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lingbroke's most constant companion, who was pre- CHAP. sent with him in his hours of leisure, and conversed with him in his most unguarded and social moments, could be ignorant of a feature of the mind so strongly marked-of a peculiarity so all-pervading as an entire rejection of all revealed religion. The evidence which we have, however, is entirely upon the other side. The peculiar ideas of Bolingbroke upon the subject of religion are chiefly to be gathered from his essays, or, as he called them, his metaphysics; they are never, except perhaps in one very ambiguous instance, even hinted at in his political works. Yet these essays were written in the form of letters to Pope they were read, approved, and celebrated by him; he speaks of them in his private letters, and praises them to their mutual friends. To Swift he says, "I hope you will live to see and stare at the learned figure he will make on the same shelf with Locke and Malbranche."* This sentiment is expressed in what Bolingbroke elsewhere calls a chedder letter; that is, a letter compounded of paragraphs furnished by different individuals; a manner in which the literary men of the day frequently cor
* Pope's Works by Warton, vol. ix.
† A chedder cheese is, I believe, made from a contribution from different dairies, to avoid the necessity of keeping the milk or cream; by which part of it would become sour before
the requisite quantity was ob-
CHAP. responded with Swift. Bolingbroke, who follows Pope, remarks upon the passage we have quoted : A.D. 1725 ‹‹ Pope talks very pompously of my metaphysics, and places them in a very honourable station. It is true I have writ six letters and a half to him on subjects of that kind, and I propose a letter and a half more, which would swell the whole up to a considerable volume; but he thinks me fonder of the name of an author than I am. When he and you and one or two other friends have seen them, satis magnum theatrum mihi estis; I shall not have the itch of making them more public."* Here is no attempt to conceal his sentiments from his two friends, nor any apparent anticipation that the discovery will astonish or displease.
These remarks may serve to show that it was not without understanding each other that the poet and the philosopher joined to construct a system of ethics. This, they determined, should descend to posterity, clothed in a more attractive form than those which are to be dug from the ponderous folios in which their authors have entombed them. The sentiments, the design, the philosophy, was to be Bolingbroke's: * the poetry, the ornament, and the
*Pope's Works by Warton, vol. ix. p. 261.
Lord Bathurst repeatedly assured Dr. Warton, the editor of the best edition of Pope's Works, that he had read the whole scheme of the Essay on
Man in the hand-writing of Bolingbroke, and drawn up in a series of propositions, which Pope was to amplify, versify, and illustrate.-Prefatory Remarks to the Essay on Man.
fame, Pope's. The progress of the work was slow. CHAP.
Awake, my St. John! leave all meaner things
A wild where weeds and flowers promiscuous shoot,
The result of the meditations of the poet and the philosopher upon the scene thus proposed for their
CHAP. consideration, it is hardly our task to criticise. All the beauty of poetic diction was brought to deck a A.D. 1725 system, based indeed upon the immutable truths of Natural Religion, but leaning for no support upon the equally sure authority of Revelation. Its faults are faults rather of omission than commission. The principles it inculcates are admirably traced from the fountains of truth which may be drawn from natural reason; but they are taken only as they come from those fountains-they are never pursued through the purifying medium of revealed religion. The grand error which pervades this poem is beautifully alluded to by Young in his first Night Thought :
O had he press'd his theme, pursued the track
O had he mounted on his wing of fire,
Soar'd where I sink, and sung immortal man!
The assertion that Pope was not aware of the ultimate tendency of the principles he was putting forth, has received some support from his conduct when his work was attacked. When Crouzaz, the Swiss professor, exposed the philosophy of the poem, and showed the real tendency of the doctrines it inculcated, Warburton, who had spoken disparagingly of Pope's genius at his first appearance, but when his fame was established had joined the crowd of his flatterers, took up the gauntlet in his defence. The doctor was a skilful advocate and a rough
enemy. His reputation and his violent abuse almost CHAP. crushed the unfortunate professor, who little anticipated the storm he was raising against himself. The A.D. 1725 principles of the Essay on Man were argued to be perfectly in accordance with those of Revelation. The dictator of the critical world declared this to be the fact, and denounced his weighty indignation against all who should presume to question it. Pope was alarmed by the consequences of what he had done, and was glad to retire behind the shield which the critic so opportunely extended. He declared that the third letter of the doctor's commentaries, in which the Swiss is demolished, makes his system as clear as he ought to have done, but could not. It is indeed, he declares, the same system as his, but illustrated with another ray. His gratitude to his opportune supporter betrays him into the most extravagant hyperbole in returning him thanks for the service. The remarks of Warburton had, it seems, such an effect upon the system of Pope, that what had before been but a natural body, became like to that same body glorified; an image as disgusting from its outrageous flattery as offensive from its impiety. He meant, he says, just what Warburton explained; but he did not explain his meaning so well as he.*
This declaration, if it stood alone and uncontra* Letter to Dr. Warburton, Pope's Works by Warton, vol. ix. p. 335.