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Title: Alexander Pope - English Men of Letters Series
Author: Stephen, Leslie, Sir, 1832-1904
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Alexander Pope - English Men of Letters Series" ***

[TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: Greek words in this text have been
transliterated and placed between +marks+. A complete list of changes
follows the text.]

English Men of Letters







_The Right of Translation and Reproduction is Reserved._



The life and writings of Pope have been discussed in a literature more
voluminous than that which exists in the case of almost any other
English man of letters. No biographer, however, has produced a
definitive or exhaustive work. It seems therefore desirable to indicate
the main authorities upon which such a biographer would have to rely,
and which have been consulted for the purpose of the following
necessarily brief and imperfect sketch.

The first life of Pope was a catchpenny book, by William Ayre, published
in 1745, and remarkable chiefly as giving the first version of some
demonstrably erroneous statements, unfortunately adopted by later
writers. In 1751, Warburton, as Pope's literary executor, published the
authoritative edition of the poet's works, with notes containing some
biographical matter. In 1769 appeared a life by Owen Ruffhead, who wrote
under Warburton's inspiration. This is a dull and meagre performance,
and much of it is devoted to an attack--partly written by Warburton
himself--upon the criticisms advanced in the first volume of Joseph
Warton's Essay on Pope. Warton's first volume was published in 1756; and
it seems that the dread of Warburton's wrath counted for something in
the delay of the second volume, which did not appear till 1782. The
Essay contains a good many anecdotes of interest. Warton's edition of
Pope--the notes in which are chiefly drawn from the Essay--was published
in 1797. The Life by Johnson appeared in 1781; it is admirable in many
ways; but Johnson had taken the least possible trouble in ascertaining
facts. Both Warton and Johnson had before them the manuscript
collections of Joseph Spence, who had known Pope personally during the
last twenty years of his life, and wanted nothing but literary ability
to have become an efficient Boswell. Spence's anecdotes, which were not
published till 1820, give the best obtainable information upon many
points, especially in regard to Pope's childhood. This ends the list of
biographers who were in any sense contemporary with Pope. Their
statements must be checked and supplemented by the poet's own letters,
and innumerable references to him in the literature of the time. In 1806
appeared the edition of Pope by Bowles, with a life prefixed. Bowles
expressed an unfavourable opinion of many points in Pope's character,
and some remarks by Campbell, in his specimens of English poets, led to
a controversy (1819-1826) in which Bowles defended his views against
Campbell, Byron, Roscoe, and others, and which incidentally cleared up
some disputed questions. Roscoe, the author of the Life of Leo X.,
published his edition of Pope in 1824. A life is contained in the first
volume, but it is a feeble performance; and the notes, many of them
directed against Bowles, are of little value. A more complete biography
was published by R. Carruthers (with an edition of the works), in 1854.
The second, and much improved, edition appeared in 1857, and is still
the most convenient life of Pope, though Mr. Carruthers was not fully
acquainted with the last results of some recent investigations, which
have thrown a new light upon the poet's career.

The writer who took the lead in these inquiries was the late Mr. Dilke.
Mr. Dilke published the results of his investigations (which were partly
guided by the discovery of a previously unpublished correspondence
between Pope and his friend Caryll), in the _Athenæum_ and _Notes and
Queries_, at various intervals, from 1854 to 1860. His contributions to
the subject have been collated in the first volume of the _Papers of a
Critic_, edited by his grandson, the present Sir Charles W. Dilke, in
1875. Meanwhile Mr. Croker had been making an extensive collection of
materials for an exhaustive edition of Pope's works, in which he was to
be assisted by Mr. Peter Cunningham. After Croker's death these
materials were submitted by Mr. Murray to Mr. Whitwell Elwin, whose own
researches have greatly extended our knowledge, and who had also the
advantage of Mr. Dilke's advice. Mr. Elwin began, in 1871, the
publication of the long-promised edition. It was to have occupied ten
volumes--five of poems and five of correspondence, the latter of which
was to include a very large proportion of previously unpublished matter.
Unfortunately for all students of English literature, only two volumes
of poetry and three of correspondence have appeared. The notes and
prefaces, however, contain a vast amount of information, which clears up
many previously disputed points in the poet's career; and it is to be
hoped that the materials collected for the remaining volumes will not be
ultimately lost. It is easy to dispute some of Mr. Elwin's critical
opinions, but it would be impossible to speak too highly of the value of
his investigations of facts. Without a study of his work, no adequate
knowledge of Pope is attainable.

The ideal biographer of Pope, if he ever appears, must be endowed with
the qualities of an acute critic and a patient antiquarian; and it would
take years of labour to work out all the minute problems connected with
the subject. All that I can profess to have done is to have given a
short summary of the obvious facts, and of the main conclusions
established by the evidence given at length in the writings of Mr. Dilke
and Mr. Elwin. I have added such criticisms as seemed desirable in a
work of this kind, and I must beg pardon by anticipation if I have
fallen into inaccuracies in relating a story so full of pitfalls for the

L. S.


CHAPTER I.                                    PAGE

  EARLY YEARS                                    1




  POPE'S HOMER                                  61


  POPE AT TWICKENHAM                            81


  THE WAR WITH THE DUNCES                      111


  CORRESPONDENCE                               137


  THE ESSAY ON MAN                             159


  EPISTLES AND SATIRES                         181


  THE END                                      206




The father of Alexander Pope was a London merchant, a devout Catholic,
and not improbably a convert to Catholicism. His mother was one of
seventeen children of William Turner, of York; one of her sisters was
the wife of Cooper, the well-known portrait-painter. Mrs. Cooper was the
poet's godmother; she died when he was five years old, leaving to her
sister, Mrs. Pope, a "grinding-stone and muller," and their mother's
"picture in limning;" and to her nephew, the little Alexander, all her
"books, pictures, and medals set in gold or otherwise."

In after-life the poet made some progress in acquiring the art of
painting; and the bequest suggests the possibility that the precocious
child had already given some indications of artistic taste. Affectionate
eyes were certainly on the watch for any symptoms of developing talent.
Pope was born on May 21st, 1688--the _annus mirabilis_ which introduced
a new political era in England, and was fatal to the hopes of ardent
Catholics. About the same time, partly, perhaps, in consequence of the
catastrophe, Pope's father retired from business, and settled at
Binfield--a village two miles from Wokingham and nine from Windsor. It
is near Bracknell, one of Shelley's brief perching places, and in such a
region as poets might love, if poetic praises of rustic seclusion are to
be taken seriously. To the east were the "forests and green retreats" of
Windsor, and the wild heaths of Bagshot, Chobham and Aldershot stretched
for miles to the South. Some twelve miles off in that direction, one may
remark, lay Moor Park, where the sturdy pedestrian, Swift, was living
with Sir W. Temple during great part of Pope's childhood; but it does
not appear that his walks ever took him to Pope's neighbourhood, nor did
he see, till some years later, the lad with whom he was to form one of
the most famous of literary friendships. The little household was
presumably a very quiet one, and remained fixed at Binfield for
twenty-seven years, till the son had grown to manhood and celebrity.
From the earliest period he seems to have been a domestic idol. He was
not an only child, for he had a half-sister by his father's side, who
must have been considerably older than himself, as her mother died nine
years before the poet's birth. But he was the only child of his mother,
and his parents concentrated upon him an affection which he returned
with touching ardour and persistence. They were both forty-six in the
year of his birth. He inherited headaches from his mother, and a crooked
figure from his father. A nurse who shared their care, lived with him
for many years, and was buried by him, with an affectionate epitaph, in
1725. The family tradition represents him as a sweet-tempered child, and
says that he was called the "little nightingale," from the beauty of his
voice. As the sickly, solitary, and precocious infant of elderly
parents, we may guess that he was not a little spoilt, if only in the
technical sense.

The religion of the family made their seclusion from the world the more
rigid, and by consequence must have strengthened their mutual
adhesiveness. Catholics were then harassed by a legislation which would
be condemned by any modern standard as intolerably tyrannical. Whatever
apology may be urged for the legislators on the score of contemporary
prejudices or special circumstances, their best excuse is that their
laws were rather intended to satisfy constituents, and to supply a
potential means of defence, than to be carried into actual execution. It
does not appear that the Popes had to fear any active molestation in the
quiet observance of their religious duties. Yet a Catholic was not only
a member of a hated minority, regarded by the rest of his countrymen as
representing the evil principle in politics and religion, but was
rigorously excluded from a public career, and from every position of
honour or authority. In times of excitement the severer laws might be
put in force. The public exercise of the Catholic religion was
forbidden, and to be a Catholic was to be predisposed to the various
Jacobite intrigues which still had many chances in their favour. When
the pretender was expected in 1744, a proclamation, to which Pope
thought it decent to pay obedience, forbade the appearance of Catholics
within ten miles of London; and in 1730 we find him making interest on
behalf of a nephew, who had been prevented from becoming an attorney
because the judges were rigidly enforcing the oaths of supremacy and

Catholics had to pay double taxes and were prohibited from acquiring
real property. The elder Pope, according to a certainly inaccurate
story, had a conscientious objection to investing his money in the funds
of a Protestant government, and, therefore, having converted his capital
into coin, put it in a strong-box, and took it out as he wanted it. The
old merchant was not quite so helpless, for we know that he had
investments in the French _rentes_, besides other sources of income; but
the story probably reflects the fact that his religious
disqualifications hampered even his financial position.

Pope's character was affected in many ways by the fact of his belonging
to a sect thus harassed and restrained. Persecution, like bodily
infirmity, has an ambiguous influence. If it sometimes generates in its
victims a heroic hatred of oppression, it sometimes predisposes them to
the use of the weapons of intrigue and falsehood, by which the weak
evade the tyranny of the strong. If under that discipline Pope learnt to
love toleration, he was not untouched by the more demoralizing
influences of a life passed in an atmosphere of incessant plotting and
evasion. A more direct consequence was his exclusion from the ordinary
schools. The spirit of the rickety lad might have been broken by the
rough training of Eton or Westminster in those days; as, on the other
hand, he might have profited by acquiring a livelier perception of the
meaning of that virtue of fair-play, the appreciation of which is held
to be a set-off against the brutalizing influences of our system of
public education. As it was, Pope was condemned to a desultory
education. He picked up some rudiments of learning from the family
priest; he was sent to a school at Twyford, where he is said to have got
into trouble for writing a lampoon upon his master; he went for a short
time to another in London, where he gave a more creditable if less
characteristic proof of his poetical precocity. Like other lads of
genius, he put together a kind of play--a combination, it seems, of the
speeches in Ogilby's Iliad--and got it acted by his schoolfellows. These
brief snatches of schooling, however, counted for little. Pope settled
at home at the early age of twelve, and plunged into the delights of
miscellaneous reading with the ardour of precocious talent. He read so
eagerly that his feeble constitution threatened to break down, and when
about seventeen, he despaired of recovery, and wrote a farewell to his
friends. One of them, an Abbé Southcote, applied for advice to the
celebrated Dr. Radcliffe, who judiciously prescribed idleness and
exercise. Pope soon recovered, and, it is pleasant to add, showed his
gratitude long afterwards by obtaining for Southcote, through Sir Robert
Walpole, a desirable piece of French preferment. Self-guided studies
have their advantages, as Pope himself observed, but they do not lead a
youth through the dry places of literature, or stimulate him to severe
intellectual training. Pope seems to have made some hasty raids into
philosophy and theology; he dipped into Locke, and found him "insipid;"
he went through a collection of the controversial literature of the
reign of James II., which seems to have constituted the paternal
library, and was alternately Protestant and Catholic, according to the
last book which he had read. But it was upon poetry and pure literature
that he flung himself with a genuine appetite. He learnt languages to
get at the story, unless a translation offered an easier path, and
followed wherever fancy led "like a boy gathering flowers in the fields
and woods."

It is needless to say that he never became a scholar in the strict sense
of the term. Voltaire declared that he could hardly read or speak a
word of French; and his knowledge of Greek would have satisfied Bentley
as little as his French satisfied Voltaire. Yet he must have been fairly
conversant with the best known French literature of the time, and he
could probably stumble through Homer with the help of a crib and a guess
at the general meaning. He says himself that at this early period, he
went through all the best critics; all the French, English and Latin
poems of any name; "Homer and some of the greater Greek poets in the
original," and Tasso and Ariosto in translations.

Pope at any rate acquired a wide knowledge of English poetry. Waller,
Spenser, and Dryden were, he says, his great favourites in the order
named, till he was twelve. Like so many other poets, he took infinite
delight in the _Faery Queen_; but Dryden, the great poetical luminary of
his own day, naturally exercised a predominant influence upon his mind.
He declared that he had learnt versification wholly from Dryden's works,
and always mentioned his name with reverence. Many scattered remarks
reported by Spence, and the still more conclusive evidence of frequent
appropriation, show him to have been familiar with the poetry of the
preceding century, and with much that had gone out of fashion in his
time, to a degree in which he was probably excelled by none of his
successors, with the exception of Gray. Like Gray he contemplated at one
time the history of English poetry which was in some sense executed by
Warton. It is characteristic, too, that he early showed a critical
spirit. From a boy, he says, he could distinguish between sweetness and
softness of numbers, Dryden exemplifying softness and Waller sweetness;
and the remark, whatever its value, shows that he had been analysing
his impressions and reflecting upon the technical secrets of his art.

Such study naturally suggests the trembling aspiration, "I, too, am a
poet." Pope adopts with apparent sincerity the Ovidian phrase,

     As yet a child, nor yet a fool to fame
     I lisp'd in numbers, for the numbers came.

His father corrected his early performances and when not satisfied, sent
him back with the phrase, "These are not good rhymes." He translated any
passages that struck him in his reading, excited by the examples of
Ogilby's Homer and Sandys' Ovid. His boyish ambition prompted him before
he was fifteen to attempt an epic poem; the subject was Alcander, Prince
of Rhodes, driven from his home by Deucalion, father of Minos; and the
work was modestly intended to emulate in different passages the beauties
of Milton, Cowley, Spenser, Statius, Homer, Virgil, Ovid, and Claudian.
Four books of this poem survived for a long time, for Pope had a more
than parental fondness for all the children of his brain, and always had
an eye to possible reproduction. Scraps from this early epic were worked
into the Essay on Criticism and the Dunciad. This couplet, for example,
from the last work comes straight, we are told, from Alcander,--

     As man's Mæanders to the vital spring
     Roll all their tides, then back their circles bring.

Another couplet, preserved by Spence, will give a sufficient taste of
its quality:--

     Shields, helms, and swords all jangle as they hang,
     And sound formidinous with angry clang.

After this we shall hardly censure Atterbury for approving (perhaps
suggesting) its destruction in later years. Pope long meditated another
epic, relating the foundation of the English government by Brutus of
Troy, with a superabundant display of didactic morality and religion.
Happily this dreary conception, though it occupied much thought, never
came to the birth.

The time soon came when these tentative flights were to be superseded by
more serious efforts. Pope's ambition was directed into the same channel
by his innate propensities and by the accidents of his position. No man
ever displayed a more exclusive devotion to literature, or was more
tremblingly sensitive to the charm of literary glory. His zeal was never
distracted by any rival emotion. Almost from his cradle to his grave his
eye was fixed unremittingly upon the sole purpose of his life. The whole
energies of his mind were absorbed in the struggle to place his name as
high as possible in that temple of fame, which he painted after Chaucer
in one of his early poems. External conditions pointed to letters as the
sole path to eminence, but it was precisely the path for which he had
admirable qualifications. The sickly son of the Popish tradesman was cut
off from the bar, the senate, and the church. Physically contemptible,
politically ostracized, and in a humble social position, he could yet
win this dazzling prize and force his way with his pen to the highest
pinnacle of contemporary fame. Without adventitious favour and in spite
of many bitter antipathies, he was to become the acknowledged head of
English literature, and the welcome companion of all the most eminent
men of his time. Though he could not foresee his career from the start,
he worked as vigorously as if the goal had already been in sight; and
each successive victory in the field of letters was realized the more
keenly from his sense of the disadvantages in face of which it had been
won. In tracing his rapid ascent, we shall certainly find reason to
doubt his proud assertion,--

     That, if he pleased, he pleased by manly ways,

but it is impossible for any lover of literature to grudge admiration to
this singular triumph of pure intellect over external disadvantages, and
the still more depressing influences of incessant physical suffering.

Pope had indeed certain special advantages which he was not slow in
turning to account. In one respect even his religion helped him to
emerge into fame. There was naturally a certain free-masonry amongst the
Catholics allied by fellow-feeling under the general antipathy. The
relations between Pope and his co-religionists exercised a material
influence upon his later life. Within a few miles of Binfield lived the
Blounts of Mapledurham, a fine old Elizabethan mansion on the banks of
the Thames, near Reading, which had been held by a royalist Blount in
the civil war against a parliamentary assault. It was a more interesting
circumstance to Pope that Mr. Lister Blount, the then representative of
the family, had two fair daughters, Teresa and Martha, of about the
poet's age. Another of Pope's Catholic acquaintances was John Caryll, of
West Grinstead in Sussex, nephew of a Caryll who had been the
representative of James II. at the Court of Rome, and who, following his
master into exile, received the honours of a titular peerage and held
office in the melancholy court of the Pretender. In such circles Pope
might have been expected to imbibe a Jacobite and Catholic horror of
Whigs and freethinkers. In fact, however, he belonged from his youth to
the followers of Gallio, and seems to have paid to religious duties just
as much attention as would satisfy his parents. His mind was really
given to literature; and he found his earliest patron in his immediate
neighbourhood. This was Sir W. Trumbull, who had retired to his native
village of Easthampstead in 1697, after being ambassador at the Porte
under James II., and Secretary of State under William III. Sir William
made acquaintance with the Popes, praised the father's artichokes, and
was delighted with the precocious son. The old diplomatist and the young
poet soon became fast friends, took constant rides together, and talked
over classic and modern poetry. Pope made Trumbull acquainted with
Milton's juvenile poems, and Trumbull encouraged Pope to follow in
Milton's steps. He gave, it seems, the first suggestion to Pope that he
should translate Homer; and he exhorted his young friend to preserve his
health by flying from tavern company--_tanquam ex incendio_. Another
early patron was William Walsh, a Worcestershire country gentleman of
fortune and fashion, who condescended to dabble in poetry after the
manner of Waller, and to write remonstrances upon Celia's cruelty,
verses to his mistress against marriage, epigrams, and pastoral
eclogues. He was better known, however, as a critic, and had been
declared by Dryden to be, without flattery, the best in the nation. Pope
received from him one piece of advice which has become famous. We had
had great poets--so said the "knowing Walsh," as Pope calls him--"but
never one great poet that was correct;" and he accordingly recommended
Pope to make correctness his great aim. The advice doubtless impressed
the young man as the echo of his own convictions. Walsh died (1708),
before the effect of his suggestion had become fully perceptible.

The acquaintance with Walsh was due to Wycherley, who had submitted
Pope's Pastorals to his recognized critical authority. Pope's
intercourse with Wycherley and another early friend, Henry Cromwell, had
a more important bearing upon his early career. He kept up a
correspondence with each of these friends, whilst he was still passing
through his probationary period; and the letters published long
afterwards under singular circumstances to be hereafter related, give
the fullest revelation of his character and position at this time. Both
Wycherley and Cromwell were known to the Englefields of Whiteknights,
near Reading, a Catholic family, in which Pope first made the
acquaintance of Martha Blount, whose mother was a daughter of the old
Mr. Englefield of the day. It was possibly, therefore, through this
connexion that Pope owed his first introduction to the literary circles
of London. Pope, already thirsting for literary fame, was delighted to
form a connexion which must have been far from satisfactory to his
indulgent parents, if they understood the character of his new

Henry Cromwell, a remote cousin of the Protector, is known to other than
minute investigators of contemporary literature by nothing except his
friendship with Pope. He was nearly thirty years older than Pope, and
though heir to an estate in the country, was at this time a gay, though
rather elderly, man about town. Vague intimations are preserved of his
personal appearance. Gay calls him "honest hatless Cromwell with red
breeches;" and Johnson could learn about him the single fact that he
used to ride a-hunting in a tie-wig. The interpretation of these outward
signs may not be very obvious to modern readers; but it is plain from
other indications that he was one of the frequenters of coffee-houses,
aimed at being something of a rake and a wit, was on speaking terms with
Dryden, and familiar with the smaller celebrities of literature, a
regular attendant at theatres, a friend of actresses, and able to
present himself in fashionable circles and devote complimentary verses
to the reigning beauties at the Bath. When he studied the _Spectator_ he
might recognize some of his features reflected in the portrait of Will
Honeycomb. Pope was proud enough for the moment at being taken by the
hand by this elderly buck, though, as Pope himself rose in the literary
scale and could estimate literary reputations more accurately, he
became, it would seem, a little ashamed of his early enthusiasm, and, at
any rate, the friendship dropped. The letters which passed between the
pair during four or five years down to the end of 1711, show Pope in his
earliest manhood. They are characteristic of that period of development
in which a youth of literary genius takes literary fame in the most
desperately serious sense. Pope is evidently putting his best foot
forward, and never for a moment forgets that he is a young author
writing to a recognized critic--except, indeed, when he takes the airs
of an experienced rake. We might speak of the absurd affectation
displayed in the letters, were it not that such affectation is the most
genuine nature in a clever boy. Unluckily it became so ingrained in Pope
as to survive his youthful follies. Pope complacently indulges in
elaborate paradoxes and epigrams of the conventional epistolary style;
he is painfully anxious to be alternately sparkling and playful; his
head must be full of literature; he indulges in an elaborate criticism
of Statius, and points out what a sudden fall that author makes at one
place from extravagant bombast; he communicates the latest efforts of
his muse, and tries, one regrets to say, to get more credit for
precocity and originality than fairly belongs to him; he accidentally
alludes to his dog that he may bring in a translation from the Odyssey,
quote Plutarch, and introduce an anecdote which he has heard from
Trumbull about Charles I.; he elaborately discusses Cromwell's classical
translations, adduces authorities, ventures to censure Mr. Rowe's
amplifications of Lucan, and, in this respect, thinks that Breboeuf,
the famous French translator, is equally a sinner, and writes a long
letter as to the proper use of the cæsura and the hiatus in English
verse. There are signs that the mutual criticisms became a little trying
to the tempers of the correspondents. Pope seems to be inclined to
ridicule Cromwell's pedantry, and when he affects satisfaction at
learning that Cromwell has detected him in appropriating a rondeau from
Voiture, we feel that the tension is becoming serious. Probably he found
out that Cromwell was not only a bit of a prig, but a person not likely
to reflect much glory upon his friends, and the correspondence came to
an end, when Pope found a better market for his wares.

Pope speaks more than once in these letters of his country retirement,
where he could enjoy the company of the muses, but where, on the other
hand, he was forced to be grave and godly, instead of drunk and
scandalous as he could be in town. The jolly hunting and drinking
squires round Binfield thought him, he says, a well-disposed person, but
unluckily disqualified for their rough modes of enjoyment by his sickly
health. With them he has not been able to make one Latin quotation, but
has learnt a song of Tom Durfey's, the sole representative of
literature, it appears, at the "toping-tables" of these thick-witted
fox-hunters. Pope naturally longed for the more refined or at least
more fashionable indulgences of London life. Beside the literary
affectation, he sometimes adopts the more offensive
affectation--unfortunately not peculiar to any period--of the youth who
wishes to pass himself off as deep in the knowledge of the world. Pope,
as may be here said once for all, could be at times grossly indecent;
and in these letters there are passages offensive upon this score,
though the offence is far graver when the same tendency appears, as it
sometimes does, in his letters to women. There is no proof that Pope was
ever licentious in practice. He was probably more temperate than most of
his companions, and could be accused of fewer lapses from strict
morality than, for example, the excellent but thoughtless Steele. For
this there was the very good reason that his "little, tender, crazy
carcass," as Wycherley calls it, was utterly unfit for such excesses as
his companions could practice with comparative impunity. He was bound
under heavy penalties to be through life a valetudinarian, and such
doses of wine as the respectable Addison used regularly to absorb, would
have brought speedy punishment. Pope's loose talk probably meant little
enough in the way of actual vice, though, as I have already said,
Trumbull saw reasons for friendly warning. But some of his writings are
stained by pruriency and downright obscenity; whilst the same fault may
be connected with a painful absence of that chivalrous feeling towards
women which redeems Steele's errors of conduct in our estimate of his
character. Pope always takes a low, sometimes a brutal view of the
relation between the sexes.

