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and, to give you a proof of it, I have sent you an elegy" of Tibullus translated. Tibullus, you must know, is my favourite elegiac poet; for his language is more elegant and his thoughts more natural than Ovid's. Ovid excels him only in wit, of which no poet had more in my opinion. The reason I choose so melancholy a kind of poesy, is because my low spirits and constant ill health (things in me not imaginary, as you surmise, but too real, alas! and I fear constitutional) “ have tuned my heart to elegies of woe ;” and this likewise is the reason why I am the most irregular thing alive at college; for you may depend upon it, I value my health above what they call discipline. As for this poor unlicked thing of an elegy, pray criticise it unmercifully, for I send it with that intent. Indeed, your late translation of Statius might have deterred me, but I know you are not more able to excel others, than you are apt to forgive the want of excellence, especially when it is found in the productions of
You can never weary me with the repetition of any thing that makes me sensible of your kindness; since that has been the only idea of any social happiness that I have almost ever received, and which (begging your pardon for thinking so differently from you in such cases) I would by no means have parted with for an exemption from all the uneasiness mixed with it: but it would be unjust to imagine my taste was any rule for yours; for which reason my letters are shorter and less frequent than they would be, had I any materials but myself to entertain you with. Love and brown sugar must be a poor regale for one of your goût ; and, alas ! you know I am by trade a grocer.” Scandal (if I had any) is a merchandize you do not profess dealing in ; now and then, indeed, and to oblige a friend, you may perhaps slip a little out of your pocket, as a decayed gentlewoman would a piece of right mecklin, or a little quantity of run tea, but this only now and then, not to make a practice of it. Monsters appertaining to this climate you have seen already, both wet and dry. So you perceive within how narrow bounds my pen is circumscribed, and the whole contents of my share in our correspondence may be reduced under the two heads of 1st, You ; 2dly, I : the first is indeed a subject to expatiate upon, but you might laugh at me for talking about what I do not understand; the second is so tiny, so tiresome, that you shall hear no more of it than that it is ever, Yours. Peterhouse, Dec. 23, 1736.
* This I omit for the reason given in a preceding note, and for another also, because it is not written in alternate but heroic rhyme; which I think is not the species of English measure adapted to elegiac poetry.
# Mr. Walpole, on my informing him that it was my intention to publish the principal part of Mr. Gray's correspondence with Mr. West, very obligingly communicated to me the letters which he had also received from Mr. Gray at the same period. From this collection I have selected such as I thought would be most likely to please the generality of readers; omitting, though with regret, many of the more sprightly and humorous sort, because either from their personality, or some other local circumstance, they did not seem so well adapted to hit the public taste. I shall say more upon this subject in a subsequent Section, when I give my idea of Mr. Gray's peculiar vein of humour.
VII. M. R. W. EST TO M R. GRAY.
I HAVE been very ill, and am still hardly recovered. Do you remember Elegy 5th, Book the 3d, of Tibullus, Vos tenet, &c. and do you remember a letter of Mr. Pope's, in sickness, to Mr. Steele ! This melancholy elegy and this melancholy letter, I turned into a more melancholy epistle of my own, during my sickness, in the way of imitation; and this I send to you and my friends at Cambridge, not to divert them, for it cannot, but merely to shew them how sincere I was when sick: I hope my sending it to them now may convince them I am no less sincere, though perhaps more simple, when well.
* i. e. A man who deals only in coarse and ordinary wares: to these he comÉ. the plain sincerity of his own friendship, undisguised by flattery; which,
d he chosen to carry on the allusion, he might have termed the trade of a confectioner.
Yes, happy youths, on Camus' sedgy side
Health turns from me her rosy face away.
Just Heav'n' what sin, ere life begins to bloom,
-*. Almost all Tibullus's elegy is imitated in this little piece, from whence his transition to Mr. Pope's letter is very artfully contrived, and bespeaks a degree of judgment much beyond Mr. West's years.
So the original. The paraphrase seems to me infinitely more beautiful. There is a peculiar blemish in the second line, arising from the synonimes mala and poma.
Or, ere the grapes their purple hue betray,
* Here he quits Tibullus, the ten following verses have but a remote reference to Mr. Pope's letter. t “Youth, at the very best, is but the betrayer of human life in a gentler and smoother manner than age; 'tis like the stream that nourishes a plant upon a bank, and causes it to flourish and blossom to the sight, but at the same time is undermining it at the root in secret.” Pope's Works, vol. 7, page 254, 1st. edit. Warburton.—Mr. West, by prolonging his paraphrase of this simile, gives it additional beauty from that very circumstance, but he ought to have introduced it by Mr. Pope's own thought, “Youth is a betrayer;” his couplet preceding the simile conveys too general a reflection. # * I am not at all uneasy at the thought that many men, whom I never had any esteem for, are likely to enjoy this world after me.” Wide ibid. § “The morning after my exit the sun will rise as bright as ever, the flowers smell as sweet, the plants spring as green :” so far Mr. West copies his original;
Bright as before the day-star will appear,
AFTER a month's expectation of you, and a fortnight's despair, at Cambridge, I am come to town, and to better hopes of seeing you. If what you sent me last be the product of your melancholy, what may I not expect from your more cheerful hours? For by this time the ill health that you complain of is (I hope) quite departed, though, if I were self-interested, I ought to wish
for the continuance of anything that could be the occa
sion of so much pleasure to me. Low spirits are my true and faithful companions; they get up with me, go to bed with me, make journeys and returns as I do; nay, and pay visits, and will even affect to be jocose, and force a feeble laugh with me; but most commonly we sit alone together, and are the prettiest insipid company in the world. However, when you come, I believe they must undergo the fate of all humble companions, and be discarded. Would I could turn them to the same use that you have done, and make an Apollo of them. If they could write such verses with me, not
but, instead of the following part of the sentence, “People will laugh as heartily and marry as fast as they used to do,” he inserts a more solemn idea,
Nor storms nor comets, &c. justly perceiving that the elegiac turn of his epistle would not admit so ludicrous a thought, as it was in its place in Mr. Pope's familiar letter; so that we see, young as he was, he had obtained the art of judiciously selecting, one of the first provinces of good taste.