"I'll play at Bowls with the Sun and Moon." — Old Song.
"My mither's auld, Sir, and she has rather forgotten hersel in speaking to my Leddy, that canna weel hide to be contradickit (as I ken naebody likes it, if they could help themsels)." — Tales of My Landlord: Old Mortality, p. 163, vol. 2nd.
Ravenna, February 7th, 1821.
DEAR SIR, — In the different pamphlets which you have had the goodness to send me, on the Pope and Bowles controversy, I perceive that my name is occasionally introduced by both parties. Mr. Bowles refers more than once to what he is pleased to consider "a remarkable circumstance," not only in his letter to Mr. Campbell, but in his reply to the Quarterly. The Quarterly also and Mr. Gilchrist have conferred on me the dangerous honour of a quotation; and Mr. Bowles indirectly makes a kind of appeal to me personally, by saying, "Lord B., if he remembers the circumstance, will witness" — (witness IN ITALICS, an ominous character for a testimony at present). I shall not avail myself of a "non mi ricordo," even after so long a residence in Italy; — I do "remember the circumstance," — and have no reluctance to relate it (since called upon so to do), as correctly as the distance of time and the impression of intervening events will permit me. In the year 1812, more than three years after the publication of English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers, I had the honour of meeting Mr. Bowles in the house of our venerable host of Human Life, etc., the last Argonaut of classic English poetry, and the Nestor of our inferior race of living poets. Mr. Bowles calls this "soon after" the publication; but to me three years appear a considerable segment of the immortality of a modern poem. I recollect nothing of "the rest of the company going into another room," — nor, though I well remember the topography of our Host's elegant and classically furnished mansion, could I swear to the very room where the conversation occurred, though the "taking down the poem" seems to fix it in the library. Had it been "taking up," it would probably have been in the drawing-room. I presume also that the "remarkable circumstance" took place after dinner; as I conceive that neither Mr. Bowles's politeness nor appetite would have allowed him to detain "the rest of the company" standing round their chairs in the "other room," while we were discussing "the Woods of Madeira," instead of circulating its vintage. Of Mr. Bowles's "good humour" I have a full and not ungrateful recollection; as also of his gentlemanly manners and agreeable conversation. I speak of the whole, and not of particulars; for whether he did or did not use the precise words printed in the pamphlet, I cannot say, nor could he with accuracy. Of "the tone of seriousness" I certainly recollect nothing: on the contrary, I thought Mr. B. rather disposed to treat the subject lightly; for he said (I have no objection to be contradicted if incorrect), that some of his good-natured friends had come to him and exclaimed, "Eh Bowles I how came you to make the Woods of Madeira?" etc., etc.; and that he had been at some pains and pulling down of the poem to convince them that he had never made "the Woods" do any thing of the kind. He was right, and I was wrong, and have been wrong still up to this acknowledgment; for I ought to have looked twice before I wrote that which involved an inaccuracy capable of giving pain. The fact was, that, although I had certainly before read The Spirit of Discovery, I took the quotation from the review. But the mistake was mine, and not the review's, which quoted the passage correctly enough, I believe. I blundered — God knows how — into attributing the tremors of the lovers to the "Woods of Madeira," by which they were surrounded. And I hereby do fully and freely declare and asseverate, that the Woods did not tremble to a kiss, and that the Lovers did. I quote from memory—
Stole on the listening silence, etc., etc.
They [the lovers] trembled, even as if the Power, etc.
And if I had been aware that this declaration would have been in the smallest degree satisfactory to Mr. B., I should not have waited nine years to make it, notwithstanding that English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers had been suppressed some time previously to my meeting him at Mr. Rogers's. Our worthy host might indeed have told him as much, as it was at his representation that I suppressed it. A new edition of that lampoon was preparing for the press, when Mr. Rogers represented to me, that "I was now acquainted with many of the persons mentioned in it, and with some on terms of intimacy;" and that he knew "one family in particular to whom its suppression would give pleasure." I did not hesitate one moment, — it was cancelled instantly; and it is no fault of mine that it has ever been republished. When I left England, in April, 1816, with no very violent intentions of troubling that country again, and amidst scenes of various kinds to distract my attention, — almost my last act, I believe, was to sign a power of attorney, to yourself, to prevent or suppress any attempts (of which several had been made) at a republication. It is proper that I should state, that the persons with whom I was subsequently acquainted, whose names had occurred in that publication, were made my acquaintances at their own desire, or through the unsought intervention of others. I never, to the best of my knowledge, sought a personal introduction to any. Some of them to this day I know only by correspondence; and with one of those it was begun by myself, in consequence, however, of a polite verbal communication from a third person.
I have dwelt for an instant on these circumstances, because it has sometimes been made a subject of bitter reproach to me to have endeavoured to suppress that Satire. I never shrunk, as those who know me know, from any personal consequences which could be attached to its publication. Of its subsequent suppression, as I possessed the copyright, I was the best judge and the sole master. The circumstances which occasioned the suppression I have now stated; of the motives, each must judge according to his candour or malignity. Mr. Bowles does me the honour to talk of "noble mind," and "generous magnanimity;" and all this because "the circumstance would have been explained had not the book been suppressed." I see no "nobility of mind" in an act of simple justice; and I hate the word "Magnanimity," because I have sometimes seen it applied to the grossest of impostors by the greatest of fools; but I would have "explained the circumstance," notwithstanding "the Suppression of the book," if Mr. B. had expressed any desire that I should. As the "gallant Galbraith" says to "Baillie Jarvie," "Well, the devil take the mistake, and all that occasioned it." I have had as great and greater mistakes made about me personally and poetically, once a month for these last ten years, and never cared very much about correcting one or the other, at least after the first eight and forty hours had gone over them.
I must now, however, say a word or two about Pope, of whom you have my opinion more at large in the unpublished letter on or to (for I forget which) the Editor of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine; — and here I doubt that Mr. Bowles will not approve of my Sentiments.
Although I regret having published English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers, the part which I regret the least is that which regards Mr. B. with reference to Pope. Whilst I was writing that publication, in 1807 and 1808, Mr. Hobhouse was desirous that I should express our mutual opinion of Pope, and of Mr. B.'s edition of his works. As I had completed my outline, and felt lazy, I requested that he would do so. He did it. His fourteen lines on Bowles's Pope are in the first edition of English Bards, and Scotch Reviewers; and are quite as severe and much more poetical than my own in the Second. On reprinting the work, as I put my name to it, I omitted Mr. Hobhouse's lines, and replaced them with my own, by which the work gained less than Mr. Bowles. I have stated this in the preface to the 2d edition. It is many years since I have read that poem; but the Quarterly Review, Mr. Octavius Gilchrist, and Mr. Bowles himself, have been so obliging as to refresh my memory, and that of the public. I am grieved to say, that in reading over those lines, I repent of their having so far fallen short of what I meant to express upon the subject of B.'s edition of Pope's Works. Mr. B. says, that "Ld. B. knows he does not deserve this character." I know no such thing. I have met Mr. B. occasionally, in the best Society in London; he appeared to me an amiable, well-informed, and extremely able man. I desire nothing better than to dine in company with such a mannered man every day in the week; but of "his character" I know nothing personally; I can only speak to his manners, and these have my warmest approbation. But I never judge from manners, for I once had my pocket picked by the civilest
gentleman I ever met with; and one of the mildest persons I ever saw was Ali Pacha. Of Mr. B.'s "character" I will not do him the injustice to judge from the Edition of Pope, if he prepared it heedlessly; nor the justice, should it be otherwise, because I would neither become a literary executioner nor a personal one. Mr. Bowles the individual, and Mr. Bowles the editor, appear the two most opposite things imaginable.
