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EARL of ABINGDON, &c.
HE commands, with which you honored me fome months ago, are now performed: they had been fooner; but betwixt ill health, some business, and many troubles, I was forced to defer them till this time. Ovid, going to his banishment, and writing from on fhipboard to his friends, excufed the faults of his poetry by his misfortunes; and told them, that good verfes never flow, but from a ferene and compofed spirit. Wit, which is a kind of Mercury, with wings fastened to his head and heels, can fly but flowly in a damp air. I therefore chofe rather to obey you late than ill if at least I am capable of writing any thing, at any time, which is worthy your perufal and your patronage. I cannot fay that I have escaped from a fhipwreck; but have only gained a rock by hard fwimming; where I may pant a while and gather breath: for the doctors give me a fad affurance, that my difeafe never took its leave of any man, but with a purpose to return. However, my lord, I have laid hold on
the interval, and managed the fmall ftock, which
age has left me, to the best advantage, in performing this inconfiderable service to my lady's memory. We, who are priefts of Apollo, have not the infpiration when we please; but mufst wait till the God comes rufhing on us, and invades us with a fury, which we are not able to refift: which gives us double ftrength while the fit continues, and leaves us languishing and spent, at its departure. Let me not feem to boast, my lord, for I have really felt it on this occafion, and prophefied beyond my natural power. Let me add, and hope to be believed, that the excellency of the fubject contributed much to the happiness of the execution; and that the weight of thirty years was taken off me, while I was writing. I fwam with the tide, and the water under me was buoyant. The reader will eafily obferve, that I was transported by the multitude and variety of my fimilitudes; which are generally the product of a luxuriant fancy, and the wantonness of wit. Had I called in my judgment to my affistance, I had certainly retrenched many of them. But I defend them not; let them pafs for beautiful faults amongst the better fort of critics for the
whole poem, tho written in that which they call Heroic verfe, is of the Findaric nature, as well in the thought as the expreffion; and, as such, requires the fame grains of allowance for it. It was intended, as your lordship fees in the title, not for an elegy, but a panegyric: a kind of hypothefis, indeed, if a heathen word may be applied to a chriftian ufe. And on all occafions of praise, if we take the ancients for our patterns, we are bound by prescription to employ the magnificence of words, and the force of figures, to adorn the fublimity of thoughts. Ifocrates amongst the Grecian orators, and Cicero, and the younger Pliny, amongst the Romans, have left us their precedents for our fecurity: for I think I need not mention the inimitable Pindar, who ftretches on these pinions out of fight, and is carried upward, as it were, into another world.
This, at least, my lord, I may justly plead, that, if I have not perform'd fo well as I think I have, yet I have used my beft endeavors to excel myself. One disadvantage I have had; which is, never to have known or feen my lady: and to draw the lineaments of her mind, from the defcription, which I have received from others, is VOL. II. Q