Seward Letters, 1797

Letter LXI.

 The Right Hon. Lady Eleanor Butler.
{vol. 4, pp 299-307}

                                                                                     Lichfield, Jan. 23, 1797.

            Suffer me to congratulate your Ladyship, and Miss Ponsonby, on the dispersion of the hostile fleet, whose invading design is, for the present — would to God it might be for ever — baffled by the elements.  The morning after I dispatched my last to Langollen Vale, and just as I had entered our cathedral, I was told that the French [300] had landed twenty thousand men in Ireland.  Heart-sick and agitated, while my lips uttered the prayer of the liturgy, my heart offered up one insuppressive ejaculation, that these kingdoms may be preserved from this worse than Gothic inundation, which is desolating Europe.  Then my hurried thoughts imaged the consternation with which such tidings would banish tranquility from your bowers.

            All the succeeding intelligence has tended to quiet our alarms, and most of the inhabitants of our ministerially confident city triumph, in a degree of security, on this momentous subject, which I cannot partake, however comparatively tranquillized.  The attempt evinces the determined designs of the French.  If they once effect a landing in Ireland, Scotland, or England, I fear they will find a powerful party of impious fools to join them.   Our populace groan under the already dreadfully oppressive weight of the taxes.  Misery is very credulous, and desperation rushes on change.  They will believe the lying foes of this constitution, whether English or French, who shall promise them the delusive comforts attached tot their stalking-horse words, Liberty and Equality, alias Plunder and Murder.

            It has long been more than time for our rulers to make home-defence and national frugality their [301] first considerations — O! while they are struggling and subsidizing away the lives and property of the nation, to balance the power of Europe, the dreadful increase of the national debt occasions such depredation upon the comfort, the scanty means of life in the lower classes, as is already borne with perilous murmuring.  It is in vain to plead that the minister taxes luxuries, since the weight, even of those taxes, eventually falls on the populace.  The times are dangerous, the symptoms ominous; but power, and its unseeing, unhearing worshippers, will not read the hand-writing on the wall.  It told them, in broad letters, that this was a period most unfit for the mockery of a negotiation, with which ministers have insulted the nation’s wishes for peace.

            My inmost soul detests the bloody French, and abjures all confidence in the humanity or worth of those who vindicate and admire them.  I wish ardently to think well of our rulers, but I cannot blindly idolize them, or their plans.  I do not believe that the French, on fire with the idea of the rich plunder of these kingdoms, would have accepted reasonable terms of accommodation.  Much, however, did it behove our Court to shew itself in earnest, by offering such terms as the French ought to have accepted — such as the disaffected here could not rationally have censured; — but, [302] alas! an headlong infatuation prevails, and makes me fear there is a judgment overhangs our love of war.  God preserve your native land, and this, to which you are now naturalized, from ever becoming the seat of that fiend.

            Now to the subject, on which you request my sentiments at full — this Joan of Arc.  Its poetic beauties are so numberless, so intrinsic, that its poetic defects, however conspicuous, are as dust in the balance.  Its author is a born poet, and of the very highest class — an extensive knowledge of history and science, and of all his English predecessors and contemporaries in poetic composition, support, illustrate, and adorn the creative powers of his fancy; yet, at present his taste equals not his genius, since every page presents us with lines which will not, by any art of recitation, read as verse, though they scan as such.  Imitations of Milton’s least agreeable phraseology are of sickening redundance in this work.  His “nor did not,” used as an affirmative at seldom times by Milton, is frequent here; his vulgar-sounding work, beleaguered, once used in Paradise Lost, offends us continually in this new epic.  Then there is an affected neglect of those useful commas which so much elucidate an author’s meaning.  They are seldom used by Southey, even to mark the parenthetic sense.

            [303] The horrors of the ninth book of Joan of Arc impress the shuddering fancy with a force that evinces the masterly powers of the author.  Like Milton, he is often indebted to his reading and his memory.  He had the striking reasoning of the person, Despair, in favour of suicide, from St. Preux’s letter to Julia, in Rousseau’s finest work, and from Julia’s answer, the reply of Joan.  The fortieth line of that ninth book is from Collins’s Ode to Evening.  In the speech of the beatified Theodore, we recognize that of Euphronsyne in the first edition of Akenside’s Pleasures if Imagination:

“Lo I am here, to answer to your vows,

And be the meeting fortunate!” &c.

