There is no species of composition, perhaps, so delightful as that which presents us with personal anecdotes of eminent men: And if its chief charm he in the gratification of our curiosity, it is a curiosity, at least that has its origin in enthusiasm. We are anxious to know all that is possible to be learnt of those who have at any rate so honoured a place in our remembrance. It is not, merely, that every circumstance derives value from the person to whom it relates: but an apparently insignificant anecdote often throws an entirely new light on the history of the most admired works, or the most brilliant actions. Intellectual discoveries, or heroic deeds, though they shed a broad and lasting lustre round the memory of those that have achieved them, yet occupy but a small part of the life of any individual: And we are not unwilling to penetrate the dazzling glory, and to see how the remaining intervals are filled up; — to look into the minute details, to detect incidental foibles, and to be satisfied what qualities they, have in common with ourselves, as well as distinct from us, entitled to our pity, or raised above our imitation. The heads of great men, in short, are not all that we want to get a sight of: we wish to add the limbs, the drapery, the background. What would we not give to any modern Cornelius who would enable us to catch a glimpse of Pope through a glass door, leaning thoughtful on his hand, while composing the Rape of the Lock, or the Epistle of Eloisa; or riding by in a chariot with Lord Bolingbroke, or whispering to Patty Blount, or doing the honours of his grotto to Lady Wortley Montague! How much, then, are we not bound to the writer who gives us a portrait of him, with any thing like tolerable fidelity and exactness, in all these circumstances! — We like to visit the birth-place or the burial-place of famous men, to mark down their birthday, or the day on which they died. Cicero's villa, the tomb of Virgil, the house in which Shakespeare was brought up, are objects of romantic interest, and of refined curiosity to the lovers of genius; and a poet's lock of hair, a fac-simile of his handwriting, an ink stand, or a fragment of all old chair belonging to him, are treasured up as relics of literary devotion. These things are thus valued, only because they bring us into a sort of personal contact with such characters; vouch, as it were, for their reality, and convince us that they were living men, as well as mighty minds. Sir Joshua Reynolds relates, that when he was very young, he went to a sale of pictures, and that, shortly after, there was a cry of "Mr. Pope, Mr. Pope!" in the room; when the company made way for him to pass, every one offering his hand in salutation; and that he himself contrived, from where he stood behind, to touch the skirt of his garment. Who, in reading this account, does not extend his hand in involuntary sympathy, and rejoice at this unequivocal testimony and cheerful tribute of applause to living merit, — at this flattering foretaste which the elegant poet received of immortality?
It has been made an objection to the biography of literary men, that the principal events of their lives are their works; and that there is little else to be known of them, either interesting to others, or perhaps creditable to themselves. We do not feel the full force of this objection. It is the very absence of grave transactions or striking vicissitudes that turns our attention more immediately upon themselves, and leaves us at leisure to explore their domestic habits, and descry their little peculiarities of temper. In the intimacy of retirement, we enjoy with them "calm contemplation and poetic ease." We see the careless smile play upon their expressive features: we hear the dictates of unstudied wisdom, or the sallies of sportive wit, fail without disguise from their lips. We draw down genius from it air-built citadel in books and libraries; and make it our play-mate, and our companion. We see how poets and philosophers "live, converse, and behave," like other men. We reduce theory to practice; we translate words into things, and books into men. It is, in short, the ideal and abstracted existence of authors that renders their personal character and private history a subject of so much interest. The difficulty of forming almost any inference at all from what men write to what they are, constitutes the chief value of the problem which the literary biographer undertakes to solve. In passing from the public to the private life of kings, of statesmen and warriors, we have, for the most part, the same qualities and personal character brought into action, and displayed on a larger or a smaller scale, — and can, at all events, make a pretty tolerable guess from one to the other. But we have no means to discover whether the moral Addison was the same scrupulous character in his writings and in his daily habits, but in the anecdotes recorded of him. Sir Isaac Newton's Principia do not imply his verses to his dog Tray; there is nothing to show that the writer of the epistle of Eloise to Abelard was a little, deformed person, or a Papist: nor could we be sure, without the testimony of contemporary writers, that Steele was really the same good-natured easy soul that Isaac Bickerstaff is represented to be. Some of the most popular writers among the ancients, as well as the moderns, (from Plutarch and Montaigne downwards), have accordingly been those who have taken this task of biography occasionally out of the hands of others, and made themselves not the least agreeable part of their subject. It has been observed, that we read the lives of painters and artists with a peculiar relish. And this seems to be, because the traditions that are left of their ordinary habits and turn of mind present them in an entirely new point of view. We had before studied them only in their pictures, and the silent images of their art: but we now learn, for the first time, what to think of them as individuals. If we wait with some uneasiness to see how a celebrated poet or prose writer will acquit himself of a few sentences of common English, it is not surprising if we are still more at a loss what a great painter will have to say for himself, or how he will put his thoughts into words. We attend to him as to some one attempting to speak a foreign language; make allowances for a difference of dialect; or are struck with the unexpected propriety and elegance of tone. It was a long time before people would believe that Sir Joshua Reynolds wrote his own Discourses.
One principal attraction of Boswell's Life of Johnson, is the contrast which, in some respects, it presents to we Doctor's own works. The recollection of the author is a foil to the picture of the man: We are suddenly relieved by the abruptness of his manners and the pithiness of his replies, from the circumlocution and didactic formality of his style. Instead of the pompous commonplaces which he was too much in the habit of piling together, and rounding into periods in his closet, — his behaviour and conversation in company might be described as a continued exercise of spleen, an indulgence of irritable humours, a masterly display of character. He made none but home thrusts, but desperate lounges, but palpable hits. No turgidity; no flaccidness; no bloated flesh: — all was muscular strength and agility. He threw aside the incumbrance of pedantry, and drapery of words. He became a thorough prize-fighter, or, what he himself would term, "an intellectual gladiator:" — threw down no challenge that he was not able and willing to take up; assumed no pretensions that he did not sturdily maintain; descended from the stilts of his style into the arena of common sense and observation, and scuffled with all corners for the mastery: Took all advantages, and gave any odds — came off triumphant when in the right, or made the best of a bad cause — instantly seized the weak side of his adversary's argument — wrested what was doubtful to his purpose — made it a drawn battle with the sturdiest of his rivals — or "fluttered" his politer antagonists "like an eagle in a dovecot!" It was this vigorous and voluntary exercise of his faculties, when freed from all restraint in the intercourse of private society, that has left such a rich harvest for his biographer; and it cannot be denied that it has been well and carefully got in.
The amiable and modest Author of the volume before us, has not been less fortunate in the interest of the principal figure, Pope; nor is the circle of his associates assuredly less brilliant and imposing than that which surrounded Dr Johnson: but he has not been equally bold or happy in the treatment of his subject. The Anecdotes of Pope, compared with Boswell's Memoirs of Johnson, want life and spirit, and connexion. They furnish curious particulars, but minute and disjointed: — they want picturesque grouping and dramatic effect. We have the opinions and sayings of eminent men but they do not grow out of the occasion: we do not know at whose house such a thing happened, nor the effect it had on those who were present. The conversations seldom extend beyond an observation and a reply. We have good things served up in sandwiches; but we do not sit down, as in Boswell, to "an ordinary of fine discourse." — There is no eating and drinking going on. The different characters have labels with certain words on them put into their mouths, with authentic signatures: but that is all. We have nothing like Wilkes's plying Johnson with the best bits at Dilly's table, and overcoming his Tory prejudices by the good things he offered, and the good things he said: Nor does any Goldsmith drop in after tea with his peach-coloured coat, like one dropped from the clouds, bewildered with his finery and the success of a new work! One never has the idea, as Dunning said to Sir Joshua Reynolds of one of his literary parties, that, while these people were talking, all the rest of the world was quiet. Each person is limited to sentence, at a time; and the sense, for want of the context, is often imperfect. There is a gap between each conclusion, and at the end of every paragraph we have a new labour to begin. They are not scenes, but soliloquies, with which we are presented: And in reading through the book, we do not seem travelling along a road, but crossing a series of stepping stones: consequently, we do not get on fast with it. It is made up of shreds and patches, and not cut out of the entire piece some shreds like the little caps into which the tailor in Don Quixote cut his cloth, and held them up at his fingers' ends. In a word, the living scene does not pass before us; — we have notes and slips of paper handed out by one of the company, but we are not ourselves admitted to their presence, nor made witnesses of the fray. There is mention made of the manner in which Addison passed his time at home, at Button's, and at Wills's. This indeed was before Mr. Spence's time; but Boswell would have followed him to all those places, and brought away from the survivors all that was said at them, in the order of time, place, and person. Spence was as well contented to make a few memorandums at secondhand.
