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and do their proper mischief. Pope is said by an objector," not to have been the inventor of this petty nation ; a charge which might with more justice have been brought against the author of the Iliad, who doubtless adopted the religious system of his country; for what is there but the names of his agents which Pope has not invented ? Has he not assigned them characters and operations never heard of before ? Has he not, at least, given them their first poetical existence 2 If this is not sufficient to denominate his work original, nothing original ever can be written. In this work are exhibited, in a very high degree, the two most engaging powers of an author. New things are made familiar, and familiar things are made new. A race of aerial people, never heard of before, is presented to us in a manner so clear and easy, that the reader seeks for no further information, but immediately mingles with his new acquaintance, adopts their interests, and attends their pursuits, loves a sylph and detests a gnome. That familiar things are made new, every paragraph will prove. The subject of the poem is an event below the common incidents of common life; nothing real is introduced that is not seen so often as to be no longer regarded ; yet the whole detail of a female day is here brought before us, invested with so much art of decoration, that, though nothing is disguised, everything is striking, and we feel all the appetite of curiosity for that from which we have a thousand times turned fastidiously away. The purpose of the poet is, as he tells us, to laugh at “the little unguarded follies of the female sex.” It is therefore without justice that Dennis charges the Rape of the Lock with the want of a moral, and for that reason sets it below the Lutrin, which exposes the pride and discord of the clergy. Perhaps neither Pope nor Boileau has made the world much better than he found it, but, if they had both succeeded, it were easy to tell who would have deserved most from public gratitude. The freaks, and humours, and spleen, and vanity of women, as they embroil families in discord, and fill houses with disquiet, do more to obstruct the happiness of life in a year than the ambition of the clergy in many centuries. It has been well observed, that the misery of man proceeds not from any single crush of overwhelming evil, but from small vexations continually repeated. It is remarked by Dennis likewise that the machinery is superfluous; that by all the bustle of preternatural operation the main event is neither hastened nor retarded. To this charge an efficacious answer is not easily made. The sylphs cannot be said to help or to oppose, and it must be allowed to imply some want of art, that their
power has not been sufficiently intermingled with the action. Other parts may likewise be charged with want of connection; the game at ombre might be spared ; but if the lady had lost her hair while she was intent upon her cards, it might have been inferred that those who are too fond of play will be in danger of neglecting more important interests. These perhaps are faults, but what are such faults to so much excellence 1—Johnson. The Rape of the Lock at once placed Pope higher than any modern writer, and exceeded everything of the kind that had appeared in the republic of letters. Dr. Johnson truly says that it is the most airy, the most ingenious, and the most delightful of all Pope's compositions. Indeed, upon this subject there cannot be two opinions. This poem is founded, however, upon local manners. And of all poems of that kind it is undoubtedly far the best, whether we consider the exquisite tone of raillery, a certain musical sweetness and suitableness in the versification, the management of the story, or the kind of fancy and airiness given to the whole. But what entitles it to its high claim of peculiar poetic excellences !—the powers of imagination, and the felicity of invention displayed in adopting, and most artfully conducting, a machinery so fanciful, so appropriate, so novel, and so poetical. The introduction of Discord, &c., as machinery in the Lutrin, &c., is not to be mentioned at the same time. Such a being as Discord will suit a hundred subjects; but the elegant, the airy sylph, Loose to the wind, whose airy garments flew, Thin glitt'ring textures of the filmy dew, Dipped in the richest tincture of the skies, Where light disports in ever-mingling dyes :
such a being as this, is suited alone to the identical and peculiar poem in which it is employed. I will now go a step farther in appreciating the elegance and beauty of this poem, and I would ask the question, Let any other poet,_Dryden, Waller, Cowley, or Gray,+be assigned this subject, and this machinery : could they have produced a work altogether so correct and beautiful from the same given materials 7 Let us, however, still remember, that this poem is founded on local manners, and the employment of the sylphs is in artificial life. For this reason the poem must have a secondary rank, when considered strictly and truly with regard to its poetry. Whether Pope would have excelled as much in loftier subjects of a general nature, in the “high mood” of Lycidas, the rich colourings of Comus, and the magnificent descriptions and sublime images of Paradise Lost ; or in painting the characters and employments of aerial beings,
That tread the ooze of the salt deep,
Or run upon the sharp wind of the north,
ls another question. He has not attempted it : I have no doubt he would have failed. But to have produced a poem, infinitely the highest of its kind, and which no other poet could perhaps altogether have done so well, is surely very high praise. The excellence is Pope's own, the inferiority is in the subject. No one understood better that excellent rule of Horace :
Sumite materiam vestris, qui scribitis, aequam
From the statement of Pope in the edition of 1736, it would be inferred that the Rape.of the Lock in its second form was prepared and published in 1712. As usual he ante-dated his work. The original sketch came out in 1712; the machinery was added in 1713, and the enlarged poem was not published till the spring of 1714. Warburton’s narrative, which in some editions had Pope's initial affixed by an error of the press,” is in part derived from Pope, and the rest is erroneous. The person who bespoke the Rape of the Lock was not Mr. Secretary Caryll, but his nephew, the Sussex squire, and for years the correspondent of Pope. The assertion of Warburton, that Pope, when he wrote the work, was acquainted with his heroine, is discredited by his letter to Caryll on May 28, 1712. “Mr. Bedingfield,” he there says, “has done me the favour to send some books of the Rape to my Lord Petre and Mrs. Fermor,” and unless the poet had been a total stranger to them he would have presented the copies himself. The language of the motto can only bear the interpretation of Warburton, that the Rape of the Lock “was written or published at the lady's request,” but Warburton ought to have seen that the motto was a deception. The piece was not written at Miss Fermor's request, for it was absurd to imagine that she would ask any one to compose a poem to allay her own resentment against Lord Petre, and there is the direct statement of Pope in the body of the work, and in his conversation with Spence, that the suggestion did not come from her.” The piece was not published at her request, for in the Dedication of the second edition to Miss
* In his Observations on the Poetic character of Pope, Bowles reiterates that the Rape of the Lock is “a composition to which it will be in vain to compare anything of the kind,-that it stands alone, unrivalled, and possibly never to be rivalled.” “The Muse,” he adds, “has no longer her great characteristic attributes, pathos or sublimity; but she appears so interesting that we almost doubt whether the garb of elegant refinement is not as captivating, as the most beautiful appearances of nature.”
