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of the place where she was in denied her christian burial, and she was buried without solemnity, or even any to wait on her to her grave except some young people of the neighbourhood, who saw her put into common ground, and strewed her grave with flowers, which gave some offence to the priesthood, who would have buried her in the highway, but it seems their power there did not extend so far.— AYRE. From this account, given with the evident intention to raise the lady’s character, it does not appear that she had any claim to praise, nor much to compassion. She seems to have been impatient, violent and ungovernable. Her uncle's power could not have lasted long ; the hour of liberty and choice would have come in time. But her desires were too hot for delay, and she liked self-murder better than suspense. Nor is it discovered that the uncle, whoever he was, is with much justice delivered to posterity as “a false guardian.” He seems to have done only that for which a guardian is appointed ; he endeavoured to direct his niece till she should be able to direct herself. Poetry has not often been worse employed than in dignifying the amorous fury of a raving girl. The verses have drawn much attention by the illaudable singularity of treating suicide with respect ; and they must be allowed to be written in some parts with vigorous animation, and in others with gentle tenderness; nor has Pope produced any poem in which the sense predominates more over the diction. But the tale is not skilfully told ; it is not easy to discover the character of either the lady or her guardian. Pope praises her for the dignity of ambition, and yet condemns the uncle to detestation for his pride. The ambitious love of a niece may be opposed by the interest, malice, or envy of an uncle, but never by his pride. On such an occasion a poet may be allowed to be obscure, but inconsistency never can be right.—Johnson. I have in my possession a letter to Dr. Johnson, containing the name of the lady, and a reference to a gentleman well known in the literary world for her history. Him I have seen, and from a memorandum of some particulars to the purpose, communicated to him by a lady of quality, he informs me that the unfortunate lady's name was Withinbury, corruptly pronounced Winbury; that she was in love with Pope, and would have married him ; that her guardian, though she was deformed in her person, looking upon such a match as beneath her, sent her to a convent, and that a noose, and not a sword, put an end to her life.—SIR John HAwKINs. The Elegy to the Memory of an unfortunate lady, as it came from the heart, is very tender and pathetic—more so, I think, than any other copy of verses of our author. The true cause of the excellence of this elegy is, that the occasion of it was real,—so true is the maxim that nature is more powerful than fancy, and that we can always feel more than we can imagine ; and that the most artful fiction must give way to truth, for this lady was beloved by Pope. After many and wide enquiries I have been informed that her name was Wainsbury, and that—which is a singular circumstance—she was as illshaped and deformed as our author. Her death was not by a sword, but, what would less bear to be told poetically, she hanged herself. Johnson has too severely censured this elegy when he says, “that it has drawn much attention by the illaudable singularity of treating suicide with respect.” She seems to have been driven to this desperate act by the violence and cruelty of her uncle and guardian, who forced her to a convent abroad, and to which circumstance Pope alludes in one of his letters.—WARTON. The real history of the lady distinguished by the epithet “unfortunate” in Pope's exquisite elegy, is still involved in mysterious uncertainty. One thing is plain, that he wished little should be known. It is remarkable that Caryll asks the question in two letters, but Pope returns no answer. It is in vain, after the fruitless enquiry of Johnson and Warton, perhaps, to attempt further elucidation; but I should think it unpardonable not to mention what I have myself heard, though I cannot vouch for its truth. The story which was told to Condorcet by Voltaire, and by Condorcet to a gentleman of high birth and character, from whom I received it, is this :—that her attachment was not to Pope, or to any Englishman of inferior degree, but to a young French prince of the blood royal, Charles Emmanuel, Duke of Berry, whom, in early youth, she had met at the court of France. The verses certainly seem unintelligible, unless they allude to some connection to which her highest hopes, though nobly connected herself, could not aspire. What other sense can be given to
She was herself of a noble family, or there can be no meaning in the line, That once had beauty, titles, wealth and fame.
Under the idea here suggested, a greater propriety is given to the verse, which otherwise appears so tame and common-place,
'Tis all thou art, and all the proud shall be.
