« ZurückWeiter »
fatigable labour of condensing and compressing it into the form in which its expression, most finished in form, is at the same time most convenient to the memory. Thus he, as it were, engraved ideas; and his poems are full of those couplets which can cleanly and without damage to themselves be taken out of their setting? In versification Pope was, as he often said, a pupil of Dryden ; but he far surpassed his master. Dryden's verse is often slovenly, and abounds in weak lines. In Pope there is never a syllable, hardly ever a line, too much. On the other hand, Pope might, with advantage to the effect of his poems as a whole, have departed more frequently from the ordinary rule as to the position of the cæsura in the verse. The ear is delighted after listening to a page of Pope; an entire poem is apt to weary by the regularity of the cadence, resembling the march-past of column after column of perfectly-drilled troops. It would be difficult to point out any other defect in Pope's versification. To this day, except in a few instances where the pronunciation of a diphthong or the accentuation of a word has changed, it · remains a classic model. And Johnson was guilty of no Byronic extravagance when he told Boswell that 'a thousand years may elapse before there shall appear another man with a power of versification equal to that of Pope.'
Such were, as far as I can judge, the principal achievements of Pope during his life of devotion to literature, But English literature owes him more than theseshe owes him the effects of that devotion itself. It was not only that he made war upon those who degraded an art into a trade, and into the vilest of trades. The infirmity of his temper, which charity will judge with gentleness in consideration of the miserable frailty of his bodily health, led him into many self-degradations. But the master passion in his breast was not his vanity; it was his veneration for what is great and noble in intellectual life, and his loathing for what is small and mean and noxious. He could not exterminate Grub-street; but as long as he lived and battled against it, it felt that it was only Grub-street, and the world around was conscious of the fact. He served literature neither for power, like Swift; nor, like nearly all his contemporaries, for place and pay; not even for fame chiefly; but for her own sake. And the acknowledgment due to a noble and lifelong self-devotion should not be grudged to Pope, even by those who perceive his shortcomings and lament his faults.
1 The late Lord Carlisle, in a Lecture on Pope, gave a long but not exhaustive list of these familiar gems.
1689. (MAY 21.) Birth of Pope. 1720. South-Sea Year. Iliad (last vo1700. (Circ.) Pope takes up his resi
dence with his father at Binfield. 1722. Correspondence with Judith Cow. 1704. Commencement of intimacy with per. Sir Wm. Trumball,
1723. First return of Bolingbroke. Ba1705. and Walsh.
nishment of Atterbury. 1707. First acquaintance with the Blount 1725. Edition of Shakspere p.
attacked by Theobald. 1709. Pastorals published.
Odyssey (Vols. I.-III.) p. Second 1711. Essay on Criticism p. Pope in
return of Bolingbroke, who settroduced to Gay, agen
tles at Dawley. 1712. and Addison. Rape of the Lock 1726. Letters to Cromwell (Curll) p. Swift (original edition) p. The Messiah p.
pays a long visit to Twickenham. 1713. (Arril.) Addison's Cato first act. 1727. (JUNE.) Death of Gerge I. Miscd. Prologue to Cato p.
cellanies (Vols. I. and II.) p. ; con
taining, among other pic s by Pope, Pope's attack on Dennis reproved
the Treatise on the Bathos. by Addison.
1728. The Dunciad (Books I.-III.) p. Windsor Forest p. Pope intro
duced to Swift. Ode on St Ce. 1730, Grub-street Journal (continued by cilia's Day p.
Pope and others till 1737). Quarrels
with Aaron Hill and others. Pope stuclies painting under Jervas.
1731. Epistle on Taste p. The remain(NOVEMBER.) Subscription for
ing Moral Essays up to 1735. Translation of Iliad opened.
1732. Essay on Man (Ep. I.) p. The 1713—4. Meetings of the Scriblerus
remaining Epistles up to 1734. Club.
(DECEMBER.) Death of Gay. 1714. Death of Queen Anne. Rape of the Lock (enlarged). Temple of Fame p.
1733. Quarrel with Lord Hervey. 1715. Iliad (Vol. I.) p.
(JUNE.) Death of Pope's mother. 1715—6. Quarrel with Addison. 1735. Epistle to Arbuthnot p. Death of
Arbuthnot. 1716. (APRIL.) Pope settles with his parents at Chiswick.
Pope's Correspondence. (Curll.) Departure for the East of Lady 1736. Pope's Correspondence (authorised Mary Wortley Montagu.
1737. Imitations of Horace p. 1717. Elegy to the Memory of an Unfor.
tunate Lady p. Epistle of Eloisa to 1738. Epilogue to Satires p. Abelard p. Thrce Hours after Mar- 1740. (MARCH.) Close of correspond. riage produced. First quarrel with ence with Swift. Cibber.
First meeting with Warburton. (October.) Death of Pope's father. 1742. The New Dunciad (in four books) 1718. Pope settles with his mother at p. Twickenham.
1743. The Dunciad (with Cibber as hero) Return from the East of Lady
are generally not a little unreasonable in their expectations. The first seem to fancy that the world must approve whatever they produce, and the latter to imagine that authors are obliged to please them at any rate. Methinks, as on the one hand, no single man is born with a right of controuling the opinions of all the rest; so on the other, the world has no title to demand, that the whole care and time of any particular person should be sacrificed to its entertainment. Therefore I cannot but believe that writers and readers are under equal obligations, for as much fame, or pleasure, as each affords the other.
Every one acknowledges, it would be a wild notion to expect perfection in any work of man: and yet one would think the contrary was taken for granted, by the judgment commonly past upon Poems. A Critic supposes he has done his part, if he proves a writer to have failed in an expression, or erred in any particular point?: and can it then be wondered at, if the Poets in general seem resolved not to own themselves in any error? For as long as one side will make no allowances, the other will be brought to no acknowledgements.