Akenside, as time philosophised away the bolder spirit of poesy, expunged that beautiful allegoric episode, the gem of his work, from the later editions.  Southey’s imitation of the “Lo! I am here,” does not equal its original in beauty.

            His description of the lake, on which Joan, in her vision, embarks, is wonderfully fine; but it appears to me to have been suggested, as indeed the whole plan of this ninth book, by Hayley’s description of Serena’s voyage, in the third and fifth cantos of the Triumphs of Temper.  The solemnity and higher elevations of Southey’s subject [304], gives, however, more dignity to the imitation than we find in the exquisitely ingenious original.  There is inaccuracy in the description of Joan’s more terrible voyage.  We are told her boat was impelled along by powers unseen, — and immediately a female pilot is rendered visible; and who that dreadful allegoric phantom is, I am at a loss to ascertain.

            Despair, so finely painted by Spenser, and others, is nowhere more sublimely imagined, both as to form, and habitation, than in this ninth book of Joan.  The lines from 185 to the end of the passage are greatly written.  Alas! how faithful to nature and experience is the sad scene they pourtray!

            The female corpse, festering in putrefaction, and the corpse of Theodore, are new features in this poetic house of death, and grandly increase its horrors.  The purgatory, where the guilty are punished by a glut of those objects, which, in life, they had pursued to a criminal excess, while it strongly resembles, improves on Mr Hayley’s 5th book of the Triumphs of Temper.  The hall of glory, and its fire-crowned monarchs, is from the hall of Eblis, the palace of fire, in that wild wonder of genius, the Caliph Vathec, so wittily ludicrous in its opening and progress, so sublime in its close.

            [305] The author of Jean is an arch-cymist as to sublimity; he not only creates it at will, but he extracts it from all he has read.  Is there not, however, in this sublime book, some injudicious mixture of Pagan mythology in the hall of the Fates? and is not a well-wigged physician too ludicrous a picture for the general solemnity of the design?

            The other books are so thick sown with grand and beautiful passages, that many of these folio sheets would not suffice me to point them out; — yet I cannot omit the midnight search of the heroine for her slain lover on the field of battle — it drowned me in tears; –and, though probably taken from Mr Hayley’s fine translation of a part of the Aracauna in his Essays on Epic Poetry, yet I think it excels its prototype.

            The figure of Joan, at the funeral of Theodore, is great painting; and the circumstance of her being awakened from the rapt contemplation of her own tortured death, by the rattle of the earth thrown on the coffin of her lover, strikes full upon the heart of the reader.

            Conrade’s character is finely sustained; his short and stern appearances, at the royal banquets, are very striking and noble.

            This author, of miraculous juvenility, is happy in his exordiums.  Seven out of the ten books [306] open beautifully.  –Alas! that the heart should be so dark, where the imagination is so luminous!

            How lamentable it is, that rising genius, effulgent as this author’s, should thus disgrace itself on the score of patriotism and principle!  We may apply his own exclamation on the conduct of Henry, where it is infinitely more deserved,

———— “The old and the infirm,

The mother and her babes! — and yet no lightning

Blasted this fell republic.”

The dread of the pestilential blast, the Simoom, which the traveller sees approaching, as he crosses the sandy deserts of Africa, is admirably described, and finely applied to the terror felt by the English at the approach of the Amazonian heroine, resistless in Battle.

            Dr. Darwin’s impersonization of that death-breathing gale, in the Botanic Garden, is highly poetic, thus:

“Fierce on blue steams he rides the tainted air,

Points his keen eye, and waves his whistling hair;

While, as he turns, the undulating soil

Rolls its red waves, and billowy deserts boil;”

yet, I confess, the simpler grandeur of Southey’s picture pleases me more:

—————– “Such ominous fear

Seizes the traveller o’er the trackless sands,

Who marks the dread Simoon across the waste,

Sweep its swift pestilence.  –To earth he falls,

Nor dares give utterance to the inward prayer,

Deeming the Genius of the desert breathes

The purple blast of Death!”

