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Olney, March 6; 1786. MY DEAREST COUSIN,
Your opinion has more weight with me than that of all the critics in thie world, and to give you a proof of it, I make you a concession that I would hardly have made to them all united. I do not indeed, absolutely covenant, promise, and agree, that I will disa card all my elisions, but I hereby bind myself to dismiss as many of them, as, without sacrificing energy to sound, I can. It is incumbent upon me, in the mean time, to say something in justification of the few that I shall re. tain, that I may not seem a Poet mounted rather on a mule than on Pegasus. In the first place, The, is a. barbarism. We are indebted for it to the Celts, or the Goths, or to the Saxons, or perhaps to them all. In the-two best languages that ever were spoken, the Greek and the Latin, there is no similar incumbrance of expression to be found. Secondly, the perpetual use of it in our language is, to us miserable poets, attended with two great inconveniences. Our verse consisting only of ten syllables, it not unfrequently happens, that the fifth part of a line is to be engrossed, and necessarily too, (unless elision prevents it) by this abominable intruder; and which is worse in my account, open vowels are continually the consequence:--The element- The air, &c. Thirdly, the French, who are equally with the English chargeable with barbarism in tliis particular, dispose of their Le and their La without ceremony, and always take care that they shall be absorbed, both in verse and in prose, in the vowel that immediately follows them. Fourthly, and 'I believe lastly, (and for your sake I wish it may prove so) the
practice of cutting short a The is warranted by Milton, who, of all English poets that ever lived, had certainly the finest ear. Dr. Warton indeed has dared to say that he had a bad one, for which he deserves, as far as critical demerit can deserve it, to lose his own. I thought I had done, but there is still a fifthly behind, and it is this; that the custom of abbreviating The belongs to the style in which, in my advertisement annexed to the specimen, I profess to write. The use of that style would have warranted me in the practice of much greater liberty of this sort than I ever intended to take. In perfect consistence with that style I might say I'th' tempest, l' th' door-way, &c. which, however, I would not allow myself to do, because I was aware that it would be objected to, and with reason. But it seems to me, for the causes above said, that when I shorten The, before a vowel, or before wh, as in the line you mention,
“ Than th’ whole broad Hellespont in all his parts," my licence is not equally exceptionable. Because W, though he rank as a consonant in the word whole, is not allowed to announce himself to the ear, and H is an aspirate. But as I said at the beginning, so say I still, I am most willing to conform myself to your very sensible observation, that it is necessary, if we would please, to consult the taste of our own day. Neither would I have pelted you, my dearest cousin, with any part of this volley of good reasons, had I not designed them as an answer to those objections which you say you have heard from others. But I only mention them. Though satisfactory to myself, I wave them, and will allow to The his whole dimensions, whensoever it can be done.
Thou only Critic of my verse that is to be found in all the earth whom I love, what shall I say in answer to your own objection to that passage
6 Softly he placed his hand ? « On th' old man's hand, and push'd it gently away."
I can say neither more nor less than this, that when our dear friend the General sent me his opinion of the specimen, quoting those very words from it, he added, « With this part I was particularly pleased: there is nothing in poetry more descriptive.” Such were his very words. Taste, my dear, is various; there is nothing so various, and even between persons of the best taste there are diversities of opinion on the same subject, for which it is not possible to account. So much for these matters.
You advise me to consult the General, and to confide in him. I follow your advice, and have done both. By the last post I asked his permission to send him the Books of my Homer, as fast as I should finish them off. I shall be glad of his remarks, and more glad than of any thing, to do that which I hope may be agreeable to him. They will of course pass into your hands before they are sent to Johnson. The quire that I sent is now in the hands of Johnson's friend. I intended to have told you in my last, but forgot it, that Johnson behaves very handsomely in the affair of my two volumes. He acts with a liberality not often found in persons of his occupation, and to mention it when occasion calls me to it, is a justice due to him.
I am very much pleased with Mr. Stanley's letterseveral compliments were paid me on the subject of that first volume by my own friends, but I do not recollect that I ever knew the opinion of a stranger about it before, whether favourable or otherwise: I only heard by a side wind that it was very much read in Scotland, and more than here.
Farewell, my dearest cousin, whom we expect, of whom we talk continually, and whom we continually long for.
W. C. Your anxious wishes for my success delight me, and you may rest assured, my dear, that I have all the ambition on the subject that you can wish me to feel. I more than admire my author. I often stand as. tonished at his beauties. I am for ever amused with the translation of him, and I have received a thousand encouragements. These are all so many aappy omens that, I hope, shall be verified by the event.
April 5, 1786.
I did, as you suppose, bestow all possible consideration on the subject of an apology for my Homerican undertaking. I turned the matter about in my mind an hundred different ways, and in every way in which it would present itself, found it an impracticable business. It is impossible for me, with what delicacy soever I manage it, to state the objections that lie against Pope's translation, without incurring odium, and the imputation of arrogance : foreseeing this danger, I choose to say nothing.
W. C. P. S. You may well wonder at my courage, who have undertaken a work of such enormous length. You would wonder more if you knew that I translated : the whole Iliad with no other help than a Clavis. But I have since equipped myself better for this immense journey, and am revising the work in company with a good commentator.
Olney, April 17, 1786.
If you will not quote Solomon, my dearest cousin, I will. He says, and as beautifully as truly—“ Hope deferred maketh the heart sick, but when the desire corneth, it is a tree of life !" I feel how much reason he had on his side when he made this observation, and am myself sick of your fortnight's delay.
e * * * * * The Vicarage was built by Lord Dartmouth, and was not finished till some time after we arrived at Olney ; consequently it is new. It is a smart stone building, welí sashed, by much too good for the living, but just what I would wi:h for you. It has, as you justly concluded from my premises, a garden, but rather calculated for use than ornament. It is square, and well walled, but has neither arbour nor alcove, nor other shade, except the shadow of the house. But we have two gardens, which are yours. Between your mansion and curs is intei posed nothing but an orchard, inte which a door, opening out of our garden, affords us the easiest communication imaginable, will save the round about by the town, and make both houses one. Your chamber windows look over the river, and over the meadows, to a village called Emberton, and command the whole length of a long bridge, described by a certain Poet, together with a view of the road at a distance. Should you wish for books at Olney, you must bring them with you, or you will wish in vain ; for I have none but the works of a certain Poet, Cowper, of whom, perhaps, you have heard, and they are as yet but two volumes. They