1. The Works of Alexander Pope, Esq., with Notes and Illustrations by himself and others. To which are added a new Life of the Author, an Estimate of his Poetical Character and Writings, and occasional Remarks. By William Roscoe, Esq. 10 vols. 8vo. London. 1824.
2. The Works of Alexander Pope, with Notes and Illustrations. By Joseph Warton, D.D., and others. A new Edition. 9 vols. 8vo. London. 1822.
3. The Works of Alexander Pope, Esq. in Verse and Prose; containing the principal Notes of Drs. Warburton and Warton, Illustrations, and Critical and Explanatory Remarks, by Johnson, Wakefield, A. Chalmers, F.S.A., and others. To which are added, now first published, some Original Letters, with additional Observations and Memoirs of the Life of the Author. By the Rev. William Lisle Bowles, A.M. Prebendary of Salisbury, and Chaplain to his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. 10 vols. 8vo. London, 1806.
4. A Reply to the Charges brought by the Reviewer of Spence's Anecdotes, in the Quarterly Review, for October, 1820, against the last Editor of Pope's Works, and Author of "A Letter to Mr. Campbell" on "the invariable Principles of Poetry." By the Rev. W. L. Bowles, (inserted in the 33d No. of the Pamphleteer.) London. 1820.
5. Observations on the Poetical Character of Pope, further elucidating the invariable Principles of Poetry, &c.; with a Sequel, in reply to Octavius Gilchrist. By the Rev. W. L. Bowles, (inserted in the 34th and 35th Nos. of the Pamphleteer.)
6. Letters to Lord Byron on a Question of Poetical Criticism: 3d Edition, with Corrections. To which are now first added the Letter to Mr. Campbell, as far as regards Poetical Criticism; and the Answer to the Writer in the Quarterly Review, as far as they relate [it relates] to the same subject: 2d Edition: together with an Answer to some Objections, and further Illustrations. By the Rev. W. L. Bowles. 8vo. London. 1822.
7. Letter to John Murray, Esq. on the Rev. W. L. Bowles's Strictures on the Life and Writings of Pope. By the Right Hon. Lord Byron. 8vo. London. 1821.
8. A Letter to the Rev. W. Lisle Bowles, in answer to a Pamphlet recently published under the title of a Reply to an Unsentimental sort of Critic, the Reviewer of Spence's Anecdotes in the Quarterly Review for October, 1820. By Octavius Gilchrist Esq. F.S.A. London. 1820.
9. A Second Letter to the Rev. William Lisle Bowles, in answer to his Second Reply (printed in the Thirty-third Number of the Pamphleteer) to the Reviewer of Spence's Anecdotes in the Quarterly Review for October, 1820 By Octavius Gilchrist, Esq. F.S.A. London. 1820.
10. A Third Letter to the Rev. William Lisle Bowles concerning Pope's Moral Character: including some Observations on that Person's Demeanour towards his Opponents, during the recent Controversy on that Subject. By Octavius Gilchrist, Esq. F.S.A. London. 1821.
11. A Final Appeal to the Literary Public relative to Pope, in reply to certain Observations of Mr. Roscoe, in his Edition of that Poet's Works. To which are added some Remarks on Lord Byron's Conversations, as far as they relate to the same Subject, and the Author. In Letters to a Literary Friend. By the Rev. W. L. Bowles, M.A. &c. 8vo. 1825. London. pp. 190.
To us, as lovers of the good old stock-poetry of England, this is a pleasant sight. Three voluminous editions of Pope within the present century; two of them within the last three years; and the great luminary himself attended by a long scintillating train of controversialists, commentators, annotators, editors, and biographers. There is evidently a confidence felt by all these, that the public taste is beginning to he satiated with the forced meats of modern poetry, and to relish again the wholesome viands, that delighted our fathers, and are destined to be the delight of all future generations. We cannot, we think, be suspected of wanting due sensibility to the merits of our contemporary poets; for there is scarcely a Number of our Journal, which we have not adorned with specimens of their taste, cultivation, or power. But with all this, when we consider the faults, and even the excellencies, of those who rank foremost among them; the defects of their feeble and indiscriminate imitators; and still more the demerits of those who have perverted their talents to serve the purposes of corruption and impiety; we feel convinced that this was a juncture at which an appeal might be made with peculiar propriety to the high name of Pope, and the public be called on to revert to the works of him, who, more than any other poet, united strength of reason with elegance of fancy, and instructed his readers by the moral truth which he taught, while he charmed their attention by the most exquisite pleasures of correct taste. The public seems to have admitted the appeal; a high degree of interest has been revived on the often discussed points of Pope's personal character, and the poetical rank to which he is entitled. Much reasoning and ample evidence have been furnished on both; from which however, as might have been expected, the most discordant inferences have been drawn. We shall now endeavour to deduce some conclusions for ourselves, and in so doing to form a judgment on the merits of the different editors, and of those who have favoured or contravened their respective opinions.
The first authentic edition of the whole of the works of Pope, intended by him to be transmitted to posterity, was published by Warburton, on whom that care, and the profits to be derived from it, devolved by the author's last will: and there is no reason to doubt that he executed it with fidelity; for, whatever were Warburton's faults of temper, we believe he was quite safe in his characteristic defiance to "the Dunces," whom, he says, Pope "bequeathed to him, together with his works." Speaking of himself in the third person, he thus concludes his advertisement, "To his authorship they are heartily welcome. But if any of them have been so far abandoned by truth as to attack his moral character, in any respect whatsoever, to all and every of these, and their abettors, he gives the lie in form; and, in the words of honest father Valerian, Mentiris impudentissime.'" An edition thus sanctioned should, we think, have been the guide of all succeeding editors who wished to do justice either to the poet or the public: if, indeed, subsequent research had discovered any pieces which might have gratified literary curiosity, without injury to the morals of the reader, or the author's reputation, the act of publication even against his recorded judgment would certainly have been excused, and the case of Augustus and Virgil might have been cited as a sufficient precedent. But when editors gratify their own pruriency, or that of those who buy their books, by reviving pieces written in the levity of youth or exuberance of wit, but suppressed in maturer age and by improved judgment; or the productions of an hour of inconsiderate gaiety, never meant for indiscriminate perusal; let the future evil and disgrace be on their heads. Warburton himself has not been sufficiently scrupulous in this respect; for Pope, among other corrections of his works for a posthumous edition, in which he was engaged nearly till his death, had designed to exclude his juvenile translations, "on account of the levity of some, the freedom of others, and the little importance of all." "But these (says Warburton) being the property of other men, the editor had it not in his power to follow the author's intention." On a moment's consideration he might have seen that it was his duty to publish his friend's works in the castigated form desired by his friend, and to leave "other men" to use their own property as they would. Had he done so in the first instance, it is probable that all future editors of respectability would have followed his example, and we should not have had the mortification of seeing the pages of our moral bard sullied with these youthful stains. Dr. Warton, however, and Mr. Bowles, seem to deny the power of repentance to wash away sins, and will allow neither the poet nor the world to benefit by his better judgment, and the improved delicacy of his moral feeling. It was Pope's wish, in the purgation of his works, to defecate, as much as possible, the source, and purify the stream for posterity; but Mr. Bowles, in particular, has industriously sought out the secret depositories of the dregs, and thrown them again into the stream. Mr. Roscoe's edition is honourably distinguished by a very different spirit.
So much for the materials selected by the different editors. We now return to the editors themselves. Warburton, as an annotator, is more an encomiast than a critic; and yet, perhaps, less desirous to elucidate or even to commend his author than to exhibit his own ingenuity. His running commentary on the more important pieces has all the tediousness of a paraphrase, with the added impertinencies of "here our author excellently observes;" "having thus proved, &c., he now proceeds." Ease, compactness and strength, for which the poet is so distinguished, are lost by laborious diffusion; and points are hammered into flatness. We will give one short specimen of Warburton's conjectural comments, in which he would rather impute a quibble to his author than omit a fancy which would have entered no head but his own. Pope is censuring some of the faults of Milton, and adds—
Not that I'd lop the beauties from his book,
Like slashing Bentley with his desperate hook.
"Alluding," says Warburton, "to the several passages of Milton which Bentley has reprobated by including them within hooks." Of his propensity to eulogize whatever style his author writes in, two examples may serve:
Bear me, some God, oh, quickly bear me hence
To wholesome solitude, the nurse of sense:
Where contemplation prunes her ruffled wings,
And the free soul looks down to pity kings.
On which Warburton observes, "these four lines are wonderfully sublime"! vol. iv. p. 281. Again—
Avidien and his wife (no matter which,
For him you'll call a dog, and her a bitch.)
"Our poet had the art of giving wit and dignity to his Billingsgate;" on which Warton gravely observes, "I see neither wit nor dignity in these lines." — vol. iv. 90. We are by no means inclined, however, to join with Warton in saying, that "his notes on Pope are conceited, futile, and frivolous." vol. iii. 158. On the contrary we think Dr. Warton has very judiciously enriched his edition with many notes from Warburton, exhibiting a power and range of intellect, with a depth of learning, which we should vainly look for in his own.
If Warburton wrote much to show his ingenuity, Warton has written a great deal to display his reading; which in the principal classics, in Italian, French, and English poetry, and in the lighter kinds of literature, was very extensive; but of which the irrelevant introduction is often so laughable, that it reminds us of our black-letter acquaintance, Thomas Spight, who, in telling us that Chaucer's supposed father was a "vintener of London," cannot restrain his etymological learning from overflowing in a marginal note, "vintener quasi winetunner." Warton's information, however, is often amusing or interesting, if not to the point in question, at least to literature in general; and the reader always has the satisfaction (which is no slight one) to find that he is perusing the book of "a full man." In the appropriation of notes, however, to their authors, both he and Mr. Bowles (the latter probably in consequence of following the former) have been guilty of an important error, which it may be useful to the purchaser of their editions to notice. Throughout the Dunciad the greater part of the notes of Pope himself are erroneously attributed to Warburton—
"Which deprives Pope of a great share of his own work, and frequently weakens the effect by attributing to the Commentator what ought to be received on the higher authority of the poet." "This mistake has, in all probability, been the cause of the omission of many remarks on the Dunciad, which were supposed perhaps by the editors to be Warburton's and are therefore discarded, but which are, in fact, the original notes of Pope, and are necessary to complete the work as he gave it." Roscoe, vol. iv. pp. 15 and 16.
Another important fault in Warton's edition is the omission of Warburton's commentary on the Essay on Man and the Essay on Criticism, especially the former: for whatever be our own opinion of that commentary, Pope had so identified it with the Essay, by declaring it to be necessary to the full understanding of what he intended to convey, that no subsequent editor can be justified in rejecting it. The spirit in which Warton annotates is not a kindly one. We do not think that this was prompted by any ill-will towards the man, or any jealousy of his fame; but he had formed to himself a theory in poetical criticism, in support of which it was necessary for him to prove, that Pope ought not to stand so high among poets as the public had placed him. He was interested therefore in detecting or imagining faults, in his writings; and as he warmed with his subject, there appears to have grown upon him a willingness to listen to and report whatever tended to depreciate his character.
