1722 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Judith Cowper Madan

Alexander Pope to Judith Cowper Madan, 30 September 1722; Works of Pope, ed. Elwin and Courthope (1871-1889) 9:417-18.



Twitenham, Sept. 30, 1722.

MADAM,

No confidence is so great, as that one receives from persons one knows way be believed, and in things one is willing to believe. I have (at last) acquired this; by Mrs. H[oward]'s repeated assurances of a thing I am unfeignedly so desirous of, as your allowing me to correspond with you. In good earnest, there is sometimes in men as well as in women, a great deal of unaffected modesty and I was sincere all along when I told her personally, and told you by my silence, that I feared only to seem impertinent, while perhaps I seemed negligent to you. To tell Mrs. [Cowper] any thing like what I really thought of her, would have looked so like the common traffic of compliment, that pays only to receive; and to have told it her in distant or bashful terms, would have appeared so like coldness in my sense of good qualities, (which I cannot find out in any one, without feeling, from my nature, at the same time, a great warmth for them,) that I was quite at a loss what to write, or in what style, to you. But I am resolved, plainly to get over all objections, and faithfully to assure you, if you will help a bashful man to be past all preliminaries and forms, I am ready to treat with you for your friendship. I know (without more ado) you have a valuable soul; and wit, sense, and worth enough, to make me reckon it (provided you will permit it) one of the happinesses of my life to have been made acquainted with you.

I do not know, on the other hand, what you can think of me but this, for a beginning, I will venture to engage, that whoever takes me for a poet, or a wit, (as they call it,) takes me for a creature of less value than I am: and that wherever I profess it, you shall find me a much better man, that is, a much better friend, or at least a much less faulty one, than I am a poet. That whatever zeal I may have, or whatever regard I may show, for things I truly am so pleased with as your entertaining writings, yet I shall still have more for your person, and for your health, and for your happiness. I would, with as much readiness, play the apothecary or the nurse, to mend your head-aches, as I would play the critic to improve your verses. I have seriously looked over and over those you entrusted me with; and assure you, madam, I would as soon cheat in any other trust, as in this. I sincerely tell you, I can mend them very little, and only in trifles, not worth writing about; but will tell you every tittle when I have the happiness to see you.

I am more concerned than you can reasonably believe, for the ill state of health you are at present under but I will appeal to time, to show you how sincerely I am, (if I live long enough to prove myself what I truly am,) madam, your most faithful servant.