Page images

As for his works in verse and prose,
I own myself no judge of those ;
Nor can I tell what critics thought 'em :
But this I know, all people bought 'em.
As with a moral view design'd
To cure the vices of mankind :
His vein, ironically grave,
Exposed the fool, and lash'd the knave.
To steal a hint was never known,
But what he writ was all his own.

'He never thought an honour done him,
Because a duke was proud to own him ;
Would rather slip aside and choose
To talk with wits in dirty shoes ;
Despised the fools with stars and garters,
So often seen caressing Chartres.
He never courted men in station,
Nor persons held in admiration;
Of no man's greatness was afraid,
Because he sought for no man's aid.
Though trusted long in great affairs
He gave himself no haughty airs :
Without regarding private ends,
Spent all his credit for his friends ;
And only chose the wise and good ;
No flatterers ; no allies in blood :
But succour'd virtue in distress,
And seldom fail'd of good success ;
As numbers in their hearts must own,
Who, but for him, had been unknown.

[blocks in formation]

'Perhaps I may allow the Dean Had too much satire in his vein; And seem'd determined not to starve it, Because no age could more deserve it. Yet malice never was his aim ; He lash'd the vice, but spared the name ; No individual could resent, Where thousands equally were meant ;

His satire points at no defect,
But what all mortals may correct ;
For he abhorr'd that senseless tribe
Who call it humour when they gibe :
He spared a hump, or crooked nose,
Whose owners set not up for beaux.
True genuine dulness moved his pity,
Unless it offer'd to be witty.
Those who their ignorance confest,
He ne'er offended with a jest ;
But laugh'd to hear an idiot quote
A verse from Horace learn’d by rote.

“He knew a hundred pleasing stories,
Witn all the turns of Whigs and Tories :
Was cheerful to his dying day ;
And friends would let him have his way.

‘He gave the little wealth he had
To build a house for fools and mad;
And show'd by one satiric touch,
No nation wanted it so much.'


[ALEXANDER POPE was born in Lombard Street, in the city of London, 1688. His father was a wholesale linen-draper, who, having realised a modest competence, retired to the country to live upon it. Pope's youth was spent at Binfield in the skirts of Windsor Forest. Pope was brought up a Catholic, his father, though the son of a beneficed clergyman of the Established Church, having become a convert to Catholicism during a residence on the continent. On the death of his father, Pope, who had largely increased his inheritance by the profits of his translation of Homer, established himself at Twickenham. Here he resided till his death in 1744, employing himself in writing, in embellishing his grounds, of five acres, and in intercourse with most of the wits, and other famous men and women of his time, among whom Gay, Swift, Arbuthnot, and Lord Bolingbroke were his especial intimates. Pope was deformed, and sickly from childhood, and his constant ill-health made his temper fretful, waspish, and irritable. Notwithstanding these defects of character he secured the warm attachment of his friends. Bolingbroke said of him that he never knew a man who had so tender a heart for his particular friends. Warburton, after spending a fortnight at Twickenham, said of him, “He is as good a companion as a poet, and, what is more, appears to be as good a man.' Pope's principal works arePastorals, published in 1709; Essay on Criticism, 1711; Pollio, 1712; Rape of the Lock, 1714; Translation of Homer's Iliad, 1715-18; Edition of Shakspeare, 1725; Translation of Homer's Odyssey, 1726; Dunciad, ist form, 1728; Epistle to the Earl of Burlington, 1731; On the Use of Riches, 1732; Essay on Man, Part I, 1732 ; Horace, Sat. 2. 1. imitated, 1733; Epistle to Lord Cobham, 1733; Epistle to Arbuthnot, 1735; Horace, Epistle 1. 1. imitated, 1737 ; Dunciad, altered and enlarged, 1742. His works were collected by his literary executor, Bishop Warburton, and published in 9 volumes in 1751.]

