Page images

the art of obtaining the accumulated honour, both of what he had published and of what he had suppressed.

In this year his father died suddenly, in his seventy-fifth year, having passed twenty-nine years in privacy. He is not known but by the character which his son has given him. If the money with which he retired was all gotten by himself, he had traded very successfully in times when sudden riches were rarely attainable.

The publication of the "Iliad" was at last completed in 1720. The splendour and success of this work raised Pope many enemies, that deavoured to depreciate his abilities. Burnet, who was afterwards a judge of no mean reputation, censured him in a piece called "Homerides," before it was published. Ducket likewise endeavoured to make him ridiculous. Dennis was the perpetual persecutor of all his studies. But, whoever his critics were, their writings are lost; and the names which are preserved are preserved in the "Dunciad."

In this disastrous year (1720) of national infatuation, when more riches than Peru can boast were expected from the South Sea, when the contagion of avarice tainted every mind, and even poets panted after wealth, Pope was seized with the universal passion, and ventured some of his money. The stock rose in its price; and for a while he thought himself the lord of thou-version, he appeared before the Lords at the meIn 1723, while he was engaged in this new sands. But this dream of happiness did not morable trial of Bishop Atterbury, with whom last long; and he seems to have waked soon he had lived in great familiarity and frequent enough to get clear with the loss of what he once correspondence. Atterbury had honestly rethought himself to have won, and perhaps not commended to him the study of the popish conwholly of that. troversy, in hope of his conversion; to which Pope answered in a manner that cannot much de-recommend his principles or his judgment. In questions and projects of learning they agreed better. He was called at the trial to give an account of Atterbury's domestic life and private employment, that it might appear how little time he had left for plots. Pope had but few words to utter, and in those few he made several blunders.

Soon after the appearance of the "Iliad," reen-solving not to let the general kindness cool, he published proposals for a translation of the "Odyssey," in five volumes, for five guineas. He was willing, however, now to have associates in his labour, being either weary with toiling upon another's thoughts, or having heard, as Ruffhead relates, that Fenton and Broome had already begun the work, and liking better to have them confederates than rivals.

Next year he published some select poems of his friend Dr. Parnell, with a very elegant dication to the Earl of Oxford; who, after all his struggles and dangers, then lived in retirement, still under the frown of a victorious faction, who could take no pleasure in hearing his praise.

things wrong, and left many things undone ; but let him not be defrauded of his due praise. He was the first that knew, at least the first that told, by what helps the text might be improved. If he inspected the early editions negligently, he taught others to be more accurate. In his preface he expanded with great skill and elegance the character which had been given of Shakspeare by Dryden; and he drew the public attention upon his works which, though often mentioned, had been little read.

He gave the same year (1721) an edition of Shakspeare. His name was now of so much authority, that Tonson thought himself entitled, by annexing it, to demand a subscription of six guineas for Shakspeare's plays in six quarto volumes: nor did his expectation much deceive him; for, of seven hundred and fifty which he printed, he dispersed a great number at the price proposed. The reputation of that edition indeed sunk afterwards so low, that one hundred and forty copies were sold at sixteen shillings each.

On this undertaking, to which Pope was induced by a reward of two hundred and seventeen pounds twelve shillings, he seems never to have reflected afterwards without vexation; for Theobald, a man of heavy diligence, with very slender powers, first, in a book called "Shakspeare Restored," and then in a formal edition, detected his deficiences with all the insolence of victory; and, as he was now high enough to be feared and hated, Theobald had from others all the help that could be supplied by the desire of humbling a haughty character.

From this time Pope became an enemy to editors, collators, commentators, and verbal critics; and hoped to persuade the world, that he miscarried in this undertaking only by having a mind too great for such minute employment.

Pope in his edition undoubtedly did many

"translated" the "Odyssey," as he had said of In the patent, instead of saying that he had the "Iliad," he says, that he had "undertaken" a translation; and in the proposals the subscription is said to be not solely for his own use, but for that of "two of his friends who have assisted him in this work."

His letters to Atterbury express the utmost esteem, tenderness, and gratitude; "perhaps," says he, "it is not only in this world that I may have cause to remember the Bishop of Rochester." At their last interview in the Tower, Atterbury presented him with a Bible.*

books; the rest were the work of Broome and Of the "Odyssey" Pope translated only twelve Fenton; the notes were written wholly by Broome, who was not over-liberally rewarded. several shares; and an account was subjoined The public was carefully kept ignorant of the at the conclusion which is now known not to be true.

