1731 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Alexander Pope

Aaron Hill to Alexander Pope, 28 January 1731; Works of Pope, ed. Elwin and Courthope (1871-1889) 10:11-15.



January 28, 1730-1.

SIR, — Your answer regarding no part of mine but the conclusion, you must pardon my compliment to the close of yours in return, if I agree with you, that your letter is weaker, than one would have expected. You assure me that I did not know you so well as I might, had I happened to be known to others, who could have instructed my ignorance, and I begin to find, indeed, that I was less acquainted with you than I imagined: but your last letter has enlightened me, and I can never be in danger of mistaking you, for the future.

Your enemies have often told me that your spleen was, at least, as distinguishable as your genius; and it will be kinder I think, to believe them, than impute to rudeness or ill-manners the return you were pleased to make, for the civility with which I addressed you. I will therefore suppose you to have been peevish, or in pain, while you were writing me this letter, and, upon that supposition, shall endeavour to undeceive you. If I did not love you, as a good man, while I esteem you, as a good writer, I should read you without reflection: and it were doing too much honour to your friends, and too little to my own discernment, to go to them for a character of your mind, which I was able enough to extract from your writings. But, to imitate your love of truth, with the frankness you have taught me, I wish the great qualities of your heart were as strong in you as the good ones: you would then have been above that emotion and bitterness, wherewith you remember things which want weight to deserve your anguish.

Since you were not the writer of the notes to the Dunciad, it would be impertinent to trouble you with the complaint I intended. I will only observe, that the author was in the right, to believe me capable of a second repentance; but, I hope, I was incapable of that second sin, which should have been previous to his supposition. If the initial letters A. H. were not meant to stand for my name, yet they were every where read so, as you might have seen in Mist's Journal, and other public papers; and I had shown Mr. Pope an example, how reasonable I thought it to clear a mistake publicly, which had been publicly propagated. One note, among so many, would have done me this justice; and the generosity of such a proceeding could have left no room for that offensive "sneakingly," which, though perhaps too harsh a word, was the properest a man could choose, who was satirizing an approbation, that he had never observed warm enough to declare itself to the world, but in defence of the great, or the popular.

Again, if the author of the notes knew that A. H. related not to me, what reason had he to allude to that character as mine, by observing, that I had published pieces bordering upon bombast? a circumstance so independent on any other purpose of the note, that I should forget to whom I am writing, if I thought it wanted explanation.

As to your oblique panegyric, I am not under so blind an attachment to the goddess I was devoted to in the Dunciad, but that I knew it was a commendation, though a dirtier one than I wished for, who am neither fond of some of the company in which I was listed, the noble reward, for which I was to become a diver, the allegoric muddiness, in which I was to try my skill, nor the institutor of the games you were so kind to allow me a share in. Since, however, you could see so clearly, that I ought to be satisfied with the praise, and forgive the dirt it was mixed with, I am sorry it seemed not as reasonable that you should pardon me for returning your compliment with more and opener praise, mixed with less of that dirtiness, which we have both the good taste to complain of.

The Caveat, sir, was mine. It would have been ridiculous to suppose you ignorant of it. I cannot think you need be told, that it meant you no harm; and it had scorned to appear under the borrowed name it carries, but that the whimsical turn of the preface would have made my own a contradiction. I promise you, however, that for the future I will I publish nothing without my name, that concerns you or your writings. I have now almost finished "An Essay on Propriety and Impropriety, in Design, Thought, and Expression, illustrated by examples, in both kinds, from the writings of Mr. Pope; " and, to convince you how much more pleasure it gives me, to distinguish your lights, than your shades, and that I am as willing as I ought to be, to see and acknowledge my faults, I am ready, with all my heart, to let it run thus, if it would otherwise create the least pain in you "An Essay on Propriety and Impropriety, &c., illustrated by examples, of the first from the writings of Mr. Pope, and of the last, from those of the author."

I am sorry to hear you say, you never thought any great matters of your poetry. It is, in my opinion, the characteristic you are to hope your distinction from. To be honest, is the duty of every plain man. Nor, since the soul of poetry is sentiment, can a great poet want morality. But your honesty you possess in common with a million, who will never be remembered, whereas your poetry is a peculiar, that will make it impossible you should be forgotten.

If you had not been in the spleen when you wrote me this letter, I persuade myself you would not, immediately after censuring the pride of writers, have asserted, that you certainly know your moral life above that of most of the wits of these days. At any other time, you would have remembered that humility is a moral virtue. It was a bold declaration, and the certainty with which you know it, stands in need of a better acquaintance than you seem to have had with the tribe, since you tell me, in the same letter, that many of their names were unknown to you. Neither would it appear to your own reason, at a cooler juncture, over-consistent with the morality you are so sure of, to scatter the letters of the whole alphabet annexed at random to characters of a light and ridiculous cast, confessedly with intent to provoke jealous writers into resentment, that you might take occasion from that resentment to expose and depreciate their characters.

The services you tell me you would do Mr. Dennis, even though he should abuse you in return, will, I hope, give him some title to expect an exertion of your recommendatory influence in his behalf. A man, so popular as you, might secure him a great subscription. This would merit to be called a service, and the more the world should find you abused in the works you had recommended, so much the more glorious proof would they see, that your morals were, in truth, as superior as you represent them, to those of your cotemporaries though you will pardon me the pride of wondering a little, how this declaration came to be made to me, whose condition not standing in need of such services, it was not, I think, so necessary you should have taken the trouble to talk of them.

Upon the whole, Sir, I find, I am so sincerely your friend, that it is not in your own power to make me your enemy, else that unnecessary air of neglect and superiority, which is so remarkable in the turn of your letter, would have nettled me to the quick; and I must triumph, in my turn, at the strength of my own heart, who can, after it, still find, and profess myself, most affectionately and sincerely [your, &c.]