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Horace can laugh, is delicate, is clear;
To thee 'tis provocation to exift.
But if thou fee'ft a great and gen'rous heart,
ÉPISTLE TO DR. ARBUTHNOT.
An Apology for Himself and his Writings.
Ep. to Dr. Arbuthnot.] Ar the time of publishing this Epistle, the Poet's patience was exhaufted by the endless impertinence of Poetafters of all ranks and conditions; as well those who courted his favour, as thofe who envied his reputation. So that now he had refolved to quit his hands of both together, by the publication of a DUNCIAD. This defign he communicated to his excellent friend Dr. ARBUTHNOT; who, although as a man of Wit and Learning he might not have been displeased to see their common injuries revenged on this pernicious Tribe; yet, as our Author's friend and phyfician, he was folicitous of his ease and health; and therefore unwilling he fhould provoke fo large and powerful
Their difference of opinion, in this matter, gives occafion to the following Dialogue. Where, in a natural and familiar detail of all his Provocations, both from flatterers and flanderers, our Author has artfully interwoven an Apology for his moral and poetic Character.
For after having told-his cafe, and humorously applied to his Phyfician in the manner one would ask for a receipt to kill Vermin, he ftraight goes on, in the common character of askers of advice, to tell his Doctor, that he had already taken his party, and determined of his remedy. But ufing a preamble, and intro. ducing it (in the way of Poets), with a fimile, in which the names of Kings, Queens, and Minifiers of State happen to be mentioned, his Friend takes the alarm, and begs him to forbear; advises him to stick to his fubject, and to be eafy under fo com. mon a calamity.
To make fo light of his difafter provokes the Poet: he breaks the thread of his difcourfe, which was to lead his Friend gently, and by degrees, into his project; and abruptly tells him the application of his fimile at once,
"Out with it, DUNCIAD! let the secret pass," &c.
But recollecting the humanity and tenderness of his Friend, which, he apprehends, might be a little fhocked at the apparent
severity of such a proceeding, he affures him, that his good-nature is alarmed without caufe; for that nothing has lefs feeling than this fort of offenders; which he illuftrates in the Examples of a damn'd Poet, a detected Slanderer, a Table-Parafite, a Church. Buffoon, and a Party-Writer (from ver. 1. to 101.)
But, in this enumeration, coming again to Names, his Friend once more ftops him; and bids him confider what hoftilities this general attack would fet on foot. So much the better, replies the Poet; for, confidering the frong antipathy of bad to good, enemies they will always be, either open or fecret: and it admits of no question, but a Slanderer is lefs hurtful than a Flatterer. For, fays he, (in a pleasant Simile addreffed to his Friend's profeffion)
"Of all mad creatures, if the learn'd are right,
And how abject and exceffive the flattery of these creatures was, he fhews, by obferving, that they praised him even for his infirmities; his bad health, and his inconvenient shape (ver. 100 to 125.)
But ftill it might be faid, that if he could bear this evil annexed to Authorship no better, he should not have written at all. Το this he answers, by lamenting the natural bent of his difpofition; which, from his very birth, had drawn him towards Poetry fo ftrongly, as if it were in execution of fome fecret decree of Heaven for crimes unknown. But though he offended in becoming an Author, he offended in nothing else. For his early verses were perfectly innocent and harmless,
"Like gentle Fanny's was my flowing theme,
Yet even then, he tells us, two enraged and hungry Critics fell upon him without any provocation. But this might have been. borne, as the common lot of distinction. But it was his peculiar illfortune to create a jealousy in One; whom, not only many good offices done by our Author to him and his friends, but a fimilitude of genius and studies might have inclined to a reciprocal affection and fupport: On the contrary, that otherwife amiable perfon, being, by nature, timorous and fufpicious; by education, a partyman; and, by circumftances of fortune, befet with flatterers and pick-thanks; regarded our Author as his Rival, fet up by a contrary Faction, with views deftructive of public liberty, and
that Perfon's reputation. And all this, with as little provocation from Mr. Pope's conduct in his poetic, as in his civil character.