And he himself one — antithesis.
I won't say "vile," because it is harsh; nor "mistaken," because it has two syllables too many: but everyone must fill up the blank as he pleases.
What I saw of Mr. B. increased my surprise and regret that he should ever have lent his talents to such a task. If he had been a fool, there would have been some excuse for him; if he had been a needy or a bad man, his conduct would have been intelligible: but he is the opposite of all these; and thinking and feeling as I do of Pope, to me the whole thing is unaccountable. However, I must call things by their right names. I cannot call his edition of Pope a "candid" work; and I still think that there is an affectation of that quality not only in those volumes, but in the pamphlets lately published.
Why yet he doth deny his prisoners.
Mr. B. says that he "has seen passages in his letters to Martha Blount which were never published by me, and I hope never will be by others; which are so gross as to imply the grossest licentiousness." Is this fair play? It may, or it may not be that such passages exist; and that Pope, who was not a Monk, although a Catholic, may have occasionally sinned in word and deed with woman in his youth: but is this a sufficient ground for such a sweeping denunciation? Where is the unmarried Englishman of a certain rank of life, who (provided he has not taken orders) has not to reproach himself between the ages of sixteen and thirty with far more licentiousness than has ever yet been traced to Pope? Pope lived in the public eye from his youth upwards; he had all the dunces of his own time for his enemies, and, I am sorry to say, some, who have not the apology of dullness for detraction, since his death; and yet to what do all their accumulated hints and charges amount? — to an equivocal liaison with Martha Blount, which might arise as much from his infirmities as from his passions; to a hopeless flirtation with Lady Mary W. Montagu; to a story of Cibber's; and to two or three coarse passages in his works. Who could come forth clearer from an invidious inquest on a life of fifty-six years? Why are we to be officiously reminded of such passages in his letters, provided that they exist? Is Mr. B. aware to what such rummaging among "letters" and "stories" might lead? I have myself seen a collection of letters of another eminent, nay, pre-eminent, deceased poet, so abominably gross, and elaborately coarse, that I do not believe that they could be paralleled in our language. What is more strange is, that some of these are couched as postscripts to his serious and sentimental letters, to which are tacked either a piece of prose, or some verses, of the most hyperbolical indecency. He himself says, that if "obscenity" (using a much coarser word) "be the Sin against the Holy Ghost, he must certainly not be saved." These letters are in existence, and have been seen by many besides myself; but would his editor have been 'candid' in even alluding to them? Nothing would have even provoked me, an indifferent spectator, to allude to them, but this further attempt at the depreciation of Pope.
What should we say to an editor of Addison, who cited the following passage from Walpole's letters to George Montagu? "Dr. Young has published a new book, etc. Mr. Addison sent for the young Earl of Warwick, as he was dying, to show him in what peace a Christian could die; unluckily he died of brandy: nothing makes a Christian die in peace like being maudlin! but don't say this in Gath where you are." Suppose the editor introduced it with this preface, "One circumstance is mentioned by Horace Walpole, which, if true, was indeed flagitious. Walpole informs Montagu that Addison sent for the young Earl of Warwick, when dying, to show him in what peace a Christian could die; but unluckily he died drunk," etc., etc. Now, although there might occur on the subsequent, or on the same page, a faint show of disbelief, seasoned with the expression of "the same candour" (the same exactly as throughout the book), I should say that this editor was either foolish or false to his trust; such a story ought not to have been admitted, except for one brief mark of crushing indignation, unless it were completely proved. Why the words "if true?" that "if" is not a peacemaker. Why talk of "Cibber's testimony" to his licentiousness? To what does this amount? that Pope, when very young, was once decoyed by some noblemen and the player to a house of carnal recreation. Mr. Bowles was not always a clergyman; and when he was a very young man, was he never seduced into as much? If I were in the humour for story-telling, and relating little anecdotes, I could tell a much better story of Mr. B. than Cibber's, upon much better authority, viz. that of Mr. B. himself. It was not related by him in my presence, but in that of a third person, whom Mr. B. names oftener than once in the course of his replies. This gentleman related it to me as a humorous and witty anecdote; and so it was, whatever its other characteristics might be. But should I, for a youthful frolic, brand Mr. B. with a "libertine sort of love," or with "licentiousness?" Is he the less now a pious or a good man, for not having always been a priest? No such thing; I am willing to believe him a good man, almost as good a man as Pope, but no better.
The truth is, that in these days the grand "primum mobile" of England is cant; cant political, cant poetical, cant religious, cant moral; but always cant, multiplied through all the varieties of life. It is the fashion, and while it lasts will be too powerful for those who can only exist by taking the tone of the time. I say cant, because it is a thing of words, without the smallest influence upon human actions; the English being no wiser, no better, and much poorer, and more divided amongst themselves, as well as far less moral, than they were before the prevalence of this verbal decorum. This hysterical horror of poor Pope's not very well ascertained, and never fully proved amours (for even Cibber owns that he prevented the somewhat perilous adventure in which Pope was embarking), sounds very virtuous in a controversial pamphlet: but all men of the world who know what life is, or at least what it was to them in their youth, must laugh at such a ludicrous foundation of the charge of "a libertine sort of love;" while the more serious will look upon those who bring forward such charges upon an isolated fact as fanatics or hypocrites, perhaps both. The two are sometimes compounded in a happy mixture.
Mr. Octavius Gilchrist speaks rather irreverently of a "second tumbler of hot white-wine negus." What does he mean? Is there any harm in negus? or is it the worse for being hot? or does Mr. B. drink negus? I had a better opinion of him. I hoped that whatever wine he drank was neat; or, at least, that, like the Ordinary in Jonathan Wild, "he preferred punch, the rather as there was nothing against it in Scripture." I should be really sorry to believe that Mr. B. was fond of negus; it is such a "candid" liquor, so like a wishy-washy compromise between the passion for wine and the propriety of water. But different writers have divers tastes. Judge Blackstone composed his Commentaries (he was a poet too in his youth) with a bottle of port before him. Addison's conversation was not good for much till be had taken a similar dose. Perhaps the prescription of these two great men was not inferior to the very different one of a soi-disant poet of this day, who, after wandering amongst the hills, returns, goes to bed, and dictates his verses, being fed by a bystander with bread and butter during the operation.
I now come to Mr. B.'s "invariable principles of poetry." These Mr. Bowles and some of his correspondents pronounce "unanswerable;" and they are "unanswered," at least by Campbell, who seems to have been astounded by the title: the Sultan of the time being offered to ally himself to a King of France because "he hated the word League;" which proves that the Pad-i-shaw (not Pacha) understood French. Mr. Campbell has no need of my alliance, nor shall I presume to offer it; but I do hate that word "invariable." What is there of human, be it poetry, philosophy, wit, wisdom, science, power, glory, mind, matter, life, or death, which is "invariable?" Of course I put things divine out of the question. Of all arrogant baptisms of a book, this title to a pamphlet appears the most complacently conceited. It is Mr. Campbell's part to answer the contents of this performance, and especially to vindicate his own "Ship," which Mr. B. most triumphantly proclaims to have struck to his very first fire.
