1815 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Alexander Pope

Anti-Vandalis, "The Destruction of Pope's Villa" New Monthly Magazine 4 (November 1815) 318.



MR. EDITOR,

On reading a recent number of that truly interesting work, the "Beauties of England and Wales," comprehending a portion of Middlesex, by Mr. J. NORRIS BREWER, I was astonished to find the following notice of Pope's villa at Twickenham, a spot endeared to every cultivated mind, by its connection with the chief literary characters of that poet's ear. After mentioning the transmission of the property through the hands of Lord Mendip, who guarded every relic of his immortal precursor with pious care, Mr. Brewer thus continues: — "After the death of Lord Mendip, Pope's villa was sold to Sir John Brisco, bart. and on the decease of that gentleman it was again exposed to sale, and was unfortunately purchased by the Baroness Howe, in the year 1807. Under the direction of that lady the house has been taken down, and a new dwelling erected, at the distance of about one hundred yards from the site.

"It is difficult to conceive what could be her ladyship's motive for this act of entire destruction, except the temptation offered by the value of the bricks and the timber, the whole of which might perhaps at a good market produce some five and forty pounds. If the Baroness had been desirous of constructing a more commodious residence than that inhabited by Lord Mendip, she might without any great blot to the grounds or injury to the prospect, have suffered the central part of the structure to remain, the portion once inhabited by Mr. Pope, and so highly reverenced by Lord Mendip. Even calculating on the sum produced by the materials, we must think that she did not bear a careful eye towards her own interest, as at a future market, the estate may be purchased by some person of common feeling and common taste, who would necessarily be disposed to give more for the premises if they contained a relic so estimable in the view of the civilized world, as the former residence of a poet who is the boast of his country.

"The work of devastation is complete! and all that remains for the examiner, after looking round with amazement, and assuring himself that such a needless task of ill taste was indeed performed in the nineteenth century, is to stand on the site, now mournfully verdant, and recollect the bright sunshine of intellect which once illumined the spot. Here Pope translated a part of the Iliad, that noble version of poetry that has greatly assisted in harmonizing the language of his country; here he wrote the Dunciad; the Essay on Man: the Epistles: and numerous poems of a minor size, which only the few can forget. In the house which once occupied this site he entertained Swift, Gay, Arbuthnot, and hence are dated the greater number of those letters so universally admired for elegance and wit. Here St. John

Mingled with the social bowl
The feast of reason, and the flow of soul.

It was here that Pope died! How painful that only the stranger, visiting the spot, should look with reverence on a place so hallowed!"

I was almost inclined, Mr. Editor, to doubt the evidence of my eyes, while perusing this mournful tale of tasteless destruction. Can it be, that the motive for all this could indeed consist in the paltry value of the materials! if so, what pity that the intention had not publicly transpired, and I dare predict, that every lover of the taste, literature, and language of his country, would have flown to contribute his mite to preserve the almost holy structure from demolition.

There are some persons who adopt with fondness as the lines of the poet:

Th' aspiring youth
That fir'd the Ephesian dome, outlives in fame
The pious fool that rais'd it.

If it were indeed the desire of this lady to be "damn'd to everlasting fame," I cannot readily imagine any means more favourable for the purpose; but, though it is true that the "recollection" alone is left us of the intellectual glories of that far-famed villa, yet we have the satisfaction to reflect, that the hand which could invade the "local habitation" of our immortal poet, can never destroy those bright emanations of genius, which soothe and enliven our studious hours.

I am &c.

ANTI-VANDALIS.

Oct 10, 1815.