The Project Gutenberg eBook of Thirty Letters on Various Subjects, Vol. 2 (of 2)

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Title: Thirty Letters on Various Subjects, Vol. 2 (of 2)

Author: William Jackson

Release date: June 9, 2019 [eBook #59711]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Sonya Schermann, Robert Tonsing, and the Online
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VOL.    II.
Printed for T. Cadell, and T. Evans, in the Strand; and B. Thorn and Son, in EXETER.


XIX. Criticism on Quarles
XX. On Warm Colouring
XXI. A false Principle in Painting exposed
XXII. Passages in Shakspeare explained
XXIII. Petition of To and The
XXIV. On Self-Production
XXV. Some Phrases explained
iv.XXVI. Obstructions in the Way of Fame
XXVII. On Alliteration and Literation
XXVIII. On common Superstitions
XXIX. Wrong Representations of the Solar System
XXX. Criticism on Quarles concluded


THERE was never a poet more admired in his life or more despised after his death than Quarles. He was patronized by the best of his age while living, and when dead was first criticised, then contemned, and last of all totally forgotten, unless when some bard wanted a name of one syllable to fill up a list of miserable rhymers. Pope was the last who made this use of him,6 and at the same time, in a note, abused Benlowes for being his patron. I think it is Sir Philip Sidney who says that no piece was ever a favourite of the common people without merit. Now, though every thing I had heard of Quarles was much in his disfavour, I could not help thinking but that he had something good in him, from my never seeing one of his books of emblems that was not worn to rags; a sign of its being read a good deal, unless it may be imagined that it was so used by children in turning over the prints. Be that as it may, I have perused as much of him as a very dirty tattered book would give me leave, and will risque the declaring, that where he is good, I know but7 few poets better. He has a great deal of genuine fire, is frequently happy in similies, admirable in epithets and compound words, very smooth in his versification, so different from the poets of his own age; and possessed that great qualification of keeping you in perpetual alarm, so very different from the elegant writers of the present times.

I have run through his book of emblems to select some passages for your observation—they are buried, it must be confessed, in a heap of rubbish, but are of too much value not to be worth some pains in recovering.—Where Quarles is bad, “he sounds the very base-string of humility”—but this may be said8 of Shakspeare and Milton as well.—I mean not to put him in the same rank with these two poets; he has a much greater proportion of bad to good than is to be found in them, so much indeed as almost to prevent his good from appearing at all. My intention is to clear some of his shining passages of their incumbrances; which may occasion their being noticed, and preserved from oblivion.

What think you of the following similies?

Look how the stricken hart that wounded flies
Oe’r hills and dales, and seeks the lower grounds
For running streams, the whilst his weeping eyes
Beg silent mercy from the following hounds;
At length, embost, he droops, drops down, and lies
Beneath the burthen of his bleeding wounds:
Ev’n so my gasping soul, dissolv’d in tears, &c.

Emb. 11. Book IV.

Mark how the widow’d turtle, having lost
The faithful partner of her loyal heart,
Stretches her feeble wings from coast to coast,
Hunts ev’ry path; thinks ev’ry shade doth part
Her absent love and her; at length, unsped,
She re-betakes her to her lonely bed,
And there bewails her everlasting widow-head.

Emb. 12. Book IV.

Look how the sheep, whose rambling steps do stray
From the safe blessing of her shepherd’s eyes,
Eft-soon becomes the unprotected prey
To the wing’d squadron of beleag’ring flies;
Where swelt’red with the scorching beams of day
She frisks from bush to brake, and wildly flies away
From her own self, ev’n of herself afraid;
She shrouds her troubled brows in ev’ry glade
And craves the mercy of the soft removing shade.

Emb. 14. Book IV.

The first, will probably remind you of Shakspeare’s description of the wounded stag in As you like it; which it may do, and not suffer by the comparison. The second, is very original in the expression—the 10 circumstance of

——thinks every shade doth part
Her absent love and her——

is I believe new, and exquisitely tender. There are others not much inferior to these.

The following verses allude to the print prefixed, where a bubble is represented as heavier than the globe. It is necessary to observe, that the prints were designed first, and the poems are in a great measure explanatory of them.

Lord! what a world is this, which day and night
Men seek with so much toil, with so much trouble,
Which weigh’d in equal scales is found so light,
So poorly overbalanc’d with a bubble?
Good God! that frantic mortals should destroy
Their higher hopes, and place their idle joy
Upon such airy trash, upon so light a toy!
*     *     *     *
Thrice happy he, whose nobler, thoughts despise
To make an object of so easy gains;
Thrice happy he, who scorns so poor a prize
Should be the crown of his heroic pains:
Thrice happy he, that ne’er was born to try
Her frowns or smiles: or being born, did lie
In his sad nurse’s arms an hour or two, and die.

Emb. 4. Book I.

Tho’ the considering mortality on the gloomy side, is not productive of much happiness, yet there are certain dispositions which feel some gratification in it—Quarles was one of these. He seizes all opportunities of abusing the world; and it must be confessed he has here done it in “choice and elegant terms.”

Sometimes he is more outrageous in his abuse.

Let wit, and all her studied plots effect
The best they can;
Let smiling fortune prosper and perfect
What wit began;
Let earth advise with both, and so project
A happy man;
Let wit or fawning fortune vie their best;
He may be blest
With all that earth can give; but earth
Can give no rest.

Emb. 6. Book I.


False world, thou ly’st: thou canst not lend
The least delight:
Thy favours cannot gain a friend,
They are so slight:
Thy morning-pleasures make an end
To please at night:
Poor are the wants that thou supply’st:
And yet thou vaunt’st, and yet thou vy’st
With heav’n; fond earth, thou boast’st,
False world, thou ly’st.

Emb. 5. Book II.

The next quotation is an allusion to the print, where the world is made a mirror.

Believe her not, her glass diffuses
False portraitures——
Were thy dimensions but a stride,
Nay, wert thou statur’d but a span,
Such as the long-bill’d troops defy’d,
A very fragment of a man!
Had surfeits, or th’ ungracious star
Conspir’d to make one common place
Of all deformities that are
Within the volume of thy face,
She’d lend the favour shou’d out-move
The Troy-bane Helen, or the Queen of Love.

Emb. 6. Book II.

This is finely wrought up—Quarles perfectly comprehended the effect of the musical crescendo, which is instanced particularly in the last passage.

There is something very dreadful in the 4th line of this stanza.

See how the latter trumpet’s dreadful blast
Affrights stout Mars his trembling son!
See how he startles! how he stands aghast,
And scrambles from his melting throne!
Hark! how the direful hand of vengeance tears
The swelt’ring clouds, whilst Heav’n appears
A circle fill’d with flame, and center’d with his fears.

Emb. 9. Book II.

Dr. Young has some lines on this subject which are by some much admired.—But tho’ the subject be the same, it is differently circumstanced.—Young’s is a general description of the last judgment, Quarles describes its effect on a single being who is supposed to have lived fearless of such an event.

————At the destin’d hour,
By the loud trumpet summon’d to the charge,
See all the formidable sons of fire,
Eruptions, earthquakes, comets, lightnings, play
Their various engines; all at once disgorge
Their blazing magazines; and take by storm
This poor terrestrial citadel of man.
Amazing period! when each mountain height
Out-burns Vesuvius! rocks eternal pour
Their melted mass, as rivers once they pour’d;
Stars rush, and final Ruin fiercely drives
Her plough-share o’er creation.——

Now to me, all this is a “pestilent congregation of vapour.”——The formidable sons of fire spewing out blazing magazines—and Ruin like a plough-man (or rather plough-woman) driving her plough-share—are mean, incoherent images. How much more sublimely Quarles expresses the same, and indeed some additional ones, in the last three lines?

In the print belonging to the emblem from which the following is taken, is a figure striking a globe with his knuckles.—The motto, Tinnit, inane est.