The same or a bitterer feeling seems to have actuated Mr. Bowles; every part of his performance is pervaded by a spirit so decidedly hostile, that we know not how to account for its being felt towards a man who has been dead nearly a century, and towards a fame so resplendent, that even the fondest aspirations of Mr. Bowles's youthful muse could never have hoped to eclipse it. We repeat that we cannot account for it. But there the evil spirit is — evinced in the festive delight with which he seizes on every thing that can vilify the man or depreciate his works; in conjecturing what he cannot find, and insinuating what he dares not assert. Where these purposes, however, are not concerned, Mr. Bowles's notes (though sometimes borrowed without acknowledgment from Warton, especially in the illustrations cited from other authors) have added much both of information and judicious criticism; and he has made a good selection, for the same objects, from the annotations of his predecessors.
Mr. Roscoe's selection from his predecessors is also copious and judicious — so copious, indeed, that as far as regards Mr. Bowles's book, which may be considered as a rival publication in the market, we know not how these writers adjust their claims; for he has, without ceremony, taken much of what is valuable in Mr. Bowles's book to add to the value of his own. His original criticism is not much, but is enlightened and liberal; and the candour with which that and the life are written is quite refreshing after the blighting perversity of the preceding editors, whose misrepresentations and calumnies he has industriously examined and patiently refuted, with a lucid arrangement both of facts and arguments. Great industry too is exhibited in the superior arrangement of his materials, especially of the correspondence of Pope and his friends. He has given an index only to the volume containing the life. We much wish he had imitated Mr. Bowles in giving a general index, which is particularly convenient in so miscellaneous a collection as the works of Pope.
We now proceed to examine the character of Pope, and the aspersions on it that have been so pertinaciously renewed in the two editions immediately preceding Mr. Roscoe's.
"His predominant virtues seem to have been filial piety, and constancy in his friendships; an ardent love of liberty and of his country, and what seemed to be its true interest; a manly detestation of court flatteries and servility; a frugality, and economy, and order in his house and at his table, at the same time that his private charities were many and great." — Warton, vol. i. lvi.
"That he was a most dutiful and affectionate son, a kind master, a sincere friend, and, generally speaking, a benevolent man, is undoubted." "Whatever might have been his defects, he could not be said to have many bad qualities, who never lost a friend, and whom Arbuthnot, Gay, Bathurst, Lyttleton, Fortescue, and Murray esteemed, and loved through life" — Bowles, vol. i. p. cxx. and cxxxi.
Higher authority cannot be adduced for the existence of such admirable virtues; became the testimony would have been yielded only or the knowledge of numerous facts, which no ingenuity could torture to another inference; and the reader will bear in mind these incontrovertibly established qualities, and judge how far they are compatible with some of the delinquencies which these same editors have endeavoured to impute in detail. Mr. Bowles's list of virtues, it will be observed, is much more scanty than his predecessor Warton's; but he has been even brought to acknowledge his "forgetfulness" with regard at least to one eminent virtue. If we, in our own language, were to scotch the insidious forgetfulness, we might, perhaps, be accused of "coarse and insulting abuse;" and shall therefore only cite the gentle remonstrance of Lord Byron, whose "urbanity" "and good humour," Mr. Bowles, after receiving it, professes to be so "gratifying to his feelings." — (Letter to Byron, p. 2.)
"But there is something a little more serious in Mr. Bowles's declaration, that he 'would have spoken' of his 'noble generosity to the outcast, Richard Savage,' and other instances of a compassionate and generous heart, 'had they occurred to his recollection when he wrote.' What! is it come to this? Does Mr. Bowles sit down to write a minute and laboured life and edition of a great poet? Does he anatomize his character, moral and poetical? Does he present us with his faults and with his foibles? Does he sneer at his feelings, and doubt of his sincerity? Does he unfold his vanity and duplicity? And then omit the good qualities which might in part have 'covered such a multitude of sins'? and then plead that 'they did not occur to his recollection'? Is this the frame of mind and memory with which the illustrious dead are to be approached? If Mr. Bowles, who must have had access to all the means of refreshing his memory, did not recollect these facts, he is unfit for his task; but if he did recollect, and omit them, I know not what he is fit for, but I know what would be fit for him." — Byron's Letter, p. 51.
The memory of Mr. Bowles, however, is of a peculiar nature; if it be defective as to one class of ideas, it is remarkably retentive of another; like a sieve, letting the fine slip away, but retaining whatever is coarse and offensive. Of this capricious accomplishment we cannot pretend to exhibit the multitude of proofs with which his book is swarming as a wasp's nest; but shall attend only to the principal charges which he has brought in detail against the man whom, in general terms, he has characterized, as would appear, so liberally. Some of those charges we have already rebutted, and we will not fatigue our readers by a repetition of our statements; yet so much has been again insisted on in the late discussions, or retained in substance and by implication, though modified in expression, that we hope they will bear with us in the selection of a few particulars, remarkable either for the enormity of the charge, or as specimens of the spirit in which the attack has been conducted.
It is for this latter reason, principally, that we notice again the grand accusation, that Pope accepted from the Duchess of Marlborough a thousand pounds to suppress the character of Atossa, and afterwards published it; of which Mr. Bowles has been made so thoroughly ashamed, that he is quite indignant at being supposed to have ever intended to insinuate its truth; (Reply, p. 9.) appealing to a passage in his life of Pope, where he maintains that, "till there is other proof than the ipse dixit of an adversary, the story is entitled to no regard." Now if this passage be the acquittal of Pope, it is the condemnation of Bowles; for if he really considered the story as wholly unworthy of credit, why did he again revive it in his notes on the poem without the accompanying contradiction, and speak of the poet with bitter vituperation on the supposition of that being true which he knew to be an exploded lie?
To this he will, no doubt, reply, that he has, in his notes on this very poem, admitted that the story rests on Walpole's authority, and "that we should read cum grano salis, whatever comes from Walpole's party against Pope." He certainly has so done — after an interval of thirteen pages, at the very end of the poem, when the impression produced by the story's supposed truth has been allowed to sink deep into the reader's mind. Mr. Bowles is well acquainted, as we shall see, with a cheap mode of contradiction, which substantially leaves the thing contradicted in full force, and yet serves as a retreat for the writer to fall back upon when his charge is confuted.
In the same spirit, and with the same caution, Mr. Bowles has said in a note, "It should be remembered, that when this epistle was first published, Pope, in an advertisement, declared, 'upon his honour,' no character was taken from real life": yet we find him (v. iii. p. 251.) adopting, without contradiction, the note of Warton, who first assumes, without proof, that by Philomede is meant the Duchess of Marlborough; and then most logically adds, "our author's declaration, therefore, that no particular character was aimed it [at] is not true." We find him also subsequently using the presumed falsity of this declaration of Pope, for the purpose of discrediting his asseveration on, another charge: "If there be truth in the world," (says Pope, in one of his letters,) "I declare to you," &c. "If there be truth in the world"! "This is strong language indeed," (says Mr. Bowles's note,) "but we remember with pain, that Pope, in his first edition of the Epistle to the Ladies, declared 'upon his honour,' no one person in particular was intended," (Bowles, viii. 397.) What a relief it must be to this painful recollection of Mr. Bowles, to be informed that "the characters of Philomede, Chloe, and Atossa, the only ones which have ever been supposed to apply to particular individuals, and with regard to the first of which Dr. Warton has founded so direct a charge of falsehood against Pope, were not included in the early editions of this epistle, to which the declaratory advertisement was affixed; and that such advertisement was omitted after those characters were inserted?" — Roscoe, vol. i. p. 416.
The pain, which Mr. Bowles had previously suffered on this subject, is to be ascribed to the singularly partial nature of his memory, which we have before had occasion to notice. It appears he remembered that the declaration was in the first edition; he forgot that the only personal allusions in the satire were not included in that early edition: he remembered they were included in the subsequent editions; but forgot that in these editions the declaration was withdrawn, Mr. Bowles's anomalous memory had here the double convenience of enabling him conscientiously to deny the truth of the solemn asseveration alluded to, and also to charge Pope with the accusation which that was intended to rebut. The accusation was, that in the Epistle to the Earl of Burlington he had, under the name of Timon, ridiculed the Duke of Chandos, to whom Pope was said, by the dunces of that time, (for no higher authority has been cited by the wise men of this,) to have owed a debt of gratitude for great pecuniary obligations, and for frequent kindness and hospitality: "the falsehood of both which," says Pope, "is known to his Grace. Mr. Pope never received any present, farther than the subscription for Homer, from him or from any great man whatsover." — Bowles, iv. 61. And Mr. Roscoe (i. 381.) tells us, that in the folio edition of 1735, it is further added, that Pope "never had the honour to see the Duke of Chandos but twice." But if this statement had been as true as it is here proved to be false, the inference of ingratitude would still remain to be proved; for Pope, in the letter to Hill, (Bowles, viii. 397.) says, "if there be truth in the world, I declare to you I never imagined the least application of what I said of Timon, could be made to the D. of Ch—s," whom he then proceeds to eulogize. We have seen how Mr. Bowles gets over this averment, and it is curious to observe how his confidence increases as it goes, till it blazes out in this defiance of Pope's solemn declaration. In vol. iii. p. 342. he only says it was supposed the sacred duty of gratitude was violated in this instance: but at p. 354, it becomes positive assertion, "Pope had been received at Canons, a splendid and ostentatious seat of the Duke of Chandos, with respect and kindness: in return, he held up the house and gardens to ridicule, and descended to throw out personalities against its owner, whom he calls a 'puny insect shivering at a breeze.' This circumstance excited considerable odium against Pope, and well it might." And then he rises to the superlative degree, and gives the lie in form. Nor does the contradiction of facts avail more with him than that of words. Pope enumerates, in another letter to Hill, (Bowles, viii. 376.) many particulars in his character of Timon, and the description of his villa, which are wholly inapplicable to the Duke of Chandos and to Canons. But these things, says Mr. Bowles's note, "were evidently done as blinds:" so that if Pope describes Timon and his villa like Chandos and Canons, he is impudently ungrateful; and if unlike, he must be equally ungrateful and hypocritical besides; a new kind of dilemma from which we know not what innocence can escape.
