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Lichfield, March 13, 1788. AGAIN do I intrude upon your attention, dear Madam, to prove my obedience to your injunctions, that I should read and examine the Della Cruscas and Anna Matildas. But for your recommendation I should probably never have read them, being inserted in a magazine into which there is no looking without being shocked by some outrage or other against genius or worth.
I confess to you I did not like Mr Merry's Paulina. You saw that disapprobation in the coldness and hesitation with which I replied to your question, asked with an air of interest in the author that checked my ingenuousness.
Internal conviction is to mé very impressive, that the Anna Matildas, as well as Della Cruscas, are Merry's; the seldom beauties and frequent blemishes of each being so exactly of the same complexion. To the best poems he gives the Della Crusca signature. The first six stanzas of the Elegy on the last day of the departed year, are very pretty; the remaining sink into commonplace insipidity. The sonnet to Metastasio has that mixture of metaphor which is always wrong.
« Ah once, or warm’d by hope, or chill'd by fear,
To hold a promise is strange awkward language. This sonnet makes Fortune, whom it addresses, a sun which, instead of sinking suddenly into eclipse, lifts .up its hand and knocks him down. The simile of the steel, with which the sonnet concludes, is unintelligible, to me at least.
The Embarrassment is nothing like a sonnet, though it assumes that name; and the thought, upon which it turns is quaint and old-fashioned.
The Ode to Horror, signed Anna Matilda, though it has enormous faults, forms, on the whole, a spirited imitation of Collins's Ode to Fear, though it by no means equals its original, Anna's poem to Indifference, with D. Crusca's answer to it, are each of them a twin-mixture of wild ideas and absurd appellations, illumined with flashes of poetic fire. Who would conceive that sensibility was meant to be addressed in the following verses ?
“ Savage untam'd! she smiles to drink our tears,
Sensibility of all things an untam'd savage!!! and she, who is indubitably the source of our tears, is made to drink them!—then what a senseless vulgar abbreviation of where there is no solid ill. The idea is a plagiarism from Beattie's Minstrel, miserably mangled in the expression. There is a true poet. See how beautifully he expresses the idea Mr Merry has so clumsily stolen from him!
“ Fancy enervates while she soothes the heart,
And thro' the throbbing heart, and dizzy brain,
I admire Mr Merry's poem to Mrs Siddons very much; we forgive imitation, however obvious, when the result is good. Here the imagery, in some parts, approaches that of its archetype, Collins's Ode on the Passions, in the portraits of horror, despair, and madness. That of revenge is al. most verbatim from Collins; but the other three are sublime and more original. One is never weary of wondering, that the pen from which they sprung could fabricate the most nauseous of all poems, Paulina ; though it certainly contains some fine passages. The pleasure they might afford is counteracted by those eternal vulgarisms that disgrace a style which aims at violent elevation.
I confess the opening admirable in its description of the castle, and the castle's lord, with the fine comparison of him to a rude rock in the Caspian Sea. The Russian scenery is at times drawn with a Salvatorial pencil.
These excellencies, however, make no adequate compensation for the disgusting horror of the story ;-for the inevitable contempt we feel for the heroine, who could be induced to live in a state of odious and promiscuous prostitution, through a despicable desire of preserving her life from the fury of her father, after her imprudence had murdered her lover * The despair of such a loss, and by means so horrid, would have set a mind of any elevation above every selfish fear !
* Forbidden by her tyrannical father to think of his daughter, she persuades him to enter her chamber window,---and hearing the old count coming to her apartment, she puts her lover, into an iron chest; and when her father leaves her, she finds him_dead by suffocation.-S.
When I sent for Paulina last summer, on seeing it praised by the public critics, I sent also for another poem, that came out about the same time, which I had heard well spoken of by better judges, entitled, Edward, or the Curate. The alt thors of each were unknown to me, so I could have no prejudices in favour of the one, or against the other; yet, while Paulina disgusted, Edward charmed me. It is everywhere chaste, interesting, simple, natural, elegant, and pathetic. I grant there are two or three passages of higher elevation and real grandeur in the former ;-but the general vulgarism, nauseousness, bombast, and absolute nonsense, were to me insupportable.
So MrR is affronted not to find his name in your growler's letters. Astonishing, that any being, who knew Dr Johnson, should not have been thankful for such exemption! When he was last in Lichfield, he told me that a lady in London once sent him a poem which she had written, ard afterwards desired to know his opinion of it. “ Madam, I have not cut the leaves, I did not even peep between them. I met her again in company, and she again asked me after the trash. I made no reply, and began talking to another person. The next time we met, she asked me if I had yet read her
poem ; I answered, no, Madam, nor ever intend it."