She’s empty—hark! she sounds—there’s nothing there
But noise to fill thy ear;
Thy vain enquiry can at length but find
A blast of murm’ring wind:
It is a cask, that seems, as full as fair,
But merely tunn’d with air;
Fond youth, go build thy hopes on better grounds:
The soul that vainly sounds
Her joys upon this world, but feeds on empty sounds!

Emb. 10. Book II.

But that you may not think the good passages of this poet are only scattered unequally through his poems; take some entire ones—or nearly so.

What sullen star rul’d my untimely birth,
That would not lend my days one hour of mirth?
How oft’ have these bare knees been bent to gain
The slender alms of one poor smile in vain?
How often, tir’d with the fastidious light,
Have my faint lips implor’d the shades of night?
How often have my nightly torments pray’d
For ling’ring twilight, glutted with the shade?
Day worse than night, night worse than day appears,
In sighs I spend my nights, my days in tears:
I moan unpity’d, groan without relief,
There is no end nor measure of my grief.
The smiling flow’r salutes the day; it grows
Untouch’d with care; it neither spins nor sows:
O that my tedious life were like this flow’r,
Or freed from grief, or finish’d with an hour:
Why was I born? why was I born a man?
And why proportion’d by so large a span?
Or why suspended by the common lot,
And being born to die, why die I not?
Ah me! why is my sorrow-wasted breath
Deny’d the easy privilege of death?
The branded slave, that tugs the weary oar,
Obtains the sabbath of a welcome shore.
His ransom’d stripes are heal’d; his native soil
Sweetens the mem’ry of his foreign toil:
But ah! my sorrows are not half so blest;
My labour finds no point, my pains no rest.
*     *     *     *     *     *
Thou just observer of our flying hours,
That with thy adamantine fangs, devours
The brazen mon’ments of renowned kings,
Doth thy glass stand? or be thy moulting wings
Unapt to flie? if not, why dost thou spare
A willing breast; a breast that stands so fair?
A dying breast, that hath but only breath
To beg the wound, and strength to crave a death?
O that the pleased heav’ns would once dissolve
These fleshly fetters, that so fast involve
My hamper’d soul; then would my soul be blest
From all those ills, and wrap her thoughts in rest!
*     *     *     *     *     *

Emb. 15. Book III.

At other times he complains of the shortness of life, and in strains equally pathetic.

My glass is half unspent; forbear t’arrest
My thriftless day too soon: my poor request
Is that my glass may run but out the rest.
My time-devoured minutes will be done
Without thy help; see—see how swift they run:
Cut not my thread before my thread be spun.
The gain’s not great I purchase by this stay;
What loss sustain’st thou by so small delay,
To whom ten thousand years are but a day?
My following eye can hardly make a shift
To count my winged hours; they fly so swift,
They scarce deserve the bounteous name of gift.
The secret wheels of hurrying time do give
So short a warning, and so fast they drive,
That I am dead before I seem to live.
And what’s a life? a weary pilgrimage,
Whose glory in one day doth fill the stage
With childhood, manhood, and decrepit age.
And what’s a life? the flourishing array
Of the proud summer-meadow, which to-day
Wears her green plush, and is to-morrow hay.
Read on this dial, how the shades devour
My short-liv’d winter’s day; hour eats up hour;
Alas! the total’s but from eight to four.
Behold these lilies, which thy hands have made
Fair copies of my life, and open laid
To view, how soon they droop, how soon they fade!
Shade not that dial, night will blind too soon;
My non-aged day already points to noon;
How simple is my suit! how small my boon!
Nor do I beg this slender inch, to while
The time away, or falsely to beguile
My thoughts with joy; here’s nothing worth a smile.
No, no, ’tis not to please my wanton ears
With frantic mirth; I beg but hours, not years:
And what thou giv’st me, I will give to tears!
*     *     *     *     *     *

Emb. 13. Book III.


“Read on this dial”—“Behold these lilies”—does not this put you in mind of the same form of expression in Ossian? “His spear was like that blasted fir.”

Quarles was commenting on his print in which the dial and lilies were represented; Ossian saw his images “in his mind’s eye”——but both the poets considered them as really existing—at least, they make them exist to their readers.

“How the shades devour,” &c. Shakspeare has the same figure

——————the tide
Eats not the flats with more impetuous haste

it is wonderfully expressive!

In what he calls his hieroglyphics, Quarles compares man to a taper, which furnishes him with a number21 of very striking allusions. It is at first unlighted, then a hand from heaven touches it with fire—the motto, Nescius unde.

This flame-expecting taper hath at length
Received fire, and now begins to burn:
It hath no vigour yet, it hath no strength;
Apt to be puft and quencht at every turn:
It was a gracious hand that thus endow’d
This snuff with flame: but mark, this hand doth shroud
Itself from mortal eyes, and folds it in a cloud.
Thus man begins to live. An unknown flame
Quickens his finished organs, now possest
With motion; and which motion doth proclaim
An active soul, though in a feeble breast:
But how, and when infus’d, ask not my pen;
Here flies a cloud before the eyes of men,
I cannot tell thee how, nor canst thou tell me when.
Was it a parcel of celestial fire,
Infus’d by heav’n into this fleshly mould?
Or was it, think you, made a soul entire?
Then, was it new created, or of old?
Or is’t a propagated spark, rak’d out
From nature’s embers? while we go about
By reason to resolve, the more we raise a doubt.
If it be part of that celestial flame,
It must be ev’n as pure, as free from spot,
As that eternal fountain whence it came;
If pure and spotless, then whence came the blot?
Itself being pure, could not itself defile;
Nor hath unactive matter pow’r to soil
Her pure and active form, as jars corrupt their oil.
Or if it were created, tell me when?
If in the first six days, where kept ’till now?
Or if thy soul were new-created, then
Heav’n did not all at first, he had to do:
Six days expired, all creation ceast;
All kinds, ev’n from the greatest to the least,
Were finish’d and compleat before the day of rest.
But why should man, the Lord of creatures, want
That privilege which plants and beasts obtain?
Beasts bring forth beasts, and plant a perfect plant;
And ev’ry like brings forth her like again;
Shall fowls and fishes, beasts and plants convey
Life to their issue, and man less than they?
Shall these get living souls, and man dead lumps of clay?
Must human souls be generated then?——
My water ebbs; behold a rock is nigh:
If nature’s work produce the souls of men,
Man’s soul is mortal—all that’s born must die.
What shall we then conclude! what sunshine will
Disperse this gloomy cloud? till then, be still
My vainly striving thoughts; lie down my puzzled quill.

Hieroglyph. 2.

The closeness of the reasoning, and the freedom of the verses cannot be enough admired. I believe it would be difficult if not impossible to reason so shortly and yet so clearly in prose. Pope says the thoughts in his Essay on Man are in less compass for their being in verse. The poetical language admits of elisions and other varieties we cannot have in prose. This poem is followed by another, before which is a design of the winds blowing the flame of the taper, with this 24 motto, “The wind passeth over it, and it is gone!

No sooner is this lighted Taper set
Upon the transitory stage
Of eye-bedark’ning night,
But it is straight subjected to the threat
Of envious winds, whose wasteful rage
Disturbs her peaceful light,
And makes her substance waste, and makes her flame less bright.
No sooner are we born, no sooner come
To take possession of this vast,
This soul-afflicting earth,
But danger meets us at the very womb;
And sorrow with her full-mouth’d blast
Salutes our painful birth
To put out all our joys, and puff out all our mirth.
Nor infant innocence, nor childish tears,
Nor youthful wit, nor manly pow’r,
Nor politic old age,
Nor virgins pleading, nor the widows pray’rs,
Nor lowly cell, nor lofty tow’r,
Nor prince, nor peer, nor page,
Can ’scape this common blast, nor curb her stormy rage.
*     *     *     *     *     *
Tost to and fro, our frighted thoughts are driv’n
With ev’ry puff, with ev’ry tide
Of life-consuming care;
Our peaceful flame, that would point up to heav’n
Is still disturb’d and turn’d aside;
And ev’ry blast of air
Commits such waste in man, as man cannot repair.
*     *     *     *     *     *
What may this sorrow-shaken life present
To the false relish of our taste
That’s worth the name of sweet?
Her minute’s pleasure’s choak’d with discontent,
Her glory soil’d with ev’ry blast—
How many dangers meet
Poor man betwixt the biggin and the winding sheet!

