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H.Repton, Esg.on the Publication of his Essays
Lichfield, March 30, 1788. I AM charmed with your book, my every way ingenious friend ; nor must you suspect my sins cerity, when I assure you, that I find more which appears to me witty, humorous, and entertaining in this little volume, than in any single one of the so long boasted Spectators. It is excessively in their style, and less clogged with heavy uninteresting matter. There are certainly many charming things in the Spectators; but I do not think so highly of their ingenuity in the aggregate as is customary to speak. They appear to mé often dull where they aim at wit yet Addison's talent for easy humour is happy. He does not, however, seem to me an energetic moralist, or a very discerning critic on works of poetic genius. His serious oratory wants the nerve and the splendour of imagination which adorns that of Johnson; though Johnson, as a critic, is worse than feeble, he is detestable, and this amidst the
dazzling metaphors and pointed sarcasms which he employs so lavishly in his envious designs to mislead the public taste-designs which have proved deplorably successful.
Addison, though superficial where he means to analyze genius, is too generally just in his praise, and candid in his censures, ever, or at least often, to mislead his readers, as to the general estimation in which they ought to hold the writer on whose compositions he descants. The literary eminence on which he stood, enabled him to awaken the attention of the world to one of the greatest poets it ever produced; whose works, to its never to be forgotten disgrace, had lain neglected so many years.
But to resume your new-born volume. Its title, Variety, is well sustained ; and the sprightly references which the work continually bears to it, have reconciled me entirely to the appellation, though I still confess my regret, that this composition did not appear in single numbers, which would have given that natural air to the letters which is so advantageous.
How gracefully sportive the first paper, now and then sliding into a shade of agreeable seriousness; and in the sixth number, the country sports are described with picturesque vivacity.
It is so much the whim of the times, amidst practical licentiousness of every kind, to demand from modern authors an unrelaxing prudery of ideas and language, that I confess I tremble for some of the little husband's expressions ; for your vindication of innocent recreations on Sunday evening, succeeding to the public worship of the day, and for the temerity of your quixotism upon the new religious wind-mill, lest, (as Lovelace says upon a different application of the same allusion,)“ its plaguy air-fans” toss your book out of popular favour.
A sweet melancholy interest chains us to the pages of the convent story. Its style and manner please me, and the concluding passage conveys a striking truth in unaffected majesty of language.
I perceive the genuine glow of a fine imagination in the new and beautiful Chinese Story. The Hall of Silence is sublimely conceived ; and the moment in which the veils are removed, presents an happy subject to the historic pencil.
I feel great satisfaction in the approbation you express of my strictures in defence of Richardson, against the injustice of Mr Cumberland. They are honoured in the situation you have assigned them in this your ingenious book; but
what shall I say to you about the reasonless reason you allege for not giving them any critical brethren in that voluine? I must either blush for your partiality, or lour over the sarcasm of mock-compliment. It shall be the first ; spirit, liking summer better than winter, prefers the glow to the cloud.
I am sorry to find any thing like satire and sarcasm in this volume, upon the late elegant and amiable institution at Bath-Easton; and I trust my regret has a worthier source than in the wounded vanity of a myrtle-wreathed poet. There was a classic grace and spirit in the institution itself, which the frequent stupidity of its candidates could not do away. It should have been remembered, that Hayley, Anstey, Jerningham, Whalley, and Potter deigned to contend for its verdant prize. It deserved the praise, not the ridicule, of men of genius, who ought to wish respectability to its memory, that other people of fortune might catch the enthusiasm, and invite our rising youth to fairer ambition than that of the fox-chace, the turf, and the gaming-table. So much for censure.
-Were I to comment upon all that has pleased me in this little work, a quire of paper would be limit too narrow; and, with a violent cough, and inflamed lungs, I
must not indulge my recollections too lavishly. Adieu !
Court DEWES, Esq.
Lichfield, April 9, 1788. I HAVE sincere and frequent pleasure in reflecting that your long journey is not likely to be in vain, respecting the interesting purpose for which it was undertaken. As it happened, you hardly need to have run away from the hybernal rigours. It has been with us the mildest winter since that for which I paid my acknowledgements in verse to the sun.
You will for my sake, be kindly glad, that my dearest father yet exists, and that one apoplectic fit has been the only alarm he gave us through the winter. My inflammatory cough has also very civilly absented itself; and I have endeavoured to follow your good advice, which, by observing, we may live so many more years, without growing older by their addition ; but I find it easier to prevail on myself to anticipate the tardy.