Enough, however, has been said upon this point. If Pope erred, he was
certainly unfortunate in the objects of his youthful hero-worship.
Cromwell seems to have been but a pedantic hanger-on of literary
circles. His other great friend, Wycherley, had stronger claims upon
his respect, but certainly was not likely to raise his standard of
delicacy. Wycherley was a relic of a past literary epoch. He was nearly
fifty years older than Pope. His last play, the _Plain Dealer_, had been
produced in 1677, eleven years before Pope's birth. The _Plain Dealer_
and the _Country Wife_, his chief performances, are conspicuous amongst
the comedies of the Restoration dramatists for sheer brutality. During
Pope's boyhood he was an elderly rake about town, having squandered his
intellectual as well as his pecuniary resources, but still scribbling
bad verses and maxims on the model of Rochefoucauld. Pope had a very
excusable, perhaps we may say creditable, enthusiasm for the
acknowledged representatives of literary glory. Before he was twelve
years old he had persuaded some one to take him to Will's, that he might
have a sight of the venerable Dryden; and in the first published
letter[1] to Wycherley he refers to this brief glimpse, and warmly
thanks Wycherley for some conversation about the elder poet. And thus,
when he came to know Wycherley, he was enraptured with the honour. He
followed the great man about, as he tells us, like a dog; and,
doubtless, received with profound respect the anecdotes of literary life
which fell from the old gentleman's lips. Soon a correspondence began,
in which Pope adopts a less jaunty air than that of his letters to
Cromwell, but which is conducted on both sides in the laboured
complimentary style which was not unnatural in the days when Congreve's
comedy was taken to represent the conversation of fashionable life.
Presently, however, the letters began to turn upon an obviously
dangerous topic. Pope was only seventeen when it occurred to his friend
to turn him to account as a literary assistant. The lad had already
shown considerable powers of versification, and was soon employing them
in the revision of some of the numerous compositions which amused
Wycherley's leisure. It would have required, one might have thought,
less than Wycherley's experience to foresee the natural end of such an
alliance. Pope, in fact, set to work with great vigour in his favourite
occupation of correcting. He hacked and hewed right and left; omitted,
compressed, rearranged, and occasionally inserted additions of his own
devising. Wycherley's memory had been enfeebled by illness, and now
played him strange tricks. He was in the habit of reading himself to
sleep with Montaigne, Rochefoucauld, and Racine. Next morning he would,
with entire unconsciousness, write down as his own the thoughts of his
author, or repeat almost word for word some previous composition of his
own. To remove such repetitions thoroughly would require a very free
application of the knife, and Pope would not be slow to discover that he
was wasting talents fit for original work in botching and tinkering a
mass of rubbish.

Any man of ripe years would have predicted the obvious consequences;
and, according to the ordinary story, those consequences followed. Pope
became more plain-speaking, and at last almost insulting in his
language. Wycherley ended by demanding the return of his manuscripts, in
a letter showing his annoyance under a veil of civility; and Pope sent
them back with a smart reply, recommending Wycherley to adopt a previous
suggestion and turn his poetry into maxims after the manner of
Rochefoucauld. The "old scribbler," says Johnson, "was angry to see his
pages defaced, and felt more pain from the criticism than content from
the amendment of his faults." The story is told at length, and with his
usual brilliance, by Macaulay, and has hitherto passed muster with all
Pope's biographers; and, indeed, it is so natural a story, and is so far
confirmed by other statements of Pope, that it seems a pity to spoil it.
And yet it must be at least modified, for we have already reached one of
those perplexities which force a biographer of Pope to be constantly
looking to his footsteps. So numerous are the contradictions which
surround almost every incident of the poet's career, that one is
constantly in danger of stumbling into some pitfall, or bound to cross
it in gingerly fashion on the stepping-stone of a cautious "perhaps."
The letters which are the authority for this story have undergone a
manipulation from Pope himself, under circumstances to be hereafter
noticed; and recent researches have shown that a very false colouring
has been put upon this as upon other passages. The nature of this
strange perversion is a curious illustration of Pope's absorbing vanity.

Pope, in fact, was evidently ashamed of the attitude which he had not
unnaturally adopted to his correspondent. The first man of letters of
his day could not bear to reveal the full degree in which he had fawned
upon the decayed dramatist, whose inferiority to himself was now plainly
recognized. He altered the whole tone of the correspondence by omission,
and still worse by addition. He did not publish a letter in which
Wycherley gently remonstrates with his young admirer for excessive
adulation; he omitted from his own letters the phrase which had provoked
the remonstrance; and, with more daring falsification, he manufactured
an imaginary letter to Wycherley out of a letter really addressed to
his friend Caryll. In this letter Pope had himself addressed to Caryll a
remonstrance similar to that which he had received from Wycherley. When
published as a letter to Wycherley, it gives the impression that Pope,
at the age of seventeen, was already rejecting excessive compliments
addressed to him by his experienced friend. By these audacious
perversions of the truth, Pope is enabled to heighten his youthful
independence, and to represent himself as already exhibiting a graceful
superiority to the reception or the offering of incense; whilst he thus
precisely inverts the relation which really existed between himself and
his correspondent.

The letters, again, when read with a due attention to dates, shows that
Wycherley's proneness to take offence has at least been exaggerated.
Pope's services to Wycherley were rendered on two separate occasions.
The first set of poems were corrected during 1706 and 1707, and
Wycherley, in speaking of this revision, far from showing symptoms of
annoyance, speaks with gratitude of Pope's kindness, and returns the
expressions of goodwill which accompanied his criticisms. Both these
expressions, and Wycherley's acknowledgment of them, were omitted in
Pope's publication. More than two years elapsed, when (in April, 1710)
Wycherley submitted a new set of manuscripts to Pope's unflinching
severity; and it is from the letters which passed in regard to this last
batch that the general impression as to the nature of the quarrel has
been derived. But these letters, again, have been mutilated, and so
mutilated as to increase the apparent tartness of the mutual retorts;
and it must therefore remain doubtful how far the coolness which ensued
was really due to the cause assigned. Pope, writing at the time to
Cromwell, expresses his vexation at the difference, and professes
himself unable to account for it, though he thinks that his corrections
may have been the cause of the rupture. An alternative rumour,[2] it
seems, accused Pope of having written some satirical verses upon his
friend. To discover the rights and wrongs of the quarrel is now
impossible, though, unfortunately, one thing is clear, namely, that Pope
was guilty of grossly sacrificing truth in the interests of his own
vanity. We may, indeed, assume, without much risk of error, that Pope
had become too conscious of his own importance to find pleasure or pride
in doctoring another man's verses. It must remain uncertain how far he
showed this resentment to Wycherley openly, or gratified it by some
covert means; and how far, again, he succeeded in calming Wycherley's
susceptibility by his compliments, or aroused his wrath by more or less
contemptuous treatment of his verses.

A year after the quarrel, Cromwell reported that Wycherley had again
been speaking in friendly terms of Pope, and Pope expressed his pleasure
with eagerness. He must, he said, be more agreeable to himself when
agreeable to Wycherley, as the earth was brighter when the sun was less
overcast. Wycherley, it may be remarked, took Pope's advice by turning
some of his verses into prose maxims; and they seem to have been at last
upon more or less friendly terms. The final scene of Wycherley's
questionable career, some four years later, is given by Pope in a letter
to his friend, Edward Blount. The old man, he says, joined the
sacraments of marriage and extreme unction. By one he supposed himself
to gain some advantage of his soul; by the other, he had the pleasure
of saddling his hated heir and nephew with the jointure of his widow.
When dying, he begged his wife to grant him a last request, and, upon
her consent, explained it to be that she would never again marry an old
man. Sickness, says Pope in comment, often destroys wit and wisdom, but
has seldom the power to remove humour. Wycherley's joke, replies a
critic, is contemptible; and yet one feels that the death scene, with
this strange mixture of cynicism, spite, and superstition, half redeemed
by imperturbable good temper, would not be unworthy of a place in
Wycherley's own school of comedy. One could wish that Pope had shown a
little more perception of the tragic side of such a conclusion.

Pope was still almost a boy when he broke with Wycherley; but he was
already beginning to attract attention, and within a surprisingly short
time he was becoming known as one of the first writers of the day. I
must now turn to the poems by which this reputation was gained, and the
incidents connected with their publication. In Pope's life, almost more
than in that of any other poet, the history of the author is the history
of the man.


[1] The letter is, unluckily, of doubtful authenticity; but it
represents Pope's probable sentiments.

[2] See Elwin's Pope, Vol. I., cxxxv.



Pope's rupture with Wycherley took place in the summer of 1710, when
Pope, therefore, was just twenty-two. He was at this time only known as
the contributor of some small poems to a Miscellany. Three years
afterwards (1713) he was receiving such patronage in his great
undertaking, the translation of Homer, as to prove conclusively that he
was regarded by the leaders of literature as a poet of very high
promise; and two years later (1715) the appearance of the first volume
of his translation entitled him to rank as the first poet of the day. So
rapid a rise to fame has had few parallels, and was certainly not
approached until Byron woke and found himself famous at twenty-four.
Pope was eager for the praise of remarkable precocity, and was weak and
insincere enough to alter the dates of some of his writings in order to
strengthen his claim. Yet, even when we accept the corrected accounts of
recent enquirers, there is no doubt that he gave proofs at a very early
age of an extraordinary command of the resources of his art. It is still
more evident that his merits were promptly and frankly recognized by his
contemporaries. Great men and distinguished authors held out friendly
hands to him; and he never had to undergo, even for a brief period, the
dreary ordeal of neglect through which men of loftier but less popular
genius, have been so often compelled to pass. And yet it unfortunately
happened that, even in this early time, when success followed success,
and the young man's irritable nerves might well have been soothed by the
general chorus of admiration he excited and returned bitter antipathies,
some of which lasted through his life.

Pope's works belong to three distinct periods. The translation of Homer
was the great work of the middle period of his life. In his later years
he wrote the moral and satirical poems by which he is now best known.
The earlier period, with which I have now to deal, was one of
experimental excursions into various fields of poetry, with varying
success and rather uncertain aim. Pope had already, as we have seen,
gone through the process of "filling his basket." He had written the
epic poem which happily found its way into the flames. He had translated
many passages that struck his fancy in the classics, especially
considerable fragments of Ovid and Statius. Following Dryden, he had
turned some of Chaucer into modern English; and, adopting a fashion
which had not as yet quite died of inanition, he had composed certain
pastorals in the manner of Theocritus and Virgil. These early
productions had been written under the eye of Trumbull; they had been
handed about in manuscript; Wycherley, as already noticed, had shown
them to Walsh, himself an offender of the same class. Granville,
afterwards Lord Lansdowne, another small poet, read them, and professed
to see in Pope another Virgil; whilst Congreve, Garth, Somers, Halifax,
and other men of weight, condescended to read, admire, and criticize.
Old Tonson, who had published for Dryden, wrote a polite note to Pope,
then only seventeen, saying that he had seen one of the Pastorals in
the hands of Congreve and Walsh, "which was extremely fine," and
requesting the honour of printing it. Three years afterwards it
accordingly appeared in Tonson's Miscellany, a kind of annual, of which
the first numbers had been edited by Dryden. Such miscellanies more or
less discharged the function of a modern magazine. The plan, said Pope
to Wycherley, is very useful to the poets, "who, like other thieves,
escape by getting into a crowd." The volume contained contributions from
Buckingham, Garth, and Howe; it closed with Pope's Pastorals, and opened
with another set of pastorals by Ambrose Philips--a combination which,
as we shall see, led to one of Pope's first quarrels.

The Pastorals have been seriously criticized; but they are, in truth,
mere school-boy exercises; they represent nothing more than so many
experiments in versification. The pastoral form had doubtless been used
in earlier hands to embody true poetic feeling; but in Pope's time it
had become hopelessly threadbare. The fine gentlemen in wigs and laced
coats amused themselves by writing about nymphs and "conscious swains,"
by way of asserting their claims to elegance of taste. Pope, as a boy,
took the matter seriously, and always retained a natural fondness for a
juvenile performance upon which he had expended great labour, and which
was the chief proof of his extreme precocity. He invites attention to
his own merits, and claims especially the virtue of propriety. He does
not, he tells us, like some other people, make his roses and daffodils
bloom in the same season, and cause his nightingales to sing in
November; and he takes particular credit for having remembered that
there were no wolves in England, and having accordingly excised a
passage in which Alexis prophesied that those animals would grow milder
as they listened to the strains of his favourite nymph. When a man has
got so far as to bring to England all the pagan deities, and rival
shepherds contending for bowls and lambs in alternate strophes, these
niceties seem a little out of place. After swallowing such a camel of an
anachronism as is contained in the following lines, it is ridiculous to
pride oneself upon straining at a gnat:--

Inspire me, says Strephon,

     Inspire me, Phoebus, in my Delia's praise
     With Waller's strains or Granville's moving lays.
     A milkwhite bull shall at your altars stand,
     That threats a fight, and spurns the rising sand.

Granville would certainly not have felt more surprised at meeting a
wolf, than at seeing a milk-white bull sacrificed to Phoebus on the
banks of the Thames. It would be a more serious complaint that Pope, who
can thus admit anachronisms as daring as any of those which provoked
Johnson in Lycidas, shows none of that exquisite feeling for rural
scenery which is one of the superlative charms of Milton's early poems.
Though country-bred, he talks about country sights and sounds as if he
had been brought up at Christ's Hospital, and read of them only in
Virgil. But, in truth, it is absurd to dwell upon such points. The sole
point worth notice in the Pastorals is the general sweetness of the
versification. Many corrections show how carefully Pope had elaborated
these early lines, and by what patient toil he was acquiring the
peculiar qualities of style in which he was to become pre-eminent. We
may agree with Johnson that Pope performing upon a pastoral pipe is
rather a ludicrous person, but for mere practice even nonsense verses
have been found useful.

The young gentleman was soon to give a far more characteristic specimen
of his peculiar powers. Poets, according to the ordinary rule, should
begin by exuberant fancy, and learn to prune and refine as the reasoning
faculties develop. But Pope was from the first a conscious and
deliberate artist. He had read the fashionable critics of his time, and
had accepted their canons as an embodiment of irrefragable reason. His
head was full of maxims, some of which strike us as palpable truisms,
and others as typical specimens of wooden pedantry. Dryden had set the
example of looking upon the French critics as authoritative lawgivers in
poetry. Boileau's art of poetry was carefully studied, as bits of it
were judiciously appropriated by Pope. Another authority was the great
Bossu, who wrote in 1675 a treatise on epic poetry; and the modern
reader may best judge of the doctrines characteristic of the school, by
the naive pedantry with which Addison, the typical man of taste of his
time, invokes the authority of Bossu and Aristotle, in his exposition of
Paradise Lost.[3] English writers were treading in the steps of Boileau
and Horace. Roscommon selected for a poem the lively topic of
"translated verse," and Sheffield had written with Dryden an essay upon
satire, and afterwards a more elaborate essay upon poetry. To these
masterpieces, said Addison, another masterpiece was now added by Pope's
Essay upon Criticism. Not only did Addison applaud, but later critics
have spoken of their wonder at the penetration, learning, and taste
exhibited by so young a man. The essay was carefully finished. Written
apparently in 1709, it was published in 1711. This was as short a time,
said Pope to Spence, as he ever let anything of his lie by him; he no
doubt employed it, according to his custom, in correcting and revising,
and he had prepared himself by carefully digesting the whole in prose.
It is, however, written without any elaborate logical plan, though it is
quite sufficiently coherent for its purpose. The maxims on which Pope
chiefly dwells are, for the most part, the obvious rules which have been
the common property of all generations of critics. One would scarcely
ask for originality in such a case, any more than one would desire a
writer on ethics to invent new laws of morality. "We require neither
Pope nor Aristotle to tell us that critics should not be pert nor
prejudiced; that fancy should be regulated by judgment; that apparent
facility comes by long training; that the sound should have some
conformity to the meaning; that genius is often envied; and that dulness
is frequently beyond the reach of reproof. "We might even guess, without
the authority of Pope, backed by Bacon, that there are some beauties
which cannot be taught by method, but must be reached "by a kind of
felicity." It is not the less interesting to notice Pope's skill in
polishing these rather rusty sayings into the appearance of novelty. In
a familiar line Pope gives us the view which he would himself apply in
such cases.

     True wit is nature to advantage dress'd,
     What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd.

The only fair question, in short, is whether Pope has managed to give a
lasting form to some of the floating commonplaces which have more or
less suggested themselves to every writer. If we apply this test, we
must admit that if the essay upon criticism does not show deep thought,
it shows singular skill in putting old truths. Pope undeniably succeeded
in hitting off many phrases of marked felicity. He already showed the
power, in which he was probably unequalled, of coining aphorisms out of
commonplace. Few people read the essay now, but everybody is aware that
"fools rush in where angels fear to tread," and has heard the warning--

     A little learning is a dangerous thing,
     Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring--

maxims which may not commend themselves as strictly accurate to a
scientific reasoner, but which have as much truth as one can demand from
an epigram. And besides many sayings which share in some degree their
merit, there are occasional passages which rise, at least, to the height
of graceful rhetoric if they are scarcely to be called poetical. One
simile was long famous, and was called by Johnson the best in the
language. It is that in which the sanguine youth, overwhelmed by a
growing perception of the boundlessness of possible attainments, is
compared to the traveller crossing the mountains, and seeing--

     Hills peep o'er hills and Alps on Alps arise.

The poor simile is pretty well forgotten, but is really a good specimen
of Pope's brilliant declamation.

The essay, however, is not uniformly polished. Between the happier
passages we have to cross stretches of flat prose twisted into rhyme;
Pope seems to have intentionally pitched his style at a prosaic level as
fitter for didactic purposes; but besides this we here and there come
upon phrases which are not only elliptical and slovenly, but defy all
grammatical construction. This was a blemish to which Pope was always
strangely liable. It was perhaps due in part to over-correction, when
the context was forgotten and the subject had lost its freshness.
Critics, again, have remarked upon the poverty of the rhymes, and
observed that he makes ten rhymes to "wit" and twelve to "sense." The
frequent recurrence of the words is the more awkward because they are
curiously ambiguous. "Wit" was beginning to receive its modern meaning;
but Pope uses it vaguely as sometimes equivalent to intelligence in
general, sometimes to the poetic faculty, and sometimes to the erratic
fancy, which the true poet restrains by sense. Pope would have been
still more puzzled if asked to define precisely what he meant by the
antithesis between nature and art. They are somehow opposed, yet art
turns out to be only "nature methodized." We have indeed a clue for our
guidance; to study nature, we are told, is the same thing as to study
Homer, and Homer should be read day and night, with Virgil for a comment
and Aristotle for an expositor. Nature, good sense, Homer, Virgil, and
the Stagyrite all, it seems, come to much the same thing.

It would be very easy to pick holes in this very loose theory. But it is
better to try to understand the point of view indicated; for, in truth,
Pope is really stating the assumptions which guided his whole career. No
one will accept his position at the present time; but any one who is
incapable of, at least, a provisional sympathy, may as well throw Pope
aside at once, and with Pope most contemporary literature.

The dominant figure in Pope's day was the Wit. The wit--taken
personally--was the man who represented what we now describe by culture
or the spirit of the age. Bright clear common sense was for once having
its own way, and tyrannizing over the faculties from which it too often
suffers violence. The favoured faculty never doubted its own
qualification for supremacy in every department. In metaphysics it was
triumphing with Hobbes and Locke over the remnants of scholasticism;
under Tillotson, it was expelling mystery from religion; and in art it
was declaring war against the extravagant, the romantic, the mystic, and
the Gothic,--a word then used as a simple term of abuse. Wit and sense
are but different avatars of the same spirit; wit was the form in which
it showed itself in coffee-houses, and sense that in which it appeared
in the pulpit or parliament. When Walsh told Pope to be correct, he was
virtually advising him to carry the same spirit into poetry. The
classicism of the time was the natural corollary; for the classical
models were the historical symbols of the movement which Pope
represented. He states his view very tersely in the essay. Classical
culture had been overwhelmed by the barbarians, and the monks "finished
what the Goths began." Letters revived when the study of classical
models again gave an impulse and supplied a guidance.

     At length Erasmus, that great injured name,
     The glory of the priesthood and their shame,
     Stemm'd the wild torrent of a barbarous age,
     And drove these holy Vandals off the stage.

The classicalism of Pope's time was no doubt very different from that of
the period of Erasmus; but in his view it differed only because the
contemporaries of Dryden had more thoroughly dispersed the mists of the
barbarism which still obscured the Shakspearean age, and from which even
Milton or Cowley had not completely escaped. Dryden and Boileau and the
French critics, with their interpreters Roscommon, Sheffield, and Walsh,
who found rules in Aristotle, and drew their precedents from Homer,
were at last stating the pure canons of unadulterated sense. To this
school, wit and sense, and nature, and the classics, all meant pretty
much the same. That was pronounced to be unnatural which was too silly,
or too far-fetched, or too exalted, to approve itself to the good sense
of a wit; and the very incarnation and eternal type of good sense and
nature was to be found in the classics. The test of thorough polish and
refinement was the power of ornamenting a speech with an appropriate
phrase from Horace or Virgil, or prefixing a Greek motto to an essay in
the _Spectator_. If it was necessary to give to any utterance an air of
philosophical authority, a reference to Longinus or Aristotle was the
natural device. Perhaps the acquaintance with classics might not be very
profound; but the classics supplied at least a convenient symbol for the
spirit which had triumphed against Gothic barbarism and scholastic

Even the priggish wits of that day were capable of being bored by
didactic poetry, and especially by such didactic poetry as resolved
itself too easily into a string of maxims, not more poetical in
substance than the immortal "'Tis a sin to steal a pin." The
essay--published anonymously--did not make any rapid success till Pope
sent round copies to well-known critics. Addison's praise and Dennis's
abuse helped, as we shall presently see, to give it notoriety. Pope,
however, returned from criticism to poetry, and his next performance was
in some degree a fresh, but far less puerile, performance upon the
pastoral pipe.[4] Nothing could be more natural than for the young poet
to take for a text the forest in which he lived. Dull as the natives
might be, their dwelling-place was historical, and there was an
excellent precedent for such a performance. Pope, as we have seen, was
familiar with Milton's juvenile poems; but such works as the Allegro and
Penseroso were too full of the genuine country spirit to suit his
probable audience. Wycherley, whom he frequently invited to come to
Binfield, would undoubtedly have found Milton a bore. But Sir John
Denham, a thoroughly masculine, if not, as Pope calls him, a majestic
poet, was a guide whom the Wycherleys would respect. His _Cooper's Hill_
(in 1642) was the first example of what Johnson calls local
poetry--poetry, that is, devoted to the celebration of a particular
place; and, moreover, it was one of the early models of the rhythm which
became triumphant in the hands of Dryden. One couplet is still

     Though deep, yet clear; though gentle, yet not dull;
     Strong without rage; without o'erflowing, full.

The poem has some vigorous descriptive touches, but is in the main a
forcible expression of the moral and political reflections which would
be approved by the admirers of good sense in poetry.

Pope's _Windsor Forest_, which appeared in the beginning of 1713, is
closely and avowedly modelled upon this original. There is still a
considerable infusion of the puerile classicism of the Pastorals, which
contrasts awkwardly with Denham's strength, and a silly episode about
the nymph Lodona changed into the river Loddon by Diana, to save her
from the pursuit of Pan. But the style is animated, and the
descriptions, though seldom original, show Pope's frequent felicity of
language. Wordsworth, indeed, was pleased to say that Pope had here
introduced almost the only "new images of internal nature" to be found
between Milton and Thomson. Probably the good Wordsworth was wishing to
do a little bit of excessive candour. Pope will not introduce his
scenery without a turn suited to the taste of the town:--

     Here waving groves a chequer'd scene display,
     And part admit and part exclude the day;
     As some coy nymph her lover's fond address,
     Nor quite indulges nor can quite repress.

He has some well turned lines upon the sports of the forest, though they
are clearly not the lines of a sportsman. They betray something of the
sensitive lad's shrinking from the rough squires whose only literature
consisted of Durfey's songs, and who would have heartily laughed at his
sympathy for a dying pheasant. I may observe in passing that Pope always
showed the true poet's tenderness for the lower animals, and disgust at
bloodshed. He loved his dog, and said that he would have inscribed over
his grave, "O rare Bounce," but for the appearance of ridiculing "rare
Ben Jonson." He spoke with horror of a contemporary dissector of live
dogs, and the pleasantest of his papers in the _Guardian_ is a warm
remonstrance against cruelty to animals. He "dares not" attack hunting,
he says--and, indeed, such an attack requires some courage even at the
present day--but he evidently has no sympathy with huntsmen, and has to
borrow his description from Statius, which was hardly the way to get the
true local colour. _Windsor Forest_, however, like _Cooper's Hill_,
speedily diverges into historical and political reflections. The
barbarity of the old forest laws, the poets Denham and Cowley and
Surrey, who had sung on the banks of the Thames, and the heroes who
made Windsor illustrious, suggest obvious thoughts, put into verses
often brilliant, though sometimes affected, varied by a compliment to
Trumbull and an excessive eulogy of Granville, to whom the poem is
inscribed. The whole is skilfully adapted to the time by a brilliant
eulogy upon the peace which was concluded just as the poem was
published. The Whig poet Tickell, soon to be Pope's rival, was
celebrating the same "lofty theme" on his "artless reed," and
introducing a pretty little compliment to Pope. To readers who have lost
the taste for poetry of this class one poem may seem about as good as
the other; but Pope's superiority is plain enough to a reader who will
condescend to distinguish. His verses are an excellent specimen of his
declamatory style--polished, epigrammatic, and well expressed; and,
though keeping far below the regions of true poetry, preserving just
that level which would commend them to the literary statesmen and the
politicians at Will's and Button's. Perhaps some advocate of Free Trade
might try upon a modern audience the lines in which Pope expresses his
aspiration in a footnote that London may one day become a "FREE PORT."
There is at least not one antiquated or obscure phrase in the whole.
Here are half-a-dozen lines:--

     The time shall come, when, free as seas and wind,
     Unbounded Thames shall flow for all mankind,
     Whole nations enter with each swelling tide,
     And seas but join the regions they divide;
     Earth's distant ends our glory shall behold,
     And the new world launch forth to seek the old.

