Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

corre.

were neither assailants nor advocates, but dred and thirty new letters, including lettrustees of the reputation of their author. ters from Caryll, Oxford, Orrery, BolingEqually imperative was the need for the broke, Bathurst, Broome, and Fenton. work of destruction. Part at least of the The size and importance of this new col. cumbrous scaffolding which concealed the lection would alone rank this edition original fabric was useless, and required above its predecessors. Pope's own let. removal.

ters are the chief support of his claim to Most of these wants are met in the loftiness of motive and moral integrity. excellent edition of Pope which is now He professed them to be the artless recapproaching completion. It not only su- ords of his life, spontaneous expressions persedes all its predecessors, but to a of his real feelings, written only for pristudy of Pope's life and works is abso. vate friends, published piratically, without lutely indispensable. The plan of the his consent and against his wishes. As new edition was laid and much of the regards all but the Cromwell correspon. material collected by the late Mr. Croker. dence, Mr. Elwin proves Pope's profesHis work was carried on by the Rev. sions to be false. He himself secretly Whitwell Elwin, who brought out two procured the publication which he de. volumes of the poetry and three of the nounced as surreptitious, and all his letcorrespondence. Subsequently Mr. Court ters were carefully edited and prepared hope became editor, and under his super. for the press. Mr. Elwin goes further; vision two more volumes of poetry have be shows that many of the letters are appeared. All that is valuable in the fabrications, manufactured from notes of previous editors is preserved; spondence with Caryll, redirected to disthe superfluities and errors only are omit- tinguished persons of the day, to whom ted. In one respect the notes might with they were never sent, with dates and pas. advantage be still more curtailed. Pope sages altered. The extent of these frauds undoubtedly borrowed largely from other was not suspected till Dilke puplished his poets. But many of the parallel passages researches in the Athenaum. Profiting collected by Wakefield and transferred to by his suggestions, Mr. Elwin followed the present edition, are mere common- the same line of enquiry. By their miplaces which prove nothing for or against nute labor and unwearied patience the Pope's originality. Warburton's com- labyrinthine maze of deception has been mentary stands on a different footing to threaded. Pope stands convicted on the that of his successors; it had received clearest evidence, not only of complicity Pope's sanction, and is therefore printed in the piratical publications, but of the in appendices to the “Essay on Man," graver offence of falsifying his corresponthe “ Essay on Criticism,” and the “Dun. dence. ciad.” The new prefaces and notes con. Mr. Elwin's judgment of Pope is biassed tain an extraordinary amount of informa- by unravelling these intrigues. His im. tion, much of which appears for the first partiality is not proof against his repul. time. It is impossible to praise too highly sion to a man whom he repeatedly proves the patient care and painstaking industry to be treacherous. “The sketch,” he with which facts are sisted, omissions writes,* " which Lord Macaulay has given supplied, errors corrected. Equally ad- of his character, when describing his con. mirable is the ingenuity, combined with duct on the appearance of Tickell's verwide reading, that has elucidated many sion of the first book of the Iliad, is not passages in the life of the poet and con- too severe for the treacheries and false. temporary allusions in his poetry, which hoods which were the instruments of his were formerly regarded as hopelessly ob- malevolence, cowardice, and vanity." But

the “stiletto and mask” view of Pope, Mr. Elwin's chief contribution to the which Macaulay so brilliantly urged, is work was his treatment of the questions only partially true. It is generalized from raised by Pope's correspondence. In this edition are collected more than four hur

[ocr errors]

# Vol. i., Introd. cxlii.

scure.

en.