Quoth he there was a Ship;
Now let me go, thou grey-haired loon,
Or my staff shall make thee skip.
It is no affair of mine; but having once begun, (certainly not by my own wish, but called upon by the frequent recurrence to my name in the pamphlets,) I am like an Irishman in a "row," "any body's customer." I shall therefore say a word or two on the "Ship."
Mr. B. asserts that Campbell's "Ship of the Line" derives all its poetry, not from "art," but from "Nature." "Take away the waves, the winds, the sun, etc., etc., etc., one will become a stripe of blue bunting; and the other a piece of coarse canvas on three tall poles." Very true; take away the "waves," "the winds," and there will be no ship at all, not only for poetical, but for any other purpose; and take away "the sun," and we must read Mr. B.'s pamphlet by candlelight. But the "poetry" of the "Ship" does not depend on the "waves," etc.; on the contrary, the "Ship of the line" confers its own poetry upon the waters, and heightens theirs. I do not deny, that the "waves and winds," and above all "the sun," are highly poetical; we know it to our cost, by the many descriptions of them in verse: but if the waves bore only the foam upon their bosoms, if the winds wafted only the sea-weed to the shore, if the sun shone neither upon pyramids, nor fleets, nor fortresses, would its beams be equally poetical? I think not: the poetry is at least reciprocal. Take away "the Ship of the Line" "swinging round" the "calm water," and the calm water becomes a somewhat monotonous thing to look at, particularly if not transparently clear; witness the thousands who pass by without looking on it at all. What was it attracted the thousands to the launch? They might have seen the poetical "calm water" at Wapping, or in the "London Dock," or in the Paddington Canal, or in a horse-pond, or in a slop-basin, or in any other vase. They might have heard the poetical winds howling through the chinks of a pig-stye, or the garret window; they might have seen the sun shining on a footman's livery, or on a brass warming pan; but could the "calm water," or the "wind," or the "sun," make all, or any of these "poetical?" I think not. Mr. B. admits "the Ship" to be poetical, but only from those accessaries: now if they confer poetry so as to make one thing poetical, they would make other things poetical; the more so, as Mr. B. calls a "ship of the line" without them, — that is to say, its "masts and sails and streamers," — "blue bunting," and "coarse canvas," and "tall poles." So they are; and porcelain is clay, and man is dust, and flesh is grass, and yet the two latter at least are the subjects of much poesy.
Did Mr. B. ever gaze upon the sea? I presume that he has, at least upon a sea-piece. Did any painter ever paint the sea only, without the addition of a ship, boat, wreck, or some such adjunct? Is the sea itself a more attractive, a more moral, a more poetical object, with or without a vessel, breaking its vast but fatiguing monotony? Is a storm more poetical without a ship? or, in the poem of The Shipwreck, is it the storm or the ship which most interests? both much undoubtedly; but without the vessel, what should we care for the tempest? It would sink into mere descriptive Poetry, which in itself was never esteemed a high order of that art.
I look upon myself as entitled to talk of naval matters, at least to poets: — with the exception of Walter Scott, Moore, and Southey, perhaps, who have been voyagers, I have swum more miles than all the rest of them together now living ever sailed, and have lived for months and months on shipboard; and, during the whole period of my life abroad, have scarcely ever passed a month out of sight of the Ocean: besides being brought up from two years till ten on the brink of it. I recollect, when anchored off Cape Sigeum in 1810, in an English frigate, a violent squall coming on at sunset, so violent as to make us imagine that the ship would part cable, or drive from her anchorage. Mr. H[obhouse] and myself, and some officers, had been up the Dardanelles to Abydos, and were just returned in time. The aspect of a storm in the Archipelago is as poetical as need be, the sea being particularly short, dashing, and dangerous, and the navigation intricate and broken by the isles and currents. Cape Sigeum, the tumuli of the Troad, Lemnos, Tenedos, all added to the associations of the time. But what seemed the most "Poetical" of all at the moment, were the numbers (about two hundred) of Greek and Turkish craft, which were obliged to "cut and run" before the wind, from their unsafe anchorage, some for Tenedos, some for other isles, some for the Main, and some it might be for Eternity. The sight of these little scudding vessels, darting over the foam in the twilight, now appearing and now disappearing between the waves in the cloud of night, with their peculiarly white sails, (the Levant sails not being of "coarse canvas," but of white cotton,) skimming along as quickly, but less safely than the sea-mew which hovered over them; their evident distress, their reduction to fluttering specks in the distance, their crowded succession, their littleness, as contending with the giant element, which made our stout 44's teak timbers (she was built in India) creak again; their aspect and their motion, all struck me as something far more "poetical" than the mere broad, brawling, shipless sea, and the sullen winds, could possibly have been without them.
The Euxine is a noble sea to look upon, and the port of Constantinople the most beautiful of harbours; and yet I cannot but think that the twenty sail of the line, some of one hundred and forty guns, rendered it more "poetical" by day in the sun, and by night perhaps still more; for the Turks illuminate their vessels of war in a manner the most picturesque, and yet all this is artificial. As for the Euxine, I stood upon the Symplegades — I stood by the broken altar still exposed to the winds upon one of them — I felt all the "poetry" of the situation, as I repeated the first lines of Medea; but would not that "poetry" have been heightened by the Argo? It was so even by the appearance of any merchant vessel arriving from Odessa. But Mr. B. says, "Why bring your ship off the stocks?" for no reason that I know, except that ships are built to be launched. The water, etc., undoubtedly HEIGHTENS the poetical associations, but it does not make them; and the ship amply repays the obligation: they aid each other; the water is more poetical with the ship — the ship less so without the water. But even a ship laid up in dock is a grand and a poetical sight. Even an old boat, keel upwards, wrecked upon the barren sand, is a "poetical" object, (and Wordsworth, who made a poem about a washing-tub and a blind boy, may tell you so as well as I,) whilst a long extent of sand and unbroken water, without the boat, would be as like dull prose as any pamphlet lately published.
What makes the poetry in the image of the "marble waste of Tadmor," or Grainger's "Ode to Solitude," so much admired by Johnson? Is it the "marble" or the "waste," the artificial or the natural object? The "waste" is like all other wastes; but the "marble" of Palmyra makes the poetry of the passage as of the place.
