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IMITATIONS OF HORACE.
The sooner this is the case the better. God deliver you from law, me from rhyme, and give us leisure to attend to what is more important.” This deliverance was never to come; but the poet indulged at this time in a twelvemonth's abstinence from publication. We have no work from his
to have rambled about as usual, and was at Southampton and Portsmouth, Oxford, Cirencester, and Bath. Old John Wesley, as Mr. Southey mentions, attributed much of his health and longevity to his frequent journeys and change of air; and Pope had certainly the benefit of the same salutary and agreeable succedaneum. That he was not idle, however, is proved by the number of his publications in 1737. In that year five of his Imitations of Horace appeared—the first epistles of the first book, the sixth epistle of the first book, the first epistle of the second book; the second epistle of the second book, and the Ode to Venus, book iv. Ode i. In these popular and delightful productions, the poet had opportunities of expressing his sentiments on all questions social, moral, and political,—of contrasting modern with ancient manners; describing, satirizing, or praising. He was also enabled to gratify his private tastes and feelings by commemorating some of those friendships which formed the solace and honour of his life. One epistle was ascribed to Bolingbroke. Another was addressed to Murray (Lord Mansfield) then rapidly rising into reputation at the bar; and Colonel Cotterell, the representative of an old Oxfordshire family, was distinguished in the same manner. The language of the poetry seldom rises above that prevalent in good society, refined by intellectual tastes and pursuits; but the epistles display the curiosa
felicitas of expression, the good sense, wit, and penetrating vigour which raised the poet above all the other imitators of the Roman satirist and moral poet. Spence relates that the Duchess of Marlborough offered Pope a very considerable sum if he would dedicate a panegyric to her illustrious husband; and that an opulent citizen, Alderman Barber (Swift's “ dear good old friend”) would gladly have given some thousands for even a single laudatory couplet in one of these epistles.
But while thus dispensing literary honours with princely generosity, Pope seems to have had misgivings that his poetical powers were on the decline. His duty was now he said, to soothe, and harmonise his mind
Teach every thought within its bounds to roll,
And keep the equal measure of his soul. These philosophic moods were of frequent occurrence, but they had no effect on his practice. Bathurst describes him in December as running about London with his usual restlessness and activity. “He is as sure to be there in a bustle as a porpoise in a storm. He told me that he would retire to Twickenham for a fortnight, but I doubt it much." He continued his satires with unabated spirit. Next year appeared his two Dialogues entitled “One Thousand Seven Hundred and Thirty-eight,” which were afterwards adopted and named as an Epilogue to the Satires. The boldness of his attacks on the court was at length threatened to be visited by a prosecution. His popularity as a poet, the dread of his powerful invective, and the long array of friends he commanded, made the minister pause, and it was deemed safer to begin with a humble victim. Paul Whitehead, who had a few years before written a poem bearing the ominous title of the State Dunces, in 1738 produced a second poem, entitled Manners, in which were some passages deemed personal and virulent, particularly one verse in which Sherlock, Bishop of Salisbury, and the Church of England, were degraded to an equality with orator Henley and his gilt tub.
And Sherlock's shop and Henley's are the same. The bishop resented this insult both on personal and public grounds, and in his place in the House of Lords he moved that Whitehead should be called before their lordships. The satirist, however, prudently disappeared, and the indignation of the House was directed to his publisher
DECLINE OF SWIFT'S HEALTH.
the modest and inoffensive Robert Dodsley. Dodsley was apprehended and placed for a short time in confinement. The Opposition peers and members of the House of Commons made so formidable a display of sympathy with the persecuted bookseller, that the proceedings against him were soon abandoned ; and Dodsley believed that his case was designed only as a hint to Pope. He informed Warton that Pope understood the prosecution in this light, and refrained from publishing a third dialogue which he had contemplated sending to the press. The hint was a disagreeable one to Dodsley, as, besides the annoyance and inconvenience it occasioned, his expenses amounted to seventy pounds. Pope continued in favour at the Court of the Prince of Wales, at Leicester House, but he supported it by no more political satires. A new Dunciad was in progress, and Colley Cibber was to be lord paramount.
