1817 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Wilson

Francis Jeffrey to John Wilson, 10 October 1817; Mary Wilson Gordon, Christopher North (1862; 1894) 155-56.



CRAIGBROOK, 10th October, 1817.

MY DEAR WILSON:

Do you think you could be prevailed on to write a review for me now and then? Perhaps this may appear to you a very audacious request, and I am not sure that I should have had the boldness to make it, but I had heard it surmised, and in very intelligent quarters, that you had occasionally condescended to exercise the functions of a critic in works where your exertions must necessarily obtain less celebrity than in our journal. When I apply for assistance to persons in whose talents and judgment I have as much confidence as I have in yours, I leave of course the choice of their subjects very much to themselves, being satisfied that it must always be for my interest to receive all they are most desirous of sending. It is therefore rather with a view to tempt than to assist you, that I venture to suggest to you a general review of our dramatic poetry, a subject which I long meditated for myself, but which I now feel that I shall never have leisure to treat as I should wish to treat it, and upon which indeed I could not now enter, without a pretty laborious resumption of my early and half-forgotten studies. To you, I am quite sure, it is familiar, and while I am by no means certain that our opinions could always coincide, I have no hesitation in saying, that I should very much distrust my own when they were in absolute opposition to yours, and that I am unfeignedly of opinion that in your hands the disquisition will be more edifying and quite as entertaining as ever it could have been in mine. It is the appearance of the weak and dull article in the last Quarterly, which has roused me to the resolution of procuring something more worthy of the subject for the Edinburgh, and there really is nobody but yourself to whom I can look with any satisfaction for such a paper.

I do not want, as you will easily conjecture, a learned, ostentatious, and antiquarian dissertation, but an account written with taste and feeling, and garnished, if you please, with such quotations as may be either very curious or very delightful. I intended some thing of this sort when I began my review of Ford's plays, but I ran off the course almost at starting, and could never get back again.

Now, pray, do not refuse me rashly. I am not without impatience for your answer, but I would rather not have it for a day or two, if your first impression is that it would be unfavorable. If you are in a complying mood, the sooner I hear it the better.

Independent of all this, will you allow me again to say, that I am very sincerely desirous of being better acquainted with you, and regret very much that my many avocations and irregular way of life have forced me to see so little of you. Could you venture to dine here without a party any day next week that you choose to name, except Saturday? If you have no engagement, will you come on Monday or Tuesday? Any other (lay that may be more convenient. If you take my proposal into kind consideration, we may talk a little of the drama; if not, we will fall on something else.

Believe me always very faithfully yours,

F. JEFFREY.

Send your answer to George Street.