Hieroglyph. 3.

Tho’ I have purposely omitted pointing out many of the particular beauties of these poems, I would wish you to observe, in this last, the fine effect of compound words in which this author is so happy: also the noble swell in the third26 stanza—the application of his allegory to its meaning, in the fourth, where the expression so admirably suits with both “our peaceful flame, &c.”——if these are not genuine strokes of genius, I must, as a great critic says on a like occasion, acknowledge my ignorance of such subjects. I wish we had some word in our language to express the same idea in poetry as crescendo does in music; swell is applied to so many other purposes, that it has not the effect of an appropriated term.

But for the present I must quit the subject—in a little time expect the remainder of my observations on this poet.



EVERY one seems to be satisfied that warm colouring is essential to a good picture: but what is warm colouring is not determined. Some have joined the idea of warmth to yellow, others to red, others to the compound of both, the orange—they also differ in the degrees of each. A warm picture to some, is cold to others; and vice versa. Lambert’s idea of warmth, was to make his pictures appear as if they were behind a yellow glass. Vanbloom’s have a red glass before 28 them. Both’s an orange colour. Each has its admirers, who condemn the rest.

Who shall decide when Doctors disagree?

Nature. All these hues are right as particulars, but wrong as universals.

Let us examine the different appearances of light from the dawn to noon. The first break of day is a cold light in the East—this, by degrees, is tinged with purple, which grows redder and redder until the purple is lost in orange—the orange in yellow, and before the sun is two degrees high, the yellow is changed to white. Invert the order of these, and it is the coming on of the evening. All these hues 29 then exist in nature, and one is just as right as the other.

It is necessary to distinguish between the painter’s warmth, and the sensation. A picture, that has most warmth of colouring, represents that time of the day when we feel least. A true representation of noon must have no tinge of yellow or red in the sky; and yet from its being noon, one might be led to imagine it must be warm. It is the critic, and not the artist, which confounds the meaning of these terms. In like manner, summer and winter, in respect to light, are just the same: the sun rises and sets as gorgeously in December, if the weather be clear, as in June. I remember seeing two pictures of 30 Cuyp, companions—one, a cattle piece in summer; the other, winter with figures skaiting. The sky in both was equally warm, for which the painter was much censured by an auction-connoisseur, who declared that it was impossible the sky could be warm in winter.

I believe it is a common mistake to apply the red and purple tints to the morning, and the orange and yellow to the evening. We hear pictures of Claude called mornings and evenings, which may be either. It is really odd enough, that there should not be a single circumstance to distinguish the morning from the evening, unless it be in a view of a particular place—in this case, the reversing of the light shews the 31 difference. In a picture, there is no distinction between going to work, or milking, or returning from it—men ride, drive cattle, are fishing, &c. as well early as late.

These considerations should soften the peremptory style of some judges, and extend their taste, which at present seems much confined. We have seen that there are more natural hues than one or two. I will allow them to say, that a picture is too warm, too cold, too red, too yellow to please them, but let them not deny that these hues are all in nature, and that well-managed they are all pictoresque.



AT the revival of the arts, some evil genius, who was determined to retard the progress of painting, dictated this rule. “A picture should always have its horizon the height of the eye that looks at it—in nature, the eye being always the height of the horizon; therefore a picture will be most like nature that has its horizon the height of the natural eye.” One of the falsest rules that ever was founded on a false principle! and this is the more lamentable, as it has spoiled, 33 in point of perspective, three parts of the historical pictures that have ever been painted.

As it is very difficult to destroy a rooted error, and as this is a most pernicious one, it is necessary to be full and particular.

When I say eye and horizon—the natural eye and horizon are meant. When the terms artificial eye and artificial horizon are used, the eye and the horizon represented in painting are to be understood. We must be clear in this distinction, for it is the confounding of the ideas expressed by these terms which has occasioned the mischief.

The eye, and the horizon, are always of the same height—therefore


The artificial eye and the artificial horizon must always be so—but

There is no connection between the real eye, and the artificial horizon.

In every picture the artificial eye, or point of sight, is supposed to be at a certain height from the base-line; as high as a human figure would be, represented as standing there. To this point every thing in the picture tends, as every thing in a real view tends to the natural eye. The picture then, as far as this circumstance is concerned, is perfect, if the artificial eye and the artificial horizon go together; for these always bear the same relation to each other, let the picture be placed any where.


Let A be the eye, B the picture (in section) and c the horizon of the picture.—The eye is always the36 apex of the cone; there is constantly the same relation between the parts in every position. It must be observed that there is a defect in this illustration which it was impossible to avoid—for tho’ I have considered A as the eye, yet upon paper, it is artificial as well as the picture B. If you cannot make this distinction, I propose the following demonstration.——Take a landscape and stand it upon a table—hang it up the height of the eye—above the height—put it upon a chair—upon the floor—it still, perspectively considered, is seen equally well—for

The real eye is always the height of the artificial eye, whether the picture be fixed in the cieling or laid upon the floor.


Indeed if this was not so, how would it be possible to hang one picture over another? and yet this is done, and with the greatest propriety.

I have often lamented the shifts to which painters are reduced, who have followed this rule in opposition to their senses. Laresse was so thoroughly possessed with it, that his idea of fitting up a room with pictures, was to have those which were below the eye to contain nothing but ground, and those which were above, the sky and clouds. But though he was convinced of the rectitude of his principle, he was struck with the oddity of the practice—he therefore recommended that there should be but one38 picture from the floor to the cieling, in which there might be a perfect coincidence of the natural and artificial horizon.

A portrait-painter sets the person he is to draw generally the height of his eye.——Suppose it to be a whole-length with a landscape in the back-ground: the artist considers his picture is to hang above the eye, and for that reason makes his horizon low, about the height of the knees. The consequence is, that there are two points of sight, which supposes an impossibility; for the eye cannot be in two places at the same time. If the eye be supposed on a level with the head of the figure, as it was on drawing the face, then the back-ground is 39 too low; if equal to the horizon of the back-ground, then the figure is too high, unless we suppose it on an eminence, or ourselves in a pit; in that case, instead of seeing the face in front, we must have looked under the chin—but as we do not, the figure always appears to be falling forward.

Raffaele’s horizon is most commonly the height of his figures, so that they stand properly, and seem to be, whether in a print or a picture, the size of human creatures;—on the contrary, when the horizon is low, the figures always appear gigantic. When I was a boy, I had formed so very exalted an idea of the size of running horses, from seeing them drawn with the40 distant hills appearing under their bodies, that the first time I was at a course, it appeared but as a rat-race.

Every whole length picture will furnish you with an instance of this false principle, which would appear more disagreeable, if custom had not in some measure reconciled us to it. I am aware that the practice of so many great men is a strong objection to my argument; but as I conceive, with due submission to such authority, that there is demonstration on my side, I cannot easily retract what I have advanced.



THE commentators of Shakspeare think themselves obliged to find some meaning in his nonsense; and to come at it, twist and turn his words without mercy: never considering, that in his scenes, as in common life, some part must be necessarily unimportant.

Many a passage has been criticised into consequence. The meaning, to use Shakspeare’s words on a like occasion, “is like a grain of wheat hid in a bushel of chaff; you shall seek all day e’er you find it, and 42 when you have it, it is not worth the search.”