[ocr errors]

one, and that the most unfavorable, side | rhetoric for passion, appeals to the judge of his character. The portrait was drawn ment rather than the feelings. Few poets for a special purpose with the art of a have so nearly become the corridor consummate advocate. It is one-sided, through which passes the breeze of nahighly colored. Few would agree with tional life. It is his misfortune that the Mr. Elwin in his unmodified acceptance era he so faithfully represented was emiof the picture. The same prejudice per nently unpoetical. meates the whole of his work. Pope re. The first half of the eighteenth century ceives scant justice from an editor who was on the whole a tranquil, prosperous omits no opportunity of disparaging his period. Industrial progress and the ex. author. Mr. Courthope adds to the pains-haustion of previous struggles lest no room taking industry of Mr. Elwin a finer lit- for enthusiasm; it was condemned as far. erary taste. He is also more impartial. fetched, unpractical. Common sense, the His estimate of Pope is broader and truer quality which Pope calls wit, was than that of Macaulay which Mr. Elwin throned in its stead. In politics, religion, accepted:

society, poetry, the tendency is equally It will not do simply to brand him as a

conspicuous. Politics ceased to be col. hypocrite, for the essence of hypocrisy consists ored by the chivalrous, passionate tone of in unreality ; but, behind the falsities of Pope,

Neither divine

Cavalier and Puritan. there is an eagerness and intensity which gives right nor social compact was recognized • them a human interest, and makes us feel that, as the basis of government. Loyalty was

in his poetry, we are in contact with the nature stifled by a political convention, republi. of the man himself. ... Much of the incon. can fire quenched by cold utilitarianism. sistency in his conduct will be found to corre- The Tories avowed indifference to a ruler spond with the union of opposite conditions in who was not the Lord's Anointed; the his nature : the piercing intelligence and artistic Whigs acknowledged their retention of power, lodged in the sickly and deformed office to be the aim of administration. frame; the vivid perception of the ridiculous

The moral support of public opinion was in others, joined to the most sensitive consciousness of his own defect ; the passionate neither asked by the ministers nor acdesire for fame, aggravated by a fear of being corded by the people. Personalities, not suspected by his countrymen on account of his principles, stimulated the factions which religion; the conflicting qualities of benevo- took the place of parties. As politics belence and self-love; the predominance of in- came less abstract, they grew more vio. tellectual instinct; the deficiency of moral prin- lent. Their concrete form made them ciple. It might be predicted of a character so popular. They divided society; women highly strong, so variously endowed, so “trem

patched according to their politics; the blingly alive” to opinion, and so capable of transformation, that it would exhibit itself in literature were pressed into the service,

and the theatre took sides ; art and

opera the most diverse aspects, according to the cir.

and suffered in the cause. From religion cumstances by which it was tested. (Vol. iii., Introd. 26.)

enthusiasm was equally banished by a

theology which suspected faith, questioned Pope's poetical characteristics were de revelation, demanded evidences to prove termined by his surroundings. He is the reasonableness of Christianity. It emphatically the mirror of his times ; he was a curious, not a thoughtful age. It reflects with extraordinary fidelity the tone significant that many men of poetic and topics of the town. He had not temperament shrank from the cold glare the “strong divinity of soul" which could of Protestantism into the mellow moon. raise him above the requirements of the light of the older faith. In society the age. Most of his poetry belongs to that same tendency was strongly marked. The class of literary development which deals tension of the struggle which the previous with contemporary society or modes of century had witnessed was withdrawn, thought. He adapts himself to the babits and society sprang back with the recoil to and tastes of the fashionable world, sub- a lighthearted gaiety, unlike our national stitutes common sense for imagination, I earnestness. The nation took its ease

