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LETTER WRITERS AND MODERN ESSAYISTS, WITH PROSE
WRITERS OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY.
HORACE WALPOLE. 1717-1797. (Manual, p. 437.)
Arlington Street, March 17, 1757. Admiral Byng's tragedy was completed on Monday a perfect tragedy, for there were variety of incidents, villany, murder, and a hero! His sufferings, persecutions, aspersions, disturbances, nay, the revolutions of his fate, had not in the least unhinged his mind; his whole behavior was natural and firm. A few days before, one of his friends standing by him, said, “Which of us is tallest?” He replied, “Why this ceremony? I know what it means; let the man come and measure me for my coffin.” He said, that being acquitted of cowardice, and being persuaded on the coolest reflection that he had acted for the best, and should act so again, he was not unwilling to suffer. He desired to be shot on the quarter-deck, not where common malefactors are; came out at twelve, sat down in a chair, for he would not kneel, and refused to have his face covered, that his countenance might show whether he feared death; but being told that it might frighten his executioners, he submitted,' gave the signal at once, received one shot through the head, another through the heart, and fell. Do cowards live or die thus? Can that man want spirit who only fears to terrify his executioners? Has the aspen Duke of Newcastle lived thus? Would my Lord Hardwicke die thus, even supposing he had nothing on his conscience?
This scene is over! what will be the next is matter of great uncertainty. The new ministers are well weary of their situation; without credit at court, without influence in the House of Commons, undermined everywhere, I believe they are too sensible not to desire to be delivered of their burden, which those who increase yet dread to take on themselves. Mr. Pitt's health is as bad as his situation; confidence between the other factions almost impossible; yet I believe their impatience will prevail over their distrust. The nation expects a change every day, and being a nation, I believe, desires it; and being the English nation, will condemn it the moment it is made. We
1 Admiral Byng, on the morning of his execution, took his usual draught for the scurvy.
are trembling for Hanover, and the Duke (of Cumberland) is going to command the army of observation. These are the politics of the week: the diversions are balls, and the two Princes frequent them; but the eldest nephew (afterwards George III.) remains shut up in a i om, where, as desirous as they are of keeping him, I believe he is now and then incommode. The Duke of Richmond has made two balls on his approaching wedding with Lady Mary Bruce (Mr. Conway’s ? daughter-in-law): it is the perfectest match in the world; youth, beauty, riches, alliances, and all the blood of all the kings from Robert Bruce to Charles II. They are the prettiest couple in England, except the father-in-law and mother.
As I write so often to you, you must be content with shorter letters, which, however, are always as long as I can make them.
This summer will not contract our correspondence. Adieu! my dear Sir.
2 Lady Mary Bruce was only daughter of Charles, last Earl of Ailesbury, by Caroline his third wife, daughter of General John Campbell, afterwards Duke of Argyll. Lady Ailesbury married to her second husband, Colonel Henry Seymour Cunway, only brother of Francis, Earl of Hertford.
WILLIAM COWPER. 1731–1800. (Manual, p. 359.)
August 21, 1780. The following occurrence ought not to be passed over in silence, in a place where so few notable ones are to be met with. Last Wednesday night, while we were at supper, between the hours of eight and nine, I heard an unusual noise in the back parlor, as if one of the hares was entangled, and endeavoring to disengage herself. I was just going to rise from table, when it ceased. In about five minutes, a voice on the outside of the parlor door inquired if one of my hares had got away. I immediately rushed into the next room, and found that my poor favorite Puss had made her escape. She had gnawed in sunder the strings of a lattice work, with which I thought I had sufficiently secured the window, and which I preferred to any other sort of blind, because it admitted plenty of air. From thence I hastened to the kitchen, where I saw the redoubtable Thomas Freeman, who told me, that having seen her, just after she had dropped into the street, he attempted to cover her with his hat, but she screained out, and leaped directly over his head. I then desired him to pursue as fast as possible, and added Richard Coleman to the chase, as being nimbler, and carrying less weight than Thomas; not expecting to see her again, but desirous to learn, if possible, what became of her. In something less than an hour, Richard returned, almost breathless, with the following account. That soon after he began to run, he left Tom behind him, and came in sight of a most numerous hunt of men, women, children, and dogs; that he did his best to keep back the dogs, and presently outstripped the crowd, so that the race was at last disputed between himself and Puss; she ran right through the town, and
down the lane that leads to Dropshort; a little before she came to the house, he got the start and turned her; she pushed for the town again, and soon after she entered it, sought shelter in Mr. Wagstaff's tanyard, adjoining to old Mr. Drake's. Sturges's harvest men were at supper, and saw her from the opposite side of the way. There she encountered the tanpits sull of water; and while she was struggling out of one pit, and plunging into another, and almost drowned, one of the men drew her out by the ears, and secured her. She was then well washed in a bucket, to get the lime out of her coat, and brought home in a sack at ten o'clock.
