Life And Letters Of Maria Edgeworth/Volume 1/Letter 89

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LIVERPOOL, April 6, 1813.

Many times—a hundred times within this week—have I wished, my dearest aunt, to talk over with you the things and people I have seen. I am very well, very happy, and much entertained and interested.

Liverpool is very fine and very grand, and my father soon found out Mr. Roscoe; he was so good as to come to see us, and invited us to his house, Allerton Hall, about seven miles from Liverpool. He is a benevolent, cheerful, gentlemanlike old man; tall, neither thin nor fat, thick gray hair. He is very like the prints you have seen of him; his bow courteous, not courtly; his manner frank and prepossessing, without pretension of any kind. He enters into conversation readily, and immediately tells something entertaining or interesting, seeming to follow the natural course of his own thoughts, or of yours, without effort. Mrs. Roscoe seems to adore her husband, and to be so fond of her children, and has such a good understanding and such a warm heart, it is impossible not to like her. Mr. Roscoe gave himself up to us the whole day. Allerton Hall is a spacious house, in a beautiful situation: fine library, every room filled with pictures, many of them presents from persons in Italy who admired his Leo the Tenth. One of Tasso has a sort of mad vigilance in the eyes, as if he that instant saw the genius that haunted him. Mr. Roscoe has arranged his collection admirably, so as to show, in chronological order, in edifying gradation, the progress of painting. The picture which he prized the most was by one of Raphael's masters, not in the least valuable in itself, but for a frieze below it by Michael Angelo, representing the destruction of the Oracles; it is of a gray colour. Mr. Roscoe thinks it one of Michael Angelo's earliest performances, and says it is conceded to be the only original Michael Angelo in England. Of this I know nothing, but I know that it struck me as full of genius, and I longed for you and Margaret when we looked at a portfolio full of Michael Angelo's sketches, drawings, and studies. It is admirable to see the pains that a really great man takes to improve a first idea. Turning from these drawings to a room full of Fuseli's horribly distorted figures, I could not help feeling astonishment, not only at the bad taste, but at the infinite conceit and presumption of Fuseli. How could this man make himself a name! I believe he gave these pictures to Mr. Roscoe, else I suppose they would not be here sprawling their fantastic lengths, like misshapen dreams. Instead of le beau, they exhibit le laid ideal.

At dinner Darwin's poetry was mentioned, and Mr. Roscoe neither ran him down nor cried him up. He said exactly the truth, that he was misled by a false theory of poetry—that everything should be picture—and that therefore he has not taken the means to touch the feelings; and Mr. Roscoe made what seemed to me a new and just observation, that writers of secondary powers, when they are to represent either objects of nature or feelings of the human mind, always begin by a simile: they tell you what it is like, not what it is.

April 9.

I finish this at Mr. Holland's, at Knutsford. We spent a delightful day at Manchester, where we owed our chief pleasure to Dr. Ferrier and his daughter.