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If the soul of sensibility, which I believe Pope really possessed, had been enclosed in a healthful frame and an agreeable person, we might have reckoned him among our preux chevaliers, and have had sonnets instead of satires. But he seems to have been ever divided between two contending feelings. He was peculiarly sensible to the charms of women, and his habits as a valitudinarian, rendered their society and attention not only soothing and delightful, but absolutely necessary to him: while, unhappily, there mingled with this real love for them, and dependence on them as a sex, the most irascible self-love; and a torturing consciousness of that feebleness and deformity of person, which imbittered all his intercourse with them. He felt that, in his character of poet, he could, by his homage, flatter their vanity, and excite their admiration and their fear; but, at the same time, he was shivering under the apprehension that, as a man, they regarded him with contempt; and that he could never hope to awaken in a female bosom any feelings corresponding with his own. So far he was unjust to us and to himself: his friend Lord Lyttelton, and his enemy Lord Hervey,* might have taught him better.
On reviewing Pope's life, his works, and his correspondence, it seems to me that these two opposite feelings
* Lord Hervey, with an exterior the most forbidding, and almost ghastly, contrived to supersede Pope in the good graces of Lady M. W. Montagu; carried off Mary Lepell, the beautiful maid of honour, from a host of rivals, and made her Lady Hervey: and won the whole heart of the poor Princess Caroline, who is said to have died of grief for his loss. See Walpole's Memoirs of George II.
contending in his bosom from youth to age, will account for the general character of his poems with a reference to our sex :-will explain why women bear so prominent a part in all his works, whether as objects of poetical gallantry, honest admiration, or poignant satire: why there is not among all his productions more than one poem decidedly amatory, (and that one partly suppressed in the ordinary editions of his works,) while women only have furnished him with the materials of all his chef-d'oeuvres : his Elegy, his “Rape of the Lock," the “Epistle of Heloïse,” and the second of his Moral Essays. He may call us, and prove us, in his antithetical style, “a contradiction:"* but we may retort; for, as far as women are concerned, Pope was himself one miserable antithesis.
The “ Elegy to the memory of an unfortunate Lady," refers to a tragedy which occurred in Pope's early life, and over which he has studiously drawn an impenetrable veil. When his friend Mr. Caryl wrote to him on the subject, many years after the Elegy was published, Pope, in his reply, left this part of the letter unnoticed; and a second application was equally unsuccessful. His biographers are not better informed. Johnson remarks upon the Elegy, that it commemorates the “amorous fury of a raving girl, who liked self-murder better than suspense;" and having given this deadly stroke with his critical fang, the grim old lion of literature stalks on, and stays no farther question.” But is this merciful, or is it just ? by what right does he sit in judgment on the unhappy dead, of whom he knew nothing? or how could he tell by what course of suffering, disease, or tyranny, a gentle spirit may have been goaded to frenzy? It was said, on the authority of some French author, that she was secretly attached to one of the French princes: that, in conse. quence, her uncle and guardian (“the mean deserter of a brother's blood,") forced her into a convent, where, in despair and madness, she put an end to her existence; and that the lines
* “ Woman 's at best a contradiction still."
Why bade ye else, ye powers ! her soul aspire
The glorious fault of angels and of gods, refer to this ambitious passion. But then, again, this has been contradicted. Warton's story is improbable and inconsistent with the poem ;* and the assertion of another author,f that she was in love with Pope, and as deformed as himself, is most unlikely. “O ever beauteous, ever friendly!" is rather a strange style of apostrophizing one deformed in person; and exposed to misery, and driven to suicide, by a passion for himself. In short, it is all mystery, wonder, and conjecture.
Other women who have been loved, celebrated, or satirized by Pope, are at least more notorious, if not so interesting. His most lasting and real attachment, was that which he entertained for Theresa and Martha Blount, who alternately, or with divided empire, reigned in his heart or fancy for five-and-thirty years. They were of an old Roman Catholic family of Oxfordshire; and his acquaintance with them appears to have begun as early as 1707, when he was only nineteen. Theresa, the handsomest and most intelligent of the two sisters, was a brunette, with black sparkling eyes. Martha was short in stature, fair, with blue eyes, and a softer expression. They appear to have been tolerably amiable, and much attached to each other: au reste, in no way distinguished, but by the flattering adıniration of a celebrated man, who has immortalized both.
The verses addressed to them, convey in general, either counsel or compliment, or at the most playful gallantry. His letters express something beyond these. He began by admiring Theresa ; then he wavered: there were misunderstandings, and petulence, and mutual bickerings. His susceptibility exposed him to be continually wounded; he felt deeply and acutely; he was conscious that he could inspire no sentiment corresponding with that which throbbed at his own heart: and some passages in the corre
* See Roscoe's Life of Pope, p. 87. Warton says her name was Wains. bury, and that she hung herself.
spondence cannot be read without a painful pity. At length, upon some mutual offence, his partiality for Theresa was transferred to Martha. In one of his last letters to Theresa, he says, beautifully and feelingly, “We are too apt to resent things too highly, till we come to know, by some great misfortune or other, how much we are born to endure; and as for me, you need not suspect of resentment a soul which can feel nothing but grief.”
His attachment to Martha increased after his quarrel with Lady Mary W. Montagu, and ended only with his life.
“ He was never,” says Mr. Bowles, “ indifferent to female society; and though his good sense prevented him, conscious of so many personal infirmities, from marrying, yet he felt the want of that sort of reciprocal tenderness and confidence in a female, to whom he might freely communicate his thoughts, and on whom, in sickness and infirmity, he could rely. All this Martha Blount became to him; by degrees, she became identified with his existence. She partook of his disappointments, his vexations, and his comforts. Wherever he went, his correspondence with her was never remitted ; and when the warmth of gallantry was over, the cherished idea of kindness and regard remained."*
To Martha Blount is addressed the compliment on her birth-day
Oh be thou blest with all that heaven can send,
Long bealth, long youth, long pleasure, and a friend ! And an epistle sent to her, with the works of Voiture, in which he advises her against marriage, in this elegant and well-known passage,
Too much your sex are by their forms confin'd,
* Bowles's edition of Pope, vol. i. p. 69.
Still in constraint your suffering sex remains,
Aim not at joy, but rest content with ease. Very excellent advice, and very disinterested, considering whence it came, and to whom it was addressed!!
The poem generally placed after this in his works, and entitled “ Epistle to the same Lady, on leaving town after the Coronation,” was certainly not addressed to Martha, but to Theresa. It appears from the correspondence, that Martha was not at the Coronation in 1715, and that The. resa was. The whole tenor of this poem is agreeable to the sprightly person and character of Theresa, while “Parthenia's softer blush,” evidently alludes to Martha. From an examination of the letters which were written at this time, I should imagine, that though Pope had previously assured the latter that she had gained the conquest over her fair sister, yet the public appearance of Theresa at the Coronation, and her superior charms, revived all his tenderness and admiration, and suggested this gay and pleasing effusion.
In some fair evening, on your elbow laid,
And leave you in lone woods or empty walls !
0! blest with temper, whose unclouded ray