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It is to be regretted that the prose works of Pope are so few, for what he has left us are remarkable for great purity and correctness of style, clearness of conception, and soundness of judgment The chief of them are his Letters, which are among the best specimens of epistolary writing; a Preface to the Iliad; a Postscript to the Odyssey; a Preface to Shakspeare; and Prefaces to his Pastorals and collected works.
LETTER TO STEELE, UPON EARLY DEATH.
You formerly observed to me, that nothing made a more ridiculous figure in a man's life than the disparity we often find in him, sick and well. Thus, one of an unfortunate constitution is perpetually exhibiting a miserable example of the weakness of his mind and of his body, in their turns. I have had frequent opportunities of late to consider myself in these diflerent views, and, I hope, have received some advantage by it, if what Waller says be true, that
The soul's dark cottage, batter d and decay'd,
Lots in new light through ch jilts that time has made.
Then surely sickness, contributing, no less than old age, to th» shaking down this scaffolding of the body, may discover the in ward structure more plainly. S.ckness is a sort of early old age • it teaches us a diffidence in our earthly state, and inspires us with thoughts of a future, better than a thousand volumes of philoso phers and divines. It gives so warning a concussion to those props of our vanity, our strength and youth, that we think of fortifying ourselves within, when there is so little dependence upop our outworks. Youth, at the very best, is but a betrayer of humap life in a gentler and smoother manner than age: 'tis like a stream that nourishes a plant upon a bank, and causes it to flourish anr> blossom to the sight, but at the same time is undermining it at the root in secret. My youth has dealt more fairly and openly with me; it has afforded several prospects of my danger, and given mo an advantage, not very common to young men, that the attractions of the world have not dazzled me very much; and I begin, where most people end, with a full conviction of the emptiness of all sorts of ambition, and the unsatisfactory nature of all human pleasures, when a smart fit of sickness tells me this scurvy tenement of my body will fall in a little time; I am even as unconcerned as was that honest Hibernian, who, being in bed in the great storm some years ago, and told the house would tumble over his head, made answer, " What care I for the house ? I am only a lodger." When I reflect what an inconsiderable little atom every single man is, with respect to the whole creation, methinks 'tis a shame to be concerned at the removal of such a trivial animal as I am. The morning after my exit, the sun will rise as bright, as ever, the flowers smell as sweet, the plants spring as green, the world will proceed in its old course, people will laugh as heartily and marry as fast as they were used to do. The memory of man (as it is elegantly expressed in the Book of Wisdom) passeth away as the remembrance of a guest that tarrieth but one day. There are reasons enough, in the fourth chapter of the same book, to make any young man contented with the prospect of death. "For honorable age is not that which standeth in length of time, or is measured by number of years. But wisdom is gray hair to men,
lest wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit bej his soul."
July IS, 1712.
If ever any author deserved the name of an original, it was Shakspeare. Homer himself drew not his art so immediately from the fountains of Nature; it proceeded through Egyptian strainers and channels, and came to him not without some tincture of the learning, or some cast of the models, of those before him. The poetry of Shakspeare was inspiration indeed: he is not so much an imitator, as an instrument, of Nature; and it is not so just to say that he speaks from her, as that she speaks through him.
His characters are so much Nature1 herself, that it is a sort of injury to call them by so distant a name as copies of her. Those of other poets have a constant resemblance, which shows that they received them from one another, and were but multipliers of the same image; each picture, like a mock-rainbow, is but the reflection of a reflection. But every single character in Shakspeare is as much an individual as those in life itself: it is as impossible to find any two alike; and such as from their relation or affinity in any respect appear most to be twins, will, upon comparison, be found remarkably distinct. To this life and variety of character we must add the wonderful preservation of it; which is such throughout his plays, that had all the speeches been printed without the very names of the persons, I believe one might have applied them with certainty to every speaker.
The power over our passions was never possessed in a more eminent degree, or displayed in so different instances. Yet all along there is seen no labor, no pains to raise them; no preparation to guide or guess to the effect, or be perceived to lead toward it: but the heart swells, and the tears burst out, just at ihe proper places: we are surprised at the moment we weep; and yet, upon
and an unspotted life is old
He was taken away speedil;
1 lee Mrs. Montagu'* Ingenious Essay on Shakspenrc and her confutations of Voltaire'* crtUclseaa. reflection, find the passion so just, that we should be surprised if we had not wept, and wept at that very moment.
How astonishing is it, again, that the passions directly opposite to these, laughter and spleen, are no less at his command! that he is not more a master of the great than the ridiculous in human nature; of our noblest tendernesses, than of our vainest foibles; of our strongest emotions, than of our idlest sensations!