Boswell was probably an inferior man to Spence; — but he was a far better collector of anecdotes, and the very prince, indeed, of retail wits and philosophers; so that, with all possible sense of the value of what he has done, we sometimes can hardly help wishing that he had lived in the time of Pope, instead of our own. For, to confess the truth, there is scarcely any period of our literature on which we delight so much to dwell, or to which we so often seek to return, as the one to which these pages are devoted. Whatever we may think of the greater lights of a former age, there was none in which literary men were so much to be envied, (if not admired) — or in which, perhaps, familiarity of approach would so little lessen our idea of their importance. It was the acme of intellectual refinement and civilization; equally remote from Gothic barbarism and vulgar abuse. Poetry, from being a dream of faery land, had taken shelter in the walks of real life. It had left the heights of fancy, to "stoop to truth, and moralize its song." Instead of dazzling the reader with ecstasies, or startling him with chimeras, it now sought merely to embellish familiar objects, to laugh at petty follies, and to lend the charms of verse and the colours of the imagination to the commonest events. The style both of poetry and prose was grown classical and courtly. It seemed as if the Muses, and the Graces, leaving their august abodes, had deserted Mount Parnassus for Windsor Forest and Hampton Court — had thence slipped down to their favourite villa at Twickenham — and had turned aside again at Whitehall stairs, only stopping on this side Temple Bar, — with a train of wit, beauty, fashion, rank and learning, following them, — with lords of the bed-chamber for their gentlemen-ushers, and peeresses of the realm for their maids of honour. Pope was one of those who was admitted into the centre of this circle, and who received and gave new lustre to it. He was the poet-laureate of polished life. His most graceful verses were laid on the toilette of beauty; his most beautiful compositions were offered up on the altar of friendship. The list of his friends and favourites includes almost all that was distinguished in his day. To sound their praises, we need only name those who are recorded in these pages — "familiar in our mouths as household names," — or whom Gay has summoned to welcome Pope's return to shore after his Grecian voyage, in a poem on his finishing the Iliad — Garth, Walsh, Atterbury, Steele, Swift, Addison, Arbuthnot, Prior, Parnell, Congreve, Jervas, Kneller, Bolingbroke, Granville, Oxford, Halifax, Murray, Berkeley, Warburton, Lady Wortley Montague, Queensberry's Dutchess, Belle Fermor, and "youth's youngest daughter, sweet Le Pel." And is there not a charm in all these names, that still rises like a steam of rich distilled perfumes over the places that they knew and loved — a sound that must for ever echo on the banks of Thames, while learning, genius, and eloquence, continue to be honoured, — that calls up a throng of lovely mortal faces, and of bright immortal heads, to hover round us as we loiter in the shades of Twickenham, or muse over the pages in which all their glories are enshrined? But we must put an end to these raptures, and submit to give our readers some account of the work before us. For this purpose, we will transcribe a few of the first paragraphs, which immediately relate to Pope.
"SECTION I. 1728-30. — Garth talked in a less libertine manner than he had been used to do, about the three last years of his life. But he was rather doubtful and fearful, than religious. It was usual for him to say, 'That if there was any such thing as religion, 'twas among the Roman Catholics,' — probably from the greater efficacy we give the sacraments. He died a Papist; as I was assured by Mr. Blount, who carried the Father to him in his last hours. He did not take any care of himself in his last illness; and had talked, for three or four years, as one tired of life: in short, I believe he was willing let it go. — P. (that is, Pope.)"
"Wycherley died a Romanist, and has owned that religion in my hearing. — It was generally thought by this gentleman's friends, that he lost his memory by old age: it was not by age, but by accident, as he himself told me often. He remembered as well at sixty years as he had done ever since forty, when a fever occasioned that loss to him. — P."
"Prior was not a right good man. He used to bury himself, for whole days and nights together, with a poor mean creature (his Chloe); and often drank hard. He turned from a strong Whig (which he had been when most with Lord Halifax) to a violent Tory: and did not care to converse with any Whigs after, any more than Rowe did with Tories. — P."
"Sir John Suckling was an immoral man, as well as debauched. The story of the French cards was told me by the late Duke of Buckingham: and he had it from old Lady Dorset herself. That lady took a very odd pride in boasting of her familiarities with Sir John Suckling. She is the Mistress and Goddess in his poems: and several of those pieces were given by herself to the printer. This the Duke of Buckingham used to give as one instance of the fondness she had to let the world know how well they were acquainted. — P."
"Sir John Suckling was a man of great vivacity and spirit. He died about the beginning of the Civil War; and his death was occasioned by a very uncommon accident. He entered warmly into the King's interests; and was sent over to the Continent by him, with some letters of great consequence, to the Queen. He arrived late at Calais: and in the night his servant ran away with his portmanteau, in which was his money and papers. When he was told of this in the morning, he immediately inquired which way his servant had taken, ordered his horses to be got ready instantly, and in pulling on his boots, found one of them extremely uneasy to him; but as the horses were at the door, he leaped into the saddle, and forgot his pain. He pursued his servant so eagerly, that he overtook him two or three posts off; recovered his portmanteau; and goon after complained of a vast pain in one of his feet, and fainted away with it. When they came to pull off his boots to fling him into bed, they found one of them full of blood. It seems his servant (who knew his master's temper well, and was sure he would pursue him as soon as his villany should be discovered) had driven a nail up into one of his boots, in hopes of disabling him from pursuing him. Sir John's impetuosity made him regard the pain only just at first: and his pursuit turned him from the thoughts of it for some time after. However, the wound was so bad and so much inflamed, that it flung him into a violent fever, which ended his life in a very few days. This incident, strange as it may seem, might be proved from some original letters in Lord Oxford's collection. — P."
"It was a general opinion, that Ben Jonson and Shakespear lived in enmity against one another. Betterton has assured me often, that there was nothing in it: and that such a supposition was founded only on the two parties, which in their lifetime listed under one, and endeavoured to lessen the character of the other mutually. — Dryden used to think that the verses Jonson made on Shakespear's death, had something of satire at the bottom: for my part, I can't discover any thing like it in them. — P."
"Lord Rochester was of a very bad turn of mind, as well as debauched. [From the Duke of Buckingham and others that knew him.] — P."
