ePub 版

a metaphysical song; Dryden would have celebrated it in some strong lines, remarkable for their poetical spirit, and perhaps not less so for their indelicacy; while, by the general tribe of poets, it never could have been extended further than to a sweet epigram or a frigid sonnet. What is it in the hands of Pope? An animated and moving picture of human life and manners; a lively representation of the whims and follies of the times; an important contest, in which we find ourselves deeply engaged for the interest is so supported, the manner so ludicrously serious, the characters so marked and distinguished, the resentment of the heroine so natural, and the triumph of the conqueror so complete, that we unavoidably partake the emotions of the parties, and alternately sympathize, approve, or condemn."

In 1713 Pope undertook the translation of Homer's "Iliad." The work was published by subscription; and as he had already gained recognition as the first poet of his time, the enterprise met with generous encouragement. Among other influential friends, Swift was active in securing subscriptions.

At first the poet was appalled at the magnitude of his undertaking, and wished, to use his own phrase, that somebody would hang him. But facility increased with practice; and his defective knowledge of Greek was remedied by the use of translations and the aid of scholarly friends.

This translation, in connection with the "Odyssey," was his principal labor for twelve years, and it brought a remuneration that had never before been realized by an English author. He received altogether about eight thousand pounds, which furnished him with a competency the rest of his life.

The translation is wrought out with exceeding care; but in its artificial character, it is far from reproducing the simplicity of the original. It brings Homer before us in a dress-suit. Bentley's criticism was exactly to the point: "It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer." Yet it is a wonderful work; and Johnson was not far wrong when he said, "It is certainly the noblest version of poetry which the world

has ever seen, and its publication must therefore be considered as one of the great events in the annals of learning."

In the sketch of Addison, reference was made to the illfeeling existing between the illustrious essayist and Pope. It came to an open rupture in connection with the publication of the "Iliad." Tickell, a friend of Addison's, undertook a rival translation. He had Addison's encouragement, and perhaps also his assistance. It is possible that the essayist felt some jealousy of the rising reputation of the poet, and used his influence, in a civil way, to depreciate the latter's work. At all events, news of this sort came to Pope; and "the next day," he says, "while I was heated with what I had heard, I wrote a letter to Mr. Addison, to let him know that I was not unacquainted with this behavior of his; that if I was to speak severely of him, in return for it, it should not be in such a dirty way; that I should rather tell him, himself, fairly of his faults, and allow his good qualities; and that it should be something in the following manner." He then added what has since become the famous satire on Addison, in which the lack of justice is made up by brilliancy of wit:

"Peace to all such; but were there one whose fires

True genius kindles and fair fame inspires;
Blest with each talent and each art to please,
And born to write, converse, and live with ease;
Should such a man, too fond to rule alone,
Bear like the Turk no brother near the throne,
View him with scornful yet with jealous eyes,
And hate for arts that caused himself to rise,
Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And, without sneering, teach the rest to sneer;
Willing to wound and yet afraid to strike,
Just hint a fault and hesitate dislike,
Alike reserved to blame or to commend,
A timorous foe and a suspicious friend;
Dreading e'en fools, by flatterers besieged,
And so obliging that he ne'er obliged;
Like Cato give his little Senate laws,
And sit attentive to his own applause,

[blocks in formation]

After becoming independent from the proceeds of his Homeric translations, Pope removed to the villa of Twickenham, where he spent the remainder of his life. Here he received his friends, who were among the most polished men of the time. Gay, Arbuthnot, Bolingbroke, Peterborough, Swift, were all warmly attached to him "the most brilliant company of friends," says Thackeray, "that the world has ever seen."

[ocr errors]

We should not forget the filial piety he showed his parents one of the most beautiful feature's of the poet's life. However spiteful, acrimonious, and exacting toward others, to his mother he was always tender, considerate, patient. In her old age he stayed by her, denying himself the pleasure of long visits and foreign travel. While conventionally courteous and formal in his relations to other women, for whom, after the fashion of the time, he seemed to entertain no high opinion, he was simple and unaffected toward her. And when she died, he spoke of her with peculiar tenderness: "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 upon her countenance such an expression of tranquillity, nay, almost of pleasure, that it is even enviable to behold it. It would afford the finest image of a saint expired that ever painter drew.”