I am afraid this extreme zeal on both sides is ill-placed; Poetry and Criticism being by no means the universal concern of the world, but only the affair of idle men who write in their closets, and of idle men who read there.
Yet sure upon the whole, a bad Author deserves better usage than a bad Critic: for a Writer's endeavour, for the most part, is to please his Readers, and he fails merely through the misfortune of an ill judgment; but such a Critic's is to put them out of humour; a design he could never go upon without both that and an ill temper.
I think a good deal may be said to extenuate the fault of bad Poets. What we call a Genius, is hard to be distinguished by a man himself, from a strong inclination : and if his genius be ever so great, he cannot at first discover it any other way, than by giving way to that prevalent propensity which renders him the more liable to be
mistaken. The only method he has, is to make the experiment by writing, and appealing to the judgment of others: now if he happens to write ill. (which is certainly no sin in itself) he is immediately made an object of ridicule. I wish we had the humanity to reflect that even the worst authors might, in their endeavour to please us, deserve something at our hands. We have no cause to quarrel with them but for their obstinacy in persisting to write; and this too may admit of alleviating circumstances. Their particular friends may be either ignorant, or insincere; and the rest of the world in general is too well bred to shock them with a truth, which generally their Booksellers are the first that inform them of. This happens not till they have spent too much of their time, to apply to any profession which might better fit their talents; and till such talents as they have are so far discredited as to be but of small service to them. For (what is the hardest case imaginable) the reputation of a man generally depends upon the first steps he makes in the world, and people will establish their opinion of us, from what we do at that season when we have least judgment to direct us.
On the other hand, a good Poet no sooner communicates his works with the same desire of information, but it is imagined he is a vain young creature given up to the ambition of fame ; when perhaps the poor man is all the while trembling with the fear of being ridiculous. If he is made to hope he may please the world, he falls under very unlucky circumstances : for, from the moment he prints, he must expect to hear no more truth, than if he were a Prince, or a Beauty. If he has not very good sense (and indeed there are twenty men of wit, for one man of sense) his living thus in a course of flattery may put him in no small danger of becoming a Coxcomb: if he has, he will consequently have so much diffidence as not to reap any great satisfaction from his praise; since, if it be given to his face, it can scarce be distinguished from flattery, and if in his absence, it is hard to be certain of it. Were he sure to be commended by the best and most knowing, he is as sure of being envied by the worst and most ignorant, which are the majority; for it is with a fine Genius as with a fine fashion, all those are displeased at it who are not able to follow it: and it is to be feared that esteem will seldom do any man so much good, as illwill does him harm. Then there is a third class of people who make the largest part of mankind, those of ordinary or indifferent capacities ; and these (to a man) will hate, or suspect him: a hundred honest Gentlemen will dread him as a Wit, and a hundred innocent Women as a Satirist. In a word, whatever be his fate in Poetry, it is ten to one but he must give up all the reasonable aims of life for it. There are indeed some advantages accruing from a Genius to Poetry, and they are all I can think of: the agreeable power of self-amusement when a man is idle or alone; the privilege of being admitted into the best company; and the freedom of saying as many careless things as other people, without being so severely remarked upon.
I believe, if any one, early in his life, should contemplate the dangerous fate of authors, he would scarce be of their number on any consideration, The life of
a Wit is a warfare upon earth?; and the present spirit of the learned world is such, that to attempt to serve it (any way) one must have the constancy of a martyr, and a resolution to suffer for its sake. I could wish people would believe what I am pretty certain they will not, that I have been much less concerned about Fame than I durst declare till this occasion, when methinks I should find more credit than I could heretofore: since my writings have had their fate already, and it is too late to think of prepossessing the reader in their favour. I would plead it as some merit in me, that the world has never been prepared for these Trifles by Prefaces, byassed by recommendations, dazled with the names of great Patrons, wheedled with fine reasons and pretences, or troubled with excuses. I confess it was want of consideri ation that made me an author ; I writ because it amused me; I corrected because
it was as pleasant to me to correct as to write ; and I published because I was told - I might please such as it was a credit to please. To what degree I have done this, I am really ignorant; I had too much fondness for my productions to judge of them at first, and too much judgment to be pleased with them at last. But I have reason to think they can have no reputation which will continue long, or which deserves to do so: for they have always fallen short not only of what I read of others; but even of my own Ideas of Poetry.
If any one should imagine I am not in earnest, I desire him to reflect; that the Ancients (to say the least of them) had as much Genius as we: and that to take more pains, and employ more time, cannot fail to produce more complete pieces. They constantly apply'd themselves not only to that art, but to that single branch of an art, to which their talent was most powerfully bent; and it was the business of their lives to correct and finish their works for posterity. If we can pretend to have used the same industry, let us expect the same immortality: Tho' if we took the same care, we should still lie under a farther misfortune : they writ in languages that became universal and everlasting, while ours are extremely limited both in extent and in duration. A mighty foundation for our pride! when the utmost we can hope, is but to be read in one Island, and to be thrown aside at the end of one Age.
All that is lest us is to recommend our productions by the imitation of the Ancients : and it will be found true, that, in every age, the highest character for sense and learning has been obtain'd by those who have been most indebted to them. For, to say truth, whatever is very good sense, must have been common sense in all times; and what we call Learning, is but the knowledge of the sense of our predecessors. Therefore they who say our thoughts are not our own, because they resemble the Ancients, may as well say our faces are not our own, because they are like our Fathers : And indeed it is very unreasonable, that people should expect us to be Scholars, and yet be angry to find us so.