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On Sickness and Death.
You formerly observed to me that nothing made a more ridiculous figure in a man's life than the disparity we often find in him sick and well; thus, one of an unfortunate constitution is perpetually exhibiting a miserable example of the weakness of his mind, and of his body, in their turns. I have had frequent opportunities of late to consider myself in these different views, and, I hope, have received some advantage by it, if what Waller says be true, that
The soul's dark cottage, battered and decayed,
Lets in new light through chinks that Time has made.
Then surely sickness, contributing no less than old age to the shaking down this scaffolding of the body, may discover the inward structure more plainly. Sickness is a sort of early old age: it teaches us a diffidence in our earthly state, and inspires us with the thoughts of a future, better than a thousand volumes of philosophers and divines. It gives so warning a concussion to those props of our vanity, our strength and youth, that we think of fortifying ourselves within, when there is so little dependence upon our outworks. Youth at the very best is but a betrayer of human life in a gentler and smoother manner than age: it is like a stream that nourishes a plant upon a bank, and causes it to flourish and blossom to the sight, but at the same time is undermining it at the root in secret. My youth has dealt more fairly and openly with me; it has afforded several prospects of my danger, and given me an advantage not very common to young men, that the attractions of the world have not dazzled me very much; and I begin, where most people end, with a full conviction of the emptiness of all sorts of ambition, and the unsatisfactory nature of all human pleasures. When a smart fit of sickness tells me this scurvy tenement of my body will fall in a little time, I am even as unconcerned as was that honest Hibernian, who. being in bed in the great storm some years ago, and told the house would tumble over his head, made answer: What care I for the house? I am only a lodger.' I fancy it is the best time to die when one is in the best humour; and so excessively weak as I now am, I may say with conscience, that I am not at all uneasy at the thought that many men, whom I never had any esteem for, are likely to enjoy this world after me. When I reflect what an inconsiderable little atom every single man is, with respect to the whole creation, methinks it is a shame to be concerned at the removal of such a trivial animal as I am. The morning after my exit, the sun will rise as bright as ever, the flowers smell as sweet, the plants spring as green, the world will proceed in its old course, people will laugh as heartily, and marry as fast as they were used to do.* The memory of man-as it is elegantly expressed in the Book of Wisdom-passeth away as the remembrance of a guest that tarrieth but one day. There are reasons enough, in the fourth chapter of the same book, to make any young man contented with the prospect of death. For honourable age is not that which standeth in length of time, or is measured by number of years. But wisdom is the gray hair to man, and an unspotted life is old age. He was taken away speedily, lest wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul,' &c.—I am your, &c.
Pope in Oxford.
To MRS. MARTHA BLOUNT.-1716.-A genuine letter slightly altered.t Nothing could have more of that melancholy which once used to please me, than
* It is important to remember that Pope. when he wrote in this manner, was only twentyfour-that is, if we assume the letter to have been actually sent to Steele, which we very much doubt. Itseems to be merely a literary essay-part of the fabricated correspondence.
† Martha Blount was the Stella of Pope. Her elder sister Teresa, was his first favourite, but Martha gained the ascendency, and retained it till the death of the poet. They were of an old Catholic family, the Blounts of Mapled urham. near Reading. Gay has described the sisters as the fair-haired Martha. and Teresa brown; and a picture in the family mansion, by Jervas, represents them as gathering flowers. Pope's father died at Chiswick in 1717. and the poet wrote to Martha: My poor father died last night. lieve. since I don't forget you at this moment, I never shall.' And he never did. He took the warmest interest in all her affairs, and left her the bulk of his fortune. Martha (who was two years younger than her illustrious friend) survived till July 12, 1763.
my last day's journey; for, after having passed through my favourite woods in the forest, with a thousand reveries of past pleasures, I rid over hanging hills, whose tops were edged with groves, and whose feet watered with winding rivers, listening to the falls of cataracts below, and the murmuring of the winds above; the gloomy verdure of Stonor succeeded to these, and then the shades of the evening overtook me. The moon rose in the clearest sky I ever saw, by whose solemn light I paced on slowly, without company, or any interruption to the range of my thoughts. About a mile before I reached Oxford, all the bells tolled in different notes; the clocks of every college answered one another, and sounded forth-some in a deeper. some a softer tone-that it was eleven at night. All this was no ill preparation to the life I have led since among those old walls, venerable galleries, stone porticos, studious walks, and solitary scenes of the university. I wanted nothing but a black gown and a salary, to be as mere a book-worm as any there. I conformed myself to the college-hours, was rolled up in books, lay in one of the most ancient, dusky parts of the university, and was as dead to the world as any hermit of the desert. If anything was alive or awake in me, it was a little vanity, such as even those good men used to entertain, when the monks of their own order extolled their piety and abstraction For I found myself received with a sort of respect, which this idle part of mankind, the learned, pay to their own species; who are as considerable here, as the busy, the gay, and the ambitious are in your world.
