1827 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Alexander Pope

Henry Neele, in Russell Institution Lectures on English Poetry (1827); Remains (New York, 1829) 119-20.



Pope is usually ranked in the school of Dryden, but he has few either of the faults or the excellencies of his master. To begin with that for which he has been most lauded, his versification is vastly inferior to that of Dryden. What he has gained in ease and sweetness, he has lost in majesty and power. Dryden left our English versification at a point from which it has since rather retrograded than advanced. Pope polished and levelled; but he polished away much of its grandeur, as well as of its roughness, and levelled the rocks which impelled, as well as the stones which impeded, its majestic current. Pope had fewer opportunities for observation than Dryden, and perhaps improved those for which he had, less than he did. But he had a finer fancy, and I am almost inclined to say, in opposition to the popular opinion, that he possessed more genius. I know of nothing so original and imaginative in the whole range of Dryden's poetry as the Rape of the Lock; no descriptions of nature which can compare with those in Pope's Windsor Forest; and nothing so tender and feeling as many parts of the Elegy on the Death of an unfortunate Lady, and the Epistle from Eloisa to Abelard. Pope's satire, however, is neither so keen nor so bright as that of Dryden; whom he attacks, he butchers; whom he cuts, he mangles. He shows us not the lifeless carcass of his victim, but the writhings and tortured limbs. We never feel anything like sympathy for the object of Dryden's satire. He seems to be the fiat of unerring justice, which it would be almost impiety to dispute. Pope exhibits more of the accuser than the judge. Petty interests, and personal malice, instead of love of justice, and a hatred of vice, appear to be the powers that nerve his arm. The victim is sure to fall beneath his blow, but the deed, however righteous, inspires us with no very affectionate feelings for his executioner.