« ZurückWeiter »
relieve the darkness of the shadows, the portrait is frankly inhuman. It is the product of an unrestrained outburst of bitter passion. The portrait of Atticus, on the other hand, was, as we know, the work of years. It is the product not of an outburst of fury, but of a slowly growing and intense dislike, which, while recognizing the merits of its object, fastened with peculiar power upon his faults and weaknesses. The studious restraint which controls the satirist's hand makes it only the more effective. We know well enough that the portrait is not a fair one, but we are forced to remind ourselves of this at every step to avoid the spell which Pope's apparent impartiality casts over our judgments. The whole passage reads not so much like the heated plea of an advocate as the measured summing-up of a judge, and the last couplet falls on our ears with the inevitability of a final sentence. But the peculiar merit of the Epistle to Arbuthnol consists neither in the ease and polish of its style, nor in the vigor and effectiveness of its satire, but in the insight it gives us into the heart and mind of the poet himself. It presents an ideal picture of Pope, the man and the author, of his life, his friendships, his love of his parents, his literary relationships and aims. And it is quite futile to object, as some critics have done, that this picture is not exactly in accordance with the known facts of Pope's life. No great man can be tried and judged on the mere record of his acts. We must know the circumstances that shaped these, and the motives that inspired them. A man's ideals, if genuinely held and honestly followed, are perhaps even more valuable contributions to our final estimate of the man himself than all he did or left undone.
All I could never be,
This, I was worth to God, whose wheel the pitcher shaped. And in the Epistle to Arbuthnot we recognize in Pope ideals of independence, of devotion to his art, of simple living, of loyal friendship, and of filial piety which shine in splendid contrast with the gross, servile, and cynically immoral tone of the age and society in which he lived.
Dr. John Arbuthnot, one of Pope's most intimate friends, had been physician to Queen Anne, and was a man of letters as well as a doctor. Arbuthnot, Pope, and Swift had combined to get out a volume of Miscellanies in 1737. His health was failing rapidly at this time, and he died a month or so after the appearance of this Epistle.
1 John: John Searle, Pope's faithful servant.
4 Bedlam: a lunatic asylum in London in Pope's day. Notice how Pope mentions, in the same breath, Bedlam and Parnassus, the hill of the Muses which poets might well be supposed to haunt.
8 thickets: the groves surrounding Pope's villa. Grot: see Introduction, p. xvii.
10 the chariot: the coach in which Pope drove. the barge: the boat in which Pope was rowed upon the Thames.
13 the Mint: a district in London where debtors were free from arrest. As they could not be arrested anywhere on Sunday, Pope represents them as taking that day to inflict their visits on him.
15 Parson: probably a certain Eusden, who had some pretensions to letters, but who ruined himself by drink.
17 Clerk: a law clerk.
19-20 An imaginary portrait of a mad poet who keeps on writing verses even in his cell in Bedlam. Pope may have been thinking of Lee, a dramatist of Dryden's day who was confined for a time in this asylum.
23 Arthur: Arthur Moore, a member of Parliament for some years and well known in London society. His “giddy son,” James Moore, who took the name of Moore Smythe, dabbled in letters and was a bitter enemy of Pope.
25 Cornus: Robert Lord Walpole, whose wife deserted him in 1734. Horace Walpole speaks of her as half mad.
31 sped: done for.
40 Pope's counsel to delay the publication of the works read to him is borrowed from Horace: nonumque prematur in annum” (Ars Poetica, 388).
41 Drury-lane, like Grub Street, a haunt of poor authors at this time.
43 before Term ends: before the season is over; that is, as soon as the poem is written.
48 a Prologue: for a play. Of course a prologue by the famous Mr. Pope would be of great value to a poor and unknown dramatist.
49 Pitholeon: the name of a foolish poet mentioned by Horace. Pope uses it here for his enemy Welsted, mentioned in l. 373. — his Grace: the title given a Duke in Great Britain. The Duke here referred to is said
to be the Duke of Argyle, one of the most influential of the great Whig lords.
53 Curll: a notorious publisher of the day, and an enemy of Pope. The implication is that if Pope will not grant Pitholeon's request, the latter will accept Curll's invitation and concoct a new libel against the poet.
60 Pope was one of the few men of letters of his day who had not written a play, and he was at this time on bad terms with certain
62 Bernard Lintot, the publisher of Pope's translation of Homer.
66 go snacks: share the profits. Pope represents the unknown dramatist as trying to bribe him to give a favorable report of the play.
69 Midas: an old legend tells us that Midas was presented with a pair of ass's ears by an angry god whose music he had slighted. His barber, or, Chaucer says, his queen, discovered the change which Midas had tried to conceal, and unable to keep the secret whispered it to the reeds in the river, who straightway spread the news abroad.
75 With this line Arbuthnot is supposed to take up the conversation. This is indicated here and elsewhere by the letter A.
79 Dunciad: see Introduction, p. xviii.
85 Codrus: a name borrowed from Juvenal to denote a foolish poet. Pope uses it here for some conceited dramatist who thinks none the less of himself because his tragedy is rejected with shouts of laughter.
