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- Letters of Horace Walpole, V4 - 110/169 -
(549) Now first collected.
(550) it is impossible to say with certainty what is the work here alluded to; but most Probably, it was Ailred's Life of St. Ninian of which it appears, from a letter from the Rev. Rogers Ruding, dated August 4, 1785, that Mr. Pinkerton obtained at this time a transcript through him from the manuscript in the Bodleian Library. Pinkerton speaks of this manuscript, in the second volume of his Early Scottish History, p. 266, as "a meagre piece, containing very little as to Ninian's Pikish Mission." The letter alluded to from Mr, Ruding, shows Pinkerton to have turned his mind to the antiquities of Scotland with great earnestness.-D. T.
Letter 293 To John Pinkerton, Esq.(551) Strawberry Hill, Sept. 17, 1785. (page 372)
You are too modest, Sir, in asking my advice on a point on which you could have no better guide than your own judgment. if I presume to give you my opinion, it is from zeal for your honour. I think it would be below you to make a regular answer to anonymous scribblers in a Magazine: you had better wait to see whether any formal reply is made to your book, and whether by any avowed writer; to whom, if he writes sensibly and decently, you may condescend to make an answer. Still, as you say you have been misquoted, I should not wish you to be quite silent, though I should like better to have you turn such enemies into ridicule. A foe who misquotes you, ought to be a welcome antagonist. He is so humble as to confess, when he censures what you have not said, that he cannot confute what you have said; and he is so kind as to furnish you with an opportunity of proving him a liar, as you may refer to your book to detect him.
This is what I would do; I would specify, in the same Magazine in which he has attacked you, your real words, and those he has imputed to you; and then appeal to the equity of the reader. You may guess that the shaft comes from somebody whom you have censured; and thence you may draw a fair conclusion, that you had been in the right to laugh at one who was reduced to put his own words into your mouth before he could find fault with them; and, having so done, whatever indignation he has excited in the reader must recoil on himself, as the offensive passages will come out to have been his own, not yours. You might even begin with loudly condemning the words or thoughts imputed to you, as if you retracted them; and then, as if you turned to your book, and found that you had said no such thing there as what you was ready to retract, the ridicule would be doubled on your adversary.
Something of this kind is the most I would stoop to; but I would take the utmost care not to betray a grain of more anger than is imp lied in contempt and ridicule. Fools can only revenge themselves by provoking; for then they bring you to a level with themselves. The good sense of your work will support it; and there is scarce reason for defending it, but, by keeping up a controversy, to make it more noticed; for the age is so idle and indifferent, that few objects strike, unless parties are formed for or against them. I remember many years ago advising some acquaintance of mine, who were engaged in the direction of the Opera, to raise a competition between two of their singers, and have papers written pro and con.; for then numbers would go to clap and hiss the rivals respectively, who would not go to be pleased with the music.
(551) Now first collected.
Letter 294 George Colman, Esq.(552) Strawberry Hill, Sept. 19, 1785. (page 374)
Sir, I beg your acceptance of a little work just printed here; and I offer it as a token of my gratitude, not as pretending to pay YOU for your last present. A translation, however excellent, from a very inferior Horace,(553) would be a most inadequate return; but there is so much merit in the enclosed version, the language is so pure, and the imitations of our poets so extraordinary, so Much more faithful and harmonious than I thought the French tongue could achieve, that I flatter myself you will excuse my troubling You with an old performance of my own, when newly dressed by a master hand. As, too, there are not a great many copies printed, and those only for presents, I have a particular pleasure in making you one of the earliest compliments.
(552) Now first printed.
(553) The Due de Nivernois' translation of Walpole's Essay on Gardening.-E.
Letter 295 To The Earl Of Buchan.(554) Strawberry Hill, Sept. 23, 1785. (page 373)
Your lordship is too condescending when you incline to keep up a correspondence with one who can expect to maintain it but a short time, and whose intervals of health are resigned to idleness, not dedicated, as they have sometimes been, to literary pursuits: for what could I pursue with any prospect of accomplishment? or what avails it to store a memory that must lose faster than it acquires? Your lordship's zeal for illuminating your country and countrymen is laudable; and you are young enough to make a progress; but a man who touches the verge of his sixty-eighth year, ought to know that he is unfit to contribute to the amusement of more active minds. This consideration, my lord, makes me much decline correspondence; having nothing new to communicate, I perceive that I fill my letters with apologies for having nothing to say.
