LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Life of William Roscoe
Chapter XVII. 1820-1823
William Roscoe to John Aikin, [1810]

Vol I. Contents
Chapter I. 1753-1781
Chapter II. 1781-1787
Chapter III. 1787-1792
Chapter IV. 1788-1796
Chapter V. 1795
Chapter VI. 1796-1799
Chapter VII. 1799-1805
Chapter IX. 1806-1807
Chapter X. 1808
Chapter XI. 1809-1810
Vol II. Contents
Chapter XII. 1811-1812
Chapter XIII. 1812-1815
Chapter XIV. 1816
Chapter XV. 1817-1818
Chapter XVI. 1819
Chapter XVII. 1820-1823
Chapter XVIII. 1824
Chapter XIX. 1825-1827
Chapter XX. 1827-1831
Chapter XXI.
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“I have now gone through the ‘Memoirs of
Huet,’ and have to return you my most sincere thanks for the entertainment they have afforded me. That the reign of
Louis XIV. was distinguished by an extraordinary attention to literature, and by a great number of eminent men, is well known; but it is really surprising to see them pass in review before us; and one cannot but admit the inference which the southern nations of Europe derive from this circumstance, viz. that the sciences and arts may flourish under a monarchical government; but which, after all, will not prove that they flourish as well as under a more popular form, and of this, the ‘Memoirs of Huet’ afford sufficient proofs. With respect to Huet, he seems to have acquitted himself of the difficult task of an autobiographer as well as could be expected; but, like many others who have attempted it, he will have added but little to his permanent fame by this portion of his labours. In fact, this mode of writing is full of insuperable difficulties. In order to avoid the imputation of vanity, the author is obliged to omit whatever is favourable to his character, whilst all that is to his disadvantage is taken for granted, on the best possible evidence. Is it possible to suppose that two of the greatest men of the last century could have passed through life with so total a disregard to the welfare of others, and such a selfish attachment to their own little narrow gratification, as Rousseau and Gibbon ap-
pear to have done? and may we not reasonably suppose that our good bishop in the course of his life performed many acts of beneficence, besides obtaining for the Jesuits the right of enclosing a walk, of which he deprived the public? I know not, however, that this detracts from the interest of the work. It is the bishop’s own loss; but such is the nature of the human mind that we can very well pardon the omission, and perhaps derive more gratification from the discovery of his failings than we should from the display of his virtues.

“Of your part in this publication, I can only say that it has all the characteristic excellencies of your other writings. The translation reads with all the ease and freedom of an original, and your very numerous and satisfactory anecdotes give double interest to the work. It is with pleasure I trace in this department the same candid spirit and sound judgment as in your other works, but mellowed and improved by the observation and reflection of riper years. I cannot, however, help observing, that if time has mellowed the fruits of your genius, it has not destroyed their original flavour; as a proof of which, I may refer to vol. ii. p. 143., in which I find you still the advocate of ‘those kindly affections by which mankind are held together;’ a cause which I hope we shall neither of us give up but with life.


“You do me the honour of asking me whether I can point out any other subject of a similar nature to your last, and what I think of a ‘Life of Muratori?’ at the same time suggesting that I may probably have some idea of prosecuting my inquiries into the literature of Italy. If that were the case, there is no one whom I should sooner choose for a fellow-labourer than yourself; but, in fact, I have laid aside all such intentions, and if I can accomplish a little memoir of our ever-lamented friend Currie, shall never more present myself before the public. I am, however, inclined to think that Muratori would not afford you a sufficient foundation on which to build your intended superstructure. Although a man of diversified talent and sound learning, yet I do not know that his connections with persons of great eminence were very extensive; and his epistolary correspondence, of which I have two volumes, is chiefly confined to researches for the materials of his great work on the ‘Antiquities of Italy.’ Even the period, though distinguished by some celebrated characters, and particularly by several excellent lyric poets, would, as I apprehend, be found inferior in point of interest, not only to former times in Italy, but to the contemporary state of literature both in France and England. On this, however, I speak with great hesitation; and should be sorry to deter you from a work which, in your hands,
could not but be highly instructive. If, however, a choice were to be made between the two subjects you have mentioned, I should prefer the history of English literature, a work which is greatly wanted, and which I am convinced that no one can execute better than yourself. That it will, as you observe, be a work of great extent and labour, cannot be denied, but at the same time the plan might be so formed as to keep it within a reasonable compass, with a chance of rendering it even more popular and more useful than a work upon a very extended plan. All that has hitherto been done by
Warton, Percy, Ellis, &c. has had a reference only to the poetry of the country, and their works are, in fact, rather a series of specimens than a history. In this respect, the model you propose would suggest a different mode of execution, more condensed in its matter, but more particular in information; mostly referring the reader to the original works if he wishes to know more on the subject, but relating the progress of each branch of literature in one continued narrative. For a work of this nature, the materials are not difficult to be found; and I should suppose that two volumes in quarto, or four in octavo, might comprise this very interesting work, which I think would be more likely to succeed than any other of a similar nature that I can at present suggest.”