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for a starched grey-headed steward2, who is as much an antiquity as any in this place, and looks like an old family picture walked out of its frame. He entertained us as we passed from room to room with several relations of the family; but his observations were particularly curious when he came to the cellar: he informed us where stood the triple rows of butts of sack, and where were ranged the bottles of tent, for toasts in a morning; he pointed to the stands that supported the iron-hooped hogshead of strong beer; then stepping to a corner, he lugged out the tattered fragments of an unframed picture: "This (says he, with tears) was poor Sir Thomas! once mastera of all this drink. He had two sons, poor young masters! who never arrived to the age of his beer; they both fell ill in this very room, and never went out on their own legs." He could not pass by a heap of broken bottles without taking up a piece to show us the arms of the family upon it He then led us up the tower by dark winding stone steps, which landed us into several little rooms one above another. One of these was nailed up, and our guide whispered to us as a secret the occasion of it: it seems the course of this noble blood was a little interrupted about two centuries ago, by a freak of the Lady Frances, who was here taken in the fact with a neighbouring Prior, ever since which the room has been nailed up, and branded with the name of the Adultery-Chamber. The ghost of Lady Frances is supposed to walk there, and some prying maids of the family report that they have seen a lady in a farthingale
through the key-hole; but this matter is hushed up, and the servants are forbid to talk of it.
I must needs have tired you by this long description: but what engaged me in it, was a generous principle to preserve the memory of that, which itself must soon fall into dust; nay, perhaps part of it, before this letter reaches your hands.
Indeed we owe this old house the same kind of gratitude that we do to an old friend, who harbours us in his declining condition, nay, even in his last extremities. How fit is this retreat for uninterrupted study, where no one that passes by can dream there is an inhabitant, and even those who would dine with us dare not stay under our roof! Any one that sees it will own I could not have chosen a more likely place to converse with the dead in. I had been mad indeed if I had left your grace for any one but Homer. But when I return to the living, I shall have the eerise to endeavour to converse with the best of them, and shall therefore as soon as possible tell you in person how much I am, &c.
FROM THE DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM.
You desire my opinion as to the late dispute in France concerning Homer *: and I think it excusable
(at an age, alas! of not much pleasure) to amuse myself a little in taking notice of a controversy, than which nothing is at present more remarkable, (even in a nation who value themselves so much upon the Belles Lettres,) both on account of the illustrious subject of it, and of the two persons engaged in the quarrel.
The one is extraordinary in all the lyric kind of poetry, even in the opinion of his very adversary. The other a lady (and of more value for being so) not only of great learning, but with a genius admirably turned to that sort of it which most becomes her sex for softness, gentleness, and promoting of virtue; and such as (one would think) is not so liable as other parts of scholarship, to rough disputes, or violent animosity.
Yet it has so happened, that no writers, even about divinity itself, have been more outrageous or uncharitable than these two polite authors; by suffering their judgments to be a little warped (if I may use that expression) by the heat of their eager inclinations, to attack or defend so great an author under debate. I wish for the sake of the public, which is now so well entertained by their quarrel, it may not end at last in their agreeing to blame a third man who is so presumptuous as to censure both, if they should chance to hear of it.
To begin with matter of fact. Mad. Dacier has well
judged, that the best of all poets certainly deserved a better translation, at least into French prose, because to see it done in verse was despaired of: I believe indeed, from a defect in that language, incapable of mounting to any degree of excellence suitable to so very great an undertaking.
She has not only performed this task as well as prose can do it, (which is indeed but as the wrong side of tapestry is able to represent the right5,) she has added to it also many learned and useful annotations. With all which she most obligingly delighted not only her own sex, but most of ours, ignorant of the Greek, and consequently her adversary himself, who frankly acknowledges that ignorance.
It is no wonder, therefore, if, in doing this, she is grown so enamoured of that unspeakably-charming author, as to have a kind of horror at the least mention of a man bold enough to blame him.
Now as to M. de la Motte, he being already deservedly famous for all sorts of lyric poetry, was so far introduced by her into those beauties of the epic kind (though but in that way of translation) as not to resist the pleasure and hope of reputation, by attempting that in verse, which had been applauded so much for the difficulty of doing it even in prose; knowing how this, well executed, must extremely transcend the other.
But, as great poets are a little apt to think they have an ancient right of being excused for vanity on all occasions, he was not content to out-do Mad. Dacier, but endeavoured to out-do Homer himself, and all that ever in any age or nation went before him in the same enterprise; by leaving out, altering, or adding, whatever he thought best.
Against this presumptuous attempt, Homer has been in all times so well defended, as not to need my small assistance; yet, I must need say, his excellences are such, that for their sakes he deserves a much gentler touch for his seeming errors. These if M. de la Motte had translated as well as the rest, with an apology for having retained them only out of mere veneration; his judgment, in my opinion, would have appeared much greater than by the best of his alterations, though I admit them to be written very finely. I join with M. de la Motte in wondering at some odd things in Homer, but it is chiefly because of his sublime ones, I was about to say his divine ones, which almost surprise me at finding them any where in the fallible condition of human nature.
And now we are wondering, I am in a difficulty to guess what can be the reason of these exceptions against Homer, from one who has himself translated him, contrary to the general custom of translators. Is there not a little of that in it? I mean to be singular, in getting above the title of a translator, though sufficiently honourable in this case. For such an ambition nobody has less occasion, than one who is so fine a poet in other kinds; and who must have too much wit to believe, any alteration of another can entitle him to the denomination of an Epic Poet himself; though no man in this age seems more capable of being a good one, if the French tongue would bear it. Yet in his translation he has done too well, to leave any doubt (with all his faults) that hers can be ever paralleled with it.
Besides, he could not be ignorant that finding faults is the most easy and vulgar part of a critic; whereas nothing shows so much skill and taste both, as the being thoroughly sensible of the sublimest excellences.