When circumstances are in themselves sublime, and all things horrid are sublime in poetry, it argues a taste of meretricious luxuriance, rather than of chaste and dignified judgment, to call in the aids of fancy and fable.  The silent prostration of the traveller, to avoid inhaling the blast of death, leaves more terrific impression upon the mind than the image of an approaching fiend.  Had we not known the reverse to be the truth, we should impute the Darwinian description to the boy of genius, and that in Joan of Arc to the poet of riper years, at least according to Beattie’s distinction in his Minstrel:

“At first, with cumbersome, superfluous show,

            Edwin was wont his flow’ry rhymes deface

            With ardour to adorn; — but Nature now,

To his experienc’d eye, a modest grace

            Presents, where ornament the second place

            Holds; to intrinsic worth and just design

Subservient still — simplicity apace

            Tempers his rage — he feels her power divine,

            and clears th’ambiguous phrase, and lops the loaded line.”

I remain, &c., &c.


Letter LXIII.

 The Right Hon. Lady Eleanor Butler.
{vol. 4, pp 313-317}

                                                                                     Lichfield, Feb. 19, 1797.

            Welcome as dear Lady Eleanor’s letters always are, I am not so selfish to desire she should honour me with scriptures so precious, when other of those numerous claims, which press upon her time, render the indulgence inconvenient to herself.

            Mr Roberts of Dinbren is now here, and I hope to prepare my packet to travel back to Langollen by him.  His account of the health and cheerfulness of my charming friends, apparent in an interview with which they recently honoured him, charmed me.  I was, however, concerned to hear his say you had lately been distressed by the illness, and alarmed for the life of your good Euryclea.  That she is recovering I rejoice.  The loss of a domestic, faithful and affectionate as Orlando’s Adam, must have cast more than a transient gloom over the Cambrian Arden.  The Rosalind and Celia of real life give Langollen valley a right to that title.

            I returned some ten days ago from an excursion [314] to Nottingham, with Mr S. and his daughter, to the house of a mutual friend.  Entering my blue region, after a nine days absence, I found your Ladyship’s obliging letter on my table.

            Many were the social pleasures of that visit, and sweet the harmonies which request called forth from the musically-endowed lips of my Lichfield associate.  Poetic readings also formed part of our amusements.  Mr Saville, who reads finely, as you well know, gave us the extracts, with which the Scotish ladies of your neighbourhood favoured him, from that sublime paraphrase of Burger’s Leonora, the yet unpublished work of their friend.  It is not near so close as the four rival translations, which I have seen, of that wild and violent poem; amongst which four, Mr Spencer’s, with its happy engravings, is so very pre-eminent in poetic merit.

            Many ideas and images are in the extracts Mr Saville had obtained, which cannot be found in Burger’s poem; but they vie, and in some places transcend those of the original in well-imagined horror.  Chilling, grand, and horrific is the shrouded corse [sic], rising from the bier, and the half-perished body of the murderer, swinging and creaking in the winds and rain, descending from the gibbet, at the call of the equestrian spectre, and joining the ghastly train on that impetuous journey.

            [315] I read Mr Spencer’s translation, exhibiting those sublime plates.  That version was new to the party who listened to us.  In another circle, I went through the principal scenes in Macbeth, by request.  I will not tell you how much I was flattered on that arduous attempt, nor with how great a name by powers of reciting were brought into competition.

            Thus passed our evenings; but I sighed frequently to miss my relations and friends of that town, whose place may be nowhere found — whose countenances and voices, till then the actual and constant associates of my residences at Nottingham, were mournfully combined in my imagination, with the streets, the houses, the people I saw.  Inseparable, as I am sure you have observed, is the affinity between local and human objects, till long habits of seeing separately what we had been used to see united, dissolve, in a great degree at least, the magic chains by which, on their first actual disunion, they seem still ideally linked.  Never, perhaps, can that disunion become complete.  Congenial impressions will return, though fainter and less continued.  The resemblance comes back upon the local object at intervals, like the shadows of trees and hedges upon the field, when a burst of sunshine pervades the clouds, which had for [316] a period rendered them invisible.  Time, and the new custom of seeing the inanimate objects without their former vital accompaniments, are the clouds, — affectionate recollection the gleaming sun, that acts like that which restores the leafy landscape; and, as it strengthens with the increasing power of the solar rays, so strengthens, as meditation grows intense, the image of days and of forms that are fled.