The beautiful but barren Hymettus, — the whole coast of Attica, her hills and mountains, Pentelicus, Anchesmus, Philopappus, etc., etc. — are in themselves poetical, and would be so if the name of Athens, of Athenians, and her very ruins, were swept from the earth. But am I to be told that the "Nature" of Attica would be more poetical without the "Art" of the Acropolis? of the Temple of Theseus? and of the still all Greek and glorious monuments of her exquisitely artificial genius? Ask the traveller what strikes him as most poetical, — the Parthenon, or the rock on which it stands? The COLUMNS of Cape Colonna, or the Cape itself? The rocks at the foot of it, or the recollection that Falconer's ship was bulged upon them? There are a thousand rocks and capes far more picturesque than those of the Acropolis and Cape Sunium in themselves; what are they to a thousand scenes in the wilder parts of Greece, of Asia Minor, Switzerland, or even of Cintra in Portugal, or to many scenes of Italy, and the Sierras of Spain? But it is the "art," the columns, the temples, the wrecked vessel, which give them their antique and their modern poetry, and not the spots themselves. Without them, the spots of earth would be unnoticed and unknown: buried, like Babylon and Nineveh, in indistinct confusion, without poetry, as without existence; but to whatever spot of earth these ruins were transported, if they were capable of transportation, like the obelisk, and the sphinx, and the Memnon's bead, there they would still exist in the perfection of their beauty, and in the pride of their poetry. I opposed, and will ever oppose, the robbery of ruins from Athens, to instruct the English in sculpture (who are as capable of sculpture as the Egyptians are of skating); but why did I do so? The ruins are as poetical in Piccadilly as they were in the Parthenon; but the Parthenon and its rock are less so without them. Such is the Poetry of art.
Mr. B. contends again that the Pyramids of Aegypt are poetical, because of "the association with boundless deserts," and that a "pyramid of the same dimensions" would not be sublime in "Lincoln's Inn Fields:" not so poetical certainly; but take away the "pyramids," and what is the desert? Take away Stone-henge from Salisbury Plain, and it is nothing more than Hounslow Heath, or any other uninclosed down. It appears to me that St. Peter's, the Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Palatine, the Apollo, the Laocoon, the Venus di Medicis, the Hercules, the dying Gladiator, the Moses of Michel Agnolo, and all the higher works of Canova, (I have already spoken of those of antient Greece, still extant in that country, or transported to England,) are as poetical as Mont Blanc or Mount Aetna, perhaps still more so, as they are direct manifestations of mind, and presuppose poetry in their very conception; and have, moreover, as being such, a something of actual life, which cannot belong to any part of inanimate nature, unless we adopt the System of Spinosa, that the World is the deity. There can be nothing more poetical in its aspect than the city of Venice; does this depend upon the sea, or the canals?
The dirt and sea-weed whence proud Venice rose?
Is it the canal which runs between the palace and the prison, or the "Bridge of Sighs," which connects them, that render it poetical? Is it the "Canal Grande," or Rialto which arches it, the churches which tower over it, the palaces which line, and the gondolas which glide over the waters, that render this city more poetical than Rome itself? Mr. B. will say, perhaps, that the Rialto is but marble, the palaces and churches only stone, and the gondolas a "coarse" black cloth, thrown over some planks of carved wood, with a shining bit of fantastically formed iron at the prow, "without" the water. And I tell him that without these, the water would be nothing but a clay-coloured ditch; and whoever says the contrary, deserves to be at the bottom of that, where Pope's heroes are embraced by the mud nymphs. There would be nothing to make the Canal of Venice more poetical than that of Paddington, were it not for the artificial adjuncts above mentioned, although it is a perfectly natural canal, formed by the sea, and the innumerable islands which constitute the site of this extraordinary city.
The very Cloacae of Tarquin at Rome are as poetical as Richmond hill; many will think more so: take away Rome, and leave the Tybur and the seven Hills, in the Nature of Evander's time. Let Mr. Bowles or Mr. Wordsworth, or Mr. Southey, or any of the other "Naturals," make a poem upon them, and then see which is most poetical, — their production, or the commonest guidebook, which tells you the road from St. Peter's to the Coliseum, and informs you what you will see by the way. The Ground interests in Virgil, because it will be Rome, and not because it is Evander's rural domain.
Mr. B. then proceeds to press Homer into his service, in answer to a remark of Mr. Campbell's, that "Homer was a great describer of works of art." Mr. B. contends that all his great power, even in this, depends upon their connection with nature. The "shield of Achilles derives its poetical interest from the subjects described on it." And from what does the spear of Achilles derive its interest? and the helmet and the mail worn by Patroclus, and the celestial armour, and the very brazen greaves of the well-booted Greeks? Is it solely from the legs, and the back, and the breast, Greeks? the human body, which they enclose? In that case, it would have been more poetical to have made them fight naked; and Gulley and Gregson, as being nearer to a state of nature, are more poetical boxing in a pair of drawers than Hector and Achilles in radiant armour, and with heroic weapons.
Instead of the clash of helmets, and the rushing of chariots, and the whizzing of spears, and the glancing of swords, and the cleaving of shields, and the piercing of breast-plates, why not represent the Greeks and Trojans like two savage tribes, tugging and tearing, and kicking and biting, and gnashing, foaming, grinning, and gouging, in all the poetry of martial nature, unincumbered with gross, prosaic, artificial arms; an equal superfluity to the natural warrior and his natural poet? Is there any thing unpoetical in Ulysses striking the horses of Rhesus with his bow' (having forgotten his thong), or would Mr. B. have had him kick them with his foot, or smack them with his hand, as being more unsophisticated?
In Gray's Elegy, is there an image more striking than his "shapeless sculpture?" Of sculpture in general, it may be observed, that it is more poetical than nature itself, inasmuch as it represents and bodies forth that ideal beauty and sublimity which is never to be found in actual Nature. This at least is the general opinion. But, always excepting the Venus di Medicis, I differ from that opinion, at least as far as regards female beauty; for the head of Lady Charlemont (when I first saw her nine years ago) seemed to possess all that sculpture could require for its ideal. I recollect seeing something of the same kind in the head of an Albanian girl, who was actually employed in mending a road in the mountains, and in some Greek, and one or two Italian, faces. But of sublimity, I have never seen anything in human nature at all to approach the expression of sculpture, either in the Apollo, the Moses, or other of the sterner works of ancient or modern art.
Let us examine a little further this "Babble of green fields" and of bare Nature in general as superior to artificial imagery, for the poetical purposes of the fine arts. In landscape painting, the great artist does not give you a literal copy of a country, but he invents and composes one. Nature, in her natural aspect, does not furnish him with such existing scenes as he requires. Even where he presents you with some famous city, or celebrated scene from mountain or other nature, it must be taken from some particular point of view, and with such light, and shade, and distance, etc., as serve not only to heighten its beauties, but to shadow its deformities. The poetry of Nature alone, exactly as she appears, is not sufficient to bear him out. The very sky of his painting is not the portrait of the sky of Nature; it is a composition of different skies, observed at different times, and not the whole copied from any particular day. And why? Because nature is not lavish of her beauties; they are widely scattered, and occasionally displayed, to be selected with care, and gathered with difficulty.
Of sculpture I have already spoken. It is the great scope of the Sculptor to heighten nature into heroic beauty; i.e. in plain English, to surpass his model. When Canova forms a statue, he takes a limb from one, a hand from another, a feature from a third, and a shape, it may be, from a fourth, probably at the same time improving upon all, as the Greek of old did in embodying his Venus.
Ask a portrait painter to describe his agonies in accommodating the faces with which Nature and his sitters have crowded his painting-room to the principles of his art: with the exception of perhaps ten faces in as many millions, there is not one which he can venture to give without shading much and adding more. Nature, exactly, simply, barely, Nature, will make no great artist of any kind, and least of all a poet-the most artificial, perhaps, of all artists in his very essence. With regard to natural imagery, the poets are obliged to take some of their best illustrations from art. You say that a "fountain is as clear or clearer than glass," to express its beauty
O fons Bandusiae, splendidior vitro!
