Friday, 21 December 2012

Casimir and Watts

Coming late to Casimir -- but what a fasciating figure he is! A footnote to start with: Watts plagiarised him to write his hymns. That at least was the charge.  Here's a letter in The Gentleman's Magazine for 1785:

The gentleman who enquires after Casimir, the poet, p. 610, will receive much information from one of Dr. Knox's Essays, which is written expressly on the subject. I believe the whole of his works were never attempted in English. Nor do I think any person is likely to undertake such a translation, unless he be a Roman Catholick, as many of his pieces tum expressly upon the peculiarities of the Romish church. Dr. Watts seems to have been the most familial with him of any of our English poets. In some places he translates, or imitates, and refers to Casimir. Cut, almost in innumerable others, in various parts of his works, he borrows and makes no acknowledgement, except a kind,of general one, in the Preface to his Lyric Poems. One of his hymns is little more than a translation, from Casimir*; and there are others where particular turns of thought, at well as expressions, arc evidently borrowed from him, besides very many unacknowledged parts of his Horae Lyrae, The late pious Mr. Hervey, who certainly was no poet, attempted part of an ode from Casimir with considerable success. I am sensible that Dr, Watts by no means ranks high in the poetical world. The soft smoothness of his numbers, in my opinion, borders on effeminacy; and, if his works were published, with references at the foot of the page to authors from whom he has borrowed, no vast share of originality would fall to his lot. But yet there it one peculiarity of his religious pieces which tenders them valuable—they are level to the capacities of the lowest orders of mankind. You will excuse me, Mr. Urban, if I say, that I have heard very poor people, on a dying bed, repeat some of his verses with an emphasis that would have stopped the mouth of an Infidel. In this view, I esteem them very highly. But when I exercise the judgement of a scholar., or a criick, they appear in a very different light. Nevertheless, whatever they are as to merit, Casimir was certainly his exemplar. From him he has borrowed and copied more than any one will suppose till he takes the trouble of comparing them together. U. U.

*Compare Hymn IV Book II with Casimir Epod V
I don't know if anybody has noticed this, or chased it up. By the same token I don't know if anybody cares. But on that latter point I can at least make an educated guess.

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