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to which folk are reduced, when they will not be
the reflections which result from its information,
that the Lycidas, Comus, and Il Penseroso, the Sonnets, in short, all the juvenile works of that immortal poet, remained in oblivion full twenty years after the Paradise Lost had emerged. It proves the absolute incompetence of the public to discern and estimate the claims of genius, till, by the slow accumulation of the suffrage of kindred talents, it is taught their value. If, as I begin to fear, from what two men of talents, who ought to know better, say of the Mine, that fine dramatic poem should sink, for some time, beneath the fastidious coldness of modern criticism, we may address its author in the words of his great model,
“So sinks the day-star in the ocean-bed,
I DEPLoRE what you tell me of our good Baron Dimsdale's illness; and am a fellow-sufferer with him, from a frequent and oppressive pain at my stomach, and shortness of breath. It has made me seem of late to neglect many of my correspondents.
It is with regret that I hear you say we are not likely soon to see another charming work of yours. I pity you for the harassing number of those complex circumstances, which force into exertion the energies of your spirit, without the power to interest your affections, or awaken your imagination.
“What needs a mind-illumin'd breast for those,
* Author of Lady Julia Mandeville, Emily Montague, &c. She generally resided with an aunt in Lichfield, and was a near relative of Dr Brooke, rector of Birmingham, the friend and contemporary of Dr Johnson.
WOL. I. se
There is no parodying a passage in Milton, without speaking of the late literary treasure, Mr T. Warton's edition of Milton's juvenile poems. Its critical notes have all the eloquence and strength of Johnson, without his envy. Johnson told me once, “he would hang a dog that read the Lycidas twice.” “What, then,” replied I, “must become of me, who can say it by heart; and who often repeat it to myself, with a delight ‘which grows by what it feeds upon?” “Die,” returned the growler, “in a surfeit of bad taste.” Thus it was, that the wit and awless impoliteness of the stupendous creature bore down, by storm, every barrier which reason attempted to rear against his injustice. The injury that injustice has done to the claims of genius, and the taste for its effusions, is irreparable. You, my dear Madam, I am assured, have sense to perceive, and generosity to deplore its consequences.
Court Dewes, Esq.
Lichfield, May 27, 1785.
No, no, my ever esteemed friend, I cannot believe that Mr Hayley's friendship for Mr Sargent shews him unexisting poetic beauties in that gentleman's fine dramatic poem, the Mine; because I am perfectly sure that personal regard or dislike never raises in my own brain the illusions of prejudice for or against a literary composition. It is true, where I know that a brilliant or sublime work has proceeded from a hand I love, that consciousness increases the delight I feel in examining its features; but the delight must first spring from the merit of the author, not that of the man.
I love Mrs K , think her letters and conversation abound with genius; yet I cannot admire her verses. Dr Johnson's character and manners always excited much more of my indignation than esteem, yet do I continually shed tears. of rapture over such of his writings as are free from the envious taint of his disposition. My personal knowledge of Mr Sargent is very slight, were personal knowledge apt to influence me:but if the Mine is not, upon the whole, a composition of very considerable poetic merit, I have wholly mistaken the nature of poetry. When I observed to its author, that some of the lines in the dialogues had a certain roughness which might disgust the fastidiousness of modern taste, it is curious that he accounts for this roughness exactly as you do for the many inharmonious lines in Comus, which I am very certain are more harsh, and more frequent than in the Mine. The poems being of much the same length, if the ancient judged right, as you say he did, to set off, by contrast, the more melodious passages, the modern is justified in following his example. Mr Sargent tells me, that it was his choice to relieve his lawn by some inequalities, though he wished not to introduce into it the asperities of StoneHenge. The Critical Review does justice to the splendour of Mr Sargent's poem. Its strictures upon it breathe a poetic sensibility far more than usual with those cold gentlefolk, the public critics, and of nice and just discrimination rarely found on their pages. I declare to you, my dear Sir, that I am all