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142 livid deaths: pestilence.
143-144 Pope was perhaps thinking of a terrible earthquake and food that had caused great loss of life in Chili the year before this poem appeared.
150 Then Nature deviates: Nature departs from her regular order on such occasions as these catastrophes.
151 that end: human happiness, as in l. 149.
156 Cæsar Borgia, the wicked son of Pope Alexander VI, and Catiline are mentioned here as portents in the moral world parallel to plagues and earthquakes in the physical.
160 young Ammon: Alexander the Great. See note on Essay on Criticism, l. 376.
163 Why do we accuse God for permitting wickedness when we do not blame Him for permitting evil in the natural world?
166 there: in nature. — here: in man.
173-206 In this section Pope reproves those who are dissatisfied with man's faculties. He points out that all animals, man included, have powers suited to their position in the world (ll. 179-188), and asserts that if man had keener senses than he now has, he would be exposed to evils from which he now is free (1l. 193–203).
176 To want: to lack.
183 the state: the place which the creature occupies in the natural world.
195 finer optics: keener power of sight. 197 touch: a noun, subject of “were given,” understood from l. 195.
199 quick effiuvia: pungent odors. The construction is very condensed here; “ effluvia” may be regarded like “ touch as a subject of
were given ” (1. 195); but one would expect rather a phrase to denote a keener sense of smell than man now possesses.
202 music of the spheres: it was an old belief that the stars and planets uttered musical notes as they moved along their courses. These notes made up the “harmony of the spheres.” Shakespeare (Merchant of Venice, V, 64-5) says that our senses are too dull to hear it. Pope, following a passage in Cicero's Somnium Scipionis, suggests that this music is too loud for human senses.
207-232 Pope now goes on to show how in the animal world there is an exact gradation of the faculties of sense and of the powers of instinct.
Man alone is endowed with reason which is more than equivalent to all these powers and makes him lord over all animals.
212 The mole is almost blind; the lynx was supposed to be the most keen-sighted of animals.
213-214 The lion was supposed by Pope to hunt by sight alone as the dog by scent. What does he mean by“ the tainted green”?
215–216 Fishes are almost deaf, while birds are very quick of hearing. 219 nice: keenly discriminating. — healing dew: healthful honey.
221-222 The power of instinct which is barely perceptible in the pig amounts almost to the power of reason in the elephant.
223 barrier: pronounced like the French barrière, as a word of two syllables with the accent on the last.
226 Sense . . . Thought: sensation and reason.
227 Middle natures: intermediate natures, which long to unite with those above or below them. The exact sense is not very clear.
233–258 In this passage Pope insists that the chain of being stretches unbroken from God through man to the lowest created forms. link in this chain were broken, as would happen if men possessed higher faculties than are now assigned them, the whole universe would be thrown into confusion. This is another answer to those who complain of the imperfections of man's nature.
234 quick: living. Pope does not discriminate between organic and inorganic matter.
240 glass: microscope.
242–244 Inferior beings might then press upon us. If they did not, a fatal gap would be left by our ascent in the scale.
247 each system: Pope imagines the universe to be composed of an infinite number of systems like ours. Since each of these is essential to the orderly arrangement of the universe, any disorder such as he has imagined would have infinitely destructive consequences. These are described in ll. 251-257.
267-280 In these lines Pope speaks of God as the soul of the world in an outburst of really exalted enthusiasm that is rare enough in his work.
269 That: a relative pronoun referring to “soul,” l. 268. 270 th' ethereal frame: the heavens.
276 as perfect in a hair as heart: this has been called “ a vile antithesis," on the ground that there is no reason why hair and heart should be contrasted. But Pope may have had in mind the saying of Christ,
the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” The hairs are spoken of here as the least important part of the body; the heart, on the other hand, has always been thought of as the most important organ. There is, therefore, a real antithesis between the two.
278 Seraph burns: the seraphim according to old commentators are on fire with the love of God.
280 equals all: makes all things equal. This does not seem consistent with the idea of the gradations of existence which Pope has been preaching throughout this Epistle. Possibly it means that all things high and low are filled alike with the divine spirit and in this sense all things are equal. But one must not expect to find exact and consistent philosophy in the Essay on Man.
281-294 Here Pope sums up the argument of this Epistle, urging man to recognize his ignorance, to be content with his seeming imperfections, and to realize that “whatever is, is right.”
282 Our proper bliss: our happiness as men. 283 point: appointed place in the universe. 286 Secure: sure.
289 Hobbes, an English philosopher with whose work Pope was, no doubt, acquainted, says, “Nature is the art whereby God governs the world."
AN EPISTLE TO DR ARBUTHNOT
Next to The Rape of the Lock, I think, the Epistle to Arbuthnot is the most interesting and the most important of Pope's poems
-the most important since it shows the master poet of the age employing his ripened powers in the field most suitable for their display, that of personal satire, the most interesting, because, unlike his former satiric poem the Dunciad, it is not mere invective, but gives us, as no other poem of Pope's can be said to do, a portrait of the poet himself.
