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Having exalted himself into the chair of wisdom, he tells us much that every man knows, and much that he does not know himself; that we see but little, and that the order of the universe is beyond our comprehension; an opinion not very uncommon; and that there is a chain of subordinate beings " from infinite to nothing," of which himself and his readers are equally ignorant. But he gives us one comfori, which, without his help, he supposes unattainable, in the position “ that though we are fools, yet God is wise.".
This Essay affords an egregious instance of the predominance of genius, the dazzling splendour of imagery, and the seductive powers of eloquence. Never were penury of knowledge and vulgarity of sentiment so happily disguised. The reader feels his mind full, though he learns nothing; and, when he meets it in its new array, no longer knows the talk of his mother and his nurse. When these wonderworking sounds sink into sense, and the doctrine of the Essay, disrobed of its ornaments, is left to the powers of its naked excellence, what shall we discover ? That we are, in comparison with our Creator; very weak and ignorant; that we do not uphold the chain of existence; and that we could not make one another with more skill than we are made. We may learn yet more: that the arts of human life were copied from the instinctive operations of other animals; that if the world be made for man; it may be said that man was made for geese. To these profound principles of natural knowledge are added some moral instructions equally new; that self-interest, well understood, will produce social concord; that men are mutual gainers by mutual benefits; that evil is sometimes balanced by good; that human advantages are unstable and fallacious, of uncertain duration and doubtful effect; that our true honour is, not to have a great part, but to act it well; that virtue only is our own; and that happiness is always in our power.
Surely a man of no very comprehensive search may venture to say, that he has beard all this before; but it was never till now recommended by such a blaze of embellishments, or such sweetness of melody. The vigorous contraction of some thoughts, the luxuriant arnplification of others, the incidental illustrations, and sometimes the dignity, sometimes the softness of the verses, enchain philosophy, suspend criticism, and oppress judgment by overpowering pleasure.
This is true of many paragraphs; yet, if I had undertaken to exemplify Pope's felicity of composition before a rigid critic, I should not select the Essay on Man; for it contains more lines unsuccessfully laboured, more harshness of diction, more thoughts imperfectly expressed, more levity without elegance, and more heaviness without strength, than will easily be found in all his other works.
The Characters of Men and Women are the product of diligent speculation upon human life; much labour has been bestowed upon them, and Pope very seldom laboured in vain. That his excellence may be properly estimated, I recommend a comparison of his Characters of Women, with Boileau's Satire; it will then be seen with how much more perspicuity female nature is investigated, and female excellence selected; and he is surely no mean writer to whom Boileau should be found inferior. The Characters of Men, however, are written with more, if not with deeper, thought, and exhibit many passages exquisitely beautiful. The Gem and the Flower will not easily be equalled. In the women's part are some defects; the character of Atossa is not so neatly finished as that of Clodio; and some of the female characters may be found perhaps more frequently among men; what is said of Philomede was true of Prior.
In the Epistles to Lord Bathurst and Lord Burlington, Dr. Warburton has endeavoured to find a train of thought which was never in the writer's head, and, to support his hypothesis, has printed that first which was published last. In one, the most valuable passage is perlaps the eulogy on good sense ; and the other, the end of the duke of Buckingham.
The Epistle to Arbuthnot, now arbitrarily called the Prologue to the Satires, is a performance consisting, as it seems, of many fragments wrouglit into one design, which, by this union of scattered beauties, contains more striking paragraphs than could probably have been brought together into an occasional work. As there is no stronger motive to exertion than self defence, no part has more elegance, spirit, or dignity, than the poet's vindication of his own character. The meanest passage is the satire upon Sporus.
Of the two poems which derived their names from the year, and which are called the Epilogue to the Satires, it was very justly remarked by Savage, that the second was in the whole more strongly conceived, and more equally supported, but that it had no single passages equal to the contention in the first for the dignity of Vice, and the celebration of the triumph of Corruption.
The Imitations of Horace seein to have been written as relaxations of his genius. This employment became his favourite by its facility; the plan was ready to his hand, and nothing was required but to accommodate as he could the sentiments of an old author to recent facts or familiar images; bnt what is easy is excellent; such iinitations cannot give pleasure to common readers; the man of learning may be sometimes surprised and delighted by an unexpected parallel; but the comparison requires knowledge of the original, which will likewise often detect strained applications. Between Roman images and English manners, there will be an irreconcileable dissimilitude, and the work will be generally uncouth and party-coloured; neither original nor translated, neither ancient nor modern'.
