« EelmineJätka »
casements. Of this description was the bosom of Montaigne, through the casement of which we may read without reserve all that passed therein. It is this honesty, truth, and simplicity of manner, that interests us more than either the correctness of his reasonings, or the importance of his discourse. Our attention is turned from the subject to the author ; and whilst he is instructing us in philosophy, we are studying himself. Of all the books that ever were written, that of Montaigne best enables us to compare the mind of another person with our own, to trace the same opinions, to acknowledge the same faults and follies, to discover in what we differ, as well as in what we agree, and to know more even of ourselves than we could ever have discovered by our own experience. How greatly Pope was delighted with this author, appears from many passages in his works; and particularly from his imitation of the first Satire of the second book of Horace, when referring to him and to Shippen, he says,
“ In them, as certain to be loved as seen,
The soul stood forth, nor kept a thought within.
Is vice too high, reserve it for the next.” Ver. 53. In the characters of Ariosto and Pope, it is impossible not to observe a striking similarity. Both poets ; both devoted to their art; both avoiding a marriage life; and equally remarkable for affectionate attachment to an aged mother. Both possessed of an elegant sufficiency, and providing themselves with habitations suitable for their convenience and proportionate to their rank. But near as they approached each other in external circumstances, they seem to have approached still nearer in mind. In the present day the Italian poet is chiefly known by his never-tired and never-tiring poetical romance of Orlando ; but this may be considered as his public and assumed character. If we wish to know him as he was in real life, we must resort to his Epistles to his friends, to which he has thought proper to give the name of Satires. From these we find, that his constitution and state of health was little better than that of our Poet, and that without the strictest regimen, he could not have guarded against danger :
“ Ogni alterazione ancor che lieve
Ch'avessi al mal ch'io sento, o ne morrei,
O il Valentino, o il Postumo errar deve.
Casi d'ogn' altro intendo, e quai compensi
Mi sian utili so, so quai son rei.” Sat. 2.
Would in one moment ease me of my life ;
The necessity of Temperance was also no less incumbent upon him than on Pope :
“E le vivande condiriami il Coco
Potre' a mia posta, e nulla berne o poco.” Ib.
And mix my wine with water as I please.” He frequently delights to dwell on the independence of his character, and the pleasures of his literary pursuits :
“ Piùttosto che arrichir, voglio quiete ;
Piùttosto che occuparmi in altra cura
Sicchi inondar lasci 'l mi’ studio a Lete ;
Lo dà alla mente con sì nobil esca
Che merta di non star senza cultura ;
E fa che la richezza sì non ami,
I find no pleasure in the toilsome task
Devoted, as to risk my much-loved liberty.” The same reluctance to sacrifice the powers of the mind to external circumstances, is beautifully expressed by Pope in his imitation of Ho
“Slow as to him who works for debt the day,” &c. It is from these touches of character that we form our attachment to individuals, and feel ourselves attracted by a charm which neither distance of time, nor difference of country and manners can wholly destroy
Unwilling as the world is to concede to the pretensions of any individual those merits which he has himself presumed openly to claim, yet few will be found to deny that Pope has made good his title to the characteristics he assumes, even by the manner in which he has asserted them ; and that the courage, the frankness, the irony, the wit, the alternate earnestness and indifference, elevation and ridicule, with which he treats the various subjects that occur in his Satires, entitle him at once to our admiration, our confidence, and our esteem.
PROLOGUE TO THE SATIRES.
“ Neque sermonibus vulgi dederis te, nec in præmiis humanis spem posueris rerum tuarum ; suis te oportet illecebris ipsa virtus trahat ad verum decus. Quid de te alii loquantur, ipsi videant, sed loquentur tamen.”-CICERO.
Ar the time of publishing this Epistle, the poet's patience was exhausted by the endless impertinence of poetasters of all ranks and conditions ; as well those who courted his favour, as those who envied his reputation. · So that now he had resolved to quit his hands of both together, by the publication of a Dunciad. This design he communicated to his excellent friend Dr. ARBUTHNOT ; who, although as a man of wit and learning he might not have been displeased to see their common injuries revenged on this pernicious tribe ; yet, as our author's friend and physician, he was solicitous of his ease and health ; and therefore unwilling he should provoke so large and powerful a party.
Their difference of opinion, in this matter, gives occasion to the following Dialogue ; where, in a natural and familiar detail of all his provocations, both from flatterers and slanderers, our author has artfully interwoven an apology for his moral and poetic character.
