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Hear this and tremble, you who escape the laws;
We must acknowledge his service to us in reflecting, with curious completeness, the thoughts of his day. He resembles a plastic material, which has taken, with singular sharpness and fidelity, the main peculiarities of the time. A semi-Deist, without well knowing what Deism meant, he exhibits in the Essay on Man the religious creed of the age,-a creed which, by refining the Deity into an abstraction, leaves religion soulless,- a bare skeleton of logic. In his translation of Homer's Iliad, he exemplifies in its utmost excellence the theory of artificial poetry. His various satires are significant of the social structure.
In spiritual interests, his influence will ever be one of mixed good and evil. The reason is simple,— he had not spiritual healthfulness. No man can inspire and sustain his fellow-beings with high and happy emotions, who has not religious realization, and a just sense of the dignity of human nature. Here is his characteristic view of human life:
'Behold the child, by nature's kindly law,
The 'rattle,' the 'straw,' the 'beads, and the 'prayer-books' are equally baubles, and end alike in weariness and death. This is deliberate and final,—the sum of life's poor play'! The greatest men have indeed had a sense of the pettiness of our lives; no great soul could ever be without it; but mark the difference: life is a brief dream, vanishing into the vast abyss of ever-present mystery,-- be humble; it is a shifting scene, but Heaven is behind the veil of phenomena,- be of good cheer amid your frailties; you are gifted with an immortal spirit, but you stand in the shadow of the great darkness,- be lowly wise. We would have it considered well, that he who would give enduring and efficient utterance to those echoing sentiments which search the heart, and in virtue of which poetry fulfils its truest mission of soothing and elevating the soul; he who would gain the orbit of the high, the holy, and the real, see them in their eternal beauty, feel them in their universal interest, and exert the measure of their power on the minds of his readers,— must have first a profound reverence for the divine, and a profound sympathy for the human,-its hopes and its sorrows, its infirmities and its aspirations.
1 Pope's Imitations of Horace.
What we would commend to the student's careful remembrance, as of practical moment, is Pope's admirable unity of method. He searched the pages of Dryden for the best fabric of verse, and, having found it, used it habitually. He read, first to know, then to judge,- always with reference to a fixed object. As he read, he possessed himself of the beauties of speech, gleaned what he thought to be brilliant or useful, and preserved it all in a regular collection. His intelligence was perpetually on the wing. Not content with well-done, he endeavored to do better. In his highest flights, he wished to go higher. Having written, he revised often, retouched every part with an unsparing hand and an attentive eye. Here is a specimen indicative of his continual corrections and critical erasures :
“The wrath of Peleus' son, the direful spring
fill'd the shady hell with chiefs untimely Milton, Addison, Tasso, Balzac, Pascal, felt similar anxieties. The first was solicitous after correct punctuation, the second after the minutiæ of the press. The manuscripts of the third, still preserved, are illegible from the vast number of corrections. Balzac, dissatisfied with his first thoughts, would expend a week on single page, and Pascal frequently occupied twenty days on one
illiad, -as printed.
2 Corresponding lines of the original manuscript, the words in italics being erased, and those under them adopted instead. Between this copy and the printed page, was, of course, an intermediate manuscript.
of his Provincial Letters. They realized that posterity will respect only those who
File off the mortal part
of glowing thought with Attic art.' ‘A little thing gives perfection,' said an ancient philosopher, 'but perfection is not a little thing.'
CRITICAL PERIOD: SECOND PHASE.
What do we look for in studying the history of a past age? Is it to learn the political transactions and characters of the leading public men? Is it to make ourselves acquainted with the life and being of the time? I take up a volume of Dr. Smollet, or a volume of the “Spectator,' and say the fiction carries a greater amount of truth in solution, than the volume which purports to be all true. Out of the fictitious book I get the expression of the life of the time; of the manners; of the movement, the dress, the pleasures, the ridicules of society; the old times live again, and I travel in the old country of England. Can the heaviest historian do more for me!-- Thackeray.
Politics.-A period of Whig supremacy. Pressed by the people and abandoned by the crown, the Tories were unable to take any share in the government. Strong in numbers and in property, they had scarcely a single man of distinguished talents in business or debate. The preponderance of intellect was Whig.
Internally — with the exception of one or two ineffectual attempts to disturb the tranquillity - a time of political torpor.
. Faction had sunk into repose.
Two ministers give lustre to the administrative policy, Robert Walpole and William Pitt. The first loved peace, and made his country prosperous; the second loved war, and made her glorious.
Society.–For literary merit, a dark night between two sunny days. The age of princely patronage had passed; that of general intelligence had not arrived. A poet was a wild ass wedded to his desolate freedom; a ragged, squalid fellow who lodged in a garret up four flights of stairs, dined in a cellar on musty pudding among footmen out of place, wore dirty linen and a greasy coat, stood at restaurant windows snuffing the scent of what he could not afford to taste; slept, like Savage, amid the ashes of a glass-house in December, died in a hospital, and was buried, not in Westminster Abbey, but in a parish vault. Such was the fate of many a writer who, had he lived thirty years earlier, might have sat in Parliament; and, had he written in our day, would have lived in comfort by the mere sale of his writings. A few
A eminent authors were more fortunate. Pope, raised above want by his legacy, and the patronage which, in his youth, both parties extended to his Iliad, lived calm and admired in his villa. Upon Young, Walpole had bestowed his only pension as the reward of literary excellence. Thomson, by attaching himself to the opposition, had obtained, after much severe suffering, the means of subsistence. Richardson depended less upon his novels than upon his shop.
Johnson and Fielding, two of the ablest men of the period, were hunted by bailiffs, and arrested for debt.
The change in the position of writers was injurious to society, as well as to literature. The government, by helping only those who would employ their talent in the lowest forms of political libel, gave society a frivolous and material tone which it has never wholly lost.
Moral revolutions are slow. As in the preceding period, we see corruption in high places, and brutality in low. In the House of Commons, members were notoriously at the command of the highest bidder, formed combinations, and extorted large wages by threatening to strike. Here is a man of the world doing business: 'He (Walpole) wanted to carry a question ... to which he knew there would be great opposition. . . . As he was passing through the Court of Requests, he met a member of the contrary party, whose avarice, he imagined, would not reject a large bribe. He took him aside, and said, “Such a question comes on this day; give me your vote, and here is a bank-bill of two thousand pounds,” which he put into his hands. The member made him this answer: “Sir Robert, you have lately served some of my particular friends; and when my wife was last at court, the king was very gracious to her, which must have happened at your instance. I should therefore think myself very ungrateful (putting the bank-bill into his pocket) if I were to refuse the favor you are now pleased to ask me.”' Private manners
not more estimable than public. Money,' wrote Montesquieu, is here esteemed above everything, honor and virtue not much.' The coarseness of fashionable life, prevailing in the first years of the century, was but little mitigated. The novels of Richardson, attaining at once an extraordinary popularity, did something to refine the tone of