1709 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Alexander Pope

William Walsh to Alexander Pope, 9 September 1706; Works, ed. Warton (1796-97) 7:63-65.



Sept. 9, 1706.

At my return from the North I received the favour of your letter, which had lain there till then. Having been absent about six weeks, I read over your Pastorals again, with a great deal of pleasure, and to judge the better, read Virgil's Eclogues, and Spenser's Calendar, at the same time; and I assure you, I continue the same opinion I had always of them. By the little hints you take upon all occasions to improve them, it is probable you will make them yet better against winter; though there is a mean to be kept even in that too, and a man may correct his verses till he takes away the true spirit of them, especially if he submits to the correction of some who pass for great Critics, by mechanical rules, and never enter into the true design and Genius of an author. I have seen some of these that would hardly allow any one good Ode in Horace, who cry Virgil wants fancy, and that Homer is very incorrect. While they talk at this rate, one would think them above the common rate of mortals: But generally they are great admirers of Ovid and Lucan; and when they write themselves, we find out all the mystery. They scan their verses upon their fingers; run after conceits and glaring thoughts: Their poems are all made up of Couplets, of which the first may be last, or the last first, without any sort of prejudice to their works; in which there is no design, or method, or anything natural or just. For you are certainly in the right, that in all writings whatsoever (not poetry only) nature is to be followed; and we should be jealous of ourselves for being fond of Similes, Conceits, and what they call saying fine Things. When we were in the North, my Lord Wharton showed me a letter he had received from a certain great General in Spain; I told him I would by all means have that General recalled and set to writing here at home, for it was impossible that a man with so much wit as he showed could be fit to command an Army, or do any other business. As for what you say of Expression, it is indeed the same thing to Wit as Dress is to Beauty: I have seen many women overdressed, and several look better in a careless night-gown, with their hair about their ears, than Mademoiselle Spanheim dressed for a ball. I do not design to be in London till towards the parliament: then I shall certainly be there, and hope by that time you will have finished your Pastorals as you would have them appear in the world, and particularly the third, of Autumn, which I have not yet seen. Your last Eclogue being upon the same subject as that of mine on Mrs. Tempest's Death, I should take it very kindly in you to give it a little turn, as if it were to the memory of the same Lady, if they were not written for some particular Woman whom you would make immortal. You may take occasion to show the difference between Poets Mistresses, and other mens. I only hint this, which you may either do or let alone, just as you think fit. I shall be very much pleased to see you again in Town, and to hear from you in the meantime. I am, with very much esteem,

Your, &c.