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The reader, perhaps, may be disappointed to find that this Epistle, which proposes the same subject with the preceding, is conducted on very different rules of composition ; for instead of being disposed in the same logical method, and filled with the like philosophical remarks, it is wholly taken up in drawing a great variety of capital characters. But if he will reflect, that the two seres make but one species, and consequently, the same characters of both must be studied and explained on the same principles, he will see, that when the Poet had done this, in the preceding Epistle, his business here was, not to repeat what he had already delivered, but only to verify and illustrate his doctrine, by every view of that perplexity of Nature in human characters, which his philosophy only can explain. If the reader therefore will but be at the pains to study these characters with any degree of attention, as they are drawn with a force of wit, sublimity, and true poetry, never hitherto equalled, one important particular (for which the Poet has artfully prepared him by the introduction) will very forcibly strike his observation ; and it is this, that all the great strokes in the several characters of Women are not only infinitely perplexed and discordant, like those in Men, but absolutely inconsistent, and in a much higher degree contradictory. As strange as this may appear, yet he will see that the Poet has all the while strictly followed Nature, whose ways, we find by the former Epistle, are not a little mysterious ; and a mystery this might have remained, had not our author explained it at ver. 207, where he shuts up his characters with this philosophical reflection :
“In men, we various ruling passions find ;
In women, two almost divide the kind ;
The love of pleasure, and the love of sway.” If this account be true, we see the perpetual necessity (which is not the case in Men) that Women lie under of disguising their ruling Passion. Now the variety of arts employed to this purpose, must needs draw them into infinite contradictions, even in those actions from whence their general and obvious character is denominated. To verify this observation, let the reader examine all the characters here drawn, and try whether, with this key, he cannot discover that all their contradictions arise from a desire to hide the ruling Passion.
But this is not the worst. The Poet afterwards (from ver. 218 to 249) takes notice of another mischief arising from this necessity of hiding their ruling Passions ; which is, that generally the end of each is defeated, even there, where they are most violently pursued. For the necessity of hiding them inducing an habitual dissipation of mind, Reason, whose office it is to regulate the ruling passion, loses all its force and direction; and these unhappy victims to their principles, though with their attention still fixed upon them, are ever prosecuting the means destructive of their end, and thus become ridiculous in youth, and miserable in old age.
Let me not omit to observe the great beauty of the conclusion. It is : an encomium on an imaginary lady, to whom the Epistle is addressed, and artfully turns upon the fact which makes the subject of the Epistle, the contradiction of a woman's character ; in which contradiction he shows, all the lustre even of the best character consists :
“ And yet, believe me, good as well as ill,
Woman's at best a contradiction still, &c."-Warburton. Bolingbroke, a judge of the subject, thought this Epistle the masterpiece of Pope. But the bitterness of the satire is not always concealed in a laugh. The characters are lively, though uncommon. I scarcely remember one of them in our comic writers of the best order. The ridiculous is heightened by many strokes of humour, carried even to the borders of extravagance, as much as the two last lines of Boileau, quoted below. The female foibles have been the subject of perhaps more wit in every language, than any other topic that can be named. The sixth satire of Juvenal, though detestable for its obscenity, is undoubtedly the most witty of all his sixteen, and is curious for the picture it exhibits of the private lives of the Roman ladies. If this Epistle yields, in any respect, to the tenth satire of Boileau on the same subject, it is in the delicacy and variety of the transitions by which the French writer passes from one character to another, always connecting each with the foregoing. It was a common saying of Boileau, speaking of La Bruyère, that one of the most difficult parts of composition was the art of transition. That we may see how happily Pope has caught the manner of Boileau, let us survey one of his portraits : it shall be that of his learned lady:
« Qui s'offrira d'abord ? c'est cette Sçavante,
Qu'estime Roberval, et que Sauveur frequente.
suivre Jupiter passé la nuit entière :
Il faut chez Du Verney voir la dissection.” None of Pope's female characters excel the Doris of Congreve in delicate touches of raillery and ridicule.-Warton.
On the first publication of this Epistle it was preceded by an advertisement, in which the author declared that no one character in it was drawn from the life ; an assertion which has of late been repeatedly pointed out to his discredit, as if he had on that occasion had recourse to subterfuge or falsehood; but it must be remembered that this Epistle, as first written and printed, did not contain the striking characters of Philomedé, Atossa, and Cloe ; and that of the rest, not one of them has been appropriated with any reasonable degree of probability, to any individual. After these characters were inserted by Warburton in his edition, this advertisement was withdrawn.