Pope had, in proportions very nicely adjusted to each other, all the qualities that constitute genius. He had invention, by which new trains of events are formed, and new scenes of imagery displayed, as in the Rape of the Lock; and by which extrinsic and adventitious embellishments and illustrations are connected with a known subject, as in the Essay on Criticisin. He had imagination, which strongly impresses on the writer's mind, and enables him to convey to the reader, the various forms of nature, incidents of life, and energies of passion, as in his Eloisa, Windsor Forest, and the
' In one of these poems is a couplet, to which belongs a story that I once heard the reverend Dr. Riley relate
Slander or poison dread from Delia's rage;
Sir l'rancis Page, a judge well known in his time, conceiving that his name was meant to fill up the blank, sent his clerk to Mr. Pope to complain of the insult. Pope told the young man, that the blank might be supplied by many monosyllables, other than the judge's name:--" but, sir," said the clerk, “the judge says that no other word will make sense of the passiige."
"L" So then it seems," says Pope, . “your master is not only a judge, but a poet: as that is the case, the odds are against me. respects to the judge, and tell him, I will not contend with one that has the advantage of me, and be may fill up the blank as he plcases."
Ethic Epistles. He had judgment, which relects from life or nature what the present purpose requires, and by separating the essence of things from its concomitants, often makes the representation more powerful than the reality; and he had colours of lan, guage before him, ready to decorate his matter with every grace of elegant expre sion, as when he accommodates his diction to the wonderful multiplicity of Homer's sentiments and descriptions.
Poetical expression includes sound as well as meaning; “Music,” says Dryden, "is inarticulate poetry;" among the excellences of Pope, therefore, must be mentioned the melody of his metre. By perusing the works of Dryden, he discovered the most perfect fabric of English verse, and habituated himself to that only which he found the best; in consequence of which restraint, his poetry has been censured as too uniformly musical, and as glutting the ear with unvaried sweetness. I suspect this objec: tion to be the cant of those who judge by principles rather than perception;and who would even themselves have less pleasure in his works, if he had tried to relieve attention by studied discords, or affected to break his lines and vary
pauses. But though he was thus careful of his versification, he did not oppress his power with superfluous rigour. He seems to have thought with Boileau, that the practice of writing might be refined till the difficulty should overbalance the advantage. The construction of his language is not always strictly grammatical; with those 'rhymes which prescription had conjoined he contented himself, without regard to Swift's remontrances, though there was no striking consonance; nor was he very careful to vary his terminations, or to refuse admission, at a small distance, to the same rhynies.
To Swift's edict for the exclusion of alexandrines and triplets he paid little regard; he admitted them, but, in the opinion of Fenton, tuo rarely; he uses thein more liberally in his translation than his poems.
He has a few double rhymes; and always, I think, unsuccessfully, except once in in the Rape of the Lock.
Expletives he very early ejected from his verses; but he now and then admits an epithet rather commodious than important. Each of the six first lines of the Iliad might lose two syllables with very little diminution of the meaning; and sometimes, after al} his art and labour, one verse seeins to be made for the sake of another. In his latter productions the diction is sometimes vitiated by French idioms, with which Bolingbroke had perhaps infected him.
I have been told, that the couplet by which he declared his own ear to be most gran tified was this:
Lo! where Mæotis sleeps, and hardly flows
The freezing Tanaïs through a waste of snows. but the reason of this preference I cannot discover.
It is remarked by Watts, that there is scarcely a happy combination of words, or a phrase poetically elegant in the English language, which Pope has not inserted into lio version of Homer. How he obtained possession of so many beauties of speech, it were desirable to know. That he gleaned from authors, obscure as well as eminent, what he thouglit brilliant or useful, and preserved it all in a regular collection, is not unlikely. When, in his last years, Hall's Satires were shown him, he wished that he' had seen them sooner.
New sentiments and new images others may produce; but to attempt any farther improvement of versification will be dangerous. Art and diligence have now done their best, and what shall be added will be the effort of tedious toil and needless curiosity.
