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LONGMAN, BROWN, AND CO.; J. M. RICHARDSON ; SIMPKIN, MARSHALL, AND CO.; ALLEN
AND CO.; F. AND J. RIVINGTON; E. HODGSON; H. WASH BOURNE; J. DOWDING; H. G. BOHN;
It has been so often repeated that the life of a literary man is unproductive of incident, that we seem disposed to credit it; but although this may soothe the indolence or allay the apprehensions of a biographer, it is by no means borne out by the fact. The professors of literature have always been too ready to pay their homage to the world, and to assent to the idea that nothing is deserving of notice but the affairs of states, and the great events and transactions of public life; but it is not for these that we look in the history of a man of genius. We have a different object in view, and his life is as full of interest and information in that after which we inquire, as that of a soldier in his battles, or a politician in his schemes. In human affairs, every thing is permanent in proportion as it is connected with intellect; and whilst the common events of life weary by repetition, and the memory of them perishes through neglect, the productions of the mind preserve their lustre, and even shine brighter from age to age. Under such circumstances, nothing that relates to a favourite author or his writings can be indifferent to us. Though he be dead, he yet speaketh; his influence is with us, and around us; we feel him breathing in his works; and our minds are formed, and our characters modified, by a masterspirit that survives alike the attacks of envy, and the efforts of time.
On this account, it is not surprising that a great degree of earnestness has always been displayed as to the lives and characters of those, who, by their writings, have attracted a high degree of public approbation ; and this earnestness has been manifested in a peculiar manner respecting POPE. In fact, there is scarcely a circumstance or an incident relating to him, from the time of his birth to that of his death, that has not been the subject of examination and doubt, and frequently of keen and angry controversy. His family origin—his person, his temper, and disposition_his talents and acquirements—his sincerity in his friendships—his religious belief and moral conduct—and above all, the character and merit of his writings, have given rise to disputes which seem rather to increase than diminish with time; and whilst they occupy the public attention in a manner scarcely inferior to the events of the passing day, have occasionally been carried to an extreme of contention and animosity, not exceeded by any of those in which the author himself was in his lifetime engaged.
Although the life of Pope has frequently been professedly written, yet it may be asserted, without much hazard of contradiction, that this has never been done in a manner adequate to its importance, or with a due attention to the peculiarities of his character, and to the various circumstances in which he was placed. Of these attempts, some are of too brief and cursory a nature to admit of any thing like a sufficient inquiry into subjects of a difficult and controverted kind.
Even in those more extensive works which are devoted to this object, a very limited portion is occupied in impartial and diligent inquiries into the events of his life; the far greater part being employed in criticisms on his writings, or in extracting, for the use and instruction of the uninformed, such passages from his works as the biographer most admires. This mode of composition is scarcely dealing fairly with the reader. If we wish to know the merits of an author, we can have recourse to his works; but in his life we expect to find a faithful representation of his character, manners, and endowments, of the situations in which he was placed, and the circumstances under which his works were produced, of the friends with whom he associated, the controversies in which he was engaged, and whatever else may tend to gratify that natural curiosity which we entertain respecting a person to whom we feel so deeply indebted, or which may throw a collateral light on his works.
The first attempt for this purpose which has occurred to my notice, appeared in a small piece of about seventy pages, in octavo, published in the same year in which Pope died, intitled, The Life of Alexander Pope, Esq., with remarks on his works ; to which is added his Last Will. Printed for Weaver Bickerton, in the Temple Exchange-passage, in Fleet-street, 1744.—One of those hasty effusions that usually follow the loss of a person of eminence, which serve, only to excite and to disappoint the public curiosity; as it contains not a single fact before unknown, and scarcely a single remark deserving of attention.
Soon afterwards a publication on a larger scale made