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If he has thorns, they all on roses grow;
P. Shut, shut the door, good John ! fatigu'd I said, Tie up the knocker, say I'm sick, I'm dead.
Ver. 1. Shut, shut the door, good John!] John Searl, his old and faithful servant; whom he has remembered, under that character, in his Will: of whose fidelity Dodsley, from his own observation, used to mention many pleasing instances. His wife was living at Eccleshall, 1783, ninety years old, and knew many anecdotes of Pope.
Ver. 1. Shut, shut the door,] This abrupt exordium is animated and dramatic. Our Poet, wearied with the impertinence and slander of a multitude of mean scribblers that attacked him, suddenly breaks out with this spirited complaint of the ill-usage he had sustained. This piece was published in the year 1734, in the form of an Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot: it is now given as a Dialogue, in which a very small share is indeed allotted to his friend. Arbuthnot was a man of consummate probity, integrity, and sweetness of temper :- he had infinitely more learning than Pope or Swift, and as much wit and humour as either of them. He was an excellent mathematician and physician, of which his letter on the Usefulness of Mathematical Learning, and his Treatise on Air and Aliment, are sufficient proofs. His tables of ancient coins, weights, and measures, are the work of a man intimately acquainted with ancient history and literature, and are enlivened.
The Dog-star rages ! nay, 'tis past a doubt,
with many curious and interesting particulars of the manners and ways of living of the ancients. The History of John Bull, the best parts of the Memoirs of Scriblerus, the Art of Political Lying, the Freeholder's Catechism, It cannot rain but it pours, &c. abound in strokes of the most exquisite humour. It is known that he gave numberless hints to Swift, and Pope, and Gay, of some of the most striking parts of their works. He was so neglectful of his writings that his children tore his manuscripts and made paper-kites of them. Few letters in the English language are so interesting, and contain such marks of Christian resignation and calmness of mind, as one that he wrote to Swift a little before his death, and is inserted in the third volume of Letters, p. 157. He frequently, and ably, and warmly, in many conversations, defended the cause of revelation against the attacks of Bolingbroke and Chesterfield.
The strokes of satire, in many parts of this Epistle, have such an extraordinary energy and poignancy, that our Author's want of temper has been much censured ; and I know not whether it will be a sufficient justification to say, that these malevolent scribblers, however impotent and insignificant, attacked his person, morals, and family. If Boileau ridicules and rallies vile writers with more seeming pleasantry and good-humour, we ought to recollect that Boileau was the aggressor, and had received no previous abuse, when he fell upon Cotin, De Pure, Quinalt, St. Amand, Colletet, Chapelain, and Theophyle. It was on this account that the Duke de Montausieur, a man of rigid virtue, so much condemned Boileau, that it was with great difficulty he was brought to read his Works, and be reconciled to him. The authors that Pope proscribed were in truth so mean and contemptible, that Swift said, “ Give me a shilling and I will ensure you that posterity shall never know you had a single enemy, excepting those whose memory you have preserved."
“Laissez mourir un fat dans son obscurité,
Fire in each eye, and papers in each hand, 5
Boileau, Sat. ix. 89. This is exquisitely pleasant, and expressed with that purity and force both of thought and diction, that happy Horatian mixture of jest and earnest, that contribute to place Despreaux at the head of modern classics. I think it must be confessed, that he has caught the manner of Horace more successfully than Pope. It is observable that Boileau, when he first began to write, copied Juvenal, whose violent, downright, declamatory species of satire is far more easy to be imitated than the oblique, indirect, delicate touches of Horace. The judgment of L. Gyraldus concerning Juvenal seems to be judicious and well-founded : “ If you think my opinion worth regarding, I would say, that the Satires of Juvenal ought never to be read till our taste is fixed and confirmed, and we are thoroughly tinctured with a knowledge of the Latin language: and I mention this my opinion more freely, because I perceive many masters use a contrary method.” Dial. iv.
Ver. 13. Mint] A place to which insolvent debtors retired, to enjoy an illegal protection, which they were there suffered to afford to one another, from the persecution of their creditors. W.