The reader will here find, in the course of the first five pages, a pretty good specimen of what he may expect — the literary tittle-tattle of the age, and the traditional gossipping of the preceding half-century. The spirit of the remarks an anecdotes, it must be confessed, is rather censorious, and the mention that is made of a number of well known names not the most favourable to them. But a good deal of it is hearsay — and, like other scandals, probably not very accurate. It is rather remarkable, that we have three instances together of poets who were Roman Catholics at this period — Garth, Wycherley, and Pope himself. The reason assigned for Garth's predilection for this faith, viz. "the greater efficacy which it gives to the sacraments," does not appear to be very obvious or satisfactory. Popery is, in its essence, and by its very constitution, a religion of outward form and ceremony, full of sound and show, recommending itself by the charm of music, the solemnity of pictures, the pomp of dress, the magnificence of buildings, by the dread of power, and the allurements of pleasure. It strikes upon the senses studiously, and in every way; it appeals to the imagination; it enthrals the passions; it infects by sympathy has age, has authority, has numbers on its side; and exacts implicit faith in its inscrutable mysteries and its gaudy symbols: — it is, in a word, the religion of fancy, as Protestantism is the religion of philosophy, and of faith chastised by a more sober reason. It is not astonishing, therefore, that at a period when the nation and the government had been so lately distracted by the contest between the old and the new religion, poets were found to waver between the two, or were often led away by that which flattered their love of the marvellous and the splendid. Any of these reasons, we think, is more likely, than "the greater efficacy given to the sacraments" in that communion, to explain why so many poets, without much religion, as Garth, Wycherley, Pope, Dryden, Crashaw, should be fascinated by the glittering bait of Popery, and lull their more serious feelings asleep in the torpor of its harlot-embraces. — A minute, but voluminous critic of our time, has laboured hard to show, that to this list should be added the name of Massinger. But the proofs adduced in support of this conjecture are extremely inconclusive. Among others, the writer insists on the profusion of crucifixes, glories, angelic visions, garlands of roses, and clouds of incense scattered through the "Virgin-Martyr" as evidence of the theological sentiments meant to be inculcated by this play; when the least reflection might have taught him, that they proved nothing but his author's poetical conception of the character and costume of his subject: A writer might, with the same sinister shrewdness, be suspected of Heathenism for talking of Flora and Ceres, in a poem on the Seasons; and what are produced as the exclusive badges of Catholic bigotry, are nothing but the adventitious ornaments and external emblems, — the gross and sensible language, — in a word, the poetry of Christianity in general. What indeed shows the frivolousness of the whole inference, is, that Deckar, who is asserted by our critic to have contributed some of the most passionate and fantastic of these devotional scenes, is not even accused of a leaning to Popery.
To return to our Anecdotes. — The next that occur are of three narrow escapes which Pope had for his life; the first, when he was a child, from a mad cow; and the two others, after he was grown up, once from a stupid coachman, and the second time from six run-away horses. What immediately follows is of more importance; and the latter part of it is highly creditable to the feelings of Pope. Indeed, the whole volume leaves a very favourable impression in this Aspect. "Besides these, his perpetual application (after he set to study of himself) reduced him in four years' time to so bad a state of health, that after trying physicians for a good while in vain, he resolved to give way to his distemper; and sat down calmly, in full expectation of death in a short time. Under this thought, he wrote letters to take a last farewell of some of his more particular friends; and, among the rest, one to the Abbe Southcote. The Abbe was extremely concerned, both for his very ill state of health, and the resolution he said he had taken. He thought there might yet be hopes; and went immediately to Dr. Radcliffe, with whom he was well acquainted; told him Mr. Pope's case; got full directions from him, and carried them down to Mr. Pope in Windsor Forest. The chief thing the Doctor ordered him, was to apply less, and to ride every day: the following his advice soon restored him to his health. — It was about twenty years after this, that Mr. Pope heard of an abbey's being like to be vacant in the most delightful part of France, near Avignon; and what some common friend was saying, would be the most desirable establishment in the world for Father Southcote. Mr. Pope took no farther notice of the matter on the spot; but sent a letter the next morning to Sir Robert Walpole (with whom he had then some degree of friendship), and begged him to write to Cardinal Fleury to get the abbey for Southcote. The affair met with some delay (on account of our Court having just then settled a pension on Father Courayer), but succeeded at last; and Southcote was made abbot. — P."
This story is given from Pope himself, and little doubt can be entertained of the authenticity of the particulars; and it shows the scrupulous gratitude with which benefits and kindnesses dwelt upon his memory, till the obligation was discharged in the most delicate and effectual manner. Yet this is the man whose name has been familiarly coupled with every sort of vituperative epithet, and who has been often and successfully represented as a compound of spleen, envy, meanness, and ingratitude. Is it our self-love, our envy, or our cowardice, that is so prone to take the scandalous side in such questions? In spite of the admiration we feel for his talents, — in spite of the affection which his friends may have testified for his virtues, we are still strangely inclined to take our idea of an author's private character from the abuse of those who were entire strangers, or professed enemies to him, who envied him for his reputation, and dreaded him for his wit, as if dulness, malice, and ignorance, were the only competent witnesses to merit. Pope was a man whose general conduct through life was amiable, inoffensive, and generous. What then? The heroes of the Dunciad discovered that the initials and final letter of his name composed the syllable A. P. E.; and Lady Wortley Montague, who despised his person, would persuade us that his mind was answerable to it!
The following passages, though the substance of them has been already made public, throw some new light on the history of his early life and studies.
"Mr. Pope said, that he was seven years unlearning what he had got (from about twenty to twenty-seven.) He should have travelled, had it not been for his ill health, (and on every occasion that offered had a desire to travel, to the very end of his life.) His first education was at the seminary at Twiford, near Winchester. — P."
"I wrote things — I'm ashamed to say how soon. Part of an epic poem, when about twelve. (Deucalion was the hero of it.) The scene of it lay at Rhodes, and some of the neighbouring islands; and the poem opened under water, with a description of the Court of Neptune. That couplet on the circulation of the blood in the Dunciad was originally in this poem, word for word, as it is now.
"I was acquainted with Betterton from a boy. — P."
"Wycherley was Mr. Pope's first poet-friend, and Walsh his next. — Mannick."
"Mr. Pope was but a little while under his master at Twiford. He wrote extremely young; and, among other things, a satire on that gentleman, for some faults he had discovered in him. — M."
"He set out to learn Latin and Greek by himself about twelve: and, when he was fifteen, he resolved that he would go up to London and learn French and Italian. We in the family looked upon it as a wildish sort of resolution: for as his health would not lot him travel, we could not see any reason for it. He stuck to it; went thither; and mastered both those languages with a surprising despatch. Almost every thing of this kind was of his own acquiring. He had had masters indeed, but they were very indifferent ones; and what he got was almost wholly owing to his own unassisted industry. — M."
"He was a child of a particularly sweet temper, and had a great deal of sweetness in his look when he was a boy. This is very evident in the picture drawn for him when about ten years old; in which his face is round, plump, pretty, and of a fresh complexion. I have often heard Mrs. Pope say, that he was then exactly like that picture. I have often been told, that it was the perpetual application he fell into, about two years afterwards, that changed his form and ruined his constitution. The laurel branch in that picture was not inserted originally; but was added long after, by Jervas. — M."
It would be curious if this were correctly true; and would vary, in some respects, our usual idea of Pope, which implies that he owed some of the fineness of his mind to the original tenderness of his constitution; whereas it would appear, that he was worn down and twisted into that wrinkled, feeble form, by his too eager pursuit, and early love of learning.
"My brother was whipped and ill-used at Twiford school for his satire on his master, and taken from thence on that account. I never saw him laugh very heartily in all my life." — Mrs. Racket, speaking of Mr. Pope. Spence himself adds, that "he seldom went beyond a particular easy smile."
We will throw together in this connexion a few more particulars of nearly the same date, which are scattered about the original work, without any attempt at order.
"Mr. Pope's first education was under a priest, and I think his name was Banister. He set out with the design of teaching him Greek and Latin together. 'I was then,' says Pope, 'about eight years old, had learnt to read of an old aunt, and to write by copying printed books. After having been under that priest about a a year, I was sent to the seminary at Twiford, and then to a school by Hyde-Park Corner; and with the two latter masters lost what I had gained under the first. — About twelve years old, I went with my father into the Forest, and there learnt, for a few months, under a fourth priest. This was all the teaching I ever had; and God knows, it extended a very little way.
"'When I had done with my priests, I took to reading by myself, for which I had a very great eagerness and enthusiasm, especially for poetry: and in a few years I had dipped into a great number of the English, French, Italian, Latin, and Greek poets. This I did without any other design, but, that of pleasing myself: and got the languages, by hunting after the stories in the several poets I read; rather than read the books to get the languages. I followed everywhere as my fancy led me; and was like a boy gathering flowers in the fields and woods, just as they fall in his way. — These five or six years I still look upon as the happiest part of my life.
"'In these rambles of mine through the poets, when I met with a passage or story, that pleased me more than ordinary, I used to endeavour to imitate it, or translate it into English; and this gave rise to my Imitations published so long after. — P.' [He named, among other books he then read, the Criticisms of Rapin and Bossu: and these might be what led him to write his Essay on Criticism. He used to mention Quintilian, too, as an old favourite author with him. — Spence.]"
