Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

PO P E.

ses.

ALEXANDER Pope was born in London, * May “ Sandys' Ovid.” Ogilby's assistance be never 22, 1688, of parents wbose rank or station was repaid with any praise; but of Sandys, be denever ascertained : we are informed that they clared, in his notes to the “ Iliad," that Engwere of “gentle blood ;” that his father was of lish poetry owed much of its beauty to his transa family of which the Earl of Downe was the lation. Sandys very rarely attempted original head; and that his mother was the daughter of composition. William Turner, Esquire, of York, who had From the care of Taverner, under whom his likewise three sons, one of whom had the hon- proficiency was considerable, he was removed our of being killed, and the other of dying in to a school at Twyford, near Winchester, and the service of Charles the First; the third was again to another school, about Hyde-park Cormade a general officer in Spain, from whom the ner; from which he used sometimes to stroll to sister inherited what sequestrations and for the playhouse, and was so delighted with theafeitures had left in the family.

trical exhibition, that he formed a kind of play This, and this only, is told by Pope, who is from “ Ogilby's Iliad,” with some verses of more willing, as I have heard observed, to show his own intermixed, which he persuaded his what his father was not, than what he was. schoolfellows to act, with the addition of his It is allowed that he grew rich by trade; but master's gardener, who personated Ajax. whether in a shop or on the exchange, was ne At the two last schools he used to represent ver discovered till Mr. Tyers told, on the au himself as having lost part of what Taverner ,thority of Mrs. Racket, that he was a linen- had taught him; and on his master at Twyford draper in the Strand. Both parents were he had already exercised his poetry in a lampapists.

poon. Yet under those masters he translated Pope was from his birth of a constitution more than a fourth part of the “ Metamorpho tender and delicate ; but is said to have shown If he kept the same proportion in his remarkable gentleness and sweetness of disposi- other exercises, it cannot be thought that his tion. The weakness of his body continued loss was great. through his life;t but the mildness of his mind He tells of himself, in his poems, that “he perhaps ended with his childhood. His voice, lisped in numbers ;” and used to say that he when he was young, was so pleasing, that he could not remember the time when he bewas called in fondness “the little Nightingale.” gan to make verses. In the style of fiction it

Being not sent early to school, he was taught might have been said of him as of Pindar, that, to read by an aunt; and when he was seven or when he lay in his cradle, “the bees swarmed eight years old became a lover of books. He about his mouth.” first learned to write by imitating printed About the time of the Revolution, his father, books; a species of penmanship in which he re- who was undoubtedly disappointed by the sudtained great excellence through his whole life, den blast of popish prosperity, quitted his trade, though his ordinary hand was not elegant. and retired to Binfield in Windsor Forest, with

When he was about eight, he was placed in about twenty thousand pounds; for which, Hampshire, under Taverner, a Romish priest, being conscientiously determined not to entrust who, by a method very rarely practised, taught it to the government, he found no better use him the Greek and Latin rudiments together. than that of locking it up in a chest, and takHe was now first regularly initiated in poetry ing from it what his expenses required : and his by the perusal of “ Ogilby's Homer" and life was long enough to consume a great part of

it before his son came to the inheritance.

To Binfield, Pope was called by his father • In Lombard-street, according to Dr. Warton.-c. when he was about twelve years old; and there

+ This weakne:s was so great, that he constantly he had, for a few months, the assistance of one wore stays, as I have been assured by a waterman at Twickenham, who, in lifting him into his boat, Deane, another priest, of whom he learned had often felt them. His method of taking the air only to construe a little of “ Tully's Offices.” on the water was to have a sedan chair in the boat, How Mr. Deane could spend, with a boy who in which he sat with the glasses down H.

had translated so much of Ovid, some months

was.

very liable

over a small part of “ Tully's Offices,” it is original; but this is a small part of his praise; now vain to inquire.

he discovers such acquaintance both with huOf a youth so successfully employed, and so man life and public affairs, as is not easily conconspicuously improved, a minute account must ceived to have been attainable by a boy of fourbe naturally desired; but curiosity must be con teen in Windsor Forest. tented with confused, imperfect, and sometimes Next year he was desirous of opening to him. improbable intelligence. Pope, finding little self new sources of knowledge, by making himadvantage from external help, resolved thence- self acquainted with modern languages; and forward to direct himself, and at twelve formed removed for a time to London, that he might a plan of study, which he completed with little study French and Italian, which, as he desired other incitement than the desire of excellence. nothing more than to read them, were by dili

