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P. S.-Pray write me before I set out for Glasgow. The Ode to Tragedy, by a gentleman of Scotland; good now ! wonderful!
New Tarbat, May 25, 1762. DEAR BOSWELL-It has been said, that few people succeed both in poetry and prose. Homer's prose essay on the gun-powder-plot, is reckoned by all critics inferior to the Iliad; and Warburton's rhym. ing satire on the Methodists, is allowed by all to be superior to his prosaical notes on Pope's works. Let it be mine to unite the excellencies both of prose and verse in my inimitable epistles. From this day, my prose shall have a smack of verse, and my verse have a smack of prose. I'll give you a specimen of both. My servant addresses me in these words very often,→→→
The roll is butter'd, and the kettle boil'd,
Your honour's newest coat with grease is soil'd;
In your best breeches glares a mighty hole,
Your wash-ball and pomatum, Sir, are stole.
Your tailor, Sir, must payment have, that's plain;
There's prosaic poetry; now for poetic prose— Universal genius is a wide and diffused stream, that waters the country, and makes it agreeable; 'tis true, it cannot receive ships of any burthen, thereforé it is of no solid advantage, yet it is very amusing. Gondolas and painted barges float upon its surface, the country gentleman forms it into ponds, and it is
spouted out of the mouths of various statues; it strays through the finest fields, and its banks nourish the most blooming flowers. Let me sport with this stream of science, wind along the vale, and glide through the trees, foam down the mountain, and sparkle in the sunny ray; but let me avoid the deep, nor lose myself in the vast profound; and grant that I may never be pent in the bottom of a dreary cave, or be so unfortunate as to stagnate in some unwholesome marsh. Limited genius is a pump-well, very useful in all the common occurrences of life; the water drawn from it is of service to the maids in washing their aprons; it boils beef, and it scours the stairs; it is poured into the tea-kettles of the ladies, and into the punch-bowls of the gentlemen.
Having thus given you, in the most clear and distinct manner, my sentiments of genius, I proceed to give you my opinion of the ancient and modern writers; a subject, you must confess, very aptly and naturally introduced. I am going to be very serious: you will trace a resemblance between me and Sir William Temple, or perhaps David Hume, Esq.
A modern writer must content himself with gleaning a few thoughts here and there, and binding them together without order or regularity, that the variety may please: the ancients have reaped the full of the harvest, and killed the noblest of the game; in vain do we beat about the once plenteous fields, the dews are exhaled, no scent remains. How glorious was
the fate of the early writers! Born in the infancy of letters, their task was to reject thoughts more than to seek after them, and to select out of a number, the most shining, the most striking, and the most susceptible of ornament. The poet saw in his walks every pleasing object of nature undescribed; his heart danced with the gale, and his spirits shone with the invigorating sun; his works breathed nothing but rapture and enthusiasm. Love then spoke with its genuine voice; the breast was melted down with woe, the whole soul was dissolved into pity with its tender complaints; free from the conceits and quibbles which, since that time, have rendered the very name of it ridiculous, real passion heaved the sigh, real passion uttered the most prevailing lan guage. Music too reigned in its full force; that soft deluding art, whose pathetic strains so gently steal into our very souls, and involve us in the sweetest confusion, or whose animating strains fire us even to madness: how has the shore of Greece echoed with the wildest sounds, the delicious warblings of the lyre charmed and astonished every ear. The blaze of rhetoric then burst forth; the ancients sought not by false thoughts and glittering diction to captivate the ear, but, by manly and energetic modes of expression, to rule the heart and sway the passions.
There, Boswell, there are periods for you. Did not you imagine that you was reading the Rambler of Mr. Samuel Johnson; or that Mr. Thomas Sheridan himself was resounding the praises of the an
cients, and his own art? I shall now finish this letter without the least blaze of rhetoric, and with no very manly or energetic mode of expression, assure you that I am yours sincerely, ANDREW ERSKine.
Kelly, July 7, 1762. DEAR BOSWELL,-I imagined that by ceasing to write to you for some time, I should be able to lay up a stock of materials enough to astonish you, and that like a river dammed up, when let loose, I should flow on with unusual rapidity; or like a man who has not beat his wife for a fortnight, I should cudgel you with my wit for hours together: but I find the contrary of all this is the case; I resemble a person long absent from his native country, of which he has formed a thousand endearing ideas, and to which he at last returns; but, alas! he beholds with sorrowful eyes every thing changed for the worse: the town where he was born, which used to have two snows and three sloops trading to all parts of the known world, is not now master of two fishing boats; the steeple of the church, where he used to sleep in his youth, is rent with lightning; and the girl on whom he had placed his early affections, has had three bastard children, and is just going to be delivered of a fourth: or I resemble a man who has had a fine waistcoat lying long in the very bottom of a chest, which he is determined shall be put on at the hunter's ball; but, woes me! the lace is tarnished, and the moths have devoured it in a melan
These few similes may serve to shew, that this letter has little chance of being a good one; yet they don't make the affair certain. Prince Ferdinand beat the French at Minden; Sheridan, in his lectures, sometimes spoke sense; and John Home wrote one good play. I have read Lord Kames' Elements, and agree very heartily with the opinion of the Critical Reviewers; how❤ ever, I could often have wished that his lordship had been less obscure, or that I had more penetration; he praises the Mourning Bride excessively, which nevertheless I can't help thinking a very indifferent play, the plot wild and improbable, and the language infinitely too high and swelling. It is curious to see the opinions of the Reviewers concerning you and me: they take they take you for a poor distressed gentleman writing for bread, and me for a very impudent Irishman ; whereas you are heir to a thousand a year, and I am one of the most bashful Scotsmen that ever appeared: I confess, indeed, my bashfulness does not appear in my works, for them I print in the most impudent manner; being exceeded in that respect by nobody but James Boswell, Esq. Yours, &c. ANDREW ERSKINE.
A CONTROVERSY ON SNUFF-TAKING.
I AM one of those men to whom nature has given no small share of sensibility. I am not about to tell