Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

And thanks to Homer, since I live and thrive, .

Indebted to no prince or peer alive was, however, scarcely just, if we consider that this large sum was in part a ' benevelence' from the upper classes of society, designed to . reward his literary merit. The fame of Pope was not advanced in an equal degree with his fortune by his labours as a translator. The 'fatal facility' of his rhyme, the additional false ornaments which he imparted to the ancient Greek, and his departure from the nice discrimination of character and speech which prevails in Homer, are faults now universally admitted. Cowper-though he failed himself in Homer-justly remarks, that the “Iliad' and 'Odyssey'in Pope's hands have no more the air of antiquity than if he had himself .invented them.' They still, however, maintain their popularity with the great mass of readers, and are unequalled in splendid versification.

The Odyssey' was not published until 1725, and Pope on this occasion called in the assistance of his poetical friends Broome and Fenton. These two coadjutors translated twelve books, and the notes were compiled by Broome, who received from Pope a sum of £500, besides being allowed the subscriptions collected from personal friends, amounting to £70, 4s. Fenton's share was only £200. Deducting the sums paid to bis co-translators, Pope realised by the • Odyssey upwards of £3500; and together thé. Iliad' and 'Odyssey' had brought to the poet a fortune of from eight to nine thousand pounds-a striking instance of the princely patronage then extendod to literature.

While engaged with the “Iliad,' Pope removed from Binfield, bis father having sold his estate there, and resided, from April 1716 tiil -tlie beginning of 1718, at Chiswick. Here he collected and published his poetical works; and in this volume first appeared the most picturesque, melodious, and passionate of all his productions, the · Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady,' and the ` Epistle of Eloisa to Abelard.' The delicacy of the poet in veiling over the story of Abelard and Eloisa, and at the same time preserving the ardour of Eloisa's passion ; 'the beauty of his imagery and descriptions; the exquisite melody of his versification, rising and falling like the tones of an Eolian harp, as he successively portrays the tumults of guilty love, the deepest penitence, and the highest devotional rapture, have never been surpassed. If less genial tastes and a love of satire withdrew Pope from those fountain-springs of the muse, it was obviously .from no want of power in the poet to display the richest hues of imagination, or the finest impulses of the heart. At Chiswick, Pope's father died (October 23, 1717), and shortly afterwards the poet removed with his aged mother to Twickenham, where he had taken a lease of a liouse and grounds, and where he continued to reside durin; the remainder of his life. This classic spot, which Pope delighted to improve, and where he was visited by ministers of state,

sum

Frits, poets, and beauties, is now greatly defaced--bis house pulled down, and his pleasure-grounds broken up and vulgarised.* .

Having completed the 'Iliad,' the poet's next great uudertaking was an edition of Shakspeare, published in 1725, in six quarto yolumes. The preface to this work is tire best of his prose productions,

but Pope failed as an editor. He wanted the requisite knowledge of xhiut Elizabethan literature, and the diligence necessary to collate copies nice and fix and illustrate the text. Fenton gave assistance in this edition omer of Shakspeare, for which he receivel £30, 148. Pope's remuneration

bien as editor was £217, 128. In 1727 and 1728, Pope published, in cona Pop junction with his friend Swift, three volumes of Miscellanies,' which

drew down upon the authors a torrent of invective, lampoons, and libels, and led to the Dunciad.' This elaborate and splendid satire was first printed in an imperfect form in May 1728, then enlarged with notes, the ‘Prolegomena' of Scriblerus, &c. and published in April 1729. The work displays the fertile invention of the poet, the variety of illustration at bis command, and the unrivalled force and facility of bis diction; but it is often indelicate, and still oftener unjust towards the miserable poets and critics against whom he waged

war. 'I bave often wondered,' says Cowper, that the same poet bria] who wrote the “ Dunciad” should have written tliese lines :

That mercy I to others shew,

. That inercy slew to me. Alas for Pope, if the mercy he sliewed to others was the measure of the mercy he received ! Sir Walter Scott bas justly remarked, that Pope must have suffered the most from these wretched contentions. His propensily to satire was, however, irresistible; he was eminently sensitive, vain, and irritable, and implacable in his resentment to wards all who had questioned or slighted his poetical supremacy.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

closely round, iacluding in hen the proprietorter the poets by Lord Mendio a larger house einen arrangement. W the highwayequently seculady takenmplete change

