Page images

mation so irregular lasted six and fifty years, notwithstanding such pertinacious diligence of study and meditation.

In all his intercourse with mankind, he had great delight in artifice, and endeavoured to attain all his purposes by indirect and unsuspected methods. “ He hardly drank tea without a stratagem.” If, at the house of his friends, he wanted any accommodation, he was not willing to ask for it in plain terms, but would mention it remotely as something convenient; though when it was procured, he soon made it appear for whose sake it had been recommended. Thus he teized Lord Orrery till he obtained a screen. He practised his arts on such small occasions, that Lady Bolingbroke used to say, in a French phrase, that “ he played the politician about cabbages and turnips.” His unjustifiable impression of the “ Patriot King," as it can be imputed to no particular motive, must have proceeded from his general habit of secrecy and cunning; he caught an opportunity of a sly trick, and pleased himself with the thought of outwitting Bolingbroke.

In familiar or convivial conversation, it does not appear that he excelled. He may be said to have resembled Dryden, as being not one that was distinguished by vivacity in company. It is remarkable that, so near his time, so much should be known of what he has written, and so little of what he has said : traditional memory retains no sallies of raillery, nor sentences of observation ; nothing either pointed or solid, either wise or merry. One apophthegm only stands upon record. When an objection raised against his inscription for Shakspeare was defended by the authority of “ Patrick,” he replied—“ horresco referens--that“ he would allow the publisher of a Dic“tionary to know the meaning of a single word, but not of two words put


He was fretful, and easily displeased, and allowed himself to be capriciously resentful. He would sometimes leave Lord Oxford silently, no one could tell why, and was to be courted back by more letters and messages than the footmen were willing to carry. The table was indeed infested by Lady Mary Wortley, who was the friend of Lady Oxford, and who, knowing his peevishness, could by no intreaties be restrained from contradicting him, till their disputes were sharpened to such asperity, that one or the other quitted the house.

He sometimes condescended to be jocular, with servants or inferiors; but by no merriment either of others or his own, was he ever seen, excited to laughter.

Of his domestic character, frugality was a part eminently reinarkable. Having determined not to be dependent, he determined not to be in want, and therefore wisely and magnanimously rejected all temptations to expence unsuitable to his fortune. This general care must be universally approved ; but it sometimes appeared in petty artifices of parsimony, such as the praca tice of writing his compositions on the back of letters, as may be seen in the remaining copy of the “ Iliad," by which perhaps in five years five


shillings were saved ; or in a niggardly reception of his friends, and scantidess of entertainment, as, when he had two guests in his house, he would set at supper a single pint upon the table ; and having himself taken two small glasses, would retire and say “Gentlemen, I leave you to your wine.” Yet he tells his friends, that“ he has a heart for all, a house for all, and, whatever they may think, a fortune for all ” He sometimes, however, made a splendid dinner, and is said to have wanted no part of the skill or elegance which such performances require. That this magnificence should be often displayed, that obstinate prudence with which he conducted his affairs would not permit; for his revenue, certain and casual, amounted only to about eight hundred pounds a year, of which however he declares himself able to assiga one hundred to charity*.

Of this fortune, which as it arose from public approbation was very honourably obtained, his imagination seems to have been too full: it would be hard to find a man, so well entitled to notice by his wit, that ever delighted so much in talking of his money. In his Letters, and in his Poems, his garden and his grotto, his quincunx and his vines, or some hints of his opulence, are always to be found. The great topick of his ridicule is poverty; the crimes with which he reproaches his antagonists are their debts, their habitation in the Nint, and their want of a dinner. He seems to be of an opinion not very uncommon in the world, that to want money is to want every thing

Next to the pleasure of contemplating his possessions, seems to be that of enumerating the men of high rank with whom he was acquainted, and whose notice he loudly proclaims not to have been obtained by any practices of meanness or servility, a boast which was never denied to be true, and 10 which very few poets have ever aspired. Pope never set genius to sale, he never fattered those whom he did not love, or praised those whom he did not esteein. Savage however remarked, that he began a little to relax his dignity when he wrote a distich for his “ Highness's dog. "

His admiration of the Great seems to have increased in the advance of life. He passed over peers and statesmen to inscribe his “ Iliad” to Congreve with a magnanimity of which the praise had been compleat, had his friend's virtue been equal to his wit. Why he was chosen for so great an honour, it is not now possible to know; there is no trace in literary history of any particular intimacy between them. The name of Congreve appears in the Letters ainong those of his other friends, but without any observable distinction or consequence.

