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27 But the fondness of Wycherley was too violent to last.
His esteem of Pope was such that he submitted some poems to his revision; and when Pope, perhaps proud of such confidence, was sufficiently bold in his criticisms and liberal in his alterations, the old scribbler was angry to see his pages defaced, and felt more pain from the detection than content from the amendment of his faults. They parted; but Pope always considered him with kindness, and visited him a little time before he died 2.
Another of his early correspondents was Mr. Cromwell, of whom I have learned nothing particular but that he used to ride a-hunting in a tye-wig3. He was fond, and perhaps vain, of amusing himself with poetry and criticism, and sometimes sent his performances to Pope, who did not forbear such remarks as were now and then unwelcome. Pope, in his turn, put the juvenile version of Statius into his hands for correction 5.
stood, the proud contempt of criticism which some authors have publicly professed.' Misc. Works, iv. 517.
'Good critics,' said Tennyson, 'are rarer than good authors.' Life, ii. 423.
* Spence's Anec. pp. 25, 150, 160. 'All the ridicule,' says Mr. Elwin, 'heaped upon Wycherley's irritable vanity and literary dotage was founded upon the adulterated correspondence, which was published [by Pope] to "render justice to his memory.' Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), viii. 259. See also ib. Preface, P. 134; and ib. v. 387-407 for Wycherley's genuine letters. He used to address Pope as 'My Deare Little Infallible,' or My Dear Little Great Friend.' Ib. pp. 388, 393.
'Several of Mr. Pope's lines, very easy to be distinguished, may be found in the posthumous editions of Wycherley's Poems, particularly in those On Solitude, On the Public, and On the Mixed Life! War
burton, vii. 17 n.
the Protector. The Country Journal
Pope, if we can trust the date of his letter, sent Statius to Cromwell on Jan. 22, 1708-9. It was published, he says, in 1711, with an Advertisement, stating that 'it was done when he was but fourteen.' Warburton, vii. 59.
'It was not published till 1712. It represents the powers of the man who completed the task, not of the boy who began it.' Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), i. 47. See also Spence's Anec. p. 274.
Gray's first attempt in English verse,' Mason believed, was a translation from Statius. Mason's Gray, i. 136. 'It were to be wished that no youth of genius were suffered ever to look into Statius, Lucan, Claudian, or Seneca the tragedian.' WARTON, Essay on Pope, ii. 84. 'I have read Statius again, and thought him as bad as ever.' MACAULAY, Life, i. 461. For Dante's admiration of Statius see the Purgatorio, canto xxi. See also ante, DRYDEN, 205; Dryden's Works, xvii. 330; and Warton's Pope, vii. 96.
Their correspondence afforded the publick its first knowledge 29 of Pope's epistolary powers; for his letters were given by Cromwell to one Mrs. Thomas, and she many years afterwards sold them to Curll, who inserted them in a volume of his Miscellanies'.
Walsh, a name yet preserved among the minor poets, was one 80 of his first encouragers 2. His regard was gained by the Pastorals, and from him Pope received the counsel by which he seems to have regulated his studies. Walsh advised him to correctness, which, as he told him, the English poets had hitherto neglected 3, and which therefore was left to him as a basis of fame; and, being delighted with rural poems, recommended to him to write a pastoral comedy, like those which are read so eagerly in Italy; a design which Pope probably did not approve, as he did not follow it.
Pope had now declared himself a poet; and, thinking himself 81 entitled to poetical conversation, began at seventeen to frequent Will's, a coffee-house on the north side of Russel-street in Coventgarden, where the wits of that time used to assemble, and where Dryden had, when he lived, been accustomed to preside 5.
Post, POPE, 142, 163 n. The letters were published in 1727. Cromwell had given them to his mistress, Elizabeth Thomas, many years earlier. She sold them to Curll, as she sold the narrative of Dryden's funeral (ante. DRYDEN, 153 n. 6). Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), vi. 131,419; The Dunciad,ii. 7on. "The favourable reception of Pope's correspondence,' writes Mr. Elwin, 'originated the desire to give some further specimens to the world, and led him into the miserable series of falsehoods and frauds by which he endeavoured to accomplish his design without seeming to be privy to it.' Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), Preface, p. 28; post, POPE, 162.