In the speech of Mark Antony, the body of Caesar is displayed, but so also is his mantle:—
You all do know this mantle, etc.
Look! in this place ran Cassius' dagger through.
If the poet had said that Cassius had run his fist through the rent of the mantle, it would have had more of Mr. Bowles's "nature" to help it; but the artificial dagger is more poetical than any natural hand without it. In the sublime of sacred poetry, "Who is this that cometh from Edom? with dyed garments from Bozrah?" would "the comer" be poetical without his "dyed garments?" which strike and startle the spectator, and identify the approaching object.
The mother of Sisera is represented listening for the "wheels of his chariot." Solomon, in his Song, compares the nose of his beloved to "a tower," which to us appears an eastern exaggeration. If he had said, that her stature was like that of a "tower," it would have been as poetical as if he had compared her to a tree.
The virtuous Marcia towers above her sex,
is an instance of an artificial image to express a moral superiority. But Solomon, it is probable, did not compare his beloved's nose to a "tower'" on account of its length, but of its symmetry; and making allowance for eastern hyperbole, and the difficulty of finding a discreet image for a female nose in nature, it is perhaps as good a figure as any other.
Art is not inferior to nature for poetical purposes. What makes a regiment of soldiers a more noble object of view than the same mass of mob? Their arms, their dresses, their banners, and the art and artificial symmetry of their position and movements. A Highlander's plaid, a Mussulman's turban, and a Roman toga, are more poetical than the tattooed or untattooed buttocks of a New Sandwich savage, although they were described by William Wordsworth himself like the "idiot in his glory."
I have seen as many mountains as most men, and more fleets than the generality of landsmen; and, to my mind, a large convoy with a few sail of the line to conduct them is as noble and as poetical a prospect as all that inanimate nature can produce. I prefer the "mast of some great ammiral," with all its tackle, to the Scotch fir or the alpine tannen; and think that more poetry has been made out of it. In what does the infinite superiority of Falconer's Shipwreck over all other shipwrecks consist? In his admirable application of the terms of his art; in a poet-sailor's description of the sailor's fate. These very terms, by his application, make the strength and reality of his poem. Why? because he was a poet, and in the hands of a poet art will not be found less ornamental than nature. It is precisely in general nature, and in stepping out of his element, that Falconer fails; where he digresses to speak of Ancient Greece, and "such branches of learning."
In Dyer's "Grongar Hill," upon which his fame rests, the very appearance of Nature herself is moralised into an artificial image—
Thus is nature's vesture wrought,
To instruct our wandering thought;
Thus she dresses green and gay,
To disperse our cares away.
And here also we have the telescope: the misuse of which, from Milton, has rendered Mr. Bowles so triumphant over Mr. Campbell:—
So we mistake the future's face,
Eyed through Hope's deluding glass.
And here a word en passant to Mr. Campbell:—
As yon summits, soft and fair,
Clad in colours of the air,
Which to those who journey near
Barren, brown, and rough appear,
Still we tread the same coarse way—
The present's still a cloudy day.
Is not this the original of the far-famed—
'Tis distance lends enchantment to the view,
And robes the mountain in its azure hue?
To return once more to the sea. Let any one look on the long wall of Malamocco, which curbs the Adriatic, and pronounce between the sea and its master. Surely that Roman work (I mean Roman in conception and performance), which says to the ocean, "Thus far shalt thou come, and no further," and is obeyed, is not less sublime and poetical than the angry waves which vainly break beneath it.
Mr. Bowles makes the chief part of a ship's poesy depend upon the "wind:" then why is a ship under sail more poetical than a hog in a high wind? The hog is all nature, the ship is all art, "coarse canvas," "blue bunting," and "tall poles;" both are violently acted upon by the wind, tossed here and there, to and fro, and yet nothing but excess of hunger could make me look upon the pig as the more poetical of the two, and then only in the shape of a griskin.
Will Mr. Bowles tell us that the poetry of an aqueduct consists in the water which it conveys? Let him look on that of Justinian, on those of Rome, Constantinople, Lisbon, and Elvas, or even at the remains of that in Attica.
We are asked, "What makes the venerable towers of Westminster Abbey more poetical, as objects, than the tower for the manufactory of patent shot, surrounded by the same scenery?" I will answer — the architecture. Turn Westminster Abbey or Saint Paul's into a powder magazine, their poetry, as objects, remains the same; the Parthenon was actually converted into one by the Turks, during Morosini's Venetian siege, and part of it destroyed in consequence. Cromwell's dragoons stabled their steeds in Worcester cathedral; was it less poetical as an object than before? Ask a foreigner on his approach to London, what strikes him as the most poetical of the towers before him: be will point out Saint Paul's and Westminster Abbey, without, perhaps, knowing the names or associations of either, and pass over the "tower for patent shot," — not that, for any thing he knows to the contrary, it might not be the mausoleum of a monarch, or a Waterloo column, or a Trafalgar monument, but because its architecture is obviously inferior.
To the question, "Whether the description of a game of cards be as poetical, supposing the execution of the artists equal, as a description of a walk in a forest?" it may be answered, that the materials are certainly not equal; but that "the artist," who has rendered the "game of cards poetical," is by far the greater of the two. But all this "ordering" of poets is purely arbitrary on the part of Mr. B. There may or may not be, in fact, different "orders" of poetry, but the poet is always ranked according to his execution, and not according to his branch of the art.
Tragedy is one of the highest presumed orders. Hughes has written a tragedy, and a very successful one; Fenton another; and Pope none. Did any man, however, — will even Mr. B. himself, — rank Hughes and Fenton as poets above Pope? Was even Addison (the author of Cato), or Rowe (one of the higher order of dramatists as far as success goes), or Young, or even Otway and Southerne, ever raised for a moment to the same rank with Pope in the estimation of the reader or the critic, before his death or since? If Mr. B. will contend for classifications of this kind, let him recollect that descriptive poetry has been ranked as among the lowest branches of the art, and description as a mere ornament, but which should never form "the subject" of a poem. The Italians, with the most poetical language, and the most fastidious taste in Europe, possess now five great poets, they say, Dante, Petrarch, Ariosto, Tasso, and, lastly, Alfieri; and whom do they esteem one of the highest of these, and some of them the very highest? Petrarch the sonneteer: it is true that some of his Canzoni are not less esteemed, but not more; who ever dreams of his Latin Africa?
Were Petrarch to be ranked according to the "order" of his compositions, where would the best of sonnets place him? with Dante and the other? no; but, as I have before said, the poet who executes best is the highest, whatever his department, and will ever be so rated in the world's esteem.
Had Gray written nothing but his Elegy, high as he stands, I am not sure that he would not stand higher; it is the corner-stone of his glory: without it, his odes would he insufficient for his fame. The depreciation of Pope is partly founded upon a false idea of the dignity of his order of poetry, to which he has partly contributed by the ingenious boast,
That not in fancy's maze he wandered long,
But stooped to Truth, and moralised his song.