He primary and principal purpose was to be gent application soon despatched. Of Italian a poet, with which his father accidentally con- learning he does not appear to have ever made curred, by proposing subjects, and obliging him much use in his subsequent studies. to correct his performances by many revisals ; He then returned to Binfield, and delighted after which, the old gentleman, when he was himself with his own poetry. He tried all satisfied, would say, “these are good rhymes." styles and many subjects. He wrote a comedy,

In his perusal of the English poets he soon a tragedy, an epic poem, with panegyrics on all distinguished the versification of Dryden, which the princes of Europe; and, as he conf ses, he considered as the model to be studied, and “ thought himself the greatest genius that ever was impressed with such veneration for his in

Self-confidence is the first requisite to structor, that he persuaded some friends to take great undertakings. He, indeed, who forms him to the coffee-house which Dryden fre. his opinion of himself in solitude without quented, and pleased himself with having seen knowing the powers of other men,

is him.

to error; but it was the felicity of Pope to rate Dryden died May 1, 1701, some days before himself at his real value. Pope was twelve; so early must be therefore Most of his puerile productions were, by his have felt the power of harmony and the zeal of maturer judgment, afterwards destroyed. “ Algenius. Who does not wish that Dryden could cander,” the epic poem, was burnt by the perhave known the value of the homage that was suasion of Atterbury. The tragedy was founded paid him, and foreseen the greatness of his on the legend of St. Genevieve. Of the comedy young admirer?

there is no account. The earliest of Pope's productions is his Concerning his studies it is related, that he « Ode on Solitude, written before he was translated “ Tully on Old Age;" and that ben twelve, in which there is nothing more than sides his books of poetry and criticism, he read other forward boys have attained, and which is “ Temple's Essays” and “ Locke on Human, not equal to Cowley's performances at the same Understanding." His reading, though his faage.

vourite authors are not known, appears to have His time was now wholly spent in reading been sufficiently extensive and multifarious; and writing. As he read the classics, he amused for his early pieces show, with sufficient evihimself with translating them ; and at fourteen dence, his knowledge of books. made a version of the first book of “ The The He that is pleased with himself easily imabais,” which, with some revision, he afterwards gines that he shall please others. Sir William published. He must have been at this time, if Trumbull, who had been ambassador at Conhe had no help, a considerable proficient in the stantinople, and secretary of state, when he reLatin tongue.

tired from business, fixed his residence in the By Dryden's Fables, which had then been neighbourhood of Binfield. Pope, not yet sixnot long published, and were much in the hands teen, was introduced to the statesman of sixty, of poetical readers, he was tempted to try his and so distinguished himself, that their interown skill in giving Chaucer a more fashionable views ended in friendship and correspondence. appearance, and put “ January and May,” and Pope was, through his whole life, ambitious of the “ Prologue of the Wife of Bath," into mo splendid acquaintance; and he seems to have dern English. He translated likewise the wanted neither diligence nor success in attractepistle of “ Sappho to Phaon," from Ovid, toing the notice of the great; for, from his first complete the version which was before imper- entrance into the world, and his entrance was fect; and wrote some other small pieces, which very early, he was admitted to familiarity witb he afterwards printed.

those whose rank or station made them most He sometimes imitated the English poets, conspicuou-R. and professed to have written at fourteen his From the age of sixteen the life of Pope, as poem upon Silence,” after Rochester's “ No. an author, may be properly computed. He thing." He had now formed his versification, now wrote his pastorals, which were shown to And the smoothness of his numbers surpassed his the poets and critics of that time; as they well

deserved, they were read with admiration, and those which are read so eagerly in Italy; A de many praises were bestowed upon them, and sign which Pope probably did not approve, as upon the Preface, which is both elegant and he did not follow it. learned in a high degree; they were, however, Pope had now declared himself poet; and, not published till five years afterwards.