As soon as Homer was off his hands, he proceeded to get even with the critics who had attacked his previous writings. The result was the "Dunciad," the most elaborate satirical performance in our language, which was given to the public in 1728.


We cannot think that, as he claims, his object was doing good" by exposing ignorant and pretentious authors; from what we know of his character, we are justified in supposing that personal pique animated him no less than zeal for the honor of literature. Theobald, whose grievous offence was sur

passing Pope in editing Shakespeare, is elevated to the throne of Dulness, though he is afterwards dẹposed to make place for Cibber.


"On the day the book was first vended," Pope tells us, a crowd of authors besieged the shop; entreaties, advices, threats of law and battery, nay, cries of treason, were all employed to hinder the coming out of the 'Dunciad;' on the other side, the booksellers and hawkers made as great efforts to procure it. What could a few poor authors do against so great a majority as the public? There was no stopping a torrent with a finger, so out it came."

The satire had the desired effect; it blasted the characters it touched. One of the victims complained that for a time he was in danger of starving, as the publishers had no longer any confidence in his ability. The poem is not interesting as a whole, but contains many splendid flights, as in the concluding lines, which describe the eclipse of learning and morality under the darkening reign of advancing Dulness :

"She comes! she comes! the sable throne behold

Of Night primeval, and of Chaos old!
Before her Fancy's gilded clouds decay,
And all its varying rainbows die away.
Wit shoots in vain its momentary fires,
The meteor drops, and in a flash expires.
As one by one, at dread Medea's strain,
The sickening stars fade off th' ethereal plain;
As Argus' eyes, by Hermes' wand oppressed,
Closed one by one to everlasting rest;
Thus at her felt approach, and secret might,
Art after art goes out, and all is night;
See skulking Truth to her old cavern fled,
Mountains of casuistry heap'd o'er her head!
Philosophy, that lean'd on Heaven before,
Shrinks to her second cause, and is no more.
Physic of Metaphysic begs defence,
And Metaphysic calls for aid on Sense!
See Mystery to Mathematics fly!

In vain, they gaze, turn giddy, rave, and die.

Religion, blushing, veils her sacred fires,
And unawares Morality expires.

Nor public flame, nor private dares to shine;
Nor human spark is left, nor glimpse divine
Lo, thy dread empire, Chaos! is restored;
Light dies before thy uncreating word:

Thy hand, great Anarch, lets the curtain fall,
And universal darkness buries all."

This is, indeed, a fine passage, repaying careful study; but it hardly deserves the extravagant praise bestowed upon it by Thackeray. "In these astonishing lines," he says, "Pope reaches, I think, to the very greatest height which his sublime art has attained, and shows himself the equal of all poets of all times. It is the brightest ardor, the loftiest assertion of truth, the most generous wisdom, illustrated by the noblest poetic figure, and spoken in words the aptest, grandest, and most harmonious. It is heroic courage speaking; a splendid declaration of righteous wrath and war. It is the gage flung down, and the silver trumpet ringing defiance to falsehood and tyranny, deceit, dulness, superstition."

The "Essay on Man," his noblest work, appeared in 1733. It consists of four "Epistles : " the first treats of man in relation to the universe; the second, in relation to himself; the third, in relation to society; and the fourth, in relation to happiness. The "Epistles" are addressed to Bolingbroke, by whom the "Essay' was suggested, and from whom many of its principles proceeded. It is not so much a treatise on man as on the moral government of the world. Its general purpose is to

[ocr errors]

"Vindicate the ways of God to man."

This is done by an application of the principles of natural religion to the origin of evil, the wisdom of the Creator, and the constitution of the world. But, as a whole, the "Essay" does not present a consistent and logical system of teaching. Pope was not master of the deep theme he had undertaken; and he was content to pick up in various authors whatever he

« 上一頁繼續 »