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This was the only instance of an early appear ance of genius in this great man, for he was turned of thirty before he acquired any reputation: an age in which Mr. Pope's was in its full distinction.
The year following that in which Mr. Pope wrote his poem on Silence, he began an epic poem, entitled Alcander, which he afterwards very judiciously committed to the flames, as he did likewise a comedy and a tragedy; the latter taken from a story in the legend of St. Genevie, both of these being the product of those early days; but his Pastorals, which were written in 1704, when he was only sixteen years of age, were esteemed by Sir William Trumbal, Mr. Granville, Mr. Wycherley, Mr. Walsh, and other of his friends, too valuable to be condemned to the same fate.
The three great writers of pastoral dialogue, which Mr. Pope, in some measure seems to imitate, are Theocritus, Virgil, and Spenser; Mr. Pope is of opinion that Theocritus excels all others in nature and simplicity.
That Virgil, who copies Theocritus, refines on his original; and in all points, in which judgment has the principal part, is much superior to his mas
That among the moderns, their success has been greatest who have most endeavoured to make these ancients their pattern. The most considerable genius appears in the famous Tasso, and our Spenser. Tasso, in his Aminta, as far excelled all pastoral writers, as in his Gierusalemme, he has outdone the epic poets of his own country. But as this piece seems to have been the original of a new sort of poem, the pastoral comedy in Italy, it cannot so well be considered as a copy of the ancients. Spenser's Calender, in Mr. Dryden's opinion, is the anost complete work of this kind which any nation has produced ever since the time of Virgil; but this he said before Mr. Pope's Pastorals appeared.
Mr. Walsh pronounces on our Shepherd's boy (as Mr. Pope called himself) the following judgment, in a letter to Mr. Wycherley:
"The verses are very tender and easy. The Auseems to have a particular genius for that kind
"of poetry, and a judgment that much exceeds the years you told me he was of. It is no flattery af "all to say that Virgil had written nothing so good "at his age. I shall take it as a favour if you will bring me acquainted with him; and if he will give "himself the trouble, any morning, to call at my "house, I shall be very glad to read the verses with 'him, and give him my opinion of the particulars more largely than I can well do in this letter."
Thus early was Mr. Pope introduced to the acquaintance of men of genius, and so improved every advantage, that he made a more rapid progress towards a consummation in fame than any of our former English poets. His Messiah, his Windsor Forest, (the first part of which was written at the same time with his Pastorals) his Essay on Criticism in 1709, and his Rape of the Lock in 1712, 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 wri tings, which do honour to our age and country, his religion rendering him incapable of a place, which the Lord Treasurer Oxford used to express his concern for, but without offering him a pension, as the earl of Halifax and Mr. Secretary Craggs afterwards did, though Mr. Pope declined it.
The reputation of Mr. Pope gaining every day upon the world, he was caressed, flattered, and rajied 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 publish ing 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 corrections. The freedom which our young hard 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 a boy at sixteen should so severely correct his works. Letters of dissatisfaction were written by Mr. Wycherley, and at last he informed him, in 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 upon 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, Wycher"ley. 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 unc"tion in our catechism, as a kind of bint as to 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, "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, (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, "and earnestly entreated 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 remove that talent "we call humour: Mr. Wycherley shewed this even "in this last compliment, though I think his request "a little hard; for why should he bar her from dou"bling 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 tutorage 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 her, to find out the real cause of her indifference. Her correspondence with her lover was soon discovered, and, when urged upon that topic, she had too much truth and honour to deny it. The uncle finding that she would make no efforts to disengage her affection, after a little time forced her abroad, where she was received with a ceremony due to her quality, but restricted from the conversation of every one but the spies of this severe guardian, so that it was impossible for her lover even to have a letter delivered into her hands. She languished in this place a considerable time, bore an infinite deal of sickness, and was overwhelmed with the profoundest sorrow
Nature being wearied out with continual distress, and being driven at last to despair, the unfortunate lady, as Mr. Pope justly calls her, put an end to her own life, having bribed a maid-servant to procure her a sword. She was found upon the ground weltering in her blood. The severity of the laws of the place, where this fair unfortunate perished, denied her Christian burial, and she was interred without solemnity, or even any attendants to perform the last offices of the dead, except some young people of the neighbourhood, who saw her put into common ground, and strewed the grave with flowers.
The poet, in the Elegy, takes occasion to mingle with the tears of sorrow, just reproaches upon her cruel uncle, who drove her to this violation.
But thou, false guardian of a charge too good,
The conclusion of this elegy is irresistibly affecting.
A heap of dust alone remains of thee;
No poem of our author's more deservedly obtained him reputation than his Essay on Criticism. Mr. Addison in his Spectator, No. 253, has celebrated it with such profuse terms of admiration, that it is really astonishing to find the same man endeavouring afterwards to diminish that fame he had contributed to raise so high.
"The Art of Criticism," says he, "which was pub"lished some months ago, is a master-piece in its kind. "The observations follow one another, like those in "Horace's Art of Poetry, without that methodical re"gularity which would have been requisite in a prose