To his latter works, however, he took care to annex names dignified with titles, but was not very happy in his choice ; for, except Lord Bathurst, none of bis noble friends were such as that a good man would wish to have his

intimacy A part of it arose from an annuity of two hundred pounds a year, which he had parchased either of the last Duke of Buckinghamshire, or the Dutchess his mother, and which was charged on some estate of that family. The deed by which it was granted was come years inmy custody. H:

intimacy with them known to posterity; he can derive little honour from the notice of Cobham, Burlington, or Bolingbroke.

Of his social qualities, if an estimate be made from his Letters, an opinion too favourable cannot easily be formed; they exhibit a perpetual and unclouded effulgence of general benevolence, and particular fondness. There is nothing but liberality, gratitude, constancy and tenderness. It has been so long said'as to be commonly believed, that the true characters of men may be found in their Letters, and that he who writes to his friend lays his heart open before him. But the truth is, that such were the simple friendships of the “ Gülden Age,” and are now the friendships only of children. Very few can boast of hearts which they dare lạy open to themselves, and of which, by whatever accident exposed, they do not shun a distinct and continued view ; and, certainly, what we hide from ourselves we do not shew to our friends. There is, indeed, no transaction which offers stronger temptations of fallacy and sophistication than epistolary intercourse. In the eagerness of cunversation the first emotions of the mind often burst out before they are considered ; in the tumult of business, interest and passion have their genuine effect; but a friendly Letter is a calm and deliberate performance, in the cool of leisure, in the stillness of solitude, and surely no man sits down to depreciate by designs his own character.

Friendship has no tendency to secure veracity; for by whom cana man so much wish to be thought better than he is, as by him whose kindness he desires to gain or keep? Even in writing to the world there is less constraint; the author is not confronted with his reader, and takes his chance of approbation among the different dispositions of mankind; but a Letter is addressed to a single mind, of which the prejudices and partialities are known, and must therefore please, if not by favouring them, by forbearing to oppose them.

To charge those favourable representations, which men give of their own minds, with the guilt of hypocritical falsehood, would shew more severity than knowledge. The writer commonly believes himself. Almost every man’s thoughts, while they are general, are right ; and most hearts are pure, while temptation is away. It is easy to awaken generous sentiments in privacy; to despise death when there is no danger; to glow with benevolence when there is nothing to be given. While such ideas are formed they are felt, and self-love does not suspect the gleam of virtue to be the meteor of fancy.

If the Letters of Pope are considered merely as compositions, they seem to be premeditated and artificial. It is one thing to write, because there is something which the mind wishes to discharge ; and another, to solicit the imagination, because ceremony or vanity requires something to be written. Pope confesses his early Letters to be vitiated with affectation and amlition to know whether he disentangled himself from these perverters of epistolary integrity, his book and his life must be set in comparison. VOL. I. 4 B



One of his favourite topicks is contempt of his own poetry. For this, if it had been real, he would deserve no commendation; and in this he was certainly not sincere, for his bigh value of himself was sufficiently observed; and of what could he be proud but of his poetry? He writes, he says, when he has just nothing else to do; yet Swift complains that he was never at leisure for conversation, because he had always some poetical scheme in his head. It was punctually required that his writing-box should be set upon bis bed before he rose ; and Lord Oxford's domestick related, that, in the dreadful winter of Forty, she was called from her bed by him four times in one night, to supply him with paper, les: he should lose a thought.

He pretends insensibility fo censure and criticism, though it was observed by all who knew him that every pamphlet disturbed his quiet, and that his extreme irritability laid him open to perpetual vexation; but he wished to despise his criticks, and therefore hoped that he did despise them.