The next charge is a heavy one, and supported like the former. Pope had cultivated an intimacy, and maintained an epistolary correspondence with Lady M. W. Montague; a woman whose various talents, acquirements, and accomplishments were eminently calculated to excite the admiration of a mind so well formed to appreciate them all: and considering the qualities of each, there can be little doubt that the admiration was mutual. An estrangement, however, took place, which there are no facts to explain, but the account of Pope is, that the discontinuance of their acquaintance began on his side; that his "reason for doing so was, that she had too much wit for him;" and that he "could not do with his, what she could with hers." (Letter to a Noble Lord.) In the absence of facts, abundance of conjecture has been supplied, and, as in other controversies, the heat is found to be the greatest where the light is least. Mr. Bowles (vii. 216.) says, "I have little doubt but the lady, disdaining the stiff and formal mode of female manners at that time prevalent, made the lover believe he might proceed a step further than decorum would allow;" and again, (vol. viii. 347.) "That he presumed too far, and was repulsed, I think, there is reason to believe." The reason, however, for the belief, and for the having little doubt, is nowhere assigned. He does indeed (in first cited passage) say, in general, that "Pope's pictures of his heart were so free, that he must have a strange opinion of her if he could suppose she would not resent it." But that strange opinion, he was, by Mr. Bowles's own concession, entitled to hold — for this was written to her ladyship, not when at Constantinople, as he asserts, but just when she had left England, (vide Roscoe, ix. 11.) and when she returned, after receiving all Pope's too free letters, (of which this was the first on her departure,) she complied with his wish in taking a house in order to be near him, at Twickenham. We must not, however, too implicitly admit these aspersions of Mr. Bowles's on the lady's character, which of course must he considered as less delicate in proportion as this letter was more gross. He tells us, that Pope "has here suppressed part of the letter, which may be seen in Dallaway's edition. The grossness of it will sufficiently explain Pope's meaning." By here suppressed, Mr. Bowles means in that edition of his letters which Pope himself had superintended. But Mr. Roscoe has given the letter as published in Lady Mary's works by Mr. Dallaway; (Roscoe, vol. ix. p. 8.) from which it is apparent that nothing was "here suppressed." Mr. Roscoe calls on Mr. Bowles to explain "what could be his motive for making so unfounded an assertion" — and we join in the call. Having established, however, that this attack and repulse were the cause of a "lasting hate" in Pope, (viii. 347.) he concludes, that the character of Sappho, (in the imitation of Horace's Satire, b. ii. sat. 1. v. 83.) which is applicable only to one of the vilest description of women, was intended for Lady Mary. Nor, indeed, can we wonder at his drawing the conclusion; for though Pope had, in the most unequivocal manner, declared that he "had never applied that name to her in any verse, public or private," Mr. Bowles, as we have seen, had a total distrust of his veracity, and accordingly calls his denial "half subterfuge, half falsehood." (vol. iv. p. 96.) It is, however, surprizing that Lady Mary herself should have considered the picture as like enough to have been intended for herself; in the language of Mr. Roscoe, it was "to justify the author, and voluntarily to accept the chaplet of infamy." But having done so, she sought the alliance of Lord Hervey, who was indignant at having been characterized as Lord Fanny; and, together, they produced a copy of doggerel verses, in which their politeness was exhibited in ridiculing the poet's personal deformity, and their literary taste in satyrizing his numbers as "crabbed."
Pope has suffered much from the mischievous uncertainty of the personal application of general names. One of Mr. Bowles's cumulative arguments for Sappho being Lady Mary was, that Sappho, in another place, is described as wearing diamonds; now Mr. Gilchrist discovered, that in the first folio edition of 1735, it is
Agrees as ill with Rufa studying Locke,
As Flavia's diamonds with her dirty smock.
But "revising this epistle, he found that he had employed the name of Flavia to exemplify a tawdry slattern, and again, in the same satire, to characterize a romantic wit; some change of name was therefore necessary, and chance alone directed the poet to the adoption of Sappho." (Second Answer to Bowles, p. 11.) Another specimen of this finding out a likeness to the man in the moon, is exhibited in Warton's note on the 371st line of the fourth book of the Dunciad. "I have been lately informed, that by Mummius was meant Dr. Mead, a man too learned and too liberal to be thus satirized." But who informed Dr. Warton? or why did he not, from his own book, (vol. iii. p. 265.) cast in the calumniator's teeth Pope's compliment to the "learning and humanity" of Mead? and again, Pope's confidence in his medical skill, his obligations to him for the exercise of it, and delight in his society, expressed in a letter to Allen about a month before his death? (vol. iv. p. 110.) And is all this incontrovertible testimony to be set aside, and Pope accused of ridiculing the friend to whom he expresses alike his gratitude and admiration, simply on the faith of an anonymous literary gossip? But on what other faith does Mr. Bowles accuse Pope of having, from disappointed ambition, ridiculed, after his death, under the name of Bufo, the Earl of Halifax, whom he had acknowledged as his first patron, and from whom, Mr. Bowles tells us, he had "once expected preferment"? (iv. 45. and vii. 305.) He expected it because Halifax had offered it unasked. Nor had he reason to resent the non-fulfilment of a promise, for which he could not have waited long. The first notice of it is in Pope's manly letter to him on the subject, in December, 1714; and his Lordship died in May, 1715; in which same year Mr. Bowles has recorded an elegant compliment paid to his memory by the poet. (vol. ii. 384.) The grateful praise to him shortly after, on publishing the preface to Homer, is also recorded by Mr. Bowles, with a note, "and this is the nobleman whom Pope satirized under the name of Bufo." (vol. ii. 441.) And, twenty years after Halifax's death, in the epilogue to the satires, he classes him with his noblest friends; describing him also as "a peer no less distinguished by his love of letters than his abilities in parliament." Yet all these uniform testimonies of respect and gratitude expressed in the plainest language, and continued through a period of three-and-twenty years, Mr. Bowles, by one conjectural interpretation of a general name, converts at once into proofs of ingratitude and hypocrisy. The thing, however, is not left to conjecture or comparison. The passage itself proves, as Mr. Roscoe has well observed, that "to whomsoever the character of Bufo may be supposed to refer, it cannot be to Lord Halifax, who died in 1715, when Pope was a very young man, and before he had published his Homer; whereas the person alluded to, must have been living in Pope's more advanced years, when he bad been "berhymed so long," and was "grown sick of fops and poetry and prate."
The next important charge is, that of the "grossest licentiousness," an imputation which Mr. Bowles at first reproached Mr. Gilchrist with having unjustifiably asserted to be found in his edition of Pope. The very words, it seems, are not there; but that the idea is conveyed, cannot be doubted, when he afterwards avows that these words express his own conviction of the poet's character, (Observations, &c. p. 37.) That some of his writings are licentious, we are compelled to admit, and we have seen that his wish was entirely to exclude them from the corrected edition of his works. It is the misfortune of precocious talent to he urged into action during the ebullition of youthful passions; and Pope's youth was passed in an age, which was not yet refined from the vices of the second Charles's court, and of the stage prostituted to the court, and surpassing it in power to debauch the public mind. Under these circumstances, public and personal, that the writer printed some pieces of which he lived to repent, is neither so much to be wondered at nor condemned, as is that uncharitableness which persists in taking such sins, so atoned for, into the estimate of general character; or that pruriency of imagination, which scents out and brings to light again what was buried to prevent offence.
Mr. Bowles, with his usual candour, apologizes for the introduction of some pieces, upon his customary plea of inadvertency; of others for their exquisite wit; at the same time occasionally taking the credit of referring to passages, "which Warburton had suppressed, and which it did not become him to restore;" yet in the very same page (vol. vii. p. 164.) he collects passages (to enable the reader to form an idea of his character) from letters written by a youth of twenty, to an old debauchee of considerable literary fame. Had Messrs. Warton and Bowles always deferred to the selection of Pope himself, and his representative, Warburton, we should have had little to complain of: but if the wit of one piece could induce one of these gentlemen to admit it, whilst the second, rejecting that, agrees, for the same reason, in the adoption of another — both of which had been proscribed by Pope, and rejected by his friend; with what propriety can they declaim against the licentiousness of the poet? Pope has himself truly said: "A few loose things sometimes fall from men of wit, by which censorious fools judge as ill of them as they possibly can, for their own comfort." (Letter to Swift, Feb. 16, 1733.)
But Mr. Bowles is not content with reproaching him with writings, of which he never wrote some, and never wished others to survive him; he charges him not merely with a youthful indulgence of ideal voluptuousness, but of having led a life systematically licentious. The fooling with Lady M. Montague we pass by as equally absurd in her and Pope; whatever were the facts, it was but a transitory weakness—
Once, and but once, his heedless youth was bit,
And liked that dangerous thing, a female wit.
But the nature of his connection with the Blounts involves the whole character of his existence; for it began in boyhood, and continued to his death-bed. Of this family there were two sisters, about Pope's own age: handsome, amiable, and (for that period) accomplished women; — with both of whom he cultivated an intimacy of the most interesting and affectionate kind; sanctioned by the approbation of the mother and the friendship of their brother, a friendship broken only by his death, which did not occur till Pope was of the age of eight-and-thirty. In such an intercourse it is reasonable to suppose, that his affection for one or other sister would preponderate, as either, for a time, might seem less engaged by other ties, and more attached, or more congenial to him. Accordingly, we find his letters, for several years, addressed sometimes to one, sometimes to the other, and sometimes to both; all in the style of gallantry, which that age considered as absolutely requisite, when a gentleman addressed any female not included in the table of prohibited consanguinity. Indubitably, the most lover-like epistles are those, where both ladies are addressed in one letter; and even Mr. Bowles will hardly venture to suggest the depravity of two sisters jointly carrying on an intrigue with the same man at the same time. Yet when one sister in the name of both, writes thus:
"Sir, my sister and I shall be at home all day. If any company come that you do not like, I'll go up into any room with you. I hope we shall see you. Your's, &c."
Mr. Bowles's note is, "this letter, it has been observed, (by whom?) is very short, but very much to the purpose." And this letter Pope thought so little to any purpose requiring concealment, that it is now in the British Museum, with some lines of his Homer scribbled on the back of it! The sacred name, neither of sister nor brother, can protect a lady from Mr. Bowles's fancy. Mr. Digby thus concludes a letter, "My brother Ned as wholly your's, so my father desires to be, and every soul here whose name is Digby. My sister will be your's in particular;" and Mr. Bowles remarks, "I almost suspect Pope of a little gallantry again. Elizabeth wrote the letter to him respecting her brother's illness;" — (a fortunate occasion for beginning a commerce of gallantry, as the brother was an excellent medium for carrying it on). We know his propensity to the fair sex. In his first letter after leaving Sherborne, he says himself, "I wished the young ladies, whom I almost jobbed of their good name, a better name in return;" and Pope adds, (which Mr. Bowles does not,) "even that very name to each of them, which they shall like best, for the sake of the man that bears it." — (Bowles, viii. 84. and 76.) Can innocent sportiveness be more clearly indicated, or more remote from the sensuality to which the commentator endeavours to wrest it? In this spirit, however, it is, that the correspondence with the Blounts is tracked and hunted through; and to render the criminality of Pope more probable, Martha (who was in the habits of visiting and corresponding with ladies of the first respectability, both before and after the death of the poet) is aspersed whenever an opportunity offers to surmise away her character. He would shelter himself, indeed, under public report: for, on one occasion, where Pope is speaking to Arbuthnot of the malice shown to the good character of some very innocent person, a note tells us, "probably Martha Blount, respecting whose intimacy with Pope there were some insinuations to her disadvantage." Where, except as Mr. Roscoe observes, in Mr. Bowles's own volumes? — (Bowles, vii. 358.) and (Roscoe, x. 158). Again, (Bowles, ix. 79.) where Pope says to Swift, "I am just now told a very curious lady intends to write to you to pump you about some poems said to be yours;" a note tells us, "probably Martha Blount" — probably — "concerning the offensive verses, The Ladies' Dressing Room, Strephon and Chloe, &c." These, it seems, of all Swift's verses, are the first to rise in the imagination of the Annotator: but why is he to cast the filth of his own fancy and of Swift's on the character of a lady? that lady Pope could, not only in verse meant for the public eye, but in his private letters, congratulate on a cheerful temper joined with innocence, and call on to unite with him in a frequent contemplation of death, as what will make her happier and easier at all times." — (Roscoe, viii. 501. and 467.) is this the language of a guilty paramour? and written, too, a year after the death of her brother, when, Mr. Bowles tells us, (as insidiously, and as unsupportedly as usual,) Pope was much more explicit than he had ever been before, respecting the nature of his feelings towards Miss Martha." — (viii. 49.)
