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L E T T E R
MARKS of IMITATION.
COMME en cueillant une Guirlande
Et ne scait en cette peinture
fold by R. DODSLEY in Pall-mall, J. BEECROFT and
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LETTER to Mr. MASON.
CHANC'D to fay in the discourse on POETICAL "that coincidencies of a certain kind, and in a certain degree, cannot fail to convict 66 a writer of Imitation." You are fometimes curious to know what these coincidencies are, and have thought that an attempt to point them out would furnish an useful Supplement to what I have written on this fubject. You urge me too to this attempt by the promise, it seems, I made of engaging in it. But have you obferv'd what I faid at the fame time, "That fuch a defign would require, befides a care"ful examination of the workings of the human “mind, an exact fcrutiny of the moft original and "moft imitative writers." a And, with all your par
DISC. on POET. IMIT. p. 209. 2d Ed.
tiality for me, can you, in earnest, think mẹ capable of fulfilling the first of these conditions; Or, if I were, do you imagine that, at this time o' day, I can have the leifure to perform the other? My younger years, indeed, have been spent in turning over those authors which young men are most fond of; and amongst these I will not difown that the Poets of antient and modern fame have had their full share in my affection. But You, who love me fo well, would not wish me to pass more of my life in these flowery regions; which tho' You may yet wander in with-. out offence, and the rather as you wander in them with so pure a mind and to fo moral a purpose, there seems no decent pretence for me to loiter in them any longer.
Yet in saying this I would not be thought to affume that severe character; which, tho' fometimes the garb of reason, is oftener, I believe, the mask of dullness, or of fomething worse. No, I am too fenfible to the charms, nay to the uses of your profeffion, to affect a contempt for it. The great Roman faid well, Haec ftudia adolefcentiam alunt; feneEtutem oblectant. We make a full meal of them in our youth. And no philosophy requires fo perfect a mortification as that we fhould wholly abftain from them in our riper years. But should we reverse the obfervation; and take this light food not as the refreshment only, but as the proper nourishment of Age; fuch a name, as Cicero's, I am afraid, would be wanting, and not eafily found, to justify the practice.
Let us own then, on a greater authority than His, "That every thing is beautiful in it's feafon." The Spring hath it's buds and bloffoms: But, as the year runs on, You are not difpleas'd, perhaps, to see them fall off; And would certainly be disappointed not to find them, in due time, fucceeded by those mellow hangings, the poet fomewhere speaks of.
I could alledge ftill graver reasons. But I would only fay, in one word, that your friend has had his fhare in these amusements. I may recollect with pleasure, but must never live over again
Pieriofque dies, et amantes carmina fomnos.
Yet fomething, you infift, is to be done; and, if it amount to no more than a specimen or flight sketch, fuch as my memory, or the few notes I have by me, would furnish, the defign, you think, is not totally to be relinquished.
I understand the danger of gratifying you on these terms. Yet, whatever it be, I have no power to excufe myself from any attempt, by which, you tell me at least, I may be able to gratify you. I will do my best, then, to draw together fuch obfervations, as I have fometimes thought, in reading the poets, moft material for the certain difcovery of Imitations. And I address them to you, not only as You are the propereft judge of the subject; You, who understand fo well in what manner the Poets are us'd to imitate each other, and who yourself so finely imitate the best of them; But as I would give You this small A 3