Letter to Agnes McLehose, January 4 1788

You are right, my dear Clarinda: a friendly correspondence goes for nothing, except one write their undisguised sentiments.-Yours please me for their intrinsic merit, as well as because they are yours; which, I assure, is to me a high recommendation.

– Your religious sentiments, Madam, I revere.-If you have, on some suspicious evidence, from some lying oracle, learnt that I despise or ridicule so sacredly important a matter as real Religion, you have, my Clarinda, much misconstrued your friend. – “I am not mad, most noble Festus!’

Have you ever met a perfect character? Do we not sometimes rather exchange faults than get rid of them? For instance; I am perhaps tired with and shocked at a life, too much the prey of giddy inconsistencies and thoughtless follies; by degrees I grow sober, prudent and statedly pious – I say statedly, because the most unaffected devotion is not at all inconsistent with my first character

– I join the world in congratulating myself on the happy change. But let me pry more narrowly into this affair; have I, at bottom, any thing of a secret pride in these endowments and emmendations? have I nothing of a Presbyterean sourness, a hypercritical severity when I survey my less regular neighbours? in a word, have I miss’d all those nameless and numberless modifications of indistinct selfishness, which are so near our own eyes we can scarcely bring them within our sphere of vision, and which the known spotless cambric of our character hides from the ordinary Observer?-

My definition of Worth is short: Truth and Humanity respecting our fellow-creatures; Reverence and Humility in the presence of that Being, my Creator and Preserver, and who, I have every reason to believe, will one day be my Judge. – The first part of my definition is the creature of unbiassed Instinct; the last is the child of after Reflection. – Where I found these two essentials; I would gently note, and slightly mention, any attendant flaws-flaws, the marks, the consequences of Human nature.-

I can easily enter into the sublime pleasures that your strong imagination and keen sensibility must derive from Religion, particularly if a little in the shade of misfortune; but I own I cannot without a marked grudge, see Heaven totally engross so amiable so charming a woman as my friend Clarinda; and should be very well pleased at a circumstance that would put it in the power of Somebody, happy Somebody! to divide her attention, With all the delicacy and tenderness of an earthly attachment.-

You will not easily persuade me that you have not gotten a grammatical knowledge of the English language.-So far from being inaccurate, you are elegant beyond any woman of my acquaintance, except one whom I wish I knew.-

Your last verses to me have so delighted me, that I have got an excellent old Scots air that suits the measure, and you shall see them in print in the “Scots musical Museum,” a work publishing by a friend of mine in this town.

– I want four stanzas; you gave me but three, and one of them alluded to an expression in my former letter; so I have taken your two first verses with a slight alteration in the second, and have added a third, but you must help me to a fourth.Here they are: the latter half of the first stanza would have been worthy of Sappho; I am in raptures with it-

Talk not of Love, it gives me pain,
For love has been my foe:
He bound me with an iron chain,
And sunk me deep in woe.-
But Friendship’s pure and lasting joys
My heart was form’d to prove:
There, welcome win and wear the prize,
But never talk of Love!-
Your Friendship much can make me blest,
O, why that bliss destroy!
Why urge the odious, one request
You know I must deny!

The alteration in the second stanza is no improvement, but there was a slight inaccuracy in your rhyme.-The third, I only offer to your choice, and have left two words for your determination.-The air is “The banks of Spey,” and is most beautiful.

– Tomorrow evening, I intend taking a chair and paying a visit at Park-place to a much valued old friend.-If I could be sure of finding you at home, and I will send one of the chairmen to call, I would spend from five to six o’clock with you, as I go passt, I cannot do more at this time, as I have something on my hand that hurries me much.

-I propose giving you the first call, my old friend the second, and Miss Nimmo as I return home. – Do not break any engagement for me, as I will spend another evening with you at any rate before I leave town.

– Do not tell me that you are pleased when your friends inform you of your faults. I am ignorant what they are; but I am sure they must be such evanescent trifles, compared with your personal and mental accomplishments, that I would despise the ungenerous, narrow soul who would notice any shadow of imperfections you may seem to have, any other way than in the most delicate, agreeable rallery. Coarse minds are not aware how much they injure the keenly feeling tie of bosom-friendship, when in their foolish officiousness they mention what nobody cares for recollecting.-People of nice sensibility and generous minds have a certain intrinsic dignity, that fires at being trifled with, or towered, or even too nearly approached.

You need make no apology for long letters: I am even with you.Many happy New-years to you, charming Clarinda! I can’t dissemble were it to shun perdition.-He who sees you as I have done and does not love you, deserves to be damn’d for his stupidity! He who loves you and would injure you, deserves to be doubly damn’d for his villainy! Adieu!

Published in: on January 4, 2009 at 12:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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