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It is said by Warton that the lines on Atossa were brought to the notice of the Duchess of Marlborough, under the pretence that they were intended for the portrait of the Duchess of Buckingham; but she soon stopped the person reading them to her, and called aloud, “I cannot be so imposed upon ; I see plainly enough for whom they are designed;" and then violently abused the author. It is added that her Grace was afterwards reconciled to Pope, courted his favor, and gave him a thousand pounds to suppress the portrait ; which he accepted, it is said," by the persuasion of Mrs. M. Blount; and yet after the Duchess's death, it was both printed and published. This," says Warton, " is the greatest blemish in our Poet's moral character.” On which Bowles, one of the later editors of Pope, exclaims: * A blemish! call it rather, if it be the fact, the most shameful dereliction of every thing that was manly and honorable." Mr. Roscoe, another editor of Pope, is very indignant with Mr. Bowles for this censure, though advanced so hypothetically, and notwithstanding a subsequeat avowal on the part of the latter that he did not give credit
base" a story. Roscoe supposes that Mr. Bowles must have meant it to be implied that Pope was guilty of the act, or he would not have characterized it by such expressions; but surely it is unreasonable and unjust to take this view of the matter, after Mr. Bowles had by his own account indignantly disavowed his having charged Pope with such disgraceful treachery and meanness. Bowles was only surprised at the comparatively moderate manner in which Warton had spoken of an act that without any personal reference to Pope, was of a nature per se that could hardly be too sternly condemned. Johnson, though he does not seem to have heard any thing of the bribe, thought the character of Atossa was published with no great honor to the writer's gratitude, for the Poet had received from the Duchess a great deal of personal attention. Until this publication of the Marchmont Papers the story of the thousand pound bribe rested
entirely on the authority of Horace Walpole ; and Roscoe, Bowles, Campbell and others, had refused to credit it. The latter writer in his remarks on Pope, in his "Specimens of the British Poets," observes that Warton, in relating the anecdote (after Walpole) adds a circumstance which contradicts the statement itself. “The Duchess's imputed character,” says Campbell, “ is said to have appeared in 1746, two years after Pope's death ; Pope therefore could not have himself published it: and it is exceedingly improbable that the bribe ever existed.” It is clear that Pope did not publish it, but in one of the two letters, which we shall now subjoin, Lord Bolingbroke asserts, that Pope just before his death corrected and prepared it for the press, which in a moral sense amounts to much the same thing :
VISCOUNT BOLINGBROKE TO HUQU EARL OF MARCHMONT*.
“ Battersea, Monday. My dear Lord, --The arrival of your servant with the message from Lord Stair gives me an opportunity of telling you, that I continue in the resolution I mentioned to you last night, upon what you said to me from the Duchess of Marlborough. It would be a breach of that trust and confidence which Pope reposed in me, to give any one such of his papers as I think that no one should see.
If there are any
be injurious to the late duke or to her grace, even indirectly and covertly, as I hope there are not, they shall be destroyed : and you shall be a witness of their destruction. Copies of any such, I hope and believe, there are none abroad; and I hope the duchess will believe, I scorn to keep copies when I destroy originals. I was willing you should have these assurances under the hand of, my dear lord, your faithful and devoted humble servant,
VISCOUNT BOLING BROKE TO HUGH EARL OF MARCHMONT.
“ Monday Morning. “Our friend Pope, it seems corrected and prepared for the press, just before his death, an edition of the four Epistles that follow the Essay on
* Hugh Earl of Marchmont came to his title about four years before Pope died. He was honored with a fine compliment in the poet's beautiful inscription in his grotlo at Twickenham. He died 1794 in the eighty. sixth year of his age, and left no male issue.
Man. They were then printed off, and are now ready for publication. I am sorry for it, because, if he could be excused for writing the character of Atossa formerly, there is no excuse for his design of publishing it, after he had received the favour* (*10001.), you and I know; and the character of Atossa is inserted - I have a copy of the book. Warburton has the priety of it, as you know. Alter it he cannot, by the terms of the will. Is it worth while to suppress the edition ? or should her grace's friends say, as they may, from several strokes in it, that it was not intended to be her character? and should she despise it? If you come over hither, we may talk better than write on the subject. Adieu, my Lord.”
