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Of the Characters of WOMEN.
OTHING fo true as what you once let fall, "Moft Women have no Characters at all." Matter too foft a lafting mark to bear,
And best distinguish'd by black, brown, or fair.
Of the Characters of WOMEN.] There is nothing in Mr. Pope's works more highly finished, or written with greater fpirit, than this Epiftle: Yet its fuccefs was in no proportion to the pains he took in compofing it, or the effort of genius displayed in adorning it. Something he chanced to drop in a fhort advertisement prefixed to it, on its first publication, may perhaps account for the small attention the Public gave to it. He faid, that no one Character in it was drawn from the Life. They believed him on his word; and expreffed little curiosity about a fatire in which there was nothing perfonal.
VER. 1. Nothing fo true, &c.] The reader, perhaps, may be disappointed to find that this epiftle, which propofes the
How many pictures of one Nymph we view, 5
fame fubject with the preceding, is conducted on very different rules of compofition; for instead of being difpofed in the fame logical method, and filled with the like philofophical remarks, it is wholly taken up in drawing a great variety of capital characters: But if he would reflect, that the two Sexes make but one Species, and confequently, that the characters of both must be ftudied and explained on the fame principles, he would fee, that when the Poet had done this in the preceding epiftle, his bufinefs here was, not to repeat what he had already delivered, but only to verify and illuftrate his doctrine, by every view of that perplexity of Nature, which his philofophy only can explain. If the reader therefore will but be at the pains to study these characters with any degree of attention, as they are drawn with a force of wit, fublimity, and true poetry never hitherto equalled, one important particular (for which the Poet has artfully prepared him by the introduction) will very forcibly strike his obferva tion; and that is, that all the great strokes in the several cha racters of Women are not only infinitely perplexed and dif cordant, like thofe in Men, but abfolutely inconfiftent, and in a much higher degree contradictory. Aš ftrange as this may appear, yet he will fee that the Poet has all the while ftrictly followed Nature, whofe ways, we find by the former epistle, are not a little mysterious; and a mystery this might have remained, had not our Author explained it at Ver 207, where he fhuts up his characters with this philofophical reflection:
"In Men, we various ruling Paffions find";
If this account be true, we fee the perpetual neceffity (which is not the cafe in Men) that IVomen lie under of disguising their ruling Paffion. Now the variety of arts employed to this purpofe, muft needs draw them into infinite contradictions, even in thofe aflions from whence their general and obvious character is denominated: To verify this obfervation, let the
Arcadia's Countess, here, in ermin'd pride,
reader examine all the characters here drawn, and try whe-ther, with this key, he cannot discover that all their contradictions arife from a defire to hide the ruling Paffion.
But this is not the worst. The Poet afterwards (from Ver. 218 to 249.) takes notice of another mischief arifing from this neceffity of hiding their ruling Paffions; which is, that generally the end of each is defeated, even there where they are most violently pursued: For the neceffity of hiding them inducing an habitual diffipation of mind, Reason, whose office it is to regulate the ruling Paffion, lofes all its force and direction; and these unhappy victims to their principles, though with their attention still fixed upon them, are ever profecuting the means destructive of their end; and thus become ridiculous in youth, and miferable in old age.
Let me not omit to obferve the great beauty of the conclufion: It is an encomium on an imaginary Lady, to whom the epiftle is addreffed; and artfully turns upon the fact which makes the fubject of the epiftle, the contradiction of a Woman's character; in which contradiction, he shews, all the luftre even of the best character confifts:
"And yet, believe me, good as well as ill,
VER. 5. How many pictures] The Poet's purpose here is to fhew, that the characters of Women are generally inconfiftent with themselves: and this he illuftrates by fo happy a similitude, that we see the folly, described in it, arises from that very principle which gives birth to this inconfiftency of character.
VER. 7, 8, 10, &c. Arcadia's Countefs,-Paftora by a fountain,-Leda with a fwan,—Magdalen,-Cecilia.-] Attitudes in which feveral ladies affected to be drawn, and fometimes one lady in them all.-The Poet's politenefs and complai fance to the fex is obfervable in this inftance, amongst others, that, whereas in the Characters of Men, he has fometimes made use of real names, in the Characters of Women always fiftitious. P.
Here Fannia, leering on her own good man,
But notwithstanding all the Poet's caution and complaifance, this general fatire, or rather, moral analysis of human nature, as it appears in the two fexes, will be always received very differently by them. The Men bear a general fatire most heroically; the Women with the utmost impatience. This is not from any stronger consciousness of guilt, for I believe the fum of Virtue in the female world does (from many accidental caufes) far exceed the fum of Virtue in the male; but from the fear that fuch representations may hurt the sex in the opinion of the men: whereas the men are not at all apprehenfive that their follies or vices would prejudice them in the opinion of the women.
VER. 20. Catch, ere fhe change, the Cynthia of this Minute.] Alluding in the expreffion to the precept of Fresnoy,
"formæ veneres captando fugaces."
VER. 21. Inftances of contrarieties, given even from fuch characters as are moft ftrongly marked, and feemingly therefore most confiftent: As, I. In the Affected, Ver. 21, &c. P.
Agrees as ill with Rufa studying Locke,
The frail one's advocate, the weak one's friend, 30
All bath'd in tears---" Oh odious, odious Trees!"
"Tho' Artemifia talks, by fits,
VER. 23. Agrees as ill with Rufa fudying Locke,] This thought is expreffed with great humour in the following ftanza:
"Reads Malbranche, Boyle, and Locke: "Yet in fome things, methinks, she fails, ""Twere well, if the would pare her nails, "And wear a cleaner fmock."
VAR. 29 and 37. II. Contrarieties in the Soft-natured. P.