In the next few years Pope found other themes for the display of his
declamatory powers. Of the _Temple of Fame_ (1715), a frigid imitation
of Chaucer, I need only say that it is one of Pope's least successful
performances; but I must notice more fully two rhetorical poems which
appeared in 1717. These were the _Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate
Lady_ and the _Eloisa to Abelard_. Both poems, and especially the last,
have received the warmest praises from Pope's critics, and even from
critics who were most opposed to his school. They are, in fact, his
chief performances of the sentimental kind. Written in his youth, and
yet when his powers of versification had reached their fullest maturity,
they represent an element generally absent from his poetry. Pope was at
the period in which, if ever, a poet should sing of love, and in which
we expect the richest glow and fervour of youthful imagination. Pope was
neither a Burns, nor a Byron, nor a Keats; but here, if anywhere, we
should find those qualities in which he has most affinity to the poets
of passion or of sensuous emotion, not soured by experience or purified
by reflection. The motives of the two poems were skilfully chosen.
Pope--as has already appeared to some extent--was rarely original in his
designs; he liked to have the outlines at last drawn for him, to be
filled with his own colouring. The _Eloisa to Abelard_ was founded upon
a translation from the French, published in 1714 by Hughes (author of
the _Siege of Damascus_), which is itself a manipulated translation from
the famous Latin originals. Pope, it appears, kept very closely to the
words of the English translation, and in some places has done little
more than versify the prose, though, of course, it is compressed,
rearranged, and modified. The _Unfortunate Lady_ has been the cause of a
good deal of controversy. Pope's elegy implies, vaguely enough, that she
had been cruelly treated by her guardians, and had committed suicide in
some foreign country. The verses, as commentators decided, showed such
genuine feeling, that the story narrated in them must have been
authentic, and one of his own correspondents (Caryll) begged him for an
explanation of the facts. Pope gave no answer, but left a posthumous
note to an edition of his letters calculated, perhaps intended, to
mystify future inquirers. The lady, a Mrs. Weston, to whom the note
pointed, did not die till 1724, and could therefore not have committed
suicide in 1717. The mystification was childish enough, though if Pope
had committed no worse crime of the kind, one would not consider him to
be a very grievous offender. The inquiries of Mr. Dilke, who cleared up
this puzzle, show that there were in fact two ladies, Mrs. Weston and a
Mrs. Cope, known to Pope about this time, both of whom suffered under
some domestic persecution. Pope seems to have taken up their cause with
energy, and sent money to Mrs. Cope when, at a later period, she was
dying abroad in great distress. His zeal seems to have been sincere and
generous, and it is possible enough that the elegy was a reflection of
his feelings, though it suggested an imaginary state of facts. If this
be so, the reference to the lady in his posthumous note contained some
relation to the truth, though if taken too literally it would be

The poems themselves are, beyond all doubt, impressive compositions.
They are vivid and admirably worked. "Here," says Johnson of the _Eloisa
to Abelard_, the most important of the two, "is particularly observable
the _curiosa felicitas_, a fruitful soil and careful cultivation. Here
is no crudeness of sense, nor asperity of language." So far there can be
no dispute. The style has the highest degree of technical perfection,
and it is generally added that the poems are as pathetic as they are
exquisitely written. Bowles, no hearty lover of Pope, declared the
Eloisa to be "infinitely superior to everything of the kind, ancient or
modern." The tears shed, says Hazlitt of the same poem, "are drops
gushing from the heart; the words are burning sighs breathed from the
soul of love." And De Quincey ends an eloquent criticism by declaring
that the "lyrical tumult of the changes, the hope, the tears, the
rapture, the penitence, the despair, place the reader in tumultuous
sympathy with the poor distracted nun." The pathos of the _Unfortunate
Lady_ has been almost equally praised, and I may quote from it a famous
passage which Mackintosh repeated with emotion to repel a charge of
coldness brought against Pope:--

     By foreign hands thy dying eyes were closed,
     By foreign hands thy decent limbs composed,
     By foreign hands thy humble grave adorn'd,
     By strangers honour'd and by strangers mourn'd!
     What though no friends in sable weeds appear,
     Grieve for an hour, perhaps, then mourn a year,
     And bear about the mockery of woe
     To midnight dances and the public show?
     What though no weeping loves thy ashes grace,
     Nor polish'd marble emulate thy face?
     What though no sacred earth allow thee room,
     Nor hallow'd dirge be mutter'd o'er thy tomb?
     Yet shall thy grave with rising flowers be dress'd,
     And the green turf lie lightly on thy breast;
     There shall the morn her earliest tears bestow,
     There the first roses of the year shall blow;
     While angels with their silver wings o'ershade
     The ground, now sacred by thy reliques made.

The more elaborate poetry of the _Eloisa_ is equally polished
throughout, and too much praise cannot easily be bestowed upon the skill
with which the romantic scenery of the convent is indicated in the
background, and the force with which Pope has given the revulsions of
feeling of his unfortunate heroine from earthly to heavenly love, and
from keen remorse to renewed gusts of overpowering passion. All this may
be said, and without opposing high critical authority. And yet, I must
also say, whether with or without authority, that I, at least, can read
the poems without the least "disposition to cry," and that a single
pathetic touch of Cowper or Wordsworth strikes incomparably deeper. And
if I seek for a reason, it seems to be simply that Pope never crosses
the undefinable, but yet ineffaceable, line which separates true poetry
from rhetoric. The Eloisa ends rather flatly by one of Pope's
characteristic aphorisms. "He best can paint them (the woes, that is, of
Eloisa) who shall feel them most;" and it is characteristic, by the way,
that even in these his most impassioned verses, the lines which one
remembers are of the same epigrammatic stamp, e.g.:

     A heap of dust alone remains of thee,
     'Tis all thou art and all the proud shall be!

     I mourn the lover, not lament the fault.

     How happy is the blameless vestal's lot,
     The world forgetting, by the world forgot.

The worker in moral aphorisms cannot forget himself even in the full
swing of his fervid declamation. I have no doubt that Pope so far
exemplified his own doctrine that he truly felt whilst he was writing.
His feelings make him eloquent, but they do not enable him to "snatch a
grace beyond the reach of art," to blind us for a moment to the presence
of the consummate workman, judiciously blending his colours, heightening
his effects, and skilfully managing his transitions or consciously
introducing an abrupt outburst of a new mood. The smoothness of the
verses imposes monotony even upon the varying passions which are
supposed to struggle in Eloisa's breast. It is not merely our knowledge
that Pope is speaking dramatically which prevents us from receiving the
same kind of impressions as we receive from poetry--such, for example,
as some of Cowper's minor pieces--into which we know that a man is
really putting his whole heart. The comparison would not be fair, for in
such cases we are moved by knowledge of external facts as well as by the
poetic power. But it is simply that Pope always resembles an orator
whose gestures are studied, and who thinks while he is speaking of the
fall of his robes and the attitude of his hands. He is throughout
academical; and though knowing with admirable nicety how grief should be
represented, and what have been the expedients of his best predecessors,
he misses the one essential touch of spontaneous impulse.

One other blemish is perhaps more fatal to the popularity of the Eloisa.
There is a taint of something unwholesome and effeminate. Pope, it is
true, is only following the language of the original in the most
offensive passages; but we see too plainly that he has dwelt too fondly
upon those passages, and worked them up with especial care. We need not
be prudish in our judgment of impassioned poetry; but when the passion
has this false ring, the ethical coincides with the æsthetic objection.

I have mentioned these poems here, because they seem to be the
development of the rhetorical vein which appeared in the earlier work.
But I have passed over another work which has sometimes been regarded as
his masterpiece. A Lord Petre had offended a Miss Fermor by stealing a
lock of her hair. She thought that he showed more gallantry than
courtesy, and some unpleasant feeling resulted between the families.
Pope's friend, Caryll, thought that it might be appeased if the young
poet would turn the whole affair into friendly ridicule. Nobody, it
might well be supposed, had a more dexterous touch; and a brilliant
trifle from his hands, just fitted for the atmosphere of drawing-rooms,
would be a convenient peace-offering, and was the very thing in which he
might be expected to succeed. Pope accordingly set to work at a dainty
little mock-heroic, in which he describes, in playful mockery of the
conventional style, the fatal coffee-drinking at Hampton, in which the
too daring peer appropriated the lock. The poem received the praise
which it well deserved; for certainly the young poet had executed his
task to a nicety. No more brilliant, sparkling, vivacious trifle, is to
be found in our literature than the _Rape of the Lock_, even in this
early form. Pope received permission from the lady to publish it in
Lintot's Miscellany in 1712, and a wider circle admired it, though it
seems that the lady and her family began to think that young Mr. Pope
was making rather too free with her name. Pope meanwhile, animated by
his success, hit upon a singularly happy conception, by which he thought
that the poem might be rendered more important. The solid critics of
those days were much occupied with the machinery of epic poems; the
machinery being composed of the gods and goddesses who, from the days of
Homer, had attended to the fortunes of heroes. He had hit upon a curious
French book, the _Comte de Gabalis_, which professes to reveal the
mysteries of the Rosicrucians, and it occurred to him that the elemental
sylphs and gnomes would serve his purpose admirably. He spoke of his new
device to Addison, who administered--and there is not the slightest
reason for doubting his perfect sincerity and good meaning--a little
dose of cold water. The poem, as it stood, was a "delicious little
thing"--_merum sal_--and it would be a pity to alter it. Pope, however,
adhered to his plan, made a splendid success, and thought that Addison
must have been prompted by some mean motive. The _Rape of the Lock_
appeared in its new form, with sylphs and gnomes, and an ingenious
account of a game at cards and other improvements, in 1714. Pope
declared, and critics have agreed, that he never showed more skill than
in the remodelling of this poem; and it has ever since held a kind of
recognised supremacy amongst the productions of the drawing-room muse.

The reader must remember that the so-called heroic style of Pope's
period is now hopelessly effete. No human being would care about
machinery and the rules of Bossu, or read without utter weariness the
mechanical imitations of Homer and Virgil which were occasionally
attempted by the Blackmores and other less ponderous versifiers. The
shadow grows dim with the substance. The burlesque loses its point when
we care nothing for the original; and, so far, Pope's bit of
filigree-work, as Hazlitt calls it, has become tarnished. The very
mention of beaux and belles suggests the kind of feeling with which we
disinter fragments of old-world finery from the depths of an ancient
cabinet, and even the wit is apt to sound wearisome. And further, it
must be allowed to some hostile critics that Pope has a worse defect.
The poem is, in effect, a satire upon feminine frivolity. It continues
the strain of mockery against hoops and patches and their wearers, which
supplied Addison and his colleagues with the materials of so many
_Spectators_. I think that even in Addison there is something which
rather jars upon us. His persiflage is full of humour and kindliness,
but underlying it there is a tone of superiority to women which is
sometimes offensive. It is taken for granted that a woman is a fool, or
at least should be flattered if any man condescends to talk sense to
her. With Pope this tone becomes harsher, and the merciless satirist
begins to show himself. In truth, Pope can be inimitably pungent, but he
can never be simply playful. Addison was too condescending with his
pretty pupils; but under Pope's courtesy there lurks contempt, and his
smile has a disagreeable likeness to a sneer. If Addison's manner
sometimes suggests the blandness of a don who classes women with the
inferior beings unworthy of the Latin grammar, Pope suggests the
brilliant wit whose contempt has a keener edge from his resentment
against fine ladies blinded to his genius by his personal deformity.

Even in his dedication, Pope, with unconscious impertinence, insults his
heroine for her presumable ignorance of his critical jargon. His smart
epigrams want but a slight change of tone to become satire. It is the
same writer who begins an essay on women's characters by telling a woman
that her sex is a compound of

     Matter too soft a lasting mask to bear;
     And best distinguished by black, brown, or fair,

and communicates to her the pleasant truth that

     Every woman is at heart a rake.

Women, in short, are all frivolous beings, whose one genuine interest is
in love-making. The same sentiment is really implied in the more playful
lines in the _Rape of the Lock_. The sylphs are warned by omens that
some misfortune impends; but they don't know what.

     Whether the nymph shall break Diana's law,
     Or some frail china jar receive a flaw;
     Or stain her honour or her new brocade,
     Forget her prayers or miss a masquerade;
     Or lose her heart or necklace at a ball,
     Or whether heaven has doom'd that Shock must fall.

We can understand that Miss Fermor would feel such raillery to be
equivocal. It may be added, that an equal want of delicacy is implied in
the mock-heroic battle at the end, where the ladies are gifted with an
excess of screaming power:--

     'Restore the lock!' she cries, and all around
     'Restore the lock,' the vaulted roofs rebound--
     Not fierce Othello in so loud a strain
     Roar'd for the handkerchief that caused his pain.

These faults, though far from trifling, are yet felt only as blemishes
in the admirable beauty and brilliance of the poem. The successive
scenes are given with so firm and clear a touch--there is such a sense
of form, the language is such a dexterous elevation of the ordinary
social twaddle into the mock-heroic, that it is impossible not to
recognize a consummate artistic power. The dazzling display of true wit
and fancy blinds us for the time to the want of that real tenderness and
humour, which would have softened some harsh passages, and given a more
enduring charm to the poetry. It has, in short, the merit that belongs
to any work of art which expresses in the most finished form the
sentiment characteristic of a given social phase; one deficient in many
of the most ennobling influences, but yet one in which the arts of
converse represent a very high development of shrewd sense refined into
vivid wit. And we may, I think, admit that there is some foundation for
the genealogy that traces Pope's Ariel back to his more elevated
ancestor in the _Tempest_. The later Ariel, indeed, is regarded as the
soul of a coquette, and is almost an allegory of the spirit of poetic
fancy in slavery to polished society.

     Gums and pomatums shall his flight restrain
     While clogg'd he beats his silken wings in vain.

Pope's Ariel is a parody of the ethereal being into whom Shakspeare had
refined the ancient fairy; but it is a parody which still preserves a
sense of the delicate and graceful. The ancient race which appeared for
the last time in this travesty of the fashion of Queen Anne, still
showed some touch of its ancient beauty. Since that time no fairy has
appeared without being hopelessly childish or affected.

Let us now turn from the poems to the author's personal career during
the same period. In the remarkable autobiographic poem called the
_Epistle to Arbuthnot_, Pope speaks of his early patrons and friends,
and adds--

     Soft were my numbers; who could take offence
     When pure description held the place of sense?
     Like gentle Fanny's was my flow'ry theme,
     A painted mistress or a purling stream.
     Yet then did Gildon draw his venal quill--
     I wish'd the man a dinner, and sat still.
     Yet then did Dennis rave in furious fret;
     I never answer'd,--I was not in debt.

Pope's view of his own career suggests the curious problem: how it came
to pass that so harmless a man should be the butt of so many
hostilities? How could any man be angry with a writer of gentle
pastorals and versified love-letters? The answer of Pope was, that this
was the normal state of things. "The life of a wit," he says, in the
preface to his works, "is a warfare upon earth;" and the warfare results
from the hatred of men of genius natural to the dull. Had any one else
made such a statement, Pope would have seen its resemblance to the
complaint of the one reasonable juryman overpowered by eleven obstinate
fellows. But we may admit that an intensely sensitive nature is a bad
qualification for a public career. A man who ventures into the throng of
competitors without a skin will be tortured by every touch, and suffer
the more if he turns to retaliate.

Pope's first literary performances had not been so harmless as he
suggests. Amongst the minor men of letters of the day was the surly John
Dennis. He was some thirty years Pope's senior; a writer of dreary
tragedies which had gained a certain success by their Whiggish
tendencies, and of ponderous disquisitions upon critical questions, not
much cruder in substance though heavier in form than many utterances of
Addison or Steele. He could, however, snarl out some shrewd things when
provoked, and was known to the most famous wits of the day. He had
corresponded with Dryden, Congreve, and Wycherley, and published some of
their letters. Pope, it seems, had been introduced to him by Cromwell,
but they had met only two or three times. When Pope had become ashamed
of following Wycherley about like a dog, he would soon find out that a
Dennis did not deserve the homage of a rising genius. Possibly Dennis
had said something of Pope's Pastorals, and Pope had probably been a
witness, perhaps more than a mere witness, to some passage of arms in
which Dennis lost his temper. In mere youthful impertinence he
introduced an offensive touch in the _Essay upon Criticism_. It would be
well, he said, if critics could advise authors freely,--

     But Appius reddens at each word you speak,
     And stares, tremendous, with a threatening eye,
     Like some fierce tyrant in old tapestry.

The name Appius referred to Dennis's tragedy of _Appius and Virginia_, a
piece now recollected solely by the fact that poor Dennis had invented
some new thunder for the performance; and by his piteous complaint
against the actors for afterwards "stealing his thunder," had started a
proverbial expression. Pope's reference stung Dennis to the quick. He
replied by a savage pamphlet, pulling Pope's essay to pieces, and
hitting some real blots, but diverging into the coarsest personal abuse.
Not content with saying in his preface that he was attacked with the
utmost falsehood and calumny by a little affected hypocrite, who had
nothing in his mouth but truth, candour, and good-nature, he reviled
Pope for his personal defects; insinuated that he was a hunch-backed
toad; declared that he was the very shape of the bow of the god of love;
that he might be thankful that he was born a modern, for had he been
born of Greek parents his life would have been no longer than that of
one of his poems, namely, half a day; and that his outward form, however
like a monkey's, could not deviate more from the average of humanity
than his mind. These amenities gave Pope his first taste of good savage
slashing abuse. The revenge was out of all proportion to the offence.
Pope, at first, seemed to take the assault judiciously. He kept silence,
and simply marked some of the faults exposed by Dennis for alteration.
But the wound rankled, and when an opportunity presently offered itself,
Pope struck savagely at his enemy. To show how this came to pass, I must
rise from poor old Dennis to a more exalted literary sphere.

The literary world, in which Dryden had recently been, and Pope was soon
to be, the most conspicuous figure, was for the present under the mild
dictatorship of Addison. We know Addison as one of the most kindly and
delicate of humourists, and we can perceive the gentleness which made
him one of the most charming of companions in a small society. His sense
of the ludicrous saved him from the disagreeable ostentation of powers
which were never applied to express bitterness of feeling or to edge
angry satire. The reserve of his sensitive nature made access difficult,
but he was so transparently modest and unassuming that his shyness was
not, as is too often the case, mistaken for pride. It is easy to
understand the posthumous affection which Macaulay has so eloquently
expressed, and the contemporary popularity which, according to Swift,
would have made people unwilling to refuse him had he asked to be king.
And yet I think that one cannot read Addison's praises without a certain
recalcitration, like that which one feels in the case of the model boy
who wins all the prizes, including that for good conduct. It is hard to
feel very enthusiastic about a virtue whose dictates coincide so
precisely with the demands of decorum, and which leads by so easy a path
to reputation and success. Popularity is more often significant of the
tact which makes a man avoid giving offence, than of the warm impulses
of a generous nature. A good man who mixes with the world ought to be
hated, if not to hate. But whatever we may say against his excessive
goodness, Addison deserved and received universal esteem, which in some
cases became enthusiastic. Foremost amongst his admirers was the
warm-hearted, reckless, impetuous Steele, the typical Irishman; and
amongst other members of his little senate--as Pope called it--were
Ambrose Philips and Tickell, young men of letters and sound Whig
politics, and more or less competitors of Pope in literature. When Pope
was first becoming known in London the Whigs were out of power; Addison
and his friends were generally to be found at Button's Coffee-house in
the afternoon, and were represented to the society of the time by the
_Spectator_, which began in March, 1711, and appeared daily to the end
of 1712. Naturally, the young Pope would be anxious to approach this
famous clique, though his connexions lay in the first instance amongst
the Jacobite and Catholic families. Steele, too, would be glad to
welcome so promising a contributor to the _Spectator_ and its successor
the _Guardian_.

Pope, we may therefore believe, was heartily delighted when, some months
after Dennis's attack, a notice of his _Essay upon Criticism_ appeared
in the _Spectator_, December 20, 1711. The reviewer censured some
attacks upon contemporaries--a reference obviously to the lines upon
Dennis--which the author had admitted into his "very fine poem;" but
there were compliments enough to overbalance this slight reproof. Pope
wrote a letter of acknowledgment to Steele, overflowing with the
sincerest gratitude of a young poet on his first recognition by a high
authority. Steele, in reply, disclaimed the article, and promised to
introduce Pope to its real author, the great Addison himself. It does
not seem that the acquaintance thus opened with the Addisonians ripened
very rapidly, or led to any considerable results. Pope, indeed, is said
to have written some _Spectators_. He certainly sent to Steele his
_Messiah_, a sacred eclogue in imitation of Virgil's _Pollio_. It
appeared on May 14th, 1712, and is one of Pope's dexterous pieces of
workmanship, in which phrases from Isaiah are so strung together as to
form a good imitation of the famous poem, which was once supposed to
entitle Virgil to some place among the inspired heralds of Christianity.
Pope sent another letter or two to Steele, which look very much like
intended contributions to the _Spectator_, and a short letter about
Hadrian's verses to his soul, which appeared in November, 1712. When, in
1713, the _Guardian_ succeeded the _Spectator_, Pope was one of Steele's
contributors, and a paper by him upon dedications appeared as the fourth
number. He soon gave a more remarkable proof of his friendly relations
with Addison.

It is probable that no first performance of a play upon the English
stage ever excited so much interest as that of Addison's _Cato_. It was
not only the work of the first man of letters of the day, but it had, or
was taken to have, a certain political significance. "The time was
come," says Johnson, "when those who affected to think liberty in danger
affected likewise to think that a stage-play might preserve it."
Addison, after exhibiting more than the usual display of reluctance,
prepared his play for representation, and it was undoubtedly taken to be
in some sense a Whig manifesto. It was therefore remarkable that he
should have applied to Pope for a prologue, though Pope's connexions
were entirely of the anti-Whiggish kind, and a passage in _Windsor
Forest_, his last new poem (it appeared in March 1713), indicated pretty
plainly a refusal to accept the Whig shibboleths. In the _Forest_ he was
enthusiastic for the peace, and sneered at the Revolution. Pope
afterwards declared that Addison had disavowed all party intentions at
the time, and he accused him of insincerity for afterwards taking credit
(in a poetical dedication of _Cato_) for the services rendered by his
play to the cause of liberty. Pope's assertion is worthless in any case
where he could exalt his own character for consistency at another man's
expense, but it is true that both parties were inclined to equivocate.
It is, indeed, difficult to understand how, if any "stage-play could
preserve liberty," such a play as _Cato_ should do the work. The
polished declamation is made up of the platitudes common to Whigs and
Tories; and Bolingbroke gave the one to his own party when he presented
fifty guineas to _Cato_'s representative for defending the cause of
liberty so well against a perpetual dictator. The Whigs, said Pope,
design a second present when they can contrive as good a saying.
Bolingbroke was, of course, aiming at Marlborough, and his
interpretation was intrinsically as plausible as any that could have
been devised by his antagonists. Each side could adopt _Cato_ as easily
as rival sects can quote the Bible; and it seems possible that Addison
may have suggested to Pope that nothing in _Cato_ could really offend
his principles. Addison, as Pope also tells us, thought the prologue
ambiguous, and altered "Britons, _arise_!" to "Britons, _attend_!" lest
the phrase should be thought to hint at a new revolution. Addison
advised Pope about this time not to be content with the applause of
"half the nation," and perhaps regarded him as one who, by the fact of
his external position with regard to parties, would be a more
appropriate sponsor for the play.

Whatever the intrinsic significance of _Cato_, circumstances gave it a
political colour; and Pope, in a lively description of the first
triumphant night to his friend Caryll, says, that as author of the
successful and very spirited prologue, he was clapped into a Whig,
sorely against his will, at every two lines. Shortly before he had
spoken in the warmest terms to the same correspondent of the admirable
moral tendency of the work; and perhaps he had not realized the full
party significance till he became conscious of the impression produced
upon the audience. Not long afterwards (letter of June 12, 1713), we
find him complaining that his connexion with Steele and the _Guardian_
was giving offence to some honest Jacobites. Had they known the nature
of the connexion, they need hardly have grudged Steele his contributor.
His next proceedings possibly suggested the piece of advice which
Addison gave to Lady M. W. Montagu: "Leave Pope as soon as you can; he
will certainly play you some devilish trick else."

His first trick was calculated to vex an editor's soul. Ambrose Philips,
as I have said, had published certain pastorals in the same volume with
Pope's. Philips, though he seems to have been less rewarded than most of
his companions, was certainly accepted as an attached member of
Addison's "little senate;" and that body was not more free than other
mutual admiration societies from the desire to impose its own prejudices
upon the public. When Philips's _Distressed Mother_, a close imitation
of Racine's _Andromaque_, was preparing for the stage, the Spectator was
taken by Will Honeycomb to a rehearsal (_Spectator_, January 31, 1712),
and Sir Roger de Coverley himself attended one of the performances
(_Ib._, March 25) and was profoundly affected by its pathos. The last
paper was of course by Addison, and is a real triumph of art as a most
delicate application of humour to the slightly unworthy purpose of
puffing a friend and disciple. Addison had again praised Philips's
Pastorals in the _Spectator_ (October 30, 1712), and amongst the early
numbers of the _Guardian_ were a short series of papers upon pastoral
poetry, in which the fortunate Ambrose was again held up as a model,
whilst no notice was taken of Pope's rival performance. Pope, one may
believe, had a contempt for Philips, whose pastoral inanities, whether
better or worse than his own, had not the excuse of being youthful
productions. Philips has bequeathed to our language the phrase
"Namby-pamby," imposed upon him by Henry Carey (author of _Sally in our
Alley_, and the clever farce _Chrononhotonthologos_), and years after
this he wrote a poem to Miss Pulteney in the nursery, beginning,--

     "Dimply damsel, sweetly smiling,"

which may sufficiently interpret the meaning of his nickname. Pope's
irritable vanity was vexed at the liberal praises bestowed on such a
rival, and he revenged himself by an artifice more ingenious than
scrupulous. He sent an anonymous article to Steele for the _Guardian_.
It is a professed continuation of the previous papers on pastorals, and
is ostensibly intended to remove the appearance of partiality arising
from the omission of Pope's name. In the first paragraphs the design is
sufficiently concealed to mislead an unwary reader into the belief that
Philips is preferred to Pope; but the irony soon becomes transparent,
and Philips's antiquated affectation is contrasted with the polish of
Pope, who is said even to "deviate into downright poetry." Steele, it is
said, was so far mystified as to ask Pope's permission to publish the
criticism. Pope generously permitted, and accordingly Steele printed
what he must soon have discovered to be a shrewd attack upon his old
friend and ally. Some writers have found a difficulty in understanding
how Steele could have so blundered. One might, perhaps, whisper in
confidence to the discreet, that even editors are mortal, and that
Steele was conceivably capable of the enormity of reading papers
carelessly. Philips was furious, and hung up a birch in Button's
Coffee-house, declaring that he would apply it to his tormentor should
he ever show his nose in the room. As Philips was celebrated for skill
with the sword, the mode of vengeance was certainly unmanly, and stung
the soul of his adversary, always morbidly sensitive to all attacks, and
especially to attacks upon his person. The hatred thus kindled was never
quenched, and breathes in some of Pope's bitterest lines.

