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Cambridge, not to divert them, for it cannot, but merely to shew them how sincere I was when sick I hope my sending it to them now may convince them I am no less sincere, though perhaps more simple, when well.
Yes, happy youths, on Camus' sedgy side
Just Heav'n! what sin, ere life begins to bloom,
Did e'er this heart betray a friend or foe,
Or know a thought but all the world might know?
My growing years have scarcely told their prime;
Ah! who, ere autumn's mellowing suns appear,
Almost all Tibullus's elegy is imitated in this little piece, from whence his transition to Mr. Pope's letter is very artfully contrived, and bespeaks a degree of judgment much beyond Mr. West's years.
+ Quid fraudare juvat vitem crescentibus uvis?
So the original. The paraphrase seems to me infinitely more beautiful. There is a peculiar blemish in the second line, arising from the synonimes mala and poma.
Or, ere the grapes their purple hue betray,
Ah, stay till age shall blast my withering face,
How weak is man to Reason's judging eye!
But why repine, does life deserve my sigh?
For those the wretches I despise or hate,
I neither envy nor regard their fate.
For me, whene'er all-conquering Death shall spread
His wings around my unrepining head,
§I care not; though this face be seen no more,
* Here he quits Tibullus, the ten following verses have but a remote reference to Mr. Pope's letter.
"Youth, at the very best, is but the betrayer of human life in a gentler and smoother manner than age; 'tis like the stream that nourishes a plant upon a bank, and causes it to flourish and blossom to the sight, but at the same time is undermining it at the root in secret." Pope's Works, vol. 7, page 254, 1st. edit. Warburton. Mr. West, by prolonging his paraphrase of this simile, gives it additional beauty from that very circumstance, but he ought to have introduced it by Mr. Pope's own thought, "Youth is a betrayer;" his couplet preceding the simile conveys too general a reflection.
"I am not at all uneasy at the thought that many men, whom I never had any esteem for, are likely to enjoy this world after me." Vide ibid.
"The morning after my exit the sun will rise as bright as ever, the flowers smell as sweet, the plants spring as green:" so far Mr. West copies his original;
Bright as before the day-star will appear,
Their praise would crown me as their precepts mend
Christ Church, July 4, 1737.
VIII. MR. GRAY TO MR. WEST.
AFTER a month's expectation of you, and a fortnight's despair, at Cambridge, I am come to town, and to better hopes of seeing you. If what you sent me last be the product of your melancholy, what may I not expect from your more cheerful hours? For by this time the ill health that you complain of is (I hope) quite departed, though, if I were self-interested, I ought to wish for the continuance of any thing that could be the occasion of so much pleasure to me. Low spirits are my true and faithful companions; they get up with me, go to bed with me, make journeys and returns as I do; nay, and pay visits, and will even affect to be jocose, and force a feeble laugh with me; but most commonly we sit alone together, and are the prettiest insipid company in the world. However, when you come, I believe they must undergo the fate of all humble companions, and be discarded. Would I could turn them to the same use that you have done, and make an Apollo of them. If they could write such verses with me, not
but, instead of the following part of the sentence, " People will laugh as heartily and marry as fast as they used to do," he inserts a more solemn idea,
Nor storms nor comets, &c.
justly perceiving that the elegiac turn of his epistle would not admit so ludicrous a thought, as it was in its place in Mr. Pope's familiar letter; so that we see, young as he was, he had obtained the art of judiciously selecting, one of the first provinces of good taste.
hartshorn, nor spirit of amber, nor all that furnishes the closet of an apothecary's widow, should persuade me to part with them: but, while I write to you, I hear the bad news of Lady Walpole's death on Saturday night last. Forgive me if the thought of what my poor Horace must feel, on that account, obliges me to have done in reminding you that I am,
London, Aug. 22, 1737.
IX. MR. GRAY TO MR. WALPOLE.
I WAS hindered in my last, and so could not give you all the trouble I would have done. The description of a road, which your coach wheels have so often honoured, it would be needless to give you; suffice it that I arrived safe* at my uncle's, who is a great hunter in imagination; his dogs take up every chair in the house, so I am forced to stand at this present writing: and, though the gout forbids him galloping after them in the field, yet he continues still to regale his ears and nose with their comfortable noise and stink. He holds me mighty cheap, I perceive, for walking when I should ride, and reading when I should hunt. My comfort amidst all this is, that I have, at the distance of half a mile, through a green lane, a forest (the vulgar call it a common) all my own, at least as good as so, for I spy
no human thing in it but myself. It is a little chaos of mountains and precipices; mountains, it is true, that do not ascend much above the clouds, nor are the declivities quite so amazing as Dover cliff; but just such hills as people, who love their necks as well as I do, may venture to climb, and craggs that give the eye as much pleasure as if they were more dangerous: both vale and hill are covered with most venerable beeches, and other
* At Burnham in Buckinghamshire.
very reverend vegetables, that, like most other ancient people, are always dreaming out their old stories to the winds,
And as they bow their hoary tops relate,
In murm'ring sounds, the dark decrees of Fate;
Cling to each leaf, and swarm on every bough.
At the foot of one of these squats me I (Il penseroso), and there grow to the trunk for a whole morning. The timorous hare and sportive squirrel gambol around me like Adam in Paradise, before he had an Eve; but I think he did not use to read Virgil, as I commonly do there. In this situation I often converse with my Horace, aloud too; that is, talk to you, but I do not remember that I ever heard you answer me. I beg pardon for taking all the conversation to myself, but it is entirely your own fault. We have old Mr. Southern at a gentleman's house a little way off, who often comes to see us; he is now seventy-seven years old,* and has almost wholly lost his memory; but is as agreeable as an old man can be, at least I persuade myself so when I look at him, and think of Isabella and Oroonoko. I shall be in town in about three weeks. Adieu.
X. MR. GRAY TO MR. WALPOLE.†
I SYMPATHIZE with you in the sufferings which you foresee are coming upon you. We are both at present, I imagine, in no very agreeable situation; for my part I am under the misfortune of having nothing to do, but it is a misfortune which, thank my stars, I can pretty well bear. You are in a confusion of wine, and roar
* He lived nine years longer, and died at the great age of eighty-six. Mr. Gray always thought highly of his pathetic powers, at the same time that he blamed his ill taste for mixing them so injudiciously with farce, in order to produce that monstrous species of composition called Tragi-comedy.
+ At this time with his father at Houghton. Mr. Gray writes from the same place he did before, from his uncle's house in Buckinghamshire.