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controlled, taking a character from outward agencies. In the earlier ages of English authorship, the poets, when seeking the favour and countenance of men of rank, conciliated their patronage by tributes which were no less honourable to him that gave than to him who received; for the language of dedication was a manly language, wholly free from servility. What, for instance, could be finer than the magnificent series of dedications of Spenser's “Fairy Queen,”—the affectionate and dutiful homage of a heart—a true poet's heart—for ever seeking the good and the honourable and the beautiful, wherever his imagination dwelt? The poet and the man of true nobility appear not to have been separated by any strongly-marked line of social demarcation: there was equal and honourable intimacy. Coming down to a later period, writers are seen pitiably fawning upon the great, the rich, and the powerful; an adulation poisonous to the love of truth and independence becomes a deep-seated and wide-spread disease. The boundless extravagance of Dryden's flattery is one of the moral blots upon his
memory. What was a poet's function, in that sensual generation, but to feed an impure and palsied taste, for ever demanding stronger and stronger stimulants ? His position had scarce more of moral elevation than that of a court buffoon, rising higher only when called to render a vassals service in some fugitive quarrel of his master's, and to provide weapons from the arsenal of poetic satire. A better state of things was brought about in the succeeding period. The press was beginning to acquire an influence over public opinion which greatly affected the circumstances of men who were competent to write. The introduction of periodical publications may be referred to the reign of Queen Anne; and political leaders soon felt how great must be the sway upon public measures, and the policy of the two great parties, of discussion thus circulated. It has been well remarked, in reference to the fact of Lord Bolingbroke and the Lord-Chancellor Cowper having contributed to certain periodical publications, that two such statesmen, taking such a course, must have perceived the full extent of this influence. The power of a party-press was realized, and Whigs and Tories, Ministry and Opposition, rallied men of letters in their respective ranks. The man of letters, of course, rose in estimation; his social position was a
His attitude was not indeed as advantageous—not as propitious, I mean-to the genial activity of his powers, as that which existed under the affectionate, generous, and uncalculating relation between the early poets and their patrons and friends. Far less is it to be compared with that lofty independence maintained by Milton; but assuredly far better than such a state of things as degraded most of the
LORD MAHON'S REMARKS ON THE AGE.
authors whose misfortune it was to have their lot cast under the dominion of the later Stuart kings. The period now under review was a palmy one for men who held a pen of power. This was a new condition of English literature, arising from the state of British parties and the expansion of the periodical press. It has been well illustrated by Lord Mahon in his agreeable history of that period :—“During the reigns of William, of Anne, and of George I., till 1721, when Walpole became prime minister, the Whigs and Tories vied with each other in the encouragement of learned and literary men. Whenever a writer showed signs of genius, either party to which his principles might incline him was eager to hail him as a friend. The most distinguished society and the most favourable opportunities were thrown open to him. Places and pensions were showered down in lavishr' profusion: those who wished only to pursue their studies had the means afforded them for learned leisure, while more ambitious spirits were pushed forward in Parliament or diplomacy. In short, though the sovereign was never an Augustus, every minister was a Mæcenas. Newton became Master of the Mint, Locke was a commissioner of appeals, Steele was a commissioner of stamps, Stepney, Prior, and Gay were employed in lucrative and important embassies. It was a slight piece of humour at his outset, and, at his introduction, the ‘City and Country Mouse,' that brought forth a mountain of honours to Montague, afterwards Earl of Halifax and First Lord of the Treasury. When Parnell first came to court, LordTreasurer Oxford passed through the crowd of nobles, leaving them all unnoticed, to greet and welcome the poet. 'I value myself,' says Swift, upon making the ministry desire to be acquainted with Parnell
, and not Parnell with the ministry.' Swift himself became Dean of St. Patrick's, and but for the queen’s dislike would have been Bishop of Hereford. Pope, as a Roman Catholic, was debarred from all places of honour or emolument; yet Secretary Craggs offered him a pension of £300 a year, not to be known by the public, and to be paid from the secret service-money. In 1714, General Stanhope carried a bill providing a most liberal reward for the discovery of the longitude ; Addison became secretary of state; Tickell was secretary in Ireland; several rich sinecures were bestowed on Congreve, and Rowe, and Hughes, and Ambrose Phillips.”
It is necessary to be cautious, lest we conclude too hastily that the moral improvement of men of letters kept pace with their social improvement. Thcir elevation in society in consequence of the spread of political literature had indeed brought with it a certain kind of independence, which secured to them a certain dignity in public estimation ; but
it seems to me that they were too much entangled in associations alien to a pure and elevated literature. Even with that increased independence, there was still preserved a system of patronage such as gave to the Earl of Halifax the reputation of the Mæcenas of the age, and to which authors found it expedient to pay court. These were influences not propitious to the higher aspirations of genius.