thinking himself entitled to poetical conversaCowley, Milton, and Pope, are distinguished tion, began at seventeen to frequent Will's, a among the English poets by the early exertion coffee-house on the north side of Russell-street of their powers; but the works of Cowley alone in Covent-garden, where the wits of that time were published in his childhood, and therefore used to assemble, and where Dryden had, of him only can it be certain that his puerile when he lived, been accustomed to preside. performances received no improvement from During this period of his life he was indefabis maturer studies.

tigably diligent and insatiably curious; want. At this time began his acquaintance with ing health for violent and money for expensive Wycherley, a man who seems to have had pleasures; and having excited in himself very among his contemporaries his full share of re- strong desires of intellectual eminence, he putation, to have been esteemed without virtue, spent much of his time over his books; but and caressed without good humour. Pope was he read only to store his mind with facts and proud of his notice; Wycherley wrote verses images, seizing all that his authors presented in his praise, which he was charged by Dennis with undistinguishable voracity, and with an with writing to himself, and they agreed for appetite for knowledge too eager to be nice. In awhile to flatter one another. It is pleasant to

a mind like his, however, all the faculties were remark how soon Pope learned the cant of an at once involuntarily improving. Judgment is author, and began to treat critics with con- forced upon us by experience. He that reads tempt, though he had yet suffered nothing from many books must compare one opinion or one them.

style with another; and, when he compares, But the fondness of Wycherley was too vio must necessarily distinguish, reject, and prefer. lent to last. His esteem of Pope was such, that But the account given by himself of his studies he submitted some poems to his revision; and was, that from fourteen to twenty he read only when Pope, perhaps proud of such confidence, for amusement, from twenty to twenty-seven was sufficiently bold in his criticisms and for improvement and instruction; that in the liberal in his alterations, the old scribbler was first part of this time he desired only to know, angry to see his pages defaced, and felt more and in the second he endeavoured to judge. pain from the detection, than content from the The Pastorals, which had been for some time amendment of his faults. They parted; but handed about among poets and critics, were at Pope always considered him with kindness, last printed (1709) in Tonson's “ Miscellany,” and visited him a little time before he died. in a volume which began with the Pastorals of

Another of his early correspondents was Mr. Philips and ended with those of Pope. Cromwell of whom I have learned nothing par The same year was written the “ Essay on ticular but that he used to ride a hunting in a Criticism ;” a work which displays such extent tyewig. He was fond, and perhaps vain, of of comprehension, such nicety of distinction, amusing himself with poetry and criticism ; such acquaintance with mankind, and such and sometimes sent his performances to Pope, knowledge both of ancient and modern learnwho did not forbear such remarks as were now ing, as are not often attained by the maturest and then unwelcome. Pope, in his turn, put age and longest experience. It was published the juvenile version of “ Statius” into his hands about two years afterwards; and, being praised for correction.

by Addison in “ The Spectator"* with suffiTheir correspondence afforded the public its cient liberality, met with so much favour as enfirst knowledge of Pope's epistolary powers; for raged Dennis, " who," he says,

“ found himself his Letters were given by Cromwell to one attacked, without any manner of provocation Mrs. Thomas; and she many years afterwards on his side, and attacked in his person, instead sold them to Curll, who inserted them in a vo of his writings, by one who was wholly a stranlume of his Miscellanies.

ger to him, at a time when all the world knew Walsh, a name yet preserved among the minor he was persecuted by fortune; and not only poets, was one of his first encouragers. His re saw that this was attempted in a clandestine gard was gained by the Pastorals, and from him manner, with the utmost falsehood and calumPope received the counsel by which he seems to ny, but found that all this was done by a little have regulated his studies. Walsh advised him to correctness, which, as he told him, the English poets had hitherto neglected, and which

• No. 253. But, according to Dr. Warton, Pope therefore was left to him as a basis of fame :

was displeased at one passage, in which Addison and, being delighted with rural poems, recom censures the admission of " some strokes of ill-pa mended to him to write a pastoral comedy, like ture."--C.

