網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版
[ocr errors]

poet. Pope's “ Pastorals " had not yet been published, but those whose nod is fame-the leaders of London tastehad begun to speak approvingly of their merits.

The “ Pastorals" were first printed in 1709. Their sentiment was in harmony with the general taste, and their versification captivated the general ear. Four years afterwards the “Essay on Criticism was published. The Essay was a too faithful mirror of the literary sins of the age to escape censure from the legion of irritable authors with whom then, as now, London swarmed. Dennis, a writer who made ridicule his trade, discovering that the pungent though delicate satire of Pope was directed against his rudo rhymes, retorted with a volume entitled, Reflections, Critical and Satirical, on a late Rhapsody called an · Essay on Criticism.'” It had long been the practice of literary antagonists to give point to their sarcasm by expatiating upon and exaggerating the physical defects of rivals. Even Milton, in some of the noblest of his prose works, is compelled to turn aside from his mighty theme to reply to the gross personal libels of his adversaries. Pope's small stature, little more than four feet, together with his deformity, made him an easy butt for the coarse satire of Dennis. As an illustration of the kind of abuse in which men like Dennis revelled, we select the following :-“I remember,” says the irate satirist, “I remember a little young gentleman whom Mr Walsh used to take into his company as a double foil to his person and capacity. Inquire between Sunninghall and Oakingham for a young, short, squab gentleman, the very bow of the god of love, and tell me whether he is the proper author to make personal reflections. He may extol the ancients, but he has reason to thank heaven that he was born a modern ; for if he had been born of Grecian parents, his life had been no longer than one of his poems, the life of half a day. But let the person of a gentleman of his parts be ever so contemptible, his inward man is ten times more ridiculous ; it being impossible that his outward form, though that of a downright monkey, should differ so much from the human shape as his unthinking, immaterial part does from the buman understanding." But though not impervious to criticism, Pope was not the man to be snuffed out by an article. Dennis gained nothing by his abuse save the honour of a niche in the.“ Dunciad." The object of our sketch had now acquired the amplest confidence in his own powers, and an incident in high life with which Pope was made familiar with Mr Caryll, a gentleman who had been secretary to the Queen of James the Second, gave

a

66

him an admirable subject. Lord Petre had stolen a lock of Miss Fermor's hair. The offence caused a lengthened estrangement of two families that had long been friends. Mr Caryll, anxious to end the quarrel, desired Pope to produce a poem on the subject. The Rape of the Lock" was written, and the families were reconciled. At first it had only been intended for private circulation ; but on learning that it was about to be printed surreptitiously, Pope published the first draft of it without machinery, the machinery being added afterwards to make it look a little more considerable. This poem gives proof of the rapid development of the poet's powers. That concentrated energy and exquisite polish of style for which Pope has so long been celebrated are conspicuous throughout the poem. It has been sought by foolish admirers to exalt its merits by telling of the extremely short time its author laboured on its composition. That, however, is equivocal praise. Pope did not achieve his great popularity by what cost him nought. It may be that the plan of the poem and the outline of the characters were accomplished in the couple of weeks which it is said sufficed for its production; but if more was done, the poet never again attained an equal facility.

Through his acquaintance with Steele, Pope had now the honour of an introduction to Addison, then in the zenith at once of his fame as a writer and of his political importance as a government functionary. “My acquaintance with Addison,” the poet thus writes, “ began in 1712. I liked him as well as I liked any man.' Not long after the formation of this new friendship, Pope gave the first display of his powers as a master of pathetic poetry by the production of the “ Elegy on the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady.” Meanwhile, “ Čato: a Tragedy” has been written by Addison, and Pope is solicited to write a prologue for the performance.

is now remembered as one of the poorest of Addison's writings, and the prologue is remembered only because it was written by Pope. But prologue and tragedy were both a signal success at the moment. “Cato" had a thirty-five nights' run of the London stage, and was carried in unimpaired popularity through the provincial theatres. At this new triumph of two men hated by him with nearly equal hatred, the wrath of Dennis was again kindled; the result was a “Criticism of Cato,” to which the satirist brought all the ferocity of his character. In retaliation of this castigation, Pope lashed Dennis and defended Addison in a lampoon entitled “The Narrative by Dr Robert Norris of the Frenzy of J. D.”

“ Cato

[ocr errors]

Unfortunately the tone of this defence was little to the taste of Addison, who, in a letter to Pope's publisher, very distinctly intimated his dislike of the lampoon. The coolness between these two foremost men of their time, of which this epistle was the first public manifestation, was still further aggravated by the publication in the “Guardian of a series of papers in praise of “ Phillips' Pastorals.” Tickell, the writer of these papers, did not scruple to describe the rather watery effusions as the finest productions of their kind which the English language possessed. Tickell was the tool of Addison in this covert attempt to mortify Pope by eulogising Phillips. Pope detected “the hand of Joab ” in the intrigue against his fame, and resolved to be equal with his very candid friends. A paper was sent anonymously to the “Guardian,” apparently taking its cue from the papers of Tickell praising Phillips, but praising him for reasons too absurd to be serious.

Not however until it had appeared in print was the drift of the article detected. But no sooner was the “Guardian” published than the trick was discovered. Pope was avenged, and Tickell baffled.

Each succeeding effort of Pope had been a perfect literary success. England was filled with his fame. Yet, despite an unbroken prosperity and unclouded sunshine, he was beginning to feel the truth of the somewhat homely proverb, “praise butters no parsnips.” His six years of authorcraft had brought him no more than £150.

