1740 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Duncombe

Samuel Say to William Duncombe, 10 October 1740; Duncombe, ed. Letters by Several Eminent Persons (1772; 1773) 2:147-48.



According to your desire, I herewith send you my Latin version of the introduction to Paradise Lost. It was composed (as, I think, I told you) while I lay on my bed in the night, and scarce knew whether I was asleep or awake, writing or hearing verses; and the heavenly muse gave me, in the words of Milton,

Her nightly visitation unimplor'd,
And whisper'd to me slumb'ring, and inspir'd
Easy my unpremeditated verse:

Or, in plain prose, suggested it to one who does not remember to have made ten Latin hexameters together in his whole life at any other time, nor designs ever to make ten more. For you will easily believe, he can lay very little stress on the inspiration, who has since attempted to make so many improvements by a mere human judgment or industry.

The reading over a Latin manuscript version of the first book of Paradise Lost, which had been put into my hands a little before, gave my thoughts, as I imagine, this turn; for I was endeavouring to convince the author, that Milton would be but half-translated, if his numbers were not transfused, as well as his general sense given; and if there was not the same studied, or happy neglect, or choice of sounds, either harsh or indifferent, or sweet and soothing to the ear, in the copy as in the original.