[ocr errors]

affected hypocrite, who had nothing in his “ How," says

the criti', can wit be scorned mouth at the same time but truth, candour, where it is not? Is not this a figure frequently -friendship, good-nature, humanity, and mag- employed in Hibernian land,? The person that nanimity.”

wants this wit may indeed be scorned, but the How the attack was clandestine is not easily scorn shows the honour which the contemner perceived, nor how his person is depreciated; has for wit.” Of this remark Pope made the but he seems to have known something of proper use, by correcting the passage. Pope's character, in whom may be discovered I have preserved, I think, all that is reasonan appetite to talk too frequently of his own able in Dennis's criticism ; it remains that jusvirtues.

tice be done to his delicacy. “ For his acThe pamphlet is such as · rage might be ex- quaintance (says Dennis) he names Mr. Walsh, pected to dictate. He supposes himself to be who had by no means the qualification which asked two questions; whether the Essay will this author reckons absolutely necessary to a succeed, and who or what is the author. critic, it being very certain that he was, like

Its success he admits to be secured by the this Essayer, a very indifferent poet; he loved false opinions then prevalent; the author he to be well dressed ; and I remember a little concludes to be young and raw.”

young gentleman whom Mr. Walsh used to “ First, because he discovers a sufficiency be- take into his company, as a double foil to his yond his little ability, and hath rashly under person and capacity. Inquire, between Suntaken a task infinitely above his force. Second- ninghill and Oakenham, for a young, short, ly, while this little author struts, and affects the squab gentleman, the very bow of the god of dictatorian air, he plainly shows, that at the love, and tell me whether he be a proper author same time he is under the rod; and, while he to make personal reflections ?-He may extol pretends to give laws to others, is a pedantic the ancients, but he has reason to thank the slave to authority and opinion. Thirdly, he gods that he was born a modern; for had he hath, like schoolboys, borrowed both from liv- been born of Grecian parents, and his father ing and dead. Fourthly, he knows not his consequently had by law had the absolute dispoown mind, and frequently contradicts him-sal of him, his life had been no longer than that self. Fifthly, he is almost perpetually in the of one of his poems; the life of half a day.wrong.

Let the person of a gentleman of his parts be All these positions he attempts to prove by never so contemptible, his inward man is ten quotations and remarks; but bis desire to do times more ridiculous; it being impossible that mischief is greater than his power. He has, his outward form, though it be that of downhowever, justly criticised some passages in these right monkey, should differ so much from hulines:

man shape, as his unthinking immaterial part

does from human understanding." Thus began There are whom heaven has bless'd with store of the hostility between Pope and Dennis, which, wit,

though it was suspended for a short time, never Yet want as much again to manage it;

was appeased. Pope seems at first, to have atFor Wit and Judgment ever are at strife

tacked him wantonly; but, though he always

professed to despise him, he discovers, by menIt is apparent that wit has two meanings, | tioning him very often, that he felt his force or and that what is wanted, though called wit, is

his venom. truly judgment. So far. Dennis is undoubtedly

Of this essay, Pope declared, that he did not right: but not content with argument, he will expect the sale to be quick, because “ not one have a little mirth, and triumphs over the first gentleman in sixty, even of liberal education, couplet in terms too elegant to be forgotten could understand it.” The gentlemen and the “ By the way, what rare numbers are here! education of that time seem to have been of a Would not one swear that this youngster had lower character than they are of this. He espoused some antiquated muse, who had sued mentioned a thousand copies as a numerous imout a divorce on account of impotence from

pression. some superannuated sinner; and, having been

Dennis was not his only censurer : the zealpoxed by her former spouse, has got the'gout

ous papists thought the monks treated with too in her decrepit age, which makes her hobble so

much contempt, and Erasmus too studiously damnably?” This was the man who would

praised; but to these object ons he had not reform a nation sinking into barharity.

much regard. In another place Pope himself allowed that

The Essay has been translated into French by Dennis had detected one of those blunders Hamilton, author of the “ Comte de Gramwhich are called “ bulls.” The first edition mont,” whose version was never printed, by had this line :

- Robotham, secretary to the King for Hanover, What is this wit

and by Resnel; and commented by Dr. WarWhere wanted, scom'd; and envied where acquired? | burton, who has discovered in it such order and

2

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Mm

connection as was not perceived by Addison, his letters were intercepted and carried to her nor, as is said, intended by the author.

