1734 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Upton

James Harris to John Upton, 7 June 1734; Wooll, Biographical Memoirs of Joseph Warton (1806) 206-09.



Oxford, June 7, 1734.

Dear Sir,

I received your agreeable epistle a post or two since, tho' as it followed me to Oxford, round by London, I did not receive it so soon as I should otherwise have done. As for Arrian, you may be assur'd, as far as my little reading has assisted me, I shall be very ready to lend you all the help I can. As there is no author who more frequently repeats similar sentiments and expressions than Arrian, so for that reason, there is no one who is a better commentator and explainer of to himself. I have a book at home, whose margin is almost filled with references, from one page to another, of the Commentary, and of the Enchiridion. There are likewise some few references to other authors of antiquity, but these are not many, tho' some of them I think are material, and serve very well to illustrate. If any thing of this kind be agreeable to the nature of the commentary you would give us, you may command all or any part of it, as you please. Your commentary being intended not only as a grammatical but a rational and philosophical one, if I might prescribe the method, it should be thus: I would begin with a preface explaining the general principles of Stoical doctrine, and more particularly those which are the bases of Epictetus, and M. Antoninus. For those crabbed doctrines ascrib'd to Stoics, of the equality of crimes, the equality of misery in all but the perfectly wise, and such like; I would wholly omit them, or else touch but very slightly on them, observing withall how little of these paradoxes appears in the authors you build on, viz. Epictetus and Antoninus. Having thus prepared your reader by a proper preface, and discharged the duty of a good commentator, as to one part of his character, which is to be a sort of master of the ceremonies to his author, in introducing all strangers to his acquaintance; then there remains nothing but the commentary or annotations. These should be made as short as possible, and may naturally be divided into critical and explanatory: the critical will respect nothing but the mere text. And here I cannot but observe, that if the amendment you offer be good, the world will admit it, without two or three pages of similar passages to confirm it, from authors with hard names, which not one in ten ever did, or ever will read. This is to me a vanity in Bentley, which I dare say your good taste will not suffer you to be guilty of. For the explanatory notes, they should be all comprised either in small pieces of history, or in the account of a custom or ceremony, where the meaning of any word depends on any such history or custom; or else in references backward and forward to the comment itself, and Enchiridion, to your own preface, and to all the best authors of antiquity. You will pardon me for thus taking the liberty of dictating a method, in which I have acted the part of a schoolmaster, rather than a friend. However you will be so good as to excuse me, when I assure you I have only chosen this way of expressing myself, as being the easiest I could find. Had I dress'd up my sentiments in a better manner, I should not have been so intelligible, and that is all which at present I am at. I heartily and most sincerely congratulate you on being made a member of the worthy family you are now in. The encrease of fortune which you may justly expect from thence will not only add to your felicity, as it will enable you to become more serviceable to the community; which tho' it be the consequence of a fortune little dream't of, is yet perhaps a more real advantage arising from it than any which the wisest head in Change Alley ever thought of. When you favour me with a letter, pray direct it to Sarum, where I think to be soon. In the mean time, I rest yours most affectionately,

JAMES HARRIS.