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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 images2 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 3.
Pope had, in proportions very nicely adjusted to each other, 373 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; he had Judgement, 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 discovered the most perfect fabrick of English verse 2, 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 33, 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 his pauses 5.
1 6 By the harmony of words we elevate the mind to a sense of devotion, as our solemn music, which is inarticulate poesy, does in churches.' DRYDEN, Works, iii. 377.
2 Ante, POPE, 13, 348. In the school of Dryden Pope is an original master. Dryden is, properly speaking, without imitators. His manner ... baffles transcribers. But Pope completed an art which could be learnt, and he left a world full of copyists.''CHRISTOPHER NORTH,' Blackwood, 1845, p. 380.
3 The great rule of verse is to be musical.' POPE, Spence's Anec. p. 316.
4 'There is this difference, among others, between soft and sweet verses that the former may be very effeminate, whereas the latter are not at all so.' Ib. p. 155.
'There is a sweetness that is the distinguishing character of pastoral versification. The fourth and fifth syllables, and the last but two, are chiefly to be minded; and one must tune each line over in one's head to try whether they go right or not.' Ib. p. 312.
'Îl [Pope] a réduit les sifflements aigres de la trompette anglaise aux sons doux de la flûte.' VOLTAIRE, Euvres, xxiv. 134.
'But he (his musical finesse was
So nice his ear, so delicate his
Made poetry a mere mechanic art,
And every warbler has his tune by heart.'
COWPER, Works, viii. 141.
In a letter Cowper says:- Unless we could imitate Pope in the closeness and compactness of his numbers we had better drop the imitation, which serves no other purpose than to emasculate and weaken all we write.' Ib. vi. 347.
Wordsworth describes his versification as 'too timidly balanced.' Memoirs, 1851, ii. 221.
'Tennyson felt what Cowper calls the "musical finesse" of Pope, and admired single lines and couplets very much; but he found "the regular da da, da da" of his heroic metre monotonous. He quoted
"What dire offence from amorous
"Amorus causiz springs,' horrible! I would sooner die than write such
a line." Tennyson's Life, ii. 286.
5 The want of pauses is the main blemish in Pope's versification. I cannot recollect at this moment any pause he has except that in his fine Prologue to Cato:
"The triumph ceas'd; tears gush'd from ev'ry eye;
The world's great victor pass'd unheeded by."'
Rogers's Table-Talk, p. 28.
Rogers might have instanced also the pause in the Essay on Man, ii. 101: 'In lazy apathy let Stoics boast Their virtue fix'd; 'tis fix'd as in a frost.'
But though he was thus careful of his versification he did not 375 oppress his powers 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 grammatical2; 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 376 he paid little regard 3; he admitted them, but, in the opinion of Fenton, too rarely: he uses them more liberally in his translation than his poems*.
See Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), vi. 51, for Pope's letter to Walsh in 1706 on versification; see also The Rambler, No. 86.
In the proof-sheet, 'unremitted rigour.'
2 The late Archbishop of Armagh, objecting one day, in Swift's company, to an expression of Pope, as not being the purest English, Swift answered with his usual roughness: "I could never get the blockhead to study his grammar."" WARTON, Essay on Pope, ii. 116.
In The Rape of the Lock, iv. 57, he begins:
'Hail, wayward queen!
Who rule the sex to fifty from fifteen ';
'A nymph there is that all thy pow'r disdains.'
The editor says in a note:-'Bishop Lowth notices Pope's frequent violation of grammar in joining a pronoun in the singular to a verb in the plural. See Messiah, 11. 5-6.' Pope's Works (Elwin and Courthope), iii. 169.
3 Swift wrote to Pope in 1715:'I borrowed your Homer from the bishop-mine is not yet landed-and read it out in two evenings. . . . I am angry at some bad rhymes and triplets; and pray in your next do not let me have so many unjustifiable rhymes to war and gods.' lb. vii. 10.
Pope wrote to him in 1733-
In 1735 Swift wrote:-'I absolutely did prevail with Mr. Pope, and Gay, and Dr. Young, and one or two more to reject them [triplets and alexandrines]. Mr. Pope never used them till he translated Homer... and I think in one or two of his last poems he has, out of laziness, done the same thing, though very seldom.' Swift's Works, xviii. 270. Swift objected particularly to delight being made to rhyme with wit in the Essay on Criticism. Warton, iv.