Nor does he only excel in the passions: in the coolness of reflection and reasoning, he is full as admirable. His sentiments are not only in general the most pertinent and judicious upon every subject; but by a talent very peculiar, something between penetration and felicity, he hits upon that particular point on which the bent of each argument turns, or the force of each motive depends. This is perfectly amazing, from a man of no education or experience in those great and public scenes of life which are usually the subject of his thoughts: so that he seems to have known the world by intuition, to have looked through human nature at one glance, and to be the only author that gives ground for a very new opinion, that the philosopher, and even the man of the world, may be born, as well as the poet.
Preface to Skabftm.
HOMER AND VIRGIL COMPARED.
On whatever side we contemplate Homer, what principally strikes us is his invention. It is that which forms the character of each part of his work; and accordingly we find it to have made his fable more extensive and copious than any other, his manners more lively and strongly marked, his speeches more affecting and transporting, his sentiments more warm and sublime, his images and descriptions more full and animated, his expression more raised and daring, and "his numbers more rapid and various. I hope, in what has been said of Virgil, with regard to any of these heads, I have no way derogated from his character. Nothing is more absurd or endless, than the common method of comparing eminent writers by an opposition of particular passages in them, and forming a judgment from thence of their merit upon the whole. We ought to have a certain knowledge of the principal character and distinguished excellence of each: it is in that we are to consider him, and in proportion to his degree in that we are to admire him. No author or man ever excelled all the world in more than one faculty: and as Homer has done this in invention, Virgil has in judgment. Not that we are to think Homer wanted judgment, because Virgil had it in a more eminent degree ; or that Virgil wanted invention, because Homer possessed a iarger share of it: each of these great authors had more of both than perhaps any man besides, and are only said to have less in comparison with one another. Homer was the greater genius; Virgil, the better artist. In one we most admire the man; in the other, the work. Homer hurries and transports us with a commanding impetuosity; Virgil leads us with an attractive majesty: Homer scatters with a generous profusion; Virgil bestows with a careful magnificence: Homer, like the Nile, pours out his riches with a boundless overflow; Virgil, like a river in its banks, with a gentle and constant stream. When we behold their battles, methinks the two poets resemble the heroes they celebrate: Homer, boundless and irresistible as Achilles, bears all before him, and shines more and more as the tumult increases; Virgil, calmly daring like jEneas, appears undisturbed in the midst of the action; disposes all about him, and conquers with tranquillity. And when we look upon their machines, Homer seems like his own Jupiter in his terrors, shaking Olympus, scattering the lightnings, and firing the heavens; Virgil, like the same power in his benevolence, counselling with the gods, laying plans for empires, and regularly ordering his whole creation.
Prtpce to Uu load.
ROBERT BLAIR 1699—1746.
Robert Blair, the author of "The Grave," was born in 1699. But few particulars are known respecting his life. After receiving a liberal education, he travelled on the continent for further improvement, and in 1731 was ordained as a minister of the parish of Athelstaneford, in East Lothian, where he spent the remainder of his life, which was terminated by a fever, in 1746, in the forty-seventh year of his age.
» The eighteenth century has produced few specimens of blank verse of so powerful and simple a character as that of the ' Grave.' It is a popular poem, not merely because it is religious, but because its language and imagery are free, natural, and picturesque. In the eye of fastidious criticism, Blair may be a homely and even a gloomy poet; but there is a masculine and pronounced character even in his gloom and homeliness, that keeps it most distinctly apart from either dryness or vulgarity. His style pleases us like the powerful expression of a countenance without regular beauty."1
Whilst some affect the sun, and some the shade,
Eternal King! whose potent arm sustains
The keys of bell and death.—The Grave—dread thing!
Men shiver when thou'rt named. Nature, appall d,
Shakes off her wonted firmness.—Ah! how dark
Thy long-extended realms, and rueful wastes!
Where naught but silence reigns, and night, dark night,
Dark as was chaos, ere the infant sun
Was roll'd together, or had tried his beams
Athwart the gloom profound.
Invidious Grave! how dost thou rend in sunder Whom love has knit, and sympathy made onel A tie more stubborn far than nature's band. Friendship! mysterious cement of the soul! Sweetener of life 1 and solder of society! I owe thee much. Thou hast deserved from me Far, far beyond what I can ever pay. Oft have I proved the labors of thy love, And the warm efforts of thy gentle heart, Anxious to please. Oh 1 when my friend ind I In some thick wood have wander'd heedless on Hid from the vulgar eye, and sat us down Upon the sloping cowslip-cover'd bank, Where the pure limpid stream has slid along In grateful errors through the underwood, Sweet murmuring, methought the shrill-tongued thrush Mended his song of love; the sooty blackbird Mellow'd his pipe, and soften'd every note; The eglantine smell'd sweeter, and tie rose Assumed a dye more deep; whilst every flower Vied with its fellow-plant in luxury Of dress! Oh! then the longest summer's day Seem'd too, too much in haste: still, the full heart Had not imparted half: 'twas happiness Too exquisite to last Of joys departed Not to return, how painful the remembrance!
DEATH, THE GOOD MAN'S PATH TO ETERNAL JOY.
Thrice welcome Death 1