Death of Two Lovers by Lightning.
TO LADY MARY WORTLEY MONTAGU.-September 1 .
I have a mind to fill the rest of this paper with an accident that happened just under my eyes, and has made a great impression upon me. I have just passed part of this summer at an old romantic seat of my Lord Harcourt's, which he lent me.* It overlooks a common field, where, under the shade of a haycock, sat two lovers, as constant as ever were found in romance, beneath a spreading beech. The name of the one-let it sound as it will-was John Hewet; of the other, Sarah Drew. John was a well-set man about five-and-twenty; Sarah, a brown woman of eighteen. John had for several months borne the labour of the day in the same field with Sarah; when she milked, it was his morning and evening charge to bring the cows to her pail. Their love was the talk, but not the scandal. of the whole neighbourhood; for all they aimed at was the blameless possession of each other in marriage. It was but this very morning that he had obtained her parents' consent and it was but till the next week that they were to wait to be happy. Perhaps this very day, in the intervals of their work, they were talking of their wedding-clothes; and John was now matching several kinds of poppies and field-flowers to her complexion, to make her a present of knots for the day. While they were thus employed-it was on the last of July-a terrible storm of thunder and lightning arose, that drove the labourers to what shelter the trees or hedges afforded. Sarah, frightened and out of breath, sunk on a haycock, and John-who never separated from her-sat by her side, having raked two or three heaps together to secure her. Immediately there was heard so loud a crack as if heaven had burst asunder. The labourers, all solicitous for each other's safety, called to one another; those that were nearest our lovers, hearing no answer, stepped to the place where they lay: they first saw a little sinoke, and after, this faithful pair,-John with one arm about his Sarah's neck, and the other held over her face, as if to screen her from the lightning. They were struck dead, and already grown stiff and cold in this tender posture. There was no mark or discolouring on their bodies, only that Sarah's eyebrow was a little singed, and a small spot between her breasts. They were buried the next day in one grave, where my Lord Harcourt, at my request, has erected a monument over them. Of the fol lowing epitaphs which I made, the critics have chosen the godly one: I like neither, but wis. you had been in England to have done this office better: I think it was what you could not have refused me on so moving an occasion.
The house of Stanton Harcourt. in Oxfordshire. Here Pope translated part of the Iliad. He describes the house (though with many fanciful additions) in the subsequent letter, in a style which recalls the grave humour of Addison, and foreshadows the Bracebridge Hall of Washington Irving.
When Eastern lovers feed the funeral fire,
Think not, by rigorous judgment seized,
Live well and fear no sudden fate:
Mercy alike to kill or save.
Virtue unmoved can hear the call,
Upon the whole, I cannot think these people unhappy. The greatest happiness, next to living as they would have done, was to die as they did. The greatest honour people of this low degree could have, was to be remembered on a little monument; unless you will give them another-that of being honoured with a tear from the finest eyes in the world. I know you have tenderness; you must have it; it is the very emanation of good sense and virtue: the finest minds, like the finest metals, dissolve the easiest.
Description of an Ancient English Country-seat.
TO LADY MARY WORTLEY MONTAgu.
DEAR MADAM-'Tis not possible to express the least part of the joy your return gives me; time only and experience will convince you how very sincere it is. I excessively long to meet you, to say so much, so very much to you, that I believe I shall say nothing. I have given orders to be sent for the first minute of your arrivalwhich I beg you will let them know at Mr. Jervas's. I am fourscore miles from London, a short journey compared to that I so often thought at least of undertaking, rather than die without seeing you again. Though the place I am in is such as would not quit for the town, if I did not value you more than any, nay everybody else there; and you will be convinced how little the town has engaged my affections in your absence from it, when you know what a place this is which I prefer to it; I shail therefore describe it to you at large, as the true picture of a genuine ancient country-seat.