If not a "devilish trick," this little performance was enough to make
Pope's relations to the Addison set decidedly unpleasant. Addison is
said (but the story is very improbable) to have enjoyed the joke. If so,
a vexatious incident must have changed his view of Pope's pleasantries,
though Pope professedly appeared as his defender. Poor old
Thersites-Dennis published, during the summer, a very bitter attack upon
Addison's _Cato_. He said afterwards--though, considering the relations
of the men, some misunderstanding is probable--that Pope had indirectly
instigated this attack through the bookseller, Lintot. If so, Pope must
have deliberately contrived the trap for the unlucky Dennis; and, at any
rate, he fell upon Dennis as soon as the trap was sprung. Though Dennis
was a hot-headed Whig, he had quarrelled with Addison and Steele, and
was probably jealous, as the author of tragedies intended, like _Cato_,
to propagate Whig principles, perhaps to turn Whig prejudices to
account. He writes with the bitterness of a disappointed and unlucky
man, but he makes some very fair points against his enemy. Pope's
retaliation took the form of an anonymous "Narrative of the Frenzy of
John Dennis."[5] It is written in that style of coarse personal satire
of which Swift was a master, but for which Pope was very ill fitted. All
his neatness of style seems to desert him when he tries this tone, and
nothing is left but a brutal explosion of contemptuous hatred. Dennis is
described in his garret, pouring forth insane ravings prompted by his
disgust at the success of _Cato_; but not a word is said in reply to
Dennis' criticisms. It was plain enough that the author, whoever he
might be, was more anxious to satisfy a grudge against Dennis than to
defend Dennis's victim. It is not much of a compliment to Addison to say
that he had enough good feeling to scorn such a mode of retaliation, and
perspicuity enough to see that it would be little to his credit.
Accordingly, in his majestic way, he caused Steele to write a note to
Lintot (August 4, 1713), disavowing all complicity, and saying that if
even he noticed Mr. Dennis's criticisms, it should be in such a way as
to give Mr. Dennis no cause of complaint. He added that he had refused
to see the pamphlet when it was offered for his inspection, and had
expressed his disapproval of such a mode of attack. Nothing could be
more becoming; and it does not appear that Addison knew, when writing
this note, that Pope was the author of the anonymous assault. If, as the
biographers say, Addison's action was not kindly to Pope, it was bare
justice to poor Dennis. Pope undoubtedly must have been bitterly vexed
at the implied rebuff, and not the less because it was perfectly just.
He seems always to have regarded men of Dennis's type as outside the
pale of humanity. Their abuse stung him as keenly as if they had been
entitled to speak with authority, and yet he retorted it as though they
were not entitled to common decency. He would, to all appearance, have
regarded an appeal for mercy to a Grub-street author much as Dandie
Dinmont regarded Brown's tenderness to a "brock"--as a proof of
incredible imbecility, or, rather, of want of proper antipathy to
vermin. Dennis, like Philips, was inscribed on the long list of his
hatreds; and was pursued almost to the end of his unfortunate life.
Pope, it is true, took great credit to himself for helping his miserable
enemy when dying in distress, and wrote a prologue to a play acted for
his benefit. Yet even this prologue is a sneer, and one is glad to think
that Dennis was past understanding it. We hardly know whether to pity or
to condemn the unfortunate poet, whose unworthy hatreds made him suffer
far worse torments than those which he could inflict upon their objects.

By this time we may suppose that Pope must have been regarded with
anything but favour in the Addison circle; and, in fact, he was passing
into the opposite camp, and forming a friendship with Swift and Swift's
patrons. No open rupture followed with Addison for the present; but a
quarrel was approaching which is, perhaps, the most celebrated in our
literary history. Unfortunately, the more closely we look, the more
difficult it becomes to give any definite account of it. The statements
upon which accounts have been based have been chiefly those of Pope
himself; and these involve inconsistencies and demonstrably inaccurate
statements. Pope was anxious in later life to show that he had enjoyed
the friendship of a man so generally beloved, and was equally anxious to
show that he had behaved generously and been treated with injustice and,
indeed, with downright treachery. And yet, after reading the various
statements made by the original authorities, one begins to doubt whether
there was any real quarrel at all; or rather, if one may say so, whether
it was not a quarrel upon one side.

It is, indeed, plain that a coolness had sprung up between Pope and
Addison. Considering Pope's offences against the senate, his ridicule
of Philips, his imposition of that ridicule upon Steele, and his
indefensible use of Addison's fame as a stalking-horse in the attack
upon Dennis, it is not surprising that he should have been kept at arm's
length. If the rod suspended by Philips at Button's be authentic (as
seems probable), the talk about Pope, in the shadow of such an ornament,
is easily imaginable. Some attempts seem to have been made at a
reconciliation. Jervas, Pope's teacher in painting--a bad artist, but a
kindly man--tells Pope on August 20, 1714, of a conversation with
Addison. It would have been worth while, he says, for Pope to have been
hidden behind a wainscot or a half-length picture to have heard it.
Addison expressed a wish for friendly relations, was glad that Pope had
not been "carried too far among the enemy" by Swift, and hoped to be of
use to him at Court--for Queen Anne died on August 1st; the wheel had
turned; and the Whigs were once more the distributors of patronage.
Pope's answer to Jervas is in the dignified tone; he attributes
Addison's coolness to the ill offices of Philips, and is ready to be on
friendly terms whenever Addison recognizes his true character and
independence of party. Another letter follows, as addressed by Pope to
Addison himself; but here alas! if not in the preceding letters, we are
upon doubtful ground. In fact, it is impossible to doubt that the letter
has been manipulated after Pope's fashion, if not actually fabricated.
It is so dignified as to be insulting. It is like a box on the ear
administered by a pedagogue to a repentant but not quite pardoned pupil.
Pope has heard (from Jervas, it is implied) of Addison's profession; he
is glad to hope that the effect of some "late malevolences" is
disappearing; he will not believe (that is, he is strongly inclined to
believe) that the author of _Cato_ could mean one thing and say
another; he will show Addison his first two books of Homer as a proof of
this confidence, and hopes that it will not be abused; he challenges
Addison to point out the ill nature in the _Essay upon Criticism_; and
winds up by making an utterly irrelevant charge (as a proof, he says, of
his own sincerity) of plagiarism against one of Addison's _Spectators_.
Had such a letter been actually sent as it now stands, Addison's good
nature could scarcely have held out. As it is, we can only assume that
during 1714 Pope was on such terms with the clique at Button's, that a
quarrel would be a natural result. According to the ordinary account the
occasion presented itself in the next year.

A translation of the first Iliad by Tickell appeared (in June, 1715)
simultaneously with Pope's first volume. Pope had no right to complain.
No man could be supposed to have a monopoly in the translation of Homer.
Tickell had the same right to try his hand as Pope; and Pope fully
understood this himself. He described to Spence a conversation in which
Addison told him of Tickell's intended work. Pope replied that Tickell
was perfectly justified. Addison having looked over Tickell's
translation of the first book, said that he would prefer not to see
Pope's, as it might suggest double dealing; but consented to read Pope's
second book, and praised it warmly. In all this, by Pope's own showing,
Addison seems to have been scrupulously fair; and if he and the little
senate preferred Tickell's work on its first appearance, they had a full
right to their opinion, and Pope triumphed easily enough to pardon them.
"He was meditating a criticism upon Tickell," says Johnson, "when his
adversary sank before him without a blow." Pope's performance was
universally preferred, and even Tickell himself yielded by anticipation.
He said, in a short preface, that he had abandoned a plan of translating
the whole Iliad on finding that a much abler hand had undertaken the
work, and that he only published this specimen to bespeak favour for a
translation of the Odyssey. It was, say Pope's apologists, an awkward
circumstance that Tickell should publish at the same time as Pope, and
that is about all that they can say. It was, we may reply in
Stephenson's phrase, very awkward--for Tickell. In all this, in fact, it
seems impossible for any reasonable man to discover anything of which
Pope had the slightest ground of complaint; but his amazingly irritable
nature was not to be calmed by reason. The bare fact that a translation
of Homer appeared contemporaneously with his own, and that it came from
one of Addison's court, made him furious. He brooded over it, suspected
some dark conspiracy against his fame, and gradually mistook his morbid
fancies for solid inference. He thought that Tickell had been put up by
Addison as his rival, and gradually worked himself into the further
belief that Addison himself had actually written the translation which
passed under Tickell's name. It does not appear, so far as I know, when
or how this suspicion became current. Some time after Addison's death,
in 1719, a quarrel took place between Tickell, his literary executor,
and Steele. Tickell seemed to insinuate that Steele had not sufficiently
acknowledged his obligations to Addison, and Steele, in an angry retort,
called Tickell the "reputed translator" of the first Iliad, and
challenged him to translate another book successfully. The innuendo
shows that Steele, who certainly had some means of knowing, was willing
to suppose that Tickell had been helped by Addison. The manuscript of
Tickell's work, which has been preserved, is said to prove this to be an
error, and in any case there is no real ground for supposing that
Addison did anything more than he admittedly told Pope, that is, read
Tickell's manuscript and suggest corrections.

To argue seriously about other so-called proofs, would be waste of time.
They prove nothing except Pope's extreme anxiety to justify his wild
hypothesis of a dark conspiracy. Pope was jealous, spiteful, and
credulous. He was driven to fury by Tickell's publication, which had the
appearance of a competition. But angry as he was, he could find no real
cause of complaint, except by imagining a fictitious conspiracy; and
this complaint was never publicly uttered till long after Addison's
death. Addison knew, no doubt, of Pope's wrath, but probably cared
little for it, except to keep himself clear of so dangerous a companion.
He seems to have remained on terms of civility with his antagonist, and
no one would have been more surprised than he to hear of the quarrel,
upon which so much controversy has been expended.

The whole affair, so far as Addison's character is concerned, thus
appears to be a gigantic mare's nest. There is no proof, or even the
slightest presumption, that Addison or Addison's friends ever injured
Pope, though it is clear that they did not love him. It would have been
marvellous if they had. Pope's suspicions are a proof that in this case
he was almost subject to the illusion characteristic of actual insanity.
The belief that a man is persecuted by hidden conspirators is one of the
common symptoms in such cases; and Pope would seem to have been almost
in the initial stage of mental disease. His madness, indeed, was not
such as would lead us to call him morally irresponsible, nor was it the
kind of madness which is to be found in a good many people who well
deserve criminal prosecution; but it was a state of mind so morbid as to
justify some compassion for the unhappy offender.

One result besides the illustration of Pope's character remains to be
noticed. According to Pope's assertion it was a communication from Lord
Warwick which led him to write his celebrated copy of verses upon
Addison. Warwick (afterwards Addison's stepson) accused Addison of
paying Gildon for a gross libel upon Pope. Pope wrote to Addison, he
says, the next day. He said in this letter that he knew of Addison's
behaviour--and that, unwilling to take a revenge of the same kind, he
would rather tell Addison fairly of his faults in plain words. If he had
to take such a step, it would be in some such way as followed, and he
subjoined the first sketch of the famous lines. Addison, says Pope, used
him very civilly ever afterwards. Indeed, if the account be true,
Addison showed his Christian spirit by paying a compliment in one of his
_Freeholders_ (May 17th, 1716) to Pope's Homer.

Macaulay, taking the story for granted, praises Addison's magnanimity,
which, I must confess, I should be hardly Christian enough to admire. It
was however asserted at the time that Pope had not written the verses
which have made the quarrel memorable till after Addison's death. They
were not published till 1723, and are not mentioned by any independent
authority till 1722, though Pope afterwards appealed to Burlington as a
witness to their earlier composition. The fact seems to be confirmed by
the evidence of Lady M. W. Montagu, but it does not follow that Addison
ever saw the verses. He knew that Pope disliked him; but he probably did
not suspect the extent of the hostility. Pope himself appears not to
have devised the worst part of the story--that of Addison having used
Tickell's name--till some years later. Addison was sufficiently
magnanimous in praising his spiteful little antagonist as it was; he
little knew how deeply that antagonist would seek to injure his

And here, before passing to the work which afforded the main pretext of
the quarrel, it may be well to quote once more the celebrated satire. It
may be remarked that its excellence is due in part to the fact that, for
once, Pope does not lose his temper. His attack is qualified and really
sharpened by an admission of Addison's excellence. It is therefore a
real masterpiece of satire, not a simple lampoon. That it is an
exaggeration is undeniable, and yet its very keenness gives a
presumption that it is not altogether without foundation.

     Peace to all such! but were there one whose fires
     True genius kindles and fair fame inspires;
     Blest with each talent and each art to please,
     And born to write, converse, and live with ease;
     Should such a man, too fond to rule alone,
     Bear, like the Turk, no brother near the throne:
     View him with scornful, yet with jealous eyes,
     And hate for arts that caused himself to rise;
     Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
     And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer;
     Willing to wound and yet afraid to strike,
     Just hint a fault and hesitate dislike;
     Alike reserved to praise or to commend,
     A timorous foe and a suspicious friend;
     Dreading ev'n fools, by flatterers besieged,
     And so obliging that he ne'er obliged;
     Like Cato, give his little senate laws,
     And sit attentive to his own applause:
     While wits and templars every sentence raise,
     And wonder with a foolish face of praise;
     Who would not laugh if such a man there be?
     Who would not weep, if Atticus were he?


[3] Any poet who followed Bossu's rules, said Voltaire, might be certain
that no one would read him; happily it was impossible to follow them.

[4] There is the usual contradiction as to the date of composition of
_Windsor Forest_. Part seems to have been written early (Pope says
1704), and part certainly not before 1712.

[5] Mr. Dilke, it is perhaps right to say, has given some reasons for
doubting Pope's authorship of this squib; but the authenticity seems to
be established, and Mr. Dilke himself hesitates.



Pope's uneasy relations with the wits at Button's were no obstacle to
his success elsewhere. Swift, now at the height of his power, was
pleased by his _Windsor Forest_, recommended it to Stella, and soon made
the author's acquaintance. The first letter in their long correspondence
is a laboured but fairly successful piece of pleasantry from Pope, upon
Swift's having offered twenty guineas to the young Papist to change his
religion. It is dated December 8, 1713. In the preceding month Bishop
Kennet saw Swift in all his glory, and wrote an often quoted description
of the scene. Swift was bustling about in the royal antechamber,
swelling with conscious importance, distributing advice, promising
patronage, whispering to ministers, and filling the whole room with his
presence. He finally "instructed a young nobleman that the best poet in
England was Mr. Pope, a Papist, who had begun a translation of Homer
into English verse, for which he must have them all subscribe; 'for,'
says he, 'the author shall not begin to print till I have a thousand
guineas for him!'" Swift introduced Pope to some of the leaders of the
ministry, and he was soon acquainted with Oxford, Bolingbroke,
Atterbury, and many other men of high position. Pope was not disinclined
to pride himself upon his familiarity with the great, though boasting
at the same time of his independence. In truth, the morbid vanity which
was his cardinal weakness seems to have partaken sufficiently of the
nature of genuine self-respect to preserve him from any unworthy
concessions. If he flattered, it was as one who expected to be repaid in
kind; and though his position was calculated to turn the head of a youth
of five-and-twenty, he took his place as a right without humiliating his
own dignity. Whether from principle or prudence, he judiciously kept
himself free from identification with either party, and both sides took
a pride in supporting the great literary undertaking which he had now

When Pope first circulated his proposals for translating Homer, Oxford
and Bolingbroke were fellow-ministers, and Swift was their most
effective organ in the press. At the time at which his first volume
appeared, Bolingbroke was in exile, Oxford under impeachment, and Swift
had retired, savagely and sullenly, to his deanery. Yet, through all the
intervening political tempest, the subscription list grew and
flourished. The pecuniary result was splendid. No author had ever made
anything approaching the sum which Pope received, and very few authors,
even in the present age of gold, would despise such payment. The details
of the magnificent bargain have been handed down, and give the pecuniary
measure of Pope's reputation.

The Iliad was to be published in six volumes. For each volume Lintot was
to pay 200_l._; and, besides this, he was to supply Pope gratuitously
with the copies for his subscribers. The subscribers paid a guinea a
volume, and as 575 subscribers took 654 copies, Pope received altogether
5320_l._ 4_s._ at the regular price, whilst some royal and distinguished
subscribers paid larger sums. By the publication of the Odyssey Pope
seems to have made about 3500_l._ more,[6] after paying his assistants.
The result was, therefore, a total profit at least approaching 9000_l._
The last volume of the Odyssey did not appear till 1726, and the
payments were thus spread over eleven years. Pope, however, saved enough
to be more than comfortable. In the South Sea excitement he ventured to
speculate, but though for a time he fancied himself to have made a large
sum, he seems to have retired rather a loser than a gainer. But he could
say with perfect truth that, "thanks to Homer," he "could live and
thrive, indebted to no prince or peer alive." The money success is,
however, of less interest to us than the literary. Pope put his best
work into the translation of the Iliad. His responsibility, he said,
weighed upon him terribly on starting. He used to dream of being on a
long journey, uncertain which way to go, and doubting whether he would
ever get to the end. Gradually he fell into the habit of translating
thirty or forty verses before getting up, and then "piddling with it"
for the rest of the morning; and the regular performance of his task
made it tolerable. He used, he said at another time, to take advantage
of the "first heat," then correct by the original and other
translations; and finally to "give it a reading for the versification
only." The statement must be partly modified by the suggestion that the
translations were probably consulted before the original. Pope's
ignorance of Greek--an awkward qualification for a translator of
Homer--is undeniable. Gilbert Wakefield, who was, I believe, a fair
scholar and certainly a great admirer of Pope, declares his conviction
to be, after a more careful examination of the Homer than any one is now
likely to give, that Pope "collected the general purport of every
passage from some of his predecessors--Dryden" (who only translated the
first Iliad), "Dacier, Chapman, or Ogilby." He thinks that Pope would
have been puzzled to catch at once the meaning even of the Latin
translation, and points out proofs of his ignorance of both languages
and of "ignominious and puerile mistakes."

It is hard to understand at the present day the audacity which could
lead a man so ill qualified in point of classical acquirements to
undertake such a task. And yet Pope undoubtedly achieved, in some true
sense, an astonishing success. He succeeded commercially; for Lintot,
after supplying the subscription copies gratuitously, and so losing the
cream of the probable purchasers, made a fortune by the remaining sale.
He succeeded in the judgment both of the critics and of the public of
the next generation. Johnson calls the Homer "the noblest version of
poetry the world has ever seen." Gray declared that no other translation
would ever equal it, and Gibbon that it had every merit except that of
faithfulness to the original. This merit of fidelity, indeed, was
scarcely claimed by any one. Bentley's phrase--"a pretty poem, Mr. Pope,
but you must not call it Homer"--expresses the uniform view taken from
the first by all who could read both. Its fame, however, survived into
the present century. Byron speaks--and speaks, I think, with genuine
feeling--of the rapture with which he first read Pope as a boy, and says
that no one will ever lay him down except for the original. Indeed, the
testimonies of opponents are as significant as those of admirers.
Johnson remarks that the Homer "may be said to have tuned the English
tongue," and that no writer since its appearance has wanted melody.
Coleridge virtually admits the fact, though drawing a different
conclusion, when he says that the translation of Homer has been one of
the main sources of that "pseudo-poetic diction" which he and Wordsworth
were struggling to put out of credit. Cowper, the earliest
representative of the same movement, tried to supplant Pope's Homer by
his own, and his attempt proved at least the position held in general
estimation by his rival. If, in fact, Pope's Homer was a recognized
model for near a century, we may dislike the style, but we must admit
the power implied in a performance which thus became the accepted
standard of style for the best part of a century. How, then, should we
estimate the merits of this remarkable work? I give my own opinion upon
the subject with diffidence, for it has been discussed by eminently
qualified critics. The conditions of a satisfactory translation of Homer
have been amply canvassed, and many experiments have been made by
accomplished poets who have what Pope certainly had not--a close
acquaintance with the original, and a fine appreciation of its
superlative beauties. From the point of view now generally adopted, the
task even of criticism requires this double qualification. Not only can
no man translate Homer, but no man can even criticize a translation of
Homer without being at once a poet and a fine classical scholar. So far
as this is true, I can only apologize for speaking at all, and should be
content to refer my readers to such able guides as Mr. Matthew Arnold
and the late Professor Conington. And yet I think that something remains
to be said which has a bearing upon Pope, however little it may concern

We--if "we" means modern writers of some classical culture--can claim to
appreciate Homer far better than the contemporaries of Pope. But our
appreciation involves a clear recognition of the vast difference
between ourselves and the ancient Greeks. We see the Homeric poems in
their true perspective through the dim vista of shadowy centuries. We
regard them as the growth of a long past stage in the historical
evolution; implying a different social order--a different ideal of
life--an archaic conception of the world and its forces, only to be
reconstructed for the imagination by help of long training and serious
study. The multiplicity of the laws imposed upon the translator is the
consequence of this perception. They amount to saying that a man must
manage to project himself into a distant period, and saturate his mind
with the corresponding modes of life. If the feat is possible at all, it
requires a great and conscious effort, and the attainment of a state of
mind which can only be preserved by constant attention. The translator
has to wear a mask which is always in danger of being rudely shattered.
Such an intellectual feat is likely to produce what, in the most obvious
sense, one would call highly artificial work. Modern classicism must be
fine-spun, and smell rather of the hothouse than the open air.
Undoubtedly some exquisite literary achievements have been accomplished
in this spirit; but they are, after all, calculated for the small circle
of cultivated minds, and many of their merits can be appreciated only by
professors qualified by special training. Most frequently we can hope
for pretty playthings, or, at best, for skilful restorations which show
learning and taste far more distinctly than a glowing imagination. But
even if an original poet can breathe some spirit into classical poems,
the poor translator, with the dread of philologists and antiquarians in
the back-ground, is so fettered that free movement becomes almost
impossible. No one, I should venture to prophesy, will really succeed in
such work unless he frankly accepts the impossibility of reproducing
the original, and aims only at an equivalent for some of its aspects.
The perception of this change will enable us to realize Pope's mode of
approaching the problem. The condemnatory epithet most frequently
applied to him is "artificial;" and yet, as I have just said, a modern
translator is surely more artificial, so far as he is attempting a more
radical transformation of his own thoughts into the forms of a past
epoch. But we can easily see in what sense Pope's work fairly deserves
the name. The poets of an older period frankly adopted the classical
mythology without any apparent sense of incongruity. They mix heathen
deities with Christian saints, and the ancient heroes adopt the manners
of chivalrous romance without the slightest difficulty. The freedom was
still granted to the writers of the renaissance. Milton makes Phoebus
and St. Peter discourse in successive stanzas, as if they belonged to
the same pantheon. For poetical purposes the old gods are simply
canonized as Christian saints, as, in a more theological frame of mind,
they are regarded as devils. In the reign of common sense this was no
longer possible. The incongruity was recognized and condemned. The gods
were vanishing under the clearer light, as modern thought began more
consciously to assert its independence. Yet the unreality of the old
mythology is not felt to be any objection to their use as conventional
symbols. Homer's gods, says Pope in his preface, are still the gods of
poetry. Their vitality was nearly extinct; but they were regarded as
convenient personifications of abstract qualities, machines for epic
poetry, or figures to be used in allegory. In the absence of a true
historical perception, the same view was attributed to Homer. Homer, as
Pope admits, did not invent the gods; but he was the "first who brought
them into a system of machinery for poetry," and showed his fertile
imagination by clothing the properties of the elements, and the virtues
and vices in forms and persons. And thus Pope does not feel that he is
diverging from the spirit of the old mythology when he regards the gods,
not as the spontaneous growth of the primitive imagination, but as
deliberate contrivances intended to convey moral truth in allegorical
fables, and probably devised by sages for the good of the vulgar.

The old gods, then, were made into stiff mechanical figures, as dreary
as Justice with her scales, or Fame blowing a trumpet on a monument.
They belonged to that family of dismal personifications which it was
customary to mark with the help of capital letters. Certainly they are a
dismal and frigid set of beings, though they still lead a shivering
existence on the tops of public monuments, and hold an occasional wreath
over the head of a British grenadier. To identify the Homeric gods with
these wearisome constructions was to have a more serious
disqualification for fully entering into Homer's spirit than even an
imperfect acquaintance with Greek, and Pope is greatly exercised in his
mind by their eating and drinking and fighting, and uncompromising
anthropomorphism. He apologizes for his author, and tries to excuse him
for unwilling compliance with popular prejudices. The Homeric theology
he urges was still substantially sound, and Homer had always a distinct
moral and political purpose. The Iliad, for example, was meant to show
the wickedness of quarrelling, and the evil results of an insatiable
thirst for glory, though shallow persons have thought that Homer only
thought to please.