An expression of Shallow’s in the second part of Henry the fourth has been the subject of much criticism and hypercriticism. “We will eat a last year’s pippin with a dish of carraways;” and it is certain that there was such a dish, but if Shakspeare had meant it, he would have said, “A dish of last year’s pippins with carraways”—“with a dish, &c.” clearly means something distinct from the pippins. Roasted pippins stuck full of carraways, says one—carraway confect, or comfit well known to children, says another—as if every one did not know what carraway comfits were, says a third, laughing at the second. Dine with43 any of the natural inhabitants of Bath about Christmas, and they probably will give you after dinner a dish of pippins and carraways—which last is the name of an apple as well known in that country as nonpareil is in London, and as generally associated with golden pippins.

“Then am I a sous’d gurnet,” lays Falstaff. This fish has puzzled the commentators as much as the apple did before.—What can it be?—I never heard of such a fish.—There is no such fish. A magazine critic, assured of its non-existence, proposed reading grunt, gurnet, quasi grunet, quasi grunt——well, and what do we get by that? Why, because hogs grunt, and pork is44 the flesh of hogs, sous’d gurnet means pickled pork! Very lately a commentator, who once denied its existence, has discovered in consequence of his great learning, that there is really such a fish——he is really in the right—if he will go to the South coast of Devonshire, he may see plenty of them—but not sous’d.

And now I mention Falstaff, let me explain his copper ring. He complains of being robbed when he was asleep, and “losing a seal-ring of his grandfather’s worth forty marks.” “O Jesu,” says the hostess, “I have heard the prince tell him I know not how oft, that the ring was copper.” Is the appearance of copper so much like gold, that one 45 may be mistaken for the other? Formerly, (about the time of Falstaff’s grandfather) gold was a scarce commodity in England, so scarce that they frequently made rings of copper and plated them thinly with gold; I have seen two or three of them. As the look of both was alike, Falstaff might insist upon its being gold; on the contrary, the prince, from the quality of the wearer and lightness of the ring, might with equal fairness maintain that it was only plated.

Though it is not my intention to make one of the number of Shakspeare’s commentators, I will take this opportunity of restoring a passage in King Lear. In the46 agony of his passion with his daughter, he says (in the modern editions)

“Th’ untented woundings of a Father’s curse
Pierce every sense about thee.”

In the old editions it is printed exceeding plainly, “Th’ untender woundings, &c.” that is, not tender, or cruel. It would be waste of time to shew its propriety, and that there is no such word as untented. Who first threw out the true reading and substituted the false, I know not. Is it worth while to say, that the word is often used by Shakspeare, and once at least besides in the same play, “so young and so untender?”


One more and I will release you.—Shylock says,

Some men there are, love not a gaping pig;
Some that are mad, if they behold a cat;
And others, when the bag-pipe sings in the nose,
Cannot contain, &c.——for affection.

that is, because they are so affected. These poor lines have been new-worded, new stopped, and all to find the meaning of as plain a passage as can be written. “Some men cannot abide this thing, others have an aversion to another, which sometimes produces strange effects on their bodies, because their imagination is so strongly affected. Masterless passion, suffering, or feeling, compels them to follow the impulse.” The not understanding48 affection and passion in Shakspeare’s quaint sense has occasioned the difficulty.

There are many other corrupted and misunderstood passages that require as little attention, to set them right, as what has been exerted on this occasion, by

Yours sincerely, &c.



SCARCE a year passes but our language has some new trick played with it.—But let the sufferers speak for themselves.

To the People of Great-Britain.

The Petition of To and The,

Humbly sheweth,

That your Petitioners have, time out of mind, possessed certain places allowed to be their undoubted right, and that they lately have been, vi et armis, thrust from their 50 ancient possessions. Their misfortune being in common, they present their common petition; hoping that the laudable zeal for the reformation of abuses will extend even to them, and that they shall be restored to their pristine use and consequence.

Though your petitioners labour under a common misfortune, yet it is necessary that they separately state their case.—And first To for himself says,

That he has for years past had a place in the direction of all letters—that he was first removed from thence, as he apprehends, by some member of parliament, who was too much busied in his country’s good to attend to propriety. As51 it is the wicked custom of the world to press down a falling man, the said To is in a manner totally displaced from his ancient possession: all people, except the very few who prefer grammar to fashion, agreeing to his removal. Were his place filled by a worthy successor he should keep his complaints secret, remembering that he himself succeeded For—but to be succeeded by nothing, is reviving the old fanatic principle of the last century, which all who are lovers of the constitution must shudder at! Consider good people, you who so well know the value of property, what quantities of letters are at this instant in the post-office that are neither To nor For any person? In many instances 52 you condescend to be instructed by your neighbours—is the A Monsieur yet left out in the direction of French letters? If you were to address in Latin, would you not use the dative case—and pray what is the sign of the dative but your petitioner


Secondly, The for himself says,

That he has had, from the first existence of our language, precedence of army, navy, commons, lords, and even government itself;—that he is most basely removed from this his just station—for he appeals to all impartial judges, if such are to be found, what a foolish figure does army, navy, commons,53 lords, and government cut without he takes the lead. If this were alone the damage it is surely of great concern, but alas! the evil is spreading! scarce a day passes but he loses some ancient possession of trust and consequence! It is, indeed, insinuated, that your petitioner formerly usurped a station he had by no means a right to, and that his present loss is a just retaliation. What business had The, says these meddlers, before Faustina and Cuzzoni, and so on through all the inas and onis to the present time? Alas! my good countrymen, consider, these were but possessions of a day! The Faustina and her successors were but the grasshoppers of a season—from this encroachment he 54 was soon dispossessed; but navy, army, ministry, are of perpetual duration. Perhaps you will reply that your petitioner is but an article—true—but think of the consequence—if you destroy your particles and articles, and reduce your language by degrees to noun substantives, who knows but the next innovation will be the substituting things instead of words—you have heard of a country so incumbered.——Consider the expence of carriage.—Think, O ye wits, of having your coaches attended with waggon loads of conversation. Nip the evil in its bud, shew your regard for posterity, and consider the petition of



In a general wreck it is worth while to save something.——Your Petitioners are contented to be thrust out of parliament—it is confessed that the members of that honourable house should not attend to trifles.—But consider, good people, you are not all members of parliament, you may restore us to our ancient rights, our just privileges, and legal possessions—which we trust you will do, and your poor Petitioners

Shall ever pray, &c.



I Cannot agree with you in the cause of that uncommon production you mention; my thoughts on this subject, and on some others connected with it, will appear by the following reflections.

Until the last hundred years or thereabout, it was supposed that in many instances life was produced by putrefaction, fermentation, &c. Leuwenhoek and other naturalists, clearly demonstrated that some animals which were supposed to owe their existence to the above causes,57 or in other words, to spontaneous generation, really had a regular production. This discovery established the general principle of omnia ab ovo—but it must be received with reserve and exception.

After giving every theory of the earth a patient reading, it seems to me probable that the whole world was originally covered with water to the depth of about three miles, which is about as much below the surface, as the highest mountains rise above it. This depth, though far below all soundings, bears no more proportion to the earth’s diameter, than that of the paper it is covered with does to a common globe. The idea of the sea approaching the center, and of course, 58 possessing a superior share in quantity as well as surface of the earth, has occasioned many difficulties in accounting for the balance between the different sides of the globe; which vanish, if the sea is not supposed of a greater depth than necessity requires, or reason and probability warrant.

I consider all continents as a congeries of islands heaved up from the bottom of the sea at different times by vulcanos and earthquakes. Modern philosophers have discovered ancient vulcanos where they were never suspected to have existed, and the whole earth is full of evidence that it was once beneath the ocean. Marble, freestone, and many other substances abound in seashells 59 and marine productions. It is frequently said that the sea has left many places which were once covered by it. Is it not rather to be supposed that those places have been elevated above the sea, than that the sea has sunk below them? There seems to be no cause in nature equal to the altering the quantity of water in the ocean, but we know that there are many causes equal to the elevating the land above it. If the sea had retired from the land, the retiring must have been equal in all places; this we are sure is not the case, therefore it is the land in that particular place that must be risen.