You must expect nothing regular in my description of a house that seems to be built before rules were in fashion: the whole is so disjointed, and the parts so detached from each other, and yet so joining again, one cannot tell how, that-in a poetical fit-you would imagine it had been a village in Amphion's time, where twenty cottages had taken a dance together, were all out, and stood still in amazcment ever since. A stranger would be grievously disappointed who should ever think to get into this house the right way. One would expect, after entering through the porch, to be let into the hall; alas! nothing less, you find yourself in a brew-house. From the parlour you think to step into the drawing-room; but, upon opening the iron-nailed door, you are convinced, by a flight of birds about your ears, and a cloud of dust in your eyes, that it is the pigeon-house. On each side our porch are two chimneys, that wear their greens on the outside, which would do as well within, for whenever we make a fire, we let the smoke out of the windows. Over the parlour window hangs a sloping balcony, which time has turned to a very convenient penthouse. The top is crowned with a very venerable tower, so like that of the church just by, that the jackdaws build in it as if it were the true steeple.
The great hall is high and spacious, flanked with long tables, images of ancient hospitality; ornamented with monstrous horns, about twenty broken pikes, and a matchlock musket or two, which they say were used in the civil wars. Here is one vast arched window, beautifully darkened with divers scutcheons of painted glass. There seems to be great propriety in this old manner of blazoning upon glass, aucient
families being like ancient windows, in the course of generations seldom free from cracks. One shining pane bears date 1286. The youthful face of Dame Elinor owes more to this single piece than to all the glasses she ever consulted in her life. Who can say after this that glass is frail, when it is not half so perishable as human beauty or glory? For in another pane you see the memory of a knight preserved, whose marble nose is mouldered from his monument in the church adjoining. And yet, must not one sigh to reflect, that the most authentic record of so ancient a family should lie at the mercy of every boy that throws a stone? In this hail, in former days, have dined gartered knights and courtly dames, with ushers, sewers, and seneschals; and yet it was but the other night that an owl flew in hither, and mistook it for a barn.
This hall lets you up (and down) over a very high threshold, into the parlour. It is furnished with historical tapestry, whose marginal fringes do confess the moisture of the air. The other contents of this room are a broken-bellied virginal, a couple of crippled velvet chairs, with two or three mildewed pictures of mouldy ancestors, who look as dismally as if they came fresh from hell with all their brimstone about 'em. These are carefulty set at the further corner: for the windows being everywhere broken, make it so convenient a place to dry poppies and mustard seed in, that the room is appropriated to that use.
Next this parlour lies, as I said before, the pigeon-honse, by the side of which runs an entry that leads, on one hand and t'other, into a bed-chamber, a buttery, and a small hole called the chaplain's study. Then follow a brew-house, a little green and gilt parlour, and the great stairs, under which is the dairy. A little further on the right, the servants' hall; and by the side of it, up six steps, the old lady's closet, which has a lattice into the said hall, that, while she said her prayers, she might cast an eye on the men and maids. There are upon this ground floor in all twenty-four apartments, hard to be distinguished by particular names; among which I must not forget a chamber that has in it a large antiquity of timber, which seems to have been either a bedstead or a cider-press.
Our best room above is very long and low, of the exact proportion of a bandbox; it has hangings of the finest work in the world; those, I mean, which Arachne spins out of her own bowels: indeed, the roof is so decayed, that after a favourable shower of rain. we may, with God's blessing, expect a crop of mushrooms between the chinks of the floors.
All this upper story has for many years had no other inhabitants than certain rats, whose very age renders them worthy of this venerable mansion, for the very rats of this ancient seat are gray. Since these have not quitted it, we hope at least this house may stand during the small remainder of days these poor animals have to live, who are now too infirm to remove to another: they have still a small subsistence left them in the few remaining books of the library.
