1815 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Richard Polwhele

George Hardinge to Richard Polwhele, 8 May 1815; Polwhele, Traditions and Recollections (1826) 2:670-73.



Melbourne-house, Esher, May 8.

MY DEAR SIR,

Though familiar from youth to age, and in age itself, to the syren's cup of praise, I have learnt in general to be afraid and almost ashamed of it, when I have descended into myself; but I cannot be wise enough to be diffident in the taste of a writer, though partial, who can have no wish to deceive me, and who with a myrtle for me sends a laurel of his own.

You remind me, dear Sir, of a departed friend [John Collins], over whose memory the tears I have shed are not slow to return at the faintest allusion to him by others. But what an electric power has your wand over them, when it presents before me the living man whom I loved up to the moment that I lost him, with all the enthusiasm of Eton friendships. No gay butterflies of the Summer's wing could interest me half so much as that "noble" creature, when his mind "was overthrown," to use Ophelia's language. The generous warmth of his princely heart, his conjugal regret, his paren tal anxieties, the compass of his learning, the accuracy of his taste, the little episodes of his genuine wit; but above all, the purity of his moral character, made me feel that I had met with an angel visited by calamities. I recollect his eager mention of you to me as one of his peculiar favourites, and if I do not mis-recollect, he tempted me to lay before you some anecdotes of my uncle, whose life by the way has been written by me, but is in manuscript, and at present reduced into no form. I live so out of the world, that although cultivating literature, still I was unacquainted with you, but not with your fame in the mirror of critiques upon your pen, accompanied by extracts in some of the Reviews. But the kind, the affectionate manner in which you have addressed me with "a language of the heart," has endeared you to me as an old friend. I will, therefore, begin to defy, all gratitude, and fall without mercy upon your Poem [The Fair Isabel of Cotehele] — for being so ill printed; you little know, this finical age, if you think Scott himself likely to be read on paper like yours. Apropos, in the hurry of telling you how you have gratified me, by your allusion to this friend of my heart and of my life, I could not wait even to open your leaves, except for the purpose of a desultory and fugitive glance over the introductory address to Walter Scott, which I think as beautiful as any of those, graceful handmaids to his enchanting muse. You have caught his mantle and are so like him, that you would appear to the common parent Apollo:

—Simillima proles
Indiscreta suis," &c. &c. &c.

Yet many of the images are quite original and your own, but in his best manner. — "The vagrant eye's repose" — "the wings of living flame" — "the vengeance of a thunder-cloud breaking upon a rock" — "the vision of departed years" — the "fear and the laugh" — are strokes of gifted genius, which break a lance with Marmion or the Lady of the Lake.

I was half ashamed of my hermit narratives, put into the hand of that single-hearted and benevolent creature Nichols, whose philanthropy has conferred honour not upon his heroes alone, but upon his elevated spirit, which loves to commend, and rescues many a rose to light that but for him would have blushed unseen. His glorious fault is, that he is too zealous in benevolence, and may be compared with one of Homer's beautifully discriminated heroes, who lived by the road side and loved all the world.

I have just finished the memoirs of a man whose name but for him you would never have seen; but whom I intimately knew and revered. I shall hope to make you shake hands with him, and in the mean time shall beg your acceptance of a Russian trumpeter's ode, which has my name to it, "Et in Arcadia ego!"

I have been at Cotehele, and was accompanied by the Collins' girls. It was the happiest of happy days, except that he was left behind us who had prompted this enterprize for them and for me.

I long for Isabel, and thank you with grateful pride for your memory of me as Collins's friend. It may perhaps tempt your smile at the eccentricity of this friend, who, in order to know at Ledbury if the vicar was Collins in his remove (or class and form), sent him a list of the remove as far as it reached the two names "Hardinge, Collins."

The answer was equally whimsical: it was the remainder of the list. I then flew to his house, and lost three or four chopping briefs upon the circuit, for the sake of old stories with him.

Farewell.