You are too modest, Sir, in asking my advice on a point on which you could have no better guide than your own judgment. if I presume to give you my opinion, it is from zeal for your honour. I think it would be below you to make a regular answer to anonymous scribblers in a Magazine: you had better wait to see whether any formal reply is made to your book, and whether by any avowed writer; to whom, if he writes sensibly and decently, you may condescend to make an answer. Still, as you say you have been misquoted, I should not wish you to be quite silent, though I should like better to have you turn such enemies into ridicule. A foe who misquotes you, ought to be a welcome antagonist. He is so humble as to confess, when he censures what you have not said, that he cannot confute what you have said; and he is so kind as to furnish you with an opportunity of proving him a liar, as you may refer to your book to detect him.
This is what I would do; I would specify, in the same Magazine in which he has attacked you, your real words, and those he has imputed to you; and then appeal to the equity of the reader. You may guess that the shaft comes from somebody whom you have censured; and thence you may draw a fair conclusion, that you had been in the right to laugh at one who was reduced to put his own words into your mouth before he could find fault with them; and, having so done, whatever indignation he has excited in the reader must recoil on himself, as the offensive passages will come out to have been his own, not yours. You might even begin with loudly condemning the words or thoughts imputed to you, as if you retracted them; and then, as if you turned to your book, and found that you had said no such thing there as what you was ready to retract, the ridicule would be doubled on your adversary.
Something of this kind is the most I would stoop to; but I would take the utmost care not to betray a grain of more anger than is imp lied in contempt and ridicule. Fools can only revenge themselves by provoking; for then they bring you to a level with themselves. The good sense of your work will support it; and there is scarce reason for defending it, but, by keeping up a controversy, to make it more noticed; for the age is so idle and indifferent, that few objects strike, unless parties are formed for or against them. I remember many years ago advising some acquaintance of mine, who were engaged in the direction of the Opera, to raise a competition between two of their singers, and have papers written pro and con.; for then numbers would go to clap and hiss the rivals respectively, who would not go to be pleased with the music.
(551) Now first collected.