Page images

was so much resented, that the commerce of the two families, before very friendly, was interrupted.

The "Rape of the Lock" stands forward in the classes of literature, as the most exquisite example of ludicrous poetry. Berkeley congratulated him upon the display of powers more truly poetical than he had shown before; with elegance of description and justness of precepts, he had now exhibited boundless fertility of invention.

This poem established his poetical character in such a manner, that he was called upon by the public voice to enrich our language with the translation of the "Iliad," which he began at twenty-five, and executed in five years. This was published for his own benefit by subscription, the only kind of reward which he received for his writings, which do honour to our age and country.

By the success of his subscription Pope was relieved from those pecuniary distresses with which, notwith standing his popularity, he had hitherto struggled.Lord Oxford had often lamented his disqualification for public employment, but never proposed a pension. While the translation of "Homer" was in its progress, Mr. Craggs, then secretary of state, offered to procure him a pension, which, at least during his ministry, might be enjoyed with secrecy. This was not accepted by Pope, who told him, however, that if he

should be pressed for want of money, he would send to him for occasional supplies. Craggs was not long in power, and was never solicited for money by Pope, who disdained to beg what he did not want.

With the product of this subscription, which he had too much discretion to squander, he secured his future life from want, by considerable annuities. The estate of the Duke of Buckingham was found to have been charged with five hundred pounds a year, payable to Pope, which doubtless his translation enabled him to purchase.

The original copy of the "Iliad" was obtained by Lord Bolingbroke as a curiosity, from whom it descended to Mr. Mallet, and is now, by the solicitation of the late Dr. Maty, deposited in the British Museum. Between this manuscript, which is written upon accidental fragments of paper, and the printed edition, there must have been an intermediate copy, which was probably destroyed as it returned from the press.

The reputation of Mr. Pope gaining every day upon the world, he was caressed, flattered, and railed at, according as he was feared or loved by different persons. Mr. Wycherley was among the first authors of established reputation who contributed to advance his fame, and with whom he for some time lived in the most unreserved intimacy. This poet, in his old age,


conceived a design of publishing his poems; and as he was but a very imperfect master of numbers, he intrusted his manuscripts to Mr. Pope, and submitted them to his correction. The freedom which our young bard was under a necessity to use, in order to polish and refine what was in the original rough, unharmonious, and indelicate, proved disgustful to the old gentleman, then near seventy, who, perhaps, was a little ashamed that one so young should so severely correct his works. Letters of dissatisfaction were written by Mr. Wycherley, and at last he informed him, in a few words, that he was going out of town, without mentioning to what place, and did not expect to hear from him till he came back. This cold indifference extorted from Mr. Pope a protestation, that nothing should induce him ever to write to him again. Notwithstanding this peevish behaviour of Mr. Wycherley, occasioned by jealousy and infirmities, Mr. Pope preserved a constant respect and reverence for him while he lived, and after his death lamented him. In a letter to Edward Blount, Esq. written immediately on the death of this poet, he has there related some anecdotes of Wycherley, which we shall here insert.


"I know of nothing that will be so interesting to "you at present as some circumstances of the last act

"of that eminent comic poet, and our friend, Wy


[ocr errors]

cherley. He had often told me, as I doubt not he

did all his acquaintance, that he would marry as "soon as his life was despaired of: accordingly, a few



days before his death, he underwent the ceremony, “and joined together those two sacraments, which "wise men say, should be the last we receive; for, if you observe, matrimony is placed after extreme “unction in our catechism, as a kind of hint of the "order of time in which they are to be taken. The "old man then lay down, satisfied in the conscience “ of having, by this one act, paid his just debts, and obliged a woman, who, he was told, had merit, and "shown an heroic resentment of the ill usage of his "next heir. Some hundred pounds which he had "with the lady discharged those debts; a jointure of “ four hundred a year made her a recompense; and "the nephew he left to comfort himself, as well as he could, with the miserable remains of a mortgaged "estate. I saw our friend twice after this was done, "less peevish in his sickness than he used to be in his health, neither much afraid of dying, nor (which "in him had been more likely) much ashamed of marrying. The evening before he expired he called "his young wife to the bed-side, aud earnestly en"treated her not to deny him one request, the last he "should ever make: upon her assurance of consenting





“to it, he told her, “My dear, it is only this, that you will never marry an old man again." I cannot "help remarking, that sickness, which often destroys "both wit and wisdom, yet seldom has power to re"move that talent we call humour: Mr. Wycherley "showed this even in this last compliment; though I "think his request a little hard; for why should he "bar her from doubling her jointure on the same easy "terms?"

One of the most affecting and tender compositions of Mr. Pope is his "Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady," built on a true story. We are informed in the Life of Pope, for which Curl obtained a patent, that this young lady was a particular favourite of the poet, though it is not ascertained whether he himself was the person from whom she was removed. This young lady was of very high birth, possessed an opulent fortune, and under the tutelage of an uncle, who gave her an education suitable to her titles and pretensions. She was esteemed a match for the greatest peer in the realm, but in her early years she suffered her heart to be engaged by a young gentleman, and, in consequence of this attachment, rejected offers made to her by persons of quality, seconded by the solicitations of her uncle. Her guardian, being surprised at this behaviour, set spies upon

« EelmineJätka »