[blocks in formation]

of the Odyssey,' in which Pope was assisted by two of his friends," Elijah Fenton and Broome, whose labours, however, were acknowledged in a very niggardly way. They translated twelve books between them, but were credited in the preface with only five. For this piece of work Pope received £2885-after paying £700 to his assistants: but we are not informed whether he laid it out to equal advantage with his first gains.

This piece of concentrated abuse Pope says he sent to Addison in a letter, animadverting freely on his sins towards himself. "He used me very civilly ever after," says the poet. But unfortunately Pope's word None of these works, however, serious as does not carry the weight necessary to win they were, occupied so much of his life or faith for such a story; and there is no evi-filled his thoughts as much as did the Dundence to support it. It was only after Ad- ciad,' a work which has now little more than dison was dead and incapable of response an archæological interest. The idea of a that this character of him glided into print. Its power and intensity are extraordinary; and probably, of its kind, nothing in literature is more perfect. Atterbury is said to have considered it the best thing Pope had ever done. "Since you now, therefore, know where your real strength lies, I hope you will not suffer that talent to lie unemployed," the Bishop writes, with a political appreciation of the bitter gift; and the advice was fatally well followed.


Dennis and Curll had called forth specimens of gross abuse and nastiness alone his enemies were henceforth to be treated with sharper and daintier weapons. The verses on Addison were published in 1722, and already two other unfortunates gasped impaled in his company. Bufo," Lord Halifax, and "Sporus," Lord Hervey, Lady Mary, the Duchess of Marlborough, and a host of lesser victims, afterwards followed. To Pope and to his friends this kind of personal crucifixion, which is now banished, if it exists at all, to the lowest class of scribblers, or to the utterances of the parish .muse, seems to have been considered a perfectly legitimate literary exercise. Swift employed the same expedient freely, and Gay built his little fortune and his troubles at once on the same disreputable foundation. There is a comedy called Three Hours after Marriage,' in which Gay is said to have been aided by Pope and Arbuthnot. "Fossile the husband was intended to ridicule Dr. Woodward; Sir Tremendous, the greatest critic of the day, was Dennis, &c. &c." The popular mind has scarcely yet lost the stinging impression of these social treacheries, and still retains a lingering distrust of the writer who has it in his power to hold up his neighbour to the laughter of the world. But fortunately the fashion is over, and poets do not now promote their own reputation by ruthless slaughter of the good fame of others.

The successful' Iliad led to a translation

grand epic, mock-heroic, of the same character as that which had already brought him such fame, embodying the reign of Dulness and her chief leaders and champions, had long pleased Pope's imagination. And it was an idea which naturally charmed his friends, living as they did in a kind of Ishmaelitish warfare with everybody who opposed or threatened them. With such a gladiator as Swift by his side, the natural instinct which makes any creature possessed of a sting use it with prompt and unhesitat ing readiness, was not likely to be softened in the irritable little poet. The men he satirised are dead and gone- their names, as he himself prophesied, but as flies in amber, shut up in the meshes of his verses.

"The things, we know, are neither rich nor rare, But wonder how the devil they got there."

What is Tibbalds to us far down in the nineteenth century, or Phillips, or Dennis, or Cibber? To Pope they were his enemies, and therefore important; but not even the charms of his verse can make them interesting. While Pope was busy about this thankless and unworthy labour, Swift was with him at Twickenham; and here is the picture he gives -a glimpse unusually distinct of the odd little workshop, where poems were made and reputations killed :

[ocr errors]

"Pope has the talent well to speak,

But not to reach the car;
His loudest voice is low and weak,
The Dean too deaf to hear.

Awhile they on each other look,

Then different studies choose;
The Dean sits plodding on a book,

Pope walks and courts the muse.

Now backs of letters, though designed

For those who more will need 'em, Are filled with hints, and interlined, Himself can hardly read 'em.

Yet to the Dean this share allot,

He claims it by a canon,
That without which a thing is not,
Is causa sine qua non.

Thus, Pope, in vain you boast your wit,
For had our deaf divine
Been for your conversation fit,

You had not writ a line."

