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To ARCH-DEACON Clive*.
Lichfield, June 27, 1786. By my ingenious and learned friends, Mr Grove of Lichfield, and Mr Dewes of Wellsburn, I was first induced to the attempt of giving to some of the most beautiful lyric compositions . of Horace, that freedom and air of originality, without which poetry is so little worth. They observed to me, that, always charming, and often sublime as they are, very few indeed have been so translated, as that people, conversant with good English poetry, could bear them as translations ; or, not understanding Latin, could like them as poems. They mutually advised me thus, unconscious of each other's counsel, viz.—to read over the prose construction attentively, of those odes whose general idea pleased me, without consulting any previous versification of them ; to seize that leading idea ; to write upon it freely; to use any allusion, metaphor, or imagery, that might
* Resident in Shropshire.
strike me as applicable, careless whether or not Horace has applied it, provided it be consistent with the Roman mythology, customs, and manners. Upon this plan, which I have followed, ny versions have frequently little pretences to verbal fidelity, though, by some of the first scholars of the age, complimented with possessing the Horatian spirit.
My only objection to the style and manner of Horace's lyric poems is, that he leaves too much to the imagination. To leave something to the suppliance of the heart and the fancy, has often the best possible effect; yet that is only where we are sure of their responsibility for the deficience. Nothing that is obscure can be generally interesting; and, whatever amusement Critics
find in their researches into occult meanings, it is always wise in the poet to preclude them from such pastime. Horace, however, did not take that precaution; or rather, perhaps, the lapse of centuries has rendered passages dim which were originally sufficiently luminous. In our time, and in our language, it should be the business of his translator, paraphraser, and imitator, to draw the dark hint into poetic day-light.
The Gentleman's Magazine for last month contains some little poetic gems, of exquisite
lustre, from the pen of Mr Stevens of Repton, in Derbyshire-an English version of the first part of Horace's Ode to Grosphus, and of the Greek poet Moschus's fourth Idyllium ; and also an original sonnet, which has no poetic fault, however it may
sin the score of partiality to me. The stupidity of review-criticism, and the as stupid respect paid to it by the general reader, blighted the first rich fruits of this gentleman's imagination, and, by damping his poetic ardour, has robbed our age of the light of his genius, to which nature gave strength, and to which learning gave purity. O! there is nothing against which my spirit more revolts, than to see dulness deciding upon works of imagination, or envy endeavouring to darken them. I wish none were permitted to enter the lists of criticism but those who feel poetic beauty as keenly as yourself, and who have the same generous desire that others should feel it. Adieu.
To Miss WESTON.
Lichfield, July 20, 1786. Yes, truly, dear Sophia, our public critics are curious deciders upon poetic claims. Smiled you not to see the reviewer of verse, in a late Gentleman's Magazine, gravely pronouncing, “ that it is trifling praise for Mrs Smith's sonnets to pronounce them superior to Shakespeare's and Milton's? O! rare panegyrist ! Such praise may vie, as an offering at the shrine of dulness, with the censure which the Monthly Review passed on Jephson's noble tragedy, the Count of Narbonne, and with that fulminated in the Critical one against the first fair blooms of Mr Stevens's poetic talents, his charming poem, Retirement. Thus it is that the extremes of unfeeling censure, and of hyperbolic encomium, meet in one sickening point of absurdity.
« 'Tis such the goddess hears with special grace,
You say Mrs Smith's sonnets are pretty ;-so say I; --pretty is the proper word, pretty tuneful centos from our various poets, without any thing original. All the lines that are not the lines of others are weak and unimpressive; and these hedge-flowers to be preferred, by a critical dictator, to the roses and amaranths of the two first poets the world has produced !!! It makes one sick.
The allegory in this lady's Origin of Flattery, is to me wholly incomprehensible :-Why Venus should take the helmet of Mars, for a vessel in which to make the oil of Hattery, I cannot understand. You will find all that is tolerable in this poem taken from Hesiod's rise of Woman, translated by Parnel.
Much, indeed very much, above - every thing Mrs Smith has published, are the poems of Helen Williams. We trace in them true sensibility of heart, and the genuine fires of an exalted imagination. Who would not forgive to their sparkling effervescence the occasional want of metaphoric accuracy, with all the other juvenile errors of a judgment as yet unripened by time?
Ere I quit the critical theme, permit me to inveigh against the present senseless custom of excluding all capitals except at the beginning of sentences, and to actual proper names. Such exelusion is of serious bad consequence to poetry,