I wish to God you may be able to tell me it is not true! Yet in this painful uncertainty I must rest some days! None of my acquaintance are in London. I do not know to whom to apply but to you. Alas! I fear in vain! Too many circumstances speak it true! the detail is exact;—a second paper arrived by the same post, and does not contradict it—and what is worse, I saw him but four or five days before I came hither; he had been to Kensington for the air, complained of gout flying about him, of sensations of it in his stomach, and indeed, thought him changed, and that he looked ill—still I had not the least idea of his being in danger.—I started up from my chair, when I read the paragraph—a cannon-ball could not have surprised me more! The shock but ceased, to give way to my concern; and my hopes are too ill founded to mitigate it. If nobody has the charity to write to me, my anxiety must continue till the end of the month, for I shall set out on my return on the 26th; and unless you receive this time enough for your answer to leave London on the 20th, in the evening, I cannot meet it, till I find it in Arlington Street, whither I beg you to direct it.

If the event is but too true, pray add to this melancholy service, that of telling me any circumstances you know of his death. Our long, very long friendship, and his genius, must endear to me everything that relates to him. What writings has he left? Who are his executors? I should earnestly wish, if he has destined anything to the public, to print it at my press—it would do me honour, and would give me an opportunity of expressing what I feel for him. Methinks, as we grow old, our only business here is to adorn the graves of our friends, or to dig our own.

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