We have next the now well known account of the origin and progress of the Rape of the Lock. We are more surprised afterwards to learn, that
"Mr. Addison was the person who chiefly encouraged Mr. Pope in his design of translating the Iliad, which was begun that year (1712) and finished in 1718, when he was thirty. When very young, he tells us, he wrote 'something towards a tragedy, and afterwards an entire one;' the latter founded on a story in the Legend of St Genevieve. Betterton advised him to turn his Epic poem into a tragedy; but on seeing more of the town, he took a strong resolution against writing for the stage, from seeing how much it subjected those who did, to the caprice of the players and the audience. Of his Epic poem, which was mentioned at p. 24, we have a further notice at p. 197, section V., where we learn that the hero of it was 'a second Deucalion, not the husband of Pyrrha. I had flung,' says Pope, quaintly enough, 'all my learning into it, as indeed Milton has done too much in his Paradise Lost. The Bishop of Rochester, not many years ago, advised me to burn it: I saw his advice was well grounded, and followed it, — though not without some regret.'"
The reader may now have a tolerable idea of the information he is likely to derive from this work, respecting the literary history of our poet. The worst of it is, that it is cut up into so many little compartments, and that the greater part of it is no longer new; for, having lain so long in manuscript, to which his more favoured Editors had access, most of the particulars had already transpired and become familiar to the public ear, in their prefaces and annotations. The anecdotes of Pope's conversation, as they relate to his individual opinions, are of course more specific and minute, and proportionably more original and curious; but they, too, are given in a dry, meagre, and cramped manner, in solitary sentences or laconic replies; and for want of the context and circumstances, the spirit of conversation evaporates, and the continuity of reasoning is lost. Still they have the great recommendation of being authentic; and we are thankful for whatever we can get from so interesting a source. In reading any such account of Pope's opinions, it is scarcely necessary to remark, that nothing can shake our opinion of him as an author. He is certainly one of the fixed stars in the firmament of English literature; and what he has written is so complete, so decisive, and so unrivalled in itself, as to be proof against any report of what he might say or think in other respects. But, fortunately, there is little in the account here given to disturb our settled idea of him. His critical or general opinions argue a sound, intelligent, subtle and active mind, somewhat too intent on niceties and forms (but that we should expect from him); and what appears lame or unsatisfactory, should be imputed either to the timidity of the reporters or the habitual reserve of the speaker, in not bringing out and making the most of an idea. The nucleus of fine thought is there; and we will be bold to add, of sound taste, — though with some necessary allowances for a natural bias to his own peculiar style of composition. His feelings as to poetry, are certainly rather liberal than exclusive; and his scale of excellence has a larger range than we should have expected, though leaning to correctness and delicacy. It was natural that he should feel most pleasure from those beauties in the works of others, which were the greatest ornaments of his own. But his understanding was not blinded or made intolerant by his genius; and his occasional backwardness to allow their full praise to merits of a different character, was not affected, but sincere. It was a weakness, not a vice. There is, no doubt, what will be called a want of enthusiasm; but, perhaps, after all, if he had admired what others admire more warmly, he would himself have left us less to admire. At that rate, it is better as it is. It is of more importance that there should be one person found out of millions to write the Rape of the Lock, than that there should be one person more added to the thousands who admire, or say they admire, the Paradise Lost! To proceed with our task of quotation.
"Waller, Spenser, and Dryden, were Mr. Pope's great favourites in the order they are named, in his reading till he was about twelve years old."
The meaning of this passage is not very clear. It has been currently said, that Pope used to express his distaste for Spenser by making it a rule to ask people, "Whether they had ever read the Faery Queen through!" How far this was from being the case, will appear from his own words as here recorded, p. 296.
"After reading a canto of Spenser two or three days ago to an old lady, between seventy and eighty years of age, she said that I had been showing her a gallery of pictures. I don't know how it is, but she said very right. There is something in Spenser that pleases one as strongly in one's old age, as it did in one's youth. I read the Faerie Queene, when I was about twelve, with infinite delight; and I think it gave me as much, when I read it over about a year or two ago. — P."
The date of this memorandum is 1743-4, a year before Pope's death. What he says of Chaucer is equally orthodox, and to the purpose.
"I read Chaucer still with as much pleasure as almost any of our poets. He is a master of manners, of description, and the first taleteller in the true enlivened natural way. — P." p. 19.
These observations show a very different acquaintance with, and taste for, our earlier poets, from that evinced by Addison; who (it is here said, on the authority of Pope) in his Epistle to Sacheverel, "gave the characters of our best poets only by hearsay. Thus, his character of Chaucer is diametrically opposite to the truth: he blames him for want of humour. The character he gives of Spenser is false too: and I have heard him say, that he never read Spenser till fifteen years after he wrote it." — Pope.
"The design of the Memoirs of Scriblerus, was to have ridiculed all the false tastes in learning, under the character of a man of capacity enough; that had dipped into every art and science, but injudiciously in each. It was begun by a club of some of the greatest wits of the age — Lord Oxford, the Bishop of Rochester, Mr. Pope, Congreve, Arbuthnot, Swift, and others. Gay often held the pen: and Addison liked it very well, and was not disinclined to come into it. The deipnosophy consisted of disputes on ridiculous tenets of all sorts: and the adventure of the Shield was designed against Dr. Woodward and the Antiquaries. It was Anthony Henley who wrote 'The Life of his music-master Tom Durfy;' a chapter by way of episode. It was from a part of these Memoirs that Dr. Swift took his first hints for Gulliver. There were pigmies in Schreibler's Travels; and the projects of Laputa. The design was curried on much farther than has appeared in print; and was stopped by some of the gentlemen being dispersed, or otherwise engaged, (about the year, 1715)." — P.
In the same page we have the following note or memorandum. — "That idea of the Picturesque, from the swan just gilded with the sun amidst the shade of a tree over the water" — P. (on the Thames.) — Which shows an eye for, and a knowledge of, the nature of the picturesque. A little after he adds, — "A tree is a nobler object than a prince in his coronation robes." p. 11.
These comparisons, which are common in morality, are not, we confess, to our taste, and are generally suspicious. They show, that amidst trees and other such rural objects, the mind is thinking of princes in their coronation robes; and trying to elevate itself above them, as if they were the rude natural standard of sublimity. The very assertion, indeed, betrays its insincerity. A courtier at a levee does not say to himself, or remark to any one about him — "A prince in his coronation robes is a nobler object than a tree!"
"Education leads us from the admiration of beauty in natural objects, to the admiration of artificial or customary excellence. I don't doubt but that a thorough-bred lady might admire the stars, because they twinkle like so many candles at a birth-night." — P.
This is finely thought; and very characteristic: — though the idea might be turned maliciously against himself, and made to account (not in the least satisfactory manner) for his own style of poetry, and the factitious but sparkling light his imagination lends to nature. The following are also very good, and, for the most part, perfectly true and profound.
"As L'Esprit, La Rochefoucault, and that sort of people, prove that all virtues are disguised vices; I would engage to prove all vices to be disguised virtues. Neither, indeed, is true: but this would be a more agreeable subject, and would overturn their whole scheme. — P."
"Arts are taken from nature; and, after a thousand vain efforts for improvements, are best when they return to their first simplicity.
"That which is not just in buildings is disagreeable to the eye; as a greater upon a slighter, &c. This he called the reasoning of the eye.
"In laying out a garden, the first thing to be considered is the genius of the place. Thus at Riskin's, for example, Lord Bathurst should have raised two or three mounts: because his situation is all a plain, and nothing can please without variety. — P."
"The mass of mankind are generally right in their judgment: at least they have a very good mediocre taste. As to higher things, it requires pains to distinguish justly: they are not fit for the crowd; and even to offer such to them, is giving caviare to the multitude. — P."
"There is no one study that is not capable of delighting us after a little application to it. 'How true of even so dry a study as Antiquities?' Yes; I have experienced that myself. I once got deep into Graevius, and was taken greatly with it; so far, as to write a treatise in Latin, collected from the writers in Graevius, on the Old Buildings in Rome. It is now in Lord Oxford's hands, and has been so these fifteen years. — P."
