Open main menu

TO

CHRISTOPHER NEVILE, Esq; Junr.


Dear Nephew,

I Take the liberty to offer you in this public manner what was originally undertaken for your private use.

My intention was, you may remember, to excite you to a careful examination of the most polished poem of Antiquity; which, though adorned with every striking beauty of language and imagery, is, I fear, not enough considered.

This neglect may indeed be imputed to the seeming severity of it's didactic form, and perhaps in some measure to it's very perfection: for, as in the estimate of characters the showy anomalies of the giddy and dissolute are preferred by vulgar Observers to the silent consistencies of the sober and decent; just so the gross and gorgeous decorations of licentious composition operate more powerfully on common Readers, than the modest and elegant graces of exact writing.

A ready discernment of the more delicate and latent beauties presupposes long habit and reflexion, a refinement of our natural sensibility, and a knowledge of the laws, by which Judgment is directed: where these are wanting, an impatience for gratification is sure to betray the young Student into a fondness for whatever makes a quick and forcible impression: hence a passion for glare and glitter, tumour, and exuberance: hence, in a word, those corruptions, which, when recommended by reputable example, have been known to elude the judicious efforts of reforming Criticism.

It is with true taste as with sound morals; a timely study of the best Authors forms us to the one, as an early converse with the best Men trains us to the other.

Of all the works of Genius none is so well suited to every purpose of improvement as the poem of which I now present you with a copy. A sentimental cadence of verse; a constant care of avoiding every the least anticipation, every foreign intermixture, that may divert the mind from the main object, or cause a faint impression of the principal idea; and a felicity of expression, that without the appearance of design ennobles the meanest topics, are among it's more distinguished excellencies. These in an eminent degree demand the attention of all, who are solicitous to acquire a just notion of chaste composition.

But wherefore do I talk of chaste composition at a time, when the Public seems little disposed to favour any well-conducted plan; when impure Buffoonery is permitted to usurp the place of genuine Wit, and barbarous Invective unreproved assumes the honours due to legitimate Satire?

It is not difficult to foresee what effects this depravity may have even on the moral character of the rising Generation, if it receive not a seasonable check from the authoritative influence of the few finished productions, left us by our great Masters, the Antients.

May You, my dear Nephew, amidst the dissipations incident to youth, continue to cultivate that taste, of which, by the assistance of the best education, you have given an early promise.


I am.


With the warmest affection.


Your Friend and Uncle,


Cambridge,

Feb. 9, 1767.


THOMAS NEVILE.