—— Bene Nummatum decorat Suadela Venusque. Hor.1
White's Chocolate-house, July 18.
I write from hence at present to complain, that Wit and Merit are so little encourag'd by People of Rank and Quality, that the Wits of the Age are oblig'd to run within Temple-Bar for Patronage. There is a deplorable Instance of this in the Case of Mr. D——y, who has dedicated his inimitable Comedy, call'd, The Modern Prophets, to a worthy Knight, to whom, it seems, he had before communicateda his Plan, which was, To Ridicule the Ridiculers of our establish'd Doctrine.2 I have pg 307elsewhere celebrated the Contrivance of this excellent Drama; but was not, 'till I read the Dedication, wholly let into the Religious Design of it. I am afraid it has suffer'd Discountenance at this gay End of the Town, for no other Reason but the Piety of the Purpose. There is however in this Epistle the true Life of Panegyrical Performance; and I do not doubt but, if the Patron would part with it, I can help him to others with good Pretensions to it; viz. of Uncommon Understanding, who would give him as much as he gave for it. I know perfectly well a Noble Person to whom these Words (which are the Body of the Panegyrick) would fit to a Hair.
Your Easiness of Honour, or rather your harmonious Disposition, is so admirably mix'd with your Composure, that the rugged Cares and Disturbance that Publick Affairs brings with it, which does so vexatiously affect the Heads of other great Men of Business, &c. does scarce ever ruffle your unclouded Brow so much as with a Frown. And what above all is Praise-worthy, you are so far from thinking your self better than others, that a flourishing and opulent Fortune, which by a certain natural Corruption in its Quality, seldom fails to infect other Possessors with Pride, seems in this Case as if only providentially disposed to enlarge your Humility.
But I find, Sir, I am now got into a very large Field, where tho' I could with great ease raise a Number of Plants in Relation to your Merit of this plauditory Nature; yet for Fear of an Author's general Vice, and that the plain Justice I have done you should, by my proceeding and others mistaken Judgment, be imagin'd Flattery, a Thing the Bluntness of my Nature does not care to be concern'd with, and which I also know you abominate.3
It is wonderful to see how many Judges of these fine Things spring up every Day by the Riseb of Stocks, and other elegant Methods of abridging the Way to Learning and Criticism. But I do hereby forbid all Dedications to anyc Persons within the City of London, except Sir Francis, Sir Stephen,4 pg 308and the Bank, will take Epigrams and Epistles as Value received for their Notes, and the East-India Company accept of Heroick Poems for their Seal'd Bonds. Upon which Bottom, our Publishers have full Power to treat with the City in Behalf of us Authors, to enable Traders to become Patrons and Fellows of the Royal Society, as well as receive certain Degrees of Skill in the Latin and Greek Tongues, according to the Quantity of the Commodities which they take off our Hands.
Grecian Coffee-house, July 18.5
The Learned have so long labour'd under the Imputation of Dryness and Dulness in their Accounts of their Phaenomena, that an ingenious Gentleman of our Society6 has resolved to write a System of Philosophy in a more lively Method, both as to the Matter and Language, than has been hitherto attempted. He read to us the Plan upon which he intends to proceed. I thought his Account, by Way of Fable of the Worlds about us, had so much Vivacity in it, that I could not forbear transcribing his Hypothesis, to give the Reader a Tast of my Friend's Treatise, which is now in the Press.
'The Inferior Deities having design'd on a Day to play a Game at Football, knead together a numberless Collection of dancing Atoms into the Form of 7 rowling Globes: And that Nature might be kept from a dull Inactivity, each separate Particle is endued with a Principle of Motion, or a Power of Attraction, whereby all the several Parcels of Matter draw each other proportionably to their Magnitudes and Distances, into such a remarkable Variety of different Forms, as to pg 309produce all the wonderful Appearances we now observe in Empire, Philosophy, and Religion; but to proceed.d
e'At the Beginning of the Game, each of the Globes being struck forward with a vast Violence, ran out of Sight, and wander'd in a straight Line through the infinite Spaces. The nimble Deities pursue, breathless almost, and spent in the eager Chace; each of them catch'd hold of one, and stamp'd it with his Name; as, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and so of the rest. To prevent this Inconvenience for the future, the Seven are condemned to a Precipitation, which in our Inferior Stile we call Gravity. Thus the Tangential and Centripetal Forces, by their Counter-struggle, make the Celestial Bodies describe an exact Ellipsis.'
