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and Glanville says, "This treatise prides itself in no higher a title than that of an essay, or imperfect attempt at a subject." Locke named his great and elaborate work an "Essay on the Human Understanding," from the consciousness that it was an imperfect attempt," and when hostile critics refused him the benefit of his modest title, he answered that they did his book an honour "in not suffering it to be an essay." Pope borrowed both the word, and the plan of his poem, from some works which enjoyed in his youth a credit far beyond their worth,-the Essay on Translated Verse by the Earl of Roscommon, and the Essay on Satire, and the Essay on Poetry by the Earl of Mulgrave, afterwards Duke of Buckingham, These small productions had been suggested in their turn by Horace's Art of Poetry, and its modern imitations. Roscommon and Mulgrave, men of common-place minds, were incapable of originality, and Pope, with the latent genius of a leader, was a follower in early years.
"The things that I have written fastest," said Pope to Spence, "have always pleased the most. I wrote the Essay on Criticism fast; for I had digested all the matter in prose before I began upon it in verse. 991 This last circumstance was mentioned by Warton in his Essay on the Writings and Genius of Pope, long before the Anecdotes of Spence were published, and Johnson commented upon the statement in his review of Warton's work. "There is nothing," he said, "improbable in the report, nothing indeed but what is more likely than the contrary; yet I cannot forbear to hint the danger and weakness of trusting too readily to information. Nothing but experience could evince the frequency of false information, or enable any man to conceive that so many groundless reports should be propagated as every man of eminence may hear of himself. Some men relate what they think as what they know; some men of confused memories and habitual inaccuracy ascribe to one man what belongs to another; and some talk on without thought or care. A few men are sufficient to broach falsehoods, which are afterwards innocently diffused by successive relators."2 The caution was not intended to discredit the evidence of Spence. Warton had suppressed his authority, and Johnson had a proper mistrust of common hearsay.
On the title-page of the poem in the quarto of 1717, it is said, that it was "written in the year 1709," to which Richardson has attached the note, "Mr. Pope told me himself that the Essay on Criticism was, indeed, written 1707, though said 1709 by mistake." The poet continued the alleged mistake through all succeeding revisions. The quarto of 1743 was the last edition he superintended, and 1709
1 Singer's Spence, p. 107.
2 Johnson's Works, ed. Murphy, vol. ii. p. 354.
appears as usual upon the title-page, but Warburton announced in the final sentence of the commentary, that the Essay was "the work of an author who had not attained the twentieth year of his age," and as the author was born in May, 1688, he must, according to this testimony, have completed his task before May, 1708, which confirms the account of Richardson. Pope had thus assigned one date to his piece on the first page of the quarto of 1743, and sanctioned the promulgation of a different date on the concluding page. is the same contradiction in his conversations with Spence. Essay on Criticism," he said on one occasion, was written in 1709, and published in 1711, which is as little time as ever I let anything of mine lay by me."1 This agrees with the printed title-page. "I showed Walsh," he said to Spence on another occasion, "my Essay on Criticism in 1706. He died the year 19 2 after." This falls in
with the evidence of Richardson and Warburton; for Walsh died on March 15, 1708, and 1706 was an error for 1707. reappears in a note to the Pope Letters of 1735,
The double date solely through a
Such a series of conflicting stateWhen Pope published the quarto again altered the note. "Mr.