            I am crippled with the rheumatism at present, in consequence of a violent cold, taken at our last ball, where the dancers threw open the windows.  Thus am I disabled from walking, as is my custom, half an hour, morning and afternoon, in the apartments of this large old mansion,

“When the chill blustering wind and driving rain

Prevent my willing feet”

in their out-door wandering.  I fear the losing all power of pedestrian exercise.  Riding has ever been too dangerous since I fractured my knee at three-and-twenty.  Post-chaise-airings are to me no exercise, and insufferably stupid, since I cannot read in a chaise; and my health, I am sure, would sink in total inaction — but away with this querulous strain!  My bosom-pains continue their comfortable remission, and I ought to be contented [317], especially since I have the satisfaction of seeing Mr Saville’s more valuable life less oppressed by nervous debility this winter than during the softer sway of the last.  Of the indulgent, the thrice-gratifying words, “our friend,” in your Ladyship’s last letter, he feels the high honour, and, what is more than honour, the sterling value.  Superiority of rank may confer the first; from virtue and from talents results the last; — and from whose virtue, whose talents, can they more intensely proceed!


Letter LXIX.

 Right Hon. Lady Eleanor Butler.
{vol. 4, pp 343-347}

                                                                                     Lichfield, May 22, 1797.

            I seize the earliest leisure to assure your Ladyship how welcome the letter before me, which pronounces my acquittal of inattention to a correspondence which can never, on my part, be voluntarily neglected.  I may say, with Jaffier,

———- “Indeed, I dare not,

The heart, that awes me, is too much my master;”

— but no syllable have I heard of your Ladyship’s letter, entrusted to the gentleman you allude to.  If unforeseen circumstances delayed his purposed journey through Lichfield, he ought, long ago, to have forwarded it by the post.  He must know the ungrateful appearance to which such detention would subject me.  May he not be written to?  Is there no recovering this letter?  I cannot endure to sit down quiet under its loss.

            Nothing is more dishonourable than inattention to epistolary commissions.  –They are sacred trusts [344] Friendships have been dissolved by their violation, and the events of an whole life thrown out of their natural and best course.  Ah! how finely do you descant on the already commenced miseries of Ireland, and impending misfortunes of this country!  What mournful beauty in that too just question, — “To what part of Europe can we now turn our eyes, in which we shall not meet the embryo images of future woes?”  Fatally spreads the pestilential taint of insubordinate principles.  It is fed by the astonishing, the dazzling successes of our foes.  Those horrid crimes and overwhelming miseries, through which France waded to her now proud eminence of conquest and territorial acquisition, are all forgotten by her emulators here.  Pernicious madmen! succeeding in their revolutionary schemes, what will they do?  — they may practise her crimes, they may overturn, inflict, and endure her miseries; but Europe, ruined and subjected to France, offers them no triumphs, no extension of empire, that might compensate to their pride the unmotived sacrifice of home-comforts, legal protection, and public tranquillity; — unmotived as, on the part of ministry, the rash persisting in a fruitless, a desperate contest, which has put our own safety into peril so imminent.  I dread lest ministerial rashness, obstinancy, and [345] pride, should enable the horrid democrats to establish their plan of anarchy.  O! let us turn from the dark, the lurid prospect!

            Mr Roberts told me he did not think it impossible that I might be favoured with a visit from your Ladyship and Miss Ponsonby.  Was this the flattery of his sanguine temper, kindly desirous of my gratification, and prone to believe what he wished, or was it grounded upon an indulgent hint of such a purpose?  If the latter, when may I look for so welcome an arrival?

            Surely the Bishop of St Asaph has been wrong in having given the living of Langollen, without any stipulation for residence, any curb upon the tyrannous and fleecing spirit of avarice.  At all times the duty, in times like these it is of the last importance to the interest of bishops, and to the safety of the state, to be careful into whose hands they commit the pastoral charge,

“When the rapacious wolves prowl round the fence,

To leap into the fold.” —

I mean those wolves who wish to overturn the establishment totally.  — Every negligent and extortionate clergyman promotes their views.

            I assured myself that my New-Year’s Eve sonnet would please you above all its brethren of my collection.  I confess it is my first favourite.  That [346] which closes my Langollen Vale publication, and which you have honoured by such very warm praise, has, I think, many equals, poetically at least, in this my large family of sonnets, which, already prepared for the press, await the dawn of a brighter public horizon — if that blessing should ever be ours.  The sonnet I sent in my last packet, and which is addressed to the month of March, has, to my ear, very harmonious numbers; and presents a simple yet striking and entirely original picture of the chilled group I have often joined, in days of youth and strength, on a morning’s ramble,

————– “When violets dim

Do come before the swallow dares, and give

Bleak winds of March their sweetness.”

