1744 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Alexander Pope

Aaron Hill to Samuel Richardson, 10 September 1744; Correspondence of Samuel Richardson, ed. Barbauld (1804) 1:104-08.



DEAR SIR,

Sept. 10, 1744.

We cannot yet say a great deal of the health you are so kind to wish us. But our tedious lease is near expiring; and, by next spring, we shall have before us the advantage of some better choice, for mending our bad situation.

Mr. Pope, as you with equal keenness and propriety express it, is gone out. I told a friend of his, who sent me the first news of it, that I was very sorry for his death, because I doubted whether he would live to recover the accident. Indeed, it gives me no surprise, to find you thinking he was in the wane of his popularity. It arose, originally, but from meditated little personal assiduities, and a certain bladdery swell of management. He did not blush to have the cunning to blow himself up, by help of dull, unconscious, instruments, whenever he would seem to sail, as if his own wind moved him.

The heart of man is said to be inscrutable: but this can scarce be truly said of any writing man. The heart of such still shews, and needs must shew itself, beyond all power of concealment; and, without the writer's purpose, or even knowledge, will a thousand times, and in a thousand places, start up in its own true native colour, let the subject it is displayed upon bend never so remotely from the un-in tended manifestation. — How many have I heard declare (and people, too, who loved truth dearly, and believed they spoke it), that they charmed themselves in reading Pamela; when, all the while, it was Mr. Richardson they had been reading.

In fact, if any thing was fine, or truly powerful, in Mr. Pope, it was chiefly centered in expression: and that rarely, when not grafted on some other writer's preconceptions. His own sentiments were low and narrow, because always interested; darkly touched, because conceived imperfectly; and sour and acrid, because writ in envy. He had a turn for verse, without a soul for poetry. He stuck himself into his subjects, and his muse partook his maladies; which, with a kind of peevish and vindictive consciousness, maligned the healthy and the satisfied.

One of his worst mistakes was, that unnecessary noise he used to make in boast of his morality. It seemed to me almost a call upon suspicion, that a man should rate the duties of plain honesty, as if they had been qualities extraordinary! And, in fact, I saw, on some occasions, that he found those duties too severe for practice; and but prized himself upon the character, in proportion to the pains it cost him to support it.

But rest his memory in peace! It will very rarely be disturbed by that time he himself is ashes. It is pleasant to observe the justice of forced fame; she lets down those, at once, who got themselves pushed upward; and lifts none above the fear of falling, but a few who never teazed her.

What she intends to do with me, the Lord knows! The whole I can be sure of is, that never mortal courted her with less solicitude. And, truly, if I stood condemned to share a place in her aerial storehouse, with some characters that fill up great voids there, as things go at present, I should rather make a leg, shrink back, and ask her pardon.

But, what have I to do with fame, who have only, now and then, thrown out a loose leaf (sybil-like), and given the wind free privilege to scatter it? Perhaps it is better they should so be scattered; for so I see it would have been, for many of our liberal entailers of their works upon a public, that is scarce disposed to rank them among pastimes. — I am,

Dear Sir,

Your's &c.

A. HILL.