As he happened to live in two reigns when the Court paid little attention to poetry, he nursed in his mind a foolish disesteem of Kings, and proclaims that “ he never sees Courts.” Yet a little regard shewn him by the Prince of Wales melted his obduracy; and he had not much to say when he was asked by his Royal Highness, “ How he could love a Prince while he disliked “ Kings ?"

He very frequently professes contempt of the world, and represents himsel as looking on mankind, sometimes with gay indifference, as on emmits of a hillock, below his serious attention; and sometimes with glcomy indignation as on monsters more worthy of hatred than of pity. These were dispositions apparently counterfeited. How could he despise those whom he lived by pleasing, and on whose approbation his esteen) of himself was superstructed? Why sirould he hate those to whose favour he owed his honour and his ease? Of things that terminate in human life, the world is the proper judge, to despise its sentence, if it were possible, is not just ; and if it were just, is not possible. Pope was far enough from this unreasonable temper ; he was suł. ficiently a fool to Fame, and his fault was, that he pretended to neglect it. His levity and his sullenness were only in his Letters ; he passed through common life, sometimes vexed, and sometimes pleased, with the natural emotions of common men.

His scorn of the great is repeated too often to be real; no man thinks much of that which he despises; and as falsehood is always in danger of in consistency, he makes it his boast at another time that he lives among them.

It is evident that his own importance swells often in his mind. He is afraid of writing, lest the clerk of the Post-office should know his secrets ; he has many enemies; he considers himself as surrounded by universal jealousy ; “after many deaths, and many dispersions, two or three of us," says

may still be brought together, not to plot, but to divert ourselves, and the world too, it pleases ;" and they can live together, and “shew what

r friends



friends wits may be, in spite of all the fools in the world." All this while it was likely that the clerks did not know his hand; he certainly had no more enemies than a publick character like bis inevitably excites; and with what degree of friendship the wits might live, very few were so much fools as ever to enquire.

Some part of this pretended discontent he learned from Swift, and expresses it, I think, most frequenily in his correspondence with him. Swift's resentment was unreasonable, but it was sincere ; Pope's was the mere mimickry of his friend, a fictitious part which he began to play before it became him. When he was only twenty-five years old, he related that “a glut of study

and retirement had thrown hiin on the world, and that there was danger lest“ a glut of the world should throw him back upon study and retirement." To this Swift answered with great propriety, that Pope had not yet either acted or suffered enough in the world to have become weary of it. And, indeed, it must be some very powerful reason that can drive back to solitude him who has once enjoyed the pleasures of society.

In the Letters both of Swift and Pope there appears such narrowness of mind, as makes them insensible of any excellence that has not some affinity with their own, and confines their esteem and approbation to so small a number, that whoever should form his opinion of the age from their representation would suppose their to have lived amidst ignorance and barbarity, unable to find among their contemporaries either virtue or intelligence, and persecuted by those that could not understand them.

When Pope murmurs at the world, when he professes contempt of fame, when he speaks of riches and poverty, of success and disappointment, with negligent indifference, he çertainly does not express his habitual and settled sentiments, but either wilfully disguises his own character, or, what is more likely, invests himself with temporary qualities, and sallies out in the colours of the present moment, His hopes and fears, his joys and sorrɔws, acted strongly upon his mind; and if he differed from others, it was not by carelessness; he was irritable and resentful; his malignity to Philips, whom he had first made ridiculous, and then hated for being angry, continued too long. Of his vain desire to make Bentley contemptible, I never heard any adequate reason. He was sometimes wanton in his aliacks; and, before Chandos, Lady Wortley, and Hill, was mean in his retreat,

The virtues which seem to have had most of his affection were liberality and fidelity of friendship, in which it does not appear that he was other than he describes himself. His fortune did not suffer his charity to be splendid and conspicuous; but he assisted Dodsley with a hundred pounds, that he might open a shop; and of the subscription of forty pounds a year, that he raised for Savage, twenty were paid by himself. He was accused of loving money, but his love was eagerness to gain, not solicitude to keep it.


4 B 2

« PreviousContinue »