guardian, who directed her to be watched with Almost every poem consisting of precepts is still greater vigilance, till of this restraint she so far arbitrary and immethodical, that many grew so impatient, that she bribed a woman of the paragraphs may change places with no servant to procure her a sword, which she diapparent inconvenience; for of two or more po- rected to her heart. sitions depending upon some remote and general From this account, given with evident intenprinciple there is seldom any cogent reason why tion raise the lady's character, it does not apone should precede the other. But for the pear that she had any claim to praise, nor much order in which they stand, whatever it be, a to compassion. She seems to have been impalittle ingenuity may easily give a reason. It tient, violent, and ungovernable. Her uncle's is possible,” says Hooker, “ that by long cir- power could not have lasted long; the hour of cumduction, from any one truth all truth may liberty and choice would have come in time. be inferred.” Of all homogeneous truths, at | But her desires were too hot for delay, and she least of all truths respecting the same general liked celf murder better than suspense. end, in whatever series they may be produced, Nor is it discoversd that the uncle, whoever a concatenation by intermediate ideas may be he was, is with much justice delivered to posformed, such as, when it is once shown, shall terity as “a false Guardian;" he seems to bave appear natural; but if this order be reversed, done only that for which a guardian is appointanother mode of connection equally specious ed; he endeavoured to direct his niece till she may be found or made. Aristotle is praised for should be able to direct herself. Poetry has not naming Fortitude first of the cardinal virtues, often been worse employed than in dignifying as that without which no other virtue can the amorous fury of a raving girl. steadily be practised; but he might, with equal Not long after, he wrote “ The Rape of the propriety, have placed Prudence and Justice Lock,” the most airy, the most ingenious, and before it, since without Prudence, Fortitude is the most delightful of all his compositions, ocmad; without Justice it is mischievous. casioned by a frolic of gallantry, rather too fa

As the end of method is perspicuity, that se- miliar, in which Lord Petre cut off a lock of ries is sufficiently regular that avoids obscurity, Mrs. Arabella Fermor's hair. This, whether and where there is no obscurity, it will not be stealth or violence, was so much resented, that difficult to discover method.

the commerce of the two families, before very In “ The Spectator" was published the Mes- friendly, was interrupted. Mr. Caryl, a gensiah, which he first submitted to the perusaltleman who, being secretary to King James's of Steele, and corrected in compliance with his queen, had followed his mistress into France, criticisms.

and who, being the author of “ Sir Solomon It is reasonable to infer, from his Letters, that Single," a comedy, and some translations, was the “ Verses on the Unfortunate Lady” were entitled to the notice of a wit, solicited Pope to written about the time when his Essay was endeavour a reconciliation by a ludicrous poem, published. The lady's name and adventures I which might bring both the parties to a better have sought with fruitless inquiry. *

temper. In compliance with Caryl's request, I can therefore tell no more than I have though his name was for a long time marked learned from Mr. Ruff head, who writes with only by the first and last letters, C-1, a poem the confidence of one who could trust his in- of two cantos was written (1711), as is said, in formation. She was a woman of eminent rank a fortnight, and sent to the offended lady, who and large fortune, the ward of an uncle, who, liked it well enough to show it; and, 'with the having given her a proper education, expected usual process of literary transactions, the aulike other guardians that she should make at thor, dreading a surreptitious edition, was least an equal match; and such he proposed to forced to publish it. her, but found it rejected in favour of a young

The event is said to have been such as was gentleman of inferior condition.

desired, the pacification and diversion of all to Having discovered the correspondence be- whom it related, except Sir George Brown, tween the two lovers, and finding the young who complained with some bitterness, that, in lady determined to abide by her own choice, he the character of Sir Plume, he was made to talk supposed that separation might do what can

Whether all this be true I have rarely be done by arguments, and sent her' into some doubt; for at Paris, a few years ago, a a foreign country, where she was obliged to con niece of Mrs. Fermor, who presided in an Verse only with those from whom her uncle English convent, mentioned Pope's work with sad nothing to fear.

very little gratitude, rather as an insult than an Her lover took care to repeat his vows; but honour; and she may be supposed to have in

herited the opinion of her family.

At its first appearance it was termed by Ad• See Gent, Mag, vol. li. p. 314.---N. dison merum sal. Pope, however, saw that it

nonsense.

« VorigeDoorgaan »