k which he The only carlinber, thesion to the mi

"Pope's house was not large, but sufficiently commodions for the wants of an English gentleman whose friends visited himself rather than his dwelling, and who were supe. rior to the necessity of stately ceremonial. On one side it fronted to the road, which it closely adjoined. On the other, to a narrow lawnsloping to the Thames. A piece of pleabure-ground, iacluding a garden, was cut off by the public road; an awkward and un. poetical arrangement. which the proprietor did his best to improye, by constructing his grotto or passage below the highway. After the poet's death. The villa was purchased by Sir William Stanhope, and subsequently occupied by Lord Mendip; but being in 1807 sold to the Baroness Howe, it was by that lady taken down, that a larger house might be built near its site. The grounds have suffered a complete change since Pope's time, and an obelisk which he erected to the memory of his mother, at their further extremity, has been removed. The only certain remnants of the poet's mansion are the vaults upon which it was built. three iu number', the central one being connected with 2 tunnel, which. passing under the road, gives admission to the grounds, while the side opps are of the characier of grottos, paved with square bricks, and stick over with sliellg. 111; curious to find over the central stone of the entrance into the left of these grottos, a large ammonite: upd over the cther. the piece of hardened elay in wliich its cast was leit. Pipe must have regarded these merely as curiosities or lux11* 1.turor, little dream. ing of the wonderful tale of the early condition of our globe which they assist in telling. A short Darrow piazza in front of the grottos is probably the evening colonnade' or the lines on the absence of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. The taste with which Pope lard out his grounds at Twickenham (live acres in all), had a marked effect on English land. scape.gardening. The Prince of Waley took the design of his garden from the poet's: and Kent, the improver aud embellisher at pleasure-grounds, received his best lossone Irom Popo. He aided materially in banishing the still formal Dutch style.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

His next works were more worthy of his fame. Between the years
1731 and 1735, he had published his Epistles to Burlington, Bathurst,
Cobham, avd Arbuthnot, and also his greatest ethical work, his 'Es.
say on Man,' being part of a course of moral pliilosophy in verse
which he projected. The 'Essay' is now read, not for iis philoso.
phy, but for its poetry. Ils metaphysical distinctions are neglected
for those splendid passages and striking incidents which irradiate the
poem. In lines like the following, le speaks with a mingled sweet.
ness and dignity superior to his great master Dryden:

Hope.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
Man never is, but always to be hiest.
The son), uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

The Poor Indian.
Lo! the poor Indian, whose untutored mind
Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind;
His soul, proud Scievce never tauglit to stray
Far as the solar walk or milky way;
Yet simple nature to his hope has given
Behind the cloud-topped hill an humbler heaven:
Some safer world in depth of woods embraced,
Some happier island in the watery waste,
Where slaves once more their native land behold,
No fiends torment, no Christians thirst for gold.
To be, contents his natural desire,
He asks no angel's wing, no seraph's fire;
But thinks, admitted to that equal sky,
His faithful dog shall bear him company,

Happine88.
O Happiness ! our being's end and aim,
Good, Pleasure, Ease, Coutent, whate'er thy name;
That something still which prompts th' eternal sigh,
For wbich we bear to live, or dare to die;
Which still so near us, yet beyoud us lies,
O'erlooked, seen double by the fool and wise !
Plant of celestial seed! if dropped below.
Say, in what mortal soil thou deign'st to grow ?
Fair opening to some court's propitious shine,
Or deep with diamonds in the flaming mine?
Twined with the wreaths Parnassian laurels yield,"
Or reaped in iron harvests of the field ?
Where grows!--where grows it not? If vain our toil,
We onght to blame the culture, not the soil:
Fixed to do spot is Happiness sincere;
"Tis nowhere to be found, or everywhere ;'

is never to be bought, but always free, And, fled from monarchs, ST. JOHN ! dwells with thee. Ask of the learned the way! The learned are blind: This bids to serve, and that to shun mankind; Some place the bliss in action, some in ease; Those call it pleasure, and contentment these ; Some, sunk to beasts, find pleasure end in pain; Some swelled to gods, confess e'en virtue vain Or indolent, to each extreme they fall, To trust in everything, or doubt of all,

And, there to be be found, 0458 sincer

The 'Essay on' Man' is in four Epistles, the first of which was published anonymously in February 1733, and the second about three months afterwards. The third and fourth appeared in the winter of 1733-4. The right to print these Epistles for one year was bought by a publisher, Gilliver, for £50 an epistle.