He should have written "rose to truth." In my mind, the highest of all poetry is ethical poetry, as the highest of all earthly objects must be moral truth. Religion dues not make apart of my subject; it is something beyond human powers, and has failed in all human hands except Milton's and Dante's, and even Dante's powers are involved in his delineation of human passions, though in supernatural circumstances. What made Socrates the greatest of men? His moral truth — his ethics. What proved Jesus Christ the Son of God hardly less than his miracles? His moral precepts. And if ethics have made a philosopher the first of men, and have not been disdained as an adjunct to his Gospel by the Deity himself, are we to be told that ethical poetry, or didactic poetry, or by whatever name you term it, whose object is to make men better and wiser, is not the very first order of poetry; and are we to be told this too by one of the priesthood? It requires more mind, more wisdom, more power, than all the "forests" that ever were "walked for their description," and all the epics that ever were founded upon fields of battle. The Georgics are indisputably, and, I believe, undisputedly, even a finer poem than the Aeneid. Virgil knew this; he did not order them to he burnt.
The proper study of mankind is man.
It is the fashion of the day to lay great stress upon what they call "imagination" and "invention," the two commonest of qualities: an Irish peasant with a little whisky in his head will imagine and invent more than would furnish forth a modern poem. If Lucretius had not been spoiled by the Epicurean system, we should have had a far superior poem to any now in Existence. As mere poetry, it is the first of Latin poems. What then has ruined it? His ethics. Pope has not this defect; his moral is as pure as his poetry is glorious.
In speaking of artificial objects, I have omitted to touch upon one which I will now mention. Cannon may be presumed to be as highly poetical as art can make her objects. Mr. B. will, perhaps, tell me that this is because they resemble that grand natural article of Sound in heaven, and Similie (sic) upon earth-thunder. I shall be told triumphantly, that Milton made sad work with his artillery, when he armed his devils therewithal. He did so; and this artificial object must have had much of the Sublime to attract his attention for such a conflict. He has made an absurd use of it; but the absurdity consists not in using cannon against the angels of God, but any material weapon. The thunder of the clouds would have been as ridiculous and vain in the hands of the devils, as the "villainous saltpetre:" the angels were as impervious to the one as to the other. The thunderbolts become sublime in the hands of the Almighty, not as such, but because he deigns to use them as a means of repelling the rebel spirits; but no one can attribute their defeat to this grand piece of natural electricity: the Almighty willed, and they fell; his word would have been enough; and Milton is as absurd, (and, in fact, blasphemous,) in putting material lightnings into the hands of the Godhead, as in giving him hands at all.
The artillery of the demons was but the first step of his mistake, the thunder the next, and it is a step lower. It would have been fit for Jove, but not for Jehovah. The subject altogether was essentially unpoetical; he has made more of it than another could, but it is beyond him and all men.
In a portion of his reply, Mr. B. asserts that Pope "envied Phillips," because he quizzed his pastorals in the Guardian, in that most admirable model of irony, his paper on the subject. If there was any thing enviable about Phillips, it could hardly be his pastorals. They were despicable, and Pope expressed his contempt. If Mr. Fitzgerald published a volume of sonnets, or a Spirit of Discovery, or a Missionary, and Mr. B. wrote in any periodical journal an ironical paper upon them, would this be "envy?" The authors of the Rejected Addresses have ridiculed the sixteen or twenty "first living poets" of the day, but do they "envy" them? "Envy" writhes, it don't laugh. The authors of the R. A. may despise some, but they can hardly "envy" any of the persons whom they have parodied; and Pope could have no more envied Phillips than he did Welsted, or Theobald, or Smedley, or any other given hero of the Dunciad. He could not have envied him, even had he himself not been the greatest poet of his age. Did Mr. Inge "envy" Mr. Phillips when he asked him, "How came your Pyrrhus to drive oxen and say, 'I am goaded on by love?'" This question silenced poor Phillips but it no more proceeded from "envy" than did Pope's ridicule. Did he envy Swift? Did he envy Bolingbroke? Did he envy Gay the unparallelled success of his Beggar's Opera? We may be answered that these were his friends — true: but does friendship prevent envy? Study the first woman you meet with, or the first scribbler, let Mr. B. himself (whom I acquit fully of such an odious quality) study some of his own poetical intimates: the most envious man I ever heard of is a poet, and a high one; besides, it is an universal passion. Goldsmith envied not only the puppets for their dancing, and broke his shins in the attempt at rivalry, but was seriously angry because two pretty women received more attention than he did. This is envy; but where does Pope show a sign of the passion? In that case Dryden envied the hero of his MacFlecknoe. Mr. Bowles compares, when and where he can, Pope with Cowper — (the same Cowper whom in his edition of Pope he laughs at for his attachment to an old woman, Mrs. Unwin; search and you will find it; I remember the passage, though not the page); in particular he requotes Cowper's Dutch delineation of a wood, drawn up, like a seedsman's catalogue, with an affected imitation of Milton's style, as burlesque as the Splendid Shilling. These two writers, for Cowper is no poet, come into comparison in one great work, the translation of Homer. Now, with all the great, and manifest, and manifold, and reproved, and acknowledged, and uncontroverted faults of Pope's translation, and all the scholarship, and pains, and time, and trouble, and blank verse of the other, who can ever read Cowper? and who will ever lay down Pope, unless for the original? Pope's was "not Homer, it was Spondanus;" but Cowper's is not Homer either, it is not even Cowper. As a child I first read Pope's Homer with a rapture which no subsequent work could ever afford, and children are not the worst judges of their own language. As a boy I read Homer in the original, as we have all done, some of us by force, and a few by favour; under which description I come is nothing to the purpose, it is enough that I read him. As a man I have tried to read Cowper's version, and I found it impossible. Has any human reader ever succeeded?
And now that we have heard the Catholic reproached with envy, duplicity, licentiousness, avarice — what was the Calvinist? He attempted the most atrocious of crimes in the Christian code, viz. suicide — and why? because he was to be examined whether he was fit for an office which he seems to wish to have made a sinecure. His connection with Mrs. Unwin was pure enough, for the old lady was devout, and he was deranged; but why then is the infirm and then elderly Pope to be reproved for his connection with Martha Blount? Cowper was the almoner of Mrs. Throgmorton; but Pope's charities were his own, and they were noble and extensive, far beyond his future's warrant. Pope was the tolerant yet steady adherent of the most bigoted of sects; and Cowper the most bigoted and despondent sectary that ever anticipated damnation to himself or others. Is this harsh? I know it is, and I do not assert it as my opinion of Cowper personally, but to show what might be said, with just as great an appearance of truth and candour, as all the odium which has been accumulated upon Pope in similar speculations. Cowper was a good man, and lived at a fortunate time for his works.
Mr. B., apparently not relying entirely upon his own arguments, has, in person or by proxy, brought forward the names of Southey and Moore. Mr. Southey "agrees entirely with Mr. B. in his invariable principles of poetry." The least that Mr. B. can do in return is to approve the "invariable principles of Mr. Southey." I should have thought that the word "invariable" might have stuck in Southey's throat, like Macbeth's "Amen!" I am sure it did in mine, and I am not the least consistent of the two, at least as a voter. Moore (et tu, Brute!) also approves, and Mr. I. Scott. There is a letter also of two lines from a gentleman in asterisks, who, it seems, is a poet of "the highest rank:" — who can this be? not my friend Sir Walter, surely. Campbell it can't be; Rogers it won't be.
You have hit the nail in the head, and * * * * [Pope, I presume] on the head also.
