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LETTER. I. DEAR SIR, Cambridge, Feb. 3, 1746.
You are so good to inquire after my usual time of coming to town: it is at a season when even you, the perpetual friend of London, will, I fear, hardly be in it— the middle of June: and I commonly return thither in September; a month when I may more probably find you at home.
Our defeat to be sure is a rueful affair for the honour of the troops; but the Duke is gone it seems with the rapidity of a cannon-bullet to undefeat us again. The common people in town at least know how to be afraid; but we are such uncommon people here as to have no more sense of danger, than if the battle had been fought when and where the battle of Cannae was. The perception of these calamities, and of their consequences, that we are supposed to get from books, is so faintly impressed, that we talk of war, famine, and pestilence with no more apprehension than of a broken head, or of a coach overturned between York and Edinburgh. I heard three people, sensible middle-aged men (when the Scotch were said to be at Stamford, and actually were at Derby), talking of hiring a chaise to go to Caxton (a place in the high road) to see the Pretender and the highlanders as they passed.
* The following series of letters, as it forms an interesting part of Mr. Gray's correspondence, could not, with propriety, be omitted in the present edition; and, it being deemed prudent to interfere, as little as possible, with Mr. Mason's arrangements, no method appeared more judicious than that of bringing them before the reader in the shape of an Appendix.-The letters themselves, with the notes affixed, have been taken from the quarto edition of Mr. Walpole's Works.
I can say no more for Mr. Pope (for what you keep in reserve may be worse than all the rest). It is natural to wish the finest writer, one of them, we ever had, should be an honest man. It is for the interest even of that virtue, whose friend he professed himself, and whose beauties he sung, that he should not be found a dirty animal. But, however, this is Mr. Warburton's business, not mine, who may scribble his pen to the stumps, and all in vain, if these facts are so. It is not from what he told me about himself that I thought well of him, but from a humanity and goodness of heart, ay, and greatness of mind, that runs through his private correspondence, not less apparent than are a thousand little vanities and weaknesses mixed with those good qualities; for nobody ever took him for a philosopher.
If you know any thing of Mr. Mann's state of health and happiness, or the motions of Mr. Chute homewards, it will be a particular favour to inform me of them, as I have not heard this half year from them.
I am sincerely yours.
It is doubtless an encouragement to continue writing to you, when you tell me you answer me with pleasure. I have another reason which would make me very copious, had I anything to say; it is, that I write to you with equal pleasure, though not with equal spirits, nor with like plenty of materials: please to subtract then so much for spirit, and so much for matter; and you will find me, I hope, neither so slow nor so short, as I might otherwise seem. Besides, I had a mind to send you the remainder of Agrippina, that was lost in a wilderness of papers. Certainly you do her too much honour: she seemed to me to talk like an Oldboy, all in figures and mere poetry, instead of nature and the language of real passion. Do you remember Approchez-vous, Neron f°–Who would not rather have thought of that half line than all Mr. Rowe's flowers of eloquence? However, you will find the remainder here at the end in an outrageous long speech; it was begun above four years ago (it is a misfortune you know my age, else I might have added), when I was very young. Poor West put a stop to that tragic torrent he saw breaking in upon him:—have a care, I warn you not to set open the flood-gate again, lest it drown you and me and the bishop and all. I am very sorry to hear you treat philosophy and her followers like a parcel of monks and hermits, and think myself obliged to vindicate a profession I honour, bien que je n'en tienne pas boutique (as Mad. Sevigné says). The first man that ever bore the name, if you remember, used to say, that life was like the Olympic games (the greatest public assembly of his age and country), where some came to shew their strength and agility of body, as the champions; others, as the musicians, orators, poets, and historians, to shew their excellence in those arts; the traders to get money; and the better sort to enjoy the spectacle, and judge of all these. They did not then run away from society for fear of its temptations; they passed their days in the midst of it: conversation was their business: they cultivated the arts of persuasion, on purpose to shew men it was their interest, as well as their duty, not to be foolish, and false, and unjust; and that too in many instances with success; which is not very strange: for they shewed by their life that their lessons were not impracticable; and that pleasures were no temptations, but to such as
wanted a clear perception of the pains annexed to them.f
* Agrippina, in Racine's tragedy of Britannicus. + Never perhaps was a more admirable picture drawn of true philosophy and its real and important services; services not confined to the speculative opinions of
But I have done preaching a la Grecque. Mr. Ratcliffe” made a shift to behave very rationally without their instructions, at a season which they took a great deal of pains to fortify themselves and others against: one would not desire to lose one's head with a better grace. I am particularly satisfied with the humanity of that last embrace to all the people about him. Sure it must be somewhat embarrassing to die before so much good company' You need not fear but posterity will be ever glad to know the absurdity of their ancestors: the foolish will be glad to know they were as foolish as they, and the wise will be glad to find themselves wiser. You will please all the world then; and if you recount miracles you will be believed so much the sooner. We are pleased when we wonder; and we believe because we are pleased. Folly and wisdom, and wonder and pleasure, join with me in desiring you would continue to entertain them: refuse us if you can. Adieu, dear Sir!
LETTER III. DEAR SIR, Stoke, June 12, 1750. As I live in a place, where even the ordinary tattle of the town arrives not till it is stale, and which produces no events of its own, you will not desire any excuse from me for writing so seldom, especially as of all people living I know you are the least a friend to letters spun out of one's own brains, with all the toil and constraint that accompanies sentimental productions. I have been here at Stoke a few days (where I shall con- . tinue good part of the summer); and having put an end
the studious, but adapted to the common purposes of life, and promoting the general happiness of mankind; not upon the chimerical basis of a system, but on the immutable foundations of truth and virtue. * Brother to the Earl of Derwentwater. He was executed at Tyburn, December, 1746, for having been concerned in the rebellion of Scotland.
to a thing, whose beginning you may have seen long ago, I immediately send it you.” You will, I hope, look upon it in the light of a thing with an end to it; a merit that most of my writings have wanted, and are like to want, but which this epistle I am determined shall not want, when it tells you that I am ever
Not that I have done yet; but who could avoid the temptation of finishing so roundly and so cleverly in the manner of good Queen Anne's days? Now I have talked of writings, I have seen a book, which is by this time in the press, against Middleton (though without naming him), by Asheton. As far as I can judge from a very hasty reading, there are things in it new and ingenious, but rather too prolix, and the style here and there savouring too strongly of sermon. I imagine it will do him credit. So much for other people, now to self again. You are desired to tell me your opinion, if you can take the pains, of these lines. I am once more
LETTER IV. MY DEAR SIR, Ash-Wednesday, Cambridge, 1751.
You have indeed conducted with great decency my little misfortune: you have taken a paternal care of it, and expressed much more kindness than could have been expected from so near a relation. But we are all frail; and I hope to do as much for you another time. Nurse Dodsley has given it a pinch or two in the cradle, that (I doubt) it will bear the marks of as long as it lives. But no matter: we have ourselves suffered under her hands before now; and, besides, it will only look the more careless, and by accident as it were. I thank
* This was the Elegy in the Churchyard.