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In a life of Pope his commentator, Warburton, would naturally be introduced. Of this literary character the following is a masterly sketch:
⚫ About this time Warburton began to make his appearance in the first ranks of learning. He was a man of vigorcus faculties, a mind fervid and vehement, fupplied by inceffant and unlimited enquiry, with wonderful extent and variety of knowledge, which yet had not oppreffed his imagination, nor clouded his perfpicacity. To every work he brought a memory full fraught with a fancy fertile of original combinations, and at once exerted the powers of the fcholar, the reafoner, and the wit But his knowledge was too multifarious to be always exact, and his purfuits were too eager to be always cautious. His abilities gave him an haughty confidence, which he difdained to conceal or mollify; and his impatience of oppofition difpofed him to treat his adverfaries with fuch contemptuous fuperiority as made his readers commonly his enemies, and excited against him the wishes of fome who favoured his caufe. He feems to have adopted the Roman Emperor's determination, oderint dum metuant; he used no allurements of gentle language, but wished to compel rather than perfuade.
His ftyle is copious without felection, and forcible without neatnefs; he took the words that prefented themselves: his diction is coarfe and impure, and his fentences are unmeasured.'
In fumming up the intellectual character of Pope, Dr. Johnfon's ufual acuteness and difcernment have by no means deferted him. Of his intellectual character,' fays he,' the conflituent and fundamental principle was Good Senfe, a prompt and intuitive perception of confonance and propriety. He faw immediately, of his own conceptions, what was to be chofen, and what to be rejected; and, in the works of others, what was to be fhunned, and what was to be copied.
But good fenfe alone is a fedate and quiefcent quality, which manages its poffeilions well, but does not increase them; it collects few materials for its own operations, and preferves fafety, but never gains fupremacy. Pope had likewife genius; a mind active, ambitious, and adventurous, always investigating, always afpiring; in its wideft fearches fill longing to go forward, in its highest flights still withing to be higher; always imagining fomething greater than it knows, always endeavouring more than it can do.
To affift thefe powers, he is faid to have had great frength and exactness of memory. That which he had heard or read was not easily Joft; and he had before him not only what his own meditation fuggelled, but what he had found in other writers that might be accommodared to his prefent purpose.
• These benefits of nature he improved by inceffant and unwearied diligence; he had recourfe to every fource of intelligence, and loft no opportunity of information; he confulted the living as well as the dead; he read his compofitions to his friends, and was never content with mediocrity when excellence could be attained. He conidered poetry as the bufinefs of his life; and however he might feem
to lament his occupation, he followed it with conftancy; to make verfes was his firft labour, and to mend them was his latt.
From his attention to poetry he was never diverted. If converfation offered any hing that could be improved, he committed it to paper; if a thought, or perhaps an expreffion more happy than was common, rofe to his mind, he was careful to write it; an independent diftich was preferved for an opportunity of infertion, and fome little fragments have been found containing lines, or parts of lines, to be wrought upon at fome other time.
He was one of thofe few whofe labour is their pleasure he was never elevated to negligence, nor wearied to impatience; he never paffed a fault unamended by indifference, nor quitted it by defpair. He laboured his works first to gain reputation, and afterwards to keep it.'
He profeffed to have learned his poetry from Dryden, whom, whenever an opportunity was prefented, he praifed through his whole life with unvaried liberality; and perhaps his character may receive fome illuftration, if he be compared with his mafter.
Integrity of understanding, and nicety of difcernment, were not allotted in a lefs proportion to Dryden than to Pope. The rectitude of Dryden's mind was fufficiently thewn by the difmiffion of his poetical prejudices, and the rejection of unnatural thoughts and rugged numbers. But Dryden never defired to apply all the judgment that he had. He wrote, and profeffed to write, merely for the people; and when he pleafed others, he contented himself. He spent no time in fruggles to roufe latent powers; he never attempted to make that better which was already good, nor often to mend what he must have known to be faulty. He wrote, as he tells us, with very little confideration when occafion or neceffity called upon him, he poured out what the prefent moment happened to fupply, and, when once it had paffed the prefs, ejected it from his mind; for when he had no pecuniary intereft, he had no further folicitude.