The favourite point of attack, however, on Pope, is his supposed disingenuousness in the transactions connected with the publication of his letters. We cannot enter into all the details; but the general facts are such, as seem quite sufficient to enable an unprejudiced reader to form a fair judgment. In 1727, Curll (the infamous literary pirate, who for obscene publications had been fined and pilloried) bought of Mrs. Thomas the letters which her keeper, Cromwell, had received from Pope, and entrusted to her care. They had been written from the age of twenty to twenty-three; and, of course, contained much, both in style and matter, which the writer, when his judgment was matured, regretted to see in print. He feared a similar fate for the letters which might have been kept by other friends, and which, therefore, he requested them to return to him. Of these, he destroyed many, but preserved some, either as "serving to revive several past scenes of friendship," or "to clear the truth of facts, in which he had been misrepresented by the common scribblers." The originals of some, and copies of others, made by amanuenses, were collected in two books, with the addition of notes and extracts, and placed for security in the Earl of Oxford's library; "that in case either of the revival of slanders, or the publication of surreptitious letters during his life or after, a proper use might be made of them." The utility of this was early seen. In 1728 the works of Wycherley were printed, in a way which, by the publication of his correspondence with Pope, appeared clearly to be contrary to Wycherley's better judgment; upon which Pope printed from these manuscripts some of the letters which had passed between them, accompanied with a few marginal notes. In 1735 Curll wrote to Pope, that he intended publishing a new edition of the Letters to Cromwell, with numerous other letters and papers, to be furnished by one P. T. whom Pope had disobliged — inclosing some sentences in the professed handwriting of P. T. which appeared to be a feigned hand. Pope, determining to have no private correspondence with such a character, answered only by advertisement in the public papers. Curll then published his collection, and Pope found that some of the letters in it "could only have been procured from his own library, or that of a noble lord, and which gave a pretence to publishing others as his, which were not so, as well as interpolating those which were." He, therefore, advertised a reward of twenty guineas to any person, who by the direction of another might have communicated these writings to Curll, and of forty guineas for the name of the principal. After this he received documents purporting to be the correspondence of P. T. and his agent R. S. with Curll; who, in his own subsequent publications, admitted their accuracy; by which it appeared, that a very wary bargaining had gone on between these initial personages and Mr. Curll: and that they had at last all quarrelled on the quantum to be paid and received for their mutual villainy.
Not being able to disavow the whole of Curll's publication, and yet on his own account, and that of his friends, indignant at parts of it, Pope now found the occasion had occurred for which, eight years before, he had provided: and he determined, by a publication of the genuine letters, to give the only possible contradiction to the misrepresentations of this spurious collection. Two years afterwards, his authorised edition appeared.
These are the facts — upon which Mr. Bowles's theory is this — that Pope, already in undisputed possession of the highest eminence in contemporary literature and moral respectability, was yet of such insatiable vanity, that in order to add to his poetic wreath the sprig of epistolary elegance, he determined to risk all, by employing some base agents to publish, what he was ashamed to avow, and did disavow. These, we repeat, are the facts, and this the theory, and we defy Mr. Bowles to prove the falsity of the one, or the verity of the other. Thus we had written before the appearance of the Final Appeal; but we find we had formed a false estimate of his courage, for at p. 45, he says, "Pope, who, it will be allowed, must know a little more of the matter than either Mr. Roscoe or myself, complains of his letters being 'snatched out of pockets, or purloined from cabinets:' but he never once, to my knowledge, explicitly says, that those letters which had been 'recalled,' transcribed, and deposited, were stolen from the depository, or privately transcribed:" and yet in this same pamphlet, p. 169, he says, quoting from Pope's own account, (which he had given before imperfectly, and now proposes to give entire,) "Mr. Pope, on hearing of this Smith, and finding, when the book came out, that several of the letters could only have come from the manuscript book before mentioned, published this advertisement." This in itself includes what Mr. Bowles had denied to exist. But the advertisement itself would have spoken still plainer, had he permitted it to speak at all: but he breaks off here, and adds, within brackets, "(here the pages were cut out from which the extracts in my edition were printed, to save the trouble of transcription.)" Now, we do not find that advertisement in that edition; and that advertisement contains the following words:
"Edmund Curll," &c. "have, in combination, printed the private letters of Mr. Pope and his correspondents, (some of which could only be procured from his own library, or that of a noble lord, and which have given a pretence to the publishing others as his which are not so, as well as interpolating those which are,) this is to advertise," &c.
Upon these facts and this declaration of Pope, "who (we agree with Mr. Bowles) must know a little more of the matter than either Mr. Roscoe or he;" our theory is, that had Pope wished for an apology to publish his correspondence, he had a fair opportunity in 1727, on the appearance of the surreptitious edition of his letters to Cromwell, as well as in 1729, when he only published what was requisite for defending the character of Wycherley; and that when, in 1734, Curll had advertised that any thing which any body would send as Mr. Pope's or Dr. Swift's, should be printed and inserted as theirs, and, in consequence, there appeared, in 1735, a more multifarious collection, garbled and interpolated, involving more complicated interests; he, after two years, was reluctantly compelled to publish a genuine edition.
Mr. Bowles indeed, by one of such ex-parte inadvertencies as we have already noticed, had represented him as hastening out his own edition in the same year as Curll's, which he now admits to have been "a mistake of figures." He determines, however, to conclude with a logical triumph, for which all his strength is collected; and which, though not very clearly stated, we make out to be this: If the letters had been taken from the depository, or privately transcribed, the copies could not have varied from the originals; but they did vary in the spurious edition; and Pope adopted those very variations in his; and yet in his preface he declares he would not go about to amend the letters he had recalled from his friends: — "and this circumstance I suspect Mr. Roscoe, whose logic seems to contend with his taste, will still find what logicians calls a dilemma; on either horn of which I leave him, for the present, to struggle." — (Final Appeal, pp. 4.5, 46.) Mr. Roscoe's struggle will not, we imagine, be very long; for here, as on so many other occasions, Mr. Bowles has fallen into a little "inadvertency" of fact; — when Pope said he would not "go about to amend" the letters, he added (what Mr. Bowles "inadvertently" has not,) "except by the omission of some passages, improper, or at least impertinent, to be divulged to the public; or of such entire letters as were not his, or not approved of by him." — (Preface to the first genuine Edition.) And in the "Narrative" he says of the deposit of letters at Lord Oxford's, "some were originals, others copies, with a few notes, and extracts here and there added." Now from this, it is obvious, that Curll's copy, if stolen from this depository, would have notes to explain the cause and manner of the collection having been made, together with the alterations from the originals which Pope had thought proper, for the reasons he has stated, to make? The agreement, therefore, of the spurious and genuine editions is a proof of Curll's villainy, not of Pope's duplicity; who, if he had been guilty of such, was surely not also so foolish as to expose himself by adopting, verbatim, in his own edition, so many of the alterations and notes of Curll's. This is a supposition which it requires all Mr. Bowles's avidity to swallow; and he does swallow it — for he answers this objection by saying, "with all his genius he might have been as inadvertent as some greater blockheads, and particularly the writer of these pages." — p. 189. Let the reader judge of the congeniality.
We are tired, and fear our readers may be so too: — but we have now gone through the principal charges brought so perversely against the character of Pope; we say the principal, because Mr. Bowles's is a kind of bush-fighting; and we cannot pretend to hunt him out wherever he lies perdu among the notes; and whence, whenever the mind is soothed with an effusion of affection, or elevated with the expression of noble sentiments, out springs the friendly editor, with a "could Pope really be sincere in these sentiments?" "Can this be real or affected?" "Pope had constantly in his mouth candour and truth, &c." We may, perhaps, meet with some of these, and notice them, en passant, as we proceed in our observations on the works, genius, and rank of the poet. — To which pleasanter task we can now advance cheerily.
And we think we may advance to it at once; there are, indeed, preliminary questions of general criticism, on the nature of poetry, its proper province, and various kinds, which have called forth disputants of no ordinary reputation; and produced such a display of talent, as might be expected, when the names of Southey, Byron, and Campbell were enrolled among the disputants. Perhaps, we may think that much not only of the difficulty, but of the controversy itself, may be traced to a want of due precision in stating the contested propositions, and that we could without much expense of time or paper bring the parties to something like agreement; but it seems hardly necessary to the right understanding of our more immediate subject; and we have already trespassed so long on the patience of our readers, and must necessarily detain them still so much longer, that we will hot be diverted by any temptation, or for however short a distance, from the course which lies straight before us.
The poetical works of Pope have been popularly divided into descriptive, translated, moral and satirical, with exceptions allowed for some examples of the lyrical and pathetic. We have no objection to the division, but that we should have included the satirical under the moral; for whether reason, ridicule, or vituperation be employed, the object is the same — the communication of poetical pleasure and the inculcation of moral truth.