At this crisis, he conceived the idea of translating Homer. Not caring to rely upon the uncertainty of a public sale, Homer was subscribed. “ The Iliad, as translated by Alexander Pope,” was published in six volumes, the first volume appearing in June 1715, the last in 1720. By this translation Pope realised no less a sum than £5320, notwithstanding certain booksellers' frauds by which the profits were lessened. The completion of his task was hailed with interest by the scholars of England, though there were not wanting detractors ready to insinuate that “the trumpet of Homer, with its loud and various notes, had dwindled on Pope's lips to a Jew's trump."

Pope's now established fame, combined with the confi. dence placed on his taste and judgment, led to various suggestions from friends and publishers with respect to futura literary works. Tonson was eager to contract for an annotated edition of Shakspeare, and Lintot for a translation of the “Odyssey.” Pope engaged to accomplish both tasks. The “Odyssey" was to be translated in three years and to

[ocr errors]

appear in five volumes. To lighten labour, he engaged Fenton and Broome, both competent scholars, as his literary assistants. In 1725, Pope's Shakspeare was published by Topson, in six volumes quarto. The work was a failure,the poet's first failure. The duties of collator had heen but indifferently performed, and Pope's imperfect knowledge of the literature of Shakspeare's contemporaries rendered the illustration and elucidation of the text not only often very incomplete, but sometimes altogether inaccurate. Pope was humiliated by his want of success, and, to add to his mortification, a legion of small critics rose in full cry against him.

Pope, resolved to be avenged on the herd of snarling scribes who had assailed his work, determined to make his next appearance as an author in the character of a satirist. A letter to Swift, written in 1725, dwells upon the animosity cherished towards him by bad people, and hints the design he meditated. Swift sought to dissuade Pope from the course he saw he was contemplating,—“Take care the bad poets do not outwit you, as they have served good ones in every age, whom they have provoked to transmit their names to posterity.” But though Pope could not dispute the good sense of the advice, he must publish his Treatise on the Bathos, or the art of Sinking in Poetry,” and republish his“ Satires on Curll and Dennis." These trifles served to exercise his powers, and may now be looked upon as having been the heralds of the “Dunciad”—that terrible hailstorm of literary wrath in which Pope's antagonists were left “ to fester in the infamy of years.' It was in May 1728 that “ The Dunciad, an Heroic Poem, in Three Books,” first appeared, and, within the year of its publication, the work passed through four editions. Pope originally contemplated inscribing the work to Swift; but these early editions were incomplete, and appeared without the inscription, a circumstance which rather offended the Dean of St Patrick's. At length, however, the poet repaired this neglect, by reprinting the “ Dunciad" with the lines to Swift, with the prolegoinena of Scriblerus, notes, variorum, and a letter to the publisher. With the exception of Dryden's “ Achitophel,” the “ Dunciad" is the greatest satire in the language. It must be acknowledged, however, that many of the objects of the satire were unworthy of the author's powers. In point of fact, however great the temporary notoriety achieved, Pope was prostituting his genius by becoming the resurrectionist of garbage. It had been better for at once his fame and his usefulness had he rather cultivated the vein of which his “ Eloisa to Abelard” is so admirable an example. Passing over the Grub Street Journal and some other minor literary effects, which it is not necessary to refer to more particularly, the Epistles and Moral Essays of Pope now demand our notice. By some these Epistles have been considered the most refined and matured productions of his genius. By others, severe exception has been taken to the want of a definite Christian element in the Poet's morality.

The “ Epistle on Taste” was resented as a satire on the Duke of Chandos. Pope addressed a letter to that nobleman, disclaiming the interpretation which had been put upon the poem ; but Chandos was not convinced. In the following year, Pope having now learned it was safer to attack vices than follies, produced a poem entitled “Of the Care of Riches." This Epistle has many noble passages. Who has not been thrilled by the “Man of Ross ?” Who bas not wept over the death of Villiers ?

In 1732 the “Essay on Man,” the chief of Pope's ethical epistles, appeared. The work had been long meditated, and the poet had occasionally employed himself upon it during the progress of his other writings. Aware that the metaphysical was but an indifferent field in which to expect the flowers of poetry to flourish, the “Essay on Man" was published in parts. The scope and aim of the poem are best gathered from an address to the reader, prefixed to part first.

" This which we first give the reader treats of the nature and state of man with respect to universal systems; the rest will treat of him with respect to his own system as an individual, and as a member of society, under one or other of which heads all others are included.” Following up that love of mystification which had now become for him a second nature, the poet thus proceeds : “As he imitates no man, so he would be thought to vie with no man in these Epistles, particularly with the noted author of the trio lately published.” Pope had already so frequently resorted to literary dissimulation, that it is wonderful how any of his associates could again have been deceived. It seems, however, that even Swift did not recognise his friend. As an attempt to teach philosophy in verse, this Essay, though ambitious, can scarcely be called satisfactory. We are not about to raise any of those controversies to which its appearance gave birth with respect to the particular philosophy it meant to teach. It is doubtful, indeed we may add more than doubtful, if Pope ever had any definite system of philosophy. The Essay has been charged with inculcating fatalism, but the poet had no serious intention to teach anything heretical ; Pope being generally more anxious to perfect the “ tinkling tintinnabu

« 上一頁繼續 »