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fortune to step into the Cocoa-tree, where a certain gentleman was railing very liberally at the author with a passion extremely well counterfeited, for having, as he said, reflected on him in the character of sir Plume: on his going out, I inquired who he was; and they told me he was a Roman catholic knight.
I was the same evening at Will's, and saw a circle round another gentleman, who was railing in like manner, and showing his snuff-box and cane to prove he was satirised in the same character: I asked this gentleman's name, and was told he was a Roman catholic lord.'
A day or two after I happened to be in company with the young lady to whom the poem is dedicated : she also took up the character of Belinda with much frankness and good humor, though the author has given us a hint in his dedication,* that he meant something farther. This lady is also a Roman catholic. At the same time others of the characters were claimed by some persons in the room, and all of them Roman catholics.
But to proceed to the work itself :
In all things which are intricate, as allegories in their own nature are, and especially those that are industriously made so, it is not to be expected we should find the clew at first sight; but when once we have laid hold on that, we shall trace this our author through all the labyrinths, doublings, and turnings of this intricate composition.
First then, let it be observed, that in the most demonstrative sciences some postulata are to be granted, on which the rest is naturally founded.
* The character of Belinda, as it is here managed, resembles you in nothing but beauty.' Dedication to the Rape of the Lock.- Warton.
The only postulatum, or concession, which I desire to be made me, is, that by the Lock is meant
1. First, then, I shall discover, that Belinda represents Great Britain, or, which is the same thing, her late majesty. This is plainly seen in his description of her:
On her white breast a sparkling cross she bore : alluding to the ancient name of Albion, from her white cliffs; and to the cross, which is the ensign of England.
11. The baron, who cuts off the lock, or barrier-treaty, is the earl of Oxford.
III. Clarissa, who lent the scissors, my lady Masham.
iv. Thalestris, who provokes Belinda to resent the loss of the lock, or treaty, the duchess of Marlborough.
v. Sir Plume, who is moved by Thalestris to redemand it of Great Britain, prince Eugene, who came hither for that purpose.
There are some other inferior characters, which we shall observe on afterwards ; but I shall first explain the foregoing.
The first part of the baron's character is his being adventurous, or enterprising, which is the common epithet given to the earl of Oxford by his enemies. The prize he aspires to is the treasury, in order to which he offers a sacrifice :--
-- an altar built
* For a full account of the political transactions relating to this treaty, see the Conduct of the Allies; and Remarks on the Barrier-Treaty, vol. ii.
Our author here takes occasion maliciously to insinuate the statesman's love to France; representing the books he chiefly studies to be vast French romances : these are the vast prospects from the friendship and alliance of France, which he satirically calls romances; hinting thereby, that these promises and protestations were no more to be relied on than those idle legends. Of these he is said to build an altar; to intimate that the foundation of his schemes and honors was fixed on the French romances abovementioned.
A fan, a garter, half a pair of gloves. One of the things he sacrifices is a fan, which, both for its gaudy show and perpetual fluttering, has been held the emblem of woman : this points at the change of the ladies of the bed-chamber : the garter alludes to the honors he conferred on some of his friends; and we may, without straining the sense, call the half pair of gloves a gauntlet, the token of those military employments, which he is said to have sacrificed to his designs. The prize, as I said before, means the treasury, which he makes his prayer soon to obtain,' and 'long to possess.'
The powers gave ear, and granted half Lis prayer;
The rest the winds dispersed in empty air. In the first of these lines he gives him the treasury, and in the last suggests that he should not long possess that honor.
That Thalestris is the duchess of Marlborough, appears both by her nearness to Belinda, and by this author's malevolent suggestion that she is a lover of war :
To arms, to arms! the bold Thalestris cries: but more particularly by several passages in her speech to Belinda on the cutting off the lock, or treaty. Among
other things, she says, Was it for this you bound your locks in paper durance?' Was it for this so much paper has been spent to secure the barrier-treaty ?
Methinks, already I your tears survey;
Already see you a degraded toast. This describes the aspersions under which that good princess suffered, and the repentance which must have followed the dissolution of that treaty; and particularly levels at the refusal some people made to drink her majesty's health.
Sir Plume, a proper name for a soldier, has all the circumstances that agree with prince Eugene :
Sir Plume, of amber snuff-box justly vain,
With earnest eyes — It is remarkable, this general is a great taker of snuff as well as towns; his conduct of the clouded cane gives him the honor which is so justly his due, of an exact conduct in battle, which is figured by his cane or truncheon, the ensign of a general: his earnest eye, or the vivacity of his look, is so particularly remarkable in him, that this character could be mistaken for no other, had not the author purposely obscured it by the fictitious circumstances of a “round, unthinking face..
Having now explained the chief characters of his human persons (for there are some others that will hereafter fall in by the by, in the sequel of this discourse), I shall next take in pieces his machinery, wherein the satire is wholly confined to ministers of state.
The sylphs and gnomes at first sight appeared to me to signify the two contending parties of this nation; for these being placed in the air, and those on the earth, I thought agreed very well with the common denomination, high and low : but as they are made to be the first movers and influencers of all that happens, it is plain they represent promiscuously the heads of parties, whom he makes to be the authors of all those changes in the state, which are generally imputed to the levity and instability of the British nation :
This erring mortals levity may call :
0, blind to truth! the sylphs contrive it all. but of this he has given us a plain demonstration ; for, speaking of these spirits, he says in express terms ;
the chief the care of nations own, And guard with arms divine the British throne. And here let it not seem odd, if, in this mysterious way of writing, we find the same person, who has before been represented by the baron, again described in the character of Ariel; it being a common way with authors, in this fabulous manner, to take such a liberty: as for instance, I have read in St. Evremont, that all the different characters in Petronius are but Nero in so many different appearances ; and in the key to the curious romance of Barclay's Argenis, both Poliarchus and Archombrotus mean only the king of Navarre.
We observe, in the very beginning of the poem, that Ariel is possessed of the ear of Belinda; therefore it is absolutely necessary, that this person must be the minister who was nearest the queen : but whoever would be farther convinced that he meant the treasurer, may know him by his ensigns in the following line :
He raised his azure wand. His sitting on the mast of a vessel shows his presiding over the South-sea trade. When Ariel assigns to his sylphs all the posts about Belinda, what is more clearly described