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- Letters to Dead Authors - 4/18 -
build far this purpose great dams of wood, which they call weirs. Having built the weir they sit upon it with rods in their hands, and a line on the rod, and at the end of the line a little fish. There then they 'sit and spin in the sun,' as one of their poets says, not for a short time but for many days, having rods in their hands and eating and drinking. In this wise they angle for the fish called trout; but whether they ever catch him or not, not having seen it, I cannot say; for it is not pleasant to me to speak things concerning which I know not the truth.
Now, after sailing and rowing against the stream for certain days, I came to the City of the Ford of the Ox. Here the river changes his name, and is called Isis, after the name of the goddess of the Egyptians. But whether the Britons brought the name from Egypt or whether the Egyptians took it from the Britons, not knowing I prefer not to say. But to me it seems that the Britons are a colony of the Egyptians, or the Egyptians a colony of the Britons. Moreover, when I was in Egypt I saw certain soldiers in white helmets, who were certainly British. But what they did there (as Egypt neither belongs to Britain nor Britain to Egypt) I know not, neither could they tell me. But one of them replied to me in that line of Homer (if the Odyssey be Homer's), 'We have come to a sorry Cyprus, and a sad Egypt.' Others told me that they once marched against the Ethiopians, and having defeated them several times, then came back again, leaving their property to the Ethiopians. But as to the truth of this I leave it to every man to form his own opinion.
Having come into the City of the Priests, I went forth into the street, and found a priest of the baser sort, who for a piece of silver led me hither and thither among the temples, discoursing of many things.
Now it seemed to me a strange thing that the city was empty, and no man dwelling therein, save a few priests only, and their wives, and their children, who are drawn to and fro in little carriages dragged by women, but the priest told me that during half the year the city was desolate, for that there came somewhat called 'The Long,' or 'The Vac,' and drave out the young priests. And he said that these did no other thing but row boats, and throw balls from one to the other, and this they were made to do, he said, that the young priests might learn to be humble, for they are the proudest of men. But whether he spoke truth or not I know not, only I set down what he told me. But to anyone considering it, this appears rather to jump with his story--namely, that the young priests have houses on the river, painted of divers colours, all of them empty.
Then the priest, at my desire, brought me to one of the temples, that I might seek out all things concerning Herodotus the Halicarnassian, from one who knew. Now this temple is not the fairest in the city, but less fair and goodly than the old temples, yet goodlier and more fair than the new temples; and over the roof there is the image of an eagle made of stone--no small marvel, but a great one, how men came to fashion him; and that temple is called the House of Queens. Here they sacrifice a boar once every year; and concerning this they tell a certain sacred story which I know but will not utter.
Then I was brought to the priest who had a name for knowing most about Egypt, and the Egyptians, and the Assyrians, and the Cappadocians, and all the kingdoms of the Great King. He came out to me, being attired in a black robe, and wearing on his head a square cap. But why the priests have square caps I know, and he who has been initiated into the mysteries which they call 'Matric' knows, but I prefer not to tell. Concerning the square cap, then, let this be sufficient. Now, the priest received me courteously, and when I asked him, concerning Herodotus, whether he were a true man or not, he smiled, and answered 'Abu Goosh,' which, in the tongue of the Arabians, means 'The Father of Liars.' Then he went on to speak concerning Herodotus, and he said in his discourse that Herodotus not only told the thing which was not, but that he did so wilfully, as one knowing the truth but concealing it. For example, quoth he, 'Solon never went to see Croesus, as Herodotus avers; nor did those about Xerxes ever dream dreams; but Herodotus, out of his abundant wickedness, invented these things.
'Now behold,' he went on, 'how the curse of the Gods falls upon Herodotus. For he pretends that he saw Cadmeian inscriptions at Thebes. Now I do not believe there were any Cadmeian inscriptions there: therefore Herodotus is most manifestly lying. Moreover, this Herodotus never speaks of Sophocles the Athenian, and why not? Because he, being a child at school, did not learn Sophocles by heart: for the tragedies of Sophocles could not have been learned at school before they were written, nor can any man quote a poet whom he never learned at school. Moreover, as all those about Herodotus knew Sophocles well, he could not appear to them to be learned by showing that he knew what they knew also.' Then I thought the priest was making game and sport, saying first that Herodotus could know no poet whom he had not learned at school, and then saying that all the men of his time well knew this poet, 'about whom everyone was talking'. But the priest seemed not to know that Herodotus and Sophocles were friends, which is proved by this, that Sophocles wrote an ode in praise of Herodotus.
