I recommended to you a good many years ago, and I believe you then read, La maniere de bien penser dans les ouvrages d’esprit par le Pere Bouhours; and I think it is very well worth your reading again, now that you can judge of it better. I do not know any book that contributes more to form a true taste; and you find there, into the bargain, the most celebrated passages, both of the ancients and the moderns, which refresh your memory with what you have formerly read in them separately. It is followed by a book much of the same size, by the same author, entitled, ‘Suite des Pensees ingenieuses’.
To do justice to the best English and French authors, they have not given into that false taste; they allow no thoughts to be good, that are not just and founded upon truth. The age of Lewis XIV. was very like the Augustan; Boileau, Moliere, La Fontaine, Racine, etc., established the true, and exposed the false taste. The reign of King Charles II. (meritorious in no other respect) banished false taste out of England, and proscribed puns, quibbles, acrostics, etc. Since that, false wit has renewed its attacks, and endeavored to recover its lost empire, both in England and France; but without success; though, I must say, with more success in France than in England. Addison, Pope, and Swift, have vigorously defended the rights of good sense, which is more than can be said of their contemporary French authors, who have of late had a great tendency to ‘le faux brillant’, ‘le raffinement, et l’entortillement’. And Lord Roscommon would be more in the right now, than he was then, in saying, that,
“The English bullion
of one sterling line,
Drawn to French wire, would through whole pages shine.”
Lose no time, my dear child, I conjure you, in forming your taste, your manners, your mind, your everything; you have but two years’ time to do it in; for whatever you are, to a certain degree, at twenty, you will be, more or less, all the rest of your life. May it be a long and happy one. Adieu.
London, February 22, O. S. 1750
My dear friend: If the Italian of your letter to Lady Chesterfield was all your own, I am very well satisfied with the progress which you have made in that language in so short a time; according to that gradation, you will, in a very little time more, be master of it. Except at the French Ambassador’s, I believe you hear only Italian spoke; for the Italians speak very little French, and that little generally very ill. The French are even with them, and generally speak Italian as ill; for I never knew a Frenchman in my life who could pronounce the Italian ce, ci, or ge, gi. Your desire of pleasing the Roman ladies will of course give you not only the desire, but the means of speaking to them elegantly in their own language. The Princess Borghese, I am told, speaks French both ill and unwillingly;