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rule and measure of good breeding, have, against my inclination, waited till now before I answered it, purely out of fear and respect, and an ingenuous diffidence of my own abilities. . If you will not take this as an excuse, accept it at least as a well-turned period, which is always my principal concern. So I proceed to tell you that my health is much improved by the sea, not that I drank it, or bathed in it, as the common people do: no! I only walked by it and looked upon it. The climate is remarkably mild, even in October and November; no snow has been seen to lie there for these thirty years past; the myrtles grow in the ground against the houses, and Guernsey lilies bloom in every window : the town, clean and well-built, surrounded by its old stone walls, with their towers and gateways, stands at the point of a peninsula, and opens full south to an arm of the sea, which, having formed two beautiful bays on each hand of it, stretches away in direct view, till it joins the British Channel; it is skirted on either side with gently-rising grounds, clothed with thick wood, and directly cross its mouth rise the high lands of the Isle of Wight at distance, but distinctly seen in the bosom of the woods (concealed from profane eyes) lie hid the ruins of Netteley Abbey; there may be richer and greater houses of religion, but the abbot is content with his situation. See there, at the top of that hanging meadow, under the shade of those old trees that bend into a half circle about it, he is walking slowly (good man () and bidding his beads for the souls of his benefactors, interred in that venerable pile that lies beneath him. Beyond it (the meadow still descending) nods a thicket of oaks that mask the building, and have excluded a view too garish and luxuriant for a holy eye; only on either hand they leave an opening to the blue glittering sea. Did you not observe how, as that white sail shot by and was lost, he turned and crossed himself to drive
the tempter from him that had thrown that distraction in his way? I should tell you that the ferryman who rowed me, a lusty young fellow, told me that he would not for all the world pass a night at the Abbey (there were such things seen near it) though there was a power of money hid there. From thence I went to Salisbury, Wilton, and Stonehenge: but of these things I say no more, they will be published at the University press.
P. S. I must not close my letter without giving you one principal event of my history; which was, that (in the course of my late tour) I set out one morning before five o'clock, the moon shining through a dark and misty autumnal air, and got to the sea-coast time enough to be at the sun's levee. I saw the clouds and dark vapours open gradually to right and left, rolling over one another in great smoky wreathes, and the tide (as it flowed gently in upon the sands) first whitening, then slightly tinged with gold and blue; and all at once a little line of insufferable brightness that (before I can write these five words) was grown to half an orb, and now to a whole one, too glorious to be distinctly seen.” It is very odd it makes no figure on paper; yet I shall remember it as long as the sun, or at least as long as I endure. I wonder whether any body ever saw it before; I hardly believe it. * This puts me in mind of a similar description written by Dr. Jeremy Taylor, which I shall here beg leave to present to the reader, who will find by it that the old divine had occasionally as much power of description as even our modern Poet. “As when the sun approaches towards the gates of the morning, he first opens a little eye of heaven, and sends away the spirits of darkness; gives light to the cock, and calls up the lark to matins; and by and by gilds the fringes of a cloud, and peeps over the eastern hills, thrusting out his golden horns” ”,”; and
still (while a man tells the story) the sun gets up higher till he shews a fair face and a full light.”—J. Taylor's Holy Dying, p. 17.
VII. M. R. G. R.A.Y TO MR. BEA TTIE.
I REJoICE to hear that you are restored to better state of health, to your books, and to your muse once again. That forced dissipation and exercise we are obliged to fly to as a remedy, when this frail machine goes wrong, is often almost as bad as the distemper we would cure; yet I too have been constrained of late to pursue a like regimen, on account of certain pains in the head (a sensation unknown to me before), and of great dejection of spirits. This, Sir, is the only excuse I have to make you for my long silence, and not (as perhaps you may have figured to yourself) any secret reluctance I had to tell you my mind concerning the specimen you so kindly sent me of your new poem:* on the contrary, if I had seen any thing of importance to disapprove, I should have hastened to inform you, and never doubted of being forgiven. The truth is, I greatly like all I have seen, and wish to see more. The design is simple, and pregnant with poetical ideas of various kinds, yet seems somehow imperfect at the end. Why may not young Edwin, whom necessity has driven to take up the harp, and assume the profession of a minstrel, do some great and singular service to his country (what service I must leave to your invention)? such as no general, no statesman, no moralist could do without the aid of music, inspiration, and poetry. This will not appear an improbability in those early times, and in a character then held sacred, and respected by all nations: besides, it will be a full answer to all the hermit has said, when he dissuaded him from cultivating these pleasing arts; it will shew their use, and make the best panegyric of our * This letter was written in answer to one that inclosed only a part of the first
book of the Minstrel in manuscript, and I believe a sketch of Mr. Beattie's plan for the whole.
