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in his charming treatise on the application of natural history to poetry, exhorts the bard to avail himself of philosophical illustration ; but almost every
allusion to modern philosophical science, requires a note to make it generally understood, since minute explanation cannot, with any happiness, be committed to verse. That note, which men of science, who are sometimes apt to discard that useful guide, common sense, in their decisions, deem impertinent, superfluous, pedantic, becomes the vehicle of much useful instruction, by generalizing the knowledge of many a curious fact. Unanswerable and self-evident is the assertion, that those who understand a passage in which a circumstance, not universally known, is alluded to, are absurd, if they stop themselves to examine that note which kindly explains it to the less learned reader ; but to the scholar, where is the inconvenience that it is there? Does he grudge its obliging him to turn over his leaf a few seconds the sooner for the space it occupies ? It * is better that they, who have previously dined, should see a banquet before them, than that the hungry should want food. I have eaten, and am satisfied, says the selfish epicure; I hate the sight of this meat. Cannot you let it alone then, and give me leave to eat, who want sustenance ?
One excellence in Mr 's poetry, above that of other writers, is the light thrown by it, and by its valuable notes, upon various sciences. No person can be familiar with his writings, without acquiring from them a very competent fund of knowledge in history, biography, and in the elements of art and science.
All you say on the subject of our friend's temper, is, I must reluctantly acknowledge, but too just ; yet, was his disposition so meliorated and illumed by the flattering prospects then playing before him in delusive vision, that the unalloyed pleasure his society gave me, obliterated from my memory all traces of that tetchy unprovoked spleen, which had often dashed our intimacy with bitterness. Your recent observations concerning its teasing influence, 'acted upon those traces like fire upon characters written with lemon juice. I sigh as they appear again before me, clouding and staining the lustre of fine talents, and many excellent qualities. Ah! pity that they ever existed,
“ To quarrel with the noblest grace he owns,
Let us all take warning, and correct our acids and sub-acids of every sort.
To Miss HELEN WILLIAMS.
Lichfield, Aug. 25, 1785. I WRITE to you, dear Helen, amidst the bustle of those feminine preparations, which necessarily precede the design of attending an barmonic festival at Manchester, where the abbey drums are to thunder, Mara exhibit vocal miracles, and, what is much more to the genuine lovers of musical pathos and energy, our friend Saville is to open the Messiah, and take all the principal tenor and contra-tenor songs. He unites poetic taste, and the vivid emotions of a feeling heart, and of an high and kindling spirit, to a rich, extensive, and powerful voice, and the most perfect knowledge of his science. It is the former which direct, with unerring power, the energy and pathos of his expression. Others sing with as much, perhaps more musical fancy, and artful elegance; but he alone, of all his brethren of the lyre, sings with impulses congenial to those with which Milton wrote and Handel composed, though he never aims to dazzle or astonish his audience.
I long to see your poetic spectres, whose mournful habiliments will, I am sure, be woven by the hand of genius.
The dear bard has been so good as to send me Boyd's translation of Dante into English verse. Appearing after Mr Hayley's version of the three first cantos of the Inferno, it suffers by a comparison with their matchless excellence; yet, even had he condescended to lead us through the long succession of fiery furnaces, the result must have been a certain weary horror, of which we grow impatient. The Dantean Angel of Vengeance is diabolically insatiable; and this seems to me the sum and substance of his inflictions,—
Immerse him in that boiling tide,
Then on yon gridiron burn him ;
I prithee, devil, turn him.
The last letters I received from Mr and Mrs Whalley, were written from their summer retreat, in the neighbourhood of Vaucluse, seven miles from Avignon. Their villa commanded a view of what appears like an immense park, graced with the shade of innumerable mulberry trees. Beyond the considerable extent of open ground, various landscapes present themselves, rich in chateaus, villages, and ruins, while the Alps of Dauphiné form a majestic back-ground, and close the scene.
Mr Whalley speaks with delight of their little green drawing-room, whose windows are curtained with foliage from a small grove of planes, elms, and flowering limes. Between the irregular trunks of the trees, and beneath their branches, are seen the pure waters of the Sorgue. They are perfectly azure, and flow an hundred yards distant from this romantic habitation. Think, dear Miss Williams, how the consciousness of this river's poetic consecration, by Petrarch, must enhance the delight with which the kindred spirit of Mr Whalley gazed on its waves, as they wandered by this villa. He tells me, that, to complete the magic of the scene, their near grove was the mansion of nightingales, which, when he wrote, were in full song.
Many English families of rank, residing for a time at Avignon, followed our friend's example, and formed a sort of colony in the muse-hallowed scene; pleased with the idea of passing a summer in the vicinity of that immortal fountain and valley, which had witnessed the beauty of Laura, and heard the songs of Petrarch,
“ That spread the fame of bis disastrous love."