Like most of Pope's poems, the Epistle to Arbuthnot owes its existence to an objective cause. This was the poet's wish to justify himself against a series of savage attacks, which had recently been directed against him. If Pope had expected by the publication of the Dunciad to crush the herd of scribblers who had been for years abusing him, he must have been
woefully disappointed. On the contrary, the roar of insult and calumny rose louder than ever, and new voices were added to the chorus. In the year 1733 two enemies entered the field against Pope such as he had never yet had to encounter enemies of high social position, of acknowledged wit, and of a certain, though as the sequel proved quite inadequate, talent for satire. These were Lady Mary Wortley Montague and Lord John Hervey.
Lady Mary had been for years acknowledged as one of the wittiest, most learned, and most beautiful women of her day. Pope seems to have met her in 1715 and at once joined the train of her admirers. When she accompanied her husband on his embassy to Constantinople in the following year, the poet entered into a long correspondence with her, protesting in the most elaborate fashion his undying devotion. On her return he induced her to settle with her husband at Twickenham. Here he continued his attentions, half real, half in the affected gallantry of the day, until, to quote the lady's own words to her daughter many years after, “ at some ill-chosen time when she least expected what romancers call a declaration, he made such passionate love to her, as, in spite of her utmost endeavours to be angry and look grave, provoked an immoderate fit of laughter,” and, she added, from that moment Pope became her implacable enemy. Certainly by the time Pope began to write the Dunciad he was so far estranged from his old friend that he permitted himself in that poem a scoffing allusion to a scandal in which she had recently become involved. The lady answered, or the poet thought that she did, with an anonymous pamphlet, A Pop upon Pope, describing a castigation, wholly imaginary, said to have been inflicted upon the poet as a proper reward for his satire. After this, of course, all hope of a reconciliation was at an end, and in his satires and epistles Pope repeatedly introduced Lady Mary under various titles in the most offensive fashion. In his first Imitation of Horace, published in February, 1733, he referred in the most unpardonable manner to a certain Sappho, and the dangers attendant upon any acquaintance with her. Lady Mary was foolish enough to apply the lines to herself and to send a common friend to remonstrate with Pope. He coolly replied that he was surprised that Lady Mary should feel hurt, since the lines could only apply to certain women, naming four notorious scribblers, whose lives were as immoral as their works. Such an answer was by no means calculated to turn away the lady's wrath, and for an ally in the campaign of anonymous abuse that she now planned she sought out her friend Lord Hervey.
John Hervey, called by courtesy Lord Hervey, the second son of the Earl of Bristol, was one of the most prominent figures at the court of George II. He had been made vice-chamberlain of the royal household in 1730, and was the intimate friend and confidential adviser of Queen Caroline. Clever, affable, unprincipled, and cynical, he was a perfect type of the Georgian courtier to whom loyalty, patriotism, honesty, and honor were so many synonyms for folly. He was effeminate in habits and appearance, but notoriously licentious; he affected to scoff at learning but made some pretense to literature, and had written Four Epist'es after the Manner of Ovid, and numerous political pamphlets. Pope, who had some slight personal acquaintance with him, disliked his political connections and probably despised his verses, and in the Imitation already mentioned had alluded to him under the title of Lord Fanny as capable of turning out a thousand lines of verse a day. This was sufficient cause, if cause were needed, to induce Hervey to join Lady Mary in her warfare against Pope.
The first blow was struck in an anonymous poem, probably the combined work of the two allies, called Verses addressed to the Imitator of Horace, which appeared in March, 1733, and it was followed up in August by an Epistle from a Nobleman to a Doctor of Divinity, which also appeared anonymously, but was well known to be the work of Lord Hervey. In these poems Pope was abused in the most unmeasured terms. His work was styled a mere collection of libels; he had no invention except in defamation; he was a mere pretender to genius. His morals were not left unimpeached; he was charged with selling other men's work printed in his name, a gross distortion of his employing assistants in the translation of the Odyssey, — he was ungrateful, unjust, a foe to human kind, an enemy like the devil to all that have being. The noble authors, probably well aware how they could give the most pain, proceeded to attack his family and his distorted person. His parents were obscure and vulgar people; and he himself a wretched outcast
with the emblem of [his) crooked mind
Marked on [his] back like Cain by God's own hand. And to cap the climax, as soon as these shameful.libels were in print, Lord Hervey bustled off to show them to the Queen and to laugh with her over the fine way in which he had put down the bitter little poet.
In order to understand and appreciate Pope's reception of these attacks, we must recall to ourselves the position in which he lived. He was a Catholic, and I have already (Introduction, p. x) called attention to the