« ZurückWeiter »
home. A dropsy in the breast at last put a period 10 his life, at the age of fifty-six, on the 30th of May, 1744, at his house at Twickenham, where he was in. terred in the same grave with his father and mother.
Mr. Pope's behaviour in his last illness has been variously represented to the world : some have affirmed that it was timid and peevish; that having been fixed in no particular system of fait'ı, his mind was wavering, and his temper broken and disturbed. Others have asserted that he was all cheerfulness and resignation to the Divine will: which ofthese opinions is true we cannot now determine; but if the former, it must be regretted that he who had taught philosophy to others, should himself be destitute of its assistance in the most critical moments of his life.
The bulk of his fortune he bequeathed to Mrs. Blount, with whom he lived in the strictest friendship, and for whom he is said to have entertained the warmest affection. His works, which are in the hands of every person of true taste, and will last as long as our language will be understood, render unnecessary all further remarks on his writings. He was equally admired for the dignity and sublimity of his moral and philosophical works, the vivacity of his satirical, the clearness and propriety of his didactic, the richness and variety of his descriptive, and the elegance of all, added to a harmony of versification and correctness of sentiment and language unknown to our former oets, and of which he has set an example, which will be an example or a reproach to his successors. His prose style is as perfect in its kind as his poetic, and has all the beauties proper for it, joined to an uncom. mon force and perspicuity.
Under the profession of the Roman Catholic religion, to which he adhered to the last, he maintained all the moderation and charity becoming the most thorough and consistent protestant. His conversa. tion was natural, easy, and agreeable, without any affectation of displaying his wit, or obtruding his own judgment, even upon subjects of which he was se eminently a master.
The moral character of our author, as it did not escape
the lash of his calumniators in his life, so have there been attempts since his death to diminish his reputation. Lord Bolingbroke, whom Mr. Pope esteemed to almost an enthusiastic degree of admiration, was the first to make this attack. Not many years ago the public were entertained with this controversy, immediately upon the publication of his Lordship’s Letters on the Spirit of Patriotism, and the Idea of a Patriot King. Different opinions have been offered, some to extenuate the fault of Mr. Pope for printing and mutilating those letters without his Lordship's knowledge, others to blame him for it as the highest breach of friendship, and the greatest mark of dishonour; but it would exceed our proposed bounds to enter into the merits of this controversy.
This great man is allowed to have been one of the first rank amongst the poets of our nation, and to acknowledge the superiority of none but Shakspeare, Milton, and Dryden. With the two former it is unnatural to compare him, as their province in writing is so very different. Pope has never attempted the drama, nor published an epic poem, in which these two geniuses have so wonderfully succeeded. Though Pope's genius was great, it was yet of so different a cast from Shakspeare's and Milton's, that no comparison can be justly formed. But if this may be said of the former two, it will by no means hold with respect to the latter ; for between him and Dryden there is a great similarity of writing, and a very striking coincidence of genius. It will not, perhaps, be unpleasing to our readers if we pursue this comparison, and endeavour to discover to whom the superiority is justly to be attributed, and to which of them poetry Owes the luighest obligations.
When Dryden came into the world he found poetry in a very imperfect state; its numbers were unpolish ed, its cadences rough, and there was nothing of har. mony or mellifluence to give it a graceful flow. In this harsh, unmusical situation, Dryden found it, (for the refinements of Waller were but puerile and unsubstantial;) he polished the rough diamond, he taught it to shine, and connected beauty, elegance, ano strength, in all his poetical compositions. Though Dryden thus polished our English numbers, and thus harmonized versification, it cannot be said that he carried his art to perfection. Much was yet left undone; his lines with all their smoothness, were often ambling, and expletives were frequently introduced to complete his measures. It is apparent, therefore, that an additional harmony might still be given to our numbers, and that cadences were yet capable of more musical modulation. To effect this purpose, Mr. Pope arose, who with an ear elegantly delicate, and the advantage of the finest genius, so harmonized the English numbers, as to make them completely musical. His numbers are likewise so minutely correct, that it would be difficult to conceive how any of his lines can be altered to advantage. He has created a kind of mechanical versification ; every line is alike; and though they are sweetly musical, they want diver. sity; for he has not studied so great a variety of pauses, and where the accents may be laid gracefully The structure of his verse is the best, and a line of his is more musical than any other line can be made by placing the accents elsewhere; but we are not quite certain whether the ear is not apt to be soon cloved with this uniformity of elegance, this sameness of harmony. It must be acknowledged however, that he has much improved upon Dryden in the article of versification, and in that part of poetry is greatly his su. perior But though this must be acknowledged, per
haps it will not necessarily follow that his genius was therefore superior.
