Page images
PDF
EPUB

William H. Prescott to Miss Prescott-Young Ladies in England. The Ascot Races.

white cows, all as clean as if they had been scrubbed down. England, in the country, is without a rival. But in town the houses are all dingy, and most of them as black as a chimney with the smoke. This hangs like a funeral pall over the city, penetrating the houses, and discoloring the curtains and furniture in a very short time. You would be amused with the gay scene which the streets in this part of the town present. Splendid equipages fill the great streets as far as the eye can reach, blazing with rich colors, and silver mountings, and gaudy liveries. Every thing here tells of a proud and luxurious aristocracy. I shall see enough of them to-day, as I have engagements of one kind or another to four houses before bedtime, which is now with me very regularly about twelve, sometimes later, but I do not like to have it later. Why have I no letter on my table from home? I trust I shall find one there this evening, or I shall, after all, have a heavy heart, which is far from gay in this gayety. Your affectionate father,

WILLIAM H. PRESCOTT.

BOOK THE SECOND.

Letters of Pleasantry, Sentiment, and Fancy.

9

BOOK THE SECOND.

LETTERS OF PLEASANTRY, SENTIMENT, AND FANCY.

I.-LIFE OF A MAID OF HONOR AT COURT.

Alexander Pope to Teresa and Martha Blount.*

You cannot be surprised to find him a dull correspondent whom you have known so long for a dull companion. And though I am pretty sensible, if I have any wit, I may as well write to show it as not; yet I will content myself with giving

* This letter, although belonging more appropriately to the first book, has been introduced here, in connection with many others of Pope, that the reader might be able more readily to form a just estimate of this celebrated correspondence. As it is the fashion to depreciate Pope's letters, the editor may be pardoned for introducing a long extract from Thackeray. "With the exception of his love letters, I do not know," says Thackeray, “in the range of our literature, volumes more delightful than the Pope correspondence. You live in them in the finest company in the world. A little stately, perhaps, a little apprêté, and conscious that they are speaking to whole generations who are listening; but in the tone of their voices, pitched, as no doubt they are, beyond the mere conversation key, in the expression of their thoughts, their various views and natures, there is something generous, and cheering, and ennobling. You are in the society of men who have filled the greatest parts in the world's story-you are with St. John, the statesman; Peterborough, the conqueror; Swift, the greatest wit of all times; Gay, the kindliest laugher it is a privilege to sit in that company. Delightful and generous banquet! with a little faith and a little fancy, any one of us here may enjoy it, and conjure up those great figures out of the past and listen to their wit and wisdom. Mind that there is always a certain cachet about great men, they

Alexander Pope to Teresa and Martha Blount-Life of a Maid of Honor at Court.

you as plain a history of my pilgrimage as Purchas himself, or as John Bunyan could do of his walking through the wilderness of this world.

First, then, I went by water to Hampton Court, unattended

may be as mean on many points as you or I, but they carry their great air; they speak of common life more largely and generously than common men do, they regard the world with a manlier countenance and sce its real features more fairly than the timid shufflers who only dare to look up at life through blinkers, or to have an opinion when there is a crowd to back it; he who reads these noble records of a past age, salutes and reverences the great spirits who adorn it. You may go home now and talk with St. John; you may take a volume from your library and listen to Swift and Pope.

"Might I give counsel to any young hearer I would say to him, try to frequent the company of your betters. In books and life that is the most wholesome society; learn to admire rightly, the great pleasure of life is that. Note what the great men admired: they admired great things; narrow spirits admire basely, and worship meanly. I know nothing in any story more gallant and cheering than the love and friendship which this company of famous men bore toward one another. There never has been a society of men more friendly, as there never was one more illustrious. Who dared quarrel with Mr. Pope, great and famous himself, for liking the society of men great and famous-and for liking them for the qualities which made them so? A mere pretty fellow from White's could not have written the 'Patriot King,' and would very likely have despised little Mr. Pope, the decrepit Papist, whom St. John held to be one of the best and greatest of men. A mere nobleman of the Court could no more have won Barcelona than he could have written Peterborough's letters to Pope, which are as witty as Congreve's; a mere Irish dean could not have written Gulliver; and all these men loved Pope, and Pope loved all these men. To name his friends is to name the best men of his time. Addison had a senate; Pope reverenced his equals. He spoke of Swift with respect and admiration always.

C

"His admiration for Bolingbroke was so great that when some one said of his friend, 'There is something in that great man which looks as if he was placed here by mistake.' 'Yes,' Pope answered, and when the comet appeared to us a month or two ago, I had sometimes an imagination that it might possibly be come to carry him home, as a coach comes to one's door for visitors.' So these great spirits spoke of one another. Show me six of the dullest middle-aged gentlemen that ever dawdled round a club-table, so faithful and so friendly."-H.

« PreviousContinue »