Imágenes de páginas

cooks, to be preserved for the inspection of a liberal curiosity; and the booksellers have, with praiseworthy enterprise, begun to reprint Holinshead, and others of our ancient historians. Mr. Walter Scott, by a singularly happy talent of extracting lively and entertaining matter even from the dullest volumes, has materially contributed to this growing fashion.

They, whose reading has been confined to the productions of their own day, consider the language of Lord Clarendon, with his “ periods of a mile," to eclipse the excellence of his matter: they cannot seek information through so disagreeable and tedious a medium. To those, whose acquaintance with books is more extensive, his style is as familiar as that of Robertson, Gibbon, or even Hume; and of infinitely more interest and eloquence, than any of those historians ever reached.

Perhaps the best prose writer in the English tongue lived in the reigns of Charles I. and Charles II. This was Cowley the poet. And I am inclined to place another poet next to him; the immortal Dryden! I would give the third place to Addison; and the fourth to Burke; whose similarity, in some points, to Dryden, has been well remarked by Malone. *

Were it not for the opposition of lights drawn from different ages, the human mind would yield itself to temporary errors of the most alarming nature. Absurdities would be repeated through folly or interest, till, if nothing stood upon record to detect them, they would be believed; and the deviation from sound taste, and sound sense, not only in language, but opinion, would be infinite. .

* Scotland must forgive me for agreeing with Cowper and Sir William Jones, about Robertson. The prose of Burns is ofien excellent.

Above all, there is this value in books, that they enable us to converse with the dead. There is something in this beyond the mere intrinsic worth of what they have left us. When a person's body is mouldering, cold, and insensible, in the grave, we feel a sacred sentiment of veneration for the living memorials of his mind.

Jan. 22, 1808.


No. XXIII. On Mrs. Carter's Letters.

“ Sermo oritur non de villis domibusve alienis ;

Nec mel necne lepos saltet; sed quid magis ad nos Pertinet, et nescire malum est, agitamus." HOR.

The Collections of Letters of eminent literary characters, which have been given to the public within the last ten years, have added materially to the stock of innocent and instructive amusement. An accession to this stock has just been announced, by a notice of the publication of Select Parts of the Correspondence of Mrs. Elizabeth Carter. The world, if I mistake not, will be as much delighted by her eloquence, and beauty of language, as by her strength of mind and fervour of piety; while those who admire a more playful manner, joined to an equal warmth of religion, and purity of conduct, will perhaps be still more pleased with those of her correspondent, Mrs. Katherine Talbot, which will appear with them.

In the latter years of Mrs. Carter's life, the colour of her pen became still more uniformly serious, as is proved by her letters to Mrs. Vesey. I could not refrain from soliciting the permission, which a spare hour would allow me to embrace, of making the following extracts, from the MSS. in the hands of my dear friend the Editor: conceiving I should gratify the public by this slight anticipation.

Extracts from Mrs. Carter's Letters to Mrs. Vesey.

Aug. 21, 1776. “ We were both exceedingly disappointed at your rejection of our darling scheme of Walmer Castle. But I suspect it is Mrs. H—'s fault. She probably represented it to you merely as a pleasant dwelling, where you might eat your dinner, and drink your tea and coffee, like the fashion of any modern house. If she had told you that some discontented Spectre walked its melancholy round every night along the grass-grown platform, the attraction would have been irresistible to your curiosity. I think she might possibly have succeeded even if she had been contented to describe the operations of elementary beings upon the ancient structure. She might have told you how the Spirits of the air talk in whistling winds through its battlements, and how the Angel of the waters dashes the roaring billows at its foot. Instead of alluring you by these sublime ideas, I suspect she dwelt chiefly on the pleasure you would confer upon a couple of mere too-legged human creatures ; upon which you turned about and said, "Why, Mrs. Ha idcock, we can meet enough of these upon the pantiles,' and so the die turned up for Tunbridge; for which we are very sorry that your vixen country woman did not beat you.

« Oct. 13, 1776. « Though I cannot claim even an acquaintance with Mr. S. Jenyns, I must defend him, though I had much rather he would have prevented any attack, by such an explication as would have rendered it less possible to mistake his meaning: yet even as it now stands, he seems to have sníficiently discovered that he cashiers no other valour than that which from false and wicked ideas of honour and glory stabs individually and desolates whole nations: no other friendship but such an exclusive affection as subverts general benevolence; and no other patriotism but such as serves for a mask to ambition, and from the iniluence of private passions tends to throw the state into discord and confusion. Mr: Jenyns in the consideration of not loading the attention of those, whom he chiefly meant to benefit by his book, has too often expressed himself with a conciseness which renders his meaning obscure.”

“ Deal, Dec. 2, 1776. “I am obliged to you for the concern you express on the subject of our late shock. Perhaps you may have felt an earthquake: if not, I am not inclined to wish for one a votre intention, but as it past happily over, I have often wished you had been with Monty * and me on Thursday morning. I have felt one before; but it was nothing compared to this. Never did I experience so sublime an effect of the voice of the Hand of Omnipotence. This awful exertion was mercifully checked within the boundary that marks destruction : but I should think its continuance for a few more seconds must have produced fatal effects. It seemed as if the pillars of heaven, and foundations of earth were all convulsed. The wild tumult and hurry of the elements were as much beyond all description as the confusion of my thoughts; for I had no explicit idea till I was awakened to a more distinct sense by Monty's hastily uttering “ an earthquake !"

* Dec. 4, 1777. 66 It did indeed give me all the pleasure you could wish or suppose, my dear Mrs. Vesey, to receive a letter from you in such a style of chearful tranquillity and comfortable hopes. My heart must and will feel your absence with many a tender regret this winter : but it would be much less supportable, if I had not the happiness to consider it as a consequence of your acting in a manner conformable to your obligations. On this solid rock we may stand, and look forward with unallayed pleasure to the prospect of our next meeting, when I trust we shall enjoy our delightful parties with a spirit unclouded by any of those uneasy reflections, which must cast a gloom over the brightest sunshine of life, whenever inclination is preferred

* Her nephew Montagu Pennington.


« AnteriorContinuar »