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Letter to a Friend.

Rydal Mount, April 21. 1819. SIR,

The letter with which you have honoured me, bearing date the 31st of March, I did not receive until yesterday; and, therefore, could not earlier express my regret that, notwithstanding a cordial approbation of the feeling which has prompted the undertaking, and a genuine sympathy in admiration with the gentlemen who have subscribed towards a Monument for Burns, I cannot unite my humble efforts with theirs in promoting this object.

Sincerely can I affirm that my respect for the motives which have swayed these gentlemen has urged me to trouble you with a brief statement of the reasons of my

dissent. In the first place : Eminent poets appear to me to be a class of men, who less than any others stand in need of such marks of distinction; and hence I infer, that this mode of acknowledging their merits is one for which they would not, in general, be themselves solicitous. Burns did, indeed, erect a monument to Fergusson; but I apprehend his gratitude took this course because he felt that Fergusson had been prematurely cut off, and that his fame bore no proportion to his deserts. In neither of these particulars can the fate of Burns justly be said to resemble that of his predecessor : his years were indeed few, but numerous enough to allow him to spread his name far and wide, and to take permanent root in the affections of his countrymen ; in short, he has raised for himself a monument so conspicuous, and of such imperishable materials, as to render a local fabric of stone superfluous, and, therefore, comparatively insignificant.

But why, if this be granted, should not his fond admirers be permitted to indulge their feelings, and at the same time to embellish the metropolis of Scotland ? If this may be justly objected to, and in my opinion it may, it is because the showy

tributes to genius are apt to draw off attention from those efforts by which the interests of literature might be substantially promoted; and to exhaust public spirit in comparatively unprofitable exertions, when the wrongs of literary men are crying out for redress on all sides. It appears to me, that towards no class of his Majesty's subjects are the laws so unjust and oppressive. The attention of Parliament has lately been directed, by petition, to the exaction of copies of newly published works for certain libraries; but this is a trifling evil compared with the restrictions imposed upon the duration of copyright, which, in respect to works profound in philosophy, or elevated, abstracted, and refined in imagination, is tantamount almost to an exclusion of the author from all pecuniary recompence; and, even where works of imagination and manners are so constituted as to be adapted to immediate demand, as is the case of those of Burns, justly may it be asked, what reason can be assigned that an author who dies young should have the prospect before him of his children being left to languish in poverty and dependence, while booksellers are revelling in luxury upon gains derived from works which are the delight of many nations.

This subject might be carried much further, and we might ask, if the course of things insured immediate wealth, and accompanying rank and honours—honours and wealth often entailed on their families to men distinguished in the other learned professions,—why the laws should interfere to take away those pecuniary emoluments which are the natural inheritance of the posterity of authors, whose pursuits, if directed by genius and sustained by industry, yield in importance to none in which the members of a community can be engaged ?

But to recur to the proposal in your letter. I would readily assist, according to my means, in erecting a monument to the memory of the Poet Chatterton, who, with transcendent genius, was cut off while he was yet a boy in years; this, could he have anticipated the tribute, might have soothed his troubled spirit, as an expression of general belief in the existence of those powers which he was too impatient and too proud to develope. At all events, it might prove an awful and a profitable warning. I should also be glad to see a monument erected on the banks of Loch Leven to the memory of the innocent and tender-hearted Michael Bruce, who, after a short life, spent in poverty and ob

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scurity, was called away too early to have left behind him more than a few trustworthy promises of pure affections and unvitiated imagination.

Let the gallant defenders of our country be liberally rewarded with monuments; their noble actions cannot speak for themselves, as the writings of men of genius are able to do. Gratitude in respect to them stands in need of admonition; and the very multitude of heroic competitors which increases the demand for this sentiment towards our naval and military defenders, considered as a body, is injurious to the claims of individuals. Let our great statesmen and eminent lawyers, our learned and eloquent divines, and they who have successfully devoted themselves to the abstruser sciences, be rewarded in like manner; but towards departed genius, exerted in the fine arts, and more especially in poetry, I humbly think, in the present state of things, the sense of our obligation to it may more satisfactorily be expressed by means pointing directly to the general benefit of literature.

Trusting that these opinions of an individual will be candidly interpreted, I have the honour to be Your obedient servant,


* Memoirs, ii. 88-91.



Letter to John Peace, Esq., City Library, Bristol.

Rydal Mount, April 8. 1844. MY DEAR MR. PEACE,

You have gratified me by what you say of Sir Thomas Browne. I possess his Religio Medici, Christian Morals, Vulgar Errors, &c. in separate publications, and value him highly as a most original author. I almost regret that you did not add his Treatise upon Urn Burial to your publication; it is not long, and very remarkable for the vigour of mind that it displays.

Have you had any communication with Mr. Cottle upon the subject of the subscription which he has set on foot for the erection of a Monument to Southey in Bristol Cathedral ? We are all engaged in a like tribute to be placed in the parish church of Keswick. For my own part, I am not particularly fond of placing monuments in churches, at least in modern times. I should prefer their being put in public places in the town with which the party was connected by birth or otherwise; or in the country, if he were a person who lived apart from the bustle of the world. And in Southey's case, I should have liked better a bronze bust, in some accessible and not likely to be disturbed part of St. Vincent's Rocks, as a site, than the cathedral.

Thanks for your congratulations upon my birthday. I have now entered, awful thought! upon my 75th year. God bless you, and believe me, my dear friend, Ever faithfully yours,


Mrs. Wordsworth begs her kind remembrance, as does Miss Fenwick, who is with us.*


* Memoirs, ii. 91-2.

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