Sunday, June 12, 2011

...My letters, I think, are rather eras than journals. Three days ago commenced another date--the establishment of a family for the Prince of Wales. I do not know all the names, and fewer of the faces that compose it; nor intend. I, who kissed the hand of George I., have no colt's tooth for the Court of George IV. Nothing is so ridiculous as an antique face in a juvenile drawing-room. I believe that they who have spirits enough to be absurd in their decrepitude, are happy, for they certainly are not sensible of their folly; but I, who have never forgotten what I thought in my youth of such superannuated idiots, dread nothing more than misplacing myself in my old age. In truth, I feel no such appetite; and, excepting the young of my own family, about whom I am interested, I have mighty small satisfaction in the company of posterity; for so the present generation seem to me. I would contribute anything to their pleasure, but what cannot contribute to it--my own presence.
Alas! how many of this age are swept away before me: six thousand have been mowed down at once by the late hurricane at Barbadoes alone! How Europe is paying the debts it owes to America! Were I a poet, I would paint hosts of Mexicans and Peruvians crowding the shores of Styx, and insulting the multitudes of the usurpers of their continent that have been sending themselves thither for these five or six years. The poor Africans, too, have no call to be merciful to European ghosts. Those miserable slaves have just now seen whole crews of men-of-war swallowed by the late hurricane. We do not yet know the extent of our loss. You would think it very slight, if you saw how little impression it makes on a luxurious capital.
An overgrown metropolis has less sensibility than marble; nor can it be conceived by those not conversant in one. I remember hearing what diverted me then; a young gentlewoman, a native of our rock, St. Helena, and who had never stirred beyond it, being struck with the emotion occasioned there by the arrival of one or two of our China ships, said to the captain, "There must be a great solitude in London as often as the China ships come away!" Her imagination could not have compassed the idea, if she had been told that six years of war, the absence of an army of fifty or sixty thousand men of all our squadrons, and a new debt of many, many millions, would not make an alteration in the receipts at the door of a single theatre in London. I do not boast of, or applaud, this profligate apathy. When pleasure is our business, our business is never pleasure; and, if four wars cannot awaken us, we shall die in a dream!

TO SIR HORACE MANN       Nov. 29, 1781
Your nephew is arrived, as he has told you himself; the sight of him, for he called on me the next morning, was more than ordinarily welcome, though your letter of the 10th, which I received the night before, had dispelled many of my fears. I will now unfold them to you. A packet-boat from Ostend was lost last week, and your nephew was named for one of the passengers. As Mrs. Noel had expected him for a fortnight, I own my apprehensions were strengthened; but I will say no more on a dissipated panic. However, this incident and his half-wreck at Lerici will, I hope, prevent him from the future from staying with you so late in the year; and I see by your letter that you agree with me, of which I should be sure though you had not said so.
I mentioned on Tuesday the captivity of Lord Cornwallis and his army, the Columbus who was to bestow America on us again. A second army taken in a drag-net is an uncommon event, and happened but once to the Romans, who sought adventures everywhere. We have not lowered our tone on this new disgrace, though I think we shall talk no more of insisting on implicit submission, which would rather be a gasconade than firmness. In fact, there is one very unlucky circumstance already come out, which must drive every American, to a man, from ever calling himself our friend.
By the tenth article of the capitulation, Lord Cornwallis demanded that the loyal Americans in his army should not be punished. This was flatly refused, and he has left them to be hanged. I doubt no vote of Parliament will be able to blanch such a--such a--I don't know what the word is for it; he must get his uncle the Archbishop to christen it; there is no name for it in any Pagan vocabulary. I suppose it will have a patent for being called Necessity. Well! there ends another volume of the American war. It looks a little as if the history of it would be all we should have for it, except forty millions of debt, and three other wars that have grown out of it, and that do not seem so near to a conclusion.
They say that Monsieur de Maurepas, who is dying, being told that the Duc de Lauzun had brought the news of Lord Cornwallis's surrender, said, from Racine's "Mithridate" I think:-- Mes derniers regards out vu fuir les Romains. How Lord Chatham will frown when they meet! for, since I began my letter, the papers say that Maurepas is dead. The Duc de Nivernois, it is said, is likely to succeed him as Minister; which is probable, as they were brothers-in-law and friends, and the one would naturally recommend the other. Perhaps, not for long, as the Queen's influence gains ground.
The warmth in the House of Commons is prodigiously rekindled; but Lord Cornwallis's fate has cost the Administration no ground there. The names of most éclat in the Opposition are two names to which those walls have been much accustomed at the same period--CHARLES FOX and WILLIAM PITT, second son of Lord Chatham. Eloquence is the only one of our brilliant qualities that does not seem to have degenerated rapidly--but I shall leave debates to your nephew, now an ear-witness: I could only re-echo newspapers.
Is it not another odd coincidence of events, that while the father Laurens is prisoner to Lord Cornwallis as Constable of the Tower, the son Laurens signed the capitulation by which Lord Cornwallis became prisoner? It is said too, I don't know if truly, that this capitulation and that of Saratoga were signed on the same anniversary. These are certainly the speculations of an idle man, and the more trifling when one considers the moment. But alas! what would my most grave speculations avail? From the hour that fatal egg, the Stamp Act, was laid, I disliked it and all the vipers hatched from it. I now hear many curse it, who fed the vermin with poisonous weeds. Yet the guilty and the innocent rue it equally hitherto! I would not answer for what is to come! Seven years of miscarriages may sour the sweetest tempers, and the most sweetened.
Oh! where is the Dove with the olive-branch? Long ago I told you that you and I might not live to see an end of the American war. It is very near its end indeed now--its consequences are far from a conclusion. In some respects, they are commencing a new date, which will reach far beyond us. I desire not to pry into that book of futurity. Could I finish my course in peace--but one must take the chequered scenes of life as they come. What signifies whether the elements are serene or turbulent, when a private old man slips away? What has he and the world's concerns to do with one another? He may sigh for his country, and babble about it; but he might as well sit quiet and read or tell old stories; the past is as important to him as the future.