If you can tap the secret stores of the Vatican, your lordship will probably much enrich the treasury of letters. Rome may have preserved many valuable documents, as for ages intelligence from all parts of Europe centred there; but I conclude that they have hoarded little that might at any period lay open the share they had in the most important transactions. History, indeed, is fortunate when even incidentally and collaterally it light's on authentic information.
Perhaps, my lord, there is another repository, and nearer, which it would be worth while to endeavour to penetrate: I mean the Scottish College at Paris. I have heard formerly, that numbers Of papers, of various sorts, were transported at the Reformation to Spain and Portugal: but, if preserved there, they probably are not accessible yet. If they were, how puny, how diminutive, would all such discoveries, and others which we might call of far greater magnitude, be to those of Herschel, who puts up millions of covies of worlds at a beat! My conception is not ample enough to take in even a sketch of his glimpses; and, lest I should lose myself in attempting to follow his investigations, I recall my mind home, and apply it to reflect on what we thought we knew, when we imagined we knew something (which we deemed a vast deal) pretty correctly. Segrais, I think, it was, who said with much contempt, to a lady who talked of her star, "Your star! Madam, there are but two thousand stars in all; and do you imagine that you have a whole one to yourself?" The foolish dame, it seems, was not more ignorant than Segrais himself. If our system includes twenty millions of worlds, the lady had as much right to pretend to a whole ticket as the philosopher had to treat her like a servant-maid who buys a chance for a day in a state lottery.
Stupendous as Mr. Herschel's investigations are, and admirable as are his talents, his expression of our retired corner of the universe, seems a little improper. When a little emmet, standing on its ant-hill, could get a peep into infinity, how could he think he saw a corner in it?-a retired corner? Is there a bounded side to infinitude! If there are twenty millions of worlds, why not as many, and as many, and as many more? Oh! one's imagination cracks! I ]one, to bait within distance of home, and rest at the moon. Mr. Herschel will content me if he can discover thirteen provinces there, well inhabited by men and women, and protected by the law of nations;(555) that law, which was enacted by Europe for its own emolument, to the prejudice of the other three parts of the globe, and which bestows the property of whole realms on the first person who happens to espy them, who can annex them to the crown of Great Britain, in lieu of those it has lost beyond the Atlantic.
I am very ignorant in astronomy, as ignorant as Segrais or the lady, and could wish to ask many questions; as Whether our celestial globes must not be infinitely magnified? Our orreries, too, must not they be given to children, and new ones constructed, that will at least take in our retired corner and all its OUtflying constellations? Must not that host of worlds be christened? Mr. Herschel himself has stood godfather for his Majesty to the new Sidus. His Majesty, thank God! has a numerous issue; but they and all the princes and princesses in Europe cannot supply appellations enough for twenty millions of new-born stars: no, though the royal progenies of Austria, Naples, and Spain, who have each two dozen saints for sponsors, should consent to split their bead-rolls of names among the foundlings. But I find I talk like an old nurse; and your lordship at last will, I believe, be convinced that it is not worth your while to keep up a correspondence with a man in his dotage, merely because he has the honour of being, my lord, your lordship's most obedient servant.
(554) Now first printed.
(555) The then thirteen United States of America.
Letter 296 To John Pinkerton, Esq.(556) Strawberry Hill, Sept. 30, 1785. (page 376)
I do not possess, nor ever looked into one of the books you specify; nor Mabillon's "Acta Sanctorum," nor O'Flaherty's "Ogygia." My reading has been very idle., and trifling, and desultory; not that perhaps it has not been employed on authors as respectable as those you want to consult, nor that I had not rather read the deeds of sinners than Acta Sanctorum. I have no reverence but for sensible books, and consequently not for a greater number; and had rather have read fewer than I have than more. The rest may be useful on certain points, as they happen now to be to you; who, I am sure, would not read them for general use and pleasure, and are a very different kind of author. I shall like, I dare to say, any thing you do write, but I am not
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