The versification common to all these divisions requires a short consideration, and but a short one; for there is scarcely any difference of opinion with respect to it. All allow that the finish, at least, to our national versification was given by Pope; but it has been said to be merely the consummation of what had been in a great measure already effected; and passages are produced from Sandys, Spenser, Hall, Cowley, Denham, Waller, Dryden, to prove that as harmonious verses as any of Pope's had been written long before. So far from disputing this, we would undertake to produce as harmonious from Chaucer, Drayton, nay Donne, the rudest of the rude; but a claim of this kind can never be decided by particular specimens. It was the peculiar merit of Pope, that the correctness of his ear, the delicacy of his taste, and his resolute aspirations after excellence, determined him to leave no example in his writings of those occasional harshnesses, tortuous constructions, and circumlocutory and expletive interpolations, which disfigured the works of his most eminent predecessors, and formed an apology for the slovenly performances of his early contemporaries. Determined, like Manilius, "Magnaque cum parvis simili percurrere cura," he it was who first gave to the public poems of immaculate composition; of compact strength, united with ease and harmony; and furnished therein a standard, to which all other essays were referred. The popular ear was attuned to his music, and the public taste refined by his example. It must, however, be admitted that, with the zeal of a reformer, he carried his ardour for polish and concentration so far as to make sentences too frequently coincident with couplets, and clauses with lines; approaching sometimes to the "arena sine calce" of Seneca's prose, by almost entirely denying himself the liberty (which his predecessors had perverted to license) of allowing several lines to flow on together in sentiment and grammatical construction. And in the formation of his single verses he was so partial to the pauses which produced the most melodious line, as to neglect too much that variety in their position which elicits the finest harmony on the whole. But the accuracy of rhymes was the part of versification which he left least improved; and with that Swift often taunted him, and appealed to his own practice. Swift had few ideas to convey, or pictures to represent, which did not admit of several modes of expression with nearly equal, or at least sufficient force and clearness: it was therefore easy, and politic, to distinguish himself by correctness of rhyme when that and rhythm constituted so large a part of his pretensions to the character of a poet. But Pope, who had so many purposes of extreme delicacy to execute, probably found it impossible to accomplish all, if he drew any closer the shackles of rhyme. Though, therefore, he never adopts the consonantal discrepancies of his predecessors, he frequently allows himself a partial dissimilarity in the vowel sounds. Such are the faults of his exquisite versification; and they are such as he, and only he, could have taught us to perceive; and those that mend them must acknowledge him for their master.
We now proceed to consider his merits in the different departments of his poetry.
Of the Pastorals it is unnecessary to say much — they are seldom read for any positive pleasure which they afford; but to the critic they have a relative value for the beautiful specimen of versification which they afforded at a period, when the English ear was not yet brought to that degree of nicety, which it was the successful labour of Pope's whole poetical life to produce: He himself seems to have valued pastoral poetry in general at its true worth, and he had the good sense not only to reject the advice, which Walsh gave him, to write a pastoral comedy, but to abandon altogether a field where the most successful cultivation could be comparatively fruitless. He saw that, in a highly civilized state of society, men fix their eyes on pastoral rather to relieve them from painful scenes, than in expectation of pleasure, and that finding persons, sentiments and occupations entirely alien from their sympathies, they end in admiring the art of the poet rather than his poem; and of course turn away to find the same art employed on more congenial subjects.
In the "Windsor Forest" the poet elevated his strain by combining the descriptions of external nature with feelings accordant to the actual state of society, and with historical characters and events. Warton (in his Essay, p. 344) unites this poem with "The Rape of the Lock" and "Epistle of Eloisa," as Pope's principal claims on the admiration of posterity; "for wit and satire," says he, "are transitory and perishable, but nature and passion are eternal" — as if vicious passions (the most legitimate objects of satire) were not as natural and eternal as torrents and volcanoes. "Windsor Forest" undoubtedly contains many passages of animated sentiment, and of beautiful description: nevertheless we consider it as a failure, because it does not place the author at the head of the class to which the poem belongs. It is incontestably inferior to the beautiful particularity blended with the delicate sentiment and feeling of Cowper, or the splendid diffusion of Thomson in his "Seasons," and still more so to the richness of conception and luxuriance of language in the first canto of "The Castle of Indolence." Had "The Temple of Fame" been entirely an original composition, it would have approached nearer, though not have attained, to an equality with these; but so much of the ingenuity of the allegory, and so many of the images are Chaucer's, that, with all its beauty of versification, brilliancy of expression, and variety of added congenial beauty, it still wears the livery of a master. Pope, accordingly, with his usual candour, premises in the advertisement, that "whenever any hint is taken from Chaucer, the passage itself shall be set down in the marginal notes": and Mr. Bowles, with his wonted candour, observes, "Pope seems unwilling to confess all he owes to Chaucer," (Bowles, vol. ii. p. 107;) but, with his customary deficiency of proof, only specifies in one instance, "Pope has not quoted the simile taken from Chaucer's second book" — the celebrated simile of the stone dropped into a lake, of which Pope was so fond, that he has applied it here, in the "Essay on Man," and in "The Dunciad": but so far is he from wishing to claim it as original, that in the beginning of the very passage in which the simile is found — only nine lines before — he says in a note, (we cite Mr. Bowles's own edition, vol. ii. p. 103,) "This thought is transferred hither out of the third book of Fame, where it takes up no less than 120 verses, beginning thus: — "Gefferey, thou wottest well this.'" Now having so distinctly referred to the beginning of a long passage, it was surely not incumbent on him to cite every particular that was adopted from it. Mr. Bowles will say, there is no such passage in the third book: — but he knew that there was in the second, and he knew too, that Pope had, in his advertisement, referred the reader to the "third book of Fame, the first and second having little to do with the subject"; and that, therefore, when he adopts a thought from the second, he notices that "it is transferred hither" — he does indeed add, from the third book; which is so obvious a misprint, that, on any other occasion, Mr. Bowles's critical acumen would have assuredly detected it; — so that it is manifest Pope had been especially careful to obviate the suspicion of plagiarism, in the very particular on which Mr. Bowles's charge is rested. But to return to the poem. its principal fault, though unnoticed by his editors, is such as is commonly incident to protracted allegory, a frequent mixture of the allegorical and direct. Thus, in speaking of names engraven on the Icy Mountain, he says,
Nor was the work impaired by storms alone,
But felt th' approaches of too warm a sun;
For Fame, impatient of extremes, decays
Not more by envy than excess of praise.
And again, describing the suppliants of Fame, he says,
Their plans were different, their request the same;
For good and bad alike are fond of Fame.
This is the mere [Greek characters] for school-boys, and it is singular that in these and such instances, he was not even misled by Chaucer. But this and other imitations from Chaucer, as well as all his minor translations, were done "as exercises," in extreme youth; and we cannot, therefore, wonder either at occasional failures in execution, or injudicious selections. Of the latter an example is seen in his choice of Statius's Thebais. It is to be lamented that, as he was employed in translation, and executed so small a part, he had not chosen, instead of that strained, tedious, and cold composition, some of the easy and elegant pieces of the Sylvae, which, being so singularly happy in expression, would have given exercise to his own peculiar powers in the adaptation of language. But yet more is it to be regretted that he did not turn his attention to the Achilleis; which, whatever may have been the more extended design of the author, is, in its present state, sufficiently complete in its action, and forms in its details one of the most interesting of the narrative poems of antiquity: few have so many nice touches of individual feeling, such tenderness and delicacy of sentiment, such beauty of illustration, conveyed in such felicitous phrase.
In his great translation he had scarcely a choice, though we join in the regret which has been often expressed, that our two celebrated translators had not interchanged undertakings. Many of the prime requisites were common to both; but Dryden was distinguished by a dashing boldness in the confidence of strength: Pope, by an exquisite sensitiveness to every refinement of sentiment, every shade of expression, and every nicety of the most melodious versification. Yet such is the fire and majesty of his diction, that we should have thought these the characteristics of his style, had we been shown only the sublime parts in which they are employed. The defect of Pope for the task was his want of critical knowledge in the Greek language; for though Mr. Roscoe has endeavoured to maintain his sufficiency, it is hardly defensible after examining Wakefield's multiplied proofs, and Pope's own confession in his letter given by Johnson. But what his knowledge could not supply, he was indefatigable in seeking, by a minute comparison of former translations, in verse and prose, in our own and foreign languages; and has made, perhaps, fewer absolute misconstructions of his author's meaning than are to be found in any version of a work of equal magnitude.
But it is averred, that if he have not misconstrued, he has misrepresented, in not giving a faithful picture of the manners of the times, as pourtrayed by Homer. And this, in part, is true. But poetic pleasure, not archaeological information, was the prime object; and still, therefore, the question remains, whether Homer, in any other form, could have given the English reader so much poetical pleasure, or conveyed so strong an idea of his beauty and sublimity. Dryden has somewhere said, a translator should make his author speak as he would have spoken in the translator's age and country; and Homer was too much a master of eloquence to have thought of winning favour by offending prejudices to procure him, therefore, a fair opportunity of exhibiting his transcendant excellencies, it was necessary to keep out of sight some of the coarsenesses of ancient manners; of which, indeed, a literal translation would not have conveyed an accurate idea: for it is not merely that the same words do not always convey the same ideas but even the same things do not; so wholly different are they made by adjuncts of association. Thus, if you would translate Ambrosia into English, you certainly must not use the word assafoetida; but you could not use a better for a North American Indian, who calls it (as Fourcroy tells us) "food for the gods." And, assuredly, if Pope had given heroes, kings, and counsellors in their exact costume, mind and manners, John Bull would have opined that Homer
Had trusted ministration
To chaps, wha' in a barn or byre
Wad better filled their stations,
Than courts yon day.
It is probable, therefore, that the mode adopted was that which did the greatest justice to Homer and to the English reader, and made "the translation of the Iliad that poetical wonder" which Johnson has pronounced it to be — "the noblest version of poetry which the world has ever seen"; and which (from the unequalled spread of the English language) will give, through future ages, a wider diffusion to the strains that, floating down for three thousand years, have made musical the stream of time.
Connected with this translation Mr. Roscoe opens rather a curious subject of speculation.
"When," says he, "from the period of his life at which we are now arrived, we look back for a few years, and perceive the many excellent works of taste and fancy, and original composition, which he had produced at so early an age, it is not without a sentiment bordering on disappointment and regret, that we find he had devoted himself to a single object, that the morning prospect which had opened so brightly was over, and that the meridian of his day was to be confined to one long and uniform track, in which the slightest deviation was a fault, and the least delay inadmissible. Accordingly, after this period, we are to look for few if any of those efforts of his genius to which he is chiefly indebted for the rank he holds; and if in opening to his countrymen the poetical stores of the great Grecian bard, he has given them a boon, which no other bard could have conferred, they may perhaps have paid too dearly for it in the privation of those productions which he had already formed in his own mind, and which would probably not have been unworthy of those which preceded them. The task was at length successfully completed, but by that time the brilliancy of fancy, the blandishments of youth, and the warmth of friendship were over. From the heights of imagination the poet had 'stooped to truth and moralized his song.' Philosophy had in her turn obtained the ascendancy, and Poetry had become her handmaid." — Life, p. 120.
