« ZurückWeiter »
the genuine copy, we are told that letter 157 should be letter 163. The poet had in the interval found out that his first arrangement was wrong.
Thus the identity of the letters published by Curll with the same letters as published by the poet himself-both having omissions and interpolations and being without names—is in all essential points established. It is also established that there was no theft of the letters, for the originals remained in the books from whence they were copied. There is only one other shadow of a plea for inculpating Curll and his imputed confederates. The books in Lord Oxford's Library may have consisted of copies only, the originals being retained by Pope, and in making out those copies for his noble friend, the poet may have altered the letters and omitted names. From these manuscripts, so altered, the mysterious old gentleman who acted as first purveyor, may have surreptitiously transcribed his version for the press, It appears, however, that some originals were shown to Curll to engage him in the transaction. Whence did these come, or how were they replaced in the library? It is extremely improbable that Pope should have deposited copies of such letters as those to Lady Mary without giving the name of his correspondent, or that any rogue in the form of an old gentleman should have been able to get into Lord Oxford's library, day after day, and transcribe so large a collection of letters without being detected. Where was the librarian? The amanuenses employed in filling up the books must have been known: why was their evidence not adduced ? A Bow-street officer, even in those days, would have unravelled the plot in a forenoon. On the whole, then, we must set down the “surreptitious edition," as one of Pope's poeticæ fraudes, intended specially to benefit himself and to gratify his innate love of stratagem. It injured no one; the plot was of the same nature, though more complicated, than the mystery of the Dunciad, and it was not half so reprehensible as the poet's duplicity towards Aaron Hill. If Swift was allowed uncensured to
SUPPLEMENT TO THE PLOT OF THE LETTERS.
usher all his works into the world in mystery and disguise, and even the pious Addison to tell us that he picked up his Vision of Mirza at Grand Cairo, we need not waste our virtuous indignation on Pope for compelling himself to print his letters by force of a visionary confederacy, that was to overcome his coy reluctance, and bring him both fame and profit. Innumerable such authors' legends are upon record. Pope's differs from the rest only in the ludicrously cumbrous machinery he employed, and in the air of humility under which the poet's conscious selfimportance was veiled but not hidden.1
There was an amusing supplement to this plot of the letters. After Curll had published a second volume of
1 There is a passage in a letter to Richardson, the painter, and published in Mr. Roscoe's Life, which may be considered as incidentally snpporting the view of the case we have here taken. “It was not,” says Pope, “ that idle poem which I meant my caution of, in my letter to your neighbour Cheselden. That was the work of two mornings, after my brain was heated by a fever. But the thing I apprehend is of another nature, viz., a copy of part of another work, which I have cause to fear may be got out underhand ; but of how much or what part I know not.
In that case pray conceal entirely your having any knowledge of its belonging either wholly or partly to me; it would prejudice me both in reputation and profit.” The idle poem, the work of two mornings, was the Imitation of the First Satire of the Second Book of Horace, which Pope composed in a morning or two, in the winter of 1733, at the suggestion of Bolingbroke, when he was confined in town by a fever. Now, the letter of P. T. to Curll, offering the letters for publication, is dated November 15, 1733. Mr. Roscoe supposes that the work alluded to was the Essay on Man, the three first parts of which were published anonymously. But Richardson knew that Pope was author of the Essay ; and in a letter written to him a year previous—November 2, 1732—Pope mentions it to his friend by name. The caution in the above communication applies exactly to the correspondence, which, there was then every reason to believe, Curll would accept and instantly publish ; and it applies to no other work or publication of Pope's subsequent to 1733. It is worthy of notice also, among the scintillations of evidence on this subject, that Warburton says he published some of Pope's letters from the author's own printed though not published copies delivered to the editor. This shows Pope's habit of privately printing his letters.
“Mr. Pope's Literary Correspondence" he received the following communication, with accompanying documents :
Mr. Curll,—The characteristics whereby the author of the enclosed letters may be known are too many and glaring to need any mention of his name.
Were there no other arguments to confirm this, his own pen betrays him. But for your further satisfaction I must inform you that I found them among some papers of a deceased friend, with several others of a nature more insignificant, which therefore I would not transcribe. The gentleman's wife, before she was so, is known to have been personally acquainted with your adversary, which puts the matter beyond doubt. With many thanks for your two former volumes, these are at your service for the third, which I find you are about.
Yours, S. E. For Mr. Edmund Curll, Bookseller, in Rose Street, Covent Garden, London.
