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And what follows. To me they appear untranslatable; and if this be the case, our language is greatly degenerated. However, the affectation of imitating Shakspeare may doubtless be carried too far; and is no sort of excuse for sentiments ill-suited, or speeches ill-timed, which I believe is a little the case with me. I guess the most faulty expressions may be these—siiken son of dalliance—drowsier pretensions—wrinkled beldams—arched the hearer's brow and rivetted his eyes in fearful extasie. These are easily altered or omitted: and indeed if the thoughts be wrong or superfluous, there is nothing easier than to leave out the whole. The first ten or twelve lines are, I believe, the best;* and as for the rest, I was betrayed into a good deal of it by Tacitus; only what he has said in five words, I imagine 1 have said in fitly lines: such is the misfortune of imitating the inimitable. Now, if you are of my opinion, una litura may do the business, better than a dozen; and you need not fear unravelling my web. I am a sort of spider; and have little else to do but spin it over again, or creep to some other place and spin there. Alas! for one who has nothing to do but amuse himself, I believe my amusements are as little amusing as most folks. But no matter; it makes the hours pass; and is better than i» xpeatut Kxi xptwut xmrmCuntu.
* The lines which he means here are from "thus ever grave and undisturb'd reflection," to " Rubellitis lives." For the part of tTie scene, which he stnt in his former letter, began there.
FROM MR. WEST.
To begin with the conclusion of your letter, which is Greek, I desire that you will quarrel no more with your .manner of passing your time. In my opinion it is irreproachable, especially as it produces such excellent fruit; and if I, like a saucy bird, must be pecking at it, you ought to consider that it is because I like it. No una lirura I beg you, no unravelling of your web, dear sir! only pursue it a little further, and then one shall be able to judge of it a little better. You know the crisis of a play is in the first act; its damnation or salvation wholly rests there. But till that first act is over, every body suspends his vote; so how do you think 1 can form, as yet, any just idea of the speeches in regard to their length or shortness? The connection and symmetry of such little parts with one another must naturally escape me, as not having the plan of the whole in my head; neither can I decide about the thoughts, whether they are wrong or superfluous; they may have some future tendency which I perceive not. The style only was free to me, and there I find we are pretty much of the same sentiment: for you say the affectation of imitating Shakspeare may doubtless be carried too far: I say as much and no more. For old words we know are old gold, provided they are well chosen. Whatever Ennius was, I do not consider Shakspeare as a dunghill in the least: on the contrary, he is a mine of ancient ore, where all our great modern poets have found their advantage. 1 do not know how it is; but his old expressions have more energy in them than ours, and are even more adapted to poetry; certainly, where they are judiciously and sparingly inserted, they add a certain grace to the composition'; in the same manner as Poussin gave a beauty to his pictures by his knowledge in the ancient proportions: but should he, or any other painter, carry the imitation too far, and neglect that best of models, Nature, 1 am afraid it would prove a very flat performance. To finish this long criticism: 1 have this further notion about old words revived, (is not this a pretty way of fmishing?) I think them of excellent use in tales: they add a certain drollery to the comic, and a roowntic gravity to the serious, which are both charming in their kmd; and this way of charming Dryden understood very well. One need only read Milton to acknowledge the dignity they give the epic. But now comes my opinion, that they ought to be used in tragedy more sparingly, than in most kinds of poetry. Tragedy is designed for public representation, and what is designed for that should be certainly most intelligible. I believe half the audience that come to Shakspeare's plays do not understand the half of what they hear.—But finissons enfin.—Yet one word more.—You think the ten or twelve first lines the best, now I am for the fourteen last;* add, that they contain not one word of ancientry.
» He means the conelusion «f the first scene. But here and throughout his critieism on old words, he is not so consistent as his correspondent; for he here insists that ail ancicntry should be struck out, and in a former passage |he admits it may be used sparingly.
I rejoice you found amusement in Joseph Andrews. But then I think your conceptions of Paradise a little upon the Bergerac. Les Lettres du Seraphim R. a madame la Cherubinesse de Q. What a piece of extravagance would there be!
jVnd now you must know that my body continues weak and enervate. And for my animal spirits they are in perpetual fluctuation: some whole days I have no relish, no attention for any thing; at other times I revive, and am capable of writing a long letter, as you see; and though 1 do not write speeches, yet I translate them. When you understand what speech, you will own that it is a bold and perhaps a dull attempt. In three words, it is prose, it is from Tacitus, it is of Germanicus. Peruse, perpend, pronounce.*
TO MR. WEST.
London, April, 1742.
J Should not have failed to answer your letter immediately, but I went out of town for
* This speech I omit to print as I have generally avoided to publish mere translations either of Mr. Gray or his fricnd.