Fenton, are to be seen in the Museum. The parts
The first copy of Pope's books, with those of
of Pope are less interlined than the "Iliad," and
the latter books of the "Iliad" less than the
every sheet enabled him to write the next with
He grew dexterous by practice, and
more facility. The books of Fenton have very
few alterations by the hand of Pope. Those of
Broome have not been found; but Pope com-
plained, as it is reported, that he had much trou-
ble in correcting them.

The late Mr. Graves of Claverton informs us, that this Bible was afterwards used in the chapel of Priorfen.-C. park. Dr. Warburton probably presented it to Mr. Al

[ocr errors]



is, according to Pope's account, but the emblem
of a wit winded by booksellers.

His complaint, however, received some attes-
tation; for the same year the Letters written by
him to Mr. Cromwell in his youth were sold by
Mrs. Thomas, to Curll, who printed them.


In these Miscellanies was first published the "Art of Sinking in Poetry," which, by such a train of consequences as usually passes in literary quarrels, gave in a short time, according to Pope's account, occasion to the "Dunciad."

In the following year (1728) he began to put Atterbury's advice in practice: and showed his satirical powers by publishing the "Dunciad," one of his greatest and most elaborate performances, in which he endeavoured to sink into contempt all the writers by whom he had been attacked, and some others whom he thought unable to defend themselves.

At the head of the Dunces he placed poor Theobald, whom he accused of ingratitude; but whose real crime was supposed to be that of having revised "Shakspeare" more happily than himself. This satire had the effect which he intended, by blasting the characters which it touched. Ralph, who, unnecessarily interposing in the quarrel, got a place in a subsequent edition, complained that for a time he was in danger of starving, as the booksellers had no longer any confidence in his capacity.

The prevalence of this poem was gradual and

With this criticism Pope was so little offended, that he sought the acquaintance of the writer, who lived with him from that time in great familiarity, attended him in his last hours, and compiled memorials of his conversation. The regard of Pope recommended him to the great and pow-slow; the plan, if not wholly new, was little erful; and he obtained very valuable preferments understood by common readers. Many of the allusions required illustration; the names were in the church. Not long after, Pope was returning home often expressed only by the initial and final letfrom a visit in a friend's coach, which, in pass-ters, and, if they had been printed at length, ing a bridge, was overturned into the water: were such as few had known or recollected. the windows were closed, and being unable to The subject itself had nothing generally interestforce them open, he was in danger of immediate ing, for whom did it concern to know that one death, when the postillion snatched him out by or another scribbler was a dunce? If, therefore, breaking the glass, of which the fragments cut it had been possible for those who were attacked two of his fingers in such a manner that he lost to conceal their pain and their resentment, the "Dunciad" might have made its way very slowly their use. in the world.



himself; all fell into so violent a fury that, for Pope appears by this narrative to have conhalf a year or more, the common newspapers templated his victory over the "Dunces" with (in most of which they had some property, as great exultation and such was his delight in being hired writers) were filled with the most the tumult which he had raised, that for a while abusive falsehoods and scurrilities they could his natural sensibility was suspended, and he possibly devise; a liberty no ways to be won-read reproaches and invectives without emotion, dered at in those people, and in those papers, considering them only as the necessary effects of that, for many years during the uncontrolled that pain which he rejoiced in having given. license of the press, had aspersed almost all the great characters of the age; and this with impunity, their own persons and names being utterly secret and obscure.

It cannot however be concealed, that by his own confession, he was the aggressor, for nobody believes that the letters in the "Bathos" were placed at random; and it may be discovered that, when he thinks himself concealed, he indulges the common vanity of common men, and triumphs in those distinctions which he had affected to despise. He is proud that his book was presented to the King and Queen by the right honourable Sir Robert Walpole; he is proud that they had read it before; he is proud that the edition was taken off by the nobility and persons of the first distinction.

The edition of which he speaks was, I believe, that which, by telling in the text the names, and in the notes the characters, of those whom he had satirised, was made intelligible and divertThe critics had now declared their approbation of the plan, and the common reader began to like it without fear; those who were strangers to petty literature, and therefore unable to decipher initials and blanks, had now names and persons brought within their view, and delighted in the visible effect of those shafts of malice which they had hitherto contemplated as shot into the air.

