網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版
[ocr errors]

lum” of his rhymes than to be the apostle of a principle It is worthy of remark, that, about the time Pope is first known to have meditated this Essay, Bolingbroke had become his particular friend, and a comparison of Pope's poetry with Bolingbroke's prose makes it pretty evident, that either the poet was indebted to the philosopher, or the philosopher to the poet. From the want of any central principle or coherency of thought in the Essay, we are induced to conclude that Bolingbroke imbued Pope with his own peculiar opinions. To this sinister influence we are disposed to trace the source of some of those most decidedly objectionable passages which mar the “ Essay on Man.” Happily, however, the interest of the work lies not in its ethics, which are meagre enough and cold enough for a frigid zone of philosophy. The interest lies in the pictures, in the harmony of versification, and in the occasional sublimity of the descriptive power displayed. Considered merely as a didactic poem, the “Essay on Man,” like all other didactic poems, is a mistake. We do not say that the poet cannot teach, but he must do so in a special mode. He can only teach as nature teaches—by deep impulse, by hieroglyphic suggestion. For the poet to attempt a formal instruction of his readers, is to abandon the differential principle of poetry. Whether this ever presented itself to the mind of Pope, in its severe logical form, during the writing of the Essay, it is impossible to say; there can be no doubt, however, that the frequent interruption of the mere lesson by scenic display sprung from a poetical instinct recognising it as imperative that the prese thread of pure didactics should be concealed by those charms of expression and illustration, which lend grace and beauty to the most commonplace philosophy and the most obsolete metaphysics.

The publication of the “ Essay on Man was followed by “Imitations of Horace," a task Bolingbroke suggested to Pope as one admirably suited to his peculiar powers. The uncommon union of facility and force with which Pope has succeeded in transposing into another language the subtle beauties of Horace's dignified familiarity, won the unqualified praise of the ablest critics of his time, and still continues to excite the attention and approbation of scholars.

The limits of this memoir preclude us from entering upon the consideration or review of those angry controversies in which the unauthorised publication of certain parts of his correspondence plunged Pope. Even did our limits allow of such discussion, important as it was to the poet, it could

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

now have little interest. Hitherto we have treated Pope as an author; it only remains for us to cast a brief glance upon his character as a man. Throughout life, he was conspicuous for his filial affection. It was in 1717, twentyseven years after the old linen-merchant had retired from his shop in Lombard Street, that his father died—the witness of the fame and prosperity of a son whose natural infirmities had led him to forbode for him a far different fate. Sixteen years after that event, his mother, who had lived with him during all that time, passed away from this mortal scene, at the advanced age of ninety-four. Of her death he thus writes to Richardson, the painter,—“I hoped that this day would have brought you hither, and this for the very reason that might hinder you from coming. My poor mother is dead. I thank God her death was as easy as her life was innocent; and as it cost her not a groan or even a sigh, there is yet on her countenance such an expression of tranquillity, nay, almost of pleasure, that it is even amiable to behold it. It would afford the finest image of a saint expired that ever painter drew; and it would be the greatest obligation that even that obliging art could ever bestow on a friend, if you could come and sketch it for me.

.. I hope to see you this evening as late as you will, or to-morrow morning as early, before this winter flower is faded. I know you love me, or I could not have written this, I could not at this time have written at all. Adieu !--may you die as happily.” The painter promptly answered the prayer of affection. The picture was drawn, and afterwards engraved. Mrs Pope was buried in Twickenham Church, and was carried to the grave by six poor men of the village, to whom were given suits of dark gray cloth, and followed by six poor women in the same sort of mourning. These last sad rites of filial tenderness over, Twickenham lost its charms for the poet. To mitigate the pungency of sorrow, he commenced a round of visits to friends. Scenes familiarised by associations death had severed were peculiarly saddening to Pope. He had gone to Lord Bathurst's to escape the gloom of home; and from it we find him writing thus to Martha Blount. “ You cannot think how melancholy this place makes me. Every part of this wood puts me in mind of poor Mr Gay, with whom I passed once a great deal of pleasant time in it; and another friend, who is near dead, and quite lost to us, Dr Swift. I really find no enjoyment in the place—the same sort of uneasiness as I find at Twickenham whenever I pass my mother's room. Life, after the first heats are over, is all down hill, and one almost wishes the journey's end, provided we were sure to lie down easy whenever the night shall overtake us."

The spectacle of Swift, lost to letters years before death put a period to his earthly pilgrimage, was not without its influence upon the susceptible spirit of the poet. Feeling “ the shadow feared by man was silently stealing over his own path, with that prudent care for his fame by which he was through life distinguished, Pope commenced the revision of his works, resolved that in their permanent form they should possess as much perfection as possible. The revised edition of the “Ethical Epistles appeared but three weeks before his death. The poet was perfectly conscious of his approaching change, and his friends were unceasing in their attention. Bolingbroke wept over his dying companion, exclaiming “O great God, what is man!" Spence having remarked to his lordship that Pope, on every recovery of his mind, was always saying something kindly either of his present or his absent friends, as if his humanity outlasted his understanding, Bolingbroke replied, “ It has so! I never in my life knew a man that had so tender a heart for his particular friends, or a more general friendship for mankind. I have known him these thirty years, and value myself more for that man's love." A short while before his death, Pope said, “I am so certain of the soul being immortal, that I seem to feel it within me as if it were by intuition.” It is related that one morning, so early as four o'clock, he rose from bed, went to his library, and began the writing of an essay on immortality. Three days before his death, he desired to be brought to the table where his friends were dining. His dying look was remarked by all. The next day Pope sat for three hours in his garden, surveying a scene on which he had often looked with delight, with the pensive sadness and regret, the consciousness that soon its glories were destined for other eyes than his, was so well fitted to inspire. Pope died on the evening of the 30th May 1744. The night of death overtook him so easily and imperceptibly that his attendants did not know the exact moment when he had ceased to breathe. He had just completed his fifty-sixth year. His will directed that he should be buried beside the monument to his parents in Twickenham Church. As in the case of his mother, six of the poorest men in the parish bore his coffin to the tomb, on Tuesday the 5th June. A stone in the middle aisle of the church inscribed P. marks the spot where the Poet sleeps out “ the Sabbath of the dead."

« 上一頁繼續 »