change in the punctuation. "Mr. Walsh," it was said in some copies, "died at 49 years old, in the year 1708. The year after Mr. Pope writ the Essay on Criticism." "Mr. Walsh," it was said in other copies, "died at 49 years old in the year 1708, the year after Mr. Pope writ the Essay on Criticism." In the first version it is asserted that the poem was written in 1709, or the year after Mr. Walsh died ; in the second version it is asserted that it was written in 1707, and that Mr. Walsh died the year after. ments could not all be accidental. edition of his Letters in 1737, he Walsh," he then said, "died at 49 years old, in the year 1708, the year before the Essay on Criticism was printed," which informs us of the new fact that it was printed a couple of years before it was published, and since the poet assured Spence that it was written two or three years before it was printed, we have the date of its composition once more thrown back to 1707. Pope forgot the confession in the poem, ver. 735-740, that in consequence of having "lost his guide " by the death of Walsh, he was afraid to attempt ambitious themes, and selected the Essay on Criticism as a topic suited to "low numbers." However fictitious may have been the reason he assigned for the choice of his subject, he there admits that he did not form the design till after the death of his friend in March 1708. In his later statements he oscillated between the truth, and the desire to magnify the precocity of his genius. He was always ambitious of the kind of praise which Johnson bestows upon the Essay, when he calls it "the stupendous performance of a youth not yet twenty." But at 2 Spence, p. 147. 3 Spence, p. 205.
1 Spence, p. 128.
whatever period the poem was first written, it did not appear till May, 1711, and represents the capacity of Pope at twenty-three. He avowedly kept his pieces long in manuscript for the purpose of maturing and polishing them, and they were as good as he could make them at the period when they finally left his hands.
The Essay on Criticism was published anonymously. informed by Lewis the bookseller, that "it laid many days in his shop unnoticed and unread." Pope wrote word to Caryll, July 19, 1711, that he did not expect it would ever arrive at a second edition. Piqued, said Lewis, at the neglect, the poet one day directed copies to several great men, and among others to Lord Lansdowne, and the Duke of Buckingham. These presents caused the work to be talked about.' The name of the author, which soon transpired, assisted the sale, and the paper of Addison in the Spectator on December 20, 1711, brought the Essay under the notice of the entire reading world, though it was still another twelvemonth before the thousand copies were exhausted.
The notoriety, if not the sale, of the Essay on Criticism must have been promoted by the angry pamphlet put forth by Dennis six months before the laudatory paper of Addison appeared in the Spectator. Dennis was the only living writer who was openly abused in the poem, and there was an asperity in the language which savoured of personal hostility. He and Pope were slightly acquainted. "At his first coming to town," says Dennis, "he was very importunate with the late Mr. Henry Cromwell to introduce him to me. The recommendation of Mr. Cromwell engaged me to be about thrice in company with him; after which I went into the country, and neither saw him, nor thought of him, till I found myself insolently attacked by him in his very superficial Essay on Criticism."" A passage quoted by Bowles from Pope's Prologue to the Satires reveals the cause of the enmity:
Soft were my numbers; who could take offence
Here we learn that Dennis thought meanly of Pope's Pastorals.
1 Warton's Pope, vol. i. p. xviii.
2 Dennis's Reflections, Critical and Satyrical, upon a late Rhapsody called An Essay upon Criticism, was advertised as "this day published" in The Daily Courant of June 20, 1711. Pope sent the pamphlet to Caryll on June 25, and in a letter to Cromwell of the same date, he says "Mr. Lintot favoured me with a sight of Mr. Dennis's piece of fine satire before it was published.”
3 Remarks upon Mr. Pope's Dunciad, p. 39.
• Ver. 147.
