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to translate his English essay into Latin. He failed, and Carey, now bishop of St. Asaph, gained the prize. Birch saw both his English and his Latin, and thought he had only failed, because his Latin was a translation of his English; not therefore so much thought in Latin. The dean, in talking to him about it, seemed to criticise his plan and method, and particularly his opening; on which your father replied most modestly, that perhaps he did not excel in that from his want of ability in mathematics. But the dean replied, “Don't run away with that notion.'
“It was in that conversation or another, that the dean advised him not to indulge his poetic pursuits too much, in writing at least, for the present; but if , when he was older, between thirty and forty, he felt a strong inclination to write on any subject that much interested him, then to indulge in his vein. All this your father used to tell us in his peculiarly interesting manner, with perfect good humour, but certainly with a subrisus, which his countenance peculiarly expressed by the play of his upper lip, shortening and a little curving forward.”
The following letters, addressed to Miss Seward and his sister, during the period of his residence at Oxford, will help to throw further light on his pursuits at this important period of a student's life.
TO MISS SEWARD.
Ch. Ch., Oxford, May 7, 1792. DEAR MADAM, As I expect my father will soon pass through this place, I take the opportunity of sending a line by him to thank you
kindness in remembering me in your letter to Smith. The extract from some critic who pretends to write about Italian poetry, which I thought you seemed more pleased with than it deserved, was read to me.
I much wonder that you should listen to the idea, that a fondness for Italian poetry is the corruption of our taste, when you cannot but recollect that our greatest English poets, Chaucer, Spenser, and Milton have been professed admirers of the Italians, and that the sublimer province of poetry, imagination, has been more or less cultivated among us, according to the degree of estimation in which they have been held.
The poetry of the French is diametrically opposite to that of the Italians : the latter are full of sublimity, pathos, and imagination; the former of ethics, and descriptions of common life. No wonder then if Boileau decried a style of which he was so incapable to judge; no wonder if Addison, who, we are agreed, had little of the poet in his composition, charmed with the good sense of Boileau, so congenial to his own talents, echoed back his criticism ; no wonder if Pope, in compliance with the judgment of his friend, leaving the wilds of fancy, as he himself says, turned himself to another walk of poetry in which he was so much more fitted to excel. But we have lately condescended to go back a little to our old masters, and to them and the Greek poets we owe all the best writers of our own times, Gray, Warton, Hayley, Mason, and thence one might perhaps say a Seward and a Williams. You must excuse this long tiresome piece of criticism, because I am pleading in defence of my own favorite fixed principles. Give a few months to the acquisition of Italian; go and see the wonders of Dante's Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso; remember what a vast interval of time there is between Homer and him; remember in what a state the country and age in which he lived, and how pure the language in which he wrote, and then abuse him, if
I subjoin two passages from the Purgatorio, because the
is less known than the Inferno. The third canto begins* with this comparison, so exquisitely drawn from nature :
“As the sheep come out of the fold, some alone, others in pairs, others three together, the rest stand fearful, putting their eyes and noses to the ground, and whatever the first does, all the others do the same, crowding at her back, if she makes a stand, simple and tranquil, and yet do not know the reason why they stop, so this crowd of spirits stopt at our approach,” &c. Speaking of the swift motion of a spirit that flew from them, he says, “I never saw the lighted vapours at the beginning of the night cut the serene air so swiftly, nor when the sun is setting, the clouds of autumn.” Such are the sketches of Dante's pencil, and as for the conceits that
* These lines are in about the middle of the Canto referred to, line 78 of Cary's translation,
attribute to him, they are much fewer than you would expect from a writer in so barbarous an age, that some years after, Petrarch was accused of necromancy by the pope, because he read Virgil and Cicero, and wrote verses.
Everything becomes interesting at this period of reviving literature, and I am infinitely delighted with Dante, as an historian of his own time; so that I am collecting anecdotes, so plentifully interspersed among his works, for my amusement. A very wise employment, you will say.
I have now no chance of seeing Staffordshire for these two or three months, but you must cheer my absence by a letter.
H. F. CARY.
TO MISS SEWARD,
Ch. Ch., Oxford, October 19, 1792. FAIR MUSE, Permit me to communicate a little anecdote to you, which struck my fancy very forcibly, and which if it pleases yours as much, may receive life and immortality from your Promethean touch. Near this place, on the banks of the river Isis, are the remains of Godstow Abbey, where the unfortunate Rosamonda was condemned by the jealous fury of Eleanor the royal consort of Henry the Second to become a paleeyed votary of the cell. The gateway, the outer walls, and the chapel where the fair penitent was interred, are now all that is left to gratify the searches of curiosity. But the ideas annexed to the spot and the surrounding scenery of the river on one side and the soft hills with their forest drapery on the other are circumstances that often lead me to Godstow Abbey.
Yesterday I found there an old man and a girl gathering apples (for the place is now turned into an orchard); they led me to a large nut tree which had sprung up on the spot where Rosamonda used to bathe: the ground under it was strewed with nuts of a large size and tempting appearance, but Rosamonda had some way or other bewitched them, and they were all without kernels : the same happens every year. “Furthermore," says the old man," there stood a great elm tree yonder, the corpse of fair