« PreviousContinue »
· It is reasonable to infer, from his Letters, that the verses on the “Unfortunate Lady” were written about the time whea his “ Essay” was published: The Lady's name and adventures I have sought with fruitless enquiry*.
I can therefore tell no more than I have learned from Mr. Ruffhead, who writes with the confidence of one who could trust his information. She was a woman of eminent rank and large fortune, the ward of an uncle, who, having given her a proper education, expected like other guardians that she should make at least an equal match; and such he proposed to her, but found it rejected in favour of a young gentleman of inferior condition.
Having discovered the correspondence between the two lovers, and finding the young lady determined to abide by her own choice, he supposed that separation might do what can rarely be done by arguments, and sent her into a foreign country, where she was obliged to converse only with those from whom her uncle had nothing to fear.
Her lover took care to repeat his vows; but his letters were intercepted and carried to her guardian, who directed her to be watched with still greater vigilance, till of this restraint she grew so impatient, that she bribed a woman-servant to procure her a sword, which she directed to her heart.
Fronı this account given with evident intention to raise the Lady's character, it does not appear that she had any claiin to praise, nor much to compassion. She seems to have been impatient, violent, and ungovernable. Her uncle's power could not have lasted long; the hour of liberty and choice would have come in time. But her desires were too hot for delay, and she liked self-murder better than suspense.
Nor is it discovered that the uncle, whoever he was, is with much justice delivered to posterity as “a false Guardian ; he seems to have done only that for which a guardian is appointed; he endeavoured to direct his niece till she should be able to direct herself. Poetry has not often been worse employed than in dignifying the amorous fury of a raving girl.
Not long after he wrote the “Rape of the Lock," the most airy, the most ingenious, and the most delightful of all his compositions, occasioned by a frolic of gallantry, rather too familiar, in which Lord Peire cut off a lock of Mrs. Arabella Fermor's hair. This whether stealth or violence, was so much resented, that the commerce of the two families, before very friendly was interrupted. Mr. Caryl, a gentleman who, being secretary to King James's Queen, had followed his Mistress into France, and who being the author of “Sir Solomon Single,” a comedy, and some translations, 'was entitled to the notice of a wit, solicited Pope to endeavour a reconciliation by a ludicrous poem, which might bring both the parties to a better temper In compliance with Caryl's request, though his name was for a long time marked only by the first and last letter, C-1, a poem of two cantos was written (1711), as is said, in a fortnight, and sent to the offended Lady, who liked it well enough to shew it; and with the usual process of literary transactions, the author dreading a surreptitious edition was forced to publish it.
* See Gcat. Mag. vol. LI. p.314. N. VOL. I 3 T
The event is said to have been such as was desired ; the pacification and diversion of all to whom it related, except Sir George Brown, who complained with some bitterness that, in the character of Sir Plame, he was made to talk nonsense. Whether all this be true I liave some doubt; for at Paris, a few years ago, a niece of Mrs. Fermfor, who presided in an English Convent, mentioned Pope's work with very little gratitude, rather as an insult than an honour; and she may be supposed to have inherited the opinion of her family.
At its first appearance it was termed by Addison" merum sal.” Pope, however saw that it was capable of improvement; and, having luckily contrived to borrow his machinery from the Rosicrucians, imparted the scheme with which his head was teeming to Addison, who told him that his work, as it stood, was “ a delicious little thing," and gave him no encouragement to retouch it.
This has been too hastily considered as an instance of Addison's jealousy ; for as he could not guess the conduct of the new design, or the possibilities of pleasure comprised in a fiction of which there had been no examples, he might very reasonably and kindly persuade the author to acquiesce in his own prosperity, and forbear an attempt which he considered as an unne
Addison's counsel was happily rejected. Pope foresaw the future efflorescence of imagery then budding in his mind, and resolved to spare no art, or industry of cultivation. The soft luxuriance of his farcy was already shooting, and all the gay varieties of diction were ready at his hand to colour and embellish it.
His attempt was justified by its success. The “Rape of the Lock” stands forward in the classes of literature, as the most exquisite example of ludicrous poetry. Berkeley congratulated hina upon the display of powers more truly poetical than he had shewn before ; with elegance of description and justness of precepts, lie had now exhibited boundless fertility of invention.
He always considered the intermixture of the machinery with the action as his most successful exertion of poetical art. He indeed could never afterwards produce any thing of such unexampled excellence. Those performances, which strike with wonder, are combinations of skilful genius with happy casualty; and it is not likely that any felicity, like the discovery of a new race of preternatural agents, should happen twice to the same man.
Of this poem the author was, I think, allowed to enjoy the praise for a long time without disturbance. Many years afterwards Dennis published some remarks upon it, with very little force, and with no effect; for the opinion of the public was already settled, and it was no longer at the mercy of criticism.
About this time he published the “ Temple of Fame,” which, as he tells Steele in their correspondence, he had written two years before ; that is, when he was only twenty-two years old, an early time of life for so much learning and so much observation as that work exhibits.
On this poem Dennis afterwards published some remarks, of which the mos reasonable is, that some of the lines represent Motion as exhibited by Sculpture.
Of the Epistle from “ Eloisa to Abelard," I do not know the date. His first inclination to attempt a composition of that tender kind arose, as Mr. Savage told me, from his perusal of prior's “ Nut-brown Maid.” How much he had surpassed Prior's work, it is not necessary to mention, when perhaps it may be said with justice, that he has excelled every composition of the same kind. The mixture of religious hope and resignation gives an elevation and dignity to disappointed love, which images merely natural cannot bestow. The gloom of a convent strikes the imagination with far greater force than the solitude of a
grove. This piece was, however, not much his favourite in his latter years, though I never heard upon what principle he slighted it.
