1699 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Hughes

Samuel Say to John Hughes, 11 January 1699; in Duncombe, ed. Letters by Several Eminent Persons (1772; 1773) 1:22-23.



Jan. 11, 1699.

DEAR SIR,

I am pleased to find that you always make choice of worthy objects for your muse, and take it [The Court of Neptune] as an omen of something greater to follow. Virgil, in his Bucolics, preluded to his Aeneid, and first sung the praises of Augustus in eclogues, or copies of verses, before he attempted an heroic poem. I am satisfied by this specimen, that you will never descend into the rank of those little souls, who make it their business only to please, and have no other way to do that, but by flattering men in their vices and immoralities. Virtue, I am sure, is most for the interest of mankind, and those poets have ever obtained the most honour in the world, who have made that the end and design of their works. A wanton Sappho, or Anacreon, among the ancients, never had the same applause as a Pindar or Alcaeus; nor, in the judgment of Horace, did they deserve it. In the opinion of all posterity, a lewd and debauched Ovid did justly submit to the worth of a Virgil; and in future ages, a Dryden will never be compared to a Milton. In all times and in all places in the world, the moral poets have been ever the greatest, and as much superior to others in wit, as in virtue. Nor does this seem difficult to be accounted for, since the dignity of their subjects naturally raised their ideas, and gave a grandeur to their sentiments.—

S. SAY.