The artificial diction about which so much has been said is the natural
vehicle of this treatment. The set of phrases and the peculiar mould
into which his sentences were cast, was already the accepted type for
poetry which aimed at dignity. He was following Dryden as his own
performance became the law for the next generation. The style in which a
woman is called a nymph--and women generally are "the fair"--in which
shepherds are conscious swains, and a poet invokes the muses and strikes
a lyre, and breathes on a reed, and a nightingale singing becomes
Philomel "pouring her throat," represents a fashion as worn out as hoops
and wigs. By the time of Wordsworth it was a mere survival--a dead form
remaining after its true function had entirely vanished. The proposal to
return to the language of common life was the natural revolt of one who
desired poetry to be above all things the genuine expression of real
emotion. Yet it is, I think, impossible to maintain that the diction of
poetry should be simply that of common life.

The true principle would rather seem to be that any style becomes bad
when it dies; when it is used merely as a tradition, and not as the best
mode of producing the desired impression; and when, therefore, it
represents a rule imposed from without, and is not an expression of the
spontaneous working of minds in which the corresponding impulse is
thoroughly incarnated. In such a case, no doubt, the diction becomes a
burden, and a man is apt to fancy himself a poet because he is the slave
of the external form instead of using it as the most familiar
instrument. By Wordsworth's time the Pope style was thus effete; what
ought to be the dress of thought had become the rigid armour into which
thought was forcibly compressed, and a revolt was inevitable. We may
agree, too, that his peculiar style was in a sense artificial, even in
the days of Pope. It had come into existence during the reign of the
Restoration wits, under the influence of foreign models, not as the
spontaneous outgrowth of a gradual development, and had therefore
something mechanical and conscious, even when it flourished most
vigorously. It came in with the periwigs, to which it is so often
compared, and, like the artificial headgear, was an attempt to give a
dignified or full-dress appearance to the average prosaic human being.
Having this innate weakness of pomposity and exaggeration, it naturally
expired, and became altogether ridiculous, with the generation to which
it belonged. As the wit or man of the world had at bottom a very
inadequate conception of epic poetry, he became inevitably strained and
contorted when he tried to give himself the airs of a poet.

After making all such deductions, it would still seem that the bare fact
that he was working in a generally accepted style gave Pope a very
definite advantage. He spoke more or less in a falsetto, but he could at
once strike a key intelligible to his audience. An earlier poet would
simply annex Homer's gods and fix them with a mediæval framework. A more
modern poet tries to find some style which will correspond to the
Homeric as closely as possible, and feels that he is making an
experiment beset with all manner of difficulties. Pope needed no more to
bother himself about such matters than about grammatical or philological
refinements. He found a ready-made style which was assumed to be
correct; he had to write in regular rhymed couplets, as neatly rhymed
and tersely expressed as might be; and the diction was equally settled.
He was to keep to Homer for the substance, but he could throw in any
little ornaments to suit the taste of his readers; and if they found out
a want of scrupulous fidelity, he might freely say that he did not aim
at such details. Working, therefore, upon the given data, he could
enjoy a considerable amount of freedom, and throw his whole energy into
the task of forcible expression without feeling himself trammelled at
every step. The result would certainly not be Homer, but it might be a
fine epic poem as epic poetry was understood in the days of Anne and
George I.--a hybrid genus, at the best, something without enough
constitutional vigour to be valuable when really original, but not
without a merit of its own when modelled upon the lines laid down in the
great archetype. When we look at Pope's Iliad upon this understanding,
we cannot fail, I think, to admit that it has merits which makes its
great success intelligible. If we read it as a purely English poem, the
sustained vivacity and emphasis of the style give it a decisive
superiority over its rivals. It has become the fashion to quote Chapman
since the noble sonnet in which Keats, in testifying to the power of the
Elizabethan translator, testifies rather to his own exquisite
perception. Chapman was a poet worthy of our great poetic period, and
Pope himself testifies to the "daring fiery spirit" which animates his
translation, and says that it is not unlike what Homer himself might
have written in his youth--surely not a grudging praise. But though this
is true, I will venture to assert that Chapman also sins, not merely by
his love of quaintness, but by constantly indulging in sheer doggerel.
If his lines do not stagnate, they foam and fret like a mountain brook,
instead of flowing continuously and majestically like a great river. He
surpasses Pope chiefly, as it seems to me, where Pope's conventional
verbiage smothers and conceals some vivid image from nature. Pope, of
course, was a thorough man of forms, and when he has to speak of sea or
sky or mountain generally draws upon the current coin of poetic
phraseology, which has lost all sharpness of impression in its long
circulation. Here, for example, is Pope's version of a simile in the
fourth book:--

     As when the winds, ascending by degrees
     First move the whitening surface of the seas,
     The billows float in order to the shore,
     The waves behind roll on the waves before,
     Till with the growing storm the deeps arise,
     Foam o'er the rocks, and thunder to the skies.

Each phrase is either wrong or escapes from error by vagueness, and one
would swear that Pope had never seen the sea. Chapman says,--

     And as when with the west wind flaws, the sea thrusts up her waves
     One after other, thick and high, upon the groaning shores,
     First in herself loud, but opposed with banks and rocks she roars,
     And all her back in bristles set, spits every way her foam.

This is both clumsy and introduces the quaint and unauthorized image of
a pig, but it is unmistakably vivid. Pope is equally troubled when he
has to deal with Homer's downright vernacular. He sometimes ventures
apologetically to give the original word. He allows Achilles to speak
pretty vigorously to Agamemnon in the first book:--

     O monster! mix'd of insolence and fear,
     Thou dog in forehead, but in heart a deer!

Chapman translates the phrase more fully, but adds a characteristic

             Thou ever steep'd in wine,
     Dog's face, with heart but of a hart.

Tickell manages the imputation of drink, but has to slur over the dog
and the deer:--

     Valiant with wine and furious from the bowl,
     Thou fierce-look'd talker, with a coward soul.

Elsewhere Pope hesitates in the use of such plain speaking. He allows
Teucer to call Hector a dog, but apologizes in a note. "This is literal
from the Greek," he says, "and I have ventured it;" though he quotes
Milton's "dogs of hell" to back himself with a precedent. But he cannot
quite stand Homer's downright comparison of Ajax to an ass, and speaks
of him in gingerly fashion as--

     The slow beast with heavy strength endued.

Pope himself thinks the passage "inimitably just and beautiful;" but on
the whole, he says, "a translator owes so much to the taste of the age
in which he lives as not to make too great a compliment to the former
[age]; and this induced me to omit the mention of the word _ass_ in the
translation." Boileau and Longinus, he tells us, would approve the
omission of mean and vulgar words. "Ass" is the vilest word imaginable
in English or Latin, but of dignity enough in Greek and Hebrew to be
employed "on the most magnificent occasions."

The Homeric phrase is thus often muffled and deadened by Pope's
verbiage. Dignity of a kind is gained at the cost of energy. If such
changes admit of some apology as an attempt to preserve what is
undoubtedly a Homeric characteristic, we must admit that the "dignity"
is often false; it rests upon mere mouthing instead of simplicity and
directness, and suggests that Pope might have approved the famous
emendation "he died in indigent circumstances," for "he died poor." The
same weakness is perhaps more annoying when it leads to sins of
commission. Pope never scruples to amend Homer by little epigrammatic
amplifications, which are characteristic of the contemporary rhetoric. A
single illustration of a fault sufficiently notorious will be
sufficient. When Nestor, in the eleventh book, rouses Diomed at night,
Pope naturally smoothes down the testy remark of the sleepy warrior;
but he tries to improve Nestor's directions. Nestor tells Diomed, in
most direct terms, that the need is great, and that he must go at once
and rouse Ajax. In Pope's translation we have--

     Each single Greek in this conclusive strife
     Stands on the sharpest edge of death or life;
     Yet if my years thy kind regard engage,
     Employ thy youth as I employ my age;
     Succeed to these my cares, and rouse the rest;
     He serves me most, who serves his country best.

The false air of epigram which Pope gives to the fourth line is
characteristic; and the concluding tag, which is quite unauthorized,
reminds us irresistibly of one of the rhymes which an actor always
spouted to the audience by way of winding up an act in the contemporary
drama. Such embroidery is profusely applied by Pope wherever he thinks
that Homer, like Diomed, is slumbering too deeply. And, of course, that
is not the way in which Nestor roused Diomed or Homer keeps his readers

Such faults have been so fully exposed that we need not dwell upon them
further. They come to this, that Pope was really a wit of the days of
Queen Anne, and saw only that aspect of Homer which was visible to his
kind. The poetic mood was not for him a fine frenzy--for good sense must
condemn all frenzy--but a deliberate elevation of the bard by
high-heeled shoes and a full-bottomed wig. Seas and mountains, being
invisible from Button's, could only be described by worn phrases from
the Latin grammar. Even his narrative must be full of epigrams to avoid
the one deadly sin of dulness, and his language must be decorous even at
the price of being sometimes emasculated. But accept these conditions,
and much still remains. After all, a wit was still a human being, and
much more nearly related to us than an ancient Greek. Pope's style, when
he is at his best, has the merit of being thoroughly alive; there are no
dead masses of useless verbiage; every excrescence has been carefully
pruned away; slovenly paraphrases and indistinct slurrings over of the
meaning have disappeared. He corrected carefully and scrupulously, as
his own statement implies, not with a view of transferring as large a
portion as possible of his author's meaning to his own verses, but in
order to make the versification as smooth and the sense as transparent
as possible. We have the pleasure which we receive from really polished
oratory; every point is made to tell; if the emphasis is too often
pointed by some showy antithesis, we are at least never uncertain as to
the meaning; and if the versification is often monotonous, it is
articulate and easily caught at first sight. These are the essential
merits of good declamation, and it is in the true declamatory passages
that Pope is at his best. The speeches of his heroes are often
admirable, full of spirit, well balanced and skilfully arranged pieces
of rhetoric--not a mere inorganic series of observations. Undoubtedly
the warriors are a little too epigrammatic and too consciously didactic;
and we feel almost scandalized when they take to downright blows, as
though Walpole and St. John were interrupting a debate in the House of
Commons by fisticuffs. They would be better in the senate than the
field. But the brilliant rhetoric implies also a sense of dignity which
is not mere artificial mouthing. Pope, as it seems to me, rises to a
level of sustained eloquence when he has to act as interpreter for the
direct expression of broad magnanimous sentiment. Classical critics may
explain by what shades of feeling the aristocratic grandeur of soul of
an English noble differed from the analogous quality in heroic Greece,
and find the difference reflected in the "grand style" of Pope as
compared with that of Homer. But Pope could at least assume with
admirable readiness the lofty air of superiority to personal fears and
patriotic devotion to a great cause, which is common to the type in
every age. His tendency to didactic platitudes is at least out of place
in such cases, and his dread of vulgarity and quaintness, with his
genuine feeling for breadth of effect, frequently enables him to be
really dignified and impressive. It will perhaps be sufficient
illustration of these qualities if I conclude these remarks by giving
his translation of Hector's speech to Polydamas in the twelfth book,
with its famous +eis oiônos aristos amynesthai peri patrês+.

     To him then Hector with disdain return'd;
     (Fierce as he spoke, his eyes with fury burn'd)--
     Are these the faithful counsels of thy tongue?
     Thy will is partial, not thy reason wrong;
     Or if the purpose of thy heart thou sent,
     Sure Heaven resumes the little sense it lent--
     What coward counsels would thy madness move
     Against the word, the will reveal'd of Jove?
     The leading sign, the irrevocable nod
     And happy thunders of the favouring God?
     These shall I slight? And guide my wavering mind
     By wand'ring birds that flit with every wind?
     Ye vagrants of the sky! your wings extend
     Or where the suns arise or where descend;
     To right or left, unheeded take your way,
     While I the dictates of high heaven obey.
     Without a sigh his sword the brave man draws,
     And asks no omen but his country's cause.
     But why should'st thou suspect the war's success?
     None fears it more, as none promotes it less.
     Tho' all our ships amid yon ships expire,
     Trust thy own cowardice to escape the fire.
     Troy and her sons may find a general grave,
     But thou canst live, for thou canst be a slave.
     Yet should the fears that wary mind suggests
     Spread their cold poison through our soldiers' breasts,
     My javelin can revenge so base a part,
     And free the soul that quivers in thy heart.

The six volumes of the Iliad were published during the years 1715-1720,
and were closed by a dedication to Congreve, who, as an eminent man of
letters, not too closely connected with either Whigs or Tories, was the
most appropriate recipient of such a compliment. Pope was enriched by
his success, and no doubt wearied by his labours. But his restless
intellect would never leave him to indulge in prolonged repose, and,
though not avaricious, he was not more averse than other men to
increasing his fortune. He soon undertook two sufficiently laborious
works. The first was an edition of Shakspeare, for which he only
received 217_l._ 10_s._, and which seems to have been regarded as a
failure. It led, like his other publications, to a quarrel to be
hereafter mentioned, but need not detain us at present. It appeared in
1725, when he was already deep in another project. The success of the
Iliad naturally suggested an attempt upon the Odyssey. Pope, however,
was tired of translating, and he arranged for assistance. He took into
alliance a couple of Cambridge men, who were small poets capable of
fairly adopting his versification. One of them was William Broome, a
clergyman who held several livings and married a rich widow.
Unfortunately his independence did not restrain him from writing poetry,
for which want of means would have been the only sufficient excuse. He
was a man of some classical attainments, and had helped Pope in
compiling notes to the Iliad from Eustathius, an author whom Pope would
have been scarcely able to read without such assistance. Elijah Fenton,
his other assistant, was a Cambridge man who had sacrificed his claims
of preferment by becoming a non-juror, and picked up a living partly by
writing and chiefly by acting as tutor to Lord Orrery, and afterwards in
the family of Trumball's widow. Pope, who introduced him to Lady
Trumball, had also introduced him to Craggs, who, when Secretary of
State, felt his want of a decent education, and wished to be polished by
some competent person. He seems to have been a kindly, idle, honourable
man, who died, says Pope, of indolence, and more immediately, it
appears, of the gout. The alliance thus formed was rather a delicate
one, and was embittered by some of Pope's usual trickery. In issuing his
proposals he spoke in ambiguous terms of two friends who were to render
him some undefined assistance, and did not claim to be the translator,
but to have undertaken the translation. The assistants, in fact, did
half the work, Broome translating eight, and Fenton four, out of the
twenty-four books. Pope was unwilling to acknowledge the full amount of
their contributions; he persuaded Broome--a weak, good-natured man--to
set his hand to a postscript to the Odyssey, in which only three books
are given to Broome himself, and only two to Fenton. When Pope was
attacked for passing off other people's verses as his own, he boldly
appealed to this statement to prove that he had only received Broome's
help in three books, and at the same time stated the whole amount which
he had paid for the eight, as though it had been paid for the three.
When Broome, in spite of his subservience, became a little restive under
this treatment, Pope indirectly admitted the truth by claiming only
twelve books in an advertisement to his works, and in a note to the
_Dunciad_, but did not explicitly retract the other statement. Broome
could not effectively rebuke his fellow-sinner. He had, in fact,
conspired with Pope to attract the public by the use of the most popular
name, and could not even claim his own afterwards. He had, indeed,
talked too much, according to Pope; and the poet's morality is oddly
illustrated in a letter, in which he complains of Broome's indiscretion
for letting out the secret; and explains that, as the facts are so far
known, it would now be "unjust and dishonourable" to continue the
concealment. It would be impossible to accept more frankly the theory
that lying is wrong when it is found out. Meanwhile Pope's conduct to
his victims or accomplices was not over-generous. He made over 3500_l._
after paying Broome 500_l._ (including 100_l._ for notes) and Fenton
200_l._, that is, 50_l._ a book. The rate of pay was as high as the work
was worth, and as much as it would fetch in the open market. The large
sum was entirely due to Pope's reputation, though obtained, so far as
the true authorship was concealed, upon something like false pretences.
Still, we could have wished that he had been a little more liberal with
his share of the plunder. A coolness ensued between the principal and
his partners in consequence of these questionable dealings. Fenton seems
never to have been reconciled to Pope, though they did not openly
quarrel and Pope wrote a laudatory epitaph for him on his death in 1730.
Broome--a weaker man--though insulted by Pope in the _Dunciad_ and the
Miscellanies, accepted a reconciliation, for which Pope seems to have
been eager, perhaps feeling some touch of remorse for the injuries which
he had inflicted.

The shares of the three colleagues in the Odyssey are not to be easily
distinguished by internal evidence. On trying the experiment by a
cursory reading I confess (though a critic does not willingly admit his
fallibility) that I took some of Broome's work for Pope's, and, though
closer study or an acuter perception might discriminate more accurately,
I do not think that the distinction would be easy. This may be taken to
confirm the common theory that Pope's versification was a mere
mechanical trick. Without admitting this, it must be admitted that the
external characteristics of his manner were easily caught; and that it
was not hard for a clever versifier to produce something closely
resembling his inferior work, especially when following the same
original. But it may be added that Pope's Odyssey was really inferior to
the Iliad, both because his declamatory style is more out of place in
its romantic narrative, and because he was weary and languid, and glad
to turn his fame to account without more labour than necessary. The
Odyssey, I may say, in conclusion, led to one incidental advantage. It
was criticized by Spence, a mild and cultivated scholar, who was
professor of poetry at Oxford. His observations, according to Johnson,
were candid, though not indicative of a powerful mind. Pope, he adds,
had in Spence, the first experience of a critic "who censured with
respect and praised with alacrity." Pope made Spence's acquaintance,
recommended him to patrons, and was repaid by warm admiration.


[6] See Elwin's Pope, Correspondence, vol. iii. p. 129.



When Pope finished his translation of the Iliad, he was congratulated by
his friend Gay in a pleasant copy of verses marked by the usual
_bonhomie_ of the fat kindly man. Gay supposes himself to be welcoming
his friend on the return from his long expedition.

     Did I not see thee when thou first sett'st sail,
       To seek adventures fair in Homer's land?
     Did I not see thy sinking spirits fail,
       And wish thy bark had never left the strand?
     Even in mid ocean often didst thou quail,
       And oft lift up thy holy eye and hand,
     Praying to virgin dear and saintly choir
     Back to the port to bring thy bark entire.

And now the bark is sailing up the Thames, with bells ringing, bonfires
blazing, and "bones and cleavers" clashing. So splendid a show suggests
Lord Mayor's Day, but in fact it is only the crowd of Pope's friends
come to welcome him on his successful achievement; and a long catalogue
follows, in which each is indicated by some appropriate epithet. The
list includes some doubtful sympathizers, such as Gildon, who comes
"hearing thou hast riches," and even Dennis, who in fact continued to
growl out criticisms against the triumphant poet. Steele, too, and

          Whose skiff (in partnership they say)
     Set forth for Greece but founder'd on the way,

would not applaud very cordially. Addison, their common hero, was beyond
the reach of satire or praise. Parnell, who had contributed a life of
Homer, died in 1718; and Rowe and Garth, sound Whigs, but friends and
often boon companions of the little papist, had followed. Swift was
breathing "Boeotian air" in his deanery, and St. John was "confined to
foreign climates" for very sufficient reasons. Any such roll-call of
friends must show melancholy gaps, and sometimes the gaps are more
significant than the names. Yet Pope could boast of a numerous body of
men, many of them of high distinction, who were ready to give him a warm
welcome. There were, indeed, few eminent persons of the time, either in
the political or literary worlds, with whom this sensitive and restless
little invalid did not come into contact, hostile or friendly, at some
part of his career. His friendships were keen and his hostilities more
than proportionally bitter. We see his fragile figure, glancing rapidly
from one hospitable circle to another, but always standing a little
apart; now paying court to some conspicuous wit, or philosopher, or
statesman, or beauty; now taking deadly offence for some utterly
inexplicable reason; writhing with agony under clumsy blows which a
robuster nature would have met with contemptuous laughter; racking his
wits to contrive exquisite compliments, and suddenly exploding in sheer
Billingsgate; making a mountain of every mole-hill in his pilgrimage;
always preoccupied with his last literary project, and yet finding time
for innumerable intrigues; for carrying out schemes of vengeance for
wounded vanity, and for introducing himself into every quarrel that was
going on around him. In all his multifarious schemes and occupations he
found it convenient to cover himself by elaborate mystifications, and
was as anxious (it would seem) to deceive posterity as to impose upon
contemporaries; and hence it is as difficult clearly to disentangle the
twisted threads of his complex history as to give an intelligible
picture of the result of the investigation. The publication of the
Iliad, however, marks a kind of central point in his history. Pope has
reached independence, and become the acknowledged head of the literary
world; and it will be convenient here to take a brief survey of his
position, before following out two or three different series of events,
which can scarcely be given in chronological order. Pope, when he first
came to town and followed Wycherley about like a dog, had tried to
assume the airs of a rake. The same tone is adopted in many of his
earlier letters. At Binfield he became demure, correct, and respectful
to the religious scruples of his parents. In his visits to London and
Bath he is little better than one of the wicked. In a copy of verses
(not too decent) written in 1715, as a "Farewell to London," he gives us
to understand that he has been hearing the chimes at midnight, and knows
where the bona-robas dwell. He is forced to leave his jovial friends and
his worrying publishers "for Homer (damn him!) calls." He is, so he
assures us,

     Still idle, with a busy air
       Deep whimsies to contrive;
     The gayest valetudinaire,
       Most thinking rake alive.

And he takes a sad leave of London pleasures.

     Luxurious lobster nights, farewell,
       For sober, studious days!
     And Burlington's delicious meal
       For salads, tarts, and pease.

Writing from Bath a little earlier, to Teresa and Martha Blount, he
employs the same jaunty strain. "Every one," he says, "values Mr. Pope,
but every one for a different reason. One for his adherence to the
Catholic faith, another for his neglect of Popish superstition; one for
his good behaviour, another for his whimsicalities; Mr. Titcomb for his
pretty atheistical jests; Mr. Caryll for his moral and Christian
sentences; Mrs. Teresa for his reflections on Mrs. Patty; Mrs. Patty for
his reflections on Mrs. Teresa." He is an "agreeable rattle;" the
accomplished rake, drinking with the wits, though above boozing with the
squire, and capable of alleging his drunkenness as an excuse for writing
very questionable letters to ladies.

Pope was too sickly and too serious to indulge long in such youthful
fopperies. He had no fund of high spirits to draw upon, and his
playfulness was too near deadly earnest for the comedy of common life.
He had too much intellect to be a mere fribble, and had not the strong
animal passions of the thorough debauchee. Age came upon him rapidly,
and he had sown his wild oats, such as they were, while still a young
man. Meanwhile his reputation and his circle of acquaintances were
rapidly spreading, and in spite of all his disqualifications for the
coarser forms of conviviality, he took the keenest possible interest in
the life that went on around him. A satirist may not be a pleasant
companion, but he must frequent society; he must be on the watch for his
natural prey; he must describe the gossip of the day, for it is the raw
material from which he spins his finished fabric. Pope, as his writings
show, was an eager recipient of all current rumours, whether they
affected his aristocratic friends or the humble denizens of Grub Street.
Fully to elucidate his poems, a commentator requires to have at his
finger's ends the whole _chronique scandaleuse_ of the day. With such
tastes, it was natural that, as the subscriptions for his Homer began to
pour in, he should be anxious to move nearer the great social centre.
London itself might be too exciting for his health and too destructive
of literary leisure. Accordingly, in 1716, the little property at
Binfield was sold, and the Pope family moved to Mawson's New Buildings,
on the bank of the river at Chiswick, and "under the wing of my Lord
Burlington." He seems to have been a little ashamed of the residence;
the name of it is certainly neither aristocratic nor poetical. Two years
later, on the death of his father, he moved up the river to the villa at
Twickenham, which has always been associated with his name, and was his
home for the last twenty-five years of his life. There he had the
advantage of being just on the boundary of the great world. He was
within easy reach of Hampton Court, Richmond, and Kew; places which,
during Pope's residence, were frequently glorified by the presence of
George II. and his heir and natural enemy, Frederick, Prince of Wales.
Pope, indeed, did not enjoy the honour of any personal interview with
royalty. George is said to have called him a very honest man after
reading his Dunciad; but Pope's references to his Sovereign were not
complimentary. There was a report, referred to by Swift, that Pope had
purposely avoided a visit from Queen Caroline. He was on very friendly
terms with Mrs. Howard--afterwards Lady Suffolk--the powerless mistress,
who was intimate with two of his chief friends, Bathurst and
Peterborough, and who settled at Marble Villa, in Twickenham. Pope and
Bathurst helped to lay out her grounds, and she stayed there to become a
friendly neighbour of Horace Walpole, who, unluckily for lovers of
gossip, did not become a Twickenhamite until three years after Pope's
death. Pope was naturally more allied with the Prince of Wales, who
occasionally visited him, and became intimate with the band of patriots
and enthusiasts who saw in the heir to the throne the coming "patriot
king." Bolingbroke, too, the great inspirer of the opposition, and
Pope's most revered friend, was for ten years at Dawley, within an easy
drive. London was easily accessible by road and by the river which
bounded his lawn. His waterman appears to have been one of the regular
members of his household. There he had every opportunity for the
indulgence of his favourite tastes. The villa was on one of the
loveliest reaches of the Thames, not yet polluted by the encroachments
of London. The house itself was destroyed in the beginning of this
century; and the garden (if we may trust Horace Walpole) had been
previously spoilt. This garden, says Walpole, was a little bit of ground
of five acres, enclosed by three lanes. "Pope had twisted and twirled
and rhymed and harmonized this, till it appeared two or three sweet
little lawns, opening and opening beyond one another, and the whole
surrounded with impenetrable woods." These, it appears, were hacked and
hewed into mere desolation by the next proprietor. Pope was, indeed, an
ardent lover of the rising art of landscape gardening; he was familiar
with Bridgeman and Kent, the great authorities of the time, and his
example and precepts helped to promote the development of a less formal
style. His theories are partly indicated in the description of Timon's

     His gardens next your admiration call
     On every side you look, behold the wall!
     No pleasing intricacies intervene,
     No artful wildness to perplex the scene;
     Grove nods at grove, each alley has a brother,
     And half the platform just reflects the other.