Pope was not content to fatisfy; he defired to excel, and therefore always endeavoured to do his best: he did not court the candour, but dared the judgment of his reader, and expecting no indulgence from others, he fhewed none to himself. He examined lines and words with minute and punctilious obfervation, and retouched every part with indefatigable diligence, till he had left nothing to be forgiven.
• For this reafon he kept his pieces very long in his hands, while he confidered and reconfidered them. The only poems which can be fuppofed to have been written with fuch regard to the times as might haften their publication, were the two fatires of Thirty eight; of which Dodfley told me, that they were brought to him by the author, that they might be fairly copied. "Every line," faid he, ་་ was then written twice over; I gave him a clean tranfcript, which he fent fome time afterwards to me for the prefs, with every line written twice over a fecond time."
His declaration, that his care for his works ceafed at their publication, was not fricly true, His parental attention never abandoned them; what he found amifs in the first edition, he filently corrected in those that followed. He appears to have revised the Iliad, A a 4
and freed it from fome of its imperfections; and the Essay on Criticifm received many improvements after its first appearance. It will feldom be found that he altered without adding clearness, elegance, or vigour. Pope had perhaps the judgment of Dryden; but Dryden certainly wanted the diligence of Pope.
In acquired knowledge, the fuperiority must be allowed to Dryden, whofe education was more fcholaftic, and who, before he became an author, had been allowed more time for ftudy, with better means of information. His mind has a larger range, and he collects his images and illuftrations from a more extenfive circumference of fcience. Dryden knew more of man in his general nature, and Pope in his local manners. The notions of Dryden were formed by comprehenfive fpeculation, and thofe of Pope by minute attention. There is more dignity in the knowledge of Dryden, and more certainty in 'that of Pope.
Poetry was not the fole praife of either; for both excelled likewife in profe; but Pope did not borrow his profe from his predeceffor. The flyle of Dryden is capricious and varied, that of Pope is cautious and uniform; Dryden obeys the motions of his own mind, Pope contrains his mind to his own rules of compofition. Dryden is fome. times vchement and rapid; Pope is always fmooth, uniform, and gentle. Dryden's page is a natural field, ring into inequalities, and diverfified by the varied exuberance of abundant vegetation; Pope's is a velvet lawn, fhaven by the fcythe, and levelled by the roller.
Of genius, that power which conftitutes a poet; that quality without which judgment is cold and knowledge is inert; that energy which collect, combines, amplifies, and animates; the fuperiority mut, with fome heftation, be allowed to Dryden. It is not to be inferred that of this poetical vigour Pope had only a little, because Dryden had more; for every other writer, fince Milton, muft give place to Pope; and even of Dryden it must be faid, that if he has brighter paragraphs, he has not better poems. Dryden's performances were always hafty, either excited by fome external occafion, or extorted by domeftic neceffity; he compofed without confideration, and published without correction. What his mind could fupply at call, or gather in one excursion, was all that he fought, and all that he gave. The dilatory caution of Pope enabled him to condenfe bis fentiments, to multiply his images, and to accumulate all that study might produce, or chance might fupply. If the flights of Dryden therefore are higher, Pope continues longer on the wing. If of Dryden's fire the blaze is brighter, of Pope's the heat is more regular and conftant. Dryden often furpaffes expectation, and Pope never falls below it. Dryden is read with frequent aftonishment, and Pope with perpetual delight.
This parallel will, I hope, when it is well confidered, be found juft; and if the reader fhould fulpect me, as I fufpect myself, of fome partial fondness for the memory of Dryden, let him not too hafily contemn me; for meditation and enquiry may, perhaps, thew him the reafonableness of my determination.'
