1761 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Andrew Erskine

James Boswell, in Epistle to Erskine, 14 September 1761; Letters between the Honourable Andrew Erskine, and James Boswell, Esq. (1763) 2-3.



Dear Captain Andrew! Poet of renown!
Whether the chairmen of Edina's town
You curious draw, and make 'em justly speak,
To use a vulgar phrase, "as clean's a leek";
Or smart Epistles, Fables, Songs you write,
All put together handsome trim and tight;
Or when your sweetly plaintive music does sigh,
And elegiac strains you happy try;
Or when in ode sublime your genius soars,
Which guineas brings to Donaldson by scores;
Accept the thanks of ME, as quick as sage,
Accept sincerest thanks for ev'ry page.
For ev'ry page? — for ev'ry single line
Of your rich letter aided by the Nine.

Here pause, my friend, and while you pause admire;
See how to write in clymax I aspire:
Of which in all good critics you may read
Who have obtain'd eulogiums for their meed.
Say, don't my rising lines at least pretend
By steps of just proportion to ascend?
Have I not now your path of numbers trode,
From homely eclogue up to lofty ode?
You say,to write long lines I am not able,
No more than Fairy Queen to work a cable;
But wait with patience and I'll make you own
With your own weapons I'll knock you down,
Knock down perhaps too clumsy may appear,
And sound but roughly in a soldier's ear;
And why for this of weapons should I vaunt,
Which like the razor keenest sharpness want;
When to confound and stupify the skull,
Sufficient weight will serve, tho' ne'er so dull?
To this I answer, grumble as you may,
To use the readiest word was still my way;
And still shall be while I can hold a pen,
And to make lines like these, count fingers ten....