Pope's taste, indeed, tolerated various old-fashioned excrescences which
we profess to despise. He admired mock classical temples and obelisks
erected judiciously at the ends of vistas. His most famous piece of
handiwork, the grotto at Twickenham, still remains, and is in fact a
short tunnel under the high road to connect his grounds with the lawn
which slopes to the river. He describes in a letter to one of his
friends, his "temple wholly comprised of shells in the rustic manner,"
and his famous grotto so provided with mirrors that when the doors are
shut it becomes a camera obscura, reflecting hills, river, and boats,
and when lighted up glitters with rays reflected from bits of
looking-glass in angular form. His friends pleased him by sending pieces
of spar from the mines of Cornwall and Derbyshire, petrifactions,
marble, coral, crystals, and humming-birds' nests. It was in fact a
gorgeous example of the kind of architecture with which the cit
delighted to adorn his country box. The hobby, whether in good taste or
not, gave Pope never-ceasing amusement; and he wrote some characteristic
verses in its praise.

In his grotto, as he declares in another place, he could sit in peace
with his friends, undisturbed by the distant din of the world.

     There my retreat the best companions grace,
     Chiefs out of war, and statesmen out of place;
     There St. John mingles with my friendly bowl
     The feast of reason and the flow of soul;
     And he whose lightning pierced the Iberian lines
     Now forms my quincunx and now ranks my vines,
     Or tames the genius of the stubborn plain
     Almost as quickly as he conquer'd Spain.

The grotto, one would fear, was better fitted for frogs than for
philosophers capable of rheumatic twinges. But deducting what we please
from such utterances on the score of affectation, the picture of Pope
amusing himself with his grotto and his plantations, directing old John
Searle, his gardener, and conversing with the friends whom he
compliments so gracefully, is, perhaps, the pleasantest in his history.
He was far too restless and too keenly interested in society and
literature to resign himself permanently to any such retreat.

Pope's constitutional irritability kept him constantly on the wing.
Though little interested in politics, he liked to be on the edge of any
political commotion. He appeared in London on the death of Queen
Caroline, in 1737; and Bathurst remarked that "he was as sure to be
there in a bustle as a porpoise in a storm." "Our friend Pope," said
Jervas not long before, "is off and on, here and there, everywhere and
nowhere, _à son ordinaire_, and, therefore as well as we can hope for a
carcase so crazy." The Twickenham villa, though nominally dedicated to
repose, became of course a centre of attraction for the interviewers of
the day. The opening lines of the Prologue to the Satires give a
vivacious description of the crowds of authors who rushed to "Twitnam,"
to obtain his patronage or countenance, in a day when editors were not
the natural scapegoats of such aspirants.

     What walls can guard me, or what shades can hide?
     They pierce my thickets, through my grot they glide;
     By land, by water, they renew the charge;
     They stop the chariot and they board the barge:
     No place is sacred, not the church is free,
     E'en Sunday shines no Sabbath-day to me.

And even at an earlier period he occasionally retreated from the bustle
to find time for his Homer. Lord Harcourt, the Chancellor in the last
years of Queen Anne, allowed him to take up his residence in his old
house of Stanton Harcourt, in Oxfordshire. He inscribed on a pane of
glass in an upper room, "In the year 1718 Alexander Pope finished here
the fifth volume of Homer." In his earlier days he was often rambling
about on horseback. A letter from Jervas gives the plan of one such
jaunt (in 1715) with Arbuthnot and Disney for companions. Arbuthnot is
to be commander-in-chief, and allows only a shirt and a cravat to be
carried in each traveller's pocket. They are to make a moderate journey
each day, and stay at the houses of various friends, ending ultimately
at Bath. Another letter of about the same date describes a ride to
Oxford, in which Pope is overtaken by his publisher, Lintot, who lets
him into various secrets of the trade, and proposes that Pope should
turn an ode of Horace whilst sitting under the trees to rest. "Lord, if
you pleased, what a clever miscellany might you make at leisure hours!"
exclaims the man of business; and though Pope laughed at the advice, we
might fancy that he took it to heart. He always had bits of verse on the
anvil, ready to be hammered and polished at any moment. But even Pope
could not be always writing, and the mere mention of these rambles
suggests pleasant lounging through old-world country lanes of the quiet
century. We think of the road-side life seen by Parson Adams or Humphry
Clinker, and of which Mr. Borrow caught the last glimpse when dwelling
in the tents of the Romany. In later days Pope had to put his "crazy
carcase" into a carriage, and occasionally came in for less pleasant
experiences. Whilst driving home one night from Dawley, in
Bolingbroke's carriage and six, he was upset in a stream. He escaped
drowning, though the water was "up to the knots of his periwig," but he
was so cut by the broken glass that he nearly lost the use of his right
hand. On another occasion Spence was delighted by the sudden appearance
of the poet at Oxford, "dreadfully fatigued;" he had good-naturedly lent
his own chariot to a lady who had been hurt in an upset, and had walked
three miles to Oxford on a sultry day.

A man of such brilliant wit, familiar with so many social circles,
should have been a charming companion. It must, however, be admitted
that the accounts which have come down to us do not confirm such
preconceived impressions. Like his great rival, Addison, though for
other reasons, he was generally disappointing in society. Pope, as may
be guessed from Spence's reports, had a large fund of interesting
literary talk, such as youthful aspirants to fame would be delighted to
receive with reverence; he had the reputation for telling anecdotes
skilfully, and we may suppose that when he felt at ease, with a
respectful and safe companion, he could do himself justice. But he must
have been very trying to his hosts. He could seldom lay aside his
self-consciousness sufficiently to write an easy letter; and the same
fault probably spoilt his conversation. Swift complains of him as a
silent and inattentive companion. He went to sleep at his own table,
says Johnson, when the Prince of Wales was talking poetry to
him--certainly a severe trial. He would, we may guess, be silent till he
had something to say worthy of the great Pope, and would then doubt
whether it was not wise to treasure it up for preservation in a couplet.
His sister declared that she had never seen him laugh heartily; and
Spence, who records the saying, is surprised, because Pope was said to
have been very lively in his youth; but admits that in later years he
never went beyond a "particular easy smile." A hearty laugh would have
sounded strangely from the touchy, moody, intriguing little man, who
could "hardly drink tea without a stratagem." His sensitiveness, indeed,
appearing by his often weeping when he read moving passages; but we can
hardly imagine him as ever capable of genial self-abandonment.

His unsocial habits, indeed, were a natural consequence of ill-health.
He never seems to have been thoroughly well for many days together. He
implied no more than the truth when he speaks of his Muse as helping him
through that "long disease, his life." Writing to Bathurst in 1728, he
says that he does not expect to enjoy any health for four days together;
and, not long after, Bathurst remonstrates with him for his
carelessness, asking him whether it is not enough to have the headache
for four days in the week and be sick for the other three. It is no
small proof of intellectual energy that he managed to do so much
thorough work under such disadvantages, and his letters show less of the
invalid's querulous spirit than we might well have pardoned. Johnson
gives a painful account of his physical defects, on the authority of an
old servant of Lord Oxford, who frequently saw him in his later years.
He was so weak as to be unable to rise to dress himself without help. He
was so sensitive to cold that he had to wear a kind of fur doublet under
a coarse linen shirt; one of his sides was contracted, and he could
scarcely stand upright till he was laced into a boddice made of stiff
canvas; his legs were so slender that he had to wear three pairs of
stockings, which he was unable to draw on and off without help. His
seat had to be raised to bring him to a level with common tables. In one
of his papers in the _Guardian_ he describes himself apparently as Dick
Distich: "a lively little creature, with long legs and arms; a spider[7]
is no ill emblem of him; he has been taken at a distance for a small
windmill." His face, says Johnson, was "not displeasing," and the
portraits are eminently characteristic. The thin, drawn features wear
the expression of habitual pain, but are brightened up by the vivid and
penetrating eye, which seems to be the characteristic poetical beauty.

It was after all a gallant spirit which got so much work out of this
crazy carcase, and kept it going, spite of all its feebleness, for
fifty-six years. The servant whom Johnson quotes, said that she was
called from her bed four times in one night, "in the dreadful winter of
Forty," to supply him with paper, lest he should lose a thought. His
constitution was already breaking down, but the intellect was still
striving to save every moment allowed to him. His friends laughed at his
habit of scribbling upon odd bits of paper. "Paper-sparing" Pope is the
epithet bestowed upon him by Swift, and a great part of the Iliad is
written upon the backs of letters. The habit seems to have been regarded
as illustrative of his economical habits; but it was also natural to a
man who was on the watch to turn every fragment of time to account. If
anything was to be finished, he must snatch at the brief intervals
allowed by his many infirmities. Naturally, he fell into many of the
self-indulgent and troublesome ways of the valetudinarian. He was
constantly wanting coffee, which seems to have soothed his headaches;
and for this and his other wants he used to wear out the servants in
his friends' houses, by "frequent and frivolous errands." Yet he was
apparently a kind master. His servants lived with him till they became
friends, and he took care to pay so well the unfortunate servant whose
sleep was broken by his calls, that she said that she would want no
wages in a family where she had to wait upon Mr. Pope. Another form of
self-indulgence was more injurious to himself. He pampered his appetite
with highly seasoned dishes, and liked to receive delicacies from his
friends. His death was imputed by some of his friends, says Johnson, to
"a silver saucepan in which it was his delight to eat potted lampreys."
He would always get up for dinner, in spite of headache, when told that
this delicacy was provided. Yet, as Johnson also observes, the excesses
cannot have been very great, as they did not sooner cut short so fragile
an existence. "Two bites and a sup more than your stint," says Swift,
"will cost you more than others pay for a regular debauch."

At home, indeed, he appears to have been generally abstemious. Probably
the habits of his parents' little household were very simple; and Pope,
like Swift, knew the value of independence well enough to be
systematically economical. Swift, indeed, had a more generous heart, and
a lordly indifference to making money by his writings, which Pope, who
owed his fortune chiefly to his Homer, did not attempt to rival. Swift
alludes in his letters to an anecdote, which we may hope does not
represent his habitual practice. Pope, it appears, was entertaining a
couple of friends, and when four glasses had been consumed from a pint,
retired, saying, "Gentlemen I leave you to your wine." I tell that story
to everybody, says Swift, "in commendation of Mr. Pope's
abstemiousness;" but he tells it, one may guess, with something of a
rueful countenance. At times, however, it seems that Pope could give a
"splendid dinner," and show no want of the "skill and elegance which
such performances require." Pope, in fact, seems to have shown a
combination of qualities which is not uncommon, though sometimes called
inconsistent. He valued money, as a man values it who has been poor and
feels it essential to his comfort to be fairly beyond the reach of want,
and was accordingly pretty sharp at making a bargain with a publisher or
in arranging terms with a collaborator. But he could also be liberal on
occasion. Johnson says that his whole income amounted to about 800_l._ a
year, out of which he professed himself able to assign 100_l._ to
charity; and though the figures are doubtful, and all Pope's statements
about his own proceedings liable to suspicion, he appears to have been
often generous in helping the distressed with money, as well as with
advice or recommendations to his powerful friends. Pope, by his
infirmities and his talents, belonged to the dependent class of mankind.
He was in no sense capable of standing firmly upon his own legs. He had
a longing, sometimes pathetic and sometimes humiliating, for the
applause of his fellows and the sympathy of friends. With feelings so
morbidly sensitive, and with such a lamentable incapacity for
straightforward openness in any relation of life, he was naturally a
dangerous companion. He might be brooding over some fancied injury or
neglect, and meditating revenge, when he appeared to be on good terms;
when really desiring to do a service to a friend, he might adopt some
tortuous means for obtaining his ends, which would convert the service
into an injury; and, if he had once become alienated, the past
friendship would be remembered by him as involving a kind of
humiliation, and therefore supplying additional keenness to his
resentment. And yet it is plain that throughout life he was always
anxious to lean upon some stronger nature; to have a sturdy supporter
whom he was too apt to turn into an accomplice; or at least to have some
good-natured, easy-going companion, in whose society he might find
repose for his tortured nerves. And therefore, though the story of his
friendships is unfortunately intertwined with the story of bitter
quarrels and indefensible acts of treachery, it also reveals a touching
desire for the kind of consolation which would be most valuable to one
so accessible to the pettiest stings of his enemies. He had many warm
friends, moreover, who, by good fortune or the exercise of unusual
prudence, never excited his wrath, and whom he repaid by genuine
affection. Some of these friendships have become famous, and will be
best noticed in connexion with passages in his future career. It will be
sufficient if I here notice a few names, in order to show that a
complete picture of Pope's life, if it could now be produced, would
include many figures of which we only catch occasional glimpses.

Pope, as I have said, though most closely connected with the Tories and
Jacobites, disclaimed any close party connexion, and had some relations
with the Whigs. Some courtesies even passed between him and the great
Sir Robert Walpole, whose interest in literature was a vanishing
quantity, and whose bitterest enemies were Pope's greatest friends.
Walpole, however, as we have seen, asked for preferment for Pope's old
friend, and Pope repaid him with more than one compliment. Thus, in the
Epilogue to the Satires, he says,--

     Seen him I have, but in his happier hour
     Of social pleasure, ill exchanged for power.
     Seen him, encumber'd with the venal tribe,
     Smile without art and win without a bribe.

Another Whig statesman for whom Pope seems to have entertained an
especially warm regard was James Craggs, Addison's successor as
Secretary of State, who died whilst under suspicion of peculation in the
South Sea business (1721). The Whig connexion might have been turned to
account. Craggs during his brief tenure of office offered Pope a pension
of 300_l._ a year (from the secret service money), which Pope declined,
whilst saying that, if in want of money, he would apply to Craggs as a
friend. A negotiation of the same kind took place with Halifax, who
aimed at the glory of being the great literary patron. It seems that he
was anxious to have the Homer dedicated to him, and Pope, being
unwilling to gratify him, or, as Johnson says, being less eager for
money than Halifax for praise, sent a cool answer, and the negotiation
passed off. Pope afterwards revenged himself for this offence by his
bitter satire on _Bufo_ in the Prologue to his Satires, though he had
not the courage to admit its obvious application.

Pope deserves the credit of preserving his independence. He would not
stoop low enough to take a pension at the price virtually demanded by
the party in power. He was not, however, inaccessible to aristocratic
blandishments, and was proud to be the valued and petted guest in many
great houses. Through Swift he had become acquainted with Oxford, the
colleague of Bolingbroke, and was a frequent and intimate guest of the
second Earl, from whose servant Johnson derived the curious information
as to his habits. Harcourt, Oxford's Chancellor, lent him a house
whilst translating Homer. Sheffield, the Duke of Buckingham, had been an
early patron, and after the duke's death, Pope, at the request of his
eccentric duchess, the illegitimate daughter of James II., edited some
of his works and got into trouble for some Jacobite phrases contained in
them. His most familiar friend among the opposition magnates was Lord
Bathurst, a man of uncommon vivacity and good-humour. He was born four
years before Pope, and died more than thirty years later at the age of
ninety-one. One of the finest passages in Burke's American speeches
turns upon the vast changes which had taken place during Bathurst's
lifetime. He lived to see his son Chancellor. Two years before his death
the son left the father's dinner-table with some remark upon the
advantage of regular habits. "Now the old gentleman's gone," said the
lively youth of eighty-nine to the remaining guests, "let's crack the
other bottle." Bathurst delighted in planting, and Pope in giving him
advice, and in discussing the opening of vistas and erection of temples,
and the poet was apt to be vexed when his advice was not taken.

Another friend, even more restless and comet-like in his appearances,
was the famous Peterborough, the man who had seen more kings and
postilions than any one in Europe; of whom Walsh injudiciously remarked
that he had too much wit to be entrusted with the command of an army;
and whose victories soon after the unlucky remark had been made, were so
brilliant as to resemble strategical epigrams. Pope seems to have been
dazzled by the amazing vivacity of the man, and has left a curious
description of his last days. Pope found him on the eve of the voyage in
which he died, sick of an agonizing disease, crying out for pain at
night, fainting away twice in the morning, lying like a dead man for a
time, and in the intervals of pain giving a dinner to ten people,
laughing, talking, declaiming against the corruption of the times,
giving directions to his workmen, and insisting upon going to sea in a
yacht without preparations for landing anywhere in particular. Pope
seems to have been specially attracted by such men, with intellects as
restless as his own, but with infinitely more vitality to stand the
consequent wear and tear.

We should be better pleased if we could restore a vivid image of the
inner circle upon which his happiness most intimately depended. In one
relation of life Pope's conduct was not only blameless, but thoroughly
loveable. He was, it is plain, the best of sons. Even here, it is true,
he is a little too consciously virtuous. Yet when he speaks of his
father and mother there are tears in his voice, and it is impossible not
to recognize genuine warmth of heart.

     Me let the tender office long engage
     To rock the cradle of reposing age,
     With lenient arts extend a mother's breath,
     Make languor smile, and soothe the bed of death,
     Explore the thought, explain the asking eye,
     And keep awhile one parent from the sky![8]

Such verses are a spring in the desert, a gush of the true feeling,
which contrasts with the strained and factitious sentiment in his
earlier rhetoric, and almost forces us to love the writer. Could Pope
have preserved that higher mood, he would have held our affections as he
often delights our intellect.

Unluckily we can catch but few glimpses of Pope's family life; of the
old mother and father and the affectionate nurse, who lived with him
till 1721, and died during a dangerous illness of his mother's. The
father, of whom we hear little after his early criticism of the son's
bad "rhymes," died in 1717, and a brief note to Martha Blount gives
Pope's feeling as fully as many pages: "My poor father died last night.
Believe, since I don't forget you this moment, I never shall." The
mother survived till 1733, tenderly watched by Pope, who would never be
long absent from her, and whose references to her are uniformly tender
and beautiful. One or two of her letters are preserved. "My Deare,--A
letter from your sister just now is come and gone, Mr. Mennock and
Charls Rackitt, to take his leve of us; but being nothing in it, doe not
send it.... Your sister is very well, but your brother is not. There's
Mr. Blunt of Maypell Durom is dead, the same day that Mr. Inglefield
died. My servis to Mrs. Blounts, and all that ask of me. I hope to here
from you, and that you are well, which is my dalye prayers; this with my
blessing." The old lady had peculiar views of orthography, and Pope, it
is said, gave her the pleasure of copying out some of his Homer, though
the necessary corrections gave him and the printers more trouble than
would be saved by such an amanuensis. Three days after her death he
wrote to Richardson, the painter. "I thank God," he says, "her death was
as easy as her life was innocent; and as it cost her not a groan, nor
even a sigh, there is yet upon her countenance such an expression of
tranquillity, nay, almost of pleasure, that it is even enviable to
behold it. It would afford the finest image of a saint expired that ever
painter drew, and it would be the greatest obligation which ever that
obliging art could ever bestow upon a friend, if you would come and
sketch it for me. I am sure if there be no very prevalent obstacle, you
will leave any common business to do this, and I shall hope to see you
this evening as late as you will, or to-morrow morning as early, before
this winter flower is faded." Swift's comment, on hearing the news,
gives the only consolation which Pope could have felt. "She died in
extreme old age," he writes, "without pain, under the care of the most
dutiful son I have ever known or heard of, which is a felicity not
happening to one in a million." And with her death, its most touching
and ennobling influence faded from Pope's life. There is no particular
merit in loving a mother, but few biographies give a more striking proof
that the loving discharge of a common duty may give a charm to a whole
character. It is melancholy to add that we often have to appeal to this
part of his story, to assure ourselves that Pope was really deserving of
some affection.

The part of Pope's history which naturally follows brings us again to
the region of unsolved mysteries. The one prescription which a spiritual
physician would have suggested in Pope's case would have been the love
of a good and sensible woman. A nature so capable of tender feeling and
so essentially dependent upon others, might have been at once soothed
and supported by a happy domestic life; though it must be admitted that
it would have required no common qualifications in a wife to calm so
irritable and jealous a spirit. Pope was unfortunate in his
surroundings. The bachelor society of that day, not only the society of
the Wycherleys and Cromwells, but the more virtuous society of Addison
and his friends, was certainly not remarkable for any exalted tone about
women. Bolingbroke, Peterborough, and Bathurst, Pope's most admired
friends, were all more or less flagrantly licentious; and Swift's
mysterious story shows that if he could love a woman, his love might be
as dangerous as hatred. In such a school, Pope, eminently malleable to
the opinions of his companions, was not likely to acquire a high
standard of sentiment. His personal defects were equally against him.
His frame was not adapted for the robust gallantry of the time. He
wanted a nurse rather than a wife; and if his infirmities might excite
pity, pity is akin to contempt as well as to love. The poor little
invalid, brutally abused for his deformity by such men as Dennis and his
friends, was stung beyond all self-control by their coarse laughter, and
by the consciousness that it only echoed, in a more brutal shape, the
judgment of the fine ladies of the time. His language about women,
sometimes expressing coarse contempt and sometimes rising to ferocity,
is the reaction of his morbid sensibility under such real and imagined

Such feelings must be remembered in speaking briefly of two love
affairs, if they are such, which profoundly affected his happiness. Lady
Mary Wortley Montagu is amongst the most conspicuous figures of the
time. She had been made a toast at the Kitcat Club at the age of eight,
and she translated Epictetus (from the Latin) before she was twenty. She
wrote verses, some of them amazingly coarse, though decidedly clever,
and had married Mr. Edward Wortley Montagu in defiance of her father's
will, though even in this, her most romantic proceeding, there are
curious indications of a respect for prudential considerations. Her
husband was a friend of Addison's, and a Whig; and she accompanied him
on an embassy to Constantinople in 1716-17, where she wrote the
excellent letters published after her death, and whence she imported the
practice of inoculation in spite of much opposition. A distinguished
leader of society, she was also a woman of shrewd intellect and
masculine character. In 1739 she left her husband, though no quarrel
preceded or followed the separation, and settled for many years in
Italy. Her letters are characteristic of the keen woman of the world,
with an underlying vein of nobler feeling, perverted by harsh experience
into a prevailing cynicism. Pope had made her acquaintance before she
left England. He wrote poems to her and corrected her verses till she
cruelly refused his services, on the painfully plausible ground that he
would claim all the good for himself and leave all the bad for her. They
corresponded during her first absence abroad. The common sense is all on
the lady's side, whilst Pope puts on his most elaborate manners and
addresses her in the strained compliments of old-fashioned gallantry. He
acts the lover, though it is obviously mere acting, and his language is
stained by indelicacies, which could scarcely offend Lady Mary, if we
may judge her by her own poetical attempts. The most characteristic of
Pope's letters related to an incident at Stanton Harcourt. Two rustic
lovers were surprised by a thunderstorm in a field near the house; they
were struck by lightning, and found lying dead in each other's arms.
Here was an admirable chance for Pope, who was staying in the house with
his friend Gay. He wrote off a beautiful letter to Lady Mary,[9]
descriptive of the event--a true prose pastoral in the Strephon and
Chloe style. He got Lord Harcourt to erect a monument over the common
grave of the lovers, and composed a couple of epitaphs, which he
submitted to Lady Mary's opinion. She replied by a cruel dose of common
sense, and a doggrel epitaph, which turned his fine phrases into
merciless ridicule. If the lovers had been spared, she suggests, the
first year might probably have seen a beaten wife and a deceived
husband, cursing their marriage chain.

     Now they are happy in their doom,
     For Pope has writ upon their tomb.

On Lady Mary's return the intimacy was continued. She took a house at
Twickenham. He got Kneller to paint her portrait, and wrote letters
expressive of humble adoration. But the tone which did well enough when
the pair were separated by the whole breadth of Europe, was less
suitable when they were in the same parish. After a time the intimacy
faded and changed into mutual antipathy. The specific cause of the
quarrel, if cause there was, has not been clearly revealed. One account,
said to come from Lady Mary, is at least not intrinsically[10]
improbable. According to this story, the unfortunate poet forgot for a
moment that he was a contemptible cripple, and forgot also the existence
of Mr. Edward Wortley Montagu, and a passionate declaration of love drew
from the lady an "immoderate fit of laughter." Ever afterwards, it is
added, he was her implacable enemy. Doubtless, if the story be true,
Lady Mary acted like a sensible woman of the world, and Pope was silly
as well as immoral. And yet one cannot refuse some pity to the
unfortunate wretch, thus roughly jerked back into the consciousness
that a fine lady might make a pretty plaything of him, but could not
seriously regard him with anything but scorn. Whatever the precise
facts, a breach of some sort might have been anticipated. A game of
gallantry in which the natural parts are inverted, and the gentleman
acts the sentimentalist to the lady's performance of the shrewd cynic,
is likely to have awkward results. Pope brooded over his resentment, and
years afterwards took a revenge only too characteristic. The first of
his Imitations of Horace appeared in 1733. It contained a couplet, too
gross for quotation, making the most outrageous imputation upon the
character of "Sappho." Now, the accusation itself had no relation
whatever either to facts or even (as I suppose) to any existing scandal.
It was simply throwing filth at random. Thus, when Lady Mary took it to
herself, and applied to Pope through Peterborough for an explanation,
Pope could make a defence verbally impregnable. There was no reason why
Lady Mary should fancy that such a cap fitted; and it was far more
appropriate, as he added, to other women notorious for immorality as
well as authorship. In fact, however, there can be no doubt that Pope
intended his abuse to reach its mark. Sappho was an obvious name for the
most famous of poetic ladies. Pope himself, in one of his last letters
to her, says that fragments of her writing would please him like
fragments of Sappho's; and their mediator, Peterborough, writes of her
under the same name in some complimentary and once well-known verses to
Mrs. Howard. Pope had himself alluded to her as Sappho in some verses
addressed (about 1722) to another lady, Judith Cowper, afterwards Mrs.
Madan, who was for a time the object of some of his artificial
gallantry. The only thing that can be said is that his abuse was a
sheer piece of Billingsgate, too devoid of plausibility to be more than
an expression of virulent hatred. He was like a dirty boy who throws mud
from an ambush, and declares that he did not see the victim

A bitter and humiliating quarrel followed. Lord Hervey, who had been
described as "Lord Fanny," in the same satire, joined with his friend,
Lady Mary, in writing lampoons upon Pope. The best known was a copy of
verses, chiefly, if not exclusively by Lady Mary, in which Pope is
brutally taunted with the personal deformities of his "wretched little
carcass," which, it seems, are the only cause of his being "unwhipt,
unblanketed, unkicked." One verse seems to have stung him more deeply,
which says that his "crabbed numbers" are

     Hard as his heart and as his birth obscure.

