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Speaking contemptuously of his learned and enthusiastic friend Winkelman. Se io possedeffi il talento di scriver bene (says the modest painter) vorrei esporre ragioni, e fatti, e insegnar cose utili senza perdermi a contradir veruno poiche mi sembra, che si possan fare buoni libri senza dire, che il tale, o il tal fogetto s' inganna ; e finalmente se ella mi puo dimostrare, che la maldicenza sia cosa honesta, allora io converrò che importa molto poco il modo, con cui si attacca la riputazione del prossimo : e aggiungo che il sarcasmo e l'insulto sono la peggior maniera di mormorare, e di biasimare donde risulta sempre il maggior danno a chi lo usa.-Opere di Mengs, tomo primo, p. 243
These admonitions are excellent, and want only the good example of the monitor to make them complete; but Mengs, unfortunately, in his professional writings, has spoken of Reynolds in a manner that grossly violates his own doctrine; fo difficult is it, my good Doctor, to find a pacific preacher and his practice in perfect harmony with each other.
To feeling and fervent spirits there can hardly be any provocation more apt to excite asperity of language, than an insult offered to an object of their esteem and veneration. In writing upon Milton, and those who, to my apprehension, have insulted his name with contumelious severity, I may have been hurried beyond the bias of my
temper, which is, I trust, neither irascible nor censorious; but I will imitate fome well meaning catholic writers, and making you, my dear Warton, my inquisitor as well as my patron, I will here very honestly say to you, “ Si quid dixerim contra fpiritum caritatis evan
gelicæ indiétum volo.”
Let me now hasten to apologize to you, as I think I ought, for such deficiencies as your nice discernment cannot fail to observe in the work I address to you. You remember that Plutarch, the amiable prince of ancient biographers, has very justly mentioned the advantage arising to a writer from residing in a city amply furnished with books ;—it is my lot, you know, to live in a little sequeftered village, and I chuse to do so for the reason which attached the good-natured Plutarch to his native Cheronxa, that it may not become less. Had it suited me to devote much time and labour to extensive researches in the public and private libraries of London, it is pofsible that I might have discovered some latent anecdotes relating to Milton; yet after the patient inquiries of the intelligent and indefatigable Dr. Birch, and after the signal discovery of your more successful brother, little novelty could be expected to reward the toil of such investigation ; and perhaps a writer too eager to make new discoveries on this beaten ground, might be hurried by such eagerness into the censurable temerity of Peck the antiquarian, who,
in his memoirs of the great poet, has affixed the name of Milton to a portrait and a poem that do not belong to him.
Though my work has been executed in a retired village of England, my enquiries have extended far beyond the limits of our own country, by the aid of some intelligent and obliging friends, who had the kindness to search for me the great libraries of Paris and Rome, in the hope of discovering fome neglected composition, or latent anecdote, that might be useful to a biographer of Milton. The success of these researches has not been equal to the kindness and the zeal of the intelligent enquirers ; but an unexpected favour from a literary friend, who is known to me only by his writings, has enabled me to throw, perhaps, a new ray of light on that inviting subject of conjecture, the real origin of Milton's greatest performance.
In the dissertation, which I have annexed to this life of the poet, you will find some account of an Italian drama on the inhabitants of Paradise, which, though it rises not to the poetical spirit of Andreini, may have had some influence, I apprehend, on the fancy of Milton. You will also find, that I have followed your example, in recommending your old acquaintance Andreini to the notice of the public. He happened to engage my attention, when the health of my revered friend, Mr. Couper,
allowed him to be my guest; and, after our more serious morning studies, it afforded us a pleasant relaxation and amusement to throw some parts of the Adamo into English, in a rapid yet metrical translation. In this joint work, or rather pastime, it would be needless, if it were poflible, to distinguish the lines of the united translators, as the version had no higher aim than to gratify the curiosity of the English reader, without aspiring to praise. A very different character is due to that version of Milton's Latin poetry, which my excellent friend has finished with such care and felicity, that even from the separate specimens of it, with which this life is embellished, you, my dear Warton, and every delicate judge of poetry, will, I am confident, esteem it an absolute model of poetical translation. For the honour of Milton, and for that of his most worthy interpreter, I hope that the whole of this admirable performance may be soon imparted to the public, as I trust that returning health will happily restore its incomparable author to his suspended studies ; an event that may affect the moral interest and the mental delight of all the world—for rarely, very rarely indeed, has heaven bestowed on any individual such an ample, such a variegated portion of true poetical genius, and never did it add greater purity of heart to that divine yet perilous talent, to guide and fanctify its exertion. Those who are best acquainted with the writings and the virtues of my
inestimable friend, must be most fervent in their hopes, that in the course and the close of his poetical career he may resemble his great and favourite predecessors, Homer and Milton; their spirits were cheered and illuminated in the decline of life by a fresh portion of poetical power ; and if in their latter productions they rose not to the full force and splendor of their meridian glory, they yet enchanted mankind with the sweetness and serenity of their descending light.
Literature, which Cicero has so eloquently described as the friend of every period and condition of human existence, is peculiarly the friend of age; a truth of which you, my dear Warton, are a very lively illustration-you, who at a season of life when unlettered mortals generally murmur against the world, are ministering to its instruction and its pleasure by continuing to write with temper, vivacity, and grace.
That you may long retain and display this happy afsemblage of endowments, so rare in a critical veteran, is the cordial wilh of many, and particularly the wish of your very sincere and affectionate friend,
Eartham, O&tober 29, 1795.