1806 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Philip Massinger

William Gifford to Henry Drury, 1806; Memoir of Francis Hodgson (1878) 1:75-77.



My dear Sir, — I ought to have written long since, but I may say to you in confidence what the beggar said to Louis XIV.: "O sir, if you did but know how idle I am, you would pity me!"

I am delighted with your good opinion of Massinger. I take refuge in our old plays, from the execrable trash of the present stage; and should, in my plodding way, have no objection to revise the twin-writers of whom you speak, who abound in beauties of every description: but I am not rich enough to do it at my own expense, and the booksellers engage with reluctance in whatever does not promise an immediate sale. Peter Whalley, who edited Ben Jonson, amassed, before his last illness, a world of lumber preparatory to a second edition. In his hands it must have grown to fourteen volumes at least, for he had unfortunately discovered with what ease a book might be swelled out by parallel passages. This has been put into my hands. His collections, I find, have been plundered by Steevens and Malone, who wisely kept their secret — to me they are useless: yet I am not certain, if my sight does not totally fail me, but that I may be tempted to reprint the original with the additions of scenery, &c., some what in the manner of Massinger, to facilitate the understanding of him, which now requires more attention than the general reader can or will bestow.

Juvenal drags heavily. At one time, all Bulwer's devils, arrant, passant, couchant, and rampant, are at my heels, roaring for copy; at another I cannot get sight of them; and if I make inquiries — why they are gone for twelve days to get drunk with the blameless Ethiopians. So we proceed. I take it for granted that Mr. Hodgson is not more fortunate. In this edition, I have added a little, and but a little, to the notes, and attempted here and there to squeeze the text a little together. I have no idea of improving it, unless, as Sir J. Cutler's maid — absit invidia — improved his stockings. I want a poetical friend, for the gods have not made the Dr. poetical, and most of my other acquaintance are over ears in politicks.

I have scarcely been out of doors since I wrote last. You would therefore have found me in my elbow chair, and I should have been truly proud and happy to have seen you. I am now meditating a south sea voyage to Newmarket for a fortnight or three weeks, as I have some reliance on a change of air. "Pray make me happy," as Scindiah says, "by your letters."

Ever, my dear Sir, most sincerely yours,

WM. GIFFORD.