I remain, yours affectionately,
And in asterisks let him remain. Whoever this person may be, he deserves, for such a judgement of Midas, that "the nail" which Mr. B. has "hit in the head," should be driven through his own ears; I am sure that they are long enough.
The attempt of the poetical populace of the present day to obtain an ostracism against Pope is as easily accounted for as the Athenian's shell against Aristides; they are tired of hearing him always called "the Just." They are also fighting for life; for, if he maintains his station, they will reach their own — by falling. They have raised a mosque by the side of a Grecian temple of the purest architecture; and, more barbarous than the barbarians from whose practice I have borrowed the figure, they are not contented with their own grotesque edifice, unless they destroy the prior, and purely beautiful fabric which preceded, and which shames them and theirs for ever and ever. I shall be told that amongst those I have been (or it may be still am) conspicuous — true, and I am ashamed of it. I have been amongst the builders of this Babel, attended by a confusion of tongues, but never amongst the envious destroyers of the classic temple of our predecessor. I have loved and honoured the fame and name of that illustrious and unrivalled man, far more than my own paltry renown, and the trashy jingle of the crowd of "Schools" and upstarts, who pretend to rival, or even surpass him. Sooner than a single leaf should be torn from his laurel, it were better that all which these men, and that I, as one of their set, have ever written, should
Line trunks, clothe spice, or, fluttering in a row,
Befringe the rails of Bedlam, or Soho!
There are those who will believe this, and those who will not. You, sir, know how far I am sincere, and whether my opinion, not only in the short work intended for publication, and in private letters which can never be published, has or has not been the same. I look upon this as the declining age of English poetry; no regard for others, no selfish feeling, can prevent me from seeing this, and expressing the truth. There can be no worse sign for the taste of the times than the depreciation of Pope. It would be better to receive for proof Mr. Cobbett's rough but strong attack upon Shakespeare and Milton, than to allow this smooth and "candid" undermining of the reputation of the most perfect of our poets, and the purest of our moralists. Of his power in the passions, in description, in the mock heroic, I leave others to descant. I take him on his strong ground as an ethical poet: in the former, none excel; in the mock heroic and the ethical, none equal him; and, in my mind, the latter is the highest of all poetry, because it does that in verse, which the greatest of men have wished to accomplish in prose. If the essence of poetry must be a lie, throw it to the dogs, or banish it from your republic, as Plato would have done. He who can reconcile poetry with truth and wisdom, is the only true "poet" in its real sense, "the maker," "the creator," — why must this mean the "liar," the "feigner," the "tale-teller?" A man may make and create better things than these.
I shall not presume to say that Pope is as high a poet as Shakespeare and Milton, though his enemy, Warton, places him immediately under them. I would no more say this than I would assert in the mosque (once Saint Sophia's), that Socrates was a greater man than Mahomet. But if I say that he is very near them, it is no more than has been asserted of Burns, who is supposed
To rival all but Shakespeare's name below.
I say nothing against this opinion. But of what "order," according to the poetical aristocracy, are Burns's poems? There are his opus magnum, "Tam O'Shanter," a tale; the Cotter's Saturday Night, a descriptive sketch; some others in the same style: the rest are songs. So much for the rank of his productions; the rank of Burns is the very first of his art. Of Pope I have expressed my opinion elsewhere, as also of the effect which the present attempts at poetry have had upon our literature. If any great national or natural convulsion could or should overwhelm your country in such sort as to sweep Great Britain from the kingdoms of the earth, and leave only that, after all, the most living of human things, a dead language, to be studied and read, and imitated by the wise of future and far generations, upon foreign shores; if your literature should become the learning of mankind, divested of party cabals, temporary fashions, and national pride and prejudice; — an Englishman, anxious that the posterity of strangers should know that there had been such a thing as a British Epic and Tragedy, might wish for the preservation of Shakespeare and Milton; but the surviving World would snatch Pope from the wreck, and let the rest sink with the people. He is the moral poet of all civilisation; and as such, let us hope that he will one day be the national poet of mankind. He is the only poet that never shocks; the only poet whose faultlessness has been made his reproach. Cast your eye over his productions; consider their extent, and contemplate their variety: — pastoral, passion, mock heroic, translation, satire, ethics, — all excellent, and often perfect. If his great charm be his melody, how comes it that foreigners adore him even in their diluted translations? But I have made this letter too long. Give my compliments to Mr. Bowles.
Yours ever very truly,
To John Murray, Esq.
Post Scriptum. — Long as this letter has grown, I find it necessary to append a postscript; if possible, a short one. Mr. Bowles denies that he has accused Pope of "a sordid money-getting passion;" but, he adds, "if I had ever done so, I should be glad to find any testimony that might show he was not so." This testimony he may find to his heart's content in Spence and elsewhere. First, there is Martha Blount, who, Mr. B. charitably says, "probably thought he did not save enough for her, as legatee." Whatever she thought upon this point, her words are in Pope's favour. Then there is Alderman Barber; see Spence's Anecdotes. There is Pope's cold answer to Halifax when he proposed a pension; his behaviour to Craggs and to Addison upon like occasions, and his own two lines—
And, thanks to Homer, since I live and thrive,
Indebted to no prince or peer alive;
written when princes would have been proud to pension, and peers to promote him, and when the whole army of dunces were in array against him, and would have been but too happy to deprive him of this boast of independence. 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. B. 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 this multitude of sins?" and then plead that "they did not occur to his recollection?" Is this the frame of mind and of 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. Is the plea of "not recollecting" such prominent facts to be admitted? Mr. B. has been at a public school, and, as I have been publicly educated also, I can sympathise with his predilection. When we were in the third form even, had we pleaded on the Monday morning that we had not brought up the Saturday's exercise, because "we had forgotten it," what would have been the reply? And is an excuse, which would not be pardoned to a schoolboy, to pass current in a matter which so nearly concerns the fame of the first poet of his age, if not of his country? If Mr. B. so readily forgets the virtues of others, why complain so grievously that others have a better memory for his own faults? They are but the faults of an author; while the virtues he omitted from his catalogue are essential to the justice due to a man.
