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would, according to this decision, be finer poetry than the works of Homer, Shakespeare or Milton.
Byron talks continually about Pope's faultlessness, forgetting what that elegant writer himself observes—
“ Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see
Thinks what ne'er was, nor is, nor e'er shall be;"
mortification, and though he always talked with apparent indifference of such of his poems as were certain of success, he could not help defending, with an uneasy and eager fondness, the less fortunate offspring of his brain. His translation of Pulci and his “ Hints from Horace,” because every body else considered them unworthy of his genius, and treated them with neglect, were always spoken of by him as his best productions. It is curious to observe, that notwithstanding his pretended indifference to criticism, he was evidently very anxious to stand well with the leading critics. There is something not very creditable to his independence, and certainly very inconsistent with the open and vigorous straight-forwardness of his general character, in the almost servile attention which he paid to Gifford, a man who had very little in common with the Noble Bard. To the tail of almost every letter to Murray he appended his respectful compliments to the Editor of the Quarterly, and always submitted his poems with extraordinary deference to that critic's judgment. In opposition to this I might be referred to his English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, as a proof of his literary fearlessness : but that was a youthful indiscretion, which he lived to repent. I make these remarks with no intention to depreciate the general manliness of his character, but to show that his anxiety to secure a favorable notice of his productions made him condescend to a humility very foreign to his nature. Not only was Byron anxious to secure the praises of his critics, but he was thrown into an agony, by such errors of the press, as were likely to lay him open to their censure. That he would have bribed, with money, “his Grandmother's Review, The British,” to praise him, is not very likely; but it is amusing to learn from one of his letters, that so anxious was he, that his muse should not appear in a disadvantageous dress, that when he heard of some one having made an indifferent translation of his Manfred into Italian, he immediately offered him any sum of money that he expected to obtain by his project, if he would throw the translation into the fire, and promise not to meddle with his Lordship’s poems for the future. Having ascertained, that the utmost the man could expect for his version, was 200 francs, Lord Byron offered him that sum, if he would desist from publishing. The Italian however held out for more, and could not be brought to terms, until Byron threatened to horsewhip him. He at last took the 200 francs and gave up his manuscript, entering at the same time into a written engagement never to translate any more of the noble Poet's works. I believe this is the first instance on record of a man having been paid not to translate a poem. The Italian seems to have been a ludicrous specimen of a mercepary author, and pocketed both the compliment and the cash with equal coolness.
and towards the conclusion of his letter, his Lordship affirms that if any great national or natural convulsion could or should overwhelm Great Britain and sweep it from the kingdoms of the earth, and leave only a dead language, 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. Even the name of Byron, will not shelter the absurdity of this observation, or make me hesitate to protest against so preposterous a conclusion. Amongst other strange things in this letter is his Lordship’s assertion that “ COWPER IS NO Poet;" which assertion is soon followed by another, that Cowper's lines addressed to his Nurse, by no means one of his best performances, are “eminently poetical and pathetic .!"
Pope has no doubt been greatly undervalued by the critics of the present day, though Lord Byron, who was jealous of the Lake School, and at once abused and imitated its productions, ran into the opposite extreme, and endeavored to bring such men as Wordsworth and Southey into ridicule and contempt by invidious comparisons. Pope was a very exquisite and admirable poet, and with considerable hesitation with reference to the rival claims of Dryden, may perhaps be said to be at the very head of the artificial school of poetry. But though he may be allowed to be the first in his peculiar walk, he must rank comparatively low in the higher department of his art. That lofty enthusiasm, that passionate admiration of external nature, and that profound knowledge of the human heart which are so conspicuous in the dramas of the immortal Shakespeare, we should look for in vain amongst the condensed couplets and labored elegancies of Pope. At the same time it is not to be inferred that he has no enthusiasm, no sense of the charms of nature, nor insight into the human heart; for he possesses all these qualities, in a certain degree : but they
are not equal in depth and intensity to the same qualities in the highest order of poets, nor do they constitute the predominant characteristics of his mind.
Perhaps the sound sense, the fine irony, the tact for personal ridicule or eulogy, and the intimate acquaintance with polite society and artificial habits, for which Pope was so remarkably distinguished, have led the generality of critics to overlook or undervalue the more purely poetical qualities which he certainly possessed, though in a less eminent degree.