Pope is not only the foremost literary figure of his age, but the representative man of a system or style of writing which for a hundred years before and after him pervaded English poetry. The writers in this style are sometimes spoken of as the 'school of Pope.' But the title is a misnomer. A school coexists along with other schools from which it is distinguished by some special characteristics; all the contemporaneous schools taken together bearing the common and more general stamp of their age. During the period now under review, which extends, speaking roughly, from the Restoration to the French Revolution, the whole of English literary effort, but especially poetical effort, has one aim and is governed by one principle. This is the desire to attain perfection of form ; a sense of the beauty of literary composition as such.

It was the rise within the vernacular language of that idea, which impregnating the Latin language as written and spoken in the fifteenth century had produced the revived, neolatin literature of the Renaissance. Pope himself (Sat. and Ep. 5), in describing this ‘manner,' spoke of it as French, and attributed it to the imitation of French fashions introduced into England at the Restoration.

*We conquer'd France, but felt our captive's charms;
Her arts victorious triumph'd o'er our arms;
Britain to soft refinements less a foe,
Wit grew polite, and numbers learn'd to flow.'

De Quincey (Works, vol. 9) expatiates upon the deficiencies of this explanation of a revolution in literary taste. Certainly the court of Louis XIV exercised a great influence in all matters of taste. But this influence of fashion ceased when the ascendency of France was broken by the war of the Spanish succession, while the direction which had been impressed upon English poetry continued to dominate it till towards the close of the eighteenth century.

A better denomination for the period of our literature which extends from the Restoration to the French Revolution is the classical period.' And this is not to be taken to mean that English writers now imitated the Greek and Latin writers, or consciously formed themselves upon classical models, as the Latinists of the Renaissance imitated Cicero and Virgil. English writers had begun to perceive that there was such an art as the art of writing ; that it was not enough to put down words upon paper anyhow, provided they conveyed your meaning. They found that sounds were capable of modulation, and that pleasure could be given by the arrangement of words, as well as instruction conveyed by their import. The public ear was touched by this new harmony, and began imperatively to demand its satisfaction; and from that moment the rude volubility of the older time seemed to it as the gabble of savages. A poem was no longer to be a story told with picturesque imagery, but was to be a composition in symmetry and keeping A thought or a feeling was not to be blurted out in the first words that came, but was to be matured by reflection and reduced to its simplest expression. Condensation, terseness, neatness, finish—all qualities hitherto unheard of in English-had to be studied. It was found to be possible to please by your manner as well as by your matter. And having been shown to be possible, it became necessary. No writer who neglected the graces of style could gain acceptance by the public.

This fastidiousness of the public ear required on the part of writers greatly increased labour. It was no longer possible to take a sheet of paper, and write out your thoughts as fast as the pen would move.

'The mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease' were distanced in the race. It was evident that, under the new standard thus set up, the prize would be to him who should be willing to take most trouble about his style. Pope was willing. As a boy he took as his life's lesson the advice given him by 'knowing Walsh,' who used to tell him 'there was one way left of excelling ; for though we had several great poets, we never had any one great poet that was correct ; and desired me to make that my study and aim.' De Quincey, misconstruing Walsh's meaning, has been at the pains to show that Pope's verses abound in grammatical incorrectnesses. “The language,' he says, 'does not realise the idea ; it simply suggests or hints it.' That conveyance by suggestion, instead of a perfect and plenary deliverance, is just what Pope aimed at, and what Walsh inculcated, though he may not have chosen the very best word for what he meant.

Pope at once took the lead in the race of writers because he took more pains than they. He laboured day and night to form himself for his purpose, that viz. of becoming a writer of finished

To improve his mind, to enlarge his view of the world, to store up knowledge—these were things unknown to him. Any ideas, any thoughts, such as custom, chance, society or sect may suggest, are good enough, but each idea must be turned over till it has been reduced to its neatest and most epigrammatic expression.

If this definition of the literary aim which dominated all writing during the hundred years which followed 1660 be just, it follows from it that the period would be more favourable to prose than to


« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »