1775 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Hawkesworth

James Beattie to Elizabeth Montagu, 17 September 1775; Forbes, Life and Writings of James Beattie (1806) 1:390-91.



Your reflections on the little disaster, with which our journey concluded, exactly coincide with mine. I agree with Hawkesworth, that the peril and the deliverance are equally providential; and I wonder he did not see that both the one and other may be productive of the very best effects. These little accidents and trials are necessary to put us in mind of that superintending goodness, to which we are indebted for every breath we draw, and of which, in the hour of tranquility, many of us are too apt to be forgetful. But you, madam, forget nothing which a Christian ought to remember; and therefore I hope and pray that Providence may defend you from every alarm. By the way, there are several things, besides that preface to which I just now referred, in the writings of Hawkesworth, that shew an unaccountable perplexity of mind in regard to some of the principles of natural religion. I observed, in his conversation, that he took a pleasure in ruminating upon riddles, and puzzling questions, and calculations; and he seems to have carried something of the same temper into his moral and theological researches. His Almoran and Hamet is a strange confused narrative, and leaves upon the mind of the reader some disagreeable impressions in regard to the ways of providence; and from the theory of pity, which he has given us somewhere in the Adventurer, one would suspect that he was no enemy to the philosophy of Hobbes. However, I am disposed to impute all this rather to a vague way of thinking, than to any perversity of heart or understanding. Only I wish, that in his last work he had been more ambitious to tell the plain truth, than to deliver to the world a wonderful story. I confess, that from the first I was inclined to consider his vile portrait of the manners of Otaheite, as in part fictitious; and I am now assured, upon the very best authority, that Dr. Solander disavows some of those narrations, or at least declares them to be grossly misrepresented. There is, in all the late books of travels I have seen, a disposition on the part of the author to recommend licentious theories.