It is strange that Lord Byron and the other defenders of Pope, have not brought forward the various proofs which are to be found in his works of his power of description ; for Warton, Wordsworth and Bowles have laid great stress on his palpable deficiency in this important qualification of a true poet. His translation of the Moon-light Scene in the Iliad is spoken of by Wordsworth with contempt, though a complimentary allusion is made to the “ Windsor Forest.” It is worth while quoting his remarks :
“ It is remarkable that, excepting the Nocturnal Reverie of Lady Winchelsea, and a passage or two in the Windsor Forest of Pope, the poetry of the period intervening between the publication of Paradise Lost and the Seasons does not contain a single new image of external nature; and scarcely presents a familiar one from which it can be inferred that the
of the poet had been steadily fixed upon his object, much less that his feelings had urged him to work upon it in the spirit of genuine imagination. To what a low state knowledge of the most obvious and important phenomena had sunk, is evident from the style in which Dryden had executed a description of Night in one of his Tragedies, and Pope his translation of the celebrated Moon-light Scene in the Iliad. A blind man, in the habit of attending accurately to descriptions casually dropped from the lips of those around him, might easily depict their appearances with more truth. Dryden's lines* are vague, bombastic and senseless; those of Pope, though he had Homer to guide him, are throughout false and contradictoryt. The
* Melmoth says that Pope's translation of this passage surpasses the original !
+ The following is the passage alluded to by Wordsworth. Rymer regarded it with extatic admiration.
“ All things are hushed as Nature's self lay dead :
The mountains seem to nod their drowsy head :
verses of Dryden, once highly celebrated, are forgotten ; those of Pope still retain their hold upon public estimation--nay there is not a passage of descriptive poetry, which at this day finds so many ardent admirers.”
Instead of supporting Pope on his strong ground of the “ Windsor Forest,” Lord Byron with his usual love of opposition confines himself wholly to a consideration of this Moon-light Scene, which he contends is full of truth and beauty. Now what can be more common-place and indistinct than such phrases and epithets as
refulgent lamp of night”—“sacred light”—“the vivid planets roll"-"gild the glowing pole"-"a flood of glory,” &c. &c. ? They are precisely of that description which one would expect to meet with in the verses of a school-boy, and present no clear picture to the mind. A living writer has done more justice to the same well known passage. I allude to Mr. Elton. Every reader who is at all versed in the elegant literature of the day, is familiar with the merits of that gentleman, whose translations of the poets of Greece and Rome are rarely denied an honorable place in a well selected library. Mere English scholars, unacquainted with the original, have often been heard to acknowledge, that Elton's translations gave them a higher notion of the purity, simplicity and truth of Greek poetry than any other versions in our language. It is now almost universally admitted, that Pope, as a translator, is too ornate, and takes too many liberties with the venerable blind bard of the Iliad and the Odyssey. He has made an odd mixture of ancient simplicity and modern finery. The superiority of Cowper's translation of Homer to that of Pope, would be more apparent, if the poet of Olney had not been so fearful of falling into the errors of his immediate predecessor as to sin in a contrary and less popular extreme. His version is too studiously
The little birds in dreams their songs repeat,
bare. It cannot be denied that he has sometimes passed the limits of a poetical simplicity, and has fallen into a prosaic mean
But he is not always so unfortunate, and no reader of true taste would hesitate to prefer his translation of the celebrated Moon-light Scene, to that of Pope. Surely there is something simple, natural, and, in a word, Homeric, in the following passage, that it would be in vain to look for in the couplets of his predecessor.
As when around the clear, bright moon, the stars
This is incomparably better than the stuff in Pope, about “ scious swains" " eyeing the blue vault,” and “ blessing the useful* light.” Elton's translations have often much simplicity of Cowper's, and though in the same passage, he is, perhaps, less successful than him, his version has far more nature than Pope's.
As beautiful the stars shine out in heaven
The lines, however, with which Pope follows up this passage are very exquisite :
The long reflections of the distant fires
* This is quite a Utilitarian epithet!