It is much to be regretted, that in discussing so extensive a subject as the characters of women, the author should have confined himself within such narrow limits, and should have dwelt rather on their follies and inconsistencies than on those traits of character, which, although not so strong as those of men, are equally distinguishable, and require, perhaps, a more delicate and therefore a more skilful pencil to display. But it must be remembered, that neither his domestic situation and habits of life, nor the state of society in the sphere in which he moved, were, at that period, such as to enable him to appreciate the female character in its better and more accomplished forms. It may indeed be considered as a striking proof of the improvement which has taken place within the last century, that the characters represented in this poem, appear to us rather as gross caricatures, than as real pictures ; yet to the contemporaries of the poet, they were doubtless such as were acknowledged to have their resemblances in real life. What can we think of a series of portraits, in which the only person who has any pretensions even to decency, finds virtue“ too painful an endeavour,” and “never reached one generous thought?” The affectionate and friendly attachment entertained by Pope for the lady to whom it is addressed (Mrs. Martha Blount), serves to counteract in some degree the unfavourable impressions which he seems to have entertained against the sex in general ; and to her we are indebted for the beautiful lines at the close, which make us amends for the disappointment we experience, in finding so little that is agreeable, gathered from a field that offered so fair an opportunity for selection.
OF THE CHARACTERS OF WOMEN.
Of the Characters of Women only, as contradistinguished from the other
That these are yet more inconsistent and incomprehensible than those of men, of which instances are given, even from such characters as are plainest and most strongly marked ; as in the affected, Ver. 7 to 21. The soft-natur’d, Ver. 29 to 37. The whimsical, Ver. 53 to 86. The wits and refiners, Ver. 87. The stupid and silly, Ver. 101. The capricious and passionate, Ver. 115. The decent and cold, Ver. 157. How contrarieties run through them all. But though the particular characters of this sex are more various than those of men, the general characteristic, as to the ruling passion, is more uniform and confined. In what that lies, and whence it proceeds, Ver. 207. Men are best known in public life, Women in private, Ver. 215. What are the aims, and the fate of the sex, both as to power and pleasure, Ver. 219. Advice for their true interest, Ver. 257. The picture of an estimable woman, made up of the best kind of contrarieties, Ver. 269, &c.
OF THE CHARACTERS OF WOMEN.
NOTHING so true as what you once let fall,
Of the Characters of Women.] There is nothing in Mr. Popo's works more highly finished, or written with greater spirit, than this Epistle : yet its success was in no proportion to the pains he took in composing it, or the effort of genius displayed in adorning it. Something he chanced to drop in a short advertisement prefixed to it, on its first publication, may perhaps account for the small attention the Public gave to it.
He said, that no one character in it was drawn from the life. They believed him on his word ; and expressed little curiosity about a satire in which there was nothing personal. —Warburton.
Ver. 2. “ Most women have no characters at all.”] Perhaps it had been juster only to say, that their characters are not so easily developed as those of men.
He will have a better conception of this who has been entertained with an amusing trick in optics, where the artist produces you a board on which all kinds of colours seem to be cast at random, much in the manner of those on a Painter's uncleaned pallet. When placing upon it, in a certain position, a cylindrical steel mirror, the scattered lines are reduced to order, and an elegant form is reflected from the polished steel.
A husband performs the office of this mirror ; and draws out Nature from the confusion into which modern education often throws it. But whether under the form of a lamb or a tiger, a dove or a cat, could never be guessed from the disorder of the unreduced lines and unharmonious colouring.—Warburton.
Ver. 5. How many pictures] The poet's purpose here is to show, that the characters of women are generally inconsistent with themselves; and this he illustrates by so happy a similitude, that we see the folly described in it arises from that very principle which gives birth to this inconsistency of character.-Warburton.
Ver. 7, 8, 10, &c. Arcadia's Countess, Pastora by a fountain,- Leda with a swan.-Magdalen,- Cecilia-] Attitudes in which several ladies affected to be drawn, and sometimes one lady in them all.— The Poet's politeness and complaisance to the sex is observable in this instance, amongst others, that VOL. IV.