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of man would be a guilty or an useless innovation; and his only wisdom would consist in returning to the feudalism or heathenism of generations already sunk from memory under the shades of ignorance, bloodshed, and superstition.
But the truth is, that in Pope's day religion was a topic which scarcely reached the higher ranks of society : French manners had infected the court and the courtiers: all the inferior followers of fashion were either sedulously irreligious, or cautiously delicate of confessing that they believed in any thing beyond a lax deism: Pope's patrons were either infidels, proud of publishing their infidelity; or frivolous persons of fortune, who regarded religion as only a village virtue. How far the disturbed and anxious state of England during the reigns of her first two Georges, the two invasions, the disastrous and exhausting foreign wars, and the general disaffection of the people, may be regarded as among those means by which Providence marks its displeasure on nations, which it is not yet determined to destroy, are questions of higher import: but an observer of the public fortunes of England might well be struck with the contrast of the prosperity which ushered in the reign of the third George, a king memorable for restoring dignity to the religious spirit of the country ;—the continued and rapidly progressive suc
cess with which England was rescued from the hazards of a disputed succession, the vigor with which she repelled the insidious hostility of Europe, the more than vigor with which she recovered from the temporary check of the American war, and the matchless triumph which she was destined to accomplish at once over the principles of atheism and the arms of the atheist, in the combat by which she broke down the hostility of France, and achieved the deliverance of mankind.
In 1718, a new source of interest occurred to disturb the poet's peace: lady Mary Wortley Montague returned from Turkey, and took a house, at Pope's earnest solicitation, in his neighborhood : at his farther solicitation, she sat for her portrait to Kneller. But the close intercourse of wits is seldom long-lived: in a letter to her sister, the countess of Mar, in 1720, lady Mary says:— I see sometimes Mr. Congreve, and very seldom Mr. Pope, who continues to embellish his house at Twickenham: he has made a subterranean grotto, which he has furnished with looking-glasses; and they tell me it has a very good effect. I here send you some verses addressed to Mr. Gay, who wrote him a congratulatory letter on the finishing his house : I stifled them here; and I beg they may die the
same death at Paris, and never go farther than your closet.' · The verses were these :
Ah, friend, 'tis true—this truth you lovers know;
Bleeds drop by drop, and pants his life away. Those lines, and the mode of their reception, seem to imply passion on the one side and apprehension on the other; but the subject has been left in mystery, and is scarcely worth developing.
The publication of the Iliad' proceeded; and the fifth and sixth volumes were given to the world in 1720. A whole volley of furious criticism was poured on the author by those enemies whom his contempt had created, and his honest pride had justly disdained to propitiate. To give a more substantial proof of his scorn, he collected their pamphlets, and bound them into volumes,
with the motto from Job :- Behold my desire is, that mine adversary should write a book.'
But à more serious calamity impended over him: the bursting of the South-sea bubble in the same year stripped him, if we are to take his words literally, of half his presumed fortune. But this loss only served to stimulate his industry: he issued proposals for a translation of the Odyssey,' of which Gay thus wrote to Swift in 1722 :— He has engaged to translate the • Odyssey' in three years, I believe rather out of a prospect of gain than inclination, for I am persuaded he bore his part in the loss of the South-sea. This work was in five volumes quarto. Five hundred and seventyfour copies at five guineas each were subscribed for: eight hundred and nineteen copies were printed: the copy-right was sold to Lintot for £600: but Pope, either more weary of the fatigue of translation, or less anxious for money than before, employed the assistance of Fenton and Broome, giving to the former £300, and to the latter £500.*
* The first three volumes were published in 1725, and the last two in 1726 : Fenton translated the first, fourth, nineteenth, and twentieth books; Broome the second, sixth, eighth, eleventh, twelfth, sixteenth, eighteenth, and twenty-third; Pope the remaining twelve : the notes were compiled by Broome; the postscript was written by Pope. The battle of the Frogs and Mice was by Parnell.
Still he could not be idle. Thus relieved, he turned his thoughts to an edition of Shakspeare in six volumes quarto, and completed it in 1725. Subsequent commentators have superseded the labors of Pope in the illustration of the great dramatist: his desultory reading was unequal to the research essential to clearing up the verbal obscurities of a writer, darkened by distance, by change of manners, and change of style; and still more darkened by the wilful corruption of the players, or the more daring presumption of the early editors. But the mind of a poet was in the work; and all that could be done by innate sagacity and delicate apprehension of phrase and image, was done : his lapses in minor matters were obvious, and there he lay at the mercy of laborious dulness; Theobald attacked him in his
Shakspeare Restored ;' a coarse recapitulation of his sins of omission : Pope reserved his revenge, and in the Dunciad made the critic ridiculous for ever.*
Every man who lives largely in society becomes
* This edition was comparatively unproductive : Shakspeare was then more honored than known: Garrick's acting was yet to restore him to the national idolatry. The subscription price for the six volumes was high,--six guineas. Pope received but £217, 12s., and Tonson was said to have lost by the publication.