We have nothing new but some Dialogues of the Dead by Lord Lyttelton. I cannot say they are very lively or striking. The best I think, relates to your country, and is written with a very good design: an intention of removing all prejudices and disUnion between the two parts of our island. I cannot tell you how the book is liked in general, for it appears but this moment.
You have seen, to be sure, the King of Prussia’s Poems. If he intended to raise the glory of his military capacity by depressing his literary talents, he could not, I think,. have succeeded better. One would think a man had been accustomed to nothing but the magnificence of vast armies, and to the tumult of drums and trumpets. who is incapable of seeing that God is as great in the most minute parts of creation as in the most enormous. His Majesty does not seem to admire a mite, unless it is magnified by a Brobdignag microscope! While he is struggling with the force of three empires, he fancies that it adds to his glory to be unbent enough to contend for laurels with the triflers of a French Parnassus! Adieu! Sir.
(63) Now first collected.
(64) The following is Gray’s description of these poems, in a letter to Wharton.—“I am gone mad about them. They are said to be translations (literal and in prose) from the Erse tongue, done by one Macpherson, a young clergyman in the Highlands. He means to publish a collection he has of these specimens of antiquity; but what plagues me is, I cannot come at any certainty on that head. I was so struck, so extasi`e, with their infinite beauty, that I writ into Scotland to make a thousand inquiries. The letters I have in return are ill-wrote, ill-reasoned, unsatisfactory, calculated (one would imagine) to deceive one, and yet not cunning enough to do it cleverly: in short, the whole external evidence would make one believe these fragments (for so he calls them, though nothing can be more entire) counterfeit; but the internal is so strong on the other side, that I am resolved to believe them genuine, spite of the devil and the kirk. It is impossible to convince me, that they were invented by the same man that writes me these letters. On the other hand, it is almost as hard to suppose, if they are original, that he should be able to translate them so admirably. In short, this man is the very demon of poetry, or he has lighted on a treasure hid for ages.” In another letter, be says,—“As to their authenticity, I have many enquiries, and have lately procured a letter from Mr. David Hume, the historian, which is more satisfactory than any thing I have yet met with on that subject. He says, ’Certain it is, that these poems are in every body’s mouth in the Highlands, have been handed down from father to son, and are of an age beyond all memory and tradition.’” Works vol. iii. pp. 249, 257.-E.