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Hied to increase, the proprietor of that belly was obliged to pay a fine to the public, proportionable to its rotundity. Ill would it fare with his worship and I, [me] if such a law should pass our parliament; for I am afraid we are already got beyond the statute.
"I wonder, indeed, no harpy of the treasury has ever thought of this method of raising money. Taxes on luxury are always most approved of; and no one will say, that the carrying about a portly belly is of any use or necessity. 'Tis a mere superfluous ornament, and is a proof too, that its proprietor enjoys greater plenty than he puts to a good use; and, therefore, 'tis fit to reduce him to a level with his fellow subjects, by taxes and impositions.
"As the lean people are the most active, unquiet, and ambitious, they every where govern the world, and may certainly oppress their antagonists whenever they please. Heaven forbid that Whig and Tory should ever be abolished, for then the nation might be split into fat and lean, and our faction, I am afraid, would be in piteous taking. The only comfort is, if they oppressed us very much, we should at last change sides with them.
"Besides, who knows if a tax were imposed 011 fatness, but some jealous divine might pretend, that the church was in danger. , ,
"I cannot but bless the memory of Julius Cassar, for the great esteem he expressed for fat men, and his aversion to lean ones. All the world allows, that that emperor was the greatest genius that ever was, and the greatest judge of mankind.
"But I should ask your pardon, dear Madam, for this long dissertation on fatness and leanness, in which you are no way concerned; for you are neither fat nor lean, and may indeed be denominated an arrant trimmer. But this letter may all be read to the Solicitor; for it contains nothing that need be a secret to him. On the contrary, I hope he will profit by the example; and, were I near him, I should endeavour to prove as good an encourager as in this other instance. What can the man be afraid of? The Mayor of London had more courage who defied the hare.
"But I am resolved sometime to conclude, by putting a grave epilogue to a farce, and telling you a real serious truth, that I am, with great esteem,
(Signed) David Hume."
"P.S.—Pray let the Solicitor tell Frank,* that he is a bad correspondent—the only way in which he can be a bad one, by his silence."
The next tragedy which Mr Home composed was that of the Siege of Aquileia, of which Mr Garrick (as I have mentioned in the chronological account of the representations of the author's plays,) entertained the most favourable opinion, and anticipated the most brilliant success. In that expectation he was disappointed, from the circumstance formerly noticed, of the distress being chiefly produced by narrative, instead of the livelier means of representation. But, even exclusive of that circumstance, it seems to me that this tragedy, neither as a drama or a poem, is calculated to affect or to please nearly so much as either Douglas or some of his other pieces. There are not those bursts of real and overpowering passion with which the audience sympathises and is moved. The words in some degree overwhelm the feeling, and we read verses which indeed contain beautiful and sublime sentiments, but which speak rather than exhibit those contending emotions of the soul, of which the genuine expression in such situations marks the inspired mind, and the deep conscious skill of the tragic poet. Emilius reminds us of Cato, but it is Cato the orator, rather than Cato the patriot and the father; yet the contrast between the firmness of Roman virtue in Emilius, and the yearnings of a mother's heart in Cornelia, might, I think, in the hands of such an actress as Mrs Cibber was, have had a powerful effect on the stage, if there had been more of compression in the words, and of picture in the scene. In its present state, it would exhaust the powers of the most unwearied actress, to support the part of Cornelia as it ought to be supported; and this is probably the reason why it has never been acted (as far as I know,) since its first representation in London, in 1760.
* The late Dr Francis Home of Edinburgh.
The Fatal Discovery was the next production of his muse, which, though indifferently received at the time of its appearance, and now almost forgotten, I am inclined to think, in point of poetry, and indeed of pathos, the next to his Douglas. The subject had probably dwelt on his mind ever since his meeting at Moffat with James M'Pherson, whom, as is well known, he encouraged to make a tour in the Highlands and Islands, to collect the ancient Gaelic poetry, of which M'Pherson had translated fragments to Mr Home, when at that watering-place. From one of those fragments, the subject of this tragedy was taken, and the names of the persons in the poem are preserved in the play. Garrick was of my mind as to its merit, as appears from the following letter;
"Hampstead, June 6, 1768. "My Dear Friend,
"I Never sat down to write to you with more pleasure than I do at present. I have read Rivine again and again, and every time with greater pleasure. I could not send it to you so soon as I promised, because I was resolved to get rid of all my theatrical cares, which I did not, on account of the Princess's death, till last Tuesday, when I finished the season with Hamlet, and never played that character so well in all my life. But to return to our precious Rivine. How happy am I that I did not give you the copy till I had considered it with all my wits about me! It is a most interesting, original, noble performance; and whenever it is exhibited, will do the author great, very great honour.
"If your fifth act (as a fifth act,) is equal to the rest, sublimiferies, &c. The construction of your fable is excellent; you leave the audience, at the end of every act, with a certain glow, and in the most eager expectation of knowing what is to follow. I drew the tears last night in great plenty from my wife, and a very intimate friend of ours, who is now with us at Hampstead. I read it with all my powers, and produced that effect which I would always wish to do in reading a work of genius, and more particularly a work of yours.
"I shall give the copy to Dr Blair to-morrow morning, for he and Dr Robertson do me the honour to breakfast with me. The literary world, notwithstanding our present unaccountable confusion, are in the highest expectation of Dr Robertson's Charles the Fifth.
"I will not descend from my present exaltation about you, to point out some little trifling objections I have here and there in your tragedy; they