As I am neither by a thousandth part so great, nor a quarter so little, I will herewith send you a fragment that an accidental rencontre set me upon writing,, and which I found so flat, that I would not finish it. Don’t believe that I am either begging praise by the stale artifice of’ hoping to be contradicted; or that I think there is any occasion to make you discover my caducity. No; but the fragment contains a curiosity—English verses written by a French prince of the blood, and which at first I had a mind to add to my Royal and Noble Authors, but as he was not a royal author of ours, and as I could not please myself with an account of him, I shall revert to my old resolution of not exposing my pen’s gray hairs.(618)
Of one passage I must take notice; it is a little indirect sneer at our crowd of authoresses. My choosing to send this to you is a proof that I think you an author, that is, a classic. But in truth I am nauseated by the Madams Piozzi, etc. and the host of novel-writers in petticoats, who think they imitate what is inimitable, Evelina and Cecilia. Your candour I know will not agree with me, when I tell you I am not at all charmed with Miss Seward and Mr. Hayley piping to one another: but you I exhort, and would encourage to write; and flatter myself you will never be royally gagged and promoted to fold Muslins, as has been lately wittily said on Miss Burney, in the list of five hundred living authors. Your writings promote virtues; and their increasing editions prove their worth and utility. If you question my sincerity, can you doubt my admiring you, when you have gratified my self-love so amply in your Bas Bleu? Still, as much as I love your writings, I respect yet more your heart and your goodness. You are so good, that I believe you would go to heaven, even though there were no Sunday, and only six working days in the week. Adieu, my best Madam!
(617) Madame du Deffand, in a letter to Walpole of the 8th of March 1778, says—“Voltaire se Porte bien: il est uniquement occup`e de sa tragedie d’Ir`ene; on assure qu’on la jouera de demain en huit: si elle n’a pas de succ`es, il en mourra.” On the 18th, she again writes—“Le succ`es de la pi`ece a `et`e tr`es mediocre; il y eut cependant beaucouP de claquemens de mains, mais C’`etait Plus Voltaire qui en `etait l’objet que la Pi`ece.” He died in the May following.-E.
(618) The French prince of the blood here spoken of, was Charles Duke of Orleans, who being a prisoner at the battle of Agincourt, was brought to England and detained here for twenty.five years. For a copy of the verses, see Walpole’s works, vol. i. p. 564.-E.