96 Explain the exact meaning of this line.
97 Bavius: a stock name for a bad poet. See note on Essay on Criticism, I. 34.
98 Philips: Ambrose Philips, author among other things of a set of Pastorals that appeared in the same volume with Pope, 1709. Pope and he soon became bitter enemies. He was patronized by a Bishop Boulter.
99 Sappho: Here as elsewhere Pope uses the name of the Greek poetess for his enemy, Lady Mary Wortley Montague.
109 Grubstreet: a wretched street in London, inhabited in Pope's day by hack writers, most of whom were his enemies.
111 Curll (see note to l. 53) had printed a number of Pope's letters without the poet's consent some years before this poem was written.
113–122 Pope here describes the flatterers who were foolish enough to pay him personal compliments. They compare him to Horace who was short like Pope, though fat, and who seems to have suffered from
colds; also to Alexander, one of whose shoulders was higher than the other, and to Ovid, whose other name, Naso, might indicate that long noses were a characteristic feature of his family. Pope really had large and beautiful eyes. Maro, l. 122, is Virgil.
123 With this line Pope begins an account of his life as a poet. For his precocity, see Introduction, p. xii.
129 ease: amuse, entertain. — friend, not Wife: the reference is, perhaps, to Martha Blount, Pope's friend, and may have been meant as a contradiction of his reported secret marriage to her.
132 to bear: to endure the pains and troubles of an invalid's life.
133 Granville: George Granville, Lord Lansdowne, a poet and patron of letters to whom Pope had dedicated his Windsor Forest.
134 Walsh: see note on Essay on Criticism, l. 729.
135 Garth : Sir Samuel Garth, like Arbuthnot, a doctor, a man of letters, and an early friend of Pope.
137 Charles Talbot, Duke of Shrewsbury; John, Lord Somers; and John Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham; all leading statesmen and patrons of literature in Queen Anne's day.
138 Rochester: Francis Atterbury, Bishop of Rochester, an intimate friend of Pope.
139 St. John: Bolingbroke. For Pope's relations with him, see introduction to the Essay on Man, p. 116.
143 Gilbert Burnet and John Oldmixon had written historical works from the Whig point of view. Roger Cooke, a now forgotten writer, had published a Detection of the Court and State of England. Pope in a note on this line calls them all three authors of secret and scandalous history.
146 The reference is to Pope's early descriptive poems, the Pastorals and Windsor Forest.
147 gentle Fanny's: a sneer at Lord Hervey's verses. See the introduction to this poem, p. 126.
149 Gildon: a critic of the time who had repeatedly attacked Pope. The poet told Spence that he had heard Addison gave Gildon ten pounds to slander him.
151 Dennis: see note on Essay on Criticism. 1. 270.
156 kiss'd the rod: Pope was sensible enough to profit by the criticisms even of his enemies. He corrected several passages in the Essay on Criticism which Dennis had properly found fault with.
162 Bentley: the most famous scholar of Pope's day. Pope disliked
him because of his criticism of the poet's translation of the Iliad, good verses, but not Homer.” The epithet “slashing ” refers to Bentley's edition of Paradise Lost in which he altered and corrected the poet's text to suit his own ideas. Tibbalds: Lewis Theobald (pronounced Tibbald), a scholar who had attacked Pope's edition of Shakespeare. Pope calls him “piddling” because of his scrupulous attention to details.
177 The Bard: Philips, see note on l. 98. Pope claimed that Philips's Pastorals were plagiarized from Spenser, and other poets. Philips, also, translated some Persian Tales for the low figure of half a crown apiece.
187 bade translate: suggested that they translate other men's work, since they could write nothing valuable of their own.
188 Tate: a poetaster of the generation before Pope. He is remembered as the part author of a doggerel version of the Psalms.
191-212 For a discussion of this famous passage, see introduction to the Epistle p. 130.
196 the Turk: it was formerly the practice for a Turkish monarch when succeeding to the throne to have all his brothers murdered so as to do away with possible rivals.
199 faint praise: Addison was hearty enough when he cared to praise his friends. Pope is thinking of the coldness with which Addison treated his Pastorals as compared to those of Philips.
206 oblig'd: note the old-fashioned pronunciation to rhyme with “ besieged.”
207 Cato: an unmistakable allusion to Addison's tragedy in which the famous Roman appears laying down the law to the remnants of the Senate.
209 Templars: students of law at the “Temple in London who prided themselves on their good taste in literature. A body of them came on purpose to applaud Cato on the first night. — raise: exalt, praise. 211-212 laugh
weep: explain the reason for these actions. – Atticus: Addison's name was given in the first version of this passage. Then it was changed to “A—n.” Addison had been mentioned in the Spectator (No. 150) under the name of Atticus as “ in every way one of the greatest geniuses the age has produced.”
213 rubric on the walls: Lintot, Pope's old publisher, used to stick up the titles of new books in red letters on the walls of his shop.
214 with claps: with clap-bills, posters.