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GEORGE HARDINGE, Esg.
Lichfield, Dec. 20, 1786. I SEE you are displeased with me, for the perhaps too ingenuous manner in which I have combated the prejudices that govern your criticisms. You say
I want temper in argument. It certainly exhausts my patience to see a man of ability, with an air of unappealable decision, perpetually pronouncing in modern poets that to be obscure, which is clear as day-light; if the language is elevated, calling it stiff and stilted; while, if simplicity be the character of the passage, he terms it heavy, mean, and prosaic.
In your observations upon Mason's, Hayley's, the Bard of Derby's, and even upon my much inferior compositions, I cannot guess at the ideas which stimulate your censure, or inspire your praise; because the passages you commend, in our separate writings, appear to me no way superior to those you condemn.
I am still sure of the fact, that where Milton
and Shakespeare mean to describe, they use epithets quite as lavishly as our best moderns*. The passages you quote to oppose my assertion are merely colloquial and narrative.
It would be a fine opiate truly to read a descriptive poem, in which the author should talk of hills, and vallies, and rocks, and seas, and streams, and youths, and nymphs, without giving us the picturesque noun-adjective, which alone conveys to us any distinct idea, what sort of hill, and valley, rock, ocean, stream, youth, or maid, he means to place before us.
I was reading Henry the sixth yesterday, without any design of searching for added instances to prove a truth so self-evident, as that picture and appropriation in general depend upon the epithet. That is not one of Shakespeare's best plays, and though generally natural, and therefore interesting, though it contains much good sense, and strong characteristic strokes, it has certainly less poetry than most of his other dramas; yet in the poetic, or even in the impassioned passages, mark how the epithets pour in!
“ Wizards know their time,
*" So also does Homer, whether viewed in his Grecian, or English dress.” -S.
See how the great poet depends upon the thricerepeated epithets to produce a growing impression of horror!
« Oft have I seen a timely-parted ghost,
« The gaudy, babbling, and remorseful day
Milton, as well as Shakespeare, sometimes produces a beautiful effect, by placing his substantive in the midst of epithets, thus ;
“ Now is the pleasant time, The cool, the silent."
“ Save what thic glimmering of these livid flames,
That extremely sublime character of Richard III. given by his mother, consists wholly of epithets.
“ Tetchy, and wayward, was thine infancy,
Some of these epithets may be deemed exuberant, from having meanings too kindred—but it is natural for the embittered and accusing spirit to pour them from the lip, regardless of tautology and on the whole it is an heart-striking summary of a villain's life.
You seem to think my writings infected by the affectation of using uncommon words.
I hope not; but I choose, and always shall choose the strongest which spontaneously occur, to express my idea, whether in prose or verse, if the idea is elevated; mindless whether they do, or do not form a part of the fashionable vocabulary of Lord Fillagree and Lady Pamtickle. When I converse in such circles I stoop my style to their level, but I write for other kind of persons.
As to my Louisa Epistles, they, however inferior, are professedly on the level of Pope's Epistle from Eloisa. None have a right to say
that any passage, or epithet of mine in that work is too elevated for the epistolary style, if it is not more above that level than is Pope's epistle.
You observe to me that you correspond with many whose hearts are as ingenuous as mine, and
whose abilities are as brilliant. Respecting the latter, instead of as, you might doubtless have used the word more. These, you say, think entirely with you upon the insufficiency of Mason and Hayley: to be styled fine poets, and upon that of Johnson's claim to eloquence.
With such, a literary correspondence must be as mutually pleasant, as it proves the reverse between you and me; since however impossible that any two people should see every object in the same light, yet a great degree of parity in taste, and in ideas of every kind, is necessary to make such an intercourse desirable. It was vain to hope
this parity between a fastidious Wit, and a glowing Enthusiast.
I know you do me honour in giving yourself the trouble to reform what strikes you as defective in my own writings, and as erroneous judgment on the composition of others ;-but, differing so materially about the component parts of a receipt for making beautiful style, I am not likely to improve by your corrections. You are in high life, I am in obscurity, from which I do not wish to emerge, since peace is dearer to me than distinction. Our acquaintance is not in common, therefore anecdote can seldom be interesting. Why therefore should we pursue our correspondence? I shall be happier in giving my epistolary leisure to friends