"At this day, as much company as I have kept, and as much as I love it, I love reading better. I would rather be employed in reading than in the most agreeable conversation. — P."
"Mr. Pope thought himself the better, in some respects, for not having had a regular education. He (as he observed in particular) read originally for the sense; whereas we are taught, for so many years, to read only for words. — P."
"'The great secret how to write well, is to know thoroughly what fine writes about, and not to be affected.' Or, as he expressed the same thing afterwards in other words, 'to write naturally, and from one's own knowledge.' — P."
"'The nobleman-look.' Yes, I know what you mean very well; that look which a nobleman should have, rather than what they have generally now. The Duke of Buckingham (Sheffield) was a genteel man; and had a great deal the look you speak of. Wycherley was a very genteel man; and had the nobleman-look as much as the Duke of Buckingham. — P. [He instanced it too in Lord Peterborough, Lord Bolingbroke, Lord Hinchinbroke, the Duke of Bolton, and two or three more.] — Spence.
"When Cowley grew sick of the Court, he took a house first at Battersea, then at Barnes, and then at Chertsey; always farther and farther from town. In the latter part of his life, he showed a sort of aversion for women; and would leave the room when they came in: 'twas probably from a disappointment in love. He was much in love with his Leonora: who is mentioned at the end of that good ballad of his, on his different Mistresses. She was married to Dean Sprat's brother; and Cowley never was in love with any body after. — P."
"The following epigram was made by Rowe, upon Phil. Frowd's uncle, when he was writing his tragedy of Cinna—
Frowd for his precious soul cares not a pin-a;
For he can now do nothing else but Cin-na.
"I thought (said some one) Rowe had been too grave to write such things? — He! why, he would laugh all day long! he would do nothing else but laugh. — P."
"Bacon and Locke did not follow the common paths, but beat out new ones; and you see what good they have done: but much more is wanting. — P."
"Yes, I really think Betterton the best actor I ever saw; but I ought to tell you at the same time, that in Betterton's days the older sort of people talked of Harte's being his superior; just as we do of Betterton's being superior to those now. — P."
"The king (George I.) was heard to say in the drawing room, upon the falling of the South-Sea stock — 'We had very good luck; for we sold out last week.' — P."
"Kings now (except the king of Sardinia) are the worst things upon earth. They are turned mere tradesmen; cauponantes bellum; non belligerantes. — P."
The flattest things of Pope's in the volume, are what he appeared to have borrowed from Lord Bolingbroke; who had somehow obtained an extraordinary ascendancy over him, and led his understanding blindfold, by a parade of words and flimsy pretensions to a higher sort of wisdom. The true way indeed to seem wise, and to dictate your opinions to others, is to pretend to understand what both they and you are entirely in the dark about. They cannot well detect the cheat, and in the mean time are staggered by the pompous and vapid assumption of mental superiority. Lord Bolinghroke is throughout overrated; he is called the finest writer of his age, and his opinion is appealed to as oracular on all subjects, on no other ground, as we imagine, than the one here staled. Burke long since asked, "Who reads Bolingbroke now?" and his art in conversation appears to have consisted in talking upon subjects supposed to be beyond the reach of his hearers, and in deciding confidently upon moot points in philosophy. Thus, for instance—
"As to our senses, we are made in the best manner that we possibly could. If we were so formed as to see into the most minute configuration of a post, we should break our shins against it. We see for use, and not for curiosity. Was our sight so fine as to pierce into the internal make of things, we should distinguish all the fine ducts and the contrivances of each canal for the conveyance of the juices in every one of those leaves: but then we should lose this beautiful prospect: it would be only a heap and confusion to the eye. — Lord B."
Now, this no more follows, than that it is impossible for the eye to be so constructed (as it now is) as to see a leaf and a mountain at the same time. If there were none but short-sighted people, it would be quite accurate, according to this way of reasoning, to conclude, that there could be no other. But on what grounds does the noble Lord assume that there could not he a race of beings with their organs so constituted as to take in both extremes of near and remote; to unite the powers of the telescope and the microscope together? To say so, would he a most impious and unphilosophical limitation of the power of Providence within bounds which even the art of man has surpassed. It is true, we are not so made; and we do not know of any creature that is so made: but it is plainly quite absurd to conclude from this, that it is impossible we should have been so made. Again, even allowing the incompatibility of different advantages with a given conformation, how does this prove that the particular conformation we happen to possess is the best of all others? By changing it, we should lose something, and gain something; but how do we know that we might not gain much more than we lose? The proposition, in short, does not make for a system of optimism, but of indifference — for a balance of blessings, not an exclusive claim of superiority. There are other beings in the world differently constituted from us, all benevolently and wisely, and for their good, no doubt, each in their kind and degree; some lower in the scale of existence than ourselves; and some higher. — That we are here, and for our good, is all that we are bound to. believe, or permitted to know of our present state: but to maintain that our present condition, either moral or physical, is the best possible, — and that it could receive neither addition nor alteration that would not be for the worse, is to be "wise above what is written," and is one of those scholastic interpolations on the genuine text of common sense and true piety, in which there is neither religion nor philosophy, neither wisdom nor humility. In such writers as Lord Bolingbroke too, we must say that all this looks very much like an attempt to patronize Providence; and to persuade us that we need not despair, since they are able to reconcile all doubts and difficulties by their superior lights and condescending approbation of its rules and modes of proceeding. Of such idle maxims and vain sophistry, is the greatest part of the Essay on Man composed; in which Pope did nothing more than translate into sounding verse Lord Bolingbroke's hollow reasonings; who unhappily thought himself admitted, by some peculiar privilege, into the cabinet council of Nature; and set about balancing the laws of the Universe, as he might have done the interests of some petty state in Germany. But there are always men of this description who, by aspiring to a certain character in society, are sure enough to obtain it; and who, with the aid of a little plausible talent, personal address, fortune, title, or influence, may put forward any claims they please on public opinion, and have them acknowledged. A man of Lord Bolingbroke's rank might set up for a philosopher, a wit, or a critic, just as he would set up his coach, or set up for Member of Parliament. His peerage is a guarantee for his philosophy — and his elegant manners for the fineness of his taste. If an argument is light, a landed estate is thrown into the scale as a make-weight: a showy figure, and a glittering equipage supply whatever might be wanting in force or beauty of style: and to judge of a noble author by his sentiments or expressions alone, would be mere rudeness and pedantry. We do not mean, however, to speak of Lord Bolingbroke as nobody: if so, words would be wasted on his character. He was a considerable man in his day; but at present we can do, and we do without him. He was an active statesman, an eloquent speaker, a fine writer: but he wanted to be more than all this — a deep philosopher, and a founder of a system of metaphysics — which he was not. If he had been contented to be thought what he was, he would probably have come down to us as one of the most accomplished men of his age: as it is, we look upon him as little better than a pretender. Let no one go about to deceive posterity: for they will make him pay dear for the attempt! There was Berkeley: No one talks of him in this book, or of his superior insight into the mysteries of human nature; yet Bolingbroke on these questions was a clown and a mountebank to him. Pope indeed gives a shrewd guess at the real character of his Lordship's genius, where he says, in answer to a question asked him, "Does Lord Bolingbroke understand Hebrew?" "No, but he understands that sort of learning, and what is wrote about it." p. 178: — and afterwards he says, "Lord Bolingbroke is not deep either in pictures, statues, or architecture." p. 210.
Lord Peterborough is a character of whom much amusing anecdote is given in this volume, and who might serve as a contrast to Lord Bolingbroke. He was as free from affectation as Lord B. was full of it. Pope thus describes them.
"Lord Peterborough was not near so great a genius as Lord Bolingbroke. — They were quite unlike. Lord Peterborough, for instance, in the case just mentioned, would say pretty and lively things in his letters; but they would be rather too gay and wandering: whereas, was Lord Bolingbroke to write to the emperor or to the statesman, he would fix on that point which was the most material; and would set it in the strongest and finest light, and manage it so as to make it the most serviceable to his purpose. — P."
