1817 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Alexander Pope

Chandos Leigh, in Preface, Leigh, Juvenile Poems (1815, 1817) vi-viii.



We need not despair of again seeing English Poetry flourish in all its full-blown luxuriance although it has been pruned and formalized by the school of Pope, and his followers. If we must be imitators, let us rather imitate Ariosto and the Italians, than Boileau and the French. The Faithful Shepherdess of Fletcher is the finest model for versification in the English language; it is exquisitely varied in its metre; it is beautiful in its imagery. It is indeed "a perpetual feast of nectar'd sweets where no crude surfeit reigns." I do not presume to say that Pope is no Poet; he is a very great Poet, but I do not admire him as a model for imitation. Perhaps no one understood human nature, as modified by customs and refinements, better than Pope. His "Rape of the Lock" is a most elegant Poem, though the idea of the Sylphs is not original. It is a cabinet collection of Graces. It has much of that playful satire that sports around the imagination, "circum praecordia ludit." It is every where complete like the well arranged toilet of a lovely woman. I cannot agree with Mr. Hazlitt in his observation, that Poetry is generally listed on the side of despotism. No! Homer the greatest of Poets was an ardent lover of liberty, as was also Longinus, the greatest of Critics. Poetry that speaks to the more generous feelings of man is always most vigorous, and therefore when it supports the cause of independence, it must prevail. I wish that some Tyrtaeus would rise among his co-patriots in South America and strike the wild harp of freedom, till the Cordilleras re-echo with the shouts of Freemen. The reason why poets are sometimes Courtiers is, that they have often a keener relish for the good things of this life than their means will satisfy, and are therefore tempted to sacrifice their independence, to the gratification of their appetite for pleasure. So true is that maxim of Sully, "predominant passions will be gratified at any price."