Pope's future labours were chiefly confined to satire. Misfortunes were also now gathering round him. Swift was fast verging on imbecility, and was lost to the world; Atterbury and Gay died in 1732; and next year bis venerable mother, whose declining years he had watched with affectionate solicitude, also expired. Between the years 1735 and 1739, Pope published his ininuitable ‘Imitations of Horace,' satirical, moral, and critical, containing the most noble and generous sentiments, mixed up with withering inyective and the fiercest denunciations. In 1742, he added a fourth book to the “ Dunciad,' displaying the final advent of the goddess to destroy order and science, and to substitute the kingdom of the dull upon earth. The point of his individual satire, and the richness and boldness of his general design, attest the undiminished powers and intense feeling of the poet. Next year, Pope prepared a new edition of the four books of the "Dunciad,' and elevated Colley Cibber to the situation of hero of the poem. This unenviable honour had previously been enjoyed by Theobald, a tasteless critic but successful commentator on Shakspeare; anů in thus yielding to his personal dislike of Cibber, Pope injured the force of his satire. The laureate, as Warton justly remarks, with a great stock of levity, vanity, and affectation, had sense, and wit, and humour; and the author of the “ Careless Husband” was by no means a proper king of the dunces.' Cibber was all vivacity and conceit-the very reverse of personified dulness,

Sinking from thought to thought, a vast profound. Political events came in the rear of this accumulated and vehement satire to agitate the last days of Pope. The anticipated approach of the Pretender led the government to issue a proclamation prohibiting every Roman Catholic from appearing within ten miles of London. The poet complied with the proclamation; and he was soon afterwards too ill to be in town. This additional proclamation from the Highest of all Powers,' as he terms his sickness, he submitted to without murmuring. A constant state of excitement, added to a life of ceaseless study and contemplation, operating on a frame naturally delicate and deformed from birth, had completely exhausted the powers of Pope. He complained of his inability to think; yet, a short time before his death, he said: 'I am so certain of the soul's being immortal, that I seem to feel it within me as it were by intuition.' Another of his dying remarks was: “There is nothing that is meritorious but virtue and friendship; and, indeed, friendship itself is only a part of virtue. He died at Twickenham on the 30th of May, 1741.

[ocr errors]

The character and genius of Pope have given rise to abundance of this sit comment and speculation. The occasional fierceness and petulance Net of his satire cannot be justified, and must be ascribed to his extreme divaible sensibility, to over-indulged vanity, and to a hasty and irritable temper. His sickly constitution debarring bim from active pursuits, he placed too bigli a value on mere literary fame, and was deficient in the manly virtues of sincerity and candour. There was no artifice to which he was not willing to stoop to elevate his own reputation or lower that of an opponent. The most elaborate of his stratagems was that by which he published his correspondence, charging the zul art publication upon some unknown literary burglar in alliance with a kao is Curll the bookseller. The whole of his literary history is indeed full i manne! of small plots and maneuvring, and no reliance can be placed on his statements. He appreciated moral excellence the feeling and the admiration were there--but the lower part of his nature was constantly drarging him down to little meannesses and duplicity. At the same time he was a public benefactor, by stigmatising the vices of the great, and lashing the absurd pretenders to taste and literature. He was a fond and steady friend; and in all our literary biography, there is nothing finer than his constant undeviating affection and reverence for his venerable parents.

Me let the tender office long engage,
To rock the cradle of reposing age;
With lenient arts extend a mother's breath,
Make languor smile, and smooth the bed of death;

popote
Explore the thought, explain the asking eye,
Aud keep at least one parent from the sky.

** Prologue to the Satires. 1 As a poet, it would be absurd to rank Pope with the greatest masters of the lyre. He was the poet of artificial life and manners rather than the poet of nature. He was a nice obseryer and an accurate describer of the phenomena of the mind and of the varying shades and gradations of vice and virtue, wisdom and folly. He was too fond of point and antithesis, but the polish of the weapon was equalled by its keenness. “Let us look,' says Campbell, 'to the spirit that points his antithesis, and to the rapid precision of his thoughts, and we shall forgive him for being too antithetic and sententious.' His wit, fancy, and good sense are as remarkable as his satire. His elegance has never been surpassed, or perhaps cqualled: it is a combination of intellect, imagination, and taste, under the direction of an independent spirit and refined moral feeling. If he liad studied more in the school of nature and of Shakspeare, and less in the school of Horace and Boileau ; if he had cherished the frame and spirit in which he composed the 'Elegy' and the 'Eloisa,' and forgot bis too exclusive devotion to that which inspired the 'Dunciad,' the world would have hallowed his memory with a still more affectionate and permanent interest than even that which waits on him as one of our most brilliant and accomplished English poets. Mr. Campbell in his

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »