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may have figured to yourself) any secret reluctance I had to tell you my mind concerning the specimen you so kindly sent me of your new Poem *: On the contrary, if I had seen any thing of importance to disapprove, I should have hastened to inform you, and never doubted of being forgiven. The truth is, I greatly like all I have seen, and wish to see more. The design is simple, and pregnant with poetical ideas of various kinds, yet seems somehow imperfect at the end. Why may not young Edwin, when necessity has driven him to take up the harp, and assume the profession of a Minstrel, do some great and singular service to his country? (what service I must leave to your invention) such as no General, no Statesman, no Moralist could do without the aid of music, inspiration, and poetry. This will not appear an improbability in those early times, and in a character then held sacred, and respected by all nations: Besides, it will be a full answer to all the Hermit has said, when he dissuaded him from cultivating these pleasing arts; it will shew their use, and make the best panegyric of our favourite and celestial science. And lastly, (what weighs most with me) it will throw more of action, pathos, and interest into your design, which already abounds in reflection
* This letter was written in answer to one that inclosed only a part of the first book of the Minstrel in manuscript, and I believe a sketch of Mr. Beattie's plan for the whole.
and sentiment. As to description, I have always thought that it made the most graceful ornament of poetry, but never ought to make the subject. Your ideas are new, and borrowed from a mountainous country, tlie only one that can furnislı truly picturesque scenery. Some trifles in the language or versification you will permit me to remark. * *
I will not enter at present into the merits of your Essay on Truth, because I have not yet given it all the attention it deserves, though I have read it througlı with pleasure; besides, I am partial; for I have always thought David Hume a pernicious writer, and believe he has done as inuch mischief here as he has in bis own country. A turbid and shallow stream often appears to our apprehensions very deep. A professed sceptic can be guided by nothing but his present passions (if he has any) and interests; and to be masters of his philosophy we need not his books or advice, for every child is capable of the same thing, without any study at all. Is not that naivetè and good humour, which his admirers celebrate in him, owing to this, that he has continued all his days an infant, but one that unhappily bas been taught to read and write? That childish nation, the French, have given him vogue
*** A few paragraphs of particular criticisin are here omitted.
and fashion, and we, as usual, have learned from them to admire him at second hand. *
* On a similar subject Mr. Gray expresses himself thus in a letter to Mr. Walpole, dated March 17, 1771: “ He must have a
very good stomach that can digest the Crambe recocta of Voltaire. “ Atheism is a vile dish, though all the cooks of France combine “ to niake new sauces to it. As to the Soul, perhaps they may “ have none on the Continent; but do think we have such
things in England. Shakespeare, for example, I believe had “ several to his own share. As to the Jews (though they do not
eat pork) I like them because they are better Christians than Vol“ taire.” This was written only three months before his death; and I insert it to shew how constant and uniform he was in his contempt of infidel writers. Dr. Beattie received only one letter more from his correspondent, dated March 3, 1771. It related to the first book of the Minstrel, now sent to him in print, and contained criticisms on particular passages, and commendations of particular stanzas. Those criticisms the author attended to in a future edition, because his good taste found that they deserved his attention; the passages therefore being altered, the strictures die of co As to the notes of commendation, the Poem itself abounds with so many striking beauties, that they need not even the hand of Mr. Gray to point them out to a reader of any feeling: all therefore that I shall print of that letter, is the concluding paragraph relating to his Essay on the Immutability of Truth. “ I am “ happy to hear of your success in another way, because I think
you are serving the cause of human nature, and the true in“ terests of mankind; your book is read here too, aud with just "applause."
MR. GRAY TO MR. HOW *.
Cambridge, Sept. 10, 1763.
Ought long since to have made you my acknowledgments for the obliging testimonies of your esteem that you have conferred upon me; but Count Algarotti's books t did not come to my hands till the end of July, and since that time I have been prevented by illness from doing any of my duties. I have read them more than once, with increasing satisfaction; and should wish mankind had eyes to descry the genuine sources of their own pleasures, and judgment to know the extent that nature has prescribed to them: If this were the case, it would be their interest to appoint Count Algarotti their “ Arbiter Elegantiarum.” He is highly civil to our nation; but there is one point in which he does not do us justice; I am the more solicitous about
* This letter and the following, if received earlier, would have found their place, according to their dates, in the fourth Section; but I choose rather to print them here, out of place, than to reserve them for another edition, that the purchasers of this may not have hereafter cause to complain that the book was incomplete.
+ Three small treatises on Painting, the Opera, and the French Academy for Painters in Italy; they have been since collected in the Leghorn edition of his works.
it, because it relates to the only taste we can call our own; the only proof of our original talent in matter of pleasure, I mean our skill in gardening, or rather laying out grounds; and this is no small honour to us, since neither Italy nor France have ever had the least notion of it, nor yet do at all comprehend it when they see it. That the Chinese have this beautiful art in high perfection, seems very probable from the Jesuits' Letters, and more from Chambers's little discourse, published some years ago *; but it is very certain we copied nothing from them, nor had any thing but nature for our model. It is not forty years since the art was born among us t; and it is sure that there was nothing in Europe like it; and as sure, we then had no information on this head from China at
* The author has since enlarged, and published it under the title of a Dissertation on Oriental Gardening; in which he has put it out of all doubt, that the Chinese and English tastes are totally dissimilar.
+ See Mr. Walpole's history of this art at the end of the last volume of his Anecdotes of Painters, when he favours the world with its publication.
1 I question whether this be not saying too much. Sir William Temple's account of the Chinese gardens was published some years before this period; and it is probable that might have promoted our endeavours, not indeed of imitating them, but of imitating (what he said was their archetype) Nature.