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Both old and young confess thy pow'rful sway,
Rous'd by the magic of the charming air,
The yawning dogs forego their heavy slumbers;
And Captain Andrew straight forgets his numbers.
But falling down, the noise my lady hears,
Whose scolding drowns the trump more tuneful than the spheres!
Having thus, Boswell, written you a most enter taining letter, with which you are highly pleased, to your great grief I give over in these or the like words, your affectionate friend,
New Tarbat, Dec. 13, 1761. DEAR BOSWELL,-An Ode to Tragedy, by a gentleman of Scotland, and dedicated to you!* Had there been only one spark of curiosity in my whole composition, this would have raised it to a flame equal to the general conflagration. May G-d d-n me, as Lord Peter says, if the edge of my appetite to know what it can be about, is not as keen as the best razor ever used by a member of
* This letter was occasioned by seeing an Ode to Tragedy, written by a gentleman of Scotland, and dedicated to James Boswell, Esq. advertised in the Edinburgh newspapers. It afterwards appeared that the Ode was written by Mr. Boswell himself.
the Soaping Club. Go to Donaldson, demand from him two of my franks, and send it me even before the first post: write me, O write me! what sort of man this author is, where he was born, how he was brought up, and with what sort of diet he has been principally fed; tell me his genealogy, like Mr. M; how many miles he has travelled in post-chaises, like Colonel R; tell me what he eats, like a cook; what he drinks, like a winemerchant; what shoes he wears, like a shoemaker; in what manner his mother was delivered of him, like a man-midwife; and how his room is furnished, like an upholsterer: but if you happen to find it difficult to utter all this in terms befitting Mr. M, Colonel R, a cook, a wine-merchant, a shoemaker, a man-midwife, and an upholsterer, Oh! tell it me all in your own manner, and in your
own incomparable style.
Your scheme, Boswell, has met with-but the thoughts of this Ode-writing gentleman of Scotland again come across me-I must now ask, like the Spectator, is he fat or lean, tall or short, does he use spectacles? what is the length of his walking-stick? has he a landed estate? has he a good coal-work? -Lord! Lord! what a melancholy thing it is to live twenty miles from a post-town! why am I not in Edinburgh? why am I not chained to Donaldson's shop?
I received both your letters yesterday, for we send to the post-house but once a-week: I need not
tell you how I liked them; were I to acquaint you with that, you would consecrate the pen with which they were written, and deify the inkhorn; I think the outside of one of them was adorned with the greatest quantity of good sealing-wax I ever saw; and my brother A and Lady A, both of whom have a notable comprehension of these sort of things, agree with me in this my opinion.
Your Ode to Gluttony is altogether excellent; the descriptions are so lively, that mistaking the paper on which they were written for a piece of bread and butter spread with marmalade, I fairly swallowed the whole composition, and I find my stomach increased threefold since that time; I de clare it to be the most admirable whet in the world, superior to a solan goose, or white wine and bitters; it ought to be hung up in every cook's shop in the three kingdoms, engraved on pillars in all market places, and pasted in all rooms in all taverns.
You seem to doubt in your first letter if ever Captain Erskine was better entertained by the great Donaldson than you was lately; banish that opinion; tell it not in Gath, nor publish it in Askalon; repeat it not in John's Coffee-house, neither whisper it in the Abbey of Holyroodhouse: no, I shall never forget the fowls and oyster-sauce which bedecked the board; fat were the fowls, and the oysters of the true pandor or croat kind: then the apple-pie with raisins, and the mutton with colliflower, can never be erased from my remembrance. I may forget my
native country, my dear brothers and sisters, my poetry, my art of making love, and even you, O Boswell! but these things I can never forget; the impression is too deep, too well imprinted, ever to be effaced: I may turn Turk or Hottentot, I may be hanged for stealing a bag to adorn my hair, I may ravish all sorts of virgins, young and old, I may court the fattest Wapping landlady, but these things I can never forget; I may be sick and in prison, I may be deaf, dumb, and may lose my memory, but these things I can never forget.
And now, Boswell, I am to acquaint you, that your proposal is received with the utmost joy and festivity; and the scheme, if I live till to-morrow fortnight, will be put in execution. The New Tarbat chaise will arrive at Glasgow on Monday evening, the 28th of December, drove by William. Captain Andrew's slim personage will slip out; he will inquire for James Boswell, Esq.; he will be shewn into the room where he is sitting before a large fire, the evening being cold, raptures and poetry will ensue, and every man will soap his own beard; every other article of the proposals will be executed as faithfully as this. But to speak very seriously, you must be true to your appointment, and come with the utmost regularity upon the Monday; think of my emotions at Græme's if you should not come; view my melancholy posture; hark! I rave like Lady Wishfort, no Boswell yet, Boswell's a lost thing. I must receive a letter from you before
I set out, telling me whether you keep true to your resolution; and pray send me the Ode to Tragedy. I beg you'll bring me out in your pocket my Critical Review, which you may desire Donaldson to give you; but above all, employ Donaldson to get me a copy of Fingal, which tell him I'll pay him for; I long to see it.
There are some things lately published in London which I would be glad to have, particularly a Spousal Hymn on the Marriage of the King and Queen, and an Elegy on viewing a ruined Pile of Buildings: see what you can do for me; I know you will not take it ill to be busied a little for that greatest of all poets, Captain Andrew.
The sluice of happiness you have let in upon me, has quite overflowed the shallows of my understanding; at this moment I am determined to write more and print more than any man in the kingdom, except the great Dr. Hill, who writes a folio every month, a quarto every fortnight, an octavo every week, and a duodecimo every day. Hogarth has humorously represented a brawny porter almost sinking to the ground under a huge load of his works. I am too lazy just now to copy out an Ode to Indolence which I have lately written; besides, it's fitting I reserve something for you to peruse when we meet, for upon these occasions an exchange of poems ought to be as regular as an exchange of prisoners between two nations at war. Believe me, dear Boswell, to be yours sincerely, ANDREW ERSKINE,