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Unwillingly they fall, and dropping down,
With joy, great sir, we view'd this pompous show,
N° 618. WEDNESDAY, NOV. 10, 1714.
Neque enim concludere versum
Hor. 1 Sat. iv. 40.
'MR. SPECTATOR, "You having, in your two last Spectators, given the town a couple of remarkable letters in very different styles, I take this opportunity to offer to you some remarks upon the epistolary way of writing in verse. This is a species of poetry by itself : and has not so much as been hinted at in any of the Arts of Poetry that have ever fallen into my hands; neither has it in any age, or any nation, been so much cultivated as the other several kinds of poesy. A man of genius may, if he pleases, write letters in verse upon all manner of subjects that are capable of being embellished with wit and language, and may render them new and agreeable by giving the proper turn to them. But, in speaking at present of epistolary poetry, I would be understood to mean only such writings in this kind as have been in use amongst the ancients, and have been copied from them by some moderns. These may be reduced into two classes : in the one I shall range love-letters, letters of friendship, and letters upon mournful occasions; in the other I shall place such epistles in verse as may properly be called familiar, critical, and moral; to which may be added letters of mirth. and humour. Ovid for the first, and Horace for the latter, are the best originals we have left.
• He, that is ambitious of succeeding in the Ovidian way, should first examine his heart well, and feel whether his passions (especially those of the gentler kind) play easy; since it is not his wit, but the delicacy and tenderness of his sentiments, that will affect his readers. His versification likewise should be soft, and all his numbers flowing and querulous.
• The qualifications requisite for writing epistles, after the model given us by Horace, are of a quite different nature. He that would excel in this kind must have a good fund of strong masculine sense : to this there must be joined a thorough knowledge of mankind, together with an insight into the business and the prevailing humours of the age. Our author must have his mind well-seasoned with the finest precepts of morality, and be filled with nice reflections upon the bright and dark sides of human life; he must be a master of refined raillery, and understand the delicacies as well as the absurdities of conversation. He must have a lively turn of wit, with an easy and concise manner of expression; every thing he says must be in a free and disengaged manner. He must be guilty of nothing that betrays the air of a recluse, but appear a man of the world
throughout. His illustrations, his comparisons, and the greatest part of his images, must be drawn from common life. Strokes of satire and criticism, as well as panegyric, judiciously thrown in (and as it were by the' bye), give a wonderful life and ornament to compositions of this kind. But let our poet, while he writes epistles, though never so familiar, still remember that he writes in verse, and must for that reason have a more than ordinary care not to fall into prose, and a vulgar diction, excepting where the nature and humour of the thing do necessarily require it. In this point Horace hath been thought by some critics to be sometimes careless, as well as too negligent of his versification ; of which he seems to have been sensible himself.
All I have to add is, that both these manners of writing may be made as entertaining, in their way, as any other species of poetry, if undertaken by persons duly qualified; and the latter sort may be managed so as to become in a peculiar manner instructive. I am, &c.'
I shall add an observation or two to the remarks of my ingenious correspondent; and, in the first place, take notice, that subjects of the most sublime nature are often treated in the epistolary way with advantage, as in the famous epistle of Horace to Augustus. The poet surprises us with his pomp, and seems rather betrayed into his subject than to have aimed at it by design. He appears, like the visit of a king incognito, with a mixture of familiarity and grandeur. In works of this kind, when the dignity of the subject hurries the poet into descriptions and sentiments seemingly unpremeditated, by a sort of inspiration, it is usual for him to recollect himself, and fall back gracefully into the natural style of a letter.
I might here mention an' epistolary poem, just published by Mr. Eusden, on the king's accession to the throne; wherein, amongst many other noble and beautiful strokes of poetry, his reader may see this rule very happily observed.
No:619. FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 1714.
VIRG. Georg. ii. 369. - Exert a rigorous sway, And lop the too luxuriant boughs away. I have often thought that if the several letters which are written to me under the character of Spectator, and which I have not made use of, were published in a volume, they would not be an unentertaining collection. The variety of the subjects, styles, sentiments, and informations, which are transmitted to me, would lead a very curious, or very idle, reader, insensibly along through a great many pages. I know some authors who would pick up a secret history out of such materials, and, make a bookseller an alderman by the copy. I shal therefore carefully preserve the original papers in a room set apart for that purpose, to the end that they may be of service to posterity; but shall at present content myself with owning the receipt of several letters, lately come to my hands, the authors whereof are impatient for an answer.
Clarissa, whose letter is dated from Cornhill, desires to be eased in some scruples relating to the skill of astrologers.--Referred to the dumb man for an answer.
J. C. who proposes a love-case, as he calls it, to the love-casuist, is hereby desired to speak of it to the minister of the parish; it being a case of conscience.
The poor young lady, whose letter is dated October 26, who complains of a harsh guardian and an unkind brother, can only have my good wishes, unless she pleases to be more particular.
The petition of a certain gentleman, whose name I have forgot, famous for renewing the curls of decayed periwigs, is referred to the censor of small wares.
The remonstrance of T. C. against the profanation of the sabbath by barbers, shoe-cleaners, &c., had better be offered to the society of re- formers.
A learned and laborious treatise upon the art of fencing, returned to the author.
To the gentleman of Oxford, who desires me to insert a copy of Latin verses, which were denied a place in the university books. Answer: Nonumque prematur in annum.
To my learned correspondent who writes against Masters' gowns, and poke sleeves, with a word in defence of large scarfs. Answer: I resolve not to raise animosities amongst the clergy.
To the lady who writes with rage against one of her own sex, upon the account of party warmth. Answer: Is not the lady she writes against reckoned handsome ?
I desire Tom Truelove (who sends me a sonnet upon his mistress, with a desire to print it immediately) to consider that it is long since I was in love.
I shall answer a very profound letter from my old friend the upholsterer, who is still inquisitive whether the king of Sweden be living or dead, by whispering him in the ear, that I believe he is alive.