In the next year (1713) he published “ Windsor Forest ;" of which part was, as he relates, written at sixteen, about the same time as his Pastorals; and the latter part was added afterwards : where the addition begins, we are not told. The lines relating to the Peace confess their own date. It is dedicated to Lord Landsdowne, who was then high in reputation and influence among the Tories ; and it is said, that the conclusion of the poem gave great pain to Addison, both as a poet and a politician, Reports like this are often spread with boldness very disproportionate to their evidence. Why should Addison receive any particular disturbance from the last lines of “ Windsor Forest ?" If contrariety of opinion could poison a politician, he would not live a day; and, as a poet, he must have felt Pope's force of genius much more from many other parts of his works.
The pain that Addison migh feel it is not likely that he would confess; and it is certain that be so well suppressed his discontent, that Pope now thought himself his favourite ; for, having been consulted in the revisal of “ Cato,” he introduced it by a Prologue; and, when Dennis published his Remarks, undertook not indeed to vindicate but to revenge his friend, by, a“ Narrative of the Frenzy of John Dennis."
There is reason to believe that Addison gave no encouragement to this disingenuous hostility; for says Pope in a letter to him, “indeed your opinion " that 'tis entirely to be neglected, would be my own in my own case ; but
“ I felt more warmth here than I did when I first saw his book against my«self (though indeed in two minutes it made me heartily merry).” Addison was not a man on whom such cant of sensibility could make much impression. He left the pamphlet to itself, having disowned it to Dennis, and perhaps did not think Pope to have deserved much by his officiousness.
This year was printed in the “Guardian” the ironical comparison between the Pastorals of Philips and Pope ; a composition of artifice, criticism, and literature, to which nothing equal will easily be found, The superiority of Pope is so ingeniously dissembled, and the feeble lines of Philips so skilfully preferred, that Steele, being deceived, was unwilling to print the paper Jest Pope should be offended. Addison immediately saw the writers design; and, as it seems, had malice enough to conceal this discovery, and to permit a publication which, by making his friend Philips ridiculous, made him for ever an enemy to Pope.
It appears that about this time Pope had a strong inclination to unite the art of painting with that of poetry, and put himself under the tuition of Jervas. He was near-sighted, and therefore not formed by nature for a painter; he tried, however, how far he could advance, and sometimes persuaded his friends to sit. A picture of Betterton, supposed to be drawn by him, was in the possession of Lord Mansfield* : if this was taken from life, he must have begun to paint earlier ; for Betterton was now dead. Pope's ambition of this new art produced some encomiastick verses to Jervas, which certainly shew his power as a poet; but I have been told that they betray his ignorance of painting
He appears to have regarded Betterton with kindness and esteem; and after his death published, under his name, a version into modern English of Chaucer's Prologues; and one of his Tales, which, as was related by Mr. Harte, were believed to have have been the performance of Pope himself by Fenton, who made him a gay offer of five pounds, if he would shew them in the hand of Betterton.
The next year (1713) produced a bolder attempt, by which profit was sought as well as praise. The poems which he had hitherto written, however they might have diffused his name, had made very little addition to his fortune. The allowance which his father made him, though, proportioned to what he had, it might be liberal, could not be large ; his religion hindered him from the occupation of any civil employment; and he complained that he wanted even money to buy bookst:
He therefore resolved to try how far the favour of the public extended, by soliciting a subscription to a version of the “ Iliad,” with large notes,
To print by subscription was, for some time, a practice peculiar to the English. The first considerable work, for which this expedient was em
* It is still at Caen Wood. N.
ployed, is said to have been Dryden's “ Virgil;*” and it had been tried again with great success when the “ Tatlers” were collected into volumes.
There was reason to believe that Pope's attempt would be successful. He was in the full bloom of reputation, and was personally known to almost all whom dignity of employment or splendour of reputation had made eminent: he conversed indifferently with both parties, and never disturbed the public with his political opinions; and it might be naturally expected, as each faction then boasted its literary zeal, that the great men who on other occa• sions practised all the violence of opposition, would emulate each other in their encouragement of a poet who delighted all, and by whom none had been offended.
With those hopes, he offered an English " Jliad" to subscribers, in six volumes in quarto, for six guineas; a sum, according to the value of noney at that time, by no means inconsiderable, and greater than I believe to have been ever asked before. His proposal, however, was very favourably received; and the patrons of literature were busy to recommend his undertaking, and promote his interest. Lord Oxford, indeed, lamented that such a genius should be wasted upon a work not original; but proposed no means by which he might live without it. Addison recommended caution and moderation, and advised him not to be content with the praise of half the nation, when he might be universally favoured.
The greatness of the design, the popularity of the author, and the aiten. tion of the literary world, naturally, raised such expectations of the future sale, that the booksellers made their offers with great eagerness; but the highest bidder was Bernard Lintot, who became proprietor on condition of supplying, at his own expence, all the copies which were to be delivered to subscribers, or presented to friends, and paying two hundred pounds for every volume.
Of the Quartos it was, I believe, stipulated that none should be printed but for the author, that the subscription might not be depreciated; but Lintot impressed the same pages upon a small Folio, and paper perhaps a little thinner; and sold exactly at half the price, for half a guinea each volume, books so little inferior to the Quartos, that, by a fraud of trade, those Folios, being afterwards shortened by cutting away the top and bottom, were sold as copies printed for the subscribers.
Lintot printed iwo hundred and fifty on royal paper in Folio, for two guineas a volume; of the small Folio, having printed seventeen hundred and fifty copies of the first volume, he reduced the number in the other volumes to a thousand.
* Earlier than this, viz. in 1688, Milton's " Paradise Lost” had been published with great suc. fess by subscription, in folin, under the patronage of Mr. (afterwards Lord) Somers, E.}.