The letters enclosed consisted of translations from Voiture, one of them entitled, " To Miss B. on the death of her brother." Curll had replied by a notice in the newspapers, which called forth a second communication :
Sept. 29, 1735. Mr. Curll.-In one of the public papers I find the following advertisement: “A certain gentleman having received two letters from an unknown hand, signed J. E., if the author will let him know where he may be spoke with, or favour him with a line signed with his own proper name at length, the said gent. shall think himself very much obliged.” I presume it is put in by you and concerns me. Imagining that the two letters are the copies enclosed in mine to you, and that you, by mistaking my handwriting, -have put J. E. for S. E., thus I state the case and thus I answer.
When I sent you the copies of four letters which I thought abundantly worth your publishing, even though they were supposed not to belong to the hand whose style and sprightliness they undoubtedly bear, I did it with a view at least by your means of serving the public. If they fail of that desirable end, I am not answerable, having committed them wholly to your judgment, to publish or throw them by, as shall seem fittest to you and most to suit your conveniency. It can be but of little importance to you to know my name at length : let the initials suffice, as I for many reasons chuse it. If you have anything further to urge, it will probably escape me, unless inserted in the Gazetteer, Oracle, Old Whig, or Craftsman.
I wish you success in your third volume, and you may depend upon my utmost assistance in the encouragement of it, who am
Yours, &c., S. E.
This bait proved successful. Curll printed the spurious Pope letters in his third volume, and the poet was ready in the genuine edition to stigmatize them as letters "printed in his name, which he never writ, and addressed to persons to whom they never were written.” He also, in the list of spurious editions, pointed out the French source from which they had been derived. Now, the original com munications made to Curll still exist, and form part of the Rawlinson Collection in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. They are in Pope's well-known handwriting, slightly disguised. They are indorsed on the back, in the poet's usual neat printed characters, " LETTERS OF MR. POPE TO Miss BLOUNT," and no one can doubt their authorship. Pope had twice outwitted Curll We shall say nothing of the morale of the transaction, but its ingenuity and success are indisputable.
The letters, as printed by Curll, were so highly esteemed that one gentleman, Mr. Allen, of Prior Park, the original of Fielding's 'Squire Allworthy in “ Tom Jones”—offered to defray the whole expense of printing a genuine edition of the correspondence. The poet trusted to his subscription and declined the generous offer. In order, however, to
1 They are bound up in a volume with the letters addressed to Henry Cromwell by Pope, and others received by Corinna (Mrs. Thomas) from Dryden, Norris of Bemerton, Lady Chudleigh, &c. Rawlinson (who was & voracious and indiscriminate collector) had most likely purchased the manuscripts from Curll after they had been printed. One very gross letter in this collection was actually sent to the ladies at Maple-Durham, and is addressed “Dear Sisters." (Maple-Durham MSS.) On one of the pages in the correspondence preserved in the Bodleian Library, is a clever pen-and-ink drawing by Pope, representing a robed figure in an attitude of contemplation, under which Curll has written :-“ This figure is the delineation of Mr. Pope's penmanship. E. CURLL."
augment his collection, or to prevent their falling into the hands of Curll, Pope made an effort to obtain his letters from Swift. “I have too much reason to fear,” he writes, “ that those letters which you have too partially kept in your hands, will get out in some very disagreeable shape, in case of our mortality, and the more reason to fear it since this last month Curll has obtained from Ireland two letters, (one of Lord Bolingbroke and one of mine to you, which we wrote in the year 1723,) and he has printed them, to the best of my memory, rightly, except one passage concerning Dawley, which must have been since inserted, since my lord had not that place at that time. Your answer to that letter he has not got; it has never been out of my custody; for whatever is lent is lost, (wit as well as money) to these needy poetical readers.” It may be asked, why were not Swift's letters—unquestionably the most original and striking in Pope's correspondence-transferred to the books in Lord Oxford's library ? The answer, we suspect, must be, that Pope intended them for a separate publication. The poet next applied to Lord Orrery, entreating his lordship to obtain the letters from Swift; but all that could be obtained from the dean was an assurance that the poet's letters were sealed up in bundles and delivered to Mrs. Whiteway, a cousin of Swift's—his “female Walpole”—who was directed to send them to his friend after his (Swift's) decease. Mrs. Whiteway denied that she had received one of the dean's letters; but this lady was certainly a party to the subsequent publication of them in Dublin, a proceeding which seems for a moment to have shaken Pope's steady affection for his old friend and early benefactor.
The poet was able, though deprived of Swift's invaluable help, to enlarge the collection of letters published by Curll. The letters were put to press, and early in 1737, appeared in folio and quarto, with a vignette portrait after Richardson, " The Works of Mr. Alexander Pope in Prose.” Curll, we may remark, had not been idle in the interval. He issued successively a second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth