1772 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir William Jones

Elizabeth Montagu to James Beattie, 5 September 1772; Forbes, Life and Writings of James Beattie (1806) 1:298-99.



Pray have you met with Mr. Jones's imitations of Asiatic poetry? He possesses the oriental languages in a very extraordinary manner, and he seems to me a great master of versification. I wish he had given us translations, rather than imitations, as one is curious to see the manner of thinking of a people born under so different a climate, educated in such a different manner, and subjects of so different a government. There is a gaiety and splendour in the poems, which is naturally derived from the happy soil and climate of the poets, and they breathe Asiatic luxury, or else Mr. Jones is, himself, a man of a most splendid imagination. The descriptions are so fine, and all the objects so brilliant, that the sense akes at them, and I wished that Ossian's poems had been laying by me, that I might sometimes have turned my eyes, from the dazzling splendour of the eastern noonday, to the moonlight picture of a bleak mountain. Every object in these Asiatic pieces, is blooming and beautiful; every plant is odiferous; the passions too, are of the sort which belong to paradise. These things, brought from Arabia Felix, would give one great pleasure; but, when I am not sure they are not the dreams of a man who is shivering under a hawthorn hedge, in a north-east wind, I cannot resign myself enough to the delusion, to sympathise with them. Mr. Jones has written some critical dissertations at the end of his poems, which, I think, shew him a man of good taste.