to

from grave pursuits. Life retained little temporary life was not conveyed through of the adventurous. Men had wealth to any literary medium. The generation gratify and leisure to cultivate new tastes : which placed Roman heroes on the stage they acquired literary reputations as ama. in perruques and buckles, or adorned the teurs or critics. The club and coffee- hand that wrote upon the wall at Belshaz. house, the newspaper, the bookseller and zar's feast with ring and ruffle, did not publisher, proclaimed the rise of an idle seek the disguise of classical or mediæval class and a reading public, and heralded costume. Its active interests were reprethe time when plebeian genius no longer sented in a simple, straightforward style needed a patrician Mæcenas. Moral and in the ordinary dress of the day. The metaphysical enquiry was the chief stim. sublimity and greatness of poetry disapulus to thought, as faction was to energy: peared, but it was instinct with national A new premium was set on the acts of life. society when women became a power, and For a poet, in the highest sense of the when the difference between the tie-wig word, the times were eminently unfavor. and full-bottom, or the upset of a teacup able when politics were degraded into was fraught with the fate of an empire. utilitarianism, indifference, or factious The romance of life was concentrated on violence, when religion aimed only at the pursuit of gallantry. Pope was never practical piety, when society ridiculed more truly the mirror of his times than earnestness, when the materials of poetry when he threw all the passion of which he were subordinate and secondary interests. was capable into the love epistle of Eloisa. Hardly less unfavorable was the broader Moral refinement fell hopelessly behind literary movement which indirectly tended advancing civilization. As at Versailles, to rob poetry of spirit, to starve passion,' artificial manners and strict etiquette were stunt creative genius. Correctness combined with loose conduct. It was not was the aim of this new school of which till decorum was outraged that the moral Pope was the most distinguished ex. law was considered; unless misconduct ponent. His claim to the title of a correct sinned against taste, it was hardly re. poet is often disputed. Against it are garded as an offence. But at Versailles urged the ungrammatical construction of vice was draped with all the grace and some of his sentences, the obscurity of painted with every allurement which civ. others, the harshness or poverty of his ilization could supply. At St. James's she rhymes. But in the wider sense, in which was sufficiently brazen to move without a Horace practised correctness, and in blush for her nakedness, and society imi- which Walsh impressed it upon Pope, his tated the coarseness of the court. Over title is indisputably established. No work the social and political memoirs of the ever left his hand day is shed the charm of that class of

quod non French literature; there is the same in.

Multa dies et multa litura coercuit, atque congruous juxtaposition of serious and Perfectum dicies non castigavit ad unguem. gay, politics and scandal, combined with The literature of the sixteenth century is something of the same neatness and finish the noblest ode to liberty. But freedom of mind that touches lightly the light has its dangers as well as slavery. Durthings of society, and something of the ing the succeeding century the human same sprightly wit and sparkling epigram intellect, emancipated from bondage, conto temper the despotism of the Whig quered new worlds of thought and knowl. aristocracy. Poetry shared in the same edge. The conquests were more easily lack of enthusiasın. It was the poetical won than assimilated. Men poured out age of reason. It was still the fashion their new treasures and squandered the for men of letters to appear before the riches of their fancy in rambling, redun. public in verse, but prose was usurping dant, slovenly language. They cared the place of poetry, Artistic elegance and nothing for the forms of expression; they scholarly form replaced the varied fancy, marred the excellence of their work by the exuberant imagination of the older negligence; they did not know where to English sch ol. Poetry subsided into an stop. Beau were disfigured by mean. argumentative, didactic, useful character. ness; absurdity joined hands with inspiIt grew classical and courtly, embellished ration. Learning sank into pedantry, familiar objects and everyday events. fancy into quaintness, imagination into But it ceased to be “intellectual opium- whimsical subtlety. Pope was the last eating." It was kept in touch with all the and greatest of a school which "d'un mot movements of the day, scientific, political, mis en sa place enseigna le pouvoir." He religious, social. And this picture of con. I felt the value of art, the tenfold worth of a