The correspondence between Pope and Swift was now drawing to a close. There is an affectionate letter from the former, dated May 17, 1739, in which Pope reviews the circle of their common friends, a circle now lessened by death and divided by the vicissitudes of fortune. Swift had long been sunk in health and spirits. His periodical attacks of deafness and giddiness had become more frequent and severe, his memory was decayed, the fountain of his poetry dried up, and his soul lacerated, as he said, by the corruptions and oppression he witnessed in Ireland. His misanthropy was deepened by these physical infirmities, and by his solitary life. From whim or obstinacy he refused to wear spectacles, and he was thus to a great extent cut off from the solace and pleasure of reading, which Pope valued above all conversation, and was reduced to the society of a few flatterers and companions, who "loved wine that cost them nothing." Occasionally a flash of the old fire brightened up the sullen gloom ; but these coruscations were fitful and transient.7 To his early benefactor,
7 The quality or talent of humour is often, as Pope remarked in the case of Wycherley, the last to leave a man. At the time that Swift was writing thus shattered and dispirited, Pope writes concerning their former associates. Bolingbroke was still unsubdued :
He has sold Dawley for £26,000, much to his own satisfaction. His plan of life is now a very agreeable one, in the finest country of France divided between study and exercise ; for he still reads or writes five or six hours a day, and generally hunts twice a week. He has the whole forest of Fontainbleau at his command, with the king's stables and dogs, &c., his lady's son-in-law being governor of that place. She resides most part of the year with my lord, at a large house they have hired, and the rest with her daughter, who is abbess of a royal convent in the neighbourhood. I never saw him in stronger health or in better humour with his friends, or more indifferent and dispassionate to his enemies. He is seriously set upon writing some parts of the history of his times.
Jervas is next mentioned. He had returned from Rome and Naples, whither he had gone in pursuit of health. “ An asthma has reduced his body, but his spirit retains all its vigour, and he is returned, declaring life itself not worth a day's journey, at the expense of parting from one's friends.” Jervas died shortly after his return. Erasmus Lewis, Swift's faithful correspondent and prose-man, remembered him daily :
to Pope in a strain of gloom and despondency, we find this characteristic note to his cousin, Mrs. Whiteway, concerning a box of soap and a brush which had been sent to him by his cousin, Mr. D. Swift.
“Mr. Swife's gimcracks of cups and balls, in order to my convenient shaving with ease and dispatch, together with the prescription on half a sheet of paper, was exactly followed, but some inconveniencies attended : for I cut my face once or twice, was just twice as long in the performance, and left twice as much hair behind, as I have done this twelvemonth past. I return him, therefore, all his implements, and my own compliments, with abundance of thanks, because he hatkı fi xed me during life in my old humdrum way. Give me a full and true account of all your healths, and so adien. I am ever, &c.,
Jon. SWIFT. “ Oct. 3rd or 4th, or rather as the butler says,
the 2nd, on Tuesday, 1738." Swift was then in his seventy-first year. An interesting account of the closing years of Swift's life and of the malady under which his noble intellect was prostrated, is given in the work of Mr. W. R. Wilde, Dublin, 1849.
POPE'S ACCOUNT OF HIMSELF IN 1739.
Dr. Arbuthnot's daughter does not degenerate from the humour and goodness of her father. I love her much. She is like Gay, very idle, very ingenious, and inflexibly honest. Mrs. Patty Blount is one of the most considerate and mindful women in the world towards others, the least so in regard to herself.
Then Pope, in his interesting and characteristic style of egotism, expatiates on his own mental and bodily condition :
You ask me how I am at court. I keep my old walk and deviate from it to no court. The Prince shows me a distinction beyond any merit or pretence on my part; and I have received a present from him of some marble heads of poets for my library, and some urns for my garden. The ministerial writers rail at me: yet I have no quarrel with their masters, nor think it of weight enough to complain of them : I am very well acquainted with the courtiers I ever was or would be acquainted with. At least they are civil to me; which is all I ask from courtiers, and all a wise man will expect from them. The Duchess of Marlborough makes great court to me, but I am too old for her ; yet I cultivate some young people's friendship, because they may be honest men; whereas the old ones, experience too often proves not to be so; I having dropped ten where I have taken up one, and I hope to play the better with fewer in my hand. There is a Lord Cornbury, a Lord Polwarth, a Mr. Murray, and one or two more, with whom I would never fear to hold out against all the corruption of the world.
You compliment me in vain upon retaining my poetical spirit: I am fast sinking into prose ; and if ever I write more, it ought (at these years and in these times) to be something the matter of which will give a value to the work, not merely the manner. Since my protest (for so I call my “Dialogue" of 1738) I have written but ten lines, which I will send you. They are an insertion for the next new edition of the Dunciad, which generally is reprinted once in two years.
He next describes his health and mode of spending his time :
The mornings are my life ; in the evenings I am not dead indeed, but sleep and am stupid enough. I love reading still, better than conversation ; but my eyes fail, and at the hours when most people indulge in company I am tired and find the labour of the day sufficient to weigh me down. So I hide myself in bed, as a bird in his nest, much about the same time, and rise and chirp the earlier in the morning. I often vary the scene (indeed at every friend's call) from London to Twickenham, or the contrary, to receive them or be received by them.