For though he had got a Name (the reputation of which he agreeably rallies, in the defcription he gives of it) yet he never, even when most in fashion, fet up fora Patron, or a Dictator amongst the Wits; but ftill kept retired in his ufual privacy; leaving the whole Caftalian fate, as he calls it, to a Mock Mecenas, whom he next defcribes (ver. 124. to 261.)
And, ftruck with the fenfe of that dignity and eae which fupport the character of a true Poet, he breaks out into a passionate vow for a continuance of the full Liberty infeparable from it. And to fhew how well he deserves it, and how fafely he might be trufted with it, he concludes his wifh with a defcription of his temper and difpofition (ver 26e to 271.)
This naturally leads him to complain of his Friends, when they confider him in no other view than that of an Author; as if he had neither the fame right to the enjoyments of life, the fame concern for his highest interests, or the fame difpofitions of bene volence, with other people.
Befides, he now admonishes them, in his turn, that they do not confider to what they expose him, when they urge him to write on; namely, to the fufpicions and the difpleafure of a Court; who are made to believe, he is always writing; or at least to the foolish criticisms of court-fycophants, who pretend to find him, by his ftyle, in the immoral libels of every idle fcribler: though he, in the mean time, be fo far from countenancing fuch worthless trash in others, that he would be ready to execrate even his own best vein of poetry, if made at the expence of Truth and Innocence:
"Curit be the verfe, how well foe'er it flow,
That tends to make one worthy man my foe:
Or from the foft-ey'd Virgin steal a tear."
Sentiments, which no effort of genius, without the concurrence of the heart, could have expreffed in ftrains fo exquifitely fublime. That the fole object of his resentment was vice and baseness: In the detection of which, he artfully takes occafion to speak of that by which he himself had been injured and offended: and concludes with the character of One who had wantonly outraged him, and in the most fenfible manner (ver. 270 to 334.)
And here, moved again with fresh indignation at his flanderers, he takes the advice of Horace, fume fuperbiam quæfitam merilis, and
draws a fine picture of his moral and poetic conduct through life. In which he fhews that not fame, but VIRTUE, was the conftant object of his ambition: that for this he oppofed himself to all the violence of Cabals, and the treacheries of Courts: the various iniquities of which having distinctly specified, he sums them up in that moit atrocious and fenfible of all (ver. 333 to 360.),
"The whisper, that to greatnefs ftill too near,
Perhaps yet vibrates on his Sov'REIGN's ear.
But here again his Friend interrupts the ftrains of his divine enthufiafm; and defires him to clear up one objection made to his Conduct at Court. "That it was inhumane to infult the Poor, "and ill breeding to affront the Great." To which he replies, That indeed in his purfuit of Vice,he rarely corfidered how Knavery was circumstanced; but followed it, with his vengeance, indifferently, whether it led to the Pillory, or the Drawing-Room (ver. 359 to 363.).
But left this fhould give his Reader the idea of a favage intractable virtue, which could bear with nothing, and would pardon nothing, he takes to himself the fhame of owning that he was of fo easy a nature, as to be duped by the flendereft appearances; a pretence to virtue in a witty woman: fo forgiving, that he had fought out the object of his beneficence in a perfonal enemy : fo humble, that he had submitted to the converfation of bad poets: and so forbearing, that he had curbed in his refentment under the moft fhocking of ail provocations, abufes on his Father and Mother (ver. 367 to 388.).
This naturally leads him to give a fhort account of their births, fortunes, and difpofitions; which ends with the tendereft wifhes for the happiness of his Friend; intermixed with the most pathetic defcription of that filial Piety, in the exercife of which he makes his own happiness to confift:
"Me, let the tender office long engage
To rock the Cradle of repoling Age;
With lenient arts extend a Mother's breath,
Make Languor fmile, and fmooth the bed of Death;