            It gratifies me that your Ladyship shares my passion for surveying the living terrors of the desert.  I wonder the sight of savage animals should not be as generally, and as much the delight of cultivated as of uncultivated minds.  Last November, I hazarded breaking my limbs in ascending a booth in which they were exhibited.  Mr Saville, who always hastens to such spectacles, tempted me by his description of the laughing Hyæna.  Its expression of rage is a horrid laugh, exactly that of human insanity, only much louder than any human [347] lungs are competent to produce.  Never did I hear a sound so violent and appalling.

            While I gaze upon these formidable creatures, my imagination always presents the danger of wandering in the scenes they haunt:

“What is the lion in his rage I meet;

Oft in the dust I view his printed feet!”

My consciousness of safety luxuriates beneath the secure view of these sublimely terrible animals, in the sound of their howl and of their roar; while devout thankfulness for our climate’s blessed exemptions, exalts and sanctifies the gratulation of egotism.

            You will have the goodness, dearest Madam, to mention me affectionately to Miss Ponsonby, and to believe that my attachment to both is fervent, equal, and unalterable.  I remain, &c.


Letter LXXVI.

 The Right Hon. Lady Eleanor Butler,
and Miss Ponsonby.
{vol. 4, pp 384-388}

                                                                                     Lichfield, Oct. 2, 1797.

            Ah! dearest Ladies, with what mixed sensations did I leave the Abyssinian valley!  It was regret, gilded by a thousand charming recollections, the reflex of those three recorded days I passed, last month, beneath your roof; — of talents glowing on my understanding, of kindness engraven on my heart.

            This was the state within, while the changing beauties of the vale rose, and slowly glided back from my sight as I journeyed.

            It grew dark ere I reached Shrewsbury; where I found the Wingfield family under a cloud of apprehension and concern, on Lady Bagot’s account, confined to her bed by fever, though it was believed to have passed between Lord Bagot and myself; but our first personal intercourse commenced that evening.  My father used to say he was the most classically learned nobleman he knew; [385] and he has much engaging benevolence in his countenance and manners; but exteriorly more broken and infirm than belongs to his time of life, — to autumnal years, on the verge of winter.  The sobriety of his youth gave him a prospect of age, that should prove like a lusty winter, “frosty, but kindly.”  I fear it may not be.  Many and severe have been his filial losses, and grief rivals the debilitating pleasures in its power of antedating decline.  He spoke to me, as he had previously written, with mournful satisfaction concerning my epitaph on his daughter.

            Leaving Shrewsbury at eight on Saturday morning, I reached Lichfield at shut of day, through heavy ways of wintry foulness.  The dear spires gleamed dimly through the dusk horizon.  My slow travel had been beguiled by tracing, in the volume so kindly given me, the long illustrious line of the Butler family.  It seems that the spring of energetic wisdom, and of perfect honour, ran pure in the veins of its chieftains, till the jealousy of the rising house of Hanover, and its adherents, aspersed, with criminality, and punished with attainder and exile, the faithful and valiant defender of monarchy in the person of the Stuart princes — a jealousy, foolish and impolitic, [386] as its exertions were unjust and unworthy.  Sweet was the zest supplied by my heart-dear knowledge of the daughter of that noble race, and superadded to the delight I always feel in perusing the records of civic and heroic virtues — but, alas! amid what veering governments, and perilous struggles, did both the Dukes of Ormond steer their unfaltering course!

            I rejoice that when the Marquis, in 1648, abandoned the lieutenancy of Ireland, his cheerful presentiment of returning to it in happier times, was, twenty-six years after, so gloriously fulfilled.

            Was it not extraordinary, that the Nero-hearted Sir Phelim O’Neal should become virtuous and just in the hour of death, and disdain to purchase the offered pardon, persisting in the falsehood and treachery which he had fabricated amid the triumphs of successful rebellion.  Of him it may be indeed said– “Nothing in his life became him like its close.”

            Mr Saville and his daughter came home last night.  They regret that, leaving Dinbren later than was their purpose, dread of night-travelling prevented their design of making a farewel call at the lovely retreat, according to the permission with which they had been honoured.  Their recollections, like mine, banquet on your goodness, [387] passed and recent, and they present their most grateful respects.