The age of Queen Anne was an age distinguished for its courtly refinement, in comparison at least with the grossness which had been so predominant a few years before. The unclean spirit had gone out, but it walked in dry places ; during the early reigns of the eighteenth century, England seems to have been in the condition of a relapse. There was a heartlessness in the nation, in all its leading classes, in the Church, in the State, and among its writers. The lofty character of the statesman was lowered to that of the politician, and the inspired bard became chiefly studious of a polished diction and a nicely-balanced
The great political parties of a former age had dwindled into tangled factions. Venality had become a prevalent vice, and the current of public affairs was stirred less by the agitation of deep principles than by petty intrigues. Men had lost their magnanimity; and in its stead they trusted to small expedients and large pretensions. Ascendency was held by wits and freethinkers and shallow philosophers.
After these general notices of the spirit of those times, it is my purpose to look at its influence upon English poetry, as it may be traced in the poems of its representative during almost the first half of the eighteenth century,-Alexander Pope.
Intimately as Pope was associated with men in prominent and active public life, his career was essentially a literary one. The cause to which he devoted all his cares and labours was the acquisition and guardianship of his reputation as an author. Sir Walter Scott has pointed out the striking contrast in this particular between Pope and his robustminded friend, Dean Swift, who seems to have disdained the character of a mere man of letters, and to have been careless of his works beyond their mere occasional use. Scott himself had a touch of Swift's character in this particular, and has therefore pointedly adverted to what he regarded as a weakness in Pope's moral and intellectual constitution.
“Pope's character and habits,” he remarks, were exclusively literary, with all the hopes, fears, and failings which are attached to that feverish occupation,- ---a restless pursuit of poetical fame. Without domestic society or near relations, separated by weak health and personal disadvantages from the gay,—by fineness of mind and lettered indolence from the busy part of mankind, surrounded only by a few
friends who valued those gifts in which he excelled, Pope's whole hopes, wishes, and fears were centred in his literary reputation. To extend his fame he laboured indirectly as well as directly, and to defend it from the slightest attack was his daily and nightly anxiety. Hence the restless impatience which that distinguished author displayed under the libels of dunces whom he ought to have despised ; and hence, too, the venomed severity with which he retorted their puny attacks.”
Now, in such a career it is at once manifest that there is an absende of the magnanimity of a great poet's soul. The highest aspiration of Pope's ambition was the acquisition of fame at the hands of the generation he was living with. He was surrounded by men of talents, of wit and accomplishments, men of the world, men of the town; and he deemed their praises all that a poet need desire. Their admiration was the voucher to him for his fame. He does not seem to have looked above or beyond the companionship of his own generation, as if never doubting that their judgment must be echoed by posterity. His hopes were centred in the approval of his contemporaries, and he bent his efforts to earn a speedy popularity with them. It has been nobly said of Milton that “his soul was like a star, and dwelt apart.” An imagination shining, starlike, brightly and loftily would bave probably shone in vain upon the generation in which Pope's lot was cast. Of him it may be said that the light of his genius had more of worldly kindling; it dwelt not apart, but glittered nearly, clearly, and gayly, like a ball-room lamp.
Pope's aspirations were crowned with success beyond all parallel. He gained during his lifetime, and therefore for his own personal enjoyment, a wider and more brilliant reputation than had been attained by any English poet who had preceded him,—a reputation still cherished in the constant admiration of many of our elders, who find in his wellturned and well-tuned and well-pointed lines their favourite quotations. It is my duty now to endeavour to ascertain how that reputation was acquired, and to measure its real height apart from all prepossessions and prejudices.
Let me in the first place remark that Pope's heart, whatever professions of admiration may have occasionally fallen from him, was not with any of his most illustrious predecessors. His path was a continuation of that which had been trod by Dryden. The process begun by that poet, of giving to English poetry the polish of French versification, was to be completed by Pope. He began his career of authorship under the persuasion that his country, while it had produced several great poets, had no great poet that was correct ; and to supply that deficiency was his study and the aim of his whole course. Apart from Shakspeare, whose genius was a law to itself, it is an interesting fact that each of the great poets fortified his powers by affectionate study of the imagination of his great English predecessors. Spenser has told of his obligations to Chaucer, “the father” of our poetry; and Milton was the student of both Chaucer and Spenser. But Dryden and Pope looked to Continental poetry, with something of repugnance to the insular barbarism of their poetical ancestry: they fashioned their imaginations after the French models, forgetting that in thus copying traits which were natural to France they were smoothing away the bold and distinctive features of their native poetry. It was applying to the fresh and ruddy complexion of the English Muse cosmetics and artificial colour. The imitation was avowed and justified by Pope :
“We conquer'd France, but felt our captive's charms;
The last and greatest art,—the art to blot.” When Pope began his career, the field, it seems to me, was open to the ready accomplishment of his ambition; for the best and earlier English poetry had no more place in the affections of his contemporaries than in his own. How low must have been their appreciation of Shakspeare is in some measure shown by that most remarkable edition of the great dramatist's works,-Pope's edition,-in which he introduced throughout, in the margin, certain marks, intended to point out what he called the most shining passages. There were many men who thought like Lord Chesterfield, who said that he was obliged to take snuff when he read “Paradise Lost,”—the small wit of which remark I am not sure that I distinctly see; but I suppose it meant that he needed some