Page images
PDF
EPUB

elegantly written, particularly number 61, on cruelty to animals; and number 91, on a club of little men.

The Preface to his translation of the Iliad, is a declamatory piece of criticism, in the way of Longinus : it is written with force and spirit, but deals too much in generals. The most exceptionable passage in it, is where he compares the different great Epic poets to different sorts of fire. The Postscript to the Odyssey is better written, and more instructive. So also is the Preface to his Shakespeare: though it appears, by what later authors and editors have done, that he was not sufficiently acquainted with the history of our poetry, nor with the works of Shakespeare's predecessors and contemporaries. The Letters to various friends, occupy three volumes in that * collection of his works, which we pro

fessedly

* His translation of Homer is therefore not here included; the discussion of whose beauties and faults (for faults it has) well deserve a separate volume; a work which, if well executed, would be of the greatest utility in forming a just taste,

by

fessedly made use of in drawing up these remarks. . They appear to have been written with a design to have them one day published. They contain, it must be allowed, many interesting particulars ; but they are tinctured and blemished with a great share of vanity, and self-importance, and with too many commendations of his own integrity, independency, and virtue. Pope, Swift, and Bolingbroke, appear, by the letters, to have formed a kind of haughty triumvirate, in order to issue forth proscriptions against all who would not adopt their sentiments and opinions. And by their own account of themselves, they would have the reader believe, that they had engrossed and monopolized all the genius, and all the honesty, of the age, in which, according to their opinion, they had the misfortune to live.

Thus have I endeavoured to give a critical account, with freedom, but it is hoped with impartiality, of each of POPE's works; by which review it will appear, that the largest portion of

Dd

them

VOL. II.

by shewing readers, especially of the younger sort, how very inferior and unlike it is to the original, and how much overloaded with improper, unnecessary, and Ovidian ornaments.

them is of the 'didactic, moral, and satyric kind; and consequently, not of the most poetic species

poetry; whence it is manifest, that good sense and judgment were his characteristical excellencies, rather than fancy and invention : not that the author of the Rape of the Lock, and Eloisa, can be thought to want imagination; but because his imagination was not his predominant talent, because he indulged it not, and because he gave not so many proofs of this talent as of the other. This turn of mind led him to admire French models; he studied Boileau attentively; formed him. self

upon him, as Milton formed himself upon the Grecian and Italian sons of Fancy. He stuck to describing modern manners; but those manners, because they are familiar, uniform, artifcial, and polished, are, in their very nature, unfit for any lofty effort of the Muse. He gradually became one of the most correct, even, and exact poets that ever wrote ; polishing his pieces with a care and assiduity, that no business or avocation ever interrupted : so that if he does not frequently ravish and transport his reader, yet he does not disgust him with unexpected inequalities, and absurd impropriețies. Whatever poeti

cal

cal enthusiasm he actually possessed, he withheld and stifled. The perusal of him affects not our minds with such strong emotions as we feel from Homer and Milton; so that no man of a true poetical spirit, is master of himself while he reads them. Hence, he is a writer fit for universal perusal; adapted to all ages and stations ; for the old and for the young; the man of business and the scholar. He who would think the Faery Queen, Palamon and Arcite, the Tempest or Comus, childish and romantic, might relish PoPE. Surely it is no narrow and niggardly encomium, to say he is the great Poet of Reason, the First of Ethical authors in verse. And this species of writing is, after all, thé surest road to an extensive reputation. It lies more level to the general capacities of men, than the higher flights of more genuine poetry. We all remember when even a Churchill was more in vogue than a Gray. He that treats of fashionable follies, and the topics of the day, that describes present persons and recent events, finds many readers, whose understandings and whose passions he gratifies. The name of Chesterfield on one hand, and of Walpole on the other, failed not to make a poem D d 2

bought

bought up and talked of. And it cannot be doubted, that the Odes of Horace which celebrated, and the Satires which ridiculed, wellknown and real characters at Rome, were more eagerly read, and more frequently cited, than the Æneid and the Georgic of Virgil.

Where then, according to the question proposed at the beginning of this Essay, shall we with justice be authorized to place our admired Pope? Not, assuredly, in the same rank with Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton; however justly we may applaud the Eloisa and Rape of the Lock; but, considering the correctness, eiegance, and utility of his works, the weight of sentiment, and the knowledge of man they contain, we may venture to assign him a place, next to Milton, and just above Dryden. Yet, to bring our minds steadily to make this decision, we must forget, for a moment, the divine Music Ode of Dryden; and may, perhaps, then be compelled to confess, that though Dryden be the greater genius, yet Pope is the better artist.

The

« PreviousContinue »