            The celebrated Dr Parr called at my house in my absence, and, not meeting with me, left a very kind letter.  He is allowed to have been the only man who brought equal forces with Dr Johnson into the field of argument, — equal strength of native talents, — equal learning, — equal eloquence, — equal wit, — and equal effrontery.  The day is recorded in which they measured their lances as chieftains of the Tory and Whig party.  Never, it is said, was known such intellectual gladiatorship:

“So frown’d the mighty combatants, that hell

Grew darker at their frown — so match’d they stood!”

If, however, when provoked, their power to crush their opponents was equal, yet a great difference in mental temperament remains in favour of Dr Parr; since, when properly respected, he is kind and sunny of spirit, and punishes not, as the surly despot punished, a liberal and polite dissent form his opinions.  Then, far from the Johnsonian niggardliness of praise, where deserved, he dispenses it bounteously; and none better know to give that praise characteristic discrimination [388], of which each of you have doubtless perused many instances.

            I inclose a transcript of the poem [footnote: The author’s poem on the future existence of Brutes.], whose subject has interested my charming friends, and induced their request of a copy.  They will feel that its argumentative nature demanded strength and compression of style, rather than ornament, and that it restrained the sallies of poetic fancy.

            The midnight hour has stolen upon my pen — therefore, with sentiments more affectionate than language knows to paint, I bid you both adieu.


Letter II.

 Miss Ponsonby.
{vol. 5, pp 10-17}

                                                                                                 Lichfield, Oct. 30, 1797.

            Be my beloved Miss Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor assured, that I consider Llangollen Vale as my little Elysium.  It is nowhere that my understanding, my taste, and my sentiments luxuriate in such vivid and unallayed gratification.  Whether those arbitrary contingencies of life and health, which so perpetually deride our free-agency, shall propitiate the flattering wishes of my charming friends, or shall impel my next summer’s course a less interesting way, is in the book of destiny.  I do not presume to read its page, but I know whither my inclinations would point, and how prone they would be to adopt the language of Imogen, and exclaim, “accessible is not way but the Cambrian.”

            On my road home, imagination gave back to me the image of good Mrs Roberts in a tragi-comic situation, as I had several times, on my late visit, seen her, in the hours of baffled expectation; of chagrin for dinners and suppers, prepared in [11] vain, mixed with the more serious gloom of sisterly apprehension.  She always remains till near dinner time in her very pleasant bed-room on the ground floor; and there, in her tristful days, I used to behold her, the large Venetian sash lifted up to its utmost extent, sitting in an arm-chair before it, in broad attitude, with contracted lips, wide eyes, and Ugolino brow, exactly opposite old [footnote: The singular conic mountain in Langollen Vale, crowned with the bare and desolated fragments of the walls of the Castle.—S.] Castel Dinas Bran, which, separated only by that narrow glen, stood staring upon her in rigid opposition; –its dark mass, unsoftened by distance, frowning like herself, in dun cogitation.  O! there was no desiring better sympathy, or a more twin resemblance between a matron and a mountain.

            Yet do I chide my whimsical fancy for sporting, though but for a moment, with the slightest distresses of an heart so friendly and hospitable — with whatever gives the iron traits to a countenance, which, when all goes well, is open and affectionate.  Alas! disease, embarrassment, anxiety, and mortification, not imaginary, but serious and severe, have gloomed at times one of the cheerfulest dispositions in the world, and somewhat [12] soured a temper, of which transient impetuosity, and a little jealous soreness, are the only faults.

“Time o’er the form, oppress’d by woes,

            Treads with an heavy pace;

Sweeps his broad scythe, and as he goes,

Down falls the summer pride, and shews

            Worn nature’s furrow’d face.”

            I congratulate you upon the victory our fleet has obtained over the “slow-ey’d sons of the marshy clime,” — the glum and treacherous Dutch.  Whatever may be our still subsisting dangers, that of invasion melts away in this redeeming victory I grieve that it has been so sanguinary.  Uncle Toby exclaims, when the sarcastic comments of the sub-acid philosopher upon his military hobbyhorse had roused into oratory the generally quiet simplicity of his imagination, — “Brother Shandy, it is one thing for the soldier to gather laurels, and another to scatter cypress.”  Alas for the quantity of cypress which this life-lavishing victory demands from the genius of Britain!  The sun of conquest shone gloriously, but the dark umbrage covers the floods that roll beneath.

            However, with the fears of invasion, vanishes also the disgrace of the late rebellion in our nave, and restored confidence in our best bulwark, gives [13] double welcome to the triumph.  Now may British sailors exclaim, with Harry Monmouth—

“Our reformation, glittering o’er our fault,

Like to bright metal on a sullen ground,

Doth draw more homage, and attract more eyes

Than that which hath no foil to set it off.”