* “The small edition of Pope,” writes Warburton to Hurd, June 30, 1753, “is the correctest of all ; and I was willing you should always see the best of me.” Warburton refers to his 12mo, ed. 1753, and in this corrected edition Pope's initial is omitted.
* Rape of the Lock, cant. i. ver. 3; Singer's Spence, p. 147.
Fermor, Pope says of the first edition, “An imperfect copy having been offered to a bookseller, you had the good nature for my sake to consent to the publication of one more correct. This I was forced to before I had executed half my design, for the machinery was entirely wanting to complete it.” Warburton reversed the parts. The requester was Pope, and Miss Fermor gave a consent which it was vain to refuse when the sole alternative presented to her was whether the poem should be printed surreptitiously, or under the supervision of its author. The miserable farce of circulating copies of a work, and then alleging that the publication had become a necessary measure of self-defence, was one of those transparent pretences which deceived no one except the person who fancied that he was deceiving. Pope never wrote a line of the smallest value which was not intended for the printer. The motto from Martial was doubtless attached to the Rape of the Lock in the belief that Miss Fermor would be proud to countenance the misrepresentation. The poet was mistaken. “A few years ago,” says Dr. Johnson, “a niece of Mrs. Fermor, who presided in an English convent at Paris, mentioued Pope's work with very little gratitude, rather as an insult than an honour; and she may be supposed to have inherited the opinion of her family.” Pope told Spence that “nobody but Sir George Brown was angry,” and Warburton says that Miss Fermor “took the poem so well as to give about copies of it,” but we now know that Johnson was right in his inference. “Sir Plume blusters, I hear,” wrote Pope to the younger Caryll, Nov. 8, 1712, five months after the Rape of the Lock appeared ; “nay, the celebrated lady herself is offended, and, which is stranger, not at herself, but me. Is not this enough to make a writer never be tender of another's character or fame * * Respect for the fame and feelings of his heroine was not an act of grace; it was an imperious duty. At the request of a common friend he had composed a poem for an audiable purpose upon an incident of private life, and it would have been a hateful abuse of his commission, a slanderous violation of domestic sanctities, if he had penned a word which could sully the reputation of an innocent maiden. He is not free from reproach. Without intending to transgress he offended from inherent want of delicacy. He made Belinda the subject of some gross double meanings, which provoked the ribald comments of the critics, and, unless a morbid love of notoriety had extinguishod feminine purity, she must have been deeply outraged by being associated with these licentious allusions. Her indignation may appear
Johnson's Lives of the Poets, ed. Cunningham, vol. iii., p. 19; Boswell's Life of Johnson, 1 vol. ed., p. 462. Johnson's conversation with the Abbess took place in 1775. “She knew Pope, and thought him disagreeable.”
to have come too late, for though her consent to the publication of the work, when there was no real choice, does not involve approval, she might, through her friends, have effectually demanded the suppression of degrading couplets. Her very resentment, however, when she read the work in print, is a presumption that they were not in the manuscript which was sent her, and indeed it is incredible that she, or her family, could ever have sanctioned such revolting personalities. They are a sad exhibition of the ingrained coarseness of Pope's taste, of his incapacity to conceive the idea of womanly homage to outward decency, to say nothing of innate refinement and modesty. In the interval between the first and second edition of the Rape of the Lock, Pope was compelled to acknowledge that he had inflicted an injury on Miss Fermor. “I have some thoughts,” he wrote to Caryll, Dec. 15, 1713, “of dedicating the poem to her by name, as a piece of justice in return to the wrong interpretations she has suffered under on the score of that piece.” He tried a preface “which salved the lady's honour without affixing her name,” but she preferred the dedication. She wished to be dissociated from his heroine, and he propitiated her by saying, all the incidents are “fabulous except the loss of your hair; and the character of Belinda, as it is now managed, resembles you in nothing but beauty.” “I believe,” he wrote to Caryll, January 9, 1714, “I have managed the dedication so nicely that it can neither hurt the lady nor the author. I writ it very lately, and upon great deliberation. The young lady approves of it, and the best advice in the kingdom, of the men of sense, has been made use of in it, even to the treasurer's.” Plainer understandings will be puzzled to discover what scope there could be for the “great deliberation ” of the poet, and the advice of all the ablest men throughout the kingdom, including the prime minister, Lord Oxford, in making a simple declaration of a simple fact. To complete the absolution of Miss Fermor, Pope substituted another motto for the lines from Martial, and when their temporary withdrawal had answered his purpose he restored them in the quarto edition of his works. A more celebrated feud, if we are to trust the account of Warburton, took its rise from the Rape of the Lock. The success of the first edition “encouraged the author to give it a more important air” by the addition of the supernatural machinery. “Full,” says Warburton, “of this noble conception he communicated it to Mr. Addison, who he imagined would have been equally delighted with the improvement. On the contrary, he had the mortification to see his friend receive it coldly ; and even to advise him against any alteration, for that the poem in its original state was a delicious little thing, and, as he expressed it, merum sal. Mr. Pope was shocked