In the manner I suppose all land to have been first brought to light, 60 many islands have been produced in our own time. What was under the water is forced above it. The marine substances on the surface by degrees decay; moss appears, grass succeeds, then the smaller kind of plants, bushes and trees. Animal life begins and goes on upon the same scale from the minuter, to beings of more consequence. This system is at least as general as the other, but like that must be received with many restrictions; for it is certain that by far the greater part of vegetables and animals would never be found self-produced in any one place, tho’ many might live, and indeed flourish, if brought there.


Let us proceed from reasoning to facts. Some voyager discovers an island evidently formed by a vulcano, and very remote from other countries; it is a perfect wood to the water’s edge, has some plants which exist no where but in that spot, together with others common to places in the same latitude. It is full of insects, reptiles, birds, and sometimes quadrupeds. Now, if every one of these organized bodies was not brought there, something must be self-produced.

In some islands of the East-Indies are serpents of an enormous size; who could carry them there? In all streams there are fish—how could they get there? Not from the sea, for fish which inhabit the source of 62 rivers are as soon killed by salt water as in air, besides there are many rivers which do not run into the ocean. Perhaps this circumstance was never sufficiently considered. Every set of rivers is perfectly distinct from any other set. The greater number have some fish which exist no where but in the particular stream they are bred. Find any other cause for their first production than what must be taken from the old philosophy.

Let us attend to what we have always near us. Fill a vessel with water from the pump: it is pure, and contains neither animal, nor vegetable. After standing some days, a green substance begins to be formed in it, and which is inhabited by myriads of little beings: 63 this seems the first step towards plants and animals. We are told indeed that the animalcules are from eggs laid by flies, and the green slime is a plant which has its proper seed. That the water may accidentally receive both eggs and seeds is highly probable; but these (by reasoning from other instances) seem the first efforts towards vegetable and animal life. Besides, it yet remains to be proved, that the air so abounds with flying seeds and insects. If the air swarmed, as is supposed, vision would be obstructed (as by a fog which consists of particles inconceivably small), and perhaps life in the nobler animals destroyed. The slime to be produced from seed then must have 64 come from some of the same sort in the neighbourhood; besides, if its being produced in the water depended upon accident, which it does by this supposition, it must sometimes fail. Again, if the animals and vegetables, in the above instance, were from eggs floating in the air, why are the smallest always produced first? must it not sometimes happen that ova of a larger sort precede the smaller? which is never the case: not to mention the total impossibility of some ova, particularly of animals, being so conveyed.

It is well known that by pepper-water, and a variety of other mixtures, peculiar animalcules are produced. Can we suppose that the 65 fly, which lays the egg from which this creature exists, continues floating in the air until some philosopher makes a mixture proper for its deposit? is it done often enough to preserve the species? What must the fly have done before pepper was brought from India? You may tell me that the egg was deposited there—well then, if the eggs are not hurt by the pepper being dried in an oven, happen to be brought to Europe, and fall in the way of a naturalist, the species is preserved. Much is not got by this. There is great reason for believing that the animalcule was really produced by the infusion, and did not exist before.

How are the worms in human bodies to be accounted for? There 66 are some, it is true, which bear a resemblance to earth-worms, and are supposed to be eggs we take in with roots, vegetables, &c. Not to insist upon the impossibility of a creature intended to live in the cold earth existing on the hot stomach, it is well known that there are worms in the intestines which have no resemblance to any other thing in the creation—the jointed worm, for instance, which is found of many yards in length: indeed, if some accounts are to be credited, of some scores of yards. Where does this animal exist except in the stomach where it is found? Sheep, dogs, horses, &c. breed worms peculiar to themselves. I have seen frequently between the sound and 67 back-bone of a whiting, long worms that were evidently bred there. As I have no system to support, I shall have no objection if you can account for these facts according to the present philosophy—but to me it seems absolutely impossible.

I may strengthen every thing I have advanced on self-production with additional arguments, and those from instances on the largest scale. The old and new continents are two immense islands. You will get little by supposing them once joined at Kamchatka. What should ever induce those animals which are never seen out of a hot climate, to travel so far North as the Strait between the continents? They do not 68 approach it now, why should they then? Besides, has not each continent some creatures peculiar to itself? Did those in America come from countries where no such animals exist? If they did not, and are found in America only, what is the fair conclusion?

When an inhabitant of the old continent asks how America was peopled, why does the question stop there? How was it supplied with vegetables and animals? particularly river-fish; and whence came those creatures that exist no where else? Pray, what is to hinder an American from reversing the question? When did our people, he may say, first migrate and give inhabitants to the Eastern world? 69 What answer can be given to these questions confident with the present system of philosophy?

There is something in the sound of self-production which seems like a contradiction. I mean nothing more by it, than that a vegetable or animal does in many instances first exist by a different principle than that upon which the species is afterwards continued. As the term does not exactly express this, it may easily be perverted from the sense in which I wish to be understood. Perhaps we shall find that self-production shocks the imagination more or less according to the size of the thing produced. Who would not sooner believe that cheese breeds mites, than that deserts produce elephants? 70 And yet, according to our present philosophy, one is as possible as the other.

If the consequences I have drawn from these facts appear to you wrong, or the facts themselves ill-supported—convince me of my error, and the whole shall be retracted as freely as it is advanced by

Yours most faithfully, &c.



THO’ I hate to set out upon the principle of word-hunting, yet it always gives me pleasure when by accident I can trace the meaning of a word or phrase to its source, and pursue it through its various changes to its present date. The pleasure is still greater to mark the gradual refinement of language from obscurity and barbarism, until it arrives at precision and elegance. Our tongue, as every one knows, is a compound of many.——The pains which William the Conqueror 72 took to graft his Norman French upon it, succeeded in many instances, and there are others where we may trace the dying away of the French by degrees, and the English resuming its old place. Chaucer in his character of the Monk, says

He was a lord full fat and in good point.

This is the remains of the French embonpoint, or as it was written then en bon point.——The phrase was wearing out in Chaucer’s time, the en bon being translated, and point preserved. Now, the whole is translated, and we say in good case, or plight.——You may find many other instances of this in the old poets.


“The days are now a cock-stride longer,” say the country-folks at Twelfth-day—and many have been the conjectures upon the derivation of this phrase (see the Gentleman’s Magazine). It is not cock-stride, but cock’s-tread. In the country, tread is pronounced trede, (not tred)—and in most of the western counties, Devonshire excepted, stride has more of the e than i in its sound.—But the impossibility of expressing by any known signs the different provincial modifications of the sound of the vowels, has occasioned some strange mistakes when people of one county endeavour to write down an expression used in another. Our old poets, who generally writ in the 74 dialect of the province where they resided, and spelt as well as they could with their own country vowels, have given birth to much laughable criticism.

Help-mate is an odd corruption. In the Book of Genesis it is said, “it is not good for man to be alone, I will make an help meet for him”—that is an help, proper for him—meet is an adjective. But these two words, like the first man and his help, soon became one, and of late have been corrected into help-mate.

As I was reading John Struys’s voyages the other day, I thought I discovered the original of the word, and perhaps of the liquor, punch; which, if I am right, has nothing 75 to do with that diverting personage in puppet-shews of the same name, from whom it is usually derived. Struys was at Gomroon in Persia, where he says, he drank——“A liquor much in use there, called pale punshen, being compounded of arak, sugar, and raisins, which is so bewitching that they cannot refrain from drinking it.” I really believe he forgot to mention the water—for how in such a climate as the southern part of Persia it was possible to drink undiluted arak, I have no conception. The raisins have given place, and very properly, to lemons. But I had better leave this to its own merits.—I am afraid it will not bear too minute an examination—remember it is only76 humbly offered together with the other conjectures of

Yours, &c.