The grand characteristic of a poet is his inven. tion, the surest distinction of a great genius. In Mr. Pope nothing is so truly original as his Rape of the Lock, nor discovers so much invention. In this kind of mock-heroic he is without a rival in our language, for Dryden has written nothing of the kind. His other work which discovers invention, fine designing, and admirable execution, is his Dunciad; which, though built on Dryden's Mac Flecknoe, is yet so much superior, that, in satiric writing, the palm must justly be yielded to him. In Mr. Dryden's Absalom and Ahithophel, there are indeed the most poignant strokes of satire, and characters drawn with the most masterly touches; but this poem, with all its excel lences, is much inferior to the Dunciad, though Dry den had advantages which Mr. Pope had not; for Dryden's characters are men of great eminence and figure in the state, while Pope has to expose men of obscure birth and unimportant lives, only distinguished from the herd of mankind by a glimmering of genius, which rendered the greatest part of them more emphatically contemptible. Pope's was the hardest task, and he has executed it with the greatest
As Mr. Dryden must undoubtedly have yielded to Pope in satiric writing, it is incumbent on the partisans of Dryden to name another species of composition in which the former excels so as to throw the balance again upon the side of Dryden. This species is the Lyric, in which the warmest votaries of Pope must certainly acknowledge that he is much inferior; as an irresistible proof of this, we need only compare Mr. Dryden's Ode on St. Cecilia's Day with Mr. Pope's, in which the disparity is so apparent that we know not if the most finished of Pope's compositions has discovered such a variety and com. mand of numbers.
It hath been generally acknowledged that the Lyrie is a more excellent kind of writing than the Satiric and consequently, he who excels in the most excel lent species, must undoubtedly be esteemed the great. est poet. Mr. Pope has very happily succeeded in many of his occasional pieces, such as Eloisa to Abe. lard, his Elegy on an unfortunate young Lady, and a variety of other performances deservedly celebrated. To these may be opposed Mr. Dryden's Fables, which though written in a very advanced age, are yet the most perfect of his works. In these Fables there is, perhaps, a greater variety than in Pope's occasional pieces: many of them indeed, are translations, but such as are original show a great extent of invention, and a large compass of genius.
There are not in Pope's works such poignant discoveries of wit, or such a general knowledge of the humours and character of men, as in the Prologues and Epilogues of Dryden, which are the best records of the whims and capricious oddities of the times in which they are written.
When these two great geniuses are considered in the light of translators, it will, indeed, be difficult to determine into whose scale the balance should be thrown. That Mr. Pope had a more arduous province in doing justice to Homer, than Dryden with regard to Virgil, is certainly true; as Homer is a more various and diffuse poet than Virgil; and it is likewise true that Pope has even exceeded Dryden in the execution, and none will deny that Pope's Homer's Iliad is a finer poem than Dryden's Æneid of Virgil, making a proper allowance for the disproportion of the original authors. But then a candid critic should reflect, that as Dryden was prior in the great attempt of rendering Virgil into English, so did he perform the task under many disadvantages which Pope, by a happier situation in life, was enabled to avoid ; and could not but improve upon Drydnin'e