1731 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Aaron Hill

Alexander Pope to Aaron Hill, 5 February 1731; Works of Pope, ed. Elwin and Courthope (1871-1889) 10:15-20.



PARSON'S GREEN, Feb. 5, 1730-1.

SIR, — Since I am fully satisfied we are each of us sincerely and affectionately servants to the other, I desire we may be no further misled by the warmth of writing on this subject. If you think I have shown too much weakness, or if I think you have shown too much warmth, let us forgive one another's temper. I told you I thought my letter a silly one; but the more I thought so, the more in sending it I showed my trust in your good disposition toward me. I am sorry you took it to have an air of neglect, or superiority, because I know in my heart, I had not the least thought of being any way superior to Mr. Hill; and, far from the least design to show neglect to a gentleman who was showing me civility, I meant in return to show him a better thing, sincerity, which I am sorry should be so ill expressed as to seem rudeness. I meant but to complain as frankly as you, that all complaints on both sides might be out, and at a period for ever. I meant by this to have laid a surer foundation for your opinion of me for the future, that it might no more be shaken by mistakes or whispers.

I am sure, sir, you have a higher opinion of my poetry than I myself. But I am so desirous you should have a just one of me every way, that I wish you understood both my temper in general, and my justice to you in particular, better than I find my letter represented them. I wish it the more, since you tell me how ill a picture my enemies take upon them to give of the mind of a man they are utter strangers to. However, you will observe, that much spleen and emotion are a little inconsistent with neglect, and an opinion of superiority. Towards them, God knows, I never felt any emotions, but what bad writers raise in all men, those gentle ones of laughter or pity: that I was so open, concerned, and serious, with respect to you only, is sure a proof of regard, not neglect. For in truth, nothing ever vexed me, till I saw your epigram against Dr. S[wift] and me come out in their papers: and this, indeed, did vex me to see one swan among the geese.

That the letters A. H. were applied to you in the papers, I did not know; for I seldom read them. I heard it only from Mr. Savage, as from yourself, and sent my assurances to the contrary. But I do not see how the annotator on the D[unciad] could have rectified that mistake publicly, without particularizing your name in a book where I thought it too good to be inserted. No doubt he has applied that passage in the D[unciad] to you, by the story he tells; but his mention of bombast, only in some of your juvenile pieces, I think, was meant to show that passage hinted only at that allegorical muddiness, and not at any worse sort or dirt, with which some other writers were charged. I hate to say what will not be believed: yet when I told you, "many asked me to whom that oblique praise was meant," I did not tell you I answered it was you. Has it escaped your observation, that the name is a syllable too long? Or, if you will have it a christian name, is there any other in the whole book? Is there no author of two syllables whom it will better fit, not only as getting out of the allegorical muddiness, but as having been dipped in the dirt of party-writing and recovering from it betimes? I know such a man, who would take it for a compliment, and so would his patrons too. But I ask you not to believe this, except you are vastly inclined to it.

I will come closer to the point: would you have the note left out? It shall. Would you have it expressly said, you were not meant? It shall, if I have any influence on the editors. I believe the note was meant only as a gentle rebuke, and friendlily. I understood very well the Caveat on your part to be the same; and complained, you see, of nothing but two or three lines reflecting on my behaviour and temper to other writers; because I knew they were not true, and you could not know they were. You cannot in your cool judgment think it fair to fix a man's character on a point, of which you do not give one instance? Name but the man, or men, to whom I have unjustly omitted approbation or encouragement, and I will be ready to do them justice. I think I have publicly praised all the best writers of my time, except yourself, and such as I have had no fair opportunity to praise. As to the great and popular, I have praised but few, and those at the times when they were least popular. Many of those writers have done nothing else but flattered the great and popular, or been worse employed by them in party-stuff. I do indeed think it no great pride in me, to speak about them with some air of superiority; and this, sir, must be the cause, and no other, that made me address that declaration of my temper towards them to you, who had accused me of the contrary, not, I assure you, from the least imagination of any resemblance between you and them, either in merit or circumstances.

I named Mr. Dennis, because you distinguish him from the rest: so do I. But, moreover, he was uppermost in my thoughts, from having endeavoured, before your admonition, to promote his affair with Lord Wilmington, Lord Lansdown, Lord Blandford, and Mr. Pulteney, &c., who promised me to favour it. But it would be unjust to measure my goodwill by the effects of it on the great, many of whom are the last men in the world who will pay tributes of this sort, from their own ungiving nature; and many of whom laugh at me when I seriously petition for Mr. Dennis. After this, I must not name the many whom I have fruitlessly solicited: I hope yet to be more successful. But, sir, you seem too iniquitous in your conceptions of me, when you fancy I called such things services. I called them but humane offices: services I said I would render him, if I could. I would ask a place for life for him, and I have; but that is not in my power: if it was, it would be a service, and I wish it.

I mentioned the possibility of Mr. D[ennis]'s abusing me for forgiving him, because he actually did, in print, lately represent my poor, undesigning subscriptions to him, to be the effect of fear, and desire to stop his critiques upon me. I wish Mr. Hill would, for once, think so candidly of me, as to believe me sincere in one declaration, that "I desire no man to belie his own judgment in my favour." Therefore, though I acknowledge your generous offer to give examples of imperfections rather out of your own works than mine, in your intended book, I consent, with all my heart, to your confining them to mine, for two reasons: the one, that I fear your sensibility that way is greater than my own, by observing you seemed too concerned at that hint given by the notes on the D[unciad] of a little fault in the works of your youth only: the other is a better, namely, that I intend to amend by your remarks, and correct the faults you find, if they are such as I expect from Mr. Hill's cool judgment.

I am very sensible, that my poetical talent is all that may, I say not, will, make me remembered: but it is my morality only that must make me beloved, or happy; and if it be any deviation from greatness of mind, to prefer friendships to fame, or the honest enjoyments of life to noisy praises, I fairly confess that meanness. Therefore it is, sir, that I much more resent any attempt against my moral character, which I know to be unjust, than any to lessen my poetical one, which, for all I know, may be very just.

Pray, then, sir, excuse my weak letter, as I do your warm one. I end as I begun. You guessed right, that I was sick when I wrote it. Yours are very well written, but I have neither health nor time to make mine so. I have writ a whole book of retractations of my writings, which would greatly improve your criticisms on my errors, but of my life and manners I do not yet repent one jot, especially when I find in my heart I continue to be, without the least acrimony, even as little as I desire you should bear to myself, sincerely, sir, yours affectionately.

If I did not acknowledge as I ought, both the father's agreeable present, and the daughter's pretty one, which you sent me, I very ill expressed myself. If Miss Urania Hill has not my quarto edition of the Odyssey, I beg your leave to send it her. You had sooner have heard from me, but I saw yours here, but three days ago. I return home to-morrow.