To this and other assaults Pope replied by a long letter, suppressed,
however, for the time, which, as Johnson says, exhibits to later readers
"nothing but tedious malignity," and is, in fact, a careful raking
together of everything likely to give pain to his victim. It was not
published till 1751, when both Pope and Hervey were dead. In his later
writings he made references to Sappho, which fixed the name upon her,
and amongst other pleasant insinuations, speaks of a weakness which she
shared with Dr. Johnson,--an inadequate appreciation of clean linen.
More malignant accusations are implied both in his acknowledged and
anonymous writings. The most ferocious of all his assaults, however, is
the character of Sporus, that is Lord Hervey, in the epistle to
Arbuthnot, where he seems to be actually screaming with malignant fury.
He returns the taunts as to effeminacy, and calls his adversary a "mere
white curd of asses' milk,"--an innocent drink, which he was himself in
the habit of consuming.

We turn gladly from these miserable hostilities, disgraceful to all
concerned. Were any excuse available for Pope, it would be in the
brutality of taunts, coming not only from rough dwellers in Grub Street,
but from the most polished representatives of the highest classes, upon
personal defects, which the most ungenerous assailant might surely have
spared. But it must also be granted that Pope was neither the last to
give provocation, nor at all inclined to refrain from the use of
poisoned weapons.

The other connexion of which I have spoken has also its mystery,--like
everything else in Pope's career. Pope had been early acquainted with
Teresa and Martha Blount. Teresa was born in the same year as Pope, and
Martha two years later.[12] They were daughters of Lister Blount, of
Mapledurham, and after his death, in 1710, and the marriage of their
only brother, in 1711, they lived with their mother in London, and
passed much of the summer near Twickenham. They seem to have been lively
young women, who had been educated at Paris. Teresa was the most
religious, and the greatest lover of London society. I have already
quoted a passage or two from the early letters addressed to the two
sisters. It has also to be said that he was guilty of writing to them
stuff which it is inconceivable that any decent man should have
communicated to a modest woman. They do not seem to have taken offence.
He professes himself the slave of both alternately or together. "Even
from my infancy," he says (in 1714) "I have been in love with one or
other of you week by week, and my journey to Bath fell out in the 376th
week of the reign of my sovereign lady Sylvia. At the present writing
hereof, it is the 389th week of the reign of your most serene majesty,
in whose service I was listed some weeks before I beheld your sister."
He had suggested to Lady Mary that the concluding lines of Eloisa
contained a delicate compliment to her; and he characteristically made a
similar insinuation to Martha Blount about the same passage. Pope was
decidedly an economist even of his compliments. Some later letters are
in less artificial language, and there is a really touching and natural
letter to Teresa in regard to an illness of her sister's. After a time,
we find that some difficulty has arisen. He feels that his presence
gives pain; when he comes he either makes her (apparently Teresa)
uneasy, or he sees her unkind. Teresa, it would seem, is jealous and
disapproves of his attentions to Martha. In the midst of this we find
that in 1717 Pope settled an annuity upon Teresa of 40_l._ a year for
six years, on condition of her not being married during that time. The
fact has suggested various speculations, but was, perhaps, only a part
of some family arrangement, made convenient by the diminished fortunes
of the ladies. Whatever the history, Pope gradually became attached to
Martha, and simultaneously came to regard Teresa with antipathy. Martha,
in fact, became by degrees almost a member of his household. His
correspondents take for granted that she is his regular companion. He
writes of her to Gay, in 1730, as "a friend--a woman friend, God help
me!--with whom I have spent three or four hours a day these fifteen
years." In his last years, when he was most dependent upon kindness, he
seems to have expected that she should be invited to any house which he
was himself to visit. Such a close connexion naturally caused some
scandal. In 1725, he defends himself against "villanous lying tales" of
this kind to his old friend Caryll, with whom the Blounts were
connected. At the same time he is making bitter complaints of Teresa. He
accused her afterwards (1729) of having an intrigue with a married man,
of "striking, pinching, and abusing her mother to the utmost
shamefulness." The mother, he thinks, is too meek to resent this
tyranny, and Martha, as it appears, refuses to believe the reports
against her sister. Pope audaciously suggests that it would be a good
thing if the mother could be induced to retire to a convent, and is
anxious to persuade Martha to leave so painful a home. The same
complaints reappear in many letters, but the position remained
unaltered. It is impossible to say with any certainty what may have been
the real facts. Pope's mania for suspicion deprives his suggestions of
the slightest value. The only inference to be drawn is, that he drew
closer to Martha Blount as years went by; and was anxious that she
should become independent of her family. This naturally led to mutual
dislike and suspicion, but nobody can now say whether Teresa pinched
her mother, nor what would have been her account of Martha's relations
to Pope.

Johnson repeats a story that Martha neglected Pope "with shameful
unkindness," in his later years. It is clearly exaggerated or quite
unfounded. At any rate, the poor sickly man, in his premature and
childless old age, looked up to her with fond affection, and left to her
nearly the whole of his fortune. His biographers have indulged in
discussions--surely superfluous--as to the morality of the connexion.
There is no question of seduction, or of tampering with the affections
of an innocent woman. Pope was but too clearly disqualified from acting
the part of Lothario. There was not in his case any Vanessa to give a
tragic turn to the connexion, which, otherwise, resembled Swift's
connexion with Stella. Miss Blount, from all that appears, was quite
capable of taking care of herself, and had she wished for marriage, need
only have intimated her commands to her lover. It is probable enough
that the relations between them led to very unpleasant scenes in her
family; but she did not suffer otherwise in accepting Pope's attentions.
The probability seems to be that the friendship had become imperceptibly
closer, and that what began as an idle affectation of gallantry was
slowly changed into a devoted attachment, but not until Pope's health
was so broken that marriage would then, if not always, have appeared to
be a mockery.

Poets have a bad reputation as husbands. Strong passions and keen
sensibilities may easily disqualify a man for domestic tranquillity, and
prompt a revolt against rules essential to social welfare. Pope, like
other poets from Shakspeare to Shelley, was unfortunate in his love
affairs; but his ill-fortune took a characteristic shape. He was not
carried away, like Byron and Burns, by overpowering passions. Rather
the emotional power which lay in his nature was prevented from
displaying itself by his physical infirmities, and his strange
trickiness and morbid irritability. A man who could not make tea without
a stratagem, could hardly be a downright lover. We may imagine that he
would at once make advances and retract them; that he would be
intolerably touchy and suspicious; that every coolness would be
interpreted as a deliberate insult, and that the slightest hint would be
enough to set his jealousy in a flame. A woman would feel that, whatever
his genius and his genuine kindliness, one thing was impossible with
him--that is, a real confidence in his sincerity; and, therefore, on the
whole, it may, perhaps, be reckoned as a piece of good fortune for the
most wayward and excitable of sane mankind, that if he never fully
gained the most essential condition of all human happiness, he yet
formed a deep and lasting attachment to a woman who, more or less,
returned his feeling. In a life so full of bitterness, so harassed by
physical pain, one is glad to think, even whilst admitting that the
suffering was in great part foolish self-torture, and in part inflicted
as a retribution for injuries to others, that some glow of feminine
kindliness might enlighten the dreary stages of his progress through
life. The years left to him after the death of his mother were few and
evil, and it would be hard to grudge him such consolation as he could
receive from the glances of Patty Blount's blue eyes--the eyes which, on
Walpole's testimony, were the last remains of her beauty.


[7] The same comparison is made by Cibber in a rather unsavoury passage.

[8] It is curious to compare these verses with the original copy
contained in a letter to Aaron Hill. The comparison shows how skilfully
Pope polished his most successful passages.

[9] Pope, after his quarrel, wanted to sink his previous intimacy with
Lady Mary, and printed this letter as addressed by Gay to Fortescue,
adding one to the innumerable mystifications of his correspondence. Mr.
Moy Thomas doubts also whether Lady Mary's answer was really sent at the
assigned date. The contrast of sentiment is equally characteristic in
any case.

[10] Mr. Moy Thomas, in his edition of Lady Mary's letters, considers
this story to be merely an echo of old scandal, and makes a different
conjecture as to the immediate cause of quarrel. His conjecture seems
very improbable to me; but the declaration story is clearly of very
doubtful authenticity.

[11] Another couplet in the second book of the Dunciad about "hapless
Monsieur" and "Lady Maries," was also applied at the time to Lady M. W.
Montagu: and Pope in a later note affects to deny, thus really pointing
the allusion. But the obvious meaning of the whole passage is that
"duchesses and Lady Maries" might be personated by abandoned women,
which would certainly be unpleasant for them, but does not imply any
imputation upon their character. If Lady Mary was really the author of a
"Pop upon Pope"--a story of Pope's supposed whipping in the vein of his
own attack upon Dennis, she already considered him as the author of some
scandal. The line in the Dunciad was taken to allude to a story about a
M. Rémond which has been fully cleared up.

[12] The statements as to the date of the acquaintance are
contradictory. Martha told Spence that she first knew Pope as a "very
little girl," but added that it was after the publication of the Essay
on Criticism, when she was twenty-one; and at another time, that it was
after he had begun the Iliad, which was later than part of the published



In the Dunciad, published soon after the Odyssey, Pope laments ten years
spent as a commentator and translator. He was not without compensation.
The drudgery--for the latter part of his task must have been felt as
drudgery--once over, he found himself in a thoroughly independent
position, still on the right side of forty, and able to devote his
talents to any task which might please him. The task which he actually
chose was not calculated to promote his happiness. We must look back to
an earlier period to explain its history. During the last years of Queen
Anne, Pope had belonged to a "little senate" in which Swift was the
chief figure. Though Swift did not exercise either so gentle or so
imperial a sway as Addison, the cohesion between the more independent
members of this rival clique was strong and lasting. They amused
themselves by projecting the Scriblerus Club, a body which never had, it
would seem, any definite organization, but was held to exist for the
prosecution of a design never fully executed. Martinus Scriblerus was
the name of an imaginary pedant--a precursor and relative of Dr.
Dryasdust--whose memoirs and works were to form a satire upon stupidity
in the guise of learning. The various members of the club were to share
in the compilation; and if such joint-stock undertakings were
practicable in literature, it would be difficult to collect a more
brilliant set of contributors. After Swift--the terrible humourist of
whom we can hardly think without a mixture of horror and compassion--the
chief members were Atterbury, Arbuthnot, Gay, Parnell, and Pope himself.
Parnell, an amiable man, died in 1717, leaving works which were edited
by Pope in 1722. Atterbury, a potential Wolsey or Laud born in an
uncongenial period, was a man of fine literary taste--a warm admirer of
Milton (though he did exhort Pope to put Samson Agonistes into civilised
costume--one of the most unlucky suggestions ever made by mortal man), a
judicious critic of Pope himself, and one who had already given proofs
of his capacity in literary warfare by his share in the famous
controversy with Bentley. Though no one now doubts the measureless
superiority of Bentley, the clique of Swift and Pope still cherished the
belief that the wit of Atterbury and his allies had triumphed over the
ponderous learning of the pedant. Arbuthnot, whom Swift had introduced
to Pope as a man who could do everything but walk, was an amiable and
accomplished physician. He was a strong Tory and high churchman, and
retired for a time to France upon the death of Anne and the overthrow of
his party. He returned, however, to England, resumed his practice, and
won Pope's warmest gratitude by his skill and care. He was a man of
learning, and had employed it in an attack upon Woodward's geological
speculations, as already savouring of heterodoxy. He possessed also a
vein of genuine humour, resembling that of Swift, though it has rather
lost its savour, perhaps, because it was not salted by the Dean's
misanthropic bitterness. If his good humour weakened his wit, it gained
him the affections of his friends, and was never soured by the
sufferings of his later years. Finally, John Gay, though fat, lazy, and
wanting in manliness of spirit, had an illimitable flow of good-tempered
banter; and if he could not supply the learning of Arbuthnot, he could
give what was more valuable, touches of fresh natural simplicity, which
still explain the liking of his friends. Gay, as Johnson says, was the
general favourite of the wits, though a playfellow rather than a
partner, and treated with more fondness than respect. Pope seems to have
loved him better than any one, and was probably soothed by his
easy-going, unsuspicious temper. They were of the same age; and Gay, who
had been apprenticed to a linendraper, managed to gain notice by his
poetical talents, and was taken up by various great people. Pope said of
him that he wanted independence of spirit, which is indeed obvious
enough. He would have been a fitting inmate of Thomson's Castle of
Indolence. He was one of those people who consider that Providence is
bound to put food into their mouths without giving them any trouble;
and, as sometimes happens, his draft upon the general system of things
was honoured. He was made comfortable by various patrons; the Duchess of
Queensberry petted him in his later years, and the duke kept his money
for him. His friends chose to make a grievance of the neglect of
Government to add to his comfort by a good place; they encouraged him to
refuse the only place offered as not sufficiently dignified; and he even
became something of a martyr when his _Polly_, a sequel to the _Beggars'
Opera_, was prohibited by the Lord Chamberlain, and a good subscription
made him ample amends. Pope has immortalized the complaint by lamenting
the fate of "neglected genius" in the Epistle to Arbuthnot, and
declaring that the "sole return" of all Gay's "blameless life" was

     My verse and Queensberry weeping o'er thy urn.

Pope's alliance with Gay had various results. Gay continued the war with
Ambrose Philips by writing burlesque pastorals, of which Johnson truly
says that they show "the effect of reality and truth, even when the
intention was to show them grovelling and degraded." They may still be
glanced at with pleasure. Soon after the publication of the mock
pastorals, the two friends, in company with Arbuthnot, had made an
adventure more in the spirit of the Scriblerus Club. A farce called
_Three Hours after Marriage_ was produced and damned in 1717. It was
intended (amongst other things) to satirize Pope's old enemy Dennis,
called "Sir Tremendous," as an embodiment of pedantic criticism, and
Arbuthnot's old antagonist Woodward. A taste for fossils, mummies, or
antiquities, was at that time regarded as a fair butt for unsparing
ridicule; but the three great wits managed their assault so clumsily as
to become ridiculous themselves; and Pope, as we shall presently see,
smarted as usual under failure.

After Swift's retirement to Ireland, and during Pope's absorption in
Homer, the Scriblerus Club languished. Some fragments, however, of the
great design were executed by the four chief members, and the dormant
project was revived, after Pope had finished his Homer, on occasion of
the last two visits of Swift to England. He passed six months in England
from March to August, 1726, and had brought with him the MS. of
Gulliver's Travels, the greatest satire produced by the Scriblerians. He
passed a great part of his time at Twickenham, and in rambling with
Pope or Gay about the country. Those who do not know how often the
encounter of brilliant wits tends to neutralize rather than stimulate
their activity, may wish to have been present at a dinner which took
place at Twickenham on July 6th, 1726, when the party was made up of
Pope, the most finished poet of the day; Swift, the deepest humourist;
Bolingbroke, the most brilliant politician; Congreve, the wittiest
writer of comedy; and Gay, the author of the most successful burlesque.
The envious may console themselves by thinking that Pope very likely
went to sleep, that Swift was deaf and overbearing, that Congreve and
Bolingbroke were painfully witty, and Gay frightened into silence. When
in 1727 Swift again visited England, and stayed at Twickenham, the
clouds were gathering. The scene is set before us in some of Swift's

     Pope has the talent well to speak,
       But not to reach the ear;
     His loudest voice is low and weak,
       The deaf too deaf to hear.

     Awhile they on each other look,
       Then different studies choose;
     The dean sits plodding o'er a book,
       Pope walks and courts the muse.

"Two sick friends," says Swift in a letter written after his return to
Ireland, "never did well together." It is plain that their infirmities
had been mutually trying, and on the last day of August Swift suddenly
withdrew from Twickenham, in spite of Pope's entreaties. He had heard of
the last illness of Stella, which was finally to crush his happiness.
Unable to endure the company of friends, he went to London in very bad
health, and thence, after a short stay, to Ireland, leaving behind him
a letter which, says Pope, "affected me so much that it made me like a
girl." It was a gloomy parting, and the last. The stern Dean retired to
die "like a poisoned rat in a hole," after long years of bitterness, and
finally of slow intellectual decay. He always retained perfect
confidence in his friend's affection. Poor Pope, as he says in the
verses on his own death,--

         will grieve a month, and Gay
     A week, and Arbuthnot a day;

and they were the only friends to whom he attributes sincere sorrow.

Meanwhile two volumes of Miscellanies, the joint work of the four wits,
appeared in June, 1727, and a third in March, 1728. A fourth, hastily
got up, was published in 1732. They do not appear to have been
successful. The copyright of the three volumes was sold for 225_l._, of
which Arbuthnot and Gay received each 50_l._, whilst the remainder was
shared between Pope and Swift; and Swift seems to have given his part,
according to his custom, to the widow of a respectable Dublin
bookseller. Pope's correspondence with the publisher shows that he was
entrusted with the financial details, and arranged them with the
sharpness of a practised man of business. The whole collection was made
up in great part of old scraps, and savoured of bookmaking, though Pope
speaks complacently of the joint volumes, in which he says to Swift, "We
look like friends, side by side, serious and merry by turns, conversing
interchangeably, and walking down, hand in hand, to posterity." Of the
various fragments contributed by Pope, there is only one which need be
mentioned here--the treatise on Bathos in the third volume, in which he
was helped by Arbuthnot. He told Swift privately that he had "entirely
methodized and in a manner written it all," though, he afterwards chose
to denounce the very same statement as a lie when the treatise brought
him into trouble. It is the most amusing of his prose writings,
consisting essentially of a collection of absurdities from various
authors, with some apparently invented for the occasion, such as the

     Ye gods, annihilate but space and time,
     And make two lovers happy!

and ending with the ingenious receipt to make an epic poem. Most of the
passages ridiculed--and, it must be said, very deservedly--were selected
from some of the various writers to whom, for one reason or another, he
owed a grudge. Ambrose Philips and Dennis, his old enemies, and
Theobald, who had criticised his edition of Shakespeare, supply several
illustrations. Blackmore had spoken very strongly of the immorality of
the wits in some prose essays; Swift's Tale of a Tub, and a parody of
the first psalm, anonymously circulated, but known to be Pope's, had
been severely condemned; and Pope took a cutting revenge by plentiful
citations from Blackmore's most ludicrous bombast; and even Broome, his
colleague in Homer, came in for a passing stroke, for Broome and Pope
were now at enmity. Finally, Pope fired a general volley into the whole
crowd of bad authors by grouping them under the head of various
animals--tortoises, parrots, frogs, and so forth--and adding under each
head the initials of the persons described. He had the audacity to
declare that the initials were selected at random. If so, a marvellous
coincidence made nearly every pair of letters correspond to the name and
surname of some contemporary poetaster. The classification was rather
vague, but seems to have given special offence.

Meanwhile Pope was planning a more elaborate campaign against his
adversaries. He now appeared for the first time as a formal satirist,
and the Dunciad, in which he came forward as the champion of Wit, taken
in its broad sense, against its natural antithesis, Dulness, is in some
respect his masterpiece. It is addressed to Swift, who probably assisted
at some of its early stages. O thou, exclaims the poet,--

     O thou, whatever title please thine ear,
     Dean, Drapier, Bickerstaff, or Gulliver!
     Whether thou choose Cervantes' serious air,
     Or laugh and shake in Rabelais's easy chair,--

And we feel that Swift is present in spirit throughout the composition.
"The great fault of the Dunciad," says Warton, an intelligent and
certainly not an over-severe critic, "is the excessive vehemence of the
satire. It has been compared," he adds, "to the geysers propelling a
vast column of boiling water by the force of subterranean fire;" and he
speaks of some one who after reading a book of the Dunciad, always
soothes himself by a canto of the Faery Queen. Certainly a greater
contrast could not easily be suggested; and yet, I think, that the
remark requires at least modification. The Dunciad, indeed, is beyond
all question full of coarse abuse. The second book, in particular,
illustrates that strange delight in the physically disgusting which
Johnson notices as characteristic of Pope and his master, Swift. In the
letter prefixed to the Dunciad, Pope tries to justify his abuse of his
enemies by the example of Boileau, whom he appears to have considered as
his great prototype. But Boileau would have been revolted by the brutal
images which Pope does not hesitate to introduce; and it is a curious
phenomenon that the poet who is pre-eminently the representative of
polished society should openly take such pleasure in unmixed filth.
Polish is sometimes very thin. It has been suggested that Swift, who was
with Pope during the composition, may have been directly responsible for
some of these brutalities. At any rate, as I have said, Pope has here
been working in the Swift spirit, and this gives, I think, the keynote
of his Dunciad.

The geyser comparison is so far misleading that Pope is not in his most
spiteful mood. There is not that infusion of personal venom which
appears so strongly in the character of Sporus and similar passages. In
reading them we feel that the poet is writhing under some bitter
mortification, and trying with concentrated malice to sting his
adversary in the tenderest places. We hear a tortured victim screaming
out the shrillest taunts at his tormentor. The abuse in the Dunciad is
by comparison broad and even jovial. The tone at which Pope is aiming is
that suggested by the "laughing and shaking in Rabelais' easy chair." It
is meant to be a boisterous guffaw from capacious lungs, an enormous
explosion of superlative contempt for the mob of stupid thickskinned
scribblers. They are to be overwhelmed with gigantic cachinnations,
ducked in the dirtiest of drains, rolled over and over with rough
horseplay, pelted with the least savoury of rotten eggs, not skilfully
anatomized or pierced with dexterously directed needles. Pope has really
stood by too long, watching their tiresome antics and receiving their
taunts, and he must once for all speak out and give them a lesson.

     Out with it Dunciad! let the secret pass,
     That secret to each fool--that he's an ass!

That is his account of his feelings in the Prologue to the Satires, and
he answers the probable remonstrance.

     You think this cruel? Take it for a rule,
     No creature smarts so little as a fool.

To reconcile us to such laughter, it should have a more genial tone than
Pope could find in his nature. We ought to feel, and we certainly do not
feel, that after the joke has been fired off there should be some
possibility of reconciliation, or, at least, we should find some
recognition of the fact that the victims are not to be hated simply
because they were not such clever fellows as Pope. There is something
cruel in Pope's laughter, as in Swift's. The missiles are not mere
filth, but are weighted with hard materials that bruise and mangle. He
professes that his enemies were the first aggressors, a plea which can
be only true in part; and he defends himself, feebly enough, against the
obvious charge that he has ridiculed men for being obscure, poor, and
stupid--faults not to be amended by satire, nor rightfully provocative
of enmity. In fact, Pope knows in his better moments that a man is not
necessarily wicked because he sleeps on a bulk, or writes verses in a
garret; but he also knows that to mention those facts will give his
enemies pain, and he cannot refrain from the use of so handy a weapon.

Such faults make one half ashamed of confessing to reading the Dunciad
with pleasure; and yet it is frequently written with such force and
freedom that we half pardon the cruel little persecutor, and admire the
vigour with which he throws down the gauntlet to the natural enemies of
genius. The Dunciad is modelled upon the Mac Flecknoe, in which Dryden
celebrates the appointment of Elkanah Shadwell to succeed Flecknoe as
monarch of the realms of Dulness, and describes the coronation
ceremonies. Pope imitates many passages, and adopts the general design.
Though he does not equal the vigour of some of Dryden's lines, and wages
war in a more ungenerous spirit, the Dunciad has a wider scope than its
original, and shows Pope's command of his weapons in occasional
felicitous phrases, in the vigour of the versification, and in the
general sense of form and clear presentation of the scene imagined. For
a successor to the great empire of dulness he chose (in the original
form of the poem) the unlucky Theobald, a writer to whom the merit is
attributed of having first illustrated Shakspeare by a study of the
contemporary literature. In doing this he had fallen foul of Pope, who
could claim no such merit for his own editorial work, and Pope therefore
regarded him as a grovelling antiquarian. As such, he was a fit
pretender enough to the throne once occupied by Settle. The Dunciad
begins by a spirited description of the goddess brooding in her cell
upon the eve of a Lord Mayor's day, when the proud scene was o'er,

     But lived in Settle's numbers one day more.

The predestined hero is meanwhile musing in his Gothic library, and
addresses a solemn invocation to Dulness, who accepts his sacrifice--a
pile of his own works--transports him to her temple, and declares him to
be the legitimate successor to the former rulers of her kingdom. The
second book describes the games held in honour of the new ruler. Some of
them are, as a frank critic observes, "beastly;" but a brief report of
the least objectionable may serve as a specimen of the whole
performance. Dulness, with her court descends

     To where Fleet Ditch with disemboguing streams
     Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to Thames,
     The king of dykes than whom no sluice of mud
     With deeper sable blots the silver flood.--
     Here strip, my children, here at once leap in;
     Here prove who best can dash through thick and thin,
     And who the most in love of dirt excel.