As Struys’s Voyages is a scarce book, I might with great ease have practised the common trick of authors, and introduced water into the quotation without fear of discovery. It being supposed that few will give themselves the trouble to turn to the original book to examine extracts, authors have been made to give evidence to facts, “of which they nothing know,” and to support systems which never had existence, but in the imagination of the writer who presses them into his service.



THE rubs and difficulties which the public throw in the way of a genius at his first appearance, are frequently too great to be surmounted.

We are apt to form our opinion of a man’s abilities, by his resemblance to some other man of reputation in the art or science he professes. A painter, musician, or author perfectly new we are afraid to commend—like hounds, we wait for the opening of one whose cry we may venture to follow.—But it78 should be remembered that a sure mark of a genius is originality. As he is original, and therefore new, perhaps it may be necessary to conquer some prepossessions before we can judge of his merit; and as he is generally incapable, from that modesty which so frequently attends ability, of insisting on his own excellencies, the world should take that task from him.—But does it so? Or from the fear of commending too hastily, leave a Being to languish in obscurity, which should be protected and encouraged. The greatest part of those who seem to have been born to make mankind happy, were themselves miserable. A melancholy catalogue might be made of 79 these. If we know any thing of Homer, it is, that he ran about ballad-singing. Poor, unhappy, half-starved Cervantes, Camöens, Butler, Fielding! Does it not grieve you to be told that the author of Tom Jones lies in the factory’s burying-ground at Lisbon, undistinguished, unregarded—not a stone to mark the place! And would it not raise our indignation to behold stately monuments erected for those whose names were never heard of, until they appeared in their epitaph?——were they not considered rather as monuments of the sculptor’s art, than as preserving the memory of the persons whose dust they so pompously cover.


The instances of those original geniuses who in their life-time have enjoyed the public applause and lived by it, are very few—indeed I cannot recollect any—Garrick excepted. I do not consider Virgil or Pope in this light—they are not original. It is true that Shakspeare lived well enough, but the money he got was by acting, not writing. Milton was in tolerable circumstances, but if he had had nothing more to depend on than the profit arising from the sale of the finest poem in the world, he must have been starved.

It is common when we speak of a genius, to say, he will not be valued until he is dead—not that his death is essential to his reputation; 81 but there is a necessity of his being known and understood, before he can be esteemed; and it generally happens that life is of too short duration for that purpose—

“But the fair guerdon when we hope to find
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind Fury with th’ abhorred shears
And slits the thin-spun life.”———



ALLITERATION very early made its appearance in English poetry. I have seen an old piece where it was intended to supply the place of rhyme: the terminations of each line were different; and there were in every one, three or four words which begun with the same letter. This I suppose was thought a beauty. Shakspeare in several places burlesques the improper use of Alliteration with great pleasantry. It was much in 83 request in the days of Thompson——his

——Floor, faithless to the fuddled foot,

is scarce less ridiculous than Shakspeare’s

Bravely broach’d his bloody boiling breast.

I believe wherever it is perceived, it disgusts. There is something very ridiculous in the pains of an author when he is searching for a set of words beginning with the same letter: this surely argues a “lack of matter.” A man who has things in his head, is never curious about words, unless it be those which express his meaning quickest and clearest. I would have given something to have seen 84 the paper upon which Smollet first sketched the titles of some of his novels. I dare say it cost him as much time to fix upon the name Roderick Random, as to write some of the best parts in that sprightly and entertaining performance.——Robert and Richard were common, Roger and Ralph were vulgar—there was a necessity for a sounding uncommon name, and beginning with an R: at last, by a lucky chance Roderick occurred—and Roderick it is.—Do you think me fanciful? I call upon Peregrine Pickle, and Ferdinand Fathom to prove the contrary.

If we laugh at the hard-sought-for Alliteration of the poet and historian, may we not laugh a little85 louder at that of the comic dramatist? Can any language be less that of nature or common conversation, than strings of words beginning with an M or N? And yet this has been done by one who paints the “Manners living as they rise.” It is surprizing that so sprightly a genius as Foote could submit to the drudgery of consulting his spelling-book for words proper to be paired—my three ppp’s put me in mind of a letter in the Student, in which p is predominant—it is highly humourous and well worth your perusing.

Will you give me leave to make an abrupt transition from Alliteration to Literation, and pardon me also for coining?


The Germans in pronouncing English, and writing it too, if they have not studied the language, almost constantly change b into p, d into t, g (hard) into k, v into f, and the reverse. This peculiarity of theirs, I find, upon recollection, is not confined to English. In the Burletta of La buona Figliola, the author makes his German character to say trompetti and tampurri—nay they serve their own language the same, as I have observed from their pronunciation of proper names of cities, &c. it seems difficult to account for this——but perhaps not more so than for the trick of the French in giving an aspirate to those English words where there is87 none, and omitting it where it should be used.——I once saw a French-man much surprized, (not disconcerted) at a general laugh when he was comparing our country women with his—an unlucky misplaced aspirate was all the cause—“The English ladies,” says he, “are so plain, but the French ladies are so ῞airy!”



THOUGH superstition is pretty well laughed away, yet there are some points in which we can never get the better of it. The wedding ring in coffee grounds—the coffin in the candle—the stranger in the fire, are marked by none but vulgar and foolish eyes. You see salt spilt, hear death-watches—owls hoot—dogs howl, and despise the omen—you are above it. But yet let me ask you, an enlightened philosopher—Whether you are above choice of seats at whist? Whether you 89 have not really believed that your chance for winning was much bettered by your taking the fortunate chairs, and of course obliging your adversaries to sit, not in those of the scornful, but of the losers? When you quit the game on a run of ill luck, what is it but declaring your belief that the games already played have an influence upon those which are to come?

Each ticket in a lottery has an equal chance——do you think so? Number 1000 got the great prize in the last lottery—now, confess honestly that you feel something within that tells you the same number can never win the great prize again—you would prefer every other number to it—and yet reason90 says, that all the tickets have an equal probability of success. In these instances and many others, superstition, even in cultivated minds, will be always more than a match for truth.

A gentleman coming a passenger in a vessel from the West-Indies, finding it more inconvenient to be shaved than to wear his beard, chose the latter——but he was not suffered to have his choice long—it was the unanimous opinion of the sailors, and indeed of the Captain as well, that there was not the least probability of a wind as long as this ominous beard was suffered to grow. They petitioned—they remonstrated, and at last prepared to cut the fatal hairs by violence. 91 Now, as there is no operation at which it is so much the patient’s interest to consent, as that of the barber——the gentleman quietly submitted—nor could the wind resist the potent spell which instantly filled all their sails, and “wafted them merrily away.”

You see we have only got rid of general superstition, we still retain that which belongs to our particular profession or pursuits.




I Have often tryed to have a proper idea of vast space—great numbers—enormous size and such subjects, and as you may suppose, without success. But though I fail in getting a competent idea, I sometimes make an approach towards it, which is better than nothing.

The solar system is one of these sublime subjects in the consideration of which I have frequently been lost. I never attempted to conceive the size of the sun, or the93 distance of saturn; the impossibility instantly repels the most daring imagination. No, all that I have attempted is to have a just idea of the proportion (upon any scale) that the sun and planets bear to each other in respect to size and distance. At first sight, this seems easily done—Draw some concentric circles on a sheet of paper, make the sun the centre, and place the planets round in their order.—Or if you would have an idea of their motion as well, look at an orrery. But a little examination will convince you that this is doing nothing towards having an idea of their size and distance in proportion to each other, which is the point sought. Nay, it is worse than nothing, for 94 it imposes a falsity as a reality. Imagination by itself can do a great deal, if assisted it can do more, but if perverted, nothing. Let us try to assist the imagination then.

