Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

The same adust complexion has impelled,

Charles to the convent, Philip to the field.” Indeed, I think one gets a little tired of the invariable this set off by the inevitable that, and wishes antithesis would let him have a little quiet now and then. In the first couplet, too, the conditional “ frown” would have been more elegant. But taken as detached passages, how admirably the different characters are drawn, so admirably that half the verses have become proverbial. This of Addison will bear reading again :

[ocr errors]

a

“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 fouls, 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,
While wits and templars every sentence raise,
And wonder with a foolish face of praise ;
Who but must laugh if such a man there be ?

Who would not weep if Atticus were he ?” With the exception of the somewhat technical image in the second verse of Fame blowing the fire of genius, which too much puts us in mind of the

а

frontispieces of the day, surely nothing better of its kind was ever written. How applicable it was to Addison I shall consider in another place. As an accurate intellectual observer and describer of personal weaknesses, Pope stands by himself in English verse.

In his epistle on the characters of women, no one who has ever known a noble woman, nay, I should almost say no one who ever had a mother or sister, will find much to please him. The climax of his praise rather degrades than elevates.

O, blest in temper, whose unclouded ray

Can make to-morrow cheerful as to-day,
She who can love a sister's charms, or hear
Sighs for a daughter with unwounded ear,
She who ne'er answers till a husband cools,
Or, if she rules him, never shows she rules,
Charms by accepting, by submitting sways,
Yet has her humor most when she obeys;
Lets fops or fortune fly which way they will,
Disdains all loss of tickets or codille,
Spleen, vapors, or smallpox, above them all

And mistress of herself, though china fall." The last line is very witty and pointed, — but consider what an ideal of womanly nobleness he must have had, who praises his heroine for not being jealous of her daughter. Addison, in commending Pope's “ Essay on Criticism,” says, speaking of us “ who live in the latter ages of the world”: “We have little else to do left us but to represent the common sense of mankind, in more strong, more beautiful, or more uncommon lights.” I think he has here touched exactly the point of Pope's merit, and, in doing so, tacitly excludes him from the

a

position of poet, in the highest sense. Take two of Jeremy Taylor's prose sentences about the Countess of Carbery, the lady in Milton's “ Comus”: “The religion of this excellent lady was of another constitution : it took root downward in humility, and brought forth fruit upward in the substantial graces of a Christian, in charity and justice, in chastity and modesty, in fair friendships and sweetness of society. ... And though she had the greatest judgment, and the greatest experience of things and persons I ever yet knew in a person of her youth and sex and circumstances, yet, as if she knew nothing of it, she had the meanest opinion of herself, and like a fair taper, when she shined to all the room, yet round about her station she had cast a shadow and a cloud, and she shined to everybody but herself.” This is poetry, though not in verse. The plays of the elder dramatists are not without examples of weak and vile women, but they are not without noble ones either. Take these verses of Chapman, for example:

“Let no man value at a little price
A virtuous woman's counsel: ber winged spirit
Is feathered oftentimes with noble words
And, like her beauty, ravishing and pure;
The weaker body, still the stronger soul.
0, what a treasure is a virtuous wife,
Discreet and loving. Not one gift on earth
Makes a man's life so nighly bound to heaven.
She gives him double forces to endure
And to enjoy, being one with him,
Feeling his joys and griefs with equal sense :
If he fetch sighs, she draws her breath as short;
If he lament, she melts herself in tears;
If he be glad, she triumphs; if he stir,

She moves his way, in all things his sweet ape,
Himself divinely varied without change.
All store without her leaves a man but poor,
And with her poverty is exceeding store."

[ocr errors]

Pope in the characters I have read was drawing his ideal woman, for he says at the end that she shall be his muse. The sentiments are those of a bourgeois and of the back parlor, more than of the poet and the muse's bower. A man's mind is known by the company it keeps.

Now it is very possible that the women of Pope's time were as bad as they could be ; but if God made poets for anything, it was to keep alive the traditions of the pure, the holy, and the beautiful. I grant the influence of the age, but there is a sense in which the poet is of no age, and Beauty, driven from every other home, will never be an outcast and a wanderer, while there is a poet's nature left, will never fail of the tribute at least of a song. It seems to me that Pope had a sense of the neat rather than of the beautiful. His nature delighted more in detecting the blemish than in enjoying the charm.

However great his merit in expression, I think it impossible that a true poet could have written such a satire as the Dunciad, which is even nastier than it is witty. It is filthy even in a filthy age, and Swift himself could not have gone beyond some parts of it. One's mind needs to be sprinkled with some disinfecting fluid after reading it. I do not remember that any other poet ever made poverty a crime. And it is wholly without discrimination. De Foe is set in the pillory forever; and George

;

[ocr errors]

66

Wither, the author of that charming poem, “ Fair Virtue," classed among the dunces. And was it not in this age that loose Dick Steele paid his wife the finest compliment ever paid to woman, when he said “ that to love her was a liberal education"

"? Even in the “Rape of the Lock,” the fancy is that of a wit rather than of a poet. It might not be just to compare his Sylphs with the Fairies of Shakespeare; but contrast the kind of fancy shown in the poem with that of Drayton's Nymphidia, for example. I will give one stanza of it, describing the palace of the Fairy:

“The walls of spider's legs were made,

Well mortised, and finely laid ;
(He was the master of his trade
It curiously that builded :)
The windows of the eyes of cats,
And, for the roof, instead of slats
'T is covered with the skins of bats,

With moonshine that are gilded.” In the last line the eye and fancy of a poet are recognized.

Personally we know more about Pope than about any of our poets. He kept no secrets about himself. If he did not let the cat out of the bag, he always contrived to give her tail a wrench so that we might know she was there. In spite of the savageness of his satires, his natural disposition seems to have been an amiable

and his character as an author was as purely factitious as his style. Dr. Johnson appears to have suspected his sincerity ; but artifice more than insincerity lay at the basis of his character. I think that there was very little real malice

one,

« VorigeDoorgaan »