1748 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Aaron Hill

Samuel Richardson to Aaron Hill, 27 October 1748; Correspondence of Samuel Richardson, ed. Barbauld (1804) 1:118-24.



Oct. 27, 1748.

DEAR SIR,

With regard to some parts of your favour of the nineteenth, I will only say, that I am too much pained on your account to express any thing but my pain. A mind so noble! so generous! so underrating intentional good from himself! so overrating trifling benefits from others! But no more on this subject. You are an alien, Sir, in this world; and no wonder that the base world treat you as such.

You are so very earnest about transferring to me the copyright to all your works, that I will only say, that that point must be left to the future issues of things. But I will keep account. I will, though I were to know how to use the value of your favours as to those issues (never can I the value of your generous intentions). You will allow me to repeat, I will keep account.

It is therefore time enough to think of the blank receipt you have had the goodness to send me to fill up.

Would to heaven that all men had the same (I am sure I may call it just) opinion of your works that I have! But — shall I tell you, Sir? — The world, the taste of the world, is altered since you withdrew from it. Your writings require thought to read, and to take in their whole force; and the world has no thought to bestow. Simplicity is all their cry; yet hardly do these criers know what they mean by the noble word. They may see a thousand beauties obvious to the eye: but if there lie jewels in the mine that require labour to come at, they will not dig. I do not think, that were Milton's Paradise Lost to be now published as a new work, it would be well received. Shakespeare, with all his beauties, would, as a modern writer, be hissed off the stage. Your sentiments, even they will have it who allow them to be noble, are too munificiently adorned: and they want you to descend to their level. Will you, Sir, excuse me this freedom? Yet I can no longer excuse myself, to the love and to the veneration mingled that I bear to you, if I do not acquaint you with what the world you wish to mend says of your writings. And yet, for my own part, I am convinced that the fault lies in that indolent (that lazy, I should rather call it) world. You would not, I am sure, wish to write to a future age only. — A chance, too, so great, that posterity will be mended by what shall be handed down to them by this. And few, very few, are they who make it their study and their labour, to stern the tide of popular disapprobation or prejudice. Besides, I am of opinion that it is necessary for a genius to accommodate itself to the mode and taste of the world it is cast into, since works published in this age must take root in it, to flourish in the next.

As to your title, Sir, which you are pleased to require my opinion of, let me premise, that there was a time, and that within my own remembrance, when a pompous title was almost necessary to promote the sale of a book. But the booksellers, whose business is to watch the taste and foibles of the public, soon (as they never fail on such occasions to do) wore out that fashion: and now, verifying the old observation, that good wine needs no bush, a pompous or laboured title is looked upon as a certain sign of want of merit in the performance, and hardly ever becomes an invitation to the purchaser.

As to your particular title to this great work, I have your pardon to beg, if I refer to your consideration, whether epic, truly epic, as the piece is [editor's note: Gideon; or, the Patriot. An epic Poem], you would choose to call it epic in the title-page; since hundreds who will see the title, will not, at the time, have seen your admirable definition of the word. Excuse, Sir, this freedom also, and excuse these excuses. — I am exceedingly pressed in time, and shall be for some time to come, or, sloven as I am in my pen, this should not have gone.

God forbid that I should have given you cause to say, as a recommendation, that there will be more prose than verse in your future works!

I believe, Sir, that Mr. Garrick, in particular, has not in any manner entered into vindictive reflections. I never saw him on the stage; but of late I am pretty well acquainted with him. I know he honours you. But he thinks you above the present low taste; (this I speak in confidence) and once I heard him say as much, and wish that you could descend to it. Hence one of the reasons that have impelled me to be so bold as I have been in this letter.

The occasion of the black wax I use, is the loss of an excellent sister. We loved each other tenderly! But my frequent, I might say constant, disorders of the nervous kind ought to remind me, as a consolation, of David's self-comfort on the death of his child, perhaps oftener than it does, immersed as I am in my own trifles, and in business, that the common parental care permits me not to quit, though it becomes every day more irksome to me than another.

I am, Sir,

With true affection,

Your most faithful,

and obedient servant,

S. RICHARDSON.