Mr. B. appears, indeed to be susceptible beyond the privilege of authorship. There is a plaintive dedication to Mr. Gifford, in which he is made responsible for all the articles of the Quarterly. Mr. Southey, it seems, "the most able and eloquent writer in that review," approves of Mr. Bowles's publication. Now it seems to me the more impartial, that notwithstanding that "the great writer of the Quarterly" entertains opinions opposite to the able article on Spence, nevertheless that essay was permitted to appear. Is a review to be devoted to the opinions of any one man? Must it not vary according to circumstances, and according to the subjects to be criticised? I fear that writers must take the sweets and bitters of the public journals as they occur, and an author of so long a standing as Mr. B. might have become accustomed to such incidents; he might be angry, but not astonished. I have been reviewed in the Quarterly almost as often as Mr. B., and have had as pleasant things said, and some as unpleasant, as could well be pronounced. In the review of "The Fall of Jerusalem," it is stated, that I have devoted "my powers, etc., to the worst parts of Manicheism;" which, being interpreted, means that I worship the devil. Now, I have neither written a reply, nor complained to Gifford. I believe that I observed in a letter to you, that I thought "that the critic might have praised Milman without finding it necessary to abuse me;" but did I not add at the same time, or soon after (apropos, of the note in the book of Travels), that I would not, if it were even in my power, have a single line cancelled on my account in that nor in any other publication? Of course, I reserve to myself the privilege of response when necessary. Mr. B. seems in a whimsical state about the author of the article on Spence. You know very well that I am not in your confidence, nor in that of the conductors of the journal. The moment I saw that article, I was morally certain that I knew the author "by his style." You will tell me that I do not know him: that is all as it should be; keep the secret, so shall I, though no one has ever entrusted it to me. He is not the person whom Mr. B. denounces. Mr. B.'s extreme sensibility reminds me of a circumstance which occurred on board of a frigate in which I was a passenger and guest of the captain's for a considerable time. The surgeon on board, a very gentlemanly young man, and remarkably able in his profession, wore a wig. Upon this ornament he was extremely tenacious. As naval jests are sometimes a little rough, his brother officers made occasional allusions to this delicate appendage to the doctor's person. One day a young lieutenant, in the course of a facetious discussion, said, "Suppose now, doctor, I should take off your hat." — "Sir," replied the doctor, "I shall talk no longer with you; you grow scurrilous." He would not even admit so near an approach as to the hat which protected it. In like manner, if any body approaches Mr. Bowles's laurels, even in his outside capacity of an editor, "they grow scurrilous." You say that you are about to prepare an edition of Pope; you cannot do better for your own credit as a publisher, nor for the redemption of Pope from Mr. B., and of the public taste from rapid degeneracy.
Additional note to Letter 1st to M., Esq.
In the composition of this letter I omitted to cite three very celebrated passages in three different languages ancient and modern, the whole of whose merit consists in artificial imagery. The first is from Congreve — and Dr. Johnson pronounces the opinion upon it, "If I were required to select from the whole mass of English poetry the most poetical paragraph, I know not what I could prefer to an exclamation in the Mourning Bride—
No — all is hushed and still as death: 'tis dreadful
How reverend is the face of this tall pile,
Whose ancient pillars rear their marble heads,
To bear aloft its arched and ponderous roof,
By its own weight made steadfast and immoveable,
Looking tranquillity! It strikes an awe
And terror on my aching sight: the tombs
And monumental caves of death look cold,
And shoot a chillness to my trembling heart.
Give me thy hand and let me hear thy voice;
Nay — quickly speak to me, and let me hear
Thy voice — my own affrights me with its echoes.
"He who reads those lines enjoys for a moment the powers of a poet; he feels what he remembers to have felt before, but he feels it with great increase of Sensibility: he recognizes a familiar image, but meets it again amplified and expanded, embellished with beauty and enlarged with majesty." — Johnson's Lives, etc.
Here is the finest piece of poetry in our language, so pronounced by the noblest critical mind which our country has produced, and the whole imagery of this quintessence of poetry is unborrowed from external nature. I presume that no one can differ from Johnson that as description it is unequalled. For a controversy upon the subject the reader is referred to Boswell's Johnson. Garrick attempted a parallel with Shakespeare's Description of Dover Cliff, but Johnson stopped him (I quote from Memory, not having the book) with "Nay Sir,
half way down
Hangs one who gathers samphire — dreadful trade!
I am speaking of a description in which nothing is introduced from life to break the effect."
The other two passages of a familiar and celebrated image are, first, in Lucretius—
Sed veluti pueris abscinthia taetra medentes
Cum dare conantur, prius oras pocula circum
Contingunt mellis dulci flavoque liquore, etc.
And the second the same, closely copied by Tasso —
Cosi all'egro fanciul porgiamo aspersi
Di soave licor gli orli del vaso, etc.
A more familiar and household image can hardly be conceived than that of a nurse sweetening the rim of a cup of physic to coax a sickly brat into taking it, and yet there are few passages in poetry more quoted and admired than the Italian lines.
In Cowper (whom Mr. B. thinks a poet) "the twanging horn on yonder bridge," and Toby "banging the door" are quite as effective as his laboured minutiae of the Wood or the Shrubbery.
Note Second, on the lines on Lady M. W. Montague.
In my opinion Pope has been more reproached for this couplet than is justifiable. It is harsh but partly true, for "libelled by her Hate" he was, and with regard to the supposed consequences of "her Love" be may be regarded as sufficiently punished in not having been permitted to make the experiment. He would probably have run the risk with considerable courage. The coarseness of the line is not greater than that of two lines which are easily to be found in the great Moralist, Johnson's "London:" the one detailing an accomplishment of a "fasting Frenchman" and the other on the "Monarch's air" of Balbus. I forbear to quote the lines of Johnson in all their extension, because as a young lady of Trumpington used to say of the Gownsmen (when I was at College and she was approached with too little respect) — they are so "curst undiliket."
Lady Mary appears to have been at least as much to blame as Pope. Some of her reflections and repartees are recorded as sufficiently exasperating. Pope in the whole of that business is to be pitied. When he speaks of his "miserable body" let it be recollected that he was at least aware of his deformity, as indeed deformed persons have in general sufficient wit to be.
It is also another unhappy dispensation of Nature that deformed persons, and more particularly those of Pope's peculiar conformation, are born with very strong passions. I believe that this is a physical fact, the truth of which is easily ascertained. Montaigne has in his universal speculations written a chapter upon it more curious than decent. So that these unhappy persons have to combat, not only against the passions which they feel, but the repugnance they inspire. Pope was unfortunate in this respect by being born in England; there are climates where his Humpback would have made his (amatory) fortune. At least I know one notorious instance of a hunchback who is as fortunate as the "grand Chancelier" of the Grammont. To be sure, his climate and the morals of his country are both of them favourable to the material portion of that passion of which Buffon says that "the refined sentiment is alike fictitious and pernicious."
I think that I could show if necessary that Lady Mary Wy. Montague was also greatly to blame in that ground, not for having rejected, but for having encouraged him; but I would rather decline the task, though she should have remembered her own line "he comes too near that comes to be denied."
I admire her so much, her beauty, her talents, that I should do this reluctantly. I besides am so attached to the very name of "Mary" that, as Johnson once said, "if you called a dog Hervey I should love him," so, if you were to call a female of the same species "Mary," I should love it better than others (biped or quadruped) of the same sex with a different appellation. She was an extraordinary woman. She could translate Epicteus, and yet write a song worthy of Aristippus. The lines
And when the long hours of the Public are past,
And we meet with Champaigne and a Chicken at last,
May every fond pleasure that moment endear!
Be banished afar both discretion and fear!
Forgetting or scorning the airs of the Crowd,
He may cease to be formal, and I to be proud,
Till lost in the joy we confess that we live,
And he may be rude, and yet I may forgive.
There, Mr. Bowles, what say you to such a supper with such a woman? And her own description too? Is not her "Champaigne and Chicken" worth a forest or two? Is it not poetry? It appears to me that this Stanza contains the "puree" of the whole Philosophy of Epicurus. I mean the practical philosophy of his School, not the precepts of the Master; for I have been too long at the University not to know that the Philosopher was [...] a moderate man. But after all, would not some of us have been as great fools as Pope? For my part I wonder that with his quick feelings, her coquetry, and his disappointment, he did no more, instead of writing some lines which are to be condemned if false and regretted if true.