He lied when he said to Spence (Anec. p. 167):-'My letters to Cromwell were written with a design that does not generally appear; they were not written in sober sadness.'
* Ante, WALSH, 5. 3Though we had several great poets (Walsh said) we never had any
one great poet that was correct.' POPE, Spence's Anec.p.280. By 'correctness' Walsh meant (writes Mr. Courthope) not only accuracy of expression, but also propriety of design, and justice of thought and taste.' Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), v. 24. See also ib. ii. 28. Dryden had taught Walsh correctness. Dryden's Works, xviii. 181. See also ante, ROSCOMMON, 24; ADDISON, 157; PRIOR, 70.
'It is more likely that the perception of this virtue in the poetical intellect of Pope drew out the remark from Walsh than that the remark suggested to the poet the pursuit of the virtue.' JOHN WILSON, Blackwood, 1845, lvii. 392.
See Walsh's letter of June 24, 1706, and Pope's answer of July 2. Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), vi. 50-53. See also ante, GAY, 32 n., for the neglect of pastoral plays in Italy.
32 During this period of his life he was indefatigably diligent, and insatiably curious; wanting health for violent, and money for expensive pleasures, and having certainly excited in himself very strong desires of intellectual eminence, he spent much of his time over his books: but he read only to store his mind with facts and images, seizing all that his authors presented with undistinguishing voracity, and with an appetite for knowledge too eager to be nice'. In a mind like his, however, all the faculties were at once involuntarily improving. Judgement is forced upon us by experience. He that reads many books must compare one opinion or one style with another; and when he compares, must necessarily distinguish, reject, and prefer.) But the account given by himself of his studies was that from fourteen to twenty he read only for amusement, from twenty to twenty-seven for improvement and instruction; that in the first part of this time he desired only to know, and in the second he endeavoured to judge3.
The Pastorals, which had been for some time handed about among poets and criticks, were at last printed (1709) in Tonson's Miscellany, in a volume which began with the Pastorals of Philips, and ended with those of Pope*.
The same year was written the Essay on Criticism, a work which displays such extent of comprehension, such nicety of distinction, such acquaintance with mankind, and such knowledge both of ancient and modern learning as are not often attained by the maturest age and longest experience. It was published
the honour to bring my friend, Mr. Pope, up to London from our retreat in the forest of Windsor, to dress à la mode, and introduce at Will's.' Swift's Works, xvii. 433.
Post, POPE, 291. 'Pope had read a vast number of books, yet he was very ignorant - ignorant, that is, of everything but the one thing which he laboured to acquire, the art of happy expression. He read books to find ready-made images, and to feel for the best collocations of words.'
6 PATTISON, Essays, ii.
'JOHNSON. Sir, in my early years I read very hard. It is a sad reflection, but a true one, that I knew almost as much at eighteen as I do now. My judgment, to be sure, was
Post, POPE, 291. All the classical information embodied in the Essay,' writes Mr. Elwin, 'might have been picked up from his French manuals in a single morning.' Ib. ii.
about two years afterwards', and being praised by Addison in The Spectator with sufficient liberality, met with so much favour as enraged Dennis, 'who,' he says, 'found himself attacked, without any manner of provocation on his side, and attacked 3 in his person, instead of his writings, by one who was wholly a stranger to him, at a time when all the world knew he was persecuted by fortune; and not only saw that this was attempted in a clandestine manner, with the utmost falsehood and calumny, but found that all this was done by a little affected hypocrite, who had nothing in his mouth at the same time but truth, candour, friendship, goodnature, humanity, and magnanimity".'
