1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Alexander Pope

Bryan Waller Procter, in Effigies Poeticae, or, the Portraits of the British Poets (1824) 77-78.



From a Picture by Hudson in the Collection of the Duke of Buckingham.

We esteem this portrait as one of the very finest in our collection. Every line and feature of the face are pregnant with meaning. It is like the aspect of Voltaire, shrewd, sensitive, satiric, and observing; but it has a finer expression about the eye, which is large and serious, and capable, as it seems, as much of the romance of poetry as the piquancy of rhyme. Pope was, in his way, a delightful writer. His "Rape of the Lock," and some of his Epistles, are unequalled; but he wanted, if we may venture to say so, the loftier spirit of imagination. His tendency was to diminish, rather than to elevate; and accordingly, in his serious writings, finding little in his own mind to raise or enlarge, he often went to the common-places of poetry for his images: but in his familiar, and more particularly in his wittiest writings, he is at once piquant, original, and refined. Dryden was stronger, but coarser; his cuts, although perhaps as deep, were not so fine as those of Pope. The former seems better adapted to correct the vices of mankind, and the latter to pare down the follies of individuals. There is a sterner kind of satire about Dryden. His characters come out of the furnace of his indignation, hideous, vicious, and mishapen: but under the laughing or biting wit of Pope, writhe lords, and critics, and poets, all in their own natural shape, and encumbered only with Midas ears. The victims of the one, in short, we hate; and of the other we scorn. Occasionally there may be a closer resemblance between the two, and the above distinction may not hold; but, generally speaking, there was as much difference between the styles of the two poets and their weapons of attack, as there existed in their several constitutions, The bodily infirmities of Pope had, as may he supposed, a decided effect upon his poetry. Had he lived more in the world and on the town, we might have had his satires, his translations, his epigrams, but scarcely the delightful history of Belinda and her "lock." As some confirmation of this, look only at the manner in which Dryden and Swift wrote on the subject of women; and then at the want of sensuality apparent in the Rape of the Lock, and the airy wit which flutters throughout the whole of that exquisite story.