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Τ Τ Ε R S
TO AND FROM
W Y C H E R L E Y*.
From the Year 1704 to 1710.
L E T T E R I.
Binfield in Windfor Forest, Dec. 26, 1704 . T was certainly a great fatisfa&tion to me to see and
long known with pleasure ; but it was a high addition to it, to hear you, at our very first meeting, doing justice to your dead friend Mr. Dryden. I was not so happy as to know him : Virgilium tantum vidi. Had I been born early enough, I must have known and lov'd him : For I have been assured, not only by yourself, but by Mr. Congreve and Sir William Trumbul, that his personal qualities were as amiable as his Poetical, notwithstanding the many libellous misrepresentations of them, a
If one were to judge of this set of Letters, by the manner of thinking and turn of expression, one should conclude they had been all mittitled ; and that the letters given to the boy of sixteen, were written by the man of feventy, and fo on the contrary : such sober sense, such graviły of manners, and so much judgment, and knowledge of composition, enlivened with the sprightlinels of manly wit, diftingu:sh those of Mr. Pope : while, on the ohit hand, a childish jealousy, a puerile affectation, an attention and lying ai catch for turns and points, together with a to: al ignorance and contenip of ordei, of method, and of all relation of the parts to one another to compose a reason. able whole, make up the character of those of Mr. Wycherley.
+ The Author's Age then sixteen, VOL. III.
gainst which the former of these Gentlemen has told me he will one day vindicate him *. I suppose those injuries were begun by the violence of Party, but 'tis no doubt they were continued by envy at his success and fame. And thosc Scriblers who attacked him in his latter times, were only like gnats in a summer's evening, which are never very troublesome but in the finest and most glorions feafon ; for his fire, like the fun's, shined cleareft towards its setting.
You must not therefore imagine, that when you told me my own performances were above those Critics, I was fu vain as to believe it; and yet I may not be fo humble as to think mytelf quite below their notice. For critics, as they are birds of prey, have ever a natural inclination to carrion : and tho' such poor writers as I are but beggars, no beggar is so poor but he can keep a cur, and no author is to beggarly but he can keep a critic. I am far from thinking the attacks of such people either any honour or dishonour even to me, inuch leis to Mr. Dryden. I agree with you, that whatever lefler Wits have risen fince his death, are but like stars appearing when the sun is fet, that twinkle only in his abfence, and with the rays they have borrowed from him. Our wit (as you call it) is but reflection or imitation, therefore scarce to be called ours. True Wit, I believe, may be defined a justneís of thought, and a facility of expression; or (in the midwives phrase) a perfect conception, with an easy delivery. - However, this is far from a complete definition ; pray help me to a better, as I doubt not, you can,
* He lurce did so, in his Dedication to the Duke of Newcastle, prefix'd 10 the duojecimo Edition of Dryden's Flays, 1717.
From Mr. WYCHER LEY.
Jan. 25, 1704-5. I Have been so busy of late in corre&ting and tran
scribing some of my madrigals for a great man or two who desired to see them, that I have (with your pardon) omitted to return you an answer to your most ingenious letter: so fcriblers to the public, like bankers to the puls. lic, are profuse in their voluntary loans to it, whilst they forget to pay their more private and particular, as more just debts, to their best and nearest friends. However, I hope, you who have as much good nature as good sense (since they generally are companions) will have patience with a debtor who has an inclination to pay you his obligations, if he had wherewithal ready about him; and in the mean time should consider, when
have obliged me beyond my present power of returning the favour, that a debtor may be an honest man, if he but intends to be just when he is able, tho' late. But I should be less just to you, the more I thought I could make a return to so much profuscness of Wit and Humanity together; which tho' they feldon accompany each other in other men, are in you so equally met, I know not in which you most abound. But so much for my opinion of you, which is, that your Wit and Ingenuity is equalled by nothing but your Judgment, or Modefty, which (though it be to please myself) I must no more offend, than I can do either right.
Therefore I will say no inore now of them, than that your good wit never forfeited your good judgment, but in your partiality to me and mine; so that if it were possible for a hardened scribler to be vainer than he is, what you write of me would make me more conceited than what I scribble myself : yet, I must confess, I ought to be more humbled by your praise than exalted, which
little sense with so much more of yours, that I am disparaged and disheartened by your commendations ; who give me an example of your wit in the first part of your letter, and a definition of it in the last; to make writing well (that is, like you) more difficult to me than ever it was before. Thus the more great and just your example and definition of wit are, the less I am capable to follow them. Then the best
Then the best way of shewing my judgment, after having scen how you write, is to leave off writing; and the best way to Thew my friendThip to you, is to put an end to your trouble, and to conclude
L E T T E R III.
March 25, 1705.
ought to beg your patience before hand; for if it proves the longest, it will be of course the worft I have troubled you with. Yet to express my gratitude at large for your obliging letter, is not more my duty than my interest, as some people will abundantly thank you for one piece of kindness, to put you in mind of bestowing another, The more favourable you are to me, the more diftin&tly I see my faults : Spots and blemishes, you know, are never so plainly discovered as in the brightest sunshine, Thus I am mortified by those commendations which were designed to encourage me : for praise to a young wit, is like rain to a tender flower ; if it be inoderately bestowed, it chears and revives ; but if too lavishly, overcharges and depresses him. Most men in years, as they are generally discouragers of youth, are like old trees, that being paft bearing themselves, will suffer no young plants to flouris), bencath them : but, as if it were not enough to have outdone all your coevals in wit, you will excell them in good-nature too. As for* my green effays, if you His Pastorals, written at fixteen years of age.