Dennis, upon the fresh provocation now given him, renewed the enmity which had for a time been appeased by mutual civilities; and published remarks which he had till then suppressed,

"This gave Mr. Pope the thought, that he had now some opportunity of doing good by detecting and dragging into light these common enemies of mankind; since, to invalidate this universal slander, it sufficed to show what contemptible men were the authors of it. He was not without hopes that by manifesting the dulness of those who had only malice to recommend them, either the booksellers would not find their account in employing them, or the men themselves, when discovered, want courage to proceed in so unlawful an occupation. This it was that gave birth to the 'Dunciad;' and he thought it a happiness, that, by the late flooding. of slander on himself, he had acquired such a peculiar right over their names as was necessary to this design.

"On the 12th of March, 1729, at St. James's, that poem was presented to the King and Queen (who had before been pleased to read it) by the right honourable Sir Robert Walpole: and, some days after, the whole impression was taken and dispersed by several noblemen and persons of the first distinction.

"It is certainly a true observation, that no people are so impatient of censure as those who are the greatest slanderers, which was wonder-upon fully exemplified on this occasion. On the day the book was first vended, a crowd of authors besieged the shop; entreaties, advices, threats of law and battery, nay, cries of treason, were all employed to hinder the coming out of the 'Dunciad:' on the other side the booksellers and hawkers made as great efforts to procure it. What could a few poor authors do against so great a majority as the public? There was no stopping a current with a finger; so out it


"The Rape of the Lock." Many more grumbled in secret, or vented their resentment in the newspapers by epigrams or invectives.

Ducket, indeed, being mentioned as loving Burnet with "pious passion," pretended that his moral character was injured, and for some time declared his resolution to take vengeance with a cudgel. But Pope appeased him, by changing "pious passion" to "cordial friendship;" and by a note, in which he vehemently disclaims the malignity of meaning imputed to the first expression.

"Many ludicrous circumstances attended it. Aaron Hill, who was represented as diving The Dunces' (for by this name they were for the prize, expostulated with Pope in a mancalled) held weekly clubs, to consult of hostili- ner so much superior to all mean solicitation, ties against the author: one wrote a letter to a that Pope was reduced to sneak and shuffle, great minister, assuring him Mr. Pope was the sometimes to deny, and sometimes to apologize: greatest enemy the government had; and an-he first endeavours to wound, and is then afraid other brought his image in clay, to execute him to own that he meant a blow. in effigy; with which sad sort of satisfaction the gentlemen were a little comforted.

The "Dunciad," in the complete edition, is addressed to Dr. Swift: of the notes, part were written by Dr. Arbuthnot; and an apologetical letter was prefixed, signed by Cleland, but supposed to have been written by Pope. After this general war upon dulness, he seems

"Some false editions of the book having an owl in their frontispiece, the true one, to distinguish it, fixed in his stead an ass laden with authors. Then another surreptitious one being printed with the same ass, the new edition in octavo re- to have indulged himself a while in tranquillity; turned for distinction to the owl again. Hence but his subsequent productions prove that he arose a great contest of booksellers against was not idle. He published (1731) a poem on booksellers, and advertisements against adver-"Taste," in which he very particularly and setisements; some recommending the edition of verely criticises the house, the furniture, the garthe owl, and others the edition of the ass; by dens, and the entertainments of Timon, a man which names they came to be distinguished, to of great wealth and little taste. By Timon he the great honour also of the gentlemen of the was universally supposed, and by the Earl of Burlington, to whom the poem is addressed, was


privately said, to mean the Duke of Chandos ; a | letters between him and many of his friends, man perhaps too much delighted with pomp which, falling into the hands of Curll, a rapaand show, but of a temper kind and beneficent, cious bookseller of no good fame, were by him and who had consequently the voice of the pub-printed and sold. This volume containing some lic in his favour. letters from noblemen, Pope incited a prosecution against him in the House of Lords for breach of privilege, and attended himself to stimulate the resentment of his friends. Curll appeared at the bar, and, knowing himself in no great danger, spoke of Pope with very little reverence: "He has," said Curll, 66 a knack at versifying, but in prose I think myself a match for him." When the orders of the House were examined, none of them appeared to be infringed; Curll went away triumphant, and Pope was left to seek some other remedy.

Curll's account was, that one evening a man a clergyman's gown, but with a lawyer's band, brought and offered to sale a number of printed volumes, which he found to be Pope's epistolary correspondence; that he asked no name, and was told none, but gave the price demanded, and thought himself authorized to use his purchase to his own advantage.