It sufficiently appears from Pope's letter that she was of a wild and romantic disposition. She left her friends and country, and commenced a sentimental pursuit after the object in which her ambition and enthusiastic caprice had centered. Having alienated her relations by her wayward conduct, and being disappointed in the hopes she had formed, she retired voluntarily to a convent. Warton asserts that she was “forced” into a nunnery. This is expressly contrary to what Pope himself says in a letter to her : “If you are resolved in revenge to rob the world of so much example as you may afford it, I believe your design to be in vain ; for, in a monastery, your devotions cannot carry you so far towards the next world, as to make this lose sight of you.” It is most probable that incipient lunacy was the cause of her perverted feelings, and untimely end. Johnson says, “poetry has been seldom worse employed than in dignifying the amorous fury of a raving girl.” This seems severe, contemptuous, and unfeeling. Johnson, however, chiefly adverted, I imagine, to the false reasoning and absurd attempt in the lines “Is there no bright,” &c., to make suicide the natural consequence of more elevated feelings. Johnson spoke as a severe moralist, and a rigid philosopher, against such contemptible reasoning as Pope employs upon this subject from the fifth to the twenty-second verse. Having been, as might naturally be expected from his superior understanding, disgusted with the reasoning part of the poem, the gentler touches of fancy and tenderness
were lost, if I may say so, on him. He would turn with disdain from such images as–
There shall the morn her earliest tears bestow ;
or perhaps exclaim, as upon another occasion, Incredulus odi. Notwithstanding, however, his severity, the animated passages of this poem, “But thou, false guardian,” &c., and the lines of tenderness and poetic fancy interspersed, cannot be read without sympathy. The verses “Yet shall thy grave,” &c., are possibly too commonplace, but they are surely beautiful. If any expression might be objected to, perhaps it would be “silver” for “white” wings of an angel.—Bowles. The Elegy, although produced at an early age, is not exceeded in pathos and true poetry by any production of its author. But whilst we admit the extraordinary powers displayed by the poet, we cannot but perceive that they are apparently employed to give a sanction to an act of criminality, and to inculcate principles which cannot be too cautiously guarded against. It must, however, be observed, that this piece is not to be judged of by the common rules of criticism. It is, in fact, a spontaneous burst of indignation against the authors of the calamity which it records. Throughout the whole poem, the author speaks as if he were under a delusion, and utters sentiments which would be wholly unpardonable at other times. It is only in this light that we can excuse the violence of many of the expressions, which border on the very verge of impiety. The first line of the poem demonstrates that he is no longer under the control of reason. He sees the ghost of the person whom he so highly admired and loved. The “visionary sword ” gleams before his eyes, and in the excess of his grief he perceives nothing but what is great and noble in the act that terminated her life. This impassioned strain is continued till his anger is turned against the author of her sufferings, when it is poured out in one of the most terrific passages which poetry, either ancient or modern, can exhibit, -a passage in which indignation and revenge seem to absorb every other feeling, and to involve not only the offender, but all who are connected with him, in indiscriminate destruction. Nor is this sufficient—their destruction must be the cause of exultation to others, and they are to become the objects of insult and abhorrence—
There passengers shall stand, and pointing say, &c.
Compassion at length succeeds to resentment, and pity to terror. The poet in some degree assumes his own character, and his feelings are expressed in language of the deepest affection and tenderness, which impresses itself indelibly on the memory of the reader. The concluding lines, whilst they display the ardour of real passion, demonstrate how greatly the author was attached to the art he professed ; that, and his affection for the object of his grief, could only expire together;
The Muse forgot, and thou beloved no more.—Roscoe.
This poem first appeared in the quarto of 1717, where it bore the title of “Verses to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady.” In the edition of 1736, “Elegy” was substituted for “Verses.” The earliest historical account of the heroine was given by William Ayre, Esq., in a miserable compilation called Memoirs of Pope, which is full of extravagant fictions and blunders." This wretched book-maker has merely turned the incidents of the poem into prose, and amplified them in the process. His narrative would be unworthy of notice if it had not been adopted by Ruffhead, who borrowed, without acknowledgment, the statements, and, in the main, the very language of Ayre. The authority of Ruffhead's work is entirely due to the fact, that it was in part drawn up from manuscripts supplied by Warburton, and was subsequently revised by him. The copy corrected by the bishop contains no note on the pages which record the fate of
* The Memoirs by Ayre appeared in 1745, without the name of the publisher. In a pamphlet which was printed the same year, under the title of Remarks on Squire Ayre's Memoirs, it is stated that the work was put together, and published by Curll, who being notorious for the manufacture of vapid, lying biographies, puppressed a name which would have been fatal to the sale of his trash.
the unfortunate lady. It does not follow that he knew the particulars to be true because he has not declared them to be false. He was probably ignorant on the subject, and unable either to confirm or confute the story. Dr. Johnson was in the same position. “The lady's name and adventures,” he says, in his Life of Pope, “I have sought with fruitless inquiry. I can, therefore, tell no more than I have learned from Mr. Ruffhead, who writes with the confidence of one who could trust his information.” The trust was fallacious. Ruffhead, an uncritical transcriber, a blind man led by the blind, was deceived by a transparent impostor who, in default of facts, embellished the hints in Pope's verse. His style of invention is emblazoned in the last sentence of his narrative when he says, that “the priesthood would have buried the lady in the highway, but it seems their power there did not extend so far.” The law of England till the reign of George IV. ordained that a suicide, unless irresponsible from insanity, should be interred in the highway, and a stake driven through the body. Pope, in his poem, only spoke of “unpaid rites,” whence Ayre, alias Curll, concluded that the law of the place did not sanction road-burial. Familiar, however, with the English notion he transfers it to the priests of a locality where the usage, by his own confession, did not exist. Nearly half a century after the death of the poet, Hawkins and Warton, who evidently derived their statements from a common source, produced a legend, which instead of being drawn from the elegy is directly opposed to it. Pope says that the unfortunate lady destroyed herself with a sword, Warton that she put an end to her life with a rope; Pope says that she had beauty, Warton that she was deformed : Pope says that she had titles, Warton that she was simply one Wainsbury; Pope says that she had fame, and Warton has quoted a name so obscure that nobody has been able to discover her lineage, her connections, her residence, or that she was ever known to a single human being of the time. The Warton form of the romance has been jotted down by the Duchess of Portland in her note book, from which it appears that the narrators did not agree among themselves; for Warton declares that the lady was beloved by Pope; the duchess that Pope was beloved by the lady, and that he did not return her affection. In his Essay on the Genius of Pope, Warton states that her first suitor was the Duke of Buckingham, that on his deserting her she retired into a convent in France, and that her retreat into a nunnery prompted the poet, “who had conceived a violent passion for her,” to express his feelings in the Epistle of Eloisa to Abelard.” The Duke of Buckingham, on March 16, 1705, married his third wife, who survived him. The tone and details of the Elegy