« PreviousContinue »
weakens the vigor of the mind? For the antients feem to be confidered by us as fo many guards to prevent the free excurfions of imagination, and fet bounds to her flight, Whereas they ought rather to be looked upon (the few, I mean, who are themselves originals) as encouragements to a full and uncontrouled exertion of her faculties. But if here or there a poet has courage enough to trust to his own unaffifted reach of thought, his example does not seem so much to incite others to make the fame adventurous attempts, as to confirm them in the humble difpofition of imitation. For if he fucceeds, he immediately becomes himself the occafion of a thousand models: if he does not, he is pointed out as a difcouraging inftance of the folly of renouncing those established leaders which antiquity has authorized. Thus invention is depreffed and genius enflaved: the creative power of poetry is loft, and the ingenious, instead of exerting that productive faculty which alone can render them the juft objects of admiration, are humbly contented with borrowing both the materials and the plans of their mimic structures. I am, &c. LET
March 10, 1729.
HERE is nothing perhaps, where
TH in mankind are more frequently
mistaken, than in the judgments which they pafs on each other. The stronger lines, indeed, in every man's character, must always be marked too clearly and diftinctly to deceive even the most careless obferver; and no one, I am perfuaded, was ever esteemed in the general opinion of the world as highly deficient in his moral or intellectual qualities, who did not justly merit his reputation. But I speak only of those more nice and delicate traits which diftinguish the feveral degrees of probity and good-fense, and ascertain the quantum (if I may fo express it) of human merit. The powers of the foul are so often concealed by modefty, diffidence, timidity, and a thoufand other accidental affections; and the nice complexion of her moral operations depends fo entirely on those internal principles from whence they C 4 proceedi
proceed; that thofe who form their notions of others by cafual and diftant views, muft unavoidably be led into very erroneous judgments. Even Orontes, with all his candor and penetration, is not, I perceive, entirely fecure from mistakes of this fort; and the fentiments you expreffed in your laft letter concerning Varus, are by no means agreeable to the truth of his character.
Ir must be acknowledged at the fame time, that Varus is an exception to all general rules: neither his head nor his heart are exactly to be difcovered by thofe indexes, which are ufually fuppofed to point directly to the genius and temper of other men. Thus with a memory that will scarce ferve him for the common purposes of life, with an imagination even more flow than his memory, and with an attention that could not carry him thro the easiest propofition in Euclid; he has a found and excellent understanding joined to a refined and exquifite tafte. But the rectitude of his fentiments feems to arife less from reflection than sensation; rather from certain fuitable feelings which the objects that prefent
fent themselves to his confideration instantly occafion in his mind, than from the energy of any active faculties which he is capable of exerting for that purpose. His converfation is unentertaining: for tho he talks a great deal, all that he utters is delivered with labor and hesitation. Not that his ideas are really dark and confused; but because he is never contented to convey them in the firft words that occur. Like the orator mentioned by Tully, metuens ne vitiofum colligeret, etiam verum fanguinem deperdebat, he expreffes himself ill by always endeavoring to exprefs himself better. His reading cannot so properly be faid to have rendered him knowing, as not ignorant: it has rather enlarged, than filled his mind.
His temper is as fingular as his genius, and both equally mistaken by those who only know him a little. If you were to judge of him by his general appearance, you would believe him incapable of all the more delicate fenfations: nevertheless, under a rough and boisterous behavior, he conceals a heart full of tenderness and humanity. He has a fenfibility of nature, indeed,
deed, beyond what I ever observed in any other man; and I have often seen him affected by those little circumstances, which would make no impression on a mind of lefs exquifite feelings. This extreme fenfibility in his temper influences his fpeculations as well as his actions, and he hovers between various hypothefes without fettling upon any, by giving importance to those minuter difficulties which would not be strong enough to suspend a more active and vigorous mind. In a word, Varus is in the number of those whom it is impoffible not to admire, or not to defpife; and at the fame time that he is the efteem of all his friends, he is the contempt of all his acquaintance. I am, &c.
OUR excellent brawn wanted no ad→ ditional recommendation to make it
more acceptable, but that of your compa
ny. However, tho I cannot fhare it with