That Curll gave a true account of the transaction it is reasonable to believe, because no falsehood was ever detected; and when, some years afterwards, I mentioned it to Lintot, the son of Bernard, he declared his opinion to be, that Pope knew better than any body else how Curll obtained the copies, because another was at the same time sent to himself, for which no price had ever been demanded, as he made known his resolution not to pay a porter, and consequently not to deal with a nameless agent.

Such care had been taken to make them public, that they were sent at once to two booksellers; to Curll, who was likely to seize them as prey; and to Lintot, who might be expected to give Pope information of the seeming injury. Lintot, I believe, did nothing; and Curll did what was expected. That to make them public was the only purpose may be reasonably supposed, because the numbers offered to sale by the private messengers showed that hope of gain could not have been the motive of the impression.

A violent outcry was therefore raised against the ingratitude and treachery of Pope, who was said to have been indebted to the patronage of Chandos for a present of a thousand pounds, and who gained the opportunity of insulting him by the kindness of his invitation.

The receipt of the thousand pounds Pope publicly denied; but from the reproach which the attack on a character so amiable brought upon him, he tried all means of escaping. The name of Cleland was again employed in an apology, by which no man was satisfied; and he was at last reduced to shelter his temerity behind dissi-in mulation, and endeavour to make that be disbelieved which he never had confidence openly to deny. He wrote, an exculpatory letter to the duke, which was answered with great magnanimity, as by a man who accepted his excuse without believing his professions. He said that to have ridiculed his taste, or his buildings, had been an indifferent action in another man; but that in Pope, after the reciprocal kindness that had been exchanged between them, it had been less easily excused.


Pope, in one of his letters, complaining of the treatment which his poem had found, owns that such critics can intimidate him, nay almost persuade him to write no more, which is a compliment this age deserves." The man who threatens the world is always ridiculous; for the world can easily go on without him, and in a short time will cease to miss him. I have heard of an idiot, who used to revenge his vexations by lying all night upon the bridge. "There is nothing," says Juvenal, "that a man will not believe in his own favour." Pope had been flattered till he thought himself one of the moving powers in the system of life. When he talked of laying down his pen, those who sat round him entreated and implored; and self-love did not suffer him to suspect that they went away and laughed.

The following year deprived him of Gay, a man whom he had known early, and whom he seemed to love with more tenderness than any other of his literary friends. Pope was now forty-four years old; an age at which the mind begins less easily to admit new confidence, and the will to grow less flexible; and when, therefore, the departnre of an old friend is very accurately felt.

In the next year he lost his mother, not by an unexpected death, for she lasted to the age of ninety-three; but she did not die unlamented. The filial piety of Pope was in the highest degree amiable and exemplary; his parents had the happiness of living till he was at the summit of poetical reputation, till he was at ease in his fortune, and without a rival in his fame, and found no diminution of his respect or tenderness. Whatever was his pride, to them he was obedient; and whatever was his irritability, to them he was gentle. Life has, among its soothing and quiet comforts, few things better to give than such a son.

: One of the passages of Pope's life which seems to deserve some inquiry, was a publication of

It seems that Pope being desirous of printing his Letters, and not knowing how to do, without imputation of vanity, what has in this country been done very rarely, contrived an appearance of compulsion; that, when he could complain that his letters were surreptitiously published, he might decently and defensively publish them himself.

Pope's private correspondence, thus promulgated, filled the nation with praises of his candour, tenderness, and benevolence, the purity of his purposes, and the fidelity of his friendship. There were some letters, which a very good or a very wise man would wish suppressed; but, as they had been already exposed, it was impracticable now to retract them.

From the perusal of those Letters, Mr. Allen first conceived the desire of knowing him; and with so much zeal did he cultivate the friendship which he had newly formed, that when Pope told his purpose of vindicating his own property by a genuine edition, he offered to pay the cost.

This however Pope did not accept; but in time solicited a subscription for a quarto volume,

which appeared, (1737,) I believe, with sufficient profit. In the preface he tells, that his Letters were reposited in a friend's library, said to be the Earl of Oxford's, and that the copy thence stolen was sent to the press. The story was doubtless received with different degrees of credit. It may be suspected that the preface to the Miscellanies was written to prepare the public for such an incident; and to strengthen this opinion, James Worsdale, a painter, who was employed in clandestine negotiations, but whose veracity was very doubtful, declared that he was the messenger who carried, by Pope's direction, the books to Curll.

commentator, had been eight years under his consideration, and of which he seems to have desired the success with great solicitude. He had now many open and doubtless many secret enemies. The "Dunces" were yet smarting with the war; and the superiority which he publicly arrogated disposed the world to wish his humiliation.

