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When the Letters of Pope were originally printed, they were divided into classes, under the names of his various correspondents; those to Swift being all placed together, and so of Mr. Cromwell, Wycherley, Addison, Steele, and the rest: and the same method has been adopted, I think, injudiciously, in other similar publications. If the object were, to do honour to each of those persons, by shewing the number of letters which they received from Pope, or addressed to him, this arrangement was unquestionably the best that could have been observed. But to illustrate the history of the Author himself, which is more interesting to the Reader than that of any of his correspondents, all his letters, to whomsoever written, in my opinion, ought to be arranged in strict chronological order. The same topicks must necessarily often recur in his correspondence with his various friends; and his letters, thus arranged, will, by juxtaposition, throw mutual light on each other, and become a history of his life and times; exhibiting, from week to week, and from year to year, a view, not only of his occupations, and studies, and printed works, but also of publick affairs and private occurrences, during the period in which he lived. The propriety and use of such an arrangement cannot be more clearly shewn, than by a reference to Mr. Boswell's most instructive and entertaining Life of Dr. Johnson; which derives great advantage from the author's having adopted this method.
On these grounds, I have arranged the following Letters in the order of time in which they were written, or are supposed to have been written, without regarding the persons to whom they are addressed.
TO THE FAIRE HANDS OF MADAME HONOR DRYDEN THESE CRAVE ADMITTANCE.'
Camb. May. 23, 16.
IF you have received the lines I sent by the reverend Levite, I doubt not but they have exceedingly wrought upon you; for beeing so longe in a clergy-man's pocket, assuredly they
The lady to whom this letter is addressed, was our author's first cousin; one of the daughters of his uncle, Sir John Dryden, the second Baronet of this family. See vol. i. part i. pp. 24, 324. She probably was born about the year 1637, and died unmarried, some time after 1707. When Dryden became eminent, she was doubtless proud of the compliments here paid to her, and shewed this letter to some of her friends. Lest the date should too nearly discover her age, the two latter figures have been almost obliterated, but the last numeral, when viewed through a microscope, is manifestly a 5; and that the other numeral, which, as being more material, was more carefully defaced, was not a 4, but a 5 also, may be collected, not only from the lady's age, (for in 1645, she was probably not more than eight years old,) but from the time of our author's admission and residence at Cambridge.
The seal, under which runs a piece of blue ribband, is a crest of a demi-lion on a wreath, holding in his paws an armillary sphere at the end of a stand.
have acquired more sanctity than theire authour meant them. Alasse, Madame! for ought I know, they may become a sermon ere they could arrive at you; and believe it, haveing you for the text, it could scarcely proove bad, if it light upon one that could handle it indifferently. But I am so miserable a preacher, that though I have so sweet and copious a subject, I still fall short in my expressions; and instead of an use of thanksgiving, I am allways makeing one of comfort, that I may one day againe have the happinesse to kisse your faire hand; but that is a message I would not so willingly do by letter, as by word of mouth.
This is a point, I must confesse, I could willingly dwell longer on; and in this case what ever I say you may confidently take for gospell. But I must hasten. And indeed, Madame, (beloved I had almost sayd,) hee had need hasten who treats of you; for to speake fully to every part of your excellencyes, requires a longer houre then most persons' have allotted them. But, in a word, your selfe hath been the best expositor upon the text of your own worth, in that admirable comment you wrote upon it; I meane your incomparable letter. By all that's good,' (and you, Madame, are a great part of my oath,) it hath put
The word parson (persona ecclesiæ,) (which, says Blackstone, however it may be depreciated by familiar, clownish, or indiscriminate use, is the most legal, most beneficial, and most honourable title that a parish priest can enjoy,") was formerly thus written. An hour, mea sured by an hourglass fixed at the side of the pulpit, was the usual length of a sermon at this time.
mee so farre besides my selfe, that I have scarce patience to write prose, and my pen is stealing into verse every time I kisse your letter. I am sure the poor paper smarts for my idolatry; which by wearing it continually neere my brest, will at last be burnt and martyrd in those flames of adoration which it hath kindled in mee. But I forgett, Madame, what rarityes your letter came fraught with, besides words. You are such a deity that commands worship by provideing the sacrifice. You are pleasd, Madame, to force me to write by sending me materialls, and compell me to my greatest happinesse. Yet, though I highly value your magnificent presente, pardon mee, if I must tell the world they are imperfect emblems of your beauty; for the white and red of waxe and paper are but shaddowes of that vermillion and snow in your lips and forehead; and the silver of the inkehorne, if it presume to vye whitenesse with your purer skinne, must confesse it selfe blacker then the liquor it containes. What then do I more then retrieve' your own guifts, and present you with that paper, adulterated with blotts, which you gave spotlesse?
For, since 'twas mine, the white hath lost its hiew,
3 See vol. i. part i. p. 25, n. 1.