[ocr errors]

thought when it is perfectly expressed. favorable to the development of his poHe saw that strength of writing lay, not etic genius. He has suffered hardly less in the accumulation of epithets, but in the from his biographers than his editors. brief directness which stamps vigor on Ayre, in 1745, and Ruffhead, in 1769, pub. every syllable. His work was to sharpen lished lives of the poet which were more our bative tongue, 'to use it not crudely mischievous than valuable. Johnson's but delicately. He labored to polish in- life of Pope is the most elaborate of his equalities, to prune redundancies, to vary lives of the poets, but he made no preten. monotony, to impart strength to sweet. sion to accurate investigation. He drew ness, symmetry to exuberance. To him largely from Spence's anecdotes, which, and his school classical literature was the though not published till 1820, were placed final court of literary appeal; its rule over in his hands in manuscript. They had the world of letters was of divine right. been prepared for posthumous publica. This classicism reached England from tion by their author, whom Walpole de. France, where literature aimed at aca- scribes as “a neat fiddle-faddle bit of demic applause. It was not the study of sterling that had read good books and the past for the sake of the past; there kept good company.” But at his death was no effort to realize the life of antiquity, they were bought back from Dadsley, the po sympathy with ancient lines of thought, publisher, and consigned for another but only an imitation of the form in which half.century to the library of the Duke of the thought is conveyed, a reproduction Newcastle. The collection is wearisome, not of the tone but of the style. The though full of information. Spence is classics were his model because here immeasurably inferior to Boswell. He alone he found in combination clearness repeats conversations, but the speakers of thought, compactness of expression, reinain initials. He never condescends perfection of literary finish. Pope did to the ininute details and personal touches not aspire to the “sacred madness of the which give colloquial individuality to bard," nor was he a literary recluse, a Johnson and his circle. Without Bosmystic, or a mediævalist. He lived in the well, Johnson would be best known as a centre of society, participating in all its writer of pompous rounded sentences. To interests. His ambition was congenial to Pope the want of a Boswell was an irrephis practical age. He sought to make arable loss. Bowles and Roscoe prefixed poetry “belle comme la prose," a treasure. lives of Pope to their editions, but neither house of felicitous phrases giving currency are works of much merit. The second to new ideas, fitted to express new wants edition of Mr. Carruthers's excellent biog. or treat new subjects with the utmost pre-raphy of Pope, which was published in cision of which language is capable.' It 1857, unfortunately appeared before the is no slight praise to say that he suc. enquiries of Dilke and Elwin were comceeded. His work was of incalculable pleied. Mr. Leslie Stephen's masterly value, but the debt of gratitude to pre sketch, which, together with some bril. ceptors is rarely paid. It might be said liant literary criticism, embodies the chief with some truth that he transformed the results of recent investigation, is the best wild, untaught muse of poetry into a court summary of the poet's life. But by far beauty, the victim of the modiste and the the most complete and exhaustive account posture-master; checked the easy flow of Pope's career is contained in the notes of her fancy by inculcating respect for and prefaces to the present edition of his politeness of phraseology; taught her works, only a portion of which was pubthat the display of natural emotion was lished when Mr. Stephen wrote. provincial; banished her from woodland Pope's “ literary life falls," as Mr. scenes to “trip down the stairs at White. Courthope says, “naturally into three pe. hall with gallants in her train," lords of riods." The order adopted here is a. the bedchamber for her ushers, peeresses slight departure from that of his editor. for her waiting.women. But Pope might The first period, that of “retired study and. retort with still greater truth that disci. imaginative composition

ends in 1715. pline was necessary when the nymph To the second period (1715-26) belong had become rhapsodical, eccentric, and a his translations of the Iliad and the slattern.

Odyssey. The third period (1726-44) is Pope's lot was cast in a prosaic age; his era of ethical poetry, literary, moral, the tendency of the literary movement by and political satire. which he was most powerfully influenced Pope was born on May 21, 1688. Both was un poetical. On the other hand, his his parents were then over five-and-forty early life was in many respects more years of age. Neither of them was robust;

