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THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
EARL OF CHESTERFIELD, &c.*
have too much injured my great author, to exI would have pect he should intercede for me.
I CANNOT begin my address to your lordship translated him; but, according to the literal better than in the words of Virgil:
French and Italian phrases, I fear I have traduced him. It is the fault of many a well-meaning man, to be officious in a wrong place, and do a prejudice where he had endeavoured to do a service. Virgil wrote his Georgics in the full strength and vigour of his age, when his judgment was at the height, and before his fancy was declining. He had (according to our homely saying) his full swing at this poem, beginning it about the age of thirty-five, and scarce concluding it before he arrived at forty. It is observed, both of him and Horace, (and I believe it will hold in all great poets,) that, though they wrote before with a certain heat of genius which inspired them, yet that heat was not perfectly digested. There is required a continuance of warmth, to ripen the best and noblest fruits. Thus Horace, in his First and Second Book of Odes, was still rising, but came not to his meridian till the Third; after which, his judgment was an overpoise to his imagination: he grew too cautious to be bold enough; for he descended in his Fourth by slow degrees, and, in his Satires and Epistles, was more a philosopher and a critic than a poet. In the beginning of summer, the days are almost at a stand, with little variation of length or shortness, because at that time the diurnal motion of the sun partakes more of a right line than of a spiral. The same is the method of nature in the frame of man. He seems at forty to be fully in his summer tropic; somewhat before, and
Quod optanti divům promittere nemo Auderet, volvenda dies, en, attulit ultro.
Seven years together I have concealed the longing which I had to appear before you: a time as tedious as Eneas passed in his wandering voyage, before he reached the promised Italy. But I considered, that nothing which my meanness could produce was worthy of your patronage. At last this happy occasion offered, of presenting to you the best poem of the best poet. If I balked this opportunity, I was in despair of finding such another; and, if I took it, I was still uncertain whether you would vouchsafe to accept it from my hands. It was a bold venture which I made, in desiring your permission to lay my unworthy labours at your feet. But my rashness has succeeded beyond my hopes; and you have been pleased not to suffer an old man to go discontented out of the world, for want of that protection, of which he had been so long ambitious. I have known a gentleman in disgrace, and not daring to appear before King Charles the Second, though he much desired it: at length he took the confidence to attend a fair lady to the court, and told his majesty, that, under her protection, he had presumed to wait on him. With the same humble confidence, I present myself before your lordship, and, attending on Virgil, hope a gracious reception. The gentleman succeeded, because the powerful lady was his friend; but I
Philip Stanhope, second Earl of Chesterfield, born in 1634. He was a man of considerable talent and political activity; was active in forwarding the Restoration; and enjoyed at the court of Charles II. several offices, but was now retired. He died in 1713,
somewhat after, he finds in his soul but small increases or decays. From fifty to three-score, the balance generally holds even, in our colder climates: for he loses not much in fancy; and judgment, which is the effect of observation, still increases. His succeeding years afford him little more than the stubble of his own harvest: yet, if his constitution be healthful, his mind may still retain a decent vigour; and the gleanings of that Ephraim, in comparison with others, will surpass the vintage of Abiezer. have called this somewhere, by a bold metaphor, a green old age; but Virgil has given me his authority for the figure
Jam senior; sed cruda Deo, viridisque senectus. Among those few who enjoy the advantage of a latter spring, your lordship is a rare example; who, being now arrived at your great climacteric, yet give no proof of the least decay of your excellent judgment and comprehension of all things which are within the compass of human understanding. Your conversation is as easy as it is instructive; and I could never observe the least vanity, or the least assuming, in any thing you said, but a natural unaffected modesty, full of good sense, and well digested; a clear ness of notion, expressed in ready and unstudied words. No man has complained, or even can, that you have discoursed too long on any sub ject; for you leave us in an eagerness of learning more; pleased with what we hear, but not satisfied, because you will not speak so much as we could wish. I dare not excuse your lordship from this fault; for, though it is none in you, it is one to all who have the happiness of being known to you. I must confess, the critics make it one of Virgil's beauties, that, having said what he thought convenient, he always left somewhat for the imagination of his readers to supply; that they might gratify their fancies, by finding more in what he had written, than at first they could; and think had addded to his thought, when it was all there before hand, and he only saved himself the expense of words. However it was, I never went from your lordship, but with a longing to return, or without a hearty curse to him who invented ceremonies in the world, and put me on the necessity of withdrawing, when it was my interest, as well as my desire, to have given you a much longer trouble. I cannot imagine, (if your lordship will give me leave to speak my thoughts,) but you have had a more than ordinary vigour in your youth; for too much of heat is required at first, that there may not too little be left at last. A prodigal fire is only capable of large remains; and yours, my lord, still burns
the clearer in declining. The blaze is not so fierce as at the first; but the smoke is wholly vanished; and your friends, who stand about you, are not only sensible of a cheerful warmth, but are kept at an awful distance by its force. In my small observations of mankind, I have ever found, that such as are not rather too full of spirit when they are young, degenerate to dulness in their age. Sobriety in our riper years is the effect of a well-concocted warmth: but, where the principles are only phlegm, what can be expected from the waterish matter, but an insipid manhood, and a stupid old infancy— discretion in leading-strings, and a confirmed ignorance on crutches? Virgil, in his Third Georgic, when he describes a colt, who promises a courser for the race, or for the field of battle, shows him the first to pass the bridge, which trembles under him, and to stem the torrent of the flood. His beginnings must be in rashness -a noble fault; but time and experience will correct that error, and tame it into a deliberate and well-weighed courage, which knows both to be cautious and to dare, as occasion offers. Your lordship is a man of honour, not only so unstained, but so unquestioned, that you are the living standard of that heroic virtue; so truly such, that if I would flatter you, I could not. It takes not from you, that you were born with principles of generosity and probity; but it adds to you, that you have cultivated nature, and made those principles the rule and measure of your actions. The world knows this, without my telling; yet poets have a right of recording it to all posterity:
Dignum laude virum Musa vetat mori. Epaminondas, Lucullus, and the two first Cæsars, were not esteemed the worse commanders, for having made philosophy and the liberal arts their study. Cicero might have been their equal, but that he wanted courage. To have both these virtues, and to have improved them both with a softness of manners and a sweetness of conversation-few of our nobility can fill that character. One there is, and so conspicuous by his own light, that he needs not
Digito monstrari, et dicier, "Hic est!" To be nobly born, and of an ancient family, is in the extrenies of fortune, either good or bad; for virtue and descent are no inheritance. A long series of ancestors shows the native with great advantage at the first; but, if he any way degenerate from his line, the least spot is visible on ermine. But, to preserve this whiteness in its original purity, you, my lord, have, like that ermine, forsaken the common track of busi