To The Right Hon. Lady Hervey      Strawberry Hill   June 28, 1766
It is consonant to your ladyship's long experienced goodness, to remove my error as soon as you could. In fact, the same post that brought Madame d'Aiguillon's letter to you, brought me a confession from Madame du Deffand of her guilt.  I am not the less obliged to your ladyship for informing against the true criminal. It is well for me, however, that I hesitated, and did not, as Monsieur Guerchy pressed me to do, constitute myself prisoner. What a ridiculous vainglorious figure I should have made at Versailles, with a laboured letter and my present! I still shudder when I think of it, and have scolded Madame du Deffand black and blue.
However, I feel very comfortable; and though it will be imputed to my own vanity, that I showed the box as Madam de Choiseul's present, I resign the glory, and submit to the Shame with great satisfaction. I have no pain in receiving this present from Madame du Deffand; and must own have great pleasure that nobody but she could write that most charming of all letters. Did not Lord Chesterfield think it so, Madam? I doubt our friend Mr. Hume must allow that not only Madame de Boufflers, but Voltaire himself, could not have written so well. When I give up Madame de S`evign`e herself, I think his sacrifices will be trifling.
Pray, Madam, continue your waters; and, if possible, wash away that original sin, the gout. What would one give for a little rainbow to tell one one should never have it again! Well, but then one should have a burning fever--for I think the greatest comfort that good-natured divines give us IS, that we are not to be drowned any more, in order that we may be burned. It will not at least be this summer. here is nothing but haycocks swimming round me. If it should cease raining by Monday se'nnight, I think of' dining with your ladyship at Old Windsor; and if Mr. Bateman presses me mightily, I may take a bed there.
As I have a waste of paper before me, and nothing more to say, I have a mind to fill it with a translation of a tale that I found lately in the Dictionnaire d'Anecdotes, taken from a German author. The novelty of it struck me, and I put it into verse-- ill enough; but as the old Duchess of Rutland used to say of a lie, it will do for news into the country.
From Time's usurping power,
I see, Not Acheron itself is free.
His wasting hand my subjects feel,
Grow old, and wrinkle though in Hell.
Decrepit is Alecto grown,
Megaera worn to skin and bone;
And t'other beldam is so old,
She has not spirits left to scold.

Go, Hermes, bid my brother Jove
Send three new Furies from above."
To Mercury thus Pluto said:
The winged deity obey'd.
It was about the self same season
That Juno, with as little reason,
Rung for her abigail;
and, you know,
Iris is chambermaid to Juno.
"Iris, d'ye hear? Mind what I say;
I want three maids--inquire--No, stay!
Three virgins--Yes, unspotted all;
No characters equivocal.
Go find me three, whose manners pure
Can Envy's sharpest tooth endure."
The goddess curtsey'd, and retired;
From London to Pekin inquired;
Search'd huts and palaces in vain;
And tired, to Heaven came back again.
"Alone! are you return'd alone?
How wicked must the world be grown!
What has my profligate been doing?
On earth has he been spreading ruin?
Come, tell me all."  Fair Iris sigh'd,
And thus disconsolate replied:
"'Tis true, O Queen! three maids I found--
The like are not on Christian ground--
So chaste, severe, immaculate,
The very name of man they hate:
These--but, alas! I came too late;
For Hermes had been there before--
In triumph off to Pluto bore
Three sisters, whom yourself would own
The true supports of Virtue's throne."
"To Pluto!--Mercy!" cried the Queen,
"What can my brother Pluto mean?
Poor man! he doats, or mad he sure is!
What can he want them for?"--"Three Furies."

You will say I am an infernal poet; but every body cannot write as they do aux Champs Elys`ees. Adieu, Madam!
To David Hume, Esq.   Arlington Street  July 26, 1766
Dear Sir,   Your set of literary friends are what a set of literary men are apt to be, exceedingly absurd.
They hold a consistory to consult how to argue with a madman; and they think it very necessary for your character to give them the pleasure of seeing Rousseau exposed, not because he has provoked you, but them.     If Rousseau prints, you must; but I certainly would not till he does.
I cannot be precise as to the time of my writing the King of Prussia's letter; but I do assure you with the utmost truth that it was several days before you left Paris, and before Rousseau's arrival there, of which I can give you a strong proof; for I not only suppressed the letter while you stayed there, out of delicacy to you, but it was the reason why, out of delicacy to myself, I did not go to see him, as you often proposed to me, thinking it wrong to go and make a cordial visit to a man, with a letter in my pocket to laugh at him.
You are at full liberty, dear Sir, to make use of what I say in your justification, either to Rousseau or any body else. I should be very sorry to have you blamed on my account; I have a hearty contempt of Rousseau, and am perfectly indifferent what the literati of Paris think of the matter. If there is any fault, which I am far from thinking, let it lie on me.
No parts can hinder my laughing at their possessor, if he is a mountebank. If he has a bad and most ungrateful heart, as Rousseau has shown in your case, into the bargain, he will have my scorn likewise, as he will of all good and sensible men. You may trust your sentence to such who are as respectable judges as any that have pored over ten thousand more volumes.
P. S. I will look out the letter and the dates as soon as I go to Strawberry Hill.
          4th Earl of Orford

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