favourite and celestial science. And, lastly (what weighs most with me), it will throw more of action, pathos, and interest into your design, which already abounds in reflection and sentiment. As to description, I have always thought that it made the most graceful ornament of poetry, but never ought to make the subject. Your ideas are new, and borrowed from a mountainous country, the only one that can furnish truly picturesque scenery. Some trifles in the language or versification you will permit me to remark. * * * † I will not enter at present into the merits of your Essay on Truth, because I have not yet given it all the attention it deserves, though I have read it through with pleasure: besides, I am partial; for I have always thought David Hume a pernicious writer, and believe he has done as much mischief here as he has in his own country. A turbid and shallow stream often appears to our apprehensions very deep. A professed sceptic can be guided by nothing but his present passions (if he has any) and interests; and to be masters of his philosophy we need not his books or advice, for every child is capable of the same thing, without any study at all. Is not that naiveté and good humour, which his admirers celebrate in him, owing to this, that he has continued all his days an infant, but one that umhappily has been taught to read and write? That childish nation, the French, have given him vogue and fashion, and we, as usual, have learned from them to admire him at second
# A few paragraphs of particular criticism are here omitted.
+ On a similar subject Mr. Gray expresses himself thus in a letter to Mr. Walpole, dated March 17, 1771 : “He must have a very good stomach that can digest the Crambe recocta of Voltaire. Atheism is a vile dish, though all the cooks of France combine to make new sauces to it. As to the soul, perhaps, they may have none on the continent; but I do think we have such things in England. Shakspeare, for example, I believe had several to his own share. As to the Jews (though they do not eat pork) I like them because they are better Christians than Voltaire.” This was written only three months before his death; and I insert it to shew how constant and uniform he was in his contempt of infidel writers. Dr. Beattie received only one letter more from his correspondent, dated March 8,
v III. M.R. GRAY to M R. How." .
I ought long since to have made you my acknowledgments for the obliging testimonies of your esteem that you have conferred upon me; but Count Algarotti's bookst did not come to my hands till the end of July, and since that time I have been prevented by illness from doing any of my duties. I have read them more than once, with increasing satisfaction; and should wish mankind had eyes to descry the genuine sources of their own pleasures, and judgment to know the extent that nature has prescribed to them: if this were the case, it would be to their interest to appoint Count Algarotti their “Arbiter Elegantiarum.” He is highly civil to our nation; but there is one point in which he does not do us justice; I am the more solicitous about it, because it relates to the only taste we can call our own; the only proof of our original talent in matter of pleasure, I mean our skill in gardening, or rather laying out grounds: and this is no small honour to us, since neither Italy nor France have ever had the least notion of it, nor yet do at all comprehend it when they see it. That the Chinese have this beautiful art in high perfection,
1771. It related to the first book of the Minstrel, now sent to him in print, and contained criticisms on particular passages, and commendations on particular stanzas. Those criticisms the author attended to in a future edition, because his good taste found that they deserved his attention; the passages therefore being altered, the strictures die of course. As to the notes of commendation, the poem itself abounds with so many striking beauties, that they need not even the hand of Mr. Gray to point them out to a reader of any feeling: all therefore that I shall print'of that letter, is the concluding paragraph relating to his Essay on the Immutability of truth. “I am happy to hear of your success in another way, because I think you are serving the cause of human nature, and the true interests of mankind; your book is read here too, and with just applause.”
*This letter and the following, if received earlier, would have found their place, according to their dates, in the fourth Section; but I choose rather to print them here, out of place, than to reserve them for another edition, that the purchasers of this may not have hereafter cause to complain that the book was incomplete.
t Three small treatises on Painting, the Opera, and the French Academy for .." in Italy; they have been since collected in the Leghorn edition of his works.