There will be added to this an Appendix, in Defence of the first Day of the Term according to the Oxford Almanack,7 by a learned Knight of this Realm, with an Apology for the said Knight's Manner of Dress;8 proving, That his Habit, according to this Hypothesis, is the true Modern and Fashionable; and that Buckles are not to be worn, byf this System, 'till the 10th of March, in the Year 1714,9 which, according to the Computation of some of our greatest Divines, is to be the first Year of the Millennium; in which blessed Age, all Habits will be reduc'd to a primitive Simplicity; and whoever shall be found to have persever'd in a Constancy of Dress, in Spight of all the Allurements of prophane and heathen Habits, shall be rewarded with a never-fading Doublet of a Thousand Years. All Points in the System which are doubted, shall be attested by the Knight's Extemporary Oath, for the Satisfaction of his Readers.
Will's Coffee-house, July 18.
We were upon the Heroick Strain this Evening, and the pg 310Question was, What is the True Sublime? Many very good Discourses happen'd thereupon; after which a Gentleman at the Table, who is, it seems, writing on that Subject, assum'd the Argument; and tho' he ran thro' many Instances of Sublimity from the ancient Writers, said, He had hardly known an Occasion wherein the true Greatness of Soul, which animates a General in Action, is so well represented, with Regard to the Person of whom it was spoken, and the Time in which it was writ, as in a few Lines in a modern Poem: There is (continued he) nothing so forc'd and constrain'd as what we frequently meet with in Tragedies; to make a Man under the Weight of a great Sorrow, or full of Meditation upon what he is soon to execute, cast about for a Simile to what he himself is, or the Thing which he is going to act: But there is nothing more proper and naturalg for a Poet, whose Business is to describe, and who is Spectator of one in that Circumstance when his Mind is working upon a great Image, and that the Idea's hurry upon his Imagination; I say, there is nothing so natural, as for a Poet to relieve and clear himself from the Burthen of Thought at that Time, by uttering his Conception in Simile and Metaphor. The highest Act of the Mind of Man is to possess it self with Tranquility in imminent Danger, and to have its Thoughts so free as to act at that Time without Perplexity. The ancient Authorsh have compar'd this sedate Courage to a Rock that remains immovable amidst the Rage of Winds and Waves; but that is too stupid and inanimate a Similitude, and could do no Credit to the Heroe. At other Times they are all of 'em wonderfully oblig'd to a Lybian Lion, which may give indeed very agreeable Terrors to a Description; but is no Compliment to the Person to whom it is applied: Eagles, Tygers, and Wolves, are made Use of on the same Occasion, and very often with much Beauty; but this is still an Honour done to the Brute rather than the Heroe. Mars, Pallas, Bacchus, and Hercules, have each of them furnish'd very good Similes in their Time, and made, doubtless, a greater Impression on the Mind of a Heathen, than they have on that of a modern Reader. But the Sublime Image that I am talking of, and which I really think as great as ever enter'd into the Thought of Man, is in pg 311the Poem call'd, The Campaign; where the Simile of a ministring Angel sets forth the most sedate and the most active Courage engag'd in an Uproar of Nature, a Confusion of Elements, and a Scene of Divine Vengeance. Add to all, That these Lines compliment the General and his Queen at the same Time, and havei all the natural Horrors, heighten'd by the Image that was still fresh in the Mind of every Reader.10
- 'Twas then Great Marlbro's mighty Soul was prov'd,
- That, in the Shock of charging Hosts unmov'd,
- Amidst Confusion, Horror, and Despair,
- Examin'd all the dreadful Scenes of War;
- In peaceful Thought the Field of Death survey'd,
- To fainting Squadrons sent the timely Aid,
- Inspir'd repuls'd Battalions to engage,
- And taught the doubtful Battle where to rage.
- So when an Angel by Divine Command,
- With rising Tempests shakes a guilty Land,
- Such as of late o'er pale Britannia past,
- Calm and Serene he drives the furious Blast;
- And, pleas'd th' Almighty's Orders to perform,
- Rides in the Whirl-wind, and directs the Storm.11
The whole Poem is so exquisitely Noble and Poetick, that I think it an Honour to our Nation and Language. The Gentleman concluded his Critick12 on this Work, by saying, that he esteem'd it wholly new, and a wonderful Attempt to keep up the ordinary Idea's of a March of an Army, just as they happen'd in so warm and great a Stile, and yet be at once Familiar and Heroick. Such a Performance is a Chronicle as well as a Poem, and will preserve the Memory of our Heroe, when all the Edifices and Statues erected to his Honour are blended with common Dust.j
- Dedicate to grave religious Rulers,
- A Piece that ridicules their Ridiculers.