(147) Uncle to the Countess of Ailesbury.
Sir, I have deferred answering the favour of your last, till I could tell you that I had seen Fingal. Two journeys into Norfolk for my election, and other accidents, prevented my seeing any part of the poem till this last week, and I have yet only seen the first book. There are most beautiful images in it, and it surprises one how the bard could strike out so many shining ideas from a few so very simple objects, as the moon, the storm, the sea, and the heath, from whence he borrows almost all his allusions. The particularizing of persons, by “he said,” “he replied,” so much objected to in Homer, is so wanted in Fingal,(149) that it in some measure justifies the Grecian Highlander; I have even advised Mr. Macpherson (to prevent confusion) to have the names prefixed to the speeches, as in a play. It is too obscure without some such aid. My doubts of the genuineness are all vanished.
I fear, sir, from Dodsley’s carelessness, you have not received the Lucan. A gentleman in Yorkshire, for whom I consigned another copy at the same time with yours, has got his but within this fortnight. I have the pleasure to find, that the notes are allowed the best of Dr. Bentley’s remarks on poetic authors. Lucan was muscular enough to bear his rough hand.
Next winter I hope to be able to send you Vertue’s History of the Arts, as I have put it together from his collections. Two volumes are finished, the first almost printed and the third begun. There will be a fourth, I believe, relating solely to engravers. You will be surprised, sir, how the industry of one man could at this late period amass so near a complete history of our artists. I have no share in it, but in arranging his materials. Adieu!
(148) Now first collected.
(149) “For me,” writes Gray, it this time, to Dr. Wharton, “I admire nothing but Fingal; yet I remain still in doubt about the authenticity of these poems, though inclining rather to believe them genuine in spite of the worio. Whether they are the inventions of antiquity, or of a modern Scotchman, either case to me is alike unaccountable. Je m’y perds.” Dr. Johnson, on the contrary, all along denied their authenticity. “The subject,” says Boswell, “having been introduced by Dr. Fordyce, Dr. Blair, relying on the external evidence of their antiquity, asked Johnson whether he thought any man of modern age could have written such poems? Johnson replied, ’Yes, Sir, many men, many women, and many children.’ He, at this time, did not know that Dr. Blair had just published a dissertation, not only defending their authenticity, but seriously ranking them with the poems of Homer and Virgil; and when he was afterwards informed of this circumstance, he expressed some displeasure at Dr. Fordyce’s having suggested the topic, and said, ’I am not sorry that they got thus much for their pains: Sir, it was like leading one to talk of a book, when the author is concealed behind the door.’"-E.