Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

MORAL ESSAYS.

EP I S T L E II.

TO

A LA DY.

Of the Characters of Women,

N

OTHING so true as what you once let fall,

“ Most Women have no Characters at all.” Matter too soft a lasting mark to bear, And best distinguish'd by black, brown, or fair.

of the Chara&ters of Women.] There is nothing in Mr. Pope's works more highly finished than this Epiftle : Yet its success was in no proportion to the pains he took in composing it. Something he chanced to drop in a short Advertisement prefixed to it, on its first publication, may perhaps account for the small attention given to it. He said, that no one character in it was drawn from the life. The public believed him on his word, and expressed little curiosity about a Satire, in which there was nothing personal.

Ver. 1. Nothing so true, etc.] The reader perhaps may be disappointed to find that this Epistle, which proposes the same subject with the preceding, is conducted on very different rules of method : for, instead of being disposed in the same

MORAL ESSAYS.

E P I S T L E II.

Τ Ο

A L A D Y.

Of the Characters of Women,

NO

OTHING so true as what you once let fall,

Moft Women have no Characters at all.” Matter too soft a lasting mark to bear, And best distinguish'd by black, brown, or fair.

Of the Chara&ters of Women.] There is nothing in Mr. Pope's works more highly finished than this Epiftle: Yet its success was in no proportion to the pains he took in composing it. Something he chanced to drop in a short Advertisement prefixed to it, on its first publication, may perhaps account for the small attention given to it. He said, that no one character in it was drawn from the life. The public believed him on his word, and expressed little curiosity about a Satire, in which there was nothing personal.

Ver. 1. Nothing so true, etc.] The reader perhaps may be disappointed to find that this Epistle, which proposes the fame subject with the preceding, is conducted on very different rules of method : for, instead of being disposed in the same

How
many pictures of one Nymph we view,

5. All how unlike each other, all how true !

logical connection, and filled with the like philosophical remarks, it is wholly taken up in drawing a great variety of capital Characters : But if he would reflect, that the trvo Sexes make but one Species, and consequently, that the Characters of both must be studied and explained on the fame principles, he would see that when the poet had done this in the preceding Epistle, his business here was, not to repeat what he had already delivered, but only to verify and illustrate his doctrine, by every view of that perplexity of Nature, which bis philosophy only can explain. If the reader therefore will but be at the pains to study these Characters with any degree of attention, as they are here masterly drawn, one important particular (for which the poet has artfully prepared him by the introduction) will very forcibly strike his observation; and that is, that all the great strokes in the reveral Characters of Women are not only infinitely perplexed and discordant, like those in Men, but absolutely inconfiftent, and in a much higher degree contradi&tory. As strange as this may appear, yet he will see that the poet has all the while strictly followed Nature, whose ways, we find by the former Epistle, are not a little mysterious; and a mystery this might have remained, had not our author explained it at ver. 207. where he huts up his Chara&ters with this philosophical reflection :

In Men, we various ruling Pafions find;
In Women, two almost divide the kind :
Those, only fix'd, they first or last obey,
The love of Pleasure, and the love of Sway.

If this account be true, we see the perpetual necessity (which is not the case in Men) that Women lye under of disguising their ruling Pallion. Now the variety of arts employed to this purpofe must needs draw them into infipite contradictions in those A&tions from whence their general and obvious Character

Arcadia's Countess, here, in ermin'd pride,
Is there, Paftora by a fountain fide.

is denominated: to verify this observation, let the reader examine all the Characters here drawn, and try whether with this key he cannot discover that all their contradictions arise from a defire to hide the ruling Pasion.

But this is not the worst. The poet afterwards (from ver. 218 to 249) takes notice of another mischief arising from this necessity of hiding their ruling Passions ; which is, that generally the end of each is defeated even there where they are most violently pursued : For the neceflity of hiding them inducing an habitual dissipation of mind, Reason, whose office it is to regulate the ruling Pollion, loses all its force and dire&ion; and these unhappy vi&ims to their principles, tho' with their attention still fixed upon them, are ever prosecuting the means destructive of their end, and thus become ridiculous in youth, and miserable in old age.

Let me not omit to observe the great beauty of the conclufion: It is an Encomium on an imaginary Lady to whom the Epistle is addressed, and artfully turns upon the fact which makes the subject of the Epiftle, the contradiction of a Woman's Character, in which contradiction he shews that all the lustre even of the best Character consists:

And yet, believe me, good as well as ill,

Woman's at best a Contradiction still, etc. VER. 5. How many pictures] The poet's purpose here is to Thew, that the Characters of Women are generally inconsistent with themselves; and this he illustrates by so happy a Similitude, that we see the folly, described in it, arises from that very principle which gives birth to this inconsistency of Character.

VER. 7, 8, 10, etc. Arcadia's Countess, Pastora by a fountain - Leda with a fwan Magdalen Cecilia - ] Antitudes in which several ladies affected to be drawn, and sometimes one lady in them all. The poet's politeness and

« VorigeDoorgaan »