[ocr errors]

a

was

his father's figure was crooked, his moth the mouths of crooked persons," the mus. er suffered from headaches. The son cles standing out across the cheeks like inherited, in an exaggerated form, the small cords, the skin drawn and contracted weakness of both. Pope says they were over the eyebrows by continual headaches. of gentle birth. But the connection Pope can hardly be said to have received which he claimed for his father with the an education. It was only between the family of Popes ennobled as the Earls of years of eight and twelve that he underDoune is not established, nor would Lord went any sort of training. Before he was Hervey's sneer at the obscurity of his eight he was attracted by the pictures to origin have wounded so deeply had it read Ogilby's Homer. He went on to been unfounded. His enemies discov. Sandys's Ovid, and an unknown version ered that Pope's father was a hatter, a of Statius. From the family priest, Ban. farmer, a mechanic, a bankrupt. He is ister, he picked up a little Latin and the known to have been a London draper, Greek alphabet, but at Twyford School, residing in Broad Street, dealing in “Hol. be forgot, under the “plagosus Orbilius," land's wholesale.” He retired from busi- whom he is said to have lampooned, the ness with a moderate fortune. But Catho- little he had previously learned. Between lics foundesafe investments with difficulty. nine and twelve he was under a master They were compelled to place their money named Deane, first in Marylebone, then on bond in England or in foreign securi- at Hyde Park Corner. This Deane had ties. In the operations of the penal laws been a fellow of University College, originated the traditions that the father Oxford. He was one of the Catholic deposited his money in a strong box and converts of Obadiah Walker, and at the lived on the principal, and that the son Revolution was deprived of his fellowwas an avaricious usurer because he lent ship. Pope in after life subscribed to a money on bond.

Mr. Pope, the elder, pension for his tutor, though he seems to a sincere Catholic, carrying, it is have been an inefficient teacher. At said, into his new religion the enthusiasm twelve years old he returned to the “pa. of a convert. He was twice married. ternal cell” at Binfield, “able," as he says The maiden name of his second wife was himself, "to construe a little of Tully's Turner. She belonged to a Yorkshire Offices.” With the exception of a few family possessed of some landed property, months under a priest in Windsor Forest, and, probably, attached to the Catholic on the border of which Binfield was situreligion. Alexander Pope was her only ated, this was all the schooling Pope ever child.

had. Of Pope's childhood little is known. Perhaps Pope misused his opportuniHis rapid rise to fame awakens distrust in ties. Had he wandered, a lonely, thoughtthe memories of friends. The attempt to ful boy, with his poetic gifts and bright trace his early tastes or peculiarities is fancy, among the glades of Windsor Foruseless, as vain, to use Goldsmith's pretty est, he might have grown in richness of simile, as the chase of the morning dews imagination and in vigor of creative powo in the noonday heat. It is not unreason. er. He bad leisure for the stillness of able to suppose him idolized by his thought, the gentleness of musing, which elderly parents, petted by his nurse, Mary might have revealed to him the “religious Beech, the nutrix fidelissima who lived meanings in the forms of nature

that with him till her death in 1725. As a child were unfolded to Wordsworth. He took he is said to have had a round, plump, another course; he buried himself in his pretty, bright-complexioned face, and a books. For the next few years he read voice so sweet that he was called “the everything that fell in his way, from Rolittle nightingale.". In manhood his voice man antiquities to controversial tracts. was feeble. Swift complains in the "Nobody,” said his half-sister, Mrs. Rackcheerless picture he draws of their meet- ett, “ever studied so hard as my brother ing in 1726, that his "loudest tones are did in his youth; he did nothing else but low and weak.” Forty years of thought write and read.” Seneca, Cicero, and and sickness worked a startling change Montaigne, he read with keen enjoyment, in his appearance. Sir Joshua Reynolds but philosophy was uncongenial to his describes him as “about four feet six vagrant habit of mind. He laid the foun. inches high, very humpbacked and de.dations of the “Essay on Criticism" by a formed. He had a large and very fine eye, study of Quintilian, Rapin, and Bossu. a long handsome nose.” The face was He acquired a smattering of Latin, Greek, lined and worn, the mouth seamed with and French, but he always preferred the " those marks, which are always seen round / works of foreign authors in English ver,

m

« VorigeDoorgaan »