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petty irritation felt? Against feeble journalists, brutal pamphleteers, starving rhymesters, a crew of hackney authors, bohemians of ink and paper below literature. To sting and wound these unfortunates gave Pope pleasure as he sate, meditating stabs, in his elegant villa, the resort of the rich and the noble! By attacking these, he lowers himself to their level. The first poet of the age-of the century-chooses to hand himself down to posterity as bandying scurrilities with the meanest scribblers, hired defamers, the banditti of the printing-office, ready at the shortest notice to deliver half a crown's worth of slander. To be even with these miserable outcasts Pope condescended to employ one of the worst of them, Savage, as a spy and informer to bring him gossip from their haunts. When every other taunt fails him Pope can gibbet the poverty of these unsuccessful authors as a crime, and turn them into ridicule for wanting a dinner. The superfluous vehemence with which he rails against these insignificant enemies betrays the hollowness of the pretence that the satire was aimed not at individuals, but at the spirit of dullness or stupid conservatism. Of Pope's ignorance of everything, except society and the art of versifying, The Dunciad offers one signal instance. The first scholar in Europe, one possessing a genius for criticism to which philologians of all countries still pay admiring homage, was an Englishman, and a contemporary of Pope. Pope looked on Richard Bentley but knew him not. The lines (included in our selection) in which the great critic is quizzed, are a typical specimen of the fatal flaw in Pope's writings, viz. that the workmanship is not supported by the matter; a palpable falsehood is enshrined in immortal lines.
The composition of The Dunciad had revealed to Pope where his true strength lay, in blending personalities with moral reflection During the next decad, 1730-40, he confined himself to the one style of composition upon which his reputation as an English poet must rest, and in which he has never had a rival. The pieces which appear in his collected works under the various titles of Moral Essays, Essay on Man, Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, Imitations of Horace, Epilogue to the Satires, were brought out singly at various times during these ten years.
The most celebrated of these poems are the four epistles addressed to Lord Bolingbroke, and known by the collective title of the Essay on Man. It is a didactic or argumentative poem, not on Man, as the title bears, but a théodicée or vindi
cation of the ways of Providence. The view attempted to be presented is that of Leibnitzian optimism; the end of the universe is the general good of the whole; it was impossible to realise this without admitting partial evil. Man is not the end of creation, but only one in a graduated scale of beings; it is his pride which leads him to complain when he finds that everything has not been ordered for his benefit. The reasoning of the Essay on Man is feeble, the philosophy either trite or inconsistent, or obscure. But the less the intrinsic value of the argument, the more is our admiration excited by the literary skill and brilliant execution displayed in the management. The particular illustrations, the episodes and side-lights, always sparkle with wit, and are sometimes warm with feeling, when the main thesis is jejune and frigid. 'Whilst Pope frequently wastes his skill in gilding refuse, he is really most sensitive to the noblest sentiments of his contemporaries, and when he has good materials to work upon, his verse glows with unusual fervour.' (Leslie Stephen.) Ruskin points to the couplet Never elated, while one man's oppressed; Never dejected whilst another's blessed'
as 'the most complete, concise, and lofty expression of moral temper existing in English words.' 'If the Essay on Man were shivered into fragments, it would not lose its value; for it is precisely its details which constitute its moral as well as literary beauties.' (A. W. Ward.)
The Moral Essays, from which our next specimen is taken, consist of five epistles composed at different times, and placed in the works under a common title. Of these the same may be said as of the Essay on Man, that the ethical doctrine is not worthy of the exquisite workmanship. Our extract is from the first epistle, and includes the celebrated character of Philip Lord Wharton, a piece of portraiture which ranks with those of Addison, the Duchess of Marlborough, Lord Hervey, and the death-bed of Villiers Duke of Buckingham. They are masterpieces of English versification, medals cut with such sharp outlines and such vigour of hand that they have lost none of their freshness by lapse of time. When the poet engraves one of these figures, his compendious imagery, the surprises of his juxtaposition, the sustained and multiplied antitheses, the terse texture of each line, the incessant shocks from the play of his eloquence directed and concentrated continually upon one point, from these things the memory receives an impression which it never loses.' (Taine.)
Pope's peculiar powers found their most perfect development in the pieces, which in the collected works are entitled Satires and Epistles of Horace imitated. Casually suggested by Bolingbroke in the course of conversation, and calling themselves an imitation, these 'satires and epistles' are the most original of Pope's writings, and the most natural and spontaneous outcome of his genius. These pieces, nine in number, including a Prologue, and two Epilogues, form a total of some 2000 lines, and were the product of the four years 1735-8, and therefore of Pope's meridian period between his fortieth and fiftieth year. The ferocity of Pope's invective and the malice of his antipathies are here subdued, and though the coarser horse-laugh of the old time breaks out every now and then, yet on the whole the finer play of sarcasm and witty inuendo has taken the place of hard names and slander.
The Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, or Prologue to the Satires may be singled out as Pope's most characteristic piece. We give it entire in our selections. It contains the two famous portraits, that of Lord Hervey (Sporus) and that of Addison (Atticus). The libel, for such it is, on Lord Hervey cannot be excused even by the rancour of political party. This accomplished nobleman was Vice-Chamberlain in the court of George II, a position easy enough to a mere fribble, but which was sure to mark out a man of parts and wit such as Lord Hervéy, as the object of hatred to the tory and jacobite opposition. Even as art, Pope must be considered in this sketch to have failed from overcharging his canvas with odious and disgusting images. Yet it is impossible not to admire, however we may condemn, the act by which acknowledged wit, beauty and gentle manners, the Queen's favour, and even a valetudinary diet are travestied into the most odious defects and offences.' (Croker.) The satire on Addison, in a more refined style, but not less unjust in fact, had been written twenty years before, during Addison's lifetime. Pope regarded the piece with the affection with which an author regards the product of much time and labour; and he had meditated each stab in this finished lampoon for years. Having printed it separately in 1727, he now finally adapted it into this Prologue to the Satires, only suppressing the real name, but not concealing it under the thin disguise of 'Atticus.' The art of these malignant lines is much greater than that of those on Lord Hervey. Pope here not only avoids any images which were in themselves offensive, but allows his victim many virtues and accomplishments.
FROM THE ESSAY ON CRITICISM.'
Some to Conceit alone their taste confine,
As shades more sweetly recommend the light,
For works may have more wit than does 'em good,
Others for Language all their care express, And value books, as women men, for dress: Their praise is still, the style is excellent; The sense, they humbly take upon content. Words are like leaves; and where they most abound, Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found: False eloquence, like the prismatic glass, Its gaudy colours spreads on ev'ry place; The face of nature we no more survey, All glares alike, without distinction gay: But true expression, like th' unchanging sun, Clears and improves whate'er it shines upon; It gilds all objects, but it alters none. Expression is the dress of thought, and still Appears more decent, as more suitable; A vile conceit in pompous words expressed Is like a clown in regal purple dressed:
For diff'rent styles with diff'rent subjects sort,
Be not the first by whom the new are try'd,
But most by numb.rs judge a poet's song,
Tho' oft the ear the open vowels tire;
That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.