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All truth is valuable, and satirical criticism may be considered as useful when it rectifies error and improves judgment; he that refines the publick taste is a public benefactor.
The beauties of this poem are well known; its chief fault is the grossness of its images. Pope and Swift had an unnatural delight in ideas physically impure, such as every other tongue utters with unwillingness, and of which every ear shrinks from the mention.
But even this fault, offensive as it is, may be forgiven for the excellence of other passages, such as the formation and dissolution of Moore, the account of the Traveller, the misfortune of the Florist, and the crowded thoughts and stately numbers which dignify the concluding paragraph.
The alterations which have been made in the “ Dunciad,” not always for the better, require that it should be published, as in the present collection, with all its variations.
The “ Essay on Man" was a work of great labour and long consideration but certainly not the happiest of Pope's performances. The subject is perhaps not very proper for poetry, and the poet was not sufficiently master of his subject; metaphysical morality was to him a new study, he was proud of his acquisitions, and, supposing himself master of great secrets, was in haste to teach what he had not learned, Thus he tells us, in the first Epistle that from the nature of the Supreme Being may be deduced an order of beings such as mankind, because Infinite Excellence can do only what is best. He finds out that these beings must be somewhere," and that“ all the question “ is whether man be in a wrong place.” Suroly if, according to the poet's Leibnitian reasoning, we may infer that man ought to be, only because he is, we may allow that his place is the right place, because he has it. Supreme Wisdom is not less infallible in disposing than in creating. But what is meant by somewhere and place, and wrong place, it had been vain to ask Pope, who probably had never asked himself.
Haviņg 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 comfort, 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 was 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 wonder-working 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 lise 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 heard 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 amplification 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 critick, I should not select the “ Essay on man; for it contains more lines unsuccessfully laboured, more barshness of diction, more thoughts imperfectiy 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 perspicacity female nature is investigated, and female excellence selected; and he surely is no mean writer to whom Boileau shall 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 chasacter 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 writers head, and, to support his hypothesis, has printed that first which was published last. 4 D 2.
. In one, the most valuable passage is perhaps the Elogy 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 wrought 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 poets vindica tion 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 seem 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; but what is easy is seldom excellent; such imitations 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 works 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 extrinsick and adventitious embellishments and illustrations are connected with a known subject, as in the “Essay on-Criticism.” 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 “ Ethick
“ Epistles." In one of these poems is a coupler, to which belongs a story that I once heard the reverend Ds. Ridley relate.
'Slander or poison dread from Delia's rage ;
Hard words, or hanging if your judge be****.' Sir Francis 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 passage.'---' So then it
seems,” says Pope,ʻ your master is not only a judge, but a poet : as that is the case, the odds 6 are against me. Give my respects to the judge, and tell him, I will not contend with one that • has the advantage of me, and he may fill up the blank as he pleases.' H,
Epistles.” He had Judgment, which selects 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 language always before him, ready to decorate his matter with every grace of elegant expression, as when he accommodates his diction to the wonderful multiplicity of Homer's sentiments and descriptions.
Poetical expression includes sound as well as meaning; “ Musick," 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 discovers the most perfect fabrick 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 objection 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
But though he was thus careful of his versification, he did not oppress his powers with superfluous rigour. He seems to have thought with Boileau, that the practice of writing inight 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 remonstrances, 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 rhymes.
To Swift's edict for the exclusion of Alexandrines and Triplets he paid little regard; he admitted them, but, in the opinion of Fenton, too rarely; he uses them more liberally in his translation than his poems.
He has a few double rhymes, and always, I think, unsuccessfully, except once 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 all his art and labour, one verse seems to be made for the sake of another. In his latter productions the diction is sometimes vitiated by French idioms, with which Boling broke had perhaps infected him.
I have been told that the couplet by which he declared his own ear to be most gratified was this;
Lo, where Mætis sleeps, and hardly flows
The freezing Tanais 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 his 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 thought brilliant or use ful; and preserved it all in a regular collection, is not unlikely. When, in his last years, Hall's Satires were shewn him, he wished that he had seen them sooner.
New sentiments and new images others may produce; but to attempt any further 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 shew 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 enquire 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 transJator, without requiring any other evidence of Genius.
The following Letter, of which the original is in the hands of Lord Harta wicke, was communicated to ine by the kindness of Mr. Jodrell.
“ To Mr. BRIDGES, at the Bishop of London's at Fulham. « SIR, “ The favour of your Letter, with your Kemarks, can never be enough acknowledged ; 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 judgment 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 knowledge of the original, as they are decryed for the badness of their translations. Chapman pretends to have restored the genuine sense of the author, from the mistakes of all former explainers, in several hundred places: and the Cambridge editors of the large Homer, in Greek and Latin, attributed so much to Hobbes, that