This frolic cost us four shillings, but you may believe we did not grudge a farthing of it. The poor creature received only a little hurt in one of her claws, and in one of her ears, and is now almost as well
I do not call this an answer to your letter, but such as it is I send it, presuming upon that interest which I know you take in my minutest concerns, which I cannot express better than in the words of Terence a little varied – Nihil mei a te alienum putas. Yours, my dear friend,
328. To LADY HESKETH.
Feb. 27, 1786. MY DEAREST Cousin,
Now for Homer, and the matters to Homer appertaining. Sephus and I are of opinions perfectly different on the subject of such an advertisement as he recommends. The only proper part for me is not to know that such a man as Pope has ever existed. so nice upon this subject that in that note in the specimen, in which I have accounted for the anger of Achilles (which, I believe, I may pay myself the compliment to say was never accounted for before), I have not even so much as hinted at the perplexity in which Pope was entangled when he endeavored to explain it, nor at the preposterous and blundering work that he has made with it. No, my dear, as I told you once before, my attempt has itself a loud voice, and speaks a most intelligible language. Had Pope's translation been good, or had I thought it such, or had I not known that it is admitted by all whom a knowledge of the original qualifies to judge of it, to be a very defective one, I had never translated myself one line of Homer. Dr. Johnson is the only modern writer who has spoken of it in terms of approbation, at least the only one that I have met with. And his praise of it is such as convinces me, intimately acquainted as I am with Pope's performance, that he talked at random, that either he had never examined it by Homer's, or never since he was a boy. For I would undertake to produce numberless passages from it, if need were, not only ill translated, but meanly written. It is not therefore for nie, convinced as I am of the truth of all I say, to go forth into the
world holding up Pope's translation with one hand as a work to be extolled, and my own with the other as a work still wanted. It is plain to me that I behave with sufficient liberality on the occasion if, neither praising nor blaming my predecessor, I go right forward, and leave the world to decide between us.
Now, to come nearer to myself. Poets, my dear (it is a secret I have lately discovered), are born to trouble; and of all poets, translators of Homer to the most. Our dear friend, the General, whom I truly love, in his last letter mortified me not a little. I do not mean by suggesting lines that he thought might be amended, for I hardly ever wrote fifty lines together that I could not afterwards have improved, but by what appeared to me an implied censure on the whole, or nearly the whole quire that I sent to you. It was a great work, he said; — it should be kept long in hand; — years, if it were possible; that it stood in need of much amendment, that it ought to be made worthy of me, that he could not think of showing it to Maty, that he could not even think of laying it before Johnson and his friend in its present condition. Now, my dear, understand thou this: if there lives a inan who stands clear of the charge of careless writing, I am that man. I might prudently, perhaps, but I could not honestly, admit that charge: it would account in a way favorable to my own ability for many defects of which I am guilty, but it would be disingenuous and untrue. The copy which I sent to you was almost a new, I mean a second, translation, as far as it went. With the first I had taken pains, but with the second I took more. I weighed many expressions, exacted from myself the utmost fidelity to my author, and tried all the numbers upon my own ear again and again. If therefore, after all this care, the execution be such as in the General's account it seems to be, I appear to have made shipwreck of my hopes at once. He said, indeed, that the similes delighted him, and the catalogue of the ships surpassed his expectations: but his commendation of so small a portion of the whole affected me rather painfully, as it seemed to amount to an implied condemnation of the rest. I have been the more uneasy because I know his taste to be good, and by the selection that he made of lines that he thought should be altered, he . proved it such. I altered them all, and thanked him, as I could very sincerely, for his friendly attention. Now what is the present state of my mind on this subject? It is this. I do not myself think ill of what I have done, nor at the same time so foolishly well as to suppose that it has no blemishes. But I am sadly afraid that the General's anxiety will make him extremely difficult to be pleased : I fear that he will require of me more than any other man would require, or than he himself would require of any other writer. What I can do to give him satisfaction, I am perfectly ready to do; but it is possible for an anxious friend to demand more than my ability could perform. Not a syllable of all this, my dear, to him, or to any other creature. Mum!
Yours most truly,
THOMAS DE QUINCEY. 1785-1859. (Manual, p. 472.)
FROM "THE ENGLISH OPIUM EATER."
329. INTERVIEW WITH A MALAY.
One day a Malay knocked at my door. What business a Malay could have to transact among English mountains, I canot conjecture; but possibly he was on his road to a sea-port, about forty miles distant. The servant who opened the door to him was a young girl born and bred among the mountains, who had never seen an Asiatic dress of any sort: his turban, therefore, confounded her not a little; and, as it turned out that his attainments in English were exactly of the same extent as hers in the Malay, there seemed to be an impassable gulf fixed between all communication of ideas, if either party had happened to possess any. In this dilemma, the girl recollecting the reputed learning of her master (and, doubtless, giving me credit for a knowledge of all the languages of the earth, besides, perhaps, a few of the lunar ones), came and gave me to understand that there was a sort of demon below, whom she clearly imagined that my art could exorcise from the house. I did not immediately go down; but when I did, the group which presented itself, arranged as it was by accident, though not very elaborate, took hold of my fancy and my eye in a way that none of the statuesque attitudes exhibited in the ballets at the opera-house, though so ostentatiously complex, had ever done. In a cottage kitchen, but panelled on the wall with dark wood that from age and rubbing resembled oak, and looking more like a rustic hall of entrance than a kitchen, stood the Malay - his turban and loose trousers of dingy white relieved upon the dark panelling: he had placed himself nearer to the girl than she seemed to relish, though her native spirit of mountain intrepidity contended with the feelings of simple awe which her countenance expressed as she gazed upon the tiger-cat before her. And a more striking picture there could not be imagined than the beautiful English face of the girl, and its exquisite fairness, together with her erect and independent attitude, contrasted with the sallow and bilious skin of the Malay, enamelled or veneered with mahogany by marine air; his small, fierce, restless eyes, thin lips, slavish gestures and adorations. Half hidden by the ferociouslooking Malay was a little child from a neighboring cottage, who had crept in after him, and was now in the act of reverting its head and gazing upwards at the turban and the fiery eyes beneath it, whilst with one hand he caught at the dress of the young woman for protection. My knowledge of the Oriental tongues is not remarkably extensive, being, indeed, confined to two words -- the Arabic word for barley and the Turkish for opium (madjoon), which I have learnt froin Anastasius. And as I had neither a Malay dictionary nor even Adelung's Mithridates, which might have helped me to a few words, I addressed him in some lines from the Iliad, considering that, of such