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LAST ILLNESS OF WYCHERLEY,
but then his experience left him the smaller excuse for not foreseeing the result.” The correctness of Pope's judgment was fully verified by the posthumous publication of Wycherley's poems; but Wycherley had actually reduced many of his pieces into prose maxims. In the poetry, Pope's corrected or contributed lines are easily discernible. He brought the skill of the artist to the observation and wit of the man of the world, who, even in his dotage, was no ordinary thinker. The dramatist lived five years after the close of this correspondence. By the help of common friends a reconciliation was effected, and Pope visited Wycherley in his last illness. Of this serio-comic scene he has given a description in one of his letters to Mr. Edward Blount:
Jan. 21, 1715-16. I know of nothing that will be so interesting to you at present, as some circumstances of the last act of that eminent comic poet, and our friend, Wycherley. He had often told me, as I doubt not he did all his acquaintance, that he would marry as soon as his life was despaired of. Accordingly, a few days before his death, he underwent the ceremony; and joined together those two sacraments, which, wise men say, should be the last we receive; for, if you observe, matrimony is placed after extreme unction in our catechism, as a kind of hint of the order of time in which they are to be taken. The old man then lay down, satisfied in the conscience of having by this one act paid his just debts, obliged a woman, who (he was told) had merit, and shown an heroic resentment of the ill-usage of his next heir. Some hundred pounds which he had with the lady discharged those debts; a jointure of four hundred a-year made her a recompense; and the nephew he left to comfort himself as well as he could, with the miserable remains of a mortgaged estate. I saw our friend twice after this was done, less peevish in his sickness than he used to be in his health; neither much afraid of dying, nor (which in him had been more likely) much ashamed of marrying. The evening before he expired, he called his young wife to the bedside, and earnestly entreated her not to deny him one request, the last he should make. Upon her assurances of consenting to it, he told her, “My dear, it is only this, that you will never marry an old man again." I cannot help remarking, that sickness, which often destroys both wit and wisdom, yet seldom has power to remove that talent which we call humour. Mr. Wycherley showed his, even in this last compliment; though I think his request a little hard, for why should he bar her from doubling her jointure on the same easy terms ?
So trivial as these circumstances are, I should not be displeased myself to know such trifles, when they concern or characterise any eminent person. The wisest and wittiest of men are seldom wiser or wittier than others in these sober moments. At least, our friend ended much in the character he had lived in: and Horace's rule for a play, may as well be applied to him as a play-wright,
Servetur ad imum
From his first entrance to the closing scene,
Wycherley submitted the Pastorals to Walsh, whose poems are still printed, though very rarely read, in our collections of the English poets. His name then stood high as a scholar and critic; he dressed well, as Dennis has recorded, and lived in ease at his seat of Abberley in Worcestershire. From admiration of the pastoral poet, Walsh invited him to the country; and Pope passed the summer of 1705 at Abberley. This notice was highly gratifying to him. Walsh's name would not now “raise a spirit,” but there can be no question that his praise, encouragement, and correspondence, did much at this time for Pope. They discussed the art of poetry and the principles of versification; and Walsh gave him one advice which was too congenial to be ever forgotten. He told him that there was one way left of excelling. “We had several great poets," he said, “but we never had one great poet that was correct; and he advised me to make that my study and aim.” Walsh could not mean that Milton was not a correct poet. Shakspeare he probably set down as a wild irregular genius, not reducible to rule. Even Addison, in his account of the greatest English poets, written in 1694, wholly omits Shakspeare, and passes from Spenser to Cowley. It was the fashion of the critics of that day-in some measure sanctioned by the example of Dryden—to restrict their notions of correctness to the dramatic unities and to mere rhymes and expressions. The true and great correctness which allies fiction to truth, and makes poetry the exponent
of nature, was disregarded. Pope was formed and fashioned to become a moral, a reasoning, and satirical poet; but it would have been wiser in Walsh to have counselled him to enlarge his views, and to seek for subjects of permanent and universal interest—to launch out into invention — to delineate passions instead of painting manners and ridiculing follies ; and thus, by touching our higher feelings and ministering to the nobler wants of our intellectual and spiritual nature, “rule over the wilderness of free minds.” Such an elevation was unattainable by Pope; but if a high standard of excellence and originality had been ever before him, we might have had more poetry of the stamp of the Elegy on an Unfortunate Lady and the Epistle of Eloisa, and less of the Curlls, Theobalds, and Cibbers.
Another of Pope's early correspondents and friends, before the grand era of his appearing in print, was Mr. Henry Cromwell, a gentleman of fortune, one of the numerous cousinry of the Protector's family, the common ancestor of both being Sir Henry Cromwell of Hinchingbrook, Huntingdonshire, the “Golden Knight” of Queen Elizabeth's days. Pope's friend was the son of Henry Cromwell of Ramsey, and was born on the 15th of January, 1658-9. He succeeded to the patrimonial lands, but at this
time he seems to have only possessed the estate of Beesby in Lincolnshire. He was a bachelor, and spent most of his time in London, being ambitious of the character of a man of gallantry and taste. He had some pretensions to scholarship and literature, having translated several of Ovid's Elegies for Tonson's Miscellany, and revised Pope's translation of Statius. He could also track Pope into the light literature of France, when the young poet poached upon the manor of Voiture. With Wycherley, Gay, Dennis, the popular actors and actresses of the day, and with all the frequenters of Will's coffee-house, Cromwell was familiar. He had done more than take a pinch out of Dryden's snuff-box, which was a point of high ambition and honour at Will's; he had quarrelled with him about a frail poetess, Mrs. Elizabeth Thomas, whom Dryden had christened Corinna, and who was also known as Sappho. Gay characterized this literary and eccentric beau as
Honest, hatless Cromwell with red breeches.
Dr. Johnson could learn nothing particular of him, excepting that he used to ride a-hunting in a tie wig. The epithet “hatless” may, as Mr. De Quincey suggests 16, refer to Cromwell's desire to be considered a fine gentleman devoted to the ladies ; for it was then the custom for such gallant persons, when walking with ladies, to carry their hats in their hand. The fashion was a continental one, prevalent at the courts of Louis XIV. and XV. (the former rode uncovered by the side of Madame de Maintenon's sedan-chair); and in the present day German princes may be seen walking hat-in-hand through their village capitals,-a circumstance which provoked this anathema from a Turk: “May thy soul find no more rest in paradise than the hat of a German prince!” What with ladies and literature, rehearsals and reviews (though he was somewhat deaf), and critical atten
16 Encyclopædia Britannica, art. Pope.
tion to the quality of his coffee and Brazil snuff, Henry Cromwell's time was fully occupied in town. Here is one of his gallant effusions, written at Bath :
VENUS AT BATH.—BY MR. CROMWELL.
The sportive mistress of the Paphian Court,
Most of Pope's letters to his friend are addressed to him at the Blue Ball in Great Wild Street, near Drury Lane; and others to “Widow Hambleton's coffee-house at the end of Princes Street, near Drury Lane, London.” Cromwell was a dangerous acquaintance for Pope at the age of sixteen or seventeen, but he was a very agreeable one. The earliest instance of their correspondence is a rhyming epistle addressed by Pope to Cromwell, which, from its allusion to the siege of Toulon, must have been written in 1707. This piece is found only in the surreptitious editions, and was never included by Pope in his works. Its poetical merit is small, but it possesses some biographical interest. He seems then to have felt what he specially guarded against in after years by means of rigid prudence and careful management-a want of money.
I had to see you some intent,