1742 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Christopher Pitt

William Broome to Christopher Pitt, 24 March 1742; Works of Pope, ed. Elwin and Courthope (1871-1889) 8:183-85.



March 24, 1741-2.
DEAR MR. PITT, — Methinks I hear you, upon opening this enormous letter, crying out with Aeneas to the Sybil in Virgil,

Foliis tantum ne carmina manda;

that is,

Let my friend write, cries Pitt, but briefly write,
And not in folio, folios must affright.

You will find, sir, that I shall pay a due deference to your candour and judgment whenever I have an opportunity of reprinting my verses. It is certain that the best authors are the most favourable, as they certainly are the best judges. A Midas will condemn even Apollo. I speak not ambitiously, for perhaps it would be for my advantage if every reader were a Midas, but I do not wish that all the world should be mistaken for my reputation. I have done as well as I can, — I believe, just above contempt, and just below envy. I now speak proudly, for this was once the ambition of a King. You will see that I am not satisfied with my own productions, because I frequently alter them, and graft upon my old stock; but yet it is but to graft a crab upon a crab. The tree may shade, but the fruit not be worth gathering. Add after line the second [of Broome's To Mr. Pope on his correcting my Verses], page 194, as follows:

To nobler themes thy muse triumphant soars,
Mounts through the tracts of sir, and heav'n explores!
Say, has some seraph timed thy well-tuned lyre,
Or deigned to touch thy hallowed lips with fire?
For sure such sounds exalt th' immortal string
As Heav'n approves, and raptured angels sing;
Ah! how I listen while the moral lay
Lifts me from earth above the solar way;
Ah! how I look with scorn on pompous crowns,
And pity monarchs on their splendid thrones,
While, thou my guide, I trace all nature's laws
By just gradation to the sov'reign cause!
Pleased I survey how varying schemes unite
Worlds with the atom, angels with the mite,
And end in God, highthroned above all height,
Who sees, as Lord of all, with equal eye,
Here a proud tyrant perish, there a fly.
Methinks I view the patriarch's ladder rise,
Its base on earth, its summit in the skies,
Each wondrous step by glorious angels trod,
And heav'n unfolding to the throne of God.

Be this thy praise I haunt the lowly bow'r,
Sport by the spring, or paint the blooming flow'r,
Nor dares the muse attempt an arduous height,
Views her own lowness, &c.

After "priestess spoke," conclude with these lines:

Oh, Pope, from earliest youth my friend, my fame,
Still aid my verse, indulgent to my name:
Teach me, oh, teach, to sound the well-tuned lyre;
Teach me to catch and emulate thy fire!
Then, when these closing eyes shall bid adieu
To all they once held dear, and ev'n to you,
My muse, distinguished from the vulgar lot,
Shall live through thee, thee only, not forgot:
Then, warmed by sacred friendship's gen'rous flame,
Perhaps thou'lt mention, not unpraised, my name;
Perhaps wilt bid the tear humane descend,
And, sighing, say — alas there lies my friend.

I fear, dear friend, you will laugh to see me take such pains about my poor remains. I am endeavouring to embalm them; yet, like those of Cleopatra and the Ptolemies, a few years hence they may more than probably be sold as aromatics to grocers or apothecaries.
But harkye, a word with you. At the conclusion of the sixth book of Virgil, when Anchises relates the funeral of his descendant, he says, "Purpureos spargam," &c. Here Anchises anticipates the funeral, appears chief mourner at it, and personally performs the last solemn offices. How do you render this? You speak at large, and only say "bring flowers," &c., and these honours shall be paid. By whom? You leave us in the dark, and give us leave to suppose that Anchises has no hand in the affair, and therefore you lose the pathetic lamentation of the noble ancestor. Remember, Virgil here excels, and we expect it from his translator. Dryden, &c., have all been more particular. You will consider if this observation has any weight. Let no false compliment be paid to my judgment. It is sufficient for me to intend well, as I shall always do, when you hear from your affectionate friend.