1783 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Beattie

Horace Walpole to William Mason, 9 June 1783; Letters, ed Cunningham (1906) 376-77.



I have been reading some more of those pinchbeck encomiums in Beattie's new volume [Dissertations, Moral and Critical]. He talks of the "great" Lord Lyttelton, and of the sublime and "apostolic" simplicity of my Lords Hurd and Porteus. Should not you like to hear St. Peter toast Madame Hagerdorne with the former, and St. Paul in a fast sermon out-flattering Bishop Butler with the latter? I have waded through many a silly book in my day, as my eyes know to their sorrow, but, poor souls, they never had a more cruel penance imposed on them than this quarto of Beattie, though they did read the whole reign of Henry II. [by Lyttelton], all Cumberland's works in metre and out of metre, all the Archaeologias, and many other reverend bodies of antiquity and heraldry. Beattie's, indeed, is the reverse of those "anile tomes," for it is "in usum" of the cradle and nursery. I have got through one hundred and nine pages, but dearly as I love quartos, I doubt I shall never compass the other five hundred and fifty pages, though in equity I would fain try whether I cannot find one page that is not the poorest common-place that was ever repenned. He calls his work Dissertations, moral and critical. I have corrected the last word in my copy into "Tritical."