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To get, by once more murdering Caius,
Deserved of gold an equal weight ?
When was it known one bard did follow
And I, unhappy, left alone.
March 18, 1708. I believe it was with me when I left the town, as it is with a great many men when they leave the world, whose loss itself they do not so much regret, as that of their friends whom they leave behind in it. For I do not know one thing for which I can envy London, but for your continuing there. Yet I guess you will expect me to recant this expression, when I tell you that Sappho (by which heathenish name you have christened a very orthodox lady) did not accompany me into the country. Well, you have your lady in the town still, and I have my heart in the country still, which being wholly unemployed as yet, has the more room in it for my friends, and does not want a corner at your service. You have extremely obliged me by your frankness and kindness ; and if I have
abused it by too much freedom on my part, I hope you will attribute it to the natural openness of my temper, which hardly knows how to show respect, where it feels affection. I would love my friend, as my mistress, without ceremony ; and hope a little rough usage sometimes may not be more displeasing to the one, than it is to the other.
If you have any curiosity to know in what manner I live, or rather lose a life, Martial will inform you in one line :
Prandeo, poto, cano, ludo, lego, ceno, quiesco.
Every day with me is literally another yesterday, for it is exactly the same : it has the same business, which is poetry : and the same pleasure, which is idleness. A man might indeed pass his time much better, but I question if any man could pass it much easier. If you will visit our shades this spring, which I very much desire, you may perhaps instruct me to manage my game more wisely ; but at present I am satisfied to trifle away my time any way, rather than let it stick by me ; as shopkeepers are glad to be rid of those goods at any rate, which would otherwise always be lying upon their hands.
Sir, if you will favour me sometimes with your letters, it will be a great satisfaction to me on several accounts ; and on this in particular, that it will show me (to my comfort) that even a wise man is sometimes very idle ; for so you needs must be when you can find leisure to write to
The correspondence was for some time steadily maintained, Pope appearing to delight in the careless ease of Cromwell's tone and manner :
April 25, 1708.
That glide along th' Elysian glades,
Strong drink was drunk, and gambols play'd,
The business of it is t'express,
How much I wish you health and happiness ;
A hearty stomach and fine lady ;
I made no question but the news of Sappho’s (Mrs. Thomas's) staying behind me in the town, would surprise you. But she is since come into the country, and, to surprise you more, I will inform you, that the first person she named, when I waited on her, was one Mr. Cromwell. What an ascendant have you over all the sex, who could gain the fair one's heart by appearing before her in a long, black, unpowdered periwig ; nay, without so much as the very extremities of clean linen in neckcloth and cuffs! I guess that your friend Vertumnus, among all the forms he assumed to win the good graces of Pomona, never took upon him that of a slovenly beau. Well, sir, I leave you to your meditations on this occasion, and to languish unactive (as you call it). The following is more worthy of Pope's reputation :
May 10, 1708. You talk of fame and glory, and of the great men of antiquity ; pray tell me, what are all your great dead men, but so many little living letters ? What a vast reward is here for all the ink wasted by writers, and all the blood spilt by princes ? There was in old time one Severus & Roman emperor. I dare say you never called him by any other name in your life : and yet in his days he was styled Lucius, Septimius, Severus, Pius, Pertinax, Augustus, Parthicus, Adiabenicus, Arabicus, Maximus, and what not ? What a prodigious waste of letters has time made! what a number have here dropped off, and left the poor surviving seven unattended! For my own part, four are all I have to care for ; and I'll be judged by you if any man could live in less compass ? Well, for the future I'll drown all high thoughts in the Lethe of cowslip-wine ; as for fame, renown, reputation, take 'em, critics !
Byron has versified the same sentiment, and much in the style of Pope :
What is the end of Fame ? 'Tis but to fill
A certain portion of uncertain paper :
Whose summit, like all hills, is lost in vapour;
And bards burn what they call their inidnight taper,
A name, a wretched picture, and worse bust. Yet no two poets ever longed more ardently or laboured more incessantly for fame than Pope and Byron. In moments of languor the above sentiment must have occurred to them, but their destiny impelled them onwards,
CROMWELL VISITS BINFIELD.
and despondency was not an abiding sensation with either. The extreme mobility or versatility of the poetical temperament was strikingly displayed in both, and also in a third poet, Burns, whose feelings and emotions, reflected in his poetry, but more capriciously exhibited in his correspondence, changed with such rapidity. In Pope there was always an under-current that he strove to conceal, and which, when discovered, is sometimes strangely at variance with his public and stately appearances.
Cromwell made one visit to Binfield. “Pray,” said the poet, “ bring a very considerable number of pint-bottles with you. This might seem a strange request, if you had not told me you would stay but as many days as you brought bottles, therefore you can't bring too many, though here we are no drunkards.” On Cromwell's return to London Pope wrote to him :
All you saw in this country charge me to assure you of their humble service, and the ladies in particular, who look upon us as but plain country fellows since they saw you, and heard more civil things in a fortnight than they expect from the whole shire of us in an age. The trophy you bore away from one of them in your snuff-box will doubtless preserve her memory, and be a testimony of your approbation for ever.
As long as Mocha's happy tree shall grow,
So long her honours, name, and praise shall last. Cromwell, of course, contrasted favourably with the rural magnates of Berkshire, who appear, from Pope's description of them, to have been of the race of Addison's fox-hunter and Fielding's Squire Western. He writes to his town friend:
17 Even at this early period Pope seems to have applied for relief from headache to the steam of coffee, which he inhaled for this purpose throughout the whole of his life.
I assure you, I am looked upon in the neighbourhood for a very welldisposed person ; no great hunter indeed, but a great admirer of the noble sport, and only unhappy in my want of constitution for that, and drinking. They all say, 'tis pity I am so sickly, and I think ’tis pity they are so healthy. But I say nothing that may destroy their good opinion of me: I have not quoted one Latin author since I came down, but have learned without book a song of Mr. Thomas Durfey's, who is your only poet of tolerable reputation in this country. He makes all the merriment in our entertainments, and but for him, there would be so miserable a dearth of catches, that, I fear, they would put either the parson or me upon making some for 'em. Any man, of any quality, is heartily welcome to the best toping-table of our gentry, who can roar out some rhapsodies of his works: so that in the same manner as it was said of Homer to his detractors : What ! dares any man speak against him who has given 80 many men to eat ? (meaning the rhapsodists who lived by repeating his verses) thus may it be said of Mr. Durfey to his detractors : Dares any one despise him, who has made so many men drink. Alas, sir ! this is a glory which neither you nor I must ever pretend to. Neither you with your Ovid, nor I with my Statius, can amuse a board of justices and extraordinary 'squires, or gain one hum of approbation, or laugh of admiration. These things (they would say) are too studious, they may do well enough with such as love reading, but give us your ancient poet Mr. Durfey!
This is a caricature in the style of the “men upon town,” though the difficulty of communication at that time, owing to bad roads and the want of public conveyances, checked the intercourse between different classes, and helped to give an air of strong rusticity to the character of the country gentlemen. Pope's Berkshire friends did not, it appears, even read the Spectator. As to Tom Durfey's catches, they possess a good deal of farcical humour and broad mirth, but they contain still more ribaldry and licentiousness. Durfey used to go with a fishing party every summer to Wiltshire, and would probably spend a night by the way with his roystering admirers in the Forest.18 There was much real
18 By long experience Durfey may, no doubt,
Ensnare a gudgeon or sometimes a trout ;
Fenton's Ep. to Lambard. Thomson the poet being told that Glover, the author of Leonidas, medi