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applicable to our attachment to the often wellwritten and witty, but profligate writings of our poets: “ It is, indeed, astonishing to reflect, by what a strange concatenation of cause and effect, the youth of Christian Europe should be instructed in the fables of Greek and Latin mythology, which were fallen into contempt even before Rome ceased to be heathen. It certainly has not been on account of their wisdom and beauty that they have survived the wreck of so many better things. They have been embalmed in the languages” (the Poetry) " which contain them, and which, by becoming likewise the depositaries of Christian doctrine, have been rendered sacred languages.” The poetical language of such of our immoral songs as are well written has a fascinating power over our minds, somewhat resembling the power of the ancient languages in setting off the heathen mythology.
Ofthe importance of forming a correct Taste, and of the value of it when formed, you appear to entertain a very high sense. In your Letters on Poetry, (L. x. p. 136.) after recommending a complete and accurate perusal of Milton, you say,
66 and then assure yourself that you are possessed for life of a source of exquisite entertainment, capable of elevating the mind under
depression, and of recalling the taste from a fondness for tinsel and frivolity, to a relish for all that is solidly grand and beautiful.” And at the conclusion of the work you say, “ I have now, my dear young friend, completed my original design of pointing out to you such a course of reading in the English Poets as might at the same time contribute to form your literary taste, and provide you with a fund of rational and exalted entertainment. Of the value of such a lasting and easily procurable source of pleasure, I can speak from my own experience ; nor do I think it less adapted to solace the domestic leisure of a female, than to relieve the cares and labours of masculine occupation. I am also convinced, that such an union of moral and religious sentiment with the harmony of numbers and the splendour of language, as our best poets afford, is of important use in elevating the mind, and fortifying it against those trials to which the human condition is perpetually exposed. Nor are the lighter strains without their value in promoting a harmless gaiety chastised by elegance and refinement." Again, in your Letters to your Son (Vol. II. L. XV. p. 275.) you strongly connect morals with the purest and most refined taste. You say, “The purest and most refined taste will
therefore prove the safest in this respect; and it ought to be a leading point in the education of youth, to infuse an early relish for those capital productions which are alike excellent as lessons of morality, and as specimens of genius."
On the subject of IndecENCY and LicenTIOUSNESS our sentiments appear, generally speaking, to coincide. In your Letters on Poetry (L. iv. p. 35.) you say of some of Prior's pieces, that you “ cannot with propriety recommend” them to the perusal of the young lady you are addressing. Speaking of the ease of Swift's verse, you say, (L. vi. p. 64.) “ It is true, this freedom is often indecorous, and would at the present day be scarcely hazarded by any one who kept good company, still less by a clergyman.” On Pope's Epistle of Eloisa to Abelard, you state, (L. vii. p. 82.) that “ The piece in question, it must be confessed, is faulty in giving too forcible an expression to sentiments inconsistent with female purity”. Afterwards, (p. 93.) speaking of his Four Moral Essays, “ You will also occasionally be disgusted with a certain flippancy of expression, and still more with a taint of grossness of language, which, if not a personal rather than a national defect, would afford an unfortunate disa tinction between our literature in Anne's and
George's reigns, and that of France in the age of Louis the Fourteenth. Boileau, whom Pope imitated, and who was not less severe in censure than he, is beyond comparison more delicate in his language. There is a kind of coarseness, consisting in the use of common words, which conduces so much to the strength and vigour of style, that one would not wish to see it sacrificed to fastidious nicety; but Pope frequently goes beyond this, and betrays rather a contamination of ideas than a carelessness of phraseology. This remark, however, applies more to some subsequent productions than to those at present before us." I am glad you have thus noticed, in this eminent Poet, the pernicious. fault of a contamination of ideas. When you come to speak of Milton's Comus, (L. ix. p. 121.) you say, “ As a recompense for the humiliation you may have felt on viewing the female character as pourtrayed by Pope and Swift, you may justly pride yourself on the lustre thrown around it in its virgin purity, by this superior genius." The last passage on this subject which I shall quote from your Letters, is in the xviiith, (p. 252.) where, speaking of Congreve, you say, “ If Dr. Johnson's sentence be just, that Congreve's miscellaneous pieces “ show little wit and little virtue,” I
should be wrong to recommend them at all to your perusal; and indeed the little that is good in them is scarcely worth the pains of selecting from the bad or indifferent.” I cannot forbear adding a passage from your View of the Character and public Services of the late John Howard, Esq. " Mr. Howard's predilection for female society, was in part a consequence of his abhorrence of every thing gross and licentious.
His own language and manners were invariably pure and delicate; and the freedoms which pass uncensured or even applauded in the promiscuous companies of men, would have affected him with sensations of disgust.” (p. 234.)
A question, however, may arise, What is INDECENCY? Wherein does it consist? Persons have different opinions respecting it; what appears indecent and licentious to one, does not to another, and even the commonly decent sometimes receive the appellation of squeamish. Some who will without scruple read the generality of our plays, will yet object to many passages in the sacred writings ; and I have even known the scrupulous William Law to be accused of grossness and licentiousness for what he has said, in his Tract upon the Stage, in condemnation of the plays of his time. It appears