I had never seen half what I have described, but for an old starched grey-headed steward, who is as much an antiquity as any in the place, and looks like an old family picture walked out of its frame. He failed not, as we passed from room to room, to relate several memoirs of the family; but his observations were particularly curious in the cellar: he shewed where stood the triple rows of butts of sack, and where were ranged the bottles of tent for toasts in the morning: he pointed to the stands that supported the iron-hooped hogsheads of strong beer; then stepping to a corner, he lugged out the tattered fragment of an unframed picture: This,' says he, with tears in his eyes, was poor Sir Thomas, once master of all the drink I told you of: he had two sons (poor young masters!) that never arrived to the age of his beer; they both fell ill in this very cellar, and never went out upon their own legs. He could not pass by a broken bottle without taking it up to shew us the arins of the family on it. He then led me up the tower, by dark winding stone steps, which landed us into several little rooms, one above another; one of these was nailed up, and my guide whispered to me the occasion of it. It seems the course of this noble blood was a little interrupted about two centuries ago by a freak of the Lady Frances, who was here taken with a neighboring prior; ever since which the room has been made up, and branded with the name of the adulterychamber. The ghost of Lady Frances is supposed to walk here: some prying maids of the family formerly reported that they saw a lady in a fardingale through the key. hole; but this matter was hushed up, and the servants forbid to talk of it.
I must needs have tired you with this long letter; but what engaged me in the
description was a generous principle to preserve the memory of a thing that must itself soon fall to ruin; nay, perhaps, some part of it before this reaches your hands: indeed, I owe this old house the same sort of gratitude that we do to an old friend that harbours us in his declining condition, nay, even in his last extremities. I have found this an excellent place for retirement and study, where no one who passes by can dream there is an inhabitant, and even anybody that would visit me dares not venture under my roof. You will not wonder I have translated a great deal of Homer in this retreat; any one that sees it will own I could not have chosen a fitter or more likely place to converse with the dead. As soon as I return to the living, it shall be to converse with the best of them. I hope, therefore, very speedily to tell you in person how sincerely and unalterably I am, madam, your most faithful, obliged, and obedient servant.
I beg Mr. Wortley to believe me his most humble servant.
Pope to Bishop Atterbury, in the Tower.
May 17, 1723. Once more I write to you, as I promised, and this once, I fear, will be the last ! The curtain will soon be drawn between my friend and me, aud nothing left but to wish you a long good-night.* May you enjoy a state of repose in this life not unlike that sleep of the soul which some have believed is to succeed it, where we lie utterly forgetful of that world from which we are gone, and ripening for that to which we are to go. If you retain any memory of the past, let it only image to you what has pleased you best; sometimes present a dream of an absent friend, or bring you back an agreeable conversation. But, upon the whole, I hope you will think less of the time past than of the future, as the former has been less kind to you than the latter infallably will be. Do not envy the world your studies; they will tend to the benefit of men against whom you can have no complaint; I mean of all posterity: and, perhaps, at your time of life, nothing else is worth your care, What is every year of a wise man's life but a censure or a critic on the past? Those whose date is the shortest, live long enough to laugh a one half of it; the boy despises the infant; the man, the boy; the philosopher, both; and the Christian, all. You may now begin to think your manhood was too much a puerility, and you will never suffer your age to be but a second infancy. The toys and baubles of your childhood are hardly now more below you, than those toys of our riper and our declining years, the drums and rattles of ambition, and the dirt and bubbles of avarice. At this time, when you are cut off from a little society, and made a citizen of the world at large, you should bend your talents, not to serve a party or a few, but all mankind. Your genius should mount above that mist in which its participation and neighbourhood with earth long involved it; to shine abroad, and to heaven, ought to be the business and the glory of your present situation. Remember it was at such a time that the greatest lights of antiquity dazzled and blazed the most, in their retreat, in their exile, or in their death. But why do I talk of dazzling or blazing?-it was then that they did good, that they gave light, and that they became guides to mankind.
Those aims alone are worthy of spirits truly great, and such I therefore hope will be yours. Resentment, indeed, may remain, perhaps cannot be quite extinguished in the noblest minds; but revenge never will harbour there. Higher principles than those of the first, and better principles than those of the latter, will infallibly influence men whose thoughts and whose hearts are enlarged, and cause them to prefer the whole to any part of mankind, especially tc so small a part as one's single self.
Believe me, my lord, I look upon you as a spirit entered into another life, as one just upon the edge of immortality, where the passions and affections must be much more exalted, and where you ought to despise all little views and all mean retrospects. Nothing is worth your looking back; and, therefore, look forward, and make, as you can, the world look after you. But take care that it be not with pity, but with esteem and admiration.
I am, with the greatest sincerity and passion for your fame as well as happiness, yours, &c.
Pope was one of the authors of the Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus,' where he has lavished much wit on subjects which are now
* The bishop went into exile the following month.