The critic had enough taste for true poetry to despise the conventional puerilities which, more than "pure description, held the place of sense" in these juvenile effusions. He frequented the coffeehouses where authors congregated, he indulged in professional talk, and his unfavourable judgment was sure to get round to Pope. The irritation at the time must have been great, since the censure continued to rankle in the mind of the poet at the distance of five-andtwenty years. His memory was less faithful when he claimed credit for not replying. He found it convenient to forget that he had seized an early opportunity for retaliating in the Essay on Criticism. Dennis complained that "he was attacked in a clandestine manner in his person instead of his writings." "How the attack," says Johnson, was clandestine is not easily perceived, nor how his person is depreciated." Evidently Dennis termed the attack clandestine, because the Essay was anonymous, and his assailant concealed. Pope, however, had not been studious of secrecy among his acquaintances, and Dennis showed in his pamphlet that he knew perfectly well with whom he had to deal. His assertion, denied by Johnson, that he was attacked "in his person instead of his writings" is clearly correct, unless, contrary to usage, the word is restricted to what is indelible in a man's bodily make. To say that he reddened at every word of objection, and stared tremendous with a threatening eye, like the fierce tyrants depicted in old tapestry, was to represent his personal bearing and appearance in an offensive light. Pope himself disclaimed the personality. "I cannot conceive," he wrote to Caryll, June 25, 1711, "what ground he has for so excessive a resentment, nor imagine how those three lines can be called a reflection on his person which only describe him subject to a little colour and stare on some occasions, which are revolutions that happen sometimes in the best and most regular faces in Christendom." The description, in other words, was not a reflection upon the person of Dennis, because some persons with handsome faces were liable to the same infirmity, and no satire was personal which did not declare a man to be radically ugly. That the resentment might seem the more unreasonable, the stare tremendous and threatening eye, were softened down to a "little stare.' This was characteristic of Pope. He was not afraid to strike, but when the blow was resented, he frequently made a hasty and ignominious retreat. Either he pretended that the satire was not aimed at the individuals who called him to account, or he gave a mitigated and erroneous version of his lampoons.
Pope lashed Dennis for an intemperance of manner which could be controlled at will. Dennis upbraided Pope with a deformity which he had not caused and could not cure. "If you have a mind," said the infuriated critic, "to enquire between Sunninghill and Oakingham, for a young, squab, short gentleman, an eternal writer of
amorous pastoral madrigals, and the very bow of the god of Love, you will be soon directed to him. And pray, as soon as you have taken a survey of him, tell me whether he is a proper author to make personal reflections on others. This little author may extol the ancients as much, and as long as he pleases, but he has reason to thank the good gods that he was born a modern, for had he been born of Grecian parents, and his father by consequence had by law the absolute disposal of him, his life had been no longer than that of one of his poems, the life of half a day." There was a wide difference between ridiculing the distortions of countenance which grew out of irascible vanity, and mocking at defects which were a misfortune, and not a fault. But Pope's lines were insulting, and a man of the world would have foreseen that Dennis would repel insult by scurrility. The poet was as yet a novice in the coarse personalities of that abusive age, and he had not anticipated such brutal raillery. "The latter part of Mr. Dennis's book," he wrote to Caryll, " is no way to be properly answered, but by a wooden weapon, and I should perhaps have sent him a present from Windsor Forest of one of the best and toughest oaken plants between Sunninghill and Oakingham if he had not informed me in his preface that he is at this time persecuted by fortune. This, I protest, I knew not the least of before; if I had, his name had been spared in the Essay for that only reason." 2 Pope could no more compete with Dennis in personal prowess, than Dennis could compete in satire with Pope. His assigned reason for not executing his empty vaunt was equally hollow. He was not wont to spare his enemies out of consideration for their necessities, but taunted them with their forlorn condition, and, true to his custom, the persecution of fortune, which he said would have induced him to suppress his satire upon Dennis, was made the ingredient of a fresh satire at a future day:
I never answered; I was not in debt.
The insinuation was unjust.
Violent, and often wrong-headed, Dennis spoke his genuine sentiments, and was not more a hireling than Pope, or any other author who earns money by his pen. poor debtor could not have bartered his honour for a sorrier bribe. The pamphlet on the Essay on Criticism consisted of thirty-two octavo pages of small print, with a preface of five pages, and he received for it 21. 12s. 6d.
Dennis urged as an aggravation of the "falsehood and calumny in the Essay, that they proceeded from a "little affected hypocrite, who had nothing in his mouth at the same time but truth, candour,
1 Dennis's Reflections, p. 29.
2 Pope to Caryll, June 25, 1711.