We do not quite agree in the accuracy of all the particulars on which the reasoning of this passage is founded; the most passionate of all Pope's productions, the Epistle to Abelard, was written during the time in which he was translating the Iliad; his fame and popularity are founded more on the translation, and the poems published contemporaneously, or subsequently to it, than on any produced before; and so far from "the warmth of friendship being over," we need only read Mr. Roscoe's own life of him to be satisfied, that warmth of friendship was a quality in him which peculiarly marked and adorned his character through life; that as old friends died before him, something like a kindly necessity of his nature impelled him to adopt new, and that the feeling ceased only with his existence. But we suspect the whole passage to be more fanciful than sound — it can hardly be said, we imagine, that the employment of translation in itself could be unfavourable to the perfecting of Pope's poetical talent, when the work translated and the principle of the translation are considered. The task was completed in his thirty-second year, a period of life, surely, when the judgment may be matured, but when the powers of fancy and imagination are not ordinarily decayed. In truth, however, we cannot see any reason to infer from the productions which preceded the translation, that the latter course of the poet would have differed essentially, if that had not been undertaken; his earlier poems are all of a nature, which seem to have prepared and to mark him out for a great translator, and a moralist; in his latter productions the same character of mind is evinced under the modifications duly of matured age, increasing infirmities, and the various circumstances which surrounded him.
Having mentioned Johnson's liberal praise, we must not pass unnoticed his frequent censure of Pope, by which Mr. Bowles has not failed to profit. The truth, however, is, that there is no authority, either in morals or criticism, of such uncertain estimation: none was higher when he wrote under the unbiassed influence of his understanding and his principles; and none lower when under the not unfrequent ascendancy of morbid feelings: then, even truth, for which his reverence was so profound and habitual, was sacrificed to the petty vanity of a momentary triumph; and even the benevolence with which his mind was so deeply embued, yielded to the dictates of spleen and caprice. Frequent as are the proofs of this unhappy influence in the Lives of the Poets, it is no where more conspicuous than in his estimate of evidence on the moral character of Pope, and of the merit of some of his productions. An example of the latter may be found in the petulant remarks on the Epitaphs. It is not intended minutely to examine these hypercritical observations; to which, however, their author seems to have been uncommonly partial, as he published them in "The Universal Visitor," "The Idler," and "The Lives of the Poets." But we shall, on the general subject, notice the difficulty of doing that originally and well, which has been done so often; and of giving appropriateness to what must, in fact, have been common to so many. The "absurdity of joining in the same inscription Latin and English, or verse and prose," does not appear to be so obvious as Johnson has considered it. The reason for using Latin at all is to convey to foreigners, or posterity, the meaning, which a vernacular language might fail to do; but it would be strange, indeed, to secure this object without any care for the information of those, who not only form the majority in number, but may be supposed to feel the deepest interest. With regard to the blending of verse and prose, it is only necessary to observe, that verse cannot be more appropriately applied than in an epitaph; where the purpose is to concentrate, in the most impressive form, what we wish to sink into the heart and memory of the reader: and if poetry is to be used, prose must too; for even Johnson's ingenuity could not have given a poetic character to the Anno Domini, which is yet necessary on a tomb-stone.
We now enter on the consideration of those compositions on which are founded Pope's principal claim to poetical celebrity.
The earliest of these was the Essay on Criticism; proving a precocity precisely on that field of intellect where it was least to be expected; for though written at the age of one-and-twenty, it is distinguished by solidity of judgment, a correct and cultivated taste, and a chastened fancy.
In this poem was first exhibited that marvellous compression of thought into terse language, and melodious versification, so admirably adapted to didactic poetry; but which it had never before attained, and has never since exceeded. The Art Poetique of Boileau is well entitled "Art Poetique en vers:" for its verse is nearly the only pretension, by which it can aspire to please more than an essay in prose might have done; whilst our countryman's illustrations of wit and beauty are so thickly scattered, yet so judiciously arranged, that his rules of art, and sentences of wisdom, appear always as "il frutto senil sul giovenil fiore."
Warton, who prefers Boileau's poem to Horace's, and all other Arts of Poetry extant, (vol. i. p. 317.) does, however, admit that the Essay on Criticism is "a sensible performance:" — ( Essay, p. 111.) taking care to put the word sensible in capitals, to indicate the want of any higher poetic character. But even the sensible character is denied to Pope's praise of Quintilian, whom "to commend (he says, Essay, p. 178.) barely for his method, and to insist merely on this excellence, is below the merit of one of the most rational of Roman writers." Now who but Dr. Warton and Mr. Bowles, who applauds his remark, could imagine, that this was a comment on a couplet in which Quintilian is eulogized for gravity, copiousness, the justest rules, and clearest method?
In grave Quintilian's copious work we find
The justest rules and clearest method joined.
We must not leave this poem without exhibiting another of Mr. Bowles's ingenious hypotheses and charitable deductions. The author, describing drivelling old poets, who
Strain out the last dull droppings of their sense,
And rhyme with all the rage of impotence,
Such shameless bards we have.
And Mr. Bowles says, "there can be no doubt, I think, respecting the allusion in these lines to old Wycherley: whom else could they suit at that period, when Pope says, 'such bards we have.'" Whom else? Mr. Bowles might have found an answer four lines before, where it is said, there are "crowds of these." But Mr. Bowles knows better — there was only one such, and that one Wycherley; and then, with his usual salvo, to be ready for future defence, "if Wycherley was intended, what must we think of Pope, who could wound, in this manner, his old friend, for whom he professed so much kindness, and who first introduced him to notice and patronage?" — (vol. i. p. 266.) In the seventh volume, however, knowing he has this "if" in reserve, he boldly says, without any "if," Wycherley was "hitched into the Essay on Criticism." — (p. 57.) Now, the fact is, that Pope's persevering affection and gratitude to his early patron and friend were, in spite of that friend's petulance, most beautifully exhibited to the last. In the year 1709, (the same in which the poem was written,) he thus wrote to Cromwell on the subject of Wycherley's alienation from him. "Be assured, he shall never, by any alteration in me, discover any knowledge of his mistake; the hearty forgiving of which is the only kind of return I can possibly make him for so many favours; and I may derive this pleasure at least from it, that whereas I must otherwise have been a little uneasy to know my incapacity of returning his obligations, I may now, by bearing his frailty, exercise my gratitude and friendship, more than himself either is, or perhaps ever will be, sensible of.
Ille meos, primus qui me sibi junxit, amores
Abstulit, ille habeat secum, servetque sepulchro.
And in 1711, the year of the publication, Wycherley expressed his admiration of the very poem, and kindness for the author (Bowles, vii. 157.) But the parties, it appears, know nothing of their own feelings; which, therefore, Mr. Bowles interprets, to improve the reader's benevolence, and his own.
The Epistle of Eloisa has been generally admitted as Pope's highest title to poetical eminence — as the strongest proof of his genius. Its tenderness and pathos are exquisite, and the struggles of passion are accurately and powerfully delineated: but genius consists so much more in the first conception, than in the subsequent developement of such feelings; and so much of all was found by the author in the original letters of Eloisa, that we are not disposed to join with Mr. Roscoe in claiming so much on the subject, as even Dr. Warton and Mr. Bowles seem inclined to concede: especially when we consider, that in no piece, where the images were to originate in the poet's own mind, do we find any proofs of his possessing such powers. The Elegy on an Unfortunate Young Lady, indeed, is urged as such proof: but it appears too ingenious and pretty to be pathetic; and Mr. Roscoe's defence of its immoral principles, demanding that "it should not be judged by the common rules of criticism, because it is evident the author is no longer under the coutroul of reason," is such as we should not have expected from a man of Mr. Roscoe's good sense: — who, that can mould his thoughts into verse, and harmonious verse, is beyond the controul of reason? But if the pathos in this latter poem have been too much insisted on, the force, which almost amounts to sublimity in the expression of indignation, appears to have been too little noticed. We return to Eloisa — admirable judgment, and nicety of feeling have been shown as much in what has been rejected, as in what has been chosen from the original; which has a strange mixture of learned jargon, and ingenious observation, very much detracting from the effect of its pathos. The sentiments, too, are more dwelt upon in the English and expanded in beauty and delicacy of expression, which would in vain be sought for in the Latin: as would the delightful description of the scenery, which exhibits Pope's highest powers in that department of poetry. In justice, however, to Eloisa, it should be observed, that if much beauty have been added in her name, much of moral coarseness has also been imputed, for which she is not responsible. The most objectionable passage in the poem has no parallel in the real letters: for though she laments the unsubdued state of her passions — the too lively suggestions of memory, and of dreams — she never utters an impure wish. Mr. Roscoe's apology, therefore, for the licentiousness of the Epistle, that "such are not the poet's own sentiments, but those of the person he has undertaken to represent, and are, in general, given nearly in her own words," is neither consonant with fact nor justice. Yet, in other respects, Mr. Roscoe seems inclined to do even more than justice to Eloisa.
"She was (he says) by an instructor, who had the abilities of a sage, but the feelings of a barbarian, seduced, but not degraded: in the conflict that ensued, the virtues of Eloisa overcame the depravity of Abelard." — (vol. iii. p. 256.)
In the first place, it is difficult to imagine by what code of morality a woman can be supposed to be seduced without degradation. And how can she be said to have conquered the depravity of her seducer, who long and obstinately refused to marry him; and, after being forced to marriage, denied it, and gloried in continuing to be thought his mistress? This is virtue of such reforming power as we do not understand. On the contrary, neither, we believe, was reformed, but by calamity: and in the order of reformation hers was the latest, and admirably aided by the pious resignation, and the affectionate admonitions of Abelard, and his painful solicitude for the purification and salvation of her soul. It is matter of regret, that the genius of Pope had not been employed in exhibiting the antidote as well as the bane — that he, who had so powerfully pourtrayed the morbid state of Eloisa's mind, had not also depicted Abelard's deep contrition; his prostration of heart in recognition of divine justice; his unaffected forgiveness and almost justification of his enemies; and the purified tenderness of his sentiments for her, who was still to him the most beloved of human beings. These feelings may be found in Abelard's letters, expressed in language at once simple and animated; and, combined with congenial matter to be supplied by the poet, would form a subject admirably adapted to the genius and character of Montgomery: to whom we take the liberty of thus suggesting the theme.
The Rape of the Lock exhibits its author in a new light, in which he shines above all competitors, ancient or modern. It may be well described in the, elegant language he has himself employed in characterizing with much less justice, the Batrachomyomachia of Homer. "It is, indeed, a beautiful piece of raillery" ... "the offspring of that amusing and cheerful humour, which generally accompanies the character of a rich imagination; like a vein of mercury running mingled with a mine of gold." The ancients have no pretensions to rival the moderns in humour and ridicule. Warton ascribes this to the form of our government, differences of rank, and more complicated structure of society. These are, indeed, distinguished by nicer shades of differences, which, of course, will give greater variety and scope for exhibition of incongruities; — but, perhaps, the principal difference is in the permanency of our governments: which impresses a more fixed form on society and manners; establishing a standard of propriety on a much greater diversity of subjects — and it is the deviation from such standard, that is the object of ridicule. But it is not over the ancients alone that Pope has completely triumphed; neither the Lutrin, nor the Secchia Rapita of the gross Tassoni, can be compared with the Rape of the Lock. In delicacy of good-humoured satire; in accurate description of actual existences; and, above all, in the elegant creations of a playful fancy, Pope appears to have opened so many more sources of pleasure, and poured them forth so copiously and melodiously, as, to put, down all competition.