How the attack was clandestine is not easily perceived 5, nor 35 how his person is depreciated; but he seems to have known
''It was written in 1709, and published in 1711; which is as little time as ever I let anything of mine lay [sic] by me.' Spence's Anec. p. 170. 'It was first advertised in The Spectator, No. 65, May 15, 1711.' Warton's Pope, i. 223.
2 No. 253, Dec. 20, 1711. Addison, after stating that 'in our own country a man seldom sets up for a poet without attacking the reputation of all his brothers in the art,' continues: -'I am sorry to find that an author who is very justly esteemed among the best judges has admitted some strokes of this nature into a very fine poem.' Pope, in the belief that this Spectator was by Steele, wrote to him:-'I am obliged to you for your candour and frankness in acquainting me with the error I have been guilty of in speaking too freely of my brother moderns.' Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), vi. 389. See ib. p. 410, for his forged letter to Addison, where he says:
This period is the only one I could wish omitted of all you have written.'
3 Essay on Criticism, 11. 269, 584.
and unclouded effulgence of general benevolence and particular fondness' in Pope's letters, see post, POPE,
273. The Essay was anonymous,
and his assailant concealed.' Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), ii. 13.
Pope describes how Dennis, under the name of Appius,
'reddens at each word you speak, And stares tremendous, with threat'ning eye,
Like some fierce tyrant in old tapestry.'
Essay on Criticism, 1. 585.
Pope, who had tried to get subscribers to an edition of Dennis's Works, who was in distress in his old age, wrote to Hill on Feb. 5, 1730-1:—' Mr. Dennis did, in print, lately represent my poor, undesigning subscriptions to him, to be the effect of fear.' Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), x. 18. Hill replied :'I have seen that low turn which Mr. Dennis gave to your good-nature.' Hill's Works, ed. 1754, i. 78. In 1733 Pope wrote A Prologue to a Play for Mr. Dennis's Benefit, 'when he was old, blind, and in great distress.' Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), iv. 417. Mr. Tovey, in Thomson's Works, 1897, Preface, p. 47, points out that even in this Prologue Pope's 'malignity' is seen. See also ante, ADDISON, 64, 138; SAVAGE, 111; post, POPE, 60, 152.
something of Pope's character, in whom may be discovered an appetite to talk too frequently of his own virtues.
The pamphlet is such as rage might be expected to dictate. He supposes himself to be asked two questions: whether the Essay will succeed, and who or what is the author.
37 Its success he admits to be secured by the false opinions then prevalent; the author he concludes to be 'young and raw '.'
'First, because he discovers a sufficiency beyond his little ability, and hath rashly undertaken a task infinitely above his force. Secondly, while this little author struts, and affects the dictatorian air, he plainly shews that at the same time he is under the rod; and while he pretends to give law to others, is a pedantick slave to authority and opinion. Thirdly, he hath, like schoolboys, borrowed both from living and dead. Fourthly, he knows not his own mind, and frequently contradicts himself. Fifthly, he is almost perpetually in the wrong ?.'
All these positions he attempts to prove by quotations and remarks; but his desire to do mischief is greater than his power. He has, however, justly criticised some passages: in these lines,
'There are whom heaven has bless'd with store of wit,
For wit and judgement ever are at strife 3':
it is apparent that wit has two meanings, and that what is wanted, though called wit, is truly judgement. So far Dennis is undoubtedly right; but, not content with argument, he will have a little mirth, and triumphs over the first couplet in terms too elegant to be forgotten. 'By the way, what rare numbers are here! Would not one swear that this youngster had espoused some antiquated Muse, who had sued out a divorce on account of impotence from some superannuated sinners, and, having been
(Elwin and Courthope), ii. 38 n.
4 'A wit with Pope was now a jester, now an author, now a poet, and now, again, was contradistinguished from poets. Wit was the intellect, the judgment, the antithesis to judgment, a joke, and poetry. The word does duty, with a perplexing want of precision, throughout the Essay, and furnishes a dozen rhymes alone.' lb. ii. 25.
5 Wycherley. Part of this attack Pope quotes in Scriblerus's Prolegomena. Ib. iv. 55.