For after having told his case, and humorously applied to his physician in the manner one would ask for a receipt to kill vermin, he straight goes on, in the common character of askers of advice, to tell his doctor that he had already taken his party, and determined of his remedy. But using a preamble, and introducing it (in the way of poets) with a simile, in which the names of Kings, Queens, and Ministers of State happen to be mentioned, his friend takes the alarm, and begs him to forbear ; advises him to stick to his subject, and to be easy under so common a calamity.
To make so light of his disaster provokes the poet : he breaks the thread of his discourse, which was to lead his friend gently, and by degrees, into his project ; and abruptly tells him the application of his simile at once :
“ Out with it, DunciaD! let the secret pass,” &c. But recollecting the humanity and tenderness of his friend, which, he apprehends, might be a little shocked at the apparent severity of such a proceeding, he assures him that his good nature is alarmed without cause ; for that nothing has less feeling than this sort of offenders ; which he illustrates in the examples of a damned Poet, a detected Slanderer, a TableParasite, a Church-Buffoon, and a Party-Writer (from ver. 1 to 101).
But, in this enumeration, coming again to Names, his friend once more stops him, and bids him consider what hostilities this general attack would set on foot. So much the better, replies the poet ; for considering the strong antipathy of bad to good, enemies they will always be, either open or secret ; and it admits of no question, but a slanderer is less hurtful than a flatterer. For, says he, (in a pleasant simile addressed to his friend's profession)
“Of all mad creatures, if the learn'd are right,
It is the slaver kills, and not the bite." And how abject and excessive the flattery of these creatures was, he shows, by observing that they praised him even for his infirmities, his bad health, and his inconvenient shape (ver. 100 to 125).
But still it might be said, that if he could bear this evil annexed to
authorship no better, he should not have written at all. To this he answers, by lamenting the natural bent of his disposition ; which, from his very birth, had drawn him towards Poetry so strongly, as if it were in execution of some secret decree of Heaven for crimes unknown. But though he offended in becoming an author, he offended in nothing else. For his early verses were perfectly innocent and harmless :
“ Like gentle Fanny's was my flowing theme,
A painted mistress, or a purling stream.” Yet even then, he tells us, two enraged and hungry critics fell upon him without any provocation. But this might have been borne, as the common lot of distinction. But it was his peculiar ill-fortune to create a jealousy in one, whom, not only many good offices done by our author to him and his friends, but a similitude of genius and studies, might have inclined to a reciprocal affection and support. On the contrary, that otherwise amiable person, being, by nature, timorous and suspicious ; by education, a partyman ; and, by circumstances of fortune, beset with flatterers and pickthanks, regarded our author as his rival, set up by a contrary faction, with views destructive of public liberty and that person's reputation. And all this, with as little provocation from Mr. Pope's conduct in his poetic, as in his civil character.
For though he had got a name (the reputation of which he agreeably rallies, in the description he gives of it), yet he never, even when most in fashion, set up for a patron, or a dictator amongst the wits; but still kept retired in his usual privacy ; leaving the whole Castalian state, as he calls it, to a Mock Mæcenas, whom he next describes (ver. 124 to 261).
And, struck with the sense of that dignity and case which support the character of a true poet, he breaks out into a passionate vow for a continuance of the full liberty inseparable from it. And to show how well he deserves it, and how safely he might be trusted with it, he concludes his wish with a description of his temper and disposition (ver. 260 to 271).
This naturally leads him to complain of his friends, when they consider him in no other view than that of an author ; as if he had neither the same right to the enjoyments of life, the same concern for his highest interests, or the same dispositions of benevolence, with other people.
Besides, he now admonishes them, in his turn, that they do not consider to what they expose him, when they urge him to write on ; namely, to the suspicions and the displeasure of a court, who are made to believe he is always writing; or at least to the foolish criticisms of court-sycophants, who pretend to find him, by his style, in the immoral libels of every idle scribbler : though he, in the mean time, be so far from countenancing such worthless trash in others, that he would be ready to execrate even his own best vein of poetry, if made at the expense of truth and innocence :
“ Curs'd be the verse, how well soe'er it flow,
That tends to make one worthy man my foe,
Or from the soft-eyed virgin steal a tear.” Sentiments, which no effort of genius, without the concurrence of the heart, could have expressed in strains so exquisitely sublime. That the