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Mr David Hume's Remarks on Douglas.
"1755, a 1756.
• , "Dear Snt,
"With great pleasure I have more than once perused your tragedy. It is interesting, affecting, pathetic. The story is simple and natural; but what chiefly delights me, is to find the language so pure, correct, and moderate. For God's sake, read Shakespeare, but get Racine and Sophocles by heart. It is reserved to you, and you alone, to redeem our stage from the reproach of barbarism.
"I have not forgot your request to find fault, but as you had neither numbered the pages nor the lines in your copy, I cannot point out particular expressions. I have marked the margin, and shall tell you my opinion when I shall have the pleasure of seeing you. The more considerable objections seem to be these: Glenalvorts character is too abandoned. Such a man is scarce in nature; at least, it is inartificial in a poet to suppose such a one, as if he could not conduct his fable by the ordinary passions, infirmities, and vices of human nature. Lord Barnefs* character is not enough decided; he hovers betwixt vice and virtue, which, though it be not unnatural, is not sufficiently theatrical nor tragic. After Anna had lived 18 years vfithLady Barnet, and yet had been kept out of the secret, there seems to be no sufficient reason why, at that very time, she should have been let into it. The spectator is apt to suspect that it was in order to instruct him; a very good end indeed, but which might have been attained by a careful and artificial conduct of the dialogue.
* This name changed to Randolph, after the first representation.
"There seem to be too many casual rencounters. Young Forman,* passing by chance, saves Lord Barnet; Old Forman, passing that way by chance, is arrested. Why might not Young Forman be supposed to be coming to the Castle, in order to serve under Lord Barnet, and Old Forman, having had some hint of his intention, to have followed him that way?
£ Some lines torn off and lost.]
Might not Anna be supposed to have returned to her mistress after long absence? This might account for a greater flow of confidence."
If the Society will not think me tedious, I shall be tempted to read in this place two other letters from Mr Hume, the first of which mentions his high opinion of Douglas, but the second has no relation either to that or any other production of his friend. But it seems to me so delightful in itself, and is so genuine a specimen of the writer's admirahle talent for epistolary composition, that I own I reckoned myself fortunate in being permitted to allow the society a perusal of it. It will not be valued the less for being altogether on a private subject, evidently written without the most distant view to publication, or even to general perusal.
* Changed to Norval, before the tragedy was brought on the stage.
To Mrs Dysar.t, atEccles, (a much valued relation of Mr D. Hume,) with a book—the first part of his History of England.
"9th October, [1754.] "Dear Madam,
"As I send you a long book, you will allow me to write you a short letter, with this fruit of near two years very constant application, my youngest and dearest child. You should have read it sooner, but during the fine weather, I foresaw that it would produce some inconvenience ; either you would attach yourself so much to the perusal of me as to neglect walking, riding, and field diversions, which are much more beneficial than any history; or if this beautiful season tempted you, I must lie in a corner, neglected and forgotten. I assure you I would
take the pet if so treated. Now, that the weather
"P.S.—I have seen John Hume's new unbaptized play,t and it is a very fine thing. He now discovers a great genius for the theatre.
* Mr Home, a relation of the Historian, then SolicitorGeneral for Scotland.
t I presume this was Douglas j and the expression, " he now discovers a great genius for the theatre/' I suppose was meant to imply Mr D. Hume's opinion of its being better fitted for the stage than Agis.
[ Written at the top.]—" I must beg of you not to lend the book out of your house, on any account, till the middle of November ;* any body may read it in the house?'
To Mrs Dysart.
"NineweUs, March 19//>, 1751.
"Our friend at last plucked up a resolution, and has ventured on that dangerous encounter. He went off on Monday morning, and this is the first action of his life wherein he has engaged himself without being able to compute exactly the consequences. But what arithmetic will serve to fix the proportion between good and bad .wives, and rate the different classes of each? Sir Isaac Newton himself, who could measure the courses of the planets, and weigh the earth as in a pair of scales, —even he had not algebra enough to reduce that amiable part of our species to a just equation ; and they are the only heavenly bodies whose orbits are as yet uncertain.
"If you think yourself too grave a matron to
* I suppose the time of its publication in London.