Now that we have Walpole's authority supported by that of Bolingbroke, it becomes necessary to examine the subject with greater industry and earnestness, I do not wish it to be supposed that the letters of Bolingbroke, connected with the testimony of Walpole, have at all satisfied my mind of the guilt of Pope. But I was certainly at first a little staggered by them. Much, as Sir Roger de Coverley would have observed, might be said on both sides of the question. To begin then with the dark side, I may remark that Pope's poetical ambition was his "ruling passion," and we may consequently imagine that the suppression of one of his best things (for such is the character of Atossa, as a piece of sharp and finished satire) was a sacrifice that required a more than ordinary display of virtuous resolution. He can hardly be supposed to have been quite sincere, when he eloquently exclaimed,
Cursed be the verse, how well soe'er it flow,
Because it is inconsistent with his attack on the Dake of Chandos in the character of Timon, and the use he made of his celebrated satire upon Addison, which though written in anger, was published in cool blood twenty years after! The celebrated character of Addison was so much admired, and Pope was so well pleased with it himself, that his poetical vanity got the better of his humanity and honor. Atterbury on his first perusal of the lines was struck with their energy and truth, and, as Roscoe remarks, with “ no very christian spirit,” he advised the Poet, “ as he now knew where his strength lay, not to suffer it to remain unemployed.” Pope seems to have taken the hint with equal readiness and success. Roscoe, who defends Pope's conduct on all occasions, with the usual partiality of an Editor, evinces a disposition to exculpate his conduct in the case of the satire on Addison ; but as Sir William Blackstone has rightly observed, however the Poet might be excused for penning such a character of his friend, in the first transports of his indignation, it reflects no great honor on his feelings to have kept it so long by him, and then to publish it after Addison was in his grave, and to hand it down to posterity engrafted into one of his best productions. Roscoe is mistaken in thinking his endeavour to prove that Pope was not actuated by a long and implacable hatred, will be serviceable to his cause; for when he notices the fact, that from the time of Addison's first perusal of the satire to the day of his death, he always treated Pope with the utmost civility, he makes the case tell more strongly against the poet for his want of generosity. I believe the truth to be, that Pope was not moved by any violent animosity towards the memory of Addison when he published the verses, but that his ruling passion, or in other words his love of fame, made him do what must have been in direct opposition to his own conscience and his natural feelings. While Pope's treatment of Addison was certainly a blot on the former's moral reputation, it may be thought to afford some appearance of confirmation to the assertions of Bolingbroke and Walpole, with respect to the satire on the Duchess of Marlborough ; because the man who could permit his ambition to overcome his sense of moral rectitude in one instance could do so in another. The two cases, however, are not exactly parallel. There is one important difference. Though Pope might have published an ill-natured satire to gratify his love of fame at the expense of his better feelings, it does not follow that he would have been base enough to take a bribe. In fact, all that we know of Pope, is inconsistent with this feature of the charge against him. He was economical and " paper-sparing" to be sure, but he was by no means avaricious of wealth, and rejected many opportunities of making money, when the mode by which it was to be obtained implied the slightest interference with his personal independence*. He was also extremely liberal and even lavish in his pecuniary favors to persons in distress, and by a judicious management of his small means contrived to do more good than many who were equally well disposed and who had double his advantages. On this point, therefore, the probabilities are strongly against Bolingbroke and Walpole. Pope labored the character of Atossa with extraordinary care, and was so gratified by his success, that his "ruling passion” alone, independent of any nobler or more prudent motive, would have made him reject at
* He twice refused a pension, and Spence tells us, on the authority of Warburton and others, that “ Pope never fattered any body for money in the whole course of his writings. Alderman Barber had a great inclination to have a stroke in his commendation inserted in some part of Pope's writings. He did not want money and he wanted fame. He would probably have given four or five thousand pounds to have been gratified in his desire, and gave Mr. Pope to understand so much; but Mr. Pope would never comply with such a baseness." We also find in Spence's Anecdotes that “ Pope was offered a very considerable sum by the Duchess of Marlborough if he would insert a good character of the Duke, and he absolutely refused it.” The knowledge of these offers of payment for praise might possibly have suggested, however unreasonably, the invention of the scandal respecting a supposed offer for the suppression of a satire, and the Poet's acceptance of it. Pope had also in his lifetime been accused of receiving a thousand pounds from the Duke of Chandos, and ungratefully returning the kindness with a satire on his patron. The receipt of the money he indignantly denied. He also may be said to have denied by anticipation the charge now considered when he proudly asserted that if he was a good poet, there was one thing upon which he valued himself and which was rare amongst good poets—a perfect independence. “I have never,” he said, “flattered any man, nor ever received anything of any man for my verses." The old Duchess of Marlborough herself, who left many legacies to her friends, might have remembered the poet in her will if he had treated her with more attention and respect.