Lord Peterborough, indeed, was one of the most eccentric and original characters that belong to recent history — restless, gallant, witty, friendly, enterprising and gay: he was the greatest traveller, the bravest soldier, the boldest negotiator, and the most sprightly talker of his age — and all this with the weakest health, and most ticklish constitution. Swift seems to have understood him better than Pope, who speaks thus of him.
"'Tis amazing how Lord Peterborough keeps up his spirits, under so violent and painful an illness as he is afflicted with. When I went down into Hampshire to see him, a few weeks ago, I did not get to him till the dusk of the evening: he was sitting on his couch, and entertaining all the company with as much sprightliness of conversation, as if he had been perfectly well; and, when the candles were brought in, I was amazed to see that he looked more like a ghost than a living creature. — Dying as he was, he went from thence to Bristol, and it was there that it was declared that he had no chance for a recovery, but by going through the torture of a very uncommon chirurgical operation; and that, even with it, there was a great many more chances against him than for him. However, he would go through it; and the very day after set out from Bristol for Bath, in spite of all that St. Andre and the physicians could say to him — Pope. — It was some time after this that I saw him at Kensington. I was admitted into his ruelle (for he kept his bed), and every body thought he could not last above five or six days longer and yet his first speech to me was, 'Sir, you have travelled, and know the places; I am resolved to go abroad; which of the two would you think best for me to go, Lisbon or Naples?' That very day he would rise to sit at dinner with us; and in a little time after actually went to Lisbon — Spence."
The following are some of the sayings recorded of him.
"'A general is only a hangman in chief.' They had been just speaking of General Cadogan and his father.
"'I would willingly live to give that rascal (Burnet) the lie in half his history.' — Lord P. [He had marked both the volumes in several parts of the margin, and carried them with him to Lisbon. — Pope.]"
"I took a trip once with Penn to his colony of Pensylvania. The laws there are contained in a small volume; and are so extremely good, that there has been no alteration wanted in any one of them, ever since Sir William made them. — They have no lawyers. Every one is to tell his own case, or some friend for him; they have four persons, as Judges, on the bench; and after the case has been fully laid down, on all sides, all the four draw lots: and he on whom the lot falls decides the question. 'Tis a fine country; and the people are neither oppressed with poor's-rates, tythes, nor taxes. — Lord P."
"Lord Peterborough, after a visit to the Archbishop (Fenelon), said, 'He was cast in a particular mould, that was never used for any body else: he is a delicious creature! But I was forced to get away from him as fast as I possibly could; else he would have made me pious!'"
This last anecdote is given on the authority of the Chevalier Ramsay, the author of the Travels of Cyrus, who figures in the present collection as a person of great loquacity. He relates some things characteristic of others, as well as of himself. Take, for example, the following.
"The Archbishop (of Cambray) asked Mr. Ramsay once, 'What the English said of Locke.' Ramsay told him that his acquaintance from England commended Locke extremely for a clear head, and a fine way of reasoning: they said he saw the surfaces of a vast number of things very plainly; but that he did not pierce deep into any of them: 'In short, my Lord,' says Ramsay, 'I take him by their account, to be much like the Bishop of Meaux,' (Bossuet.) The Archbishop stopped him short; told him that he was not sufficiently acquainted with the talents of the Bishop of Meaux; and then run out into a panegyric of that prelate, in all the particulars where his character would bear it. It was thus that he revenged himself on his enemies. — Ramsay."
Nothing, we think, can be more exquisite than this critical masquerading, where the Chevalier gives so satisfactory an account of Mr. Locke's proficiency in the surfaces of the sciences, and the Archbishop so candidly defends his rival, the Bishop of Meaux, from being confounded with so superficial a reasoner! The dialogue is consummate; and it is French. Fenelon, indeed, sometimes strikes us as too intent upon representing all the cardinal virtues with effect. But the following little incident shows him in a most agreeable light. It is a genuine instance of politeness, without any mixture of affected or ridiculous ostentation in it.
"The Archbishop was void of all formality, and full of the truest, politeness; that of making every body easy about him. — One day there were two German noblemen at his table, who, when they were to drink to the Archbishop, to show their respect to him, rose out of their seats; and stood all the while they were drinking to him, according to the custom of their own country. Some young French officers, who were at the table at the same time, could scarcely contain themselves from bursting out into a laugh at such a novelty. The Archbishop gave them a gentle reprimand by his look; called for wine; and stood up and drank to the Germans in the same manner that they had done to him. The officers afterwards owned how much they were ashamed of themselves; and that they immediately felt how greatly the Archbishop's humanity was preferable to that customary sort of politeness of which alone they had had any idea until that time. — Ramsay."
We shall conclude our extracts with a few particulars of some of Pope's contemporaries of less general notoriety. Among the first of these, we would place Dean Lockier, a man of sense, shrewdness, and spirit. Besides his intimacy with a number of celebrated characters, there is a promptitude and boldness in many of his remarks that will recommend him to most of our readers.
"I was about seventeen when I first came up to town, an odd looking boy, with short rough hair, and that sort of awkwardness which one always brings up at first out of the country with one. However, in spite of my bashfulness and appearance, I used now and then to thrust myself into Wills's, to have the pleasure of seeing the most celebrated wits of that time, who then resorted thither. The second time that ever I was there, Mr. Dryden was speaking of his own things, as he frequently did, especially of such as had been lately published. 'If any thing of mine is good,' says he, ''tis Mac-Flecno; and I value myself the more upon it, because it is the first piece of ridicule written in Heroics.' On hearing this I plucked up my spirit so far as to say, in a voice but just loud enough to be heard, that 'Mac-Flecno was a very fine poem; but that I had not imagined it to be the first that ever was writ that way.' On this, Dryden turned short upon me, as surprised at my interposing; asked me how long I had been a dealer in poetry; and added, with is smile, 'Pray, Sir, what is it that you did imagine to have been writ so before?' I named Boileau's Lutrin, and Tassoni's Secchia Rapita; which I had read, and knew Dryden had borrowed some strokes from each. — ''Tis true,' said Dryden, 'I had forgot them.' — A little after, Dryden went out, and in going, spoke to me again, and desired me to come and see him the next day. I was highly delighted with the invitation; went to see him accordingly and was well acquainted with him after, as long as he lived. — Dr. Lockier."
Dryden allowed the Rehearsal to have a great many good strokes in it 'though so severe,' added he, 'upon myself; but I can't help saying, that Smith and Johnson are two of the coolest, most insignificant fellows I ever met with on the stage.' This, if it was not spoke out of resentment, betrayed great want of judgment.; for Smith and Johnson are men of sense, and should certainly say but little to such stuff; only enough to make Bays show on. — L."
"Dryden was most touched with 'The Hind and the Panther Transversed.' I have heard him say — 'For two young fellows, that I have always been very civil to, to use an old man in misfortunes, in so cruel a manner!' — And he wept as he said it! — L."
"Sir George Etherige was as thorough a fop as I ever saw: He was exactly his own Sir Fopling Flutter. And yet he designed Dorimant, the genteel rake of wit, for his own picture. — L."
"Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, was reckoned the most accomplished man of the age, in riding, dancing, and fencing. When he came into the presence chamber, it was impossible for you not to follow him with your eye as he went along, he moved so gracefully. He got the better of his vast estate; and died (between two common girls) at a little alehouse in Yorkshire. — It is incredible what pains he took with one of the actors, to teach him to speak some passages in Bayes's part, in the Rehearsal, right. The vulgar notion of that play's being hissed off the stage the first night is a mistake. — L."
