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could fit into his general plan.
On the one hand he was
attacked for having written against religion. Certainly moral responsibility disappears if we accept his declaration,
"One truth is clear; whatever is, is right."
On the other hand, Warburton came forward to defend his orthodoxy; and his championship was gratefully accepted by the poet. "You have made my system," Pope wrote to him, as clear as I ought to have done, and could not. :. I know I meant just what you explain, but I did not explain my own meaning as well as you. You understand me as well as I do myself, but you express me better than I could express myself."
When, however, we turn from the whole to the separate parts, we are astonished at the marvellous expression and inimitable form. We may call it, with Dugald Stewart, "the noblest specimen of philosophical poetry which our language affords." Single truths have never had more splendid statement. Here is his amplification of the truth that all things exist in God: :
"All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
That, changed through all, and yet in all the same,
Great in the earth, as in th' ethereal frame,
Warms in the sun, refreshes in the breeze,
Glows in the stars, and blossoms in the trees;
As full, as perfect, in a hair as heart;
As full, as perfect, in vile man that mourns,
As the rapt seraph that adores and burns:
To him no high, no low, no great, no small;
He fills, he bounds, connects, and equals all."
The religion of nature, as seen in the savage, has never had better expression than this:
"Lo, the poor Indian! whose untutor'd mind
Yet simple nature to his hope has given,
Where slaves once more their native land behold,
He asks no angel's wing, no seraph's fire;
His faithful dog shall bear him company."
Pope died in 1744. A few days before his death he became delirious. On recovering his rationality he referred to his delirium as a sufficient humiliation of the vanity of man. Bolingbroke was told that during his last illness Pope was always saying something kind of his present or absent friends, and that his humanity seemed to have survived his understanding. "It has so," replied the statesman; "and I never in my life knew a man that had so tender a heart for his particular friends, or more general friendship for mankind."
As the end drew near, Pope was asked whether a priest should not be called. He replied, "I do not think it essential, but it will be very right; and I thank you for putting me in mind of it." He had undoubting confidence in a future state. Shortly after receiving the sacrament, he said, "There is nothing that is meritorious but virtue and friendship, and indeed friendship itself is only a part of virtue." He lies buried at Twickenham.
In appearance he was the most insignificant of English writers. He was a dwarf, four feet high, hunch-backed, and so crooked that he was called the "Interrogation Point." His life was one long disease. He required help in dressing and undressing; and to keep erect, he had to encase his body in stays. Extremely sensitive to cold, he wore three or four times the
usual amount of clothing. But his face was pleasing, his voice agreeable, and his eyes especially were beautiful and expressive. He was fastidious in dress and elegant in manner. As might naturally be expected, he was punctilious and troublesome, requiring so much attention that he was the dread of servants. Fond of highly seasoned dishes, and unable to control his appetite, he frequently made himself sick by over-eating.
He was singularly lacking in manly frankness, seeking always to attain his ends by artifice. It was said of him that he hardly drank tea without stratagem; and Lady Bolingbroke used to say that "he played the politician about cabbages and turnips." But he carried his artifice to higher matters, and manipulated his correspondence and his writings in the interest of his reputation.
His character was full of contradictions. While professing to disregard fame, he courted it; while affecting superiority to the great, he took pleasure in enumerating the men of high rank among his acquaintances; while appearing indifferent to his own poetry, saying that he wrote when "he just had nothing else to do," he was always revolving some poetical scheme in his head, so that, as Swift complained, he was never at leisure for conversation; and while pretending insensibility to censure, he writhed under the attacks of critics. Yet it is to his credit that he never put up his genius to the highest bidder, and that he never indulged in base flattery for selfish ends. His translation of the "Iliad" he dedicated, not to influential statesmen or titled nobility, but to the second-rate dramatist, Congreve. In his view of life he fixed his attention upon its petty features, forgetting the divine and eternal relations that give it dignity and worth. There is truth in the following lines, but it is only one-sided :
"Behold the child, by nature's kindly law,
Scarfs, garters, gold, amuse his riper age,
Till tired he sleeps, and life's poor play is o'er."
Virtue, love, divine stewardship, and eternal life take away this pettiness, and give our existence here beauty and grandeur.
As a poet, it is too much to claim that his verses attained the highest imaginative flights, such as we find in Shakespeare and Tennyson. He was not swayed by the fine frenzy, the over-mastering convictions, and the tormenting passions that irresistibly force an utterance. He conformed his writings to a conventional form. He sought above all, in imitation of classical models, correctness of style. And, in the words of James Russell Lowell, "in his own province he still stands unapproachably alone. If to be the greatest satirist of individual men, rather than of human nature, if to be the highest expression which the life of the court and the ballroom has ever found in verse, if to have added more phrases to our language than any other but Shakespeare, if to have charmed four generations, make a man a great poet, — then he is one. He was the chief founder of an artificial style of writing, which in his hands was living and powerful, because he used it to express artificial modes of thinking and an artificial state of society. Measured by any high standard of imagination, he will be found wanting; tried by any test of wit, he is unrivalled.”
AN ESSAY ON CRITICISM.
'Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill
'Tis with our judgments as our watches, none
Yet, if we look more closely, we shall find
Most have the seeds of judgment in their mind:
The lines, though touched but faintly, are drawn right;
Is, by ill-coloring, but the more disgraced,
So, by false learning, is good sense defaced:
And some made coxcombs nature meant but fools.
In search of wit these lose their common sense,
And then turn critics in their own defence:
Or with a rival's or an eunuch's spite.