The serious works produced in the latter part of Pope's life were his epistles, and specially the Essay on Man,' which Bolingbroke is supposed to have inspired. It was published anonymously, with some of the author's usual wiles, his friends being employed to go about whispering that now at last Pope had a real rival. He himself, in his preface, hypocritically (but always with characteristic self-conceit) professes that he "imitates no man," and "would be thought to vie with no man in these epistles; particularly with the noted author of two lately published." This trick put out the instinct of the public; and many other artifices of the same kind, elaborate appeals to critics here and there what they thought of it, kept up for a time the illusion. The poet, however, had one prick of an amusing kind. He inquired of Mallet, who had become one of his retinue, what new things there were in literature? Nothing, he was answered, worth notice; only a thing called an Essay on Man,' poor in poetry and in philosophy. The furious little poet, unprepared, started up in arms. "I wrote it,' he said, in sudden rage; and the reader is glad he had that one requital of his own perpetual sting. Other epistles, addressed to various persons, preceded and followed the Essay; the Imitations of Horace,' with all their provoking stabs, and the Epistle to Arbuthnot,' in which lay, sharp and keen, the posthumous murder of Addison. All of them were sharpened by darts of offence to everybody who had ever crossed his path, and to some who had not. The assault on the Duchess of Marlborough, in the character of Atossa, (to withdraw which he is proved to have accepted a thousand pounds: he took the money and printed the character!), and that on the Duke of Chandos, persons who had never harmed him, must have been done in the mere wantonness of mischief. His hand was against every man, except, indeed, the few who praised and supported him, to whom he was, after his kind, a warm friend. To Warburton, who defended the Essay from imputations of scepticism, he was the means of bringing high advance in fortune; and to all appearance he was charitable, and ready to give even above his means; but it is evident that the temptation of the sting

[ocr errors]

was as much too much for Pope as it is to the wasp who pursues us when the windows are open, and the domestic table exposed in the déshabille of summer. Whoever touched him, looked at him, interposed between him and the sun, suffered on the spot, without warning or time to escape. And some of his finest efforts are unquestionably contained in these attacks; their conciseness, and close, desperate, well-aimed blows, are perfect in their way.


The society at Twickenham during all this period, notwithstanding "the single pint" for supper, must have been as brilliant as wit and fame could make it. Swift paid one visit of five months to his friend; and Bolingbroke, Peterborough, and Chesterfield, all frequented the little house. Voltaire, when a visitor at St. John's House of Dawley, also visited his brother poet, and talked, it is said, so grossly, that Mrs. Pope was driven from the table. there, too, Gay, Arbuthnot, and a hundred lesser lights, twinkled with mild radiance. On one of Swift's visits a joint miscellany was planned, which the Dean, Gay, and Pope compounded together. In their preface to this joint performance the poets complain that they have been "extremely ill used by some booksellers," who had given to the world every loose paper in prose or verse, obtained from the authors by importunity, or by the indiscretion of friends, and that even the papers of the dead had been ransacked to find letters; a curious statement, for which there seems to have been no sort of foundation. It would "seem to have been hazarded with a view of preparing for some subsequent publication of letters," says Mr. Carruthers, who has set forth all the curious intrigues on this subject which followed. It was indeed a favourite subject of complaint with Pope, whose restless vanity pleased itself with this supposed evidence of his importance. He plays with the notion in many of his letters, as if he loved it :

"This letter (like all mine) will be a rhapsody," he says, affectedly, when writing to Swift; "it is many years ago since I wrote as a wit. ... I write to you more negligently - that is, more openly - and what all but such as love one another would call writing worse. I smile to think how Curll would be bit, were our epistles to fall into his hands, and how gloriously they would fall short of every ingenious reader's excherley) the booksellers have got and printed. . . . Some letters of mine (to Wypectations! .. I don't much approve of it, though there is nothing in it for me to be ashamed of, because I will not be ashamed of anything I do not do myself, or of anything that is not immoral, but

merely dull; as, for instance, if they printed | nant grandeur of injured virtue. "Whereas this letter I am now writing, which they easily several booksellers have printed surreptimay, if the underlings at the post-office please tious and incorrect editions of letters as to take a copy of it."

mine, some of which are not so, and others interpolated, I think myself under a necessity to publish such of the said letters as are genuine, with the addition of some › others of a nature less insignificant," he proclaims, in princely guise, in the London Gazette.' The trial had succeeded more perfectly than he could have hoped. "Being desirous of printing his letters, and not knowing how to do without imputation of vanity what has been done in this country very rarely, Pope," says Dr. Johnson,

contrived an appearance of compulsion, that when he could complain that his letters were surreptitiously published he might decently and defensively publish them himself."