"Upon the death of the queen (Anne), Ormond, Atterbury, and Lord Marshal held a private consultation together, in which Atterbury desired the latter to go out immediately, and proclaim the Pretender in form. Ormond, who was more afraid of consequences, desired to communicate it first to the council — 'Damn it, Sir,' said Atterbury in a great heat (for he did not value swearing), 'you very well know that things have not been concerted enough for that yet, and that we have not a moment to lose.' Indeed, it was the only thing they could have done: such a bold step would have made people believe, that they were stronger than they really were; and might have taken strangely. The late King, I am fully persuaded, would not have stirred a foot, if there had been a strong opposition: indeed, the family did not expect the crown at least, nobody in it but the old Princess Sophia. — That Princess was a woman of very good sense and excellent conversation. I was very well acquainted with her. She sat very loose in her religious principles; and used to take a particular pleasure in setting a Freethinker (whenever she could meet with such) and one of her chaplains a-disputing together (as some body else (Queen Caroline) does now.) — L."
There are introduced into the account of this reverend prelate several remarks and reasonings of his delivered at large, which show not only a manly strength and freedom of mind, a habit of assigning the grounds for the conclusions he drew, which was not usual in that day. Fineness of tact, and justness of perception, were what the most eminent men then aimed at and excelled in, rather than closeness of logic or acuteness of analysis. They were contented to feel the air of truth, and sit under its shadow, without taking the trouble of digging to the roots. They did not murder a sentiment to dissect it. We find in them a cultivated, happy vein of common sense, shrewd and felicitous observations, judicious conclusions without pedantry and without extravagance — with occasional hints and suggestions of profounder views, but seldom followed up into their remote consequences, and scarcely ever traced back to their first principles. We have the results of their reflection and experience, not the original grounds of them; and we learn, not so much how to think, as what they thought. We are perhaps less misled by this naked statement of feelings; as they themselves might be more open to the floating influences and detached aspects of truth and nature, from not having their notions immoveably fixed upon systems and regular premises. But there is unquestionably much looseness and listlesseess in their prevailing tone of thinking. The exercise of the understanding seems at that time to have been chiefly a matter of taste, and their most subtle opinions only a more refined sort of instinct. Dean Lockier is, however, a remarkable exception; and he appears like a hardy excrescence in our author's table-talk. He stands with a proper apparatus in his hands, to make an incision below the surface of his subject, to probe a feeling or amputate a prejudice; and, it must be confessed, he goes through the operation very skilfully, and manfully, like an expert modern practitioner. Analytical and critical arguments would, we fear, prove no great novelty to our readers; and we therefore shall present them with a few more of this ingenious Divine's smarter and more sententious sayings.
"In all my travels I never met with any one Scotchman but what was a man of sense: I believe, indeed, every body of that country that has any, leaves it as fast as they can." — L.
"The English, abroad, can never get to look as if they were at home. The Irish and Scotch, after being some time in a place, get the air of the natives: but an Englishman, in any foreign court, looks about him as if he was going to steal a tankard.
"No one will ever shine in conversation, who thinks of saying fine things: to please, one must say many things indifferent, and many very bad.
"Large common-placing teaches one to forget; and spoils one for conversation, and even for writing.
"When we write in a foreign language, we should not think in English; if we do, our writings will be but translations at best. If one is to write in French; one must use one's-self to think in French; and even then, for a good while, our Anglicisms will get uppermost, and betray us in writing, as our native accent does in speaking. — L.
"Though the Dean is the best of company, and one of the liveliest men in England of his age, he said, (when in no ill-humour), 'the best of life is but just tolerable: 'tis the most we can make of it.' He observed that it was very apt to be a misfortune to be used to the best company: and gave as a reason for his not marrying, that he had always been used to converse with women of the higher class, and that he might as well think of marrying a princess as one of them. 'A competence enables me, single as I am, to keep as good company as I have been used to; but with a wife of this kind, and a family, what should I have done? — Let your great endeavour be to get an independency.' — L."
There are excellent accounts also of Wycherley, Garth, Gay, Addison, Kneller, Lady Wortley Montague, &c. But there is too much of Dr. Cocchi; and the author is too fond of running away to Rome to collect materials for his Polymetis, and leaving Pope and his opinions to shift for themselves. The frequent breaks and transitions in this respect from poetry to virtue, and from learning to scandal, give it the effect of cross-readings, without the wit. As, however, our author was fond of getting out of this circle, so we are fond of staying in it, and cannot at present make one detour with him to the Ciceroni and academical petit-maitres of Rome. and Naples. We shall give one or two of the most characteristic of each of the persons above mentioned, that we have marked in the margin as we read.
"Wycherley was a very handsome man. His acquaintance with the famous Dutchess of Cleveland commenced oddly enough. One day, as he passed that Dutchess's coach in the ring, she leaned out of the window, and cried out loud enough to be heard distinctly by him, 'Sir, you're a rascal; you're a villain!' Wycherley from that instant entertained hopes. He did not fail waiting on her the next morning: and, with a very melancholy tone begged to know, how it was possible for him to have so much disobliged her Grace? They were very good friends from that time: yet, after all, what did he get by her? He was to have travelled with the young Duke of Richmond: King Charles gave him now and then a hundred pounds, not often! — P."
"We were pretty well together to the last: only his memory was so totally bad, that he did not remember a kindness done to him, even from minute to minute." [This particular sort of forgetfulness, we suspect, is not quite so uncommon as Pope seems to imagine.] "He was peevish, too, latterly; so that sometimes we were out a little, and sometimes in. He never did any unjust thing to me in his whole life: and I went to see him on his death-bed. — P."
"Wycherley was in a bookseller's shop at Bath, or Tunbridge, when Lady Drogheda came in and happened to inquire for the Plain Dealer. A friend of Wycherley's, who stood by him, pushed him toward her, and said, 'There's the Plain Dealer, Madam, if you want him?' Wycherley made his excuses; — and Lady Drogheda said, 'that she loved plain-dealing best.' He afterwards visited that lady, and in some time after married her. This proved a great blow to his fortunes. Just before the time of his courtship, he was designed for governor to the late Duke of Richmond; and was to have been allowed fifteen hundred pounds a year from the Government. His absence from court, in the progress of this amour, and his being yet more absent after his marriage, (for Lady Drogheda was very jealous of him), disgusted his friends there so much, that he lost all his interest with them. His lady died: he got but little by her and his misfortunes were such, that he was thrown into the Fleet, and lay there seven years. It was then that Colonel Brett got his Plain Dealer to be acted; and contrived to get the king (James the Second) to be there. The colonel attended him thither. The king was mightily pleased with the play, asked who was the author of it; and, upon hearing it was one of Wycherley's, complained that he had not seen him for so many years, and inquired what was become of him. The colonel improved this opportunity so well, that the king gave orders his debts should be discharged out of the privy purse. Wycherley was so weak as to give an account only of five hundred pounds, and so was confined almost half a year; till his father was at last prevailed on to pay the rest, between two and three hundred pounds more. — Dennis."
"Dryden was generally an extreme sober man. For the last tea years of his life, he was much acquainted with Addison, and drank with him more than he ever used to do: probably so far as to hasten his end. — Dennis."
"None of our writers have a freer, easier way for comedy than Etherige and Vanbrugh. Now we have named all the best of them," said Pope, after naming those two, Wycherley, Congreve, Fletcher, Jonson, and Shakespear.
"Garth, Vanbrugh and Congreve, were the three most honest-hearted, real good men, of the poetical members of the Kit-cat club. — Mr. Pope and old Jacob Tonson."
The character of Addison as a friend, or as a man, does not rise high in these Memoirs; but he appears to have been a more agreeable companion than is generally supposed. His reserve and incapacity for public speaking are confirmed; but his talents for conversation among his intimate acquaintance must have been nearly on a par with his talents for writing. This is handed down on too good authority to be doubted. Pope says of him, — "Addison was perfect good company with intimates; and had something more charming in his conversation than I ever knew in any other man: but with any mixture of strangers, and sometimes only with one, he seemed to preserve his dignity much; with a stiff sort of silence." Lady Wortley Montague (certainly a competent witness) rates him no less highly. "It was my fate," she declares, "to be much with the wits:" and then she furnishes a scale of several of them. "Addison was the best company in the world — I never knew any body that had so much wit as Congreve — Sir Richard Steele was a very good-natured man — and Dr. Garth a very worthy one."
"Old Jacob Tonson did not like Mr. Addison. He bad a quarrel with him; and after his quitting the Secretaryship, used frequently to say of him: 'One day or other, you'll see that man a bishop! I'm sure lie looks that way; and indeed, I ever thought him a priest in his heart.' — P.