If the sun be only a million times bigger than the earth, (exactness is of no consequence to my argument, so that I am within the truth) it is plain that I cannot make two circles upon a sheet of paper (without considering any thing about distance) that can bear this proportion to each other; and if this cannot be done for the earth, much less can it for other planets and moons where the disproportion is greater. Let us take the floor of a large room—on this make a circle of two feet diameter for the sun—the size of95 the earth will be about a large pin’s head. The distance of the sun from the earth is about eighty of the sun’s diameters; if so, there must be a circle of three hundred and twenty feet diameter for the earth’s orbit, which no room, nor indeed any other building, will contain. Let us try a field——here we may put our sun and draw the earth’s orbit round. If we stand in the center (which we should do) the earth is too small to be seen. These difficulties occurring so soon, how will they increase when we take in the superior planets? The ingenious Ferguson has endeavoured to assist our imagination by supposing St. Paul’s dome, in diameter one hundred and forty-five feet, to be the 96 sun——upon this scale, Mercury is between nine and ten inches, and placed at the Tower; Venus near eighteen, at St. James’s Palace; the Earth eighteen, at Marybone; Mars ten, at Kensington; Jupiter fifteen feet, at Hampton-Court; and Saturn eleven feet and half, at Cliffden. Let us be on the top of the dome, and look for the planets where he has placed them. Do you think we could see any thing of Jupiter and Saturn? to say nothing of their moons—or that we could conceive properly the difference between four miles and twenty, when seen on a line? the four may be two, or one mile; and the twenty may be ten, or thirty, for ought we can judge by the appearance.97 All that we get by this is the knowing that a sheet of paper or an orrery give us wrong ideas, and that we cannot by any contrivance put the size and distance of the planets upon a proportionable scale, so as to take in the whole with our eye or understanding.

We are as much at a loss to comprehend the slowness of their motion—I have not mistaken—I mean slowness.—A circuit which is six or twelve months or twice as many years performing, is slow almost beyond conception; and yet this motion is called whirling—as if the planets went round their orbits like a top! Though quick and slow are comparative terms, we have ideas of each arising from the 98 medium of the two, from observation, and common application, that do not stand in need of any comparison to be understood. The motion of a flea is quick; of a snail, slow; and the common walk of a man is neither quick nor slow. Let us imagine an elephant to walk, and a flea to hop the same distance in the same time—would you hesitate to say that the motion of the one was slow, and the other quick? In short, swiftness or slowness does not depend upon the absolute quantity of ground the animal passes in a certain time, but upon the relative quantity to its own size. The earth is about eight minutes in moving the space of one diameter, therefore99 its absolute motion is slow—it is twenty-four hours making one revolution round its axis, which gives no idea of velocity. It is certain that if we were placed very near the earth (unaffected by its attraction) there would appear an exceeding quick change of surface—and so would the motion of a snail appear to an animalcule. The quantity of space when compared to any we can move in the same time is vast, and the motion quick, but when considered as belonging to a body of the size of a world, the motion is slow. Suppose a common globe was turned round once in twenty-four hours—imagine an animal as much inferior to it in size as we are to the earth, placed 100 as I conceived the human spectator placed to view the earth—would the apprehension of this Being induce you to call a single revolution in twenty-four hours, whirling? Would not you say that though the surface passed quick in review before him, yet that the absolute motion of the whole was exceedingly slow. Perhaps it is our measuring this motion by miles that makes us fancy that it is quick, which is much like taking the height of a mountain in hairs-breadths. When we are told that Saturn moves in his orbit more than twenty-two thousand miles in an hour, we conceive the velocity to be great; but when we find that he is more than three hours moving his own diameter,101 we must then think it as it really is, slow. Bishop Wilkins is the only writer I have met with who considers the motion of the heavenly bodies as I do, and I am rather proud of having my opinion supported by so great a man.

There is another circumstance which prevents the solar system, as commonly delineated, from bearing a true resemblance to the apparent position and motion of the planets. It is always drawn in plan instead of section, whereas the appearance of the orbits of the heavenly bodies is always in section and never can be in plan. This difference is not, as far as I know, noticed in any account of the solar system; and yet if it be not attended to, it is 102 impossible to prove the truth of the system by the apparent paths of the planets. This will be best understood by considering the inferior ones. Mercury and Venus remove to a certain distance from the sun, and then, after seeming at rest, return in nearly the same line and remove to the same distance on the other side, where the same thing is repeated. This to the eye is not a revolution in plan, but a revolution in section—and this might be explained by a draught which should always accompany the common delineation of the planetary orbits.



IT is so long since that I sent you the first part of my observations on Quarles that perhaps you have forgot my promise for the remainder.——I will now resume the subject.

Quarles sometimes introduces personages, and makes his poem of the dramatic cast. The sixth hieroglyphic is a dialogue between Time and Death; as usual, alluding to the print, where Death is going to extinguish the taper, but is prevented by Time. There are a 104 few awkward expressions in this, which are easier to be overlooked than omitted.

Time.              Death.
Behold the frailty of this slender snuff;
Alas! it hath not long to last;
Without the help of either thief or puff,
Her weakness knows the way to waste:
Nature hath made her substance apt enough
To spend itself, and spend too fast:
It needs the help of none
That is so prone
To lavish out untouch’d, and languish all alone.
Time, hold thy peace, and shake thy slow-pac’d sand;
Thine idle minutes make no way:
Thy glass exceeds her hour, or else doth stand,
I cannot hold, I cannot stay.
Surcease thy pleading, and enlarge my hand,
I surfeit with too long delay:
This brisk this bold-fac’d light
Doth burn too bright;
Darkness adorns my throne, my day is darkest night.
Great Prince of darkness! hold thy needless hand,
Thy captive’s fast and cannot flee:
What arm can rescue? who can countermand?
What pow’r can set thy pris’ner free?
Or if they could; what close, what foreign land
Can hide that head that flees from thee?
But if her harmless light
Offend thy sight
What need’st thou snatch at noon, what must be thine at night?
I have outstaid my patience; my quick trade
Grows dull and makes too slow return:
This long-liv’d debt is due, and should been paid
When first her flame began to burn:
But I have staid too long, I have delay’d
To store my vast, my craving urn.
My patent gives me pow’r
Each day, each hour,
To strike the peasant’s thatch, and shake the princely tow’r.
Thou count’st too fast: thy patent gives no pow’r
Till Time shall please to say, Amen.
Canst thou appoint my shaft?
Or thou my hour?
’Tis I bid, do.
’Tis I bid, when;
Alas! thou canst not make the poorest flow’r
To hang the drooping head ’till then:
Thy shafts can neither kill,
Nor strike, until
My power gives them wings, and pleasure arms thy will!

There is nothing which destroys the reality in a dramatic dialogue more than when the speakers ask questions and reply in an equal quantity of lines. Perhaps the most disgusting instance of this is in Milton’s Mask, where Comus and the Lady have a verse each alternately, for fourteen lines together. We are more sensible of the sameness in quantity where it is so short, and so often repeated, than here in Quarles where it is extended to a stanza, and that repeated for each speaker but once—but107 even here you begin to feel its bad effect, when it is finely relieved towards the end by the characters growing warmer in their dispute, and, of course, making their speeches shorter. Yet what I here condemn, others admire.——You, who are so fond of the ancients, may easily defend this practice by their example, and if you want any assistance to demolish me, may call in Mr. West and the author of the Origin and Progress of Language.—This passage of the former from his translation of the Iphigenia of Euripedes is quoted by the latter with great commendations——not indeed because the dialogue is in alternate verse, but for its being a fine imitation of the ancient trochaic measure.


Iph.     Know’st thou what should now be ordered?
Tho.     ’Tis thy office to prescribe.
Iph.     Let them bind in chains the strangers.
Tho.     Canst thou fear they should escape?
Iph.     Trust no Greek; Greece is perfidious.
Tho.     Slaves depart, and bind the Greeks.
Iph.     Having bound, conduct them hither, &c.