He has an early alexandrine in Windsor Forest, 1. 218. 'He has not,' writes Warton, 'admitted one alexandrine or triple rhyme into his Essay on Man, Ethic Epistles, Eloisa or Dunciad; and but rarely, too rarely Fenton thought, into his Iliad; the ear, in so long a work, wanting some variety.' Warton, vii. 79. See also Warton's Essay, i. 147. For other alexandrines see ante, POPE, 332, 333. See also ante, COWLEY, 196, 199; DRYDEN, 344, 349. Johnson has one triplet in London [ll. 129-32], and none in The Vanity of Human Wishes.
377 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 2; 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 3; 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 Bolingbroke had perhaps infected him 5.
I have been told that the couplet by which he declared his own ear to be most gratified was this:
'Lo, where Mæotis sleeps, and hardly flows
But the reason of this preference I cannot discover.
'The meeting points the sacred
From the fair head, for ever and for ever.' Canto iii. 1. 153. There are double rhymes in some of Pope's lighter pieces, such as Macer and Umbra. See also ante, BUTLER, 50 n. 2.
'While expletives their feeble aid
Essay on Criticism, 1. 346. 3 Warton says that Pope was led into this 'over-laboured ornament by the difficulty of translating Homer into rhyme. He never falls into it in his other works, which are remarkable for brevity of style.' Warton, vi. 212.
For Goldsmith's 'mending Gray's Elegy by leaving out an idle word in every line' see Boswell's Johnson, i. 404 n.
'A good poet never establishes the first line till he has sought out such a rhyme as may fit the sense, already prepared to heighten the second.' DRYDEN, Works, xv. 363.
Chapeau parmi mes vers." Euvres, iii. 196 n. See also ib. i. 46 n.
5 This sentence is not in the first edition.
'LORD MARCHMONT. "Do you know the history of Dr. Johnson's aversion to the word transpire?" Then taking down the folio Dictionary, he showed it with this censure on its secondary sense: "To escape from secrecy to notice; a sense lately innovated from France, without necessity." "The truth was Lord Bolingbroke, who left the Jacobites, first used it; therefore, it was to be condemned." Boswell's Johnson, iii. 343.
Johnson in his Dictionary under Owe has the following:-' A practice has long prevailed among writers to use owing, the active participle of owe, in a passive sense, for owed or due. Of this impropriety Bolingbroke was aware, and, having no quick sense of the force of English words, has used due, in the sense of consequence or imputation, which by other writers is used only of debt. We say, the money is due to me; Bolingbroke says, the effect is due to the cause.'
Dunciad, iii. 87. For Johnson's favourite line in his Latin version of Pope's Messiah see Boswell's Johnson, i. 272.
It is remarked by Watts that there is scarcely a happy com- 380 bination 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 useful, 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 2.
New sentiments and new images others may produce, but to 381 attempt any further improvement of versification will be dangerous3. 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 382 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 5. Had he
'If you read his translation of Homer's Iliad you will find almost all the terms or phrases in our tongue that are needful to express anything that is grand or magnificent, but if you peruse his Odyssey, which descends much more into common life, there is scarce any usual subject of discourse or thought, or any ordinary occurrence, which he has not cultivated and dressed in the most proper language; and yet still he has ennobled and enlivened even the lower subjects with the brightest and most agreeable ornaments.' The Improvement of the Mind [post, WATTS, 26], ch. xx. sec. 36.
fication equal to that of Pope."'
'Pope had no thought, no mind, no ideas, but he had the art of rhymed language in a degree in which no English poet before or since has possessed it.' PATTISON, Essays, ii. 375.
In the proof-sheet, 'To circumscribe poetry by a definition is the pedantry of a narrow mind.'
5 Boswell records the following talk in 1778:-'RAMSAY. I am old enough to have been a contemporary of Pope. His poetry was highly admired in his lifetime, more a great deal than after his death. JOHNSON. Sir, it has not been less admired since his death.... It has only not been as much talked of, but that is owing to its being more distant. . . . We must read what the world reads at the moment.' Boswell's Johnson, iii. 332.
For the reaction which, unperceived