Pope is seen in this collection as connected with the other contemporary wits, and certainly suffers no disgrace in the comparison; but it must be remembered, that he had the power of favouring himself; he might have originally had publication in his mind, and have written with care, or have afterwards selected those which he had most happily conceived or most diligently laboured; and I know not whether there does not appear something more studied and artificial in his productions than the rest, except one long letter by Bolingbroke, composed with the skill and industry of a professed author. It is indeed not easy to distinguish affectation from habit; he that has once studiously formed a style rarely writes afterwards with complete ease. Pope may be said to write always with his reputation in his head; Swift, perhaps, like a man who remembered he was writing to Pope; but Arbuthnot, like one who lets thoughts drop from his pen as they rise into his mind.

Before these Letters appeared, he published the first part of what he persuaded himself to think a system of ethics, under the title of "An Essay on Man ;" which, if his letter to Swift (of Sept. 14, 1725) be rightly explained by the These Letters were evidently prepared for the by Pope himself. Some of the originals, lately discopress vored, will prove this beyond all dispute.-C

All this he knew, and against all this he provided. His own name and that of his friend to whom the work is inscribed, were in the first editions carefully suppressed; and the poem being of a new kind, was ascribed to one or another, as favour determined or conjecture wandered; it was given, says Warburton, to every man, except him only who could write it. Those who like only when they like the author, and who are under the dominion of a name, condemned it; and those admired it who are willing to scatter praise at random, which, while is unappropriated, excites no envy. Those friends of Pope that were trusted with the secret, went about lavishing honours on the newborn poet, and hinting that Pope was never so much in danger from any former rival.

To those authors whom he had personally offended, and to those whose opinion the world considered as decisive, and whom he suspected of envy or malevolence, he sent his essay as a present before publication, that they might defeat their own enmity by praises which they could not afterwards decently retract.

When they were thus published and avowed, as they had relation to recent facts and persons either then living or not yet forgotten, they may be supposed to have found readers; but as the facts were minute, and the characters, being either private or literary, were little known or little regarded, they awakened no popular kind-it ness or resentment: the book never became much the subject of conversation; some read it as a contemporary history, and some perhaps as a model of epistolary language; but those who read it did not talk of it. Not much therefore was added by it to fame or envy; nor do I remember that it produced either public praise or public censure.

It had however, in some degree, the recommendation of novelty; our language had few letters, except those of statesmen. Howel, indeed, about a century ago, published his Letters, which are commended by Morhoff, and which alone, of his hundred volumes, continue his memory. Loveday's Letters were printed only once; those of Herbert and Suckling are hardly known. Mrs. Phillips' [Orinda's] are equally neglected. And those of Walsh seem written as exercises, and were never sent to any living mistress or friend. Pope's epistolary excellence had an open field; he had no English rival living or dead.

With these precautions, 1733, was published the first part of the "Essay on Man." There had been for some time a report that Pope was busy on a system of morality; but this design was not discovered in the new poem, which had a form and a title with which its readers were unacquainted. Its reception was not uniform; some thought it a very imperfect piece, though not without good lines. When the author was unknown, some, as will always happen, favoured him as an adventurer, and some censured him as an intruder; but all thought him above neglect; the sale increased and editions were multiplied.

The subsequent editions of the first epistle, exhibited two memorable corrections. At first, the poet and his friend

Expatiate freely o'er the scene of man,
A mighty maze of walks without a plan;
for which he wrote afterwards,

A mighty maze, but not without a plan: for, if there were no plan, it were in vain to describe or to trace the maze.

The other alteration was of these lines:

And spite of pride, and in thy reason's spile,
One truth is clear, whatever is, is right;

but having afterwards discovered, or been shown, that the truth," which subsisted "in spite of reason" could not be very clear," he substituted


And spite of pride, in erring reason's spite. To such oversights will the most vigorous mind be liable when it is employed at once upon argument and poetry.

The second and third epistles were published: and Pope was, I believe, more and more sus

« EelmineJätka »