1725 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elijah Fenton

William Broome to Elijah Fenton, 1 December 1725; Works of Pope, ed. Elwin and Courthope (1871-1889) 8:105-07.



Dec. 1, 1725.

DEAR MR. FENTON, — I am now to return you thanks for your obliging stay at Sturston, where you had all the welcome that one friend can give another, and consequently such a visit could not be made without some satisfaction. You lived in your own way, and Sturston was but another home; and, indeed, without such a liberty a visit is but a civil kind of imprisonment, and the master of the house but a more obliging gaoler. I will therefore make no excuses for the dulness of Suffolk. Your reception was honest, was sincere, and pleasure you knew how to find or to create. You are so happy as to carry your own entertainment along with you, and a person of such a disposition can never be without a tolerable accommodation. He resembles a man who carries his own provisions along with him when he travels. He is certain to find sufficient entertainment in the very worst inns.

I do not intend to see London till the spring. I often resemble myself to a full-grown tree; it will not admit of a transplantation. At best it but barely lives, or rather languishes, though placed in a better soil. You tell me it is necessary to make my appearance in town to account with Mr. Pope about the Odyssey. I leave, my dear friend, that part to you; at least let these accounts sleep till spring. I fancy Mr. Pope will forgive us for letting the money rest in his hands. But to deal plainly, I expect a breach rather than peace from that treaty. I fear we have hunted with the lion, who, like his predecessor in Phaedrus, will take the first share merely because he is a lion; the second because he is more brave; the third because he is of most importance; and if either of us shall presume to touch the fourth, woe be to us. This perhaps may not be the ease with respect to the lucrative part, but I have strong apprehensions it will happen with regard to our reputations. Be assured Mr. Pope will not let us divide — I fear not give us our due share of honour. He is a Caesar in poetry, and will bear no equal. But to pass from suspicions of faults to a real one of my own. In the conclusion of the fourteenth book, I have unnecessarily played the hypercritical upon Cowley and Addison. They speak of a tigress thus:

She swells with angry pride
And calls forth all her spots on ev'ry side.

Here I arrogantly affirm, in the true spirit of a critic, that it is impossible for the hair of any creature to change into spots, and that the assertion is absolutely contrary to nature. True, but may not those spots appear more visible when the tigress roughens her hair in anger, and, when she raises her hair, may not the spots rise with it? And is not this a sufficient foundation for poetry to say she calls forth her spots? A passage in Claudian which I lately read, full loath to believe' my own eyes, convinced me of my error.' He agrees with Statius. Lib. 2. De Raptu Proserpinae:

Arduus Hyrcana quatitnr sic matre Niphates,
Cujus Achaemenio regi ludibria natos
Avexit tremendus eques. Fremit ills marito
Mobilior Zephyro, totamque virentibus iram
Dispergit maculis, jamjamque hausura profundo
Ore virum, vitreae tardatur imagine formae.

Claudian is always fanciful, and often obscure, and here scarce intelligible, but I think I have not mistaken his meaning in the following translation. That poet intends to express how a tigress is robbed of her whelps (if I were fond to show my learning, I would here quote Aelian and Pliny, etc.), which is done by this method. The huntsman watches till she goes abroad to prey; then he steals the young. The savage pursues, and the huntsman drops a ball of glass, in which the tigress seeing her own resemblance, and mistaking it for one of her whelps, stops her pursuit, and the huntsman escapes. Aelian, I know, speaks of the greenish colour of the spots, and Claudian here calls them "maculae virentes"; but to observe such little exactnesses in translation is pedantry, not poetry.

So shakes Niphates when, with vengeance stung,
The mother tigress mourns her ravished young.
To Persia's court the hunter hears the prey,
To please her monarch in his dreadful play.
Fleeter than winds away the savage skims,
Her spots enkindling glow o'er all her limbs.
Now, now she stretches her wide jaws, and now
She only not devours the trembling foe.
Then from his hand th' affrighted youth lets fall,
Sudden to stay her flight, a crystal ball;
At once she stops, astonished to survey
The mimic tigress shining in her way.

Pray your opinion of the whole? I have now troubled you with a long letter, but, in your absence, I deem writing to you is discoursing with you upon paper, as when present talking to you was only speaking to myself aloud. True friendship is a marriage of minds; you are my alter ego, and the hour that ravished you from me, as Horace expresses it, "me surripuit mihi." Yours, dear Fenton, affectionately,