From all this it is easy to perceive that, long accustomed as Pope ought to have been by this time to his fame, it still sat on him like a ploughboy's Sunday clothes. He wanted to be sure that everybody knew it was he, and saw his finery, and pleased himself with the idea of a universal curiosity, the very importance of which was a tribute to his greatness. At a later period, when Gay, whom he loved, was dead, and Swift dying, and Bolingbroke in France, he took the most curious means of securing for himself the notoriety he loved. Let us hope that it was the wariness of waning life, and the loneliness that had fallen upon him, which moved the poet to so strange a diversion from his solitude. It is thus it came about. The artifice succeeded, but it does not In the year 1733, Pope being then a man seem to have deceived any one. The world of about forty-five, precisely at the age in general, always so much better aware when men in general are most scrupulous than the juggler supposes of the way in which about the privacy of their personal life, a his tricks are elaborated, saw the hand bemysterious communication was made to hind the scenes that moved all, and knew Curll the bookseller, touching a large col- for what motive the House of Lords was lection of the poet's letters from his youth moved to question, and the newspapers to the year 1727. Curll communicated with rang with counter-advertisements. But the Pope himself on the subject, informing him poet, blowing his own trumpet till his cheeks that he meant to publish them; and Pope's ached, did not perceive that everybody saw reply was made by advertisements in the him, and saw through his inventions. The renewspapers, proclaiming to all the world velation which he affected to be forced from that he had nothing to do with Curll, that him, and which he pretended was honest he knew of no such collection of letters, and and complete, was in reality as careful a that he should not trouble himself about the work of art as any he had produced. The matter. Finally, after much mysterious letters were squeezed and pared and fitted communication between the publisher and into shape like the feet of Cinderella's sishis unknown correspondents, the book, al- ters. Names were transposed, sentiments ready printed by these darkling conspira- transferred-the apologies, professions, and tors, was given to the public. It was ad- offers of friendship made to one man were vertised with the names of the persons to handed over to another-the verses adwhom and from whom the letters came: dressed to one woman made to do service. Mr. Pope's Literary Correspondence for for a second — a hundred tricks played with thirty years; being a collection of letters, the correspondence which remorseless time, regularly digested, written to him by the and the eyes of critics, and the British MuRight Hon. the late Earl of Halifax, Earl seum, have pitilessly discovered. of Burlington, Secretary Craggs, Sir Wil-" surreptitious edition" was as carefully liam Trumbull, &c. &c. &c. Curll's ad-corrected" and manipulated as the genuvertisement was a direct infringement of a ine one. Never was there a more elaborate rule of the House of Lords, which prohib- offering laid on the altars of vanity, and selited the publication of any peer's letters without his consent, and as such was brought under the notice of the House; upon which the books were seized, the printer and publisher summoned to the bar, and notoriety in its fullest and sweetest extent obtained on all hands, Pope himself meanwhile fulminating in the newspapers against the surreptitious publication, and offering rewards to the apocryphal persons who had betrayed him. His next move was made with the indig

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


dom has as curious an incident occurred in literary history. "Pope's private correspondence thus promulgated filled the nation with praises of his candour, tenderness, and benevolence, the purity of his purposes, and the fidelity of his friendship." He had thus the gratification of, as it were, posthumous praise and personal glorification while still in the prime of life, and with possible laurels- still before him to win.

Pope's prime, however, was not like that



good symptoms," he said, with a certain soft humour when they mocked him, as injudicious friends will do, with assurances that he was better. Thus he died, so quietly that no one could tell the moment, in his own house, with kindness and almost love around him; almost snatching a kind of life from the touch of death-growing, as he crossed the threshold into the darkness, at last into the semblance of a man.

of a man of ordinary health and size. He gathers round him. "It was very observehad been forced, or had forced himself, into able," during this last illness, that Mrs. premature bloom, and premature decay had Blount's coming in gave a new turn of spirits followed. He who had been a precocious or a temporary strength to him. She was a man and philosopher at sixteen, was at for- little lively old woman by that time, in the ty-six, old, querulous, and decaying. The eyes of the younger generation; but that changes of the weather affect me much," he did not affect her charm to her friend. writes. "The mornings are my life; in the Gleams of a spiritual atmosphere about him evenings I am not dead, indeed, but sleep, appear faintly in those waning days, — he and am stupid enough. I love reading still saw strange colours in the rooms, and an better than conversation, but my eyes fail, arm stretching out from the wall, it is said, and at the hours when most people indulge at one time, and asked eagerly, "What's in company I am tired, and find the labour that?" Then, with a smile of pleasure, adof the past day sufficient to weigh me down; ded, "It was a vision! Bolingbroke so I hide myself in bed, as a bird in his nest, wept, crying out with theatrical sentiment, much about the same time." His health "Oh, great God, what is man? but the failed gradually, and infirmities crept upon dying poet made no bewailing over his him. Up to almost the last year of his life own state. "I am dying of a hundred he was still employed, with the aid of Warburton, in slaughtering with cruel tortures every new butterfly that fluttered across his path, every fly that had ever ventured to buzz at Pope. Revenge went to the length of the tiniest insect; and not the most elaborate system of notes can wake any interest in the bosom of the living reader as to the dead triflers of the Dunciad.' But though thus remorseless and vindictive to his deathbed, the poet clung to his friends who had made much of him, and had not ventured to interfere with his fame. He made efforts to visit, them though his poor little frame was dropping to peices. Yes, I would see you as long as I can see you," he writes to Bolingbroke," and then shut my eyes upon the world as a thing worth seeing no longer. If your charity would take up a small bird that is half-dead of the frost, and set it chirping for half an hour, I will jump into my cage and put myself into your hands to-morrow at any hour you send." Up till very nearly the last, he still managed to glide along the river-side in his boat as far as Battersea, where Bolingbroke was, and was carried up in his chair to dine with his friend. The reader will see more trace of a human nature in those last glimpses of the dying poet than have been visible through all his previous life. The husk peels off with the long friction of time; with some the process is shorter, with some longer. Pope had so small a soul, so tiny a central point of humanity, that the very last covering of all has almost fallen away before the spirit shows. But it does become visible at the end. As he sits in the sun on his terrace talking feebly with his friends, smiling faintly at himself, the poor old bird halfdead in the frost, casting faint looks of faithful friendship at Martha Blount, who, they say, was indifferent, and at Bolingbroke, whose heart was touched, a certain interest