"Addison usually studied all the morning; then met his party at Button's; dined there; and stayed five or six hours; and sometimes far into the night. I was of the company for about a year, but found it too much for me: it hurt my health, and so I quitted it. — P."
"Addison passed each day alike; and much in the manner that Dryden did. — Dryden employed his mornings in writing; dined en famille; and then went to Wills's: only he came home earlier a-nights. — P."
"Gay was quite a natural man, wholly without art or design, and spoke just what he thought. He dangled for twenty years about a court, and at last was offered to be made Usher to the young Princesses! — Secretary Craggs made Gay a present of stock in the South-Sea year: and he was once worth twenty thousand pounds, but lost it all again. He got about four hundred pounds by the first Beggars' Opera, and eleven or twelve hundred by the second. — He was negligent, and a bad manager. Latterly, the Duke of Queensberry took his money into his keeping, and let him have only what was necessary out of it; and as he lived with them, he could not have occasion for much. — He died worth upwards of three thousand pounds. — P."
"Prior kept every thing by him, even to all his school exercises. There is a manuscript collection of this kind in his servant Drift's hands, which contains at least half as much as all his printed works. And there are nine or ten conies of verses among them, which I thought much better than several things he himself published, in particular. I remember there was a dialogue of about two hundred verses between Apollo and Daphne, which pleased me as much as any thing of his I ever read — There are, also, four dialogues in prose between persons, of characters very strongly opposed to one another, which I thought very good. One of them was between Charles the Fifth and his tutor Adrian the Sixth — to show the different turns of a person, who had studied human nature only in his closet, and of one who had rambled all over Europe. Another between Montaigne and Locke, on a most regular and a very loose way of thinking. A third between Oliver Cromwell and his mad Porter; and the fourth between Sir Thomas More and the Vicar of Bray."
"Prior left most of his effects to the poor woman he kept company with, his Chloe: every body knows what a wretch she was. I think she had been a little alehouse-keeper's wife. — Pope."
The anecdotes of Sir Godfrey Kneller, are among the most amusing in the book — some new, and others old. His character seems, however, to have been taken up in too serious a light. His vanity was no doubt gloss and extravagant; but there was a strong tincture of eccentricity and whim in it; and he often exaggerated it manifestations as much to amuse and startle others, as to flatter his self-love. e belonged to a very common class of characters, which has not been very commonly understood — persons who are accessory to the ridicule thrown upon themselves, and play off their own follies in society as they might caricature an imaginary character upon the stagewho are at once "the butt and the wit, the jester and the jest." To this Kneller's foreign accent and foreign notions might contribute not a little; for a foreigner, finding himself laughed at for involuntary blunders, if he is waggishly inclined, will be apt to commit voluntary absurdities to heighten the joke, and to give others something to gape at and be tickled with, while he himself may he a sharer in the mirth that is going on. Not only the egregious instances of vanity that are recorded of this artist are to be received "cum grano salis" — even his gluttony and avarice might admit, to a certain degree, of a similar explanation — that is, were overacted to humour the thing, and were a sort of dramatic burlesques of his real infirmities. His good opinion of himself met on one occasion with the following very ludicrous rebuff. "Mr. Pope was with Sir Godfrey Kneller one day, when his nephew, a Guinea trader, came in. 'Nephew,' (said Sir Godfrey) 'you have the honour of seeing the two greatest men in the world.' — "I don't know how great you may be,' (said the Guinea-man); 'but I don't like your looks: I have often bought a man much better than both of you together all muscles and bones, for ten guineas!' — Dr. Warburton."
The Duke of Marlborough is repeatedly mentioned; and his character is drawn with great minuteness and force of colouring. His ruling passion, avarice, appears to have had nothing jocular or assumed in it: it was a melancholy reality, an incurable madness. Take the following little specimen.
"In his last decline at Bath, he was playing with Dean Jones at piquet, for sixpence a game: they played a good while, and the Duke left off when winner of one game. Sometime after, he desired the Dean to pay him his sixpence: the Dean said he had no silver. The Duke asked him for it over and over; and at last desired that he would change a guinea to pay it him, because he should want it to pay the chair that carried him home. The Dean, after so much pressing, did at last get change; paid the Duke his sixpence; observed him a little after leave the room, and declares, that (after all the bustle that had been made for his sixpence) the Duke actually walked home, to save the little expense a chair would have put him to. — P."
Mr. Spence himself gives rather a lively account of Lady Wortley Montague, whom he met at Rome in 1740.
"I always desired, he says, to be acquainted with Lady Mary, and could never bring it about, though we were so often together in London: soon after we came to this place, her Ladyship came here, and in five days I was well acquainted with her. She was married young, and she told me, with that freedom much travelling gives, that she was never in so great a hurry of thought, as the month before she was married: she scarce slept any one night that month. You know she was one of the most celebrated beauties of her day, and had a vast number of offers; and the thing that kept her awake was who to fix upon. She was determined as to two points from the first, that is, to be married to somebody, and not to be married to the man her father advised her to have. The last night of the month she determined and in the morning left the husband of her father's choice buying the wedding-ring, and scuttled away to be married to Mr. Wortley."
We must conclude with some particulars of Mr. Pope's death, which are mostly new, and all very interesting.
"Here am I, like Socrates, distributing my morality among my friends, just as I am dying. — P." [This was said on his sending about some of his Ethic Epistles as presents, about three weeks before we lost him. I replied, "I really had that thought several times, when I was last at Twickenham with you; and was apt, now and then, to look upon myself like Phaedo." — "That might be, (said he); but you must not expect me now to say any thing like Socrates."]
"One of the things that I have always most wondered at is, that there should be any such thing as human vanity. — If I had any, I had enough to mortify it, a few days ago: for I lost my mind for a whole day. — P." [This was said on the 10th of May; and the day he spoke of was the Sunday before, May the 6th. A day or two after. be complained of that odd phenomenon (as he called it) of seeing every thing in the room as through a curtain. On the 14th, he complained of seeing false colours on objects.] — Spence."
"The 15th, on Mr. Lyttleton's coming in to see him, he said, 'Here am I, dying of a hundred good symptoms!' — [This was just after Dr. T. had been telling him, that he was glad to find that he breathed so much easier; that his pulse was very good; and several other encouraging things.] — Spence."
"He said to me, 'What's that?' pointing into the air with a very steady regard; and then looked down on me, and said, with a smile of great pleasure, and with the greatest softness, ''Twas a vision!' — Spence."
"I had got the Regent's edition of Longus's Daphnis and Chloe in my hand, to read while he was dozing. 'They are very innocent loves, like those of Adam and Eve in Milton,' (said he): 'I wonder how a man of so infected a mind as the Regent could have any taste for such a book.' — [It was on this same day that he requested to be brought to the table where we were sitting at dinner: his appearance was such, that we all thought him dying. Mrs. Anne Arbuthnot involuntarily exclaimed, 'lord have mercy upon us! This is quite an Egyptian feast.' — Spence."
"A short time before his death, Mr. Pope said, 'I am so certain of the soul's being immortal, that I seem to feel it within me as it were by intuition.' — When Mr. Hooke asked him, whether he would not die a his father and mother had done; and whether he should not send for a priest? — he said, 'I do not suppose that is essential; but it will look right; — and I heartily thank you for putting me in mind of it.'
"In the morning, after the priest had given him the last sacraments, he said, 'There is nothing meritorious but Virtue and Friendship; and indeed friendship itself is but a part of virtue.'
"Mr. Pope died on the 30th of May (1744), in the evening; but they did not know the exact time: — for his departure was so easy that it was imperceptible even to the standers by."—
So fails, so languishes, grows dim, and dies
All that this world is proud of. From their spheres
The stars of human glory are cast down;
Perish the roses and the flowers of Kings,
Princes and Emperour's, and the crowns and palms
Of all the mighty, withered and consumed!
So, too, the life of a poet passes like a summer's dream, and leaves behind it nothing but the shadow of a name!