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to mix in their society, without any compromise of integrity or independence: with many of those yet more eminent for wit or literature, he was united by the closer bond of sympathy and mutual endearment. No English poet has ever risen from so humble a beginning, to so great personal distinction. He died on the thirtieth of May, 1744, after suffering much from his complaints, yet with so little pain at last, that those about him could not distinguish the time at which he expired. On receiving the last sacraments from the priest, he said, “There is nothing that is meritorious but virtue and friendship, and indeed friendship itself is only a part of virtue.” He appears to have been at no time free from some species of bodily weakness or malady, of which ahead-ache was the constant symptom. In person he was diminutive and deformed: when a child, he had a pleasing and even beautiful countenance: in more advanced life the best feature was his eye, the lustre of which was remarkable. His bust, by Roubilliac, exhibits an extremely eager and sarcastic expression in the lips, strongly indicative of his character. It may afford subject for reflection, that by a diligent cultivation of one natural talent, seldom much esteemed so long as the possessor of it is living, a puny misshapen and sickly being, unfit for any active employment of life, and rarely quitting the roof of his parents, became a stay to those parents in their old age, the restorer of their fortunes, the pride of their house; courted by the powerful and wealthy; the dread of his enemies; and one of the chief ornaments of his age and country. . It is well said, that Pope saw nature only dressed by art; he judged of beauty by fashion; he sought for truth in the opinions of the world; he judged of the feelings of others by his own. The capacious soul of Shakspere had an intuitive and mighty sympathy with whatever could enter into the heart of man in all possible circumstances. Pope had an exact knowledge of all that he himself loved or hated, wished or wanted. Milton has winged his daring flight from heaven to earth, through Chaos and old Night. Pope's muse never wandered with safety, but from his library to his grotto, or from his grotto into his library back again. His mind dwelt with greater pleasure on his own garden than on the garden of Eden; he could describe the faultless whole-length mirror that reflected his own person, better than the smooth surface of the lake that reflects the face of heaven—a piece of cutglass or a pair of paste buckles with more brilliance and effect than a thousand dew-drops glittering in the sun. He would be more delighted with a patent lamp than with “the pale reflex of Cynthia's brow,” that fills the skies with its soft silent lustre, that trembles through the cottage window, and cheers the watchful mariner on the lonely wave. In short, he was the poet of personality and of polished life. That which was the nearest to him, was the greatest; the fashion of the day bore sway in his mind over the immutable laws of nature. He lived in the smiles of fortune, and basked in the favour of the great. In his smooth and polished verse, we meet with no prodigies of nature, but with miracles of wit: the thunders of his pen are whispered flatteries; its forked lightnings, pointed sarcasm; for “the gaarled oak,” he gives us “the soft myrtle;” for rocks, and seas, and mountains, —artificial grass-plots, gravel-walks, and trickling rills; for earthquakes and tempests, the breaking of a flowerpot, or the fall of a china-jar; for the tug and war of the elements, or the deadly strife of the passions, we have
“Calm contemplation and poetic ease.”
Yet within this retired and narrow circle, how much— and that how exquisite—was contained! What discrimination, what wit, what delicacy, what fancy, what lurking spleen, what elegance of thought, what pampered refinement of sentiment It is like looking at the world through. a microscope, where everything assumes a new character and a new consequence,—where things are seen in their minutest circumstances and slightest shades of difference; where the little becomes gigantic, the deformed beautiful, and the beautiful deformed. The wrong end of the magnifier is, to be sure, held to everything, but still the exhibition is highly curious, and we know not whether to be most pleased or surprised. The “Rape of the Lock” is the most exquisite specimen
of filigree work ever invented. It is admirable in proportion as it is made of nothing. It is all gauze and silver spangles: the most glittering appearance is given to everything-to paste, pomatum, billets-doux and patches. Airs, languid airs, breathe around; the atmosphere is perfumed with affectation. A toilet is described with the solemnity of an altar raised to the goddess of vanity; and the history of a silver bodkin is given with all the pomp of heraldry. No pains are spared, no profusion of ornament, no splendour of poetic diction, to set off the meanest things. The balance between the concealed irony and the assumed gravity is as nicely trimmed as the balance of power in Europe. You hardly know whether to laugh or to weep. It is the triumph of insignificance, the apotheosis of foppery and folly. It is the perfection of the mock-heroic Abelard and Eloisa is fine as a poem; it is finer as a piece of high-wrought eloquence. No woman could be supposed to write a better love-letter in verse. The tears sned are drops gushing from the heart; the words are burning sighs breathed from the soul of love. Hazlitt agrees with Johnson, that the “Essay on Man,” though a work of great labour and long consideration, was not the happiest of Pope's performances.
THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE.
IAM inclined to think that both the writers of books, and the readers of them, are generally not a little unreasonable in their expectations. The first seem to fancy the world must approve whatever they produce, and the latter to imagine that authors are obliged to please them at any rate. Methinks, as, on the one hand, no single man is born with a right of controlling the opinions of all the rest; so, on the other, the world has no title to demand, that the whole care and time of any particular person should be sacrificed to its entertainment. Therefore I cannot but believe that writers and readers are under equal obligations for as much fame, or pleasure, as each affords the other.
Every one acknowledges, it would be a wild notion to expect perfection in any work of man: and yet one would think the contrary was taken for granted, by the judgment commonly passed upon poems. A critic supposes he has done his part, if he proves a writer to have failed in an expression, or erred in any particular point: and can it then be wondered at, if the poets in general seem resolved not to own themselves in any error! For as long as one side will make no allowances, the other will be brought to no acknowledgments.
I am afraid this extreme zeal on both sides is ill placed; poetry and criticism being by no means the universal concern of the world, but only the affair of idle men who write in their closets, and of idle men who read there.