1722 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elijah Fenton

William Broome to Elijah Fenton, 29 May 1722; Works of Pope, ed. Elwin and Courthope (1871-1889) 8:53-55.



May 29, 1722.

I choose this happy day to answer your letter. The parish bells are all ringing, and I will imagine it to be for the joyful news of your restoration to Sturston, where you will be happier than a king. I will imagine you and the young Oxonian to be celestial visitants. Your gravity shall be Jupiter, and your companion the gay Mercury. Upon your arrival at my cottage, I will, like the hospitable Philemon, take down the bacon from my chimney, and my good housewife, Baucis, shall fry it for your entertainment. But to be serious, you shall find a most sincere welcome at Sturston. Never talk of terms of boarding. If the gentleman's parents will pay, let the payment be as low as possible.

Te meis
Immunem meditor tingere poculis.

I am glad you have translated the first of the Odyssey. You stand in the front of the battle, and the array of critics will naturally fall first upon you. I have translated the second, and shall therefore, like Teucer, be sheltered behind the shield of an Ajax. I am pretty much unconcerned about the issue of the war. We are but auxiliars, yet I hope we shall behave so valiantly as to secure Mr. Pope on his throne on Parnassus. The weapons of most critics are weak; they may scratch, but seldom wound.

Pray consider what a weight lies upon my shoulders who, besides eight books of translation, am to write twenty-four of annotations. You only travel hand in hand with old Homer through flowery walks; I labour through dirt and rubbish with dull commentators. It is almost impossible for you to conceive how tiresome the task is of consulting fifty annotators every day, and finding them generally saying everything but just the thing they ought to say. It was happy for me that I had translated the eleventh and twelfth books some years ago for my diversion, otherwise I must have been too hasty either in the notes or the verse; but now I hope to execute both with some degree of reputation: I have finished three books — 2, 11, 12 — and if either you or Mr. Pope presume to touch 16, 18, and 23, I will punish you, and desire you to write your own notes upon them. Take notice, I give you fair warning, and as soon as I have fixed upon two more to complete my dividend, I expect to be humoured with full resignation. Remember the horror of the notes hangs over your heads, like the sword of Damocles, by a single hair. If you rebel I shall break it with a touch, and let it drop upon you. Be wise therefore, and obedient.

Pray bring your first book with you. There are some lines repeated in the second, and if your translation be better than mine, as I am certain it is, I shall transplant them as flowers to adorn my own garden. I hope to see you in a few days, and be assured I will make your habitation easy if not happy, being most faithfully yours.