The Dunciad holds a middle rank between the delicate, sprightly, airy style of the Rape of the Lock and the serious and severe of the professed satires; but it is written with more power and wit than either.
Here, too, the author is unrivalled in the scope of his satire, as well as the brilliant execution of the details: in the grasp of mind to conceive a plan, that should comprise such a crowd of apparently heterogeneous subjects, and in the copiousness of wit, and happiness of illustration on each. And, if merit is to be estimated by success, there is no poem upon record, which so completely accomplished the purpose for which it was plannedthe communication of poetic pleasure in the exposure of malevolence and folly. Dr. Warton asks, what are the sensations of a man after reading Gray's Odes and Elegy, and after he has been reading the Dunciad? as well might he ask what are his sensations after the Elegy in a Churchyard and that on a drowned cat? If such were to he the canons of criticism, we must confine our admiration to those poets
Qui toujours stir 'un' ton semblent psalmodier.
The general fault of the Dunciad is the necessity, which the plan involved, of making each dunce openly declare himself a favourer of dulness, thus obliging him to do what no dunce ever did. And the particular faults are the coarseness, and nastiness, which no wit in conception or elegance in language can compensate; and which was a stain in the mind of Pope; contracted, probably, front a contaminating familiarity with the filth of Swift's. In the graver "Satires," these stains are but seldom seen, and generally redeemed by the moral feeling, which has dictated a strong, though somewhat offensive expression. Much has been said on the legitimate object of satire; and Pope has been accused of having transgressed the proper limits, and deviated into libel and lampoon. The whole question is obviously so much a matter of degree, that the assignment of limits is a difficult task. To confine satire to vice, and let the vicious pass unwhipped, would be making a mere tinkling cymbal of it. But those only of notorious vice, those who obtrude their vices on the public, should, be dragged forth to public punishment: for no general benefit, or individual amendment, can compensate for the violation of domestic privacy, which a contrary proceeding involves. Indeed, the individual amendment is so very partial and problematical a good, that public chastisement can only be justified by the hope of deterring the many, and the consideration that it is easier to prevent incipient, than to reform inveterate offenders. But this object of satire is ridiculed by Dr. Warton and Mr. Bowles, who taunt Pope with vanity and presumption, in pretending to reform the age by his writings. There can be no doubt, however, that his shafts of satire, pointed by wit, and winged by verse, have struck on many a heart callous to all but the dread of infamy; and this not merely in the individuals actually exposed, but in all, of every age, who recognize the same character in themselves, or fear the application of it by others. Nor is the effect of satire confined to daunting vice: virtue feels her confidence increased by being armed with such weapons; and her conscious dignity and scorn augmented, in beholding vice so humbled and chastised — Pope, therefore, instead of being justly ridiculed for his manly confidence in the talent that was entrusted to him, and the declaration
That whilst he lived, no rich or noble knave
Should walk the earth in credit to his grave,
would have been amply justified in extending the menace to all future generations: — for, throughout all, his bursts of eloquent indignation, and his keen sarcasm, will be in the memory and mouth of every one, ready to brand the felons as they rise,
Or pierce the monsters struggling in the shell.
The same extensive power may be attributed to his beautiful pictures and eulogies of virtue, his maxims of morality, his terse arguments in vindication of the Deity, and elucidation of the nature of man. Let it not, however, be imagined, that "when he stooped to truth, and moralized his song," his province is no longer that of imagination and passion: — (Bowles's Reply in Pamphleteer, No. xxxv. p. 39.) On the contrary, in all his moral writings, his province was to recommend reason, and attract attention to moral subjects, by decorating both with the gayest flowers of fancy, and interesting the passions by the most powerful expressions of indignation and admiration, of love, hatred, and contempt, all strengthened by appeals to living examples on the stage of life, or in the page of history. In speaking, as above, of the arguments of the Ethic Epistles, and Essay on Man, the details only of these are intended; for the general argument participates in the confusion and unsatisfactoriness common to the shallowest and profoundest speculations involving the mystery of the origin of evil; which God hath not thought fit to illumine by revelation; and in the depths of which the brightest ray of human intellect is lost; "The jaws of darkness do devour it up."
In engaging in metaphysical discussion, Pope certainly undertook a task to which he was not competent. He was not sufficiently acquainted with the writings of metaphysicians to foresee the inferences which might be drawn from some of his positions; and from which it required all the ingenuity of Warburton to defend them. Of that ingenuity, however, he with avidity availed himself, when he saw that he was in danger of being considered a maintainer of fatalism, and oppugner of Providence and revealed religion. And Mr. Bowles justly observes, (v, iii. p. 9.) "It is but fair that he should have that interpretation by which he deliberately wished to abide." Yet Warton labours to fix the character of infidelity, not merely on the poem, but the man: — the man whose tenor of life would have done honour to any religion, and who so far preferred that in which he had been brought up, as to expose himself, for its sake, to civil disabilities and various personal inconveniencies, in times of extreme political jealousy and religious rancour. But the misconstructions both of the poet and the poem arose from precisely the same perversity in the critics which he had reprehended in the philosophers, judging from a part, and not from the whole. His object is announced in the outset — "To vindicate the ways of God to man;" and however he may, by metaphysical subtlety, be shown to have sometimes mistaken the means of doing so, the intention is as apparent throughout, as in the preliminary problem. But Warton not only considers these means as inadequate to their direct object, but as having a collateral tendency to impugn revelation, and especially the doctrine of a future state: for (vol. iii. p. 8.) he explains the principle "whatever is, is right," to mean, that "we have no occasion to call in the notion of a future life to vindicate the ways of God to man, because they are fully and sufficiently benevolent and just in the present:" in direct contradiction to the observation, which the poet has again and again urged, that this state of existence is not the whole in which man is concerned, but that he
Touches some wheel, or verges to some goal;
'Tis but a part we see, and not a whole.
If we did see the whole, both the present state and that to which we are verging, then we should see that "whatever is, is right," in the sense in which Dryden had employed the maxim before;
Whatever is, is right, though purblind man
Sees but part of the chain, the nearest link:
His eyes not carrying to the equal beam
That poises all, above.
Many other passages in the Essay on Man tend to the same purpose; but it may suffice to have pointed out this prime subject of misrepresentation, and to refer, for the fuller statement. of that and other misrepresentations, to the clear and able vindication by Mr. Roscoe, (vol. v. p. 8. and vol. x. p. 291. 315. 398.)
The collection of the letters of Pope and his correspondents is too important to be passed over in silence. In this respect the precocity of his talents was particularly unfavourable to him: for it brought him into the acquaintance and correspondence of eminent persons, before it was possible that his judgment could be formed; and yet his genius made his letters so remarkable, that they were preserved, and remain to be brought against him, with all the sins of youth and inexperience on their head. In estimating the whole of his character, however, a candid judge will divide his letters, both with reference to moral and literary merit, into two classes. The early correspondence will show what were the character and taste of the age, which might be supposed to direct him, when he came into public life; and the later what he made and left them. His first epistolary intercourse with men professedly literary, (or wits as they were then called, from the character to which they chiefly aspired,) was with old men, whose taste for letter-writing had been formed on the French, whilst that was moulded on the elaborate foppery of Balzac and Voiture, un-corrected by the grace and ease of Madame de Sevigne. He had interchanged letters with Wycherley before he was seventeen, and with Cromwell before he was twenty: — men alike remarkable for wit and debauchery, of which their part of the correspondence gives sufficient intimation. What style they pretended to themselves, and expected in those honoured with their correspondence, may be imagined from Pope's telling Cromwell, "you must have a sober dish of coffee, and a solitary candle at your side, to write an epistle lucubratory to your friend" (December, 1711); and again, "I know you sometimes say civil things to me in your epistolary style; but those I am to make allowance for." (August, 1710.) After this, can we wonder that he should tell Spence, "My letters to Cromwell were written with a design that does not generally appear; they were not written in sober sadness." (Anecdotes.) And how can we but wonder, that these circumstances have not been allowed for by those who, like Mr. Bowles and Dr. Warton, have passed a general censure on his epistolary style as artificial in construction, and insincere in sentiment? Why he, who, according to the latter, might boast "constancy in friendship as a predominant virtue;" and who, according to the former, was a sincere friend, and "never lost a friend;" why such a man may not express himself with the warmest affection, without suspicion of falsehood or affectation, without being considered as writing from his head, while professing to follow the dictates of his heart, is for Mr. Bowles's logic and philosophy to explain. To us it appears, that when he is not writing to a merely professed wit, nor to a lady-acquaintance, (whom the manners of the times required to be addressed only with wit and gallantry,) his letters are as unstudied and simple as can be expected from a scholar and a man of cultivated imagination. Even in his very boyhood, we may observe the natural style of his letters to the unpretending Sir William Trumbull, compared with the formal compositions addressed, at the same period, to Cromwell and Wycherley; and, in after-life, the examples are few, indeed, where any thing like study can be observed. We have not room to cite, but cannot refrain from referring to some specimens of as simple and ardent affection, as are to be found in any collection of letters whatever. Let the reader turn to his letter to Oxford in the Tower, (Roscoe, viii. 295.); that tenderly pathetic one to Martha Blount, on his mother's illness, and on Gay's death, (Roscoe, viii. 447.); the equally feeling, generous, and unaffected letter to Gay on his illness, (Roscoe, x. p. 100.); and the two as sagely, as simply kind, to Atterbury in the Tower. (Roscoe, ix. 234 and 237.) The wisdom which characterizes these is here particularly adverted to, because the advice given to the bishop is so characteristic of the moderation, and liberality of Pope, who had reason to believe, that his friend too much narrowed his mind,
And to party gave up what was meant for mankind.
He therefore cautions him in the form of confident expectation:
"Resentment, indeed, may remain; perhaps cannot be quite extinguished, even in the noblest minds; but revenge never will harbour there. Higher principles than those of the first, and better principles than those of the latter, will infallibly influence men, whose thoughts and whose hearts are enlarged; and cause them to prefer the whole to any part of mankind, especially so small a part as one's single self. Believe me, my Lord, I look upon you as a spirit entered into another life; as one upon the edge of immortality, where the passions and reflections must be much more exalted, and where you ought to despise all little views, and all mean retrospects. Nothing is worth your looking back; and therefore look forward, and make (as you can) the world to look after you. But take care that it is not with pity, but with esteem and admiration."
