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Synopsis

The two pieces here reprinted, typical verse pamphlets of the 1770's, illustrate both a type of writing and an age. The subject of both is contemporary—the best-selling Letters to his Son of Lord Chesterfield. The method falls between burlesque and caricature; the aim is amusement; the substance is negligible. Neither poem made more than a ripple on publication, neither initiated a critical fashion, and neither survived in its own right, yet each has merit enough to justify inclusion today in such a series as the Augustan reprints. Chesterfield's Letters to his Son, the subject of these two burlesques, were announced as published on April 7, 1774, scarcely a year after his death; that they became an immediate best seller, every schoolboy knows. Reaction to the letters took several modes of expression. These included comments in conversation by Dr. Johnson and by George III, as reported by Boswell and by Fanny Burney; in letters, from Walpole, Mrs. Delaney, Voltaire, and Mrs. Montagu; and in diaries, such as those of Fanny Burney and John Wesley. Reviewers sprang to words if not into action. Entire books came to the defence of morality. A sermon announced "The Unalterable Nature of Vice and Virtue" (a second edition placed Virtue before Vice); the Monthly Review for December 1775 praised it: "This sensible and well written discourse is chiefly directed against the letters of the late Lord Chesterfield, though his Lordship is not mentioned." All of these approached the subject directly.

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