In the diftinct examination of the works of Pope, his Critic profeffes to pay attention not fo much to flight faults or petty beauties, as to the general character and effect of each perform
As a fpecimen of the execution of this part of the work, we fhall lay before our Readers the following critique on the Effay on Man:
The Efay on Man was a work of great labour and long confideration, but certainly not the happiest of Pope's performances. The fubject is perhaps not very proper for poetry, and the poet was not fufficiently master of his fubject; metaphysical morality was a new ftudy; he was proud of his acquifitions, and fuppofing himself mafter of great fecrets, was in hafte to teach what he had not learned. Thus he tells us, in the first Epiftle, that from the nature of the Supreme Being may be deduced an order of beings fuch as mankind, because Infinite Excellence can do only what is beit. He finds out that all the question, is whether man be in a wrong place? Surely if, according to the poet's Leibnitzian reafoning, we may infer that man ought to be, only because he is, we may allow that his place is the right place, becaufe he has it. Supreme Wifdom is not lefs infallible in difponing than in creating. But what is meant by fomewhere and place, and wrong place, it had been vain to ask Pope, who probably had never asked himself.
Having exalted himself into the chair of wifdom, he tells us much that every man knows, and much that he does not know himfelf; that we fee but little, and that the order of the universe is beyond our comprehenfion; an opinion not very uncommon; and that there is a chain of fubordinate 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 fuppofes unattainable, the pofition that though we are fools, yet God is wife.
This Elay affords an egregious inftance of the predominance of genius, the dazzling fplendour of imagery, and the feductive powers of eloquence. Never were penury of knowledge and vulgarity of fentiment fo happily difguifed. 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 founds fink into fense, and the doctrine of the Effay, difrobed 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 exiftence, 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 life were copied from the instinctive operations of other animals; that if the world be made for man, it may be faid that man was made for geefe. To these profound principles of natural knowledge are added fome moral inftructions equally new; that felf-intereft, well underflood, will produce focial concord; that men are mutual gainers by mutual benefits; that evil is fometimes balanced by good; that human advantages are unftable and fallacious, of uncertain duration, and doubtful effects; that our true honour is not to have a great part, but to act it well; that virtue only is our own; and that happinef is always in our power.
Surely a man of no very comprehenfive fearch, may venture to fay that he has heard all this before; but it was never till now recommended by fuch a blaze of embellishment, or fuch sweetness of
melody. The vigorous contraction of fome thoughts, the luxuriant amplification of others, the incidental illuftrations, and fometimes the dignity, fometimes the foftnefs of the verses, enchain philo fophy, fufpend criticism, and opprefs judgment by overpowering pleasure.
This is true of many paragraphs; yet, if I had undertaken to exemplify Pope's felicity of compofition before a rigid critic, I fhould not fele&t the Effay on Man; for it contains more lines unfuccessfully laboured, more harshness of diction, more thoughts imperfectly expreffed, more levity without elegance, and more heaviness without Atrength, than will be easily found in all his other works.'
Dr. Warton, in his ingenious and entertaining Effay on the Genius and Writings of Pope, feems to difpute his title to the character of a true poet, at leaft in the more excellent fpecies of the poetical art. Probably the following was written with an eye to what he and fome others have advanced on that fubject:
Pope had, in proportions very nicely adjusted to each other, all the qualities that conftitute genius. He had Invention, by which new trains of events are formed, and new scenes of imagery difplayed, as in the Rape of the Lock or extrinfic and adventitious embellishments and i luftra ions are connected with a known fubje&t, as in the Efay on Criticism. He had Imagination, which trongly impreffes on the writer's mind, and enables him to convey to the reader the various forms of nature incidents of life, and energies of paffion, as in bis Eoifa, Windfor Foreft, and the Ethic Epifles. He had Judgment, which felects from life or nature what the prefent purpofe requires, and by feparating the effence of things from its concomitants, often makes the reprefentation more powerful than the reality: and he had colours of language always before him, ready to decorate his matter with every grace of elegant expreffion, as when he accommodates his diction to the wonderful multiplicity of Homer's fentiments and defcriptions.'
After all this, it is furely fuperfluous to answer the question that has once been asked, Whether Pope was a poet ? otherwife than by asking in return, If Pope be not a poet, where is poetry to be found? To circumfcribe poetry by a definition will only fhew the narrowness of the definer, though a definition which fhall exclude Pope will not eafily 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 ftated, and the pretenGons of Pope will be no more difputed. Had he given the world only his verfion, the name of poet must have been allowed him: if the writer of the Iliad were to clafs his fucceffors, he would affign a very high place to his tranflator, without requiring any other evidence of Genius.'
[To be continued.]