Yet the writer of this letter, Mr. Bowles insinuates to have been privy to Atterbury's traitorous design in favour of the exiled royal family; and to have wished him success in it. The conjecture is made precisely on the ground on which a reader of ordinary ingenuity would have formed the very opposite construction. Pope says to Atterbury, "I wish every thing may succeed in your own family, and in that, which I think you no less account your own, and is no less your family, the whole world." "Is it not possible," (says Mr. Bowles's note,) "there may be a latent meaning in these words?" (vol. viii. p. 128.) That is, that this family of the whole world means one particular family; which family was the Pretender's; and, then, [Greek characters]! Pope is a traitor! It is singular that Mr. Bowles did not favour his readers with his translation of a Latin passage in the same letter, where Pope says, "I heartily wish, 'quod superest ut tibi vivas':" which Mr. Bowles, no doubt, construes, "I heartily wish you may dedicate the remainder of your life to a faction." It is the same perverse spirit, which twists into treason the wishes at least, of Pope, and his friend Edward Blount: though they lament, both before and after the rebellion, the madness of those who violated the peace of the country for the purposes of a party. But Mr. Bowles (iv. 138.) thinks it singular Pope should "boast of his native moderation, because his most intimate friends were Tories, and many of them professed Jacobites." Now this is just the greatest proof of his moderation; that with such sentiments, and such friends, he never used his great talents in behalf of a party.
The same obliquity of remark, too, pursues the letter-writer on the subject even of friendship, which all his biographers, Bowles inclusive, had allowed to he a marked trait of his character. On the correspondence with Swift, which appears as much what Pope calls "the pouring out of mind," as any thing can be, the comment is, "All Pope's letters to Swift seem more than usually affected and laboured:" but perhaps the reader will think Swift a better judge on the subject than Mr. Bowles: and Swift says, in a letter of 3d September, 1735, "Neither did our letters contain any turn of wit, or fancy, or polities, or satire, but mere innocent friendship." ... "I believe we neither of us ever leaned our head upon our left hand, to study what we should write next." So much for style, and for his judgment on the reality of feeling let one among a hundred passages suffice — after having visited Pope, and having returned to Ireland, he writes in October, 1727, "You are the best and kindest friend in the world; and I know nobody, alive or dead, to whom I am so much obliged; and if ever you made me angry, it was for your too much care of me." His testimony to his friend's generosity and benevolence is equally strong: "I thought myself as great a giver as ever was, of my ability; and yet in proportion you exceed, and have kept it till now, a secret even from mime, when I wondered how you were able to live with your whole little revenue; (October, 1729,) and again, "I never yet knew any person one tenth part so heartily disposed as you are, to do good offices to others, without the least private view." (August, 1729.) This is the man whose generosity Mr. Bowles could forget to commemorate; and these are the friends, on whom he and Dr. Warton have recorded, and Mr. Roscoe has suffered to pass, without a word of doubt and contradiction, the following libel, extracted from Mr. Birch's MSS. in the British Museum, "(August 17, 1749,) Mr. George Faulkner, of Dublin, told me, that Dr. Swift had long conceived a mean opinion of Mr. Pope, on account of his jealous, peevish, avaricious temper." And who is this Mr. George Faulkner, whose testimony is to be taken against that of a thirty years correspondence of confidence and affection, closed only by that calamity of Swift's, which was worse than death? who? but the honest gentleman whom Richardson has consigned to infamy in the advertisement to the first edition of his Grandison; for having bribed his pressmen to send over to Ireland the proof sheets of that work; and then, on the plea of the surreptitious edition there printed, withholding the money he had contracted to pay for certain copies of the genuine edition. And this is the prosecutor's witness!
Before ceasing to speak of the letters, one ought to be noticed, in which, indeed, the style is most elaborately finished, it is the "Letter to a Noble Lord;" the worthy coadjutor of Lady M. W. Montague, in that libel of Pope, which will descend to posterity as the bitterest satire on themselves. This personage, who had before figured as Paris, Sporus, Lord Fanny, and Narcissus, is now addressed in his proper character as a peer of the realm; and the scrupulous observance of the formal deference due to his rank, joined with the real sarcasm included in the masterly argument, reminds the reader of the singular style of Locke's Letters to Stillingfleet; whilst the polish of the language forms an aera in English prose-writing, as the author's versification had done in our poetry. It approaches nearer to the style of Junius, than any other, which had preceded that extraordinary writer; unless we take into the comparison some passages of an author, who is a still more wonderful exception to the style of his age; passages of Silas Titus we mean, in that book which is said to have been the death of Cromwell.
Having now concluded a brief examination of the chief charges against the moral character of our great poet, and a cursory view of his principal works, it remains only to state the results, to which this investigation appears to have conducted.
In all the grand essentials of moral excellence, Pope stands pre-eminent among the sons of fame; for it has too often been found, that the possessors of high talents, imagining that they could, by them alone, command the respect of society, and obtain the rewards of it, have neglected to practise the self-denial so requisite to the formation of truly social and virtuous qualities. Arbuthnot well appreciated the worth of such qualities in a man of genius. In his farewell letter, when he considered himself on a death-bed, he says,—
"I must be so sincere as to own, that though I could not help valuing you for those talents which the world prizes, yet they were not the foundation of my friendship; they were quite of another sort; nor shall I at present offend you by enumerating them; and I make it my last request, that you will continue that noble disdain and abhorrence of vice, which you seem naturally endued with." — (Roscoe, vol. x. 419.)
Pope was reared, from his birth, in the bosom of domestic affection — the nurse of all the virtues. He was the only child of his parents; and, as a sickly child, was fostered with more than common fondness; like Goervyl's "miserable hope, the dearer for its weakness." And if the indulgence were even carried to excess, how well might the parents of such a son have pleaded their excuse! "Puisque le jour pent lui manquer, laissons-le un peu jouir de l'aurore." They enjoyed, however, the delight of this early indulgence, and of beholding too the object of their solicitude transcending in his maturity their fondest anticipations; devoting himself to their happiness; withdrawing from the blaze of fame and blandishments of society, to give them the comfort of his presence; to return the care and affection which they had lavished on the morning of his life, in relieving the irksomeness, in soothing the pains, and guarding the tranquil pleasures of the evening of theirs.
To the infirmity of his frame and the tenderness of his nurture, some of the weaknesses as well as some of the excellencies of his character may be traced. From having been the object of first importance in his own family, he became habituated to the receiving of minute attentions, and to the gratification of petty wishes; and when his good sense showed him that these were incompatible with the commerce of general society, he sought to obtain, by oblique hints, (which his ingenuity would always readily suggest,) what he deemed it unpolite directly to require. And to servants, he is said to have been particularly troublesome; though he seems to have been ready to indemnify them by his liberality; for Johnson tells us, "Lord Oxford's servant declared, that in the house where her business was to answer his call, she would not ask for wages." But they who are in the full enjoyment of a healthy organization can have no conception of the thousand little uneasinesses that are always gnawing at the peace of him, to whom deformity makes every motion a discomfort, and into whose cup of enjoyment disease is every moment dropping something bitter; and when to these are added the exquisite sensibility of genius, a charitable mind will readily pardon any little exactions, or even frailties of temper; nor suffer them to weigh much in the balancing of general character, more especially, where all important and deliberate acts are found to flow from a heart fraught with generosity and benevolence. That Pope's was such, is evinced by the strong testimony of Swift already cited; by his kind forbearance and liberal contribution to the necessities of the perverse Savage; by his fraternal adoption and domestication of Gay; and by annually appropriating an unusually large portion of his income to the purposes of private charity.
When such warm and kind feelings were concentrated in individual attachments, they produced an intensity and constancy of friendship, which is not easily paralleled in literary biography, and which is alike honourable to the poet and to those who were the objects of such affection. For they were evidently selected from no regard to station, talent, or celebrity; but solely for the qualities of the heart. Of all other claims he held himself independent; but as his society was courted by all classes, he occasionally found persons with these primary qualities united to the other secondary recommendations, and had no mean jealousy, or plebeian pride, to prevent his cultivating their intimacy, on terms of moral and intellectual equality, joined with the gentlemanly feeling of the courtesies due to rank.
It cannot be matter of surprise, that a man possessed of such eminent virtues and talents, to which those of the first celebrity for both vied in paying the tribute of applause and affection, should have entertained a high idea of his own character and consequence; and if this sometimes degenerated into overweeningness, it must be considered as a portion of the evil inseparable from all that is good, and of the littleness which clings to all that is great in humanity.
Of his religious tenets we know that he had a steady belief in the grand truths of Revelation; but he seems to have avoided the discussion of controverted points as more likely to produce a breach of charity than to amend the heart. He repeatedly disavows the exclusive and damnatory part of that creed in the profession of which he had been educated; and which no temptations from interest and ambition, or, what might have been supposed of more force, from false shame or intellectual pride, could ever induce him wholly to renounce.
Excluded as he was by his religion, the mediocrity of his rank and circumstances, and by his personal deformities, from all the ordinary avenues to distinction; and at the same time finding within himself powers for the acquisition of literary fame, it is not surprising that the love of that should have become the ruling passion of his life. We have seen how successful was his pursuit, and it remains to estimate the rank to which he and his works have attained.
We do not think the first a difficult question — the two higher orders of poetry, the epic and dramatic, he left entirely untouched; and his essays as a lyrical poet are so few and slight, as to require mention only to show that they have not been forgotten. His line was didactic, in the enlarged sense of that word; which includes appeals either principally to the understanding, as in satire both grave and ludicrous, or to the emotions and passions, as in elegy, and such epistles as Eloisa's; which last, however, approaches nearly to the dramatic, as being, in fact, an impassioned though extended monologue. And, in this order of poetry, there can be no hesitation in pronouncing Pope to be the first of poets. Who is there, in any age or nation, that can pretend to compete with him? Who has combined such powers of reasoning with such splendid fancy? Such concentrated meaning with such melodious verse? Such elegant playfulness with such causticity of wit, such dignified reprehension, and such noble bursts of moral feeling? All these excellencies are in him accompanied with a profusion of imagery, always delighting by aptness of illustration, sometimes by sportiveness and wit, but oftener by its richness and warmth, with a refined delicacy of sentiment and brilliance of expression; and such a variety of elegant phraseology as the language of no other poet, in the same order of poetry, can match.
All these qualities, however, marvellous as the combination is, do not prove that he was capable of the highest efforts of poetic genius: — that his mind possessed the majesty, magnificence, and scope of Homer; the sublimity of Milton, "wielding the elements;" or the grandeur and profundity of Shakspeare, sounding the depths of the human heart, and raising and stilling the passions at his bidding.
It is therefore high, perhaps the very highest in the second class, that we rank the poetic genius of Pope; with regard to the place which his works hold in English literature, the question hardly admits, and for any useful purpose does not require, a very precise answer. Much in the judgment of every individual will depend on that individual's tastes and sympathies — we cannot, however, claim for his works the same power to soften, elevate, or purify the soul, which we confess in Shakspeare, Milton, or Spenser — their strains are of a higher mood; Pope is the poet of common life; and keeping this in our recollection, if we are to decide by the quantity and variety of pleasure afforded, by the value of the knowledge imparted, or the sound morality inculcated, whom should we place before him, but Shakspeare alone? in what other poet's works can we find, with so little intermixture of what is base and corrupt, so many, such various, and such copious sources of delight and improvement?