« AnteriorContinuar »
force in painting characters, and all his other beauties; preserving at the same time our own language. Were Shakespear alive now, he would write a different style from what he did. These are my sentiments upon these matters : perhaps I am wrong, for I am neither a Tarpa, nor am I quite an Aristarchus. You see I write freely both of you and Shakespear; but it is as good as writing not freely, where you know it is acceptable.
I have been tormented within this week with a most violent cough; for when once it sets up its note, it will go on, cough after cough, shaking and tearing me for half an hour together; and then it leaves me in a great sweat, as much fatigued as if I had been labouring at the plough. All this description of my cough in prose, is only to introduce another description of it in verse, perhaps not worth your perusal; but it is very short, and besides has this remarkable in it, that it was the production of four o'clock in the morning, while I lay in my bed tossing and coughing, and all unable to sleep.
Ante omnes morbos importunissima tussis,
I was then inclined to find him tedious: the German sedition sufficiently made up for it; and the speech of Germanicus, by which he reclaims his soldiers, is quite masterly. Your new Dunciad I have no conception of. I shall be too late for our dinner if I write any more.
MR. GRAY TO MR. WEST.
London, April, Thursday. You are the first who ever made a muse of a cough; to me it seems a much more easy task to versify in one's sleep, (that indeed you were of old famous for*) than for want of it. Not the wakeful nightingale (when she had a cough) ever sung so sweetly. I give you thanks for your warble, and wish you could sing yourself to rest. These wicked remains of your illness will sure give way to warm weather and gentle exercise; which I hope you will not omit as the season advances. Whatever low spirits and indolence, the effect of them, may advise to the contrary, I pray you add five steps to your walk daily for my sake; by the help of which, in a month's time, I propose to set you on horseback.
I talked of the Dunciad as concluding you had seen it; if you have not, do you choose I should get and send it to you? I have myself, upon your
* I suppose at Eaton School.
recommendation, been reading Joseph Andrews. The incidents are ill laid and without invention; but the characters have a great deal of nature, which always pleases even in her lowest shapes. Parson Adams is perfectly well; so is Mrs. Slipslop, and the story of Wilson; and throughout he shews himself well read in stage-coaches, country squires, inns, and inns of court. His reflections upon high people and low people, and misses and masters, are very good. However the exaltedness of some minds (or rather as I shrewdly suspect their insipidity and want of feeling or observation) may make them insensible to these light things, (I mean such as characterize and paint nature) yet surely they are as weighty and much more useful than your grave discourses upon the mind,* the passions, and what not. Now as the paradisaical pleasurest of the Mahometans consist in playing upon the flute and lying with Houris, be mine to read eternal new romances of Marivaux and Crebillon.
You are very good in giving yourself the trouble to read and find fault with my long harangues. Your freedom (as you call it) has so little need of apologies, that I should scarce excuse your treating me any otherwise; which, whatever compliment it might be to my vanity, would be making
* He seems here to glance at Hutchinson, the disciple of Shaftsbury; of whom he had not a much better opinion than of his master.
+ Whimsically put.-—But what shall we say of the present taste of the French, when a writer whom Mr. Gray so justly esteemed as M. Marivaux is now held in such contempt, that Marivauder is a fashionable phrase amongst them, and signifies neither more nor less, than our own fashionable phrase of prosing? As to Crebillon, 'twas his “ Egaremens du Cæur et de l'Esprit” that our author chiefly esteemed; he had not, I believe, at this time published his more licentious pieces.
a very ill one to my understanding. As to matter of style, I have this to say; the language of the age* is never the language of poetry; except among the French, whose verse, where the thought or image does not support it, differs in nothing from prose. Our poetry, on the contrary, has a language peculiar to itself; to which almost every one, that has written has added something by enriching it with foreign idioms and derivatives : nay sometimes words of their own composition or invention. Shakespear and Milton have been great creators this way; and no one more licentious than Pope or Dryden, who perpetually borrow expressions from the former. Let me give you some instances from Dryden, whom every body reckons a great master of our poetical tongue. - Full of museful mopings-unlike the trim of love-a pleasant beverage—a roundelay of lovestood silent in his mood—with knots and knares deformed—his ireful mood—in proud array—his boon was granted—and disarray and shameful rout -wayward but wise-furbished for the field—the foiled dodderd oaks—disherited—smouldring flames
retchless of laws—crones old and ugly—the beldam at his side—the grandam-hag--villanize his father's fame. But they are infinite : and our language not being a settled thing like the French) has an undoubted right to words of an hundred years old, provided antiquity have not rendered them unintelligible. In truth, Shakespear's language is one of his principal beauties; and he has no less advantage over your Addisons and Rowes in this, than in those other great excellencies you mention. Every word in him is a picture. Pray put me the following lines into the tongue of our modern dramatics :
* Nothing can be more just than this observation; and nothing more likely to preserve our poetry from falling into insipidity, than pursuing the rules here laid down for supporting the diction of it; particularly with respect to the drama.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Into this breathing world, scarce half made upAnd what follows. To me they appear untranslatable; and if this be the case, our language is greatly degenerated. However, the affectation of imitating Shakespear may doubtless be carried too far; and is no sort of excuse for sentiments ill-suited, or speeches ill-timed, which I believe is a little the case with me. I guess the most faulty expressions may be these-silken son of dalliance -drowsier pretensions—wrinkled beldams-arched the hearer’s brow and riveted his eyes in fearful extasy. These are easily altered or omitted : and indeed if the thoughts be wrong or superfluous, there is nothing easier than to leave out the whole. The first ten or twelve lines are, I believe, the best;* and as for the rest, I was betrayed into a good deal of it by Tacitus; only what he has said in five words, I imagine I have said in fifty lines :
• The lines which he means here are from—Thus ever grave and undisturb'd reflection—to Rubellius lives. For the part of the scene, which he sent in his former letter, began there.