It is true that here the reply wants one of having the same number of syllables as the question—but still the constant return of the same quantity for each speaker is disgusting to all unprejudiced ears. You will tell me that it is in the high gusto of the antique, and that the feet are trochaics—I can only reply, that hard words cannot convince me contrary to reason, and if a proper effect is not produced, it is of very little consequence to me whether the authority is brought from Greece or Siberia. Horace’s109 often-quoted Pallida mors, &c. was perhaps never better translated than at the end of the fourth stanza.

The ninth hieroglyphic will put you in mind of the poems that are squeezed or stretched into the form of axes, altars, and wings——but if you will attend to the matter, and not the form, you will find it excellent——to write this properly requires some care.

How short a span
Was long enough of old
To measure out the life of man;
In those well-temper’d days, his time was then
Survey’d, cast up, and found but threescore years and ten!

And what is that?
They come, and slide, and pass,
Before my pen can tell thee what.
The posts of Time are swift, which having run
Their sev’n short stages o’er, their short-liv’d task is done.

110 Our days
Begun, we lend
To sleep, to antick plays
And toys, until the first stage end:
12 waining moons, twice 5 times told, we give
To unrecover’d loss: we rather breathe than live.

We spend
A ten years breath
Before we apprehend
What ’tis to live, or fear a Death:
Our childish dreams are fill’d with painted joys
Which please our sense awhile, and waking prove but toys!

How vain
How wretched is
Poor man, that doth remain
A slave to such a state as this!
His days are short, at longest; few at most;
They are but bad at best; yet lavish’d out, or lost.

They be
The secret springs
That make our minutes flee
On wheels more swift than eagle’s wings!
Our Life’s a clock, and ev’ry gasp of breath
111 Breathes forth a warning grief, till Time shall strike a Death!

How soon
Our new-born light
Attains to full-ag’d noon!
And this, how soon to grey-hair’d night!
We spring, we bud, we blossom and we blast
E’er we can count our days, our days they flee so fast!

They end
When scarce begun;
And e’er we apprehend
That we begin to live, our life is done:
Man count thy days; and if they fly too fast
For thy dull thoughts to count, count ev’ry day the last.

Methinks Quarles’s ghost is at my elbow, which will not be appeased unless I remark that the first lines of each stanza make a verse, being the text on which the poem is a comment.

Behold, alas! our days we spend;
How vain they be, how soon they end!

This is a kind of false wit once much in request. Jarvis, the translator112 of Don Quixote, calls it glossing—upon what authority I know not. In the first chapter of the second book of the second volume may be found a text and gloss—with this difference from Quarles’s, that the text is introduced at the end of the stanza and not at the beginning.

It is impossible to avoid smiling at the pains he must have taken to preserve the form of the stanza—in the third he is obliged to have the assistance of figures, or his line would have been too long; and after all his trouble there must be some for the reader before he has calculated how much “12 moons, twice 5 times told,” are——in the rest, to say the truth, it is not so apparent. If this pyramidical 113 stanza prevents you from attending to the poetry, it is easily put in another—of the two first lines make one; and the false wit immediately vanishes.—I hope Quarles’s ghost vanished before I proposed the alteration.

I have, like a prudent caterer, reserved the best thing for the last. It is the twelfth emblem of the third book. The subject of the print is a figure trying to escape from the Divine vengeance which is pursuing in thunders: the motto——O that thou wouldst hide me in the grave, that thou wouldst keep me in secret until thy wrath be past! Upon this hint he has produced the following excellent poem.


Ah! whither shall I fly? what path untrod
Shall I seek out to ’scape the flaming rod
Of my offended, of my angry God?
Where shall I sojourn? what kind sea will hide
My head from thunder? where shall I abide,
Until his flames be quench’d or laid aside?
What, if my feet should take their hasty flight,
And seek protection in the shades of night?
Alas! no shades can blind the God of light.
What, if my soul should take the wings of day,
And find some desert? if she spring away
The wings of vengeance clip as fast as they.
What, if some solid rock should entertain
My frighted soul? can solid rocks restrain
The stroke of Justice and not cleave in twain?
Nor sea, nor shade, nor shield, nor rock, nor cave,
Nor silent deserts, nor the sullen grave,
Where flame-ey’d fury means to smite, can save.
Tis vain to flee; ’till gentle mercy shew
Her better eye; the farther off we go,
The swing of Justice deals the mightier blow.
Th’ ingenuous child, corrected, doth not flie
His angry mother’s hand, but clings more nigh,
And quenches with his tears her flaming eye.
Great God! there is no safety here below;
Thou art my fortress, thou that seem’st my foe,
’Tis thou that strik’st the stroke, must guard the blow.

Six stanzas, which though very good, yet being of less merit than the rest are omitted. It is obvious that he had the 139th psalm in his eye, of which he has made great use. The alarm at the beginning—the searching all nature for shelter—the impossibility of being hid from the author of nature—and the acquiescing at last in what was unavoidable, are grand and natural ideas. The motion of the wings of vengeance—and the recapitulation of the places where protection was fought in vain—are instances116 of expression rarely met with. But what praise is sufficient for the simile in the eighth stanza? To say only that it is apposite and beautiful, comes very short of my sensations when I read it. Let me confess honestly that I think it one of the noblest instances of the sublime pathetic! As a part of a religious poem it is proper, in a high degree; the scripture frequently considering our connection with the Almighty as that of children with a parent.—As a pictoresque image it is distinct, natural, and affecting.—But to remark all the beauties of this poem would be to comment on every stanza.——You will have more pleasure in finding them out yourself.


Now what think you, is not this rather too good to be lost? Was it from never reading Quarles, or taking his character from common report, that Pope considered his productions as the very bathos of poetry? Poor Quarles! thou hast had many enemies, and art now forgotten. But thou hast at last found a friend—not equal, indeed, to the task of turning a tide that has been flowing for a hundred years against thee—not equal to his wishes for giving thee and every neglected genius his due share of reputation—but barely capable of laying the first stone of thy temple of fame, which he leaves to be compleated by abler and by stronger hands!


118 P. S. I had forgot to inform you that these emblems were imitated in Latin by one Herman Hugo, a Jesuit. The first edition of them was in 1623, soon after the appearance of Quarles; and the book was reprinted for the ninth time in 1676, which last is the date of the copy in my possession. How many more editions there have been, I know not. He makes no acknowledgement to Quarles, and speaks of his own work as original. As a specimen of his manner, take the following, which is intended as an imitation of “Ah whither shall I fly?”

Quis mihi securis dabit hospita tecta latebris?
Tecta, quibus dextræ server ab igne tuæ?
Heu! tuus ante oculos quoties furor ille recursat,
Nulla mihi toties fida sat antra reor.
Tunc ego secretas, umbracula frondea, sylvas,
Lustràque solivagis opto relicta feris.
Tunc ego vel mediis timidum caput abdere terris,
Aut maris exesâ condere rupe velim, &c.

It reads but poorly after the other, though I have given you the best of it. He afterwards by degrees quits his subject, runs into stuff about Cain and Jonah, and has entirely omitted the simile.

You express an inclination to publish my letters. You should consider that the date of some of them is so far back, that many allusions to passing incidents which might engage attention at the time, now must fail of their effect.——People are spoken of as living, who are dead——and many other objections might be enumerated. 120 However, you are at liberty to do what you please with them. Those which are of a private nature, your prudence will, of course, keep to yourself: and for the others, where some conjectures are hazarded which may be thought different from received opinions; the writer wishes them to be read with the same impartiality they were written——though he is well apprized of the difficulty of dispossessing old opinions.


Transcriber’s Notes:

Blank pages have been removed.

Silently corrected typographical errors.

Spelling and hyphenation variations made consistent.

Page 87, end of letter XXVII: The symbol appears to be U+1FDE Greek Dasia (rough breathing diacritical mark for an ‘h’ sound before a vowel) and Oxia (acute accent).

Formatting of a dialogue in letter XXX made more consistent.