And, certainly by the poet's account, they all love it as well as their
betters. The competitors in this contest are drawn from the unfortunates
immersed in what Warburton calls "the common sink of all such writers
(as Ralph)--a political newspaper." They were all hateful, partly
because they were on the side of Walpole, and therefore, by Pope's
logic, unprincipled hirelings, and more, because in that cause, as
others, they had assaulted Pope and his friend. There is Oldmixon, a
hack writer employed in compilations, who accused Atterbury of
falsifying Clarendon, and was accused of himself falsifying historical
documents in the interests of Whiggism; and Smedley, an Irish clergyman,
a special enemy of Swift's, who had just printed a collection of
assaults upon the miscellanies called Gulliveriana; and Concanen,
another Irishman, an ally of Theobald's, and (it may be noted) of
Warburton's, who attacked the _Bathos_, and received--of course, for the
worst services--an appointment in Jamaica; and Arnall, one of Walpole's
most favoured journalists, who was said to have received for himself or
others near 11,000_l._ in four years. Each dives in a way supposed to be
characteristic, Oldmixon with the pathetic exclamation,

                            And am I now threescore?
     Ah, why, ye gods, should two and two make four?

Concanen, "a cold, long-winded native of the deep," dives perseveringly,
but without causing a ripple in the stream:

     Not so bold Arnall--with a weight of skull
     Furious he dives, precipitately dull,

and ultimately emerges to claim the prize, "with half the bottom on his
head." But Smedley, who has been given up for lost, comes up,

     Shaking the horrors of his sable brows,

and relates how he has been sucked in by the mud-nymphs, and how they
have shown him a branch of Styx which here pours into the Thames, and
diffuses its soporific vapours over the Temple and its purlieus. He is
solemnly welcomed by Milbourn (a reverend antagonist of Dryden), who
tells him to "receive these robes which once were mine,"

     Dulness is sacred in a sound divine.

The games are concluded in the second book; and in the third the hero,
sleeping in the Temple of Dulness, meets in a vision the ghost of
Settle, who reveals to him the future of his empire; tells how dulness
is to overspread the world, and revive the triumphs of Goths and monks;
how the hated Dennis, and Gildon, and others, are to overwhelm scorners,
and set up at court, and preside over arts and sciences, though a fit of
temporary sanity causes him to give a warning to the deists--

     But learn ye dunces! not to scorn your God--

and how posterity is to witness the decay of the stage, under a deluge
of silly farce, opera, and sensation dramas; how bad architects are to
deface the works of Wren and Inigo Jones; whilst the universities and
public schools are to be given up to games and idleness, and the birch
is to be abolished.

Fragments of the prediction have not been entirely falsified, though the
last couplet intimates a hope.

     Enough! enough! the raptured monarch cries,
     And through the ivory gate the vision flies.

The Dunciad was thus a declaration of war against the whole tribe of
scribblers; and, like other such declarations, it brought more
consequences than Pope foresaw. It introduced Pope to a very dangerous
line of conduct. Swift had written to Pope in 1725: "Take care that the
bad poets do not outwit you, as they have served the good ones in every
age, whom they have provoked to transmit their names to posterity;" and
the Dunciad has been generally censured from Swift's point of view.
Satire, it is said, is wasted upon such insignificant persons. To this
Pope might have replied, with some plausibility, that the interest of
satire must always depend upon its internal qualities, not upon our
independent knowledge of its object. Though Gildon and Arnall are
forgotten, the type "dunce" is eternal. The warfare, however, was
demoralizing in another sense. Whatever may have been the injustice of
Pope's attacks upon individuals, the moral standard of the Grub Street
population was far from exalted. The poor scribbler had too many
temptations to sell himself, and to evade the occasional severity of the
laws of libel by humiliating contrivances. Moreover, the uncertainty of
the law of copyright encouraged the lower class of booksellers to
undertake all kinds of piratical enterprises, and to trade in various
ways upon the fame of well-known authors, by attributing trash to them,
or purloining and publishing what the authors would have suppressed.
Dublin was to London what New York is now, and successful books were at
once reproduced in Ireland. Thus the lower strata of the literary class
frequently practised with impunity all manner of more or less
discreditable trickery, and Pope, with his morbid propensity for
mystification, was only too apt a pupil in such arts. Though the tone of
his public utterances was always of the loftiest, he was like a
civilised commander who, in carrying on a war with savages, finds it
convenient to adopt the practices which he professes to disapprove.

The whole publication of the Dunciad was surrounded with tricks,
intended partly to evade possible consequences, and partly to excite
public interest or to cause amusement at the expense of the bewildered
victims. Part of the plot was concerted with Swift, who, however, does
not appear to have been quite in the secret. The complete poem was
intended to appear with an elaborate mock commentary by Scriblerus,
explaining some of the allusions, and with "proeme, prolegomena,
testimonia scriptorum, index auctorum, and notæ variorum." In the first
instance, however, it appeared in a mangled form without this burlesque
apparatus or the lines to Swift. Four editions were issued in this form
in 1728, and with a mock notice from the publisher, expressing a hope
that the author would be provoked to give a more perfect edition. This,
accordingly, appeared in 1729. Pope seems to have been partly led to
this device by a principle which he avowed to Warburton. When he had
anything specially sharp to say he kept it for a second edition, where,
it would, he thought, pass with less offence. But he may also have been
under the impression that all the mystery of apparently spurious
editions would excite public curiosity. He adopted other devices for
avoiding unpleasant consequences. It was possible that his victims might
appeal to the law. In order to throw dust in their eyes, two editions
appeared in Dublin and London, the Dublin edition professing to be a
reprint from a London edition, whilst the London edition professed in
the same way to be the reprint of a Dublin edition. To oppose another
obstacle to prosecutors, he assigned the Dunciad to three
noblemen--Lords Bathurst, Burlington, and Oxford--who transferred their
right to Pope's publisher. Pope would be sheltered behind these
responsible persons, and an aggrieved person might be slower to attack
persons of high position and property. By yet another device Pope
applied for an injunction in Chancery to suppress a piratical London
edition; but ensured the failure of his application by not supplying the
necessary proofs of property. This trick, repeated, as we shall see, on
another occasion, was intended either to shirk responsibility or to
increase the notoriety of the book. A further mystification was equally
characteristic. To the Dunciad in its enlarged form is prefixed a
letter, really written by Pope himself, but praising his morality and
genius, and justifying his satire in terms which would have been absurd
in Pope's own mouth. He therefore induced a Major Cleland, a retired
officer of some position, to put his name to the letter, which it is
possible that he may have partly written. The device was transparent,
and only brought ridicule upon its author. Finally, Pope published an
account of the publication in the name of Savage, known by Johnson's
biography, who seems to have been a humble ally of the great man--at
once a convenient source of information and a tool for carrying on this
underground warfare. Pope afterwards incorporated this statement--which
was meant to prove, by some palpable falsehoods, that the dunces had
not been the aggressors--in his own notes, without Savage's name. This
labyrinth of unworthy devices was more or less visible to Pope's
antagonists. It might in some degree be excusable as a huge practical
joke, absurdly elaborate for the purpose, but it led Pope into some
slippery ways, where no such excuse is available.

Pope, says Johnson, contemplated his victory over the dunces with great
exultation. Through his mouthpiece, Savage, he described the scene on
the day of publication; how a crowd of authors besieged the shop and
threatened him with violence; how the booksellers and hawkers struggled
with small success for copies; how the dunces formed clubs to devise
measures of retaliation; how one wrote to ministers to denounce Pope as
a traitor, and another brought an image in clay to execute him in
effigy; and how successive editions, genuine and spurious, followed each
other, distinguished by an owl or an ass on the frontispiece, and
provoking infinite controversy amongst rival vendors. It is unpleasant
to have ugly names hurled at one by the first writer of the day; but the
abuse was for the most part too general to be libellous. Nor would there
be any great interest now in exactly distributing the blame between Pope
and his enemies. A word or two may be said of one of the most
conspicuous quarrels.

Aaron Hill was a fussy and ambitious person, full of literary and other
schemes; devising a plan for extracting oil from beech-nuts, and writing
a Pindaric ode on the occasion; felling forests in the Highlands to
provide timber for the navy; and, as might be inferred, spending instead
of making a fortune. He was a stage-manager, translated Voltaire's
Merope, wrote words for Handel's first composition in England, wrote
unsuccessful plays, a quantity of unreadable poetry, and corresponded
with most of the literary celebrities. Pope put his initials, A. H.,
under the head of "Flying Fishes," in the Bathos, as authors who now and
then rise upon their fins and fly, but soon drop again to the profound.
In the Dunciad, he reappeared amongst the divers.

     Then * * tried, but hardly snatch'd from sight
     Instant buoys up and rises into light:
     He bears no token of the sable streams,
     And mounts far off amongst the swans of Thames.

A note applied the lines to Hill, with whom he had had a former
misunderstanding. Hill replied to these assaults by a ponderous satire
in verse upon "tuneful Alexis;" it had, however, some tolerable lines at
the opening, imitated from Pope's own verses upon Addison, and
attributing to him the same jealousy of merit in others. Hill soon
afterwards wrote a civil note to Pope, complaining of the passage in the
Dunciad. Pope might have relied upon the really satisfactory answer that
the lines were, on the whole, complimentary; indeed, more complimentary
than true. But with his natural propensity for lying, he resorted to his
old devices. In answer to this and a subsequent letter, in which Hill
retorted with unanswerable force, Pope went on to declare that he was
not the author of the notes, that the extracts had been chosen at
random, that he would "use his influence with the editors of the Dunciad
to get the note altered"; and, finally, by an ingenious evasion, pointed
out that the blank in the Dunciad required to be filled up by a
dissyllable. This, in the form of the lines as quoted above, is quite
true, but in the first edition of the Dunciad the first verse had been

     H-- tried the next, but hardly snatch'd from sight.

Hill did not detect this specimen of what Pope somewhere calls "pretty
genteel equivocation." He was reconciled to Pope, and taught the poor
poet by experience that his friendship was worse than his enmity. He
wrote him letters of criticism; he forced poor Pope to negotiate for him
with managers and to bring distinguished friends to the performances of
his dreary plays; nay, to read through, or to say that he had read
through, one of them in manuscript four times, and make corrections
mixed with elaborate eulogy. No doubt Pope came to regard a letter from
Hill with terror, though Hill compared him to Horace and Juvenal, and
hoped that he would live till the virtues which his spirit would
propagate became as general as the esteem of his genius. In short, Hill,
who was a florid flatterer, is so complimentary that we are not
surprised to find him telling Richardson, after Pope's death, that the
poet's popularity was due to a certain "bladdery swell of management."
"But," he concludes, "rest his memory in in peace! It will very rarely
be disturbed by that time he himself is ashes."

The war raged for some time. Dennis, Smedley, Moore-Smythe, Welsted, and
others, retorted by various pamphlets, the names of which were published
by Pope in an appendix to future editions of the "Dunciad," by way of
proving that his own blows had told. Lady Mary was credited, perhaps
unjustly, with an abusive performance called a "Pop upon Pope," relating
how Pope had been soundly whipped by a couple of his victims--of course
a pure fiction. Some such vengeance, however, was seriously threatened.
As Pope was dining one day at Lord Bathurst's, the servant brought in
the agreeable message that a young man was waiting for Mr. Pope in the
lane outside, and that the young man's name was Dennis. He was the son
of the critic, and prepared to avenge his father's wrongs; but Bathurst
persuaded him to retire, without the glory of thrashing a cripple.
Reports of such possibilities were circulated, and Pope thought it
prudent to walk out with his big Danish dog Bounce, and a pair of
pistols. Spence tried to persuade the little man not to go out alone,
but Pope declared that he would not go a step out of his way for such
villains, and that it was better to die than to live in fear of them. He
continued, indeed, to give fresh provocation. A weekly paper, called the
Grub-street Journal, was started in January, 1730, and continued to
appear till the end of 1737. It included a continuous series of epigrams
and abuse, in the Scriblerian vein, and aimed against the heroes of the
Dunciad, amongst whom poor James Moore-Smythe seems to have had the
largest share of abuse. It was impossible, however, for Pope, busied as
he was in literature and society, and constantly out of health, to be
the efficient editor of such a performance; but though he denied having
any concern in it, it is equally out of the question that any one really
unconnected with Pope should have taken up the huge burden of his
quarrels in this fashion. Though he concealed, and on occasions denied
his connexion, he no doubt inspired the editors and contributed articles
to its pages, especially during its early years. It is a singular
fact--or rather, it would have been singular, had Pope been a man of
less abnormal character--that he should have devoted so much energy to
this paltry subterranean warfare against the objects of his complex
antipathies. Pope was so anxious for concealment, that he kept his
secret even from his friendly legal adviser Fortescue; and Fortescue
innocently requested Pope to get up evidence to support a charge of
libel against his own organ. The evidence which Pope collected--in
defence of a quack-doctor, Ward--was not, as we may suppose, very
valuable. Two volumes of the Grub-street Journal were printed in 1737,
and a fragment or two was admitted by Pope into his works. It is said,
in the preface to the collected pieces, that the journal was killed by
the growing popularity of the Gentleman's Magazine, which is accused of
living by plunder. But in truth the reader will infer that, if the
selection includes the best pieces, the journal may well have died from
congenital weakness.

The Dunciad was yet to go through a transformation, and to lead to a new
quarrel; and though this happened at a much later period, it will be
most convenient to complete the story here. Pope had formed an alliance
with Warburton, of which I shall presently have to speak; and it was
under Warburton's influence that he resolved to add a fourth book to the
Dunciad. This supplement seems to have been really made up of fragments
provided for another scheme. The Essay on Man--to be presently
mentioned--was to be followed by a kind of poetical essay upon the
nature and limits of the human understanding, and a satire upon the
misapplication of the serious faculties.[13] It was a design manifestly
beyond the author's powers; and even the fragment which is turned into
the fourth book of the Dunciad takes him plainly out of his depth. He
was no philosopher, and therefore an incompetent assailant of the abuses
of philosophy. The fourth book consists chiefly of ridicule upon
pedagogues who teach words instead of things; upon the unlucky
"virtuosos" who care for old medals, plants, and butterflies--pursuits
which afforded an unceasing supply of ridicule to the essayists of the
time; a denunciation of the corruption of modern youth, who learn
nothing but new forms of vice in the grand tour; and a fresh assault
upon Toland, Tindal, and other freethinkers of the day. There were some
passages marked by Pope's usual dexterity, but the whole is awkwardly
constructed, and has no very intelligible connexion with the first part.
It was highly admired at the time, and, amongst others, by Gray. He
specially praises a passage which has often been quoted as representing
Pope's highest achievement in his art. At the conclusion the goddess
Dulness yawns, and a blight falls upon art, science, and philosophy. I
quote the lines, which Pope himself could not repeat without emotion,
and which have received the highest eulogies from Johnson and Thackeray.

     In vain, in vain--the all-composing Hour
     Resistless falls; the Muse obeys the Power--
     She comes! she comes! the sable throne behold
     Of night primeval and of chaos old!
     Before her Fancy's gilded clouds decay,
     And all its varying rainbows die away.
     Wit shoots in vain its momentary fires,
     The meteor drops, and in a flash expires,
     As one by one, at dread Medea's strain,
     The sickening stars fade off the ethereal plain;
     As Argus' eyes by Hermes' wand oppress'd
     Closed one by one to everlasting rest;
     Thus at her felt approach, and secret might,
     Art after art goes out, and all is night.
     See skulking Truth to her old cavern fled,
     Mountains of casuistry heaped o'er her head!
     Philosophy, that lean'd on heaven before,
     Shrinks to her second cause, and is no more.
     Physic of Metaphysic begs defence,
     And Metaphysic calls for aid on Sense!
     See Mystery to Mathematics fly!
     In vain! They gaze, turn giddy, rave and die.
     Religion blushing veils her sacred fires
     And unawares Morality expires.
     Nor public flame, nor private, dares to shine;
     Nor human spark is left, nor glimpse divine!
     Lo! thy dread empire, Chaos! is restored;
     Light dies before thy uncreating word;
     Thy hand, great Anarch, lets the curtain fall
     And universal darkness buries all.

The most conspicuous figure in this new Dunciad (published March, 1742),
is Bentley--taken as the representative of a pedant rampant. Bentley is,
I think, the only man of real genius of whom Pope has spoken in terms
implying gross misappreciation. With all his faults, Pope was a really
fine judge of literature, and has made fewer blunders than such men as
Addison, Gray, and Johnson, infinitely superior to him in generosity of
feeling towards the living. He could even appreciate Bentley, and had
written, in his copy of Bentley's Milton, "_Pulchre, bene, recte_,"
against some of the happier emendations in the great critic's most
unsuccessful performance. The assault in the Dunciad is not the less
unsparing and ignorantly contemptuous of scholarship. The explanation is
easy. Bentley, who had spoken contemptuously of Pope's Homer, said of
Pope, "the portentous cub never forgives." But this was not all. Bentley
had provoked enemies by his intense pugnacity almost as freely as Pope
by his sneaking malice. Swift and Atterbury, objects of Pope's friendly
admiration, had been his antagonists, and Pope would naturally accept
their view of his merits. And, moreover, Pope's great ally of this
period had a dislike of his own to Bentley. Bentley had said of
Warburton that he was a man of monstrous appetite and bad digestion.
The remark hit Warburton's most obvious weakness. Warburton, with his
imperfect scholarship, and vast masses of badly assimilated learning,
was jealous of the reputation of the thoroughly trained and accurate
critic. It was the dislike of a charlatan for the excellence which he
endeavoured to simulate. Bolingbroke, it may be added, was equally
contemptuous in his language about men of learning, and for much the
same reason. He depreciated what he could not rival. Pope, always under
the influence of some stronger companions, naturally adopted their
shallow prejudices, and recklessly abused a writer who should have been
recognized as amongst the most effective combatants against dulness.

Bentley died a few months after the publication of the Dunciad. But Pope
found a living antagonist, who succeeded in giving him pain enough to
gratify the vilified dunces. This was Colley Cibber--most lively and
mercurial of actors--author of some successful plays, with too little
stuff in them for permanence, and of an Apology for his own Life, which
is still exceedingly amusing as well as useful for the history of the
stage. He was now approaching seventy, though he was to survive Pope for
thirteen years, and as good-tempered a specimen of the lively, if not
too particular, old man of the world as could well have been found. Pope
owed him a grudge. Cibber, in playing the _Rehearsal_, had introduced
some ridicule of the unlucky _Three Hours after Marriage_. Pope, he
says, came behind the scenes foaming and choking with fury, and
forbidding Cibber ever to repeat the insult. Cibber laughed at him, said
that he would repeat it as long as the _Rehearsal_ was performed, and
kept his word. Pope took his revenge by many incidental hits at Cibber,
and Cibber made a good-humoured reference to this abuse in the Apology.
Hereupon Pope, in the new Dunciad, described him as reclining on the lap
of the goddess, and added various personalities in the notes. Cibber
straightway published a letter to Pope, the more cutting because still
in perfect good-humour, and told the story about the original quarrel.
He added an irritating anecdote in order to provoke the poet still
further. It described Pope as introduced by Cibber and Lord Warwick to
very bad company. The story was one which could only be told by a
graceless old representative of the old school of comedy, but it hit its
mark. The two Richardsons once found Pope reading one of Cibber's
pamphlets. He said, "These things are my diversion;" but they saw his
features writhing with anguish, and young Richardson, as they went home,
observed to his father that he hoped to be preserved from such
diversions as Pope had enjoyed. The poet resolved to avenge himself, and
he did it to the lasting injury of his poem. He dethroned Theobald, who,
as a plodding antiquarian, was an excellent exponent of dulness, and
installed Cibber in his place, who might be a representative of folly,
but was as little of a dullard as Pope himself. The consequent
alterations make the hero of the poem a thoroughly incongruous figure,
and greatly injure the general design. The poem appeared in this form in
1743, with a ponderous prefatory discourse by Ricardus Aristarchus,
contributed by the faithful Warburton, and illustrating his ponderous
vein of elephantine pleasantry.

Pope was nearing the grave, and many of his victims had gone before him.
It was a melancholy employment for an invalid, breaking down visibly
month by month; and one might fancy that the eminent Christian divine
might have used his influence to better purpose than in fanning the
dying flame, and adding the strokes of his bludgeon to the keen stabs of
Pope's stiletto. In the fourteen years which had elapsed since the first
Dunciad, Pope had found less unworthy employment for his pen; but,
before dealing with the works produced at this time, which include some
of his highest achievements, I must tell a story which is in some ways a
natural supplement to the war with the dunces. In describing Pope's
entangled history, it seems most convenient to follow each separate line
of discharge of his multifarious energy, rather than to adhere to
chronological order.


[13] See Pope to Swift, March 25, 1736.



I have now to describe one of the most singular series of transactions
to be found in the annals of literature. A complete knowledge of their
various details has only been obtained by recent researches. I cannot
follow within my limits of space all the ins and outs of the complicated
labyrinth of more than diplomatic trickery which those researches have
revealed, though I hope to render the main facts sufficiently
intelligible. It is painful to track the strange deceptions of a man of
genius as a detective unravels the misdeeds of an accomplished swindler;
but without telling the story at some length, it is impossible to give a
faithful exhibition of Pope's character.

In the year 1726, when Pope had just finished his labours upon Homer,
Curll published the juvenile letters to Cromwell. There was no mystery
about this transaction. Curll was the chief of all piratical
booksellers, and versed in every dirty trick of the Grub-street trade.
He is described in that mad book, Amory's _John Buncle_, as tall, thin,
ungainly, white-faced, with light grey goggle eyes, purblind,
splay-footed, and "baker-kneed." According to the same queer authority,
who professes to have lodged in Curll's house, he was drunk, as often as
he could drink for nothing, and intimate in every London haunt of vice.
"His translators lay three in a bed at the Pewter Platter Inn in
Holborn," and helped to compile his indecent, piratical, and catchpenny
productions. He had lost his ears for some obscene publication; but
Amory adds, "to his glory," that he died "as great a penitent as ever
expired." He had one strong point as an antagonist. Having no character
to lose, he could reveal his own practices without a blush, if the
revelation injured others.

Pope had already come into collision with this awkward antagonist. In
1716 Curll threatened to publish the Town Eclogues, burlesques upon
Ambrose Philips, written by Lady Mary, with the help of Pope and perhaps
Gay. Pope, with Lintot, had a meeting with Curll in the hopes of
suppressing a publication calculated to injure his friends. The party
had some wine, and Curll on going home was very sick. He declared--and
there are reasons for believing his story--that Pope had given him an
emetic, by way of coarse practical joke. Pope, at any rate, took
advantage of the accident to write a couple of squibs upon Curll,
recording the bookseller's ravings under the action of the drug, as he
had described the ravings of Dennis provoked by Cato. Curll had his
revenge afterwards; but meanwhile he wanted no extraneous motive to
induce him to publish the Cromwell letters. Cromwell had given the
letters to a mistress, who fell into distress and sold them to Curll for
ten guineas.

The correspondence was received with some favour, and suggested to Pope
a new mode of gratifying his vanity. An occasion soon offered itself.
Theobald, the hero of the Dunciad, edited in 1728 the posthumous works
of Wycherley. Pope extracted from this circumstance a far-fetched excuse
for publishing the Wycherley correspondence. He said that it was due to
Wycherley's memory to prove, by the publication of their correspondence,
that the posthumous publication of the works was opposed to their
author's wishes. As a matter of fact the letters have no tendency to
prove anything of the kind, or rather, they support the opposite theory;
but poor Pope was always a hand-to-mouth liar, and took the first
pretext that offered, without caring for consistency or confirmation.
His next step was to write to his friend, Lord Oxford, son of Queen
Anne's minister. Oxford was a weak, good-natured man. By cultivating a
variety of expensive tastes, without the knowledge to guide them, he
managed to run through a splendid fortune and die in embarrassment. His
famous library was one of his special hobbies. Pope now applied to him
to allow the Wycherley letters to be deposited in the library, and
further requested that the fact of their being in this quasi-public
place might be mentioned in the preface as a guarantee of their
authenticity. Oxford consented, and Pope quietly took a further step
without authority. He told Oxford that he had decided to make his
publishers say that copies of the letters had been obtained from Lord
Oxford. He told the same story to Swift, speaking of the "connivance" of
his noble friend, and adding that, though he did not himself "much
approve" of the publication, he was not ashamed of it. He thus
ingeniously intimated that the correspondence, which he had himself
carefully prepared and sent to press, had been printed without his
consent by the officious zeal of Oxford and the booksellers.

The book (which was called the second volume of Wycherley's works) has
entirely disappeared. It was advertised at the time, but not a single
copy is known to exist. One cause of this disappearance now appears to
be that it had no sale at first, and that Pope preserved the sheets for
use in a more elaborate device which followed. Oxford probably objected
to the misuse of his name, as the fiction which made him responsible was
afterwards dropped. Pope found, or thought that he had found, on the
next occasion, a more convenient cat's-paw. Curll, it could not be
doubted, would snatch at any chance of publishing more correspondence;
and, as Pope was anxious to have his letters stolen and Curll was ready
to steal, the one thing necessary was a convenient go-between, who could
be disowned or altogether concealed. Pope went systematically to work.
He began by writing to his friends, begging them to return his letters.
After Curll's piracy, he declared, he could not feel himself safe, and
should be unhappy till he had the letters in his own custody. Letters
were sent in, though in some cases with reluctance; and Caryll, in
particular, who had the largest number, privately took copies before
returning them (a measure which ultimately secured the detection of many
of Pope's manoeuvres). This, however, was unknown to Pope. He had the
letters copied out; after (according to his own stating) burning
three-fourths of them, and (as we are now aware) carefully editing the
remainder, he had the copy deposited in Lord Oxford's library