Then he went on, and though I were to write with a hundred hands (like Briareus, of whom Homer makes mention) I could not tell you all the things that the priest said against Herodotus, speaking truly, or not truly, or sometimes correctly and sometimes not, as often befalls mortal men. For Herodotus, he said, was chiefly concerned to steal the lore of those who came before him, such as Hecataeus, and then to escape notice as having stolen it. Also he said that, being himself cunning and deceitful, Herodotus was easily beguiled by the cunning of others, and believed in things manifestly false, such as the story of the Phoenix-bird.
Then I spoke, and said that Herodotus himself declared that he could not believe that story; but the priest regarded me not. And he said that Herodotus had never caught a crocodile with cold pig, nor did he ever visit Assyria, nor Babylon, nor Elephantine; but, saying that he had been in these lands, said that which was not true. He also declared that Herodotus, when he travelled, knew none of the Fat Ones of the Egyptians, but only those of the baser sort. And he called Herodotus a thief and a beguiler, and 'the same with intent to deceive,' as one of their own poets writes, and, to be short, Herodotus, I could not tell you in one day all the charges which are now brought against you; but concerning the truth of these things, _you_ know, not least, but most, as to yourself being guilty or innocent. Wherefore, if you have anything to show or set forth whereby you may be relieved from the burden of these accusations, now is the time. Be no more silent; but, whether through the Oracle of the Dead, or the Oracle of Branchidae, or that in Delphi, or Dodona, or of Amphiaraus at Oropus, speak to your friends and lovers (whereof I am one from of old) and let men know the very truth.
Now, concerning the priests in the City of the Ford of the Ox, it is to be said that of all men whom we know they receive strangers most gladly, feasting them all day. Moreover, they have many drinks, cunningly mixed, and of these the best is that they call Archdeacon, naming it from one of the priests' offices. Truly, as Homer says (if the Odyssey be Homer's), 'when that draught is poured into the bowl then it is no pleasure to refrain.'
Drinking of this wine, or nectar, Herodotus, I pledge you, and pour forth some deal on the ground, to Herodotus of Halicarnassus, in the House of Hades.
And I wish you farewell, and good be with you. Whether the priest spoke truly, or not truly, even so may such good things betide you as befall dead men.
Epistle to Mr. Alexander Pope.
From mortal Gratitude, decide, my Pope, Have Wits Immortal more to fear or hope? Wits toil and travail round the Plant of Fame, Their Works its Garden, and its Growth their Aim, Then Commentators, in unwieldy Dance, Break down the Barriers of the trim Pleasance, Pursue the Poet, like Actaeon's Hounds, Beyond the fences of his Garden Grounds, Rend from the singing Robes each borrowed gem, Rend from the laurel'd Brows the Diadem, And, if one Rag of Character they spare, Comes the Biographer, and strips it bare!
Such, Pope, has been thy Fortune, such thy Doom. Swift the Ghouls gathered at the Poet's Tomb, With Dust of Notes to clog each lordly Line, Warburton, Warton, Croker, Bowles, combine! Collecting Cackle, Johnson condescends To _interview_ the Drudges of your Friends. Though still your Courthope holds your merits high, And still proclaims your Poems poetry, Biographers, un-Boswell-like, have sneered, And Dunces edit him whom Dunces feared!
They say; what say they? Not in vain You ask. To tell you what they say, behold my Task! 'Methinks already I your Tears survey' As I repeat 'the horrid Things they say.' (1)
(1) _Rape of the Lock_.
Comes El--n first: I fancy you'll agree Not frenzied Dennis smote so fell as he; For El--n's Introduction, crabbed and dry, Like Churchill's Cudgel's (2) marked with Lie, and Lie!
(2) In Mr Hogarth's Caricatura.
'Too dull to know what his own System meant, Pope yet was skilled new Treasons to invent; A Snake that puffed himself and stung his Friends, Few Lied so frequent, for such little Ends; His mind, like Flesh inflamed, (3) was raw and sore, And still, the more he writhed, he stung the more! Oft in a Quarrel, never in the Right, His Spirit sank when he was called to fight. Pope, in the Darkness mining like a Mole, Forged on Himself, as from Himself he stole, And what for Caryll once he feigned to feel, Transferred, in Letters never sent, to Steele! Still he denied the Letters he had writ, And still mistook Indecency for Wit. His very Grammar, so De Quincey cries, "Detains the Reader, and at times defies!"'
(3) Elwyn's Pope, ii. 15.
Fierce El--n thus: no Line escapes his Rage, And furious Foot-notes growl 'neath every Page: See St-ph-n next take up the woful Tale, Prolong the Preaching, and protract the Wail! 'Some forage Falsehoods from the North and South, But Pope, poor D---l, lied from Hand to Mouth; (1) Affected, hypocritical, and vain, A Book in Breeches, and a Fop in Grain; A Fox that found not the high Clusters sour, The Fanfaron of Vice beyond his power, Pope yet possessed'--(the Praise will make you start)--
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