But I hope there will be no more foils to contrast the tried valour of English seamen.  It glows with inbred lustre, and wants not shades to augment it.  Henceforth, I trust, they will never be found in self-contrast, but in the misconduct of our foes.  Mr Sneyd of Belmont’s two gallant sons have fortunately escaped unhurt from Duncan’s action, so pregnant with wounds and death.  I hope they will live among the number of the brave escaped few,

“To stand on tip-toe when that day is named.”

            Yes, I was sorry to hear Mr Smith, so generally candid, intelligent, and ingenious, set up Homer in unapproachable greatness.  His decision was surely, in that instance, the triumph of classic pedantry over classic judgment and literary patriotism.  If only the works of one poetic writer were to be preserved from another Gothic devastation, he who, with Smith, should say that [14] one should be Homer, must prefer the discriminated and sublime descriptions of a score of heroes, who, Hector, Priam and Telemachus, excepted, are not much else beside heroes, to Shakespeare’s masterly display of every character, every situation, and every scene in many-coloured life; –where all the subtle gradations between wisdom and folly, vice and virtue, are marked with super-human skill; — where imagery rises in sublimity which was never excelled, and where sense and sentiment are given with force that has not been equalled.  To Shakespeare! who when he has exhausted real creation, drew imaginary existence, with its enchanters, witches, ghosts, moon-calf monsters, and dapper elves, in traits, of whose justness we have such intuitive conviction, as to establish their classes in our mind, distinctly as we can arrange those of lions and wolves, serpents and monkies.

            If the works of two great poets were to be exempted, he who should name Homer, splendid bard as he is, for one of the two, must prefer the gay polytheism of the Pagan mythology, to the grandeur and moral purity of the deistic system, blended with that of the Christian; –the domains of Pluto to the superb horrors of the Satanic regions; — the small landscapes of the Grecian shores and seas, scattered over the Iliad and Odyssey [15], to the ampler delineation of the forests of Comus; –L’Allegro’s peopled scenery; — Il Penseroso’s lonely haunts; –the gardens of Eden; –the glories of Creation; –the six days works of God.

            We heard, when I had the honour of being your guest, another assertion, curious as Smith’s was pedantic — but less extraordinary, as it harmonizes so much better with the abilities of the assertor, that doughty son of Themis, who, whenever he smiled, crumpled up his broad face like an half-toasted pikelet — he, you know, maintained that Peter Pindar’s serious verses stampt him the first poet of his day!!! –And since I came home, a youth of the pragmatic tribe, from Derby, pronounced that Mrs O’Neal’s sweet little Ode, to the Poppy, thirty-six lines out of its number, forty-four, being beautiful, the next six poor, and the closing lines common-place, outweighed, in poetic merit, all the odes which have been written within these fifty years. –Veil your bonnets to the lady, Gray, Mason, Hayley, Chatterton, Burns, Coldridge, and Southey!  Thus,

“While some are wildered in the maze of schools,

Some it makes coxcombs, Nature meant but fools.”

I have been fortunate enough in procuring another [16] copy of Romney’s [footnote: His profile Serena, reading by candle-light.—S.] Serena, which I mentioned to you as having accidentally formed a perfect similitude of my lost Honora Sneyd’s face and figure, when she was serenely perusing the printed and unimpassioned thoughts of others.  To the varying glories of her countenance, when she was expressing her own, or listening to the effusions of genius, no pencil could do justice.  But that sweet, that sacred decency, that reserved dignity of virgin grace, which characterized her look and air, when her thoughts were tranquil, live in this dear portrait, while the turn of the head and neck, and every feature, reflect hers, as in a mirror.

           The plate is now become so scarce, that fortune has singularly favoured my attempts.  It was procured in the country, and will be sent to London to be framed ere it travels to Langollen.  The lively interest which you have each taken in her idea, excites my fervent wish that you should behold her as she was, in a lovely work of art, which recals her image

“From the dark shadows of o’erwhelming years,

In colours fresh, originally bright.”

Yes, I am ambitious that her form should be enshrined [17] in the receptacle of grace and beauty, and appear there distinctly as those of Lady E. Butler and Miss Ponsonby, are engraven on the memory and on the heart of their faithful, &c.


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