[ocr errors]

There is, as has been often said, an unseen tragedy in almost every life. Here there is no tragedy to speak of except the technical one, that the story ends, as all stories must, in death. But the reason is, that Pope had no life, no personal existence, no thread of individual fate: he worked, he studied, he produced poems greater than his nature; he hated, reviled, and beguiled his fellow-creatures; he magnified and deified himself, and that genius, which, divine thing as it is, can yet exist amidst so much garbage; and he liked with sufficient faithfulness a few people in the world, who were very good, very obliging, flattering, and satisfactory to him. But he neither lived in his own person, nor threw himself heart and soul into any other life; nothing tragic, nothing serious, no real interest to any man soul, is in him. A certain curiosity about the habits and natural history of the strange little phenomenon, a critic's interest in his poetry, a historian's attention to the curious phase of national life across which his little shadow passed—such is all that can be given to Pope. In literature he stands unique in England. His age, with its sharp emulation of wits, its graces and gracelessness, its frightful licence of speech and insensibility to all social codes of honor, is reflected in his pages as in the pitiless clearness of a mirror. Some of his satires rise to the very sublime of character-painting. In all other ways he has been sur


passed-in this he stands supreme; and ter of his art. He was the culmination and thousands, we might say millions, in both perfect blossom of his school. It had to hemispheres, quote daily those matchless fall when he was gone, nothing greater bebitter lines without knowing whom they ing possible, and to leave the way open to quote. As a poet he wrought out his vein. a party less polished and less correct and Nobody could venture to come after, except more spontaneous in genius, and less elain humble paths of imitation, so great a mas- borate in art.

[blocks in formation]

Yet now as I kneel in the firelight,

And mark those once sad stains,

And the early spring, the sweet, sweet spring,
Comes back with its sunny gleam;
When sorrow was but an unknown word,
And death was only a dream;

When love was as free as heaven's air,
And the world was all to win,

With the boundless faith and trust of youth,
Undaunted by grief or sin.

Alas, alas! those fair bright hopes
Are killed by worldly cold;
The sweet soft strain is left unsung,
And the story is left untold:

And we are left with aching hearts,
Our dreams all faded in air,

With nought but some little unknown grave
To rescue us from despair.

But are not those brave and earnest hopes,
Though blighted on earth they lie,
The striving of our poor hungry souls
For God's immortality?

So I think 'mong the joys of the far-off land,
That moment must be supreme

When we find that our vanished dreams are true,
And life's shadows only a dream.

Thus I leave my burden behind me,

And my eyes with tears grow dim;
For the children are waiting the good-night kiss
After their evening hymn.

I can thank my God that the bitter is past, What matters it, dear ones, after all,

And only the joy remains:

A joy that grows deeper and fuller,
As we lay our burdens down;

Till Memory's angel face grows fair
As Hope's bright starry crown.

And my heart beats high with gladness,
Which now feels quiet and old ;
And the world seems fair and golden,
Which is now so grey and cold.

Though thorny our path may be,
When Jesus the "tender Shepherd" saith,
"Let the little ones come to me!"

And though we have many a day to toil
Through the stormy winter's cold,
At last with the children safe we'll meet
At home in that blessed fold.

J. C. A.

« VorigeDoorgaan »