After all this, it is surely superfluous to answer the question that has once been asked, Whether Pope was a poet? otherwise than by asking in return, if Pope be not a poet, where is poetry to be found? To circumscribe poetry by a definition, will only show the narrowness of the definer, though a definition which shall exclude Pope will not easily be made. Let us look round upon the present time, and back upon the past; let us inquire to whom the voice of mankind has decreed the wreath of poetry; let their productions be examined, and their claims stated, and the pretensions of Pope will be no more disputed. Had he given the world only his version, the name of poet must have been allowed him; if the writer of the Iliad were to class his successors, he would assign a very high place to his translator, without requiring any other evidence of genius.
The following letter, of which the original is in the hands of lord Hardwicke, was communicated to me by the kindness of Mr. Jodrell.
“ TO MŇ. BRIDGES, AT THE BISHOP OF LONDON'S, AT FULHAM.
“ The favour of your letter, with your remarks, can never be enough acknow, ledged; and the speed with which you discharged so troublesome a task doubles the obligation,
“ I must own, you have pleased me very much by the commendations so ill bestowed upon me; but, I assure you, much more by the frankness of your censure, which I ought to take the more kindly of the two, as it is more advantageous to a scribbler to be improved in his judgement than to be soothed in his vanity. The greater part of those deviations, from the Greek, which you have observed, I was led into by Chapman and Hobbes; who are, it seems, as much celebrated for their knowlege of the original, as they are decried for the badness of their translations. Chapman pretends to have restored the genuine sense of the author, from the mistakes of all formal explainers, in several hundred places: and the Cambridge editors of the large Homer in Greek and Latin attributed so much to Hobbes, that they confess they have corrected the old Latin interpretation very often by his version. For my part, I generally took the author's meaning to be as you have explained it; yet their authority, joined to the knowledge of my own imperfectness in the language, overruled me. However, sir, you may be confident I think you in the right, because you happen to be of my opinion: for, men (let them say what they will) never approve any other's sense, but as it squares with their own. But you have made me much more proud of, and positive in my judgement, since it is strengthened by yours. I think your criticisms, which regard the expression, very just, and shall make my profit of them: to give you some proof that I am in earnest, I will alter three verses on your bare objection, though I have Mr. Dryden's example for each of them. And this, I hope, you will account no small piece of obedience, from one, who values the authority of one true poet above that of twenty critics or commentators. But though I speak thus of commenjators, I will continue to read carefully all I can procure, to make up,
way, for my own want of critical understanding in the original beauties of Homer. Thoughz
the greatest of them are certainly those of invention and design, which are not at all confined to the language: for the distinguishing excellences of Homer are (by the consent of the best critics of all nations) first in the manners, (which include all the speeches, as being no other than the representations of each person's manners by his words) and then in that rapture and fire, which carries you away with him, with that wonderful force, that no man that has a true poetical spirit is master of himself, while he reads him. Homer makes you interested and concerned before you are aware, all at once, whereas Virgil does it by soft degrees. This, I believe, is what a translator of Homer ought principally to imitate; and it is very hard for any translator to come up to it, because the chief reason why all translations fall short of their originals is, that the very constraint they are obliged to, renders them heavy and dispirited.
“ The great beauty of Homer's language, as I take it, consists in that noble simplicity which runs through all his works; (and yet his diction, contrary to what one would imagiae consistent with simplicity, is at the same time very copious.) I don't know how I have run into this pedantry in a letter, but I find I have said too much, as well as spoken too inconsiderately: what farther thoughts I have upon this subject, I shall be glad to communicate to you (for my own improvement) when we meet; which is a happiness I very earnestly desire, as I do likewise some opportunity of proving how much I think myself obliged to your friendship, and how truly I am, sir, “ your most faithful, humble servant,
The Criticism upon Pope's Epitaphs, which was printed in the Universal Visitor, is placed here, being too minute and particular to be inserted in the Life.
EVERY art is best taught by example. Nothing contributes more to the cultivation of propriety, than remarks on the works of those who have most excelled. I shall there. fore endeavour, at this visit, to entertain the young students in poetry with an examination of Pope's Epitaphs.
To define an epitaph is useless; every one knows that it is an inscription on a tomb. An epitaph, therefore, implies no particular character of writing, but may be composed in verse or prose. It is indeed commonly panegyrical; because we are seldom distinguished with a stone but by our friends; but it has no rule to restrain or modify it, except this, that it ought not to be longer than common beholders may be expected to have leisure and patience to peruse.
Dorset, the grace of courts, the Muse's pride,