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in the latter there is such a continual affectation of wit and quaintness, that I have seldom read any thing that appeared to me more disgusting. Madame Sevigny has also been much extolled; but I must differ from those who find much pleasure in drudging through the long series of her letters. I once attempted the task, but I found them so exquisitely trifling; so little of any thing to interest the understanding or to attract attention; such an accumulation of empty chit-hat and idle gossip, that I conceived the perusal of them to be an absolute waste of time. Our Lady Mary Wortley Montague is a writer of a superior cast. There is thought, and wit and genius in all her letters, whether she relates her travels, or treats of any subject of taste and literature.
Mr. Pope seems to have formed his epistolary style upon the model of Voiture. It is therefore no wonder that it should in some measure partake of the faults of that writer. Indeed all the brilliancy of Mr. Pope's style, (and no man ever possessed more powers of language than he did) cannot compensate for the studied sentences, and constant affectation of wit, which disfigure the correspondence of Mr. Pope. In
fact his letters are by far the most inferior of all his productions. The letters of Dean Swift, Bishop Atterbury, Lord Bolingbroke, and Lord Peterborough, published in the same collection, are more natural, and consequently better.
A foolish passion lately prevailed for inspecting the private correspondence of every person who had attained either rank or fame. Now the private correspondence of any man, upon ordinary subjects, can afford but little interest. I confess I was disappointed even in the letters of Mr. Gibbon, and perhaps I should be equally so with those of Mr. Burke, or Dr. Johnson. A few very fine letters of the latter, it is true, are preserved, such as that to Lord Chesterfield, the Earl of Bute, &c. But these are written upon important occasions. The truth is, to make a composition perfect there must be subject, and the petty incidents of private life are not subjects that can be expected to engage much of public attention. It is different when the facts described are of general importMiss Williams's Letters on the French Revolution deservedly were much noticed, and will be long read, not merely because they are well written, but because the transactions they
detail were of the utmost consequence in an historical point of view.
Dialogue is another form of writing. I use this expression, because it may be adapted to any subject, or almost any style. It is, however, a very clumsy mode of conveying either sentiments or facts. The dialogues of Plato may perhaps be excused, if we consider them (as perhaps we ought) transcripts of the delightful conversations of his incomparable master. The science of that period was almost entirely metaphysical. In the present state of things, when a world of facts is displayed to our view, it is therefore not extraordinary that they should be in general uninteresting. As a proof, the best translation of Plato would not at present have a sale.
Many of Cicero's philosophical and critical works are also in dialogue, but I think they would appear to at least equal advantage in a different form. A modern author of great wit and fancy, as well as learning, has also published his critical researches, under the title of Eria lapola, in dialogue; but the wit and vivacity of the writer enliven the subject, and reconcile us entirely to the manner and form.
It is upon ludicrous subjects, however, and where there is some display of character, that the dialogue form has been most happily employed. It becomes in this instance a kind of little drama. Lucian will be read with admiration and pleasure, as long as there is a relish for wit and fancy in the world. His pas CNY (or sale of the philosophers), is the best of his dialogues. Lucian has been successfully imitated by Fenelon, and Lord Lyttleton.
Description and Origin of Poetry.-Metre.Rhyme.-English Metres.
MY DEAR JOHN,
HAVING endeavoured to present you with a critical view of the various forms of prosaic composition, I shall proceed without further preparation to the enchanting regions of poetry; a fairy land with which, however, you can only become properly acquainted by visiting it in person.
Dr. Blair observes, with some justice, that it is not easy to define "what is poetry;" and yet we may add there is no person of tolerable taste, and common attainments, who will mistake poetry for prose, or prose for poetry. It would be perhaps to speak more correctly to say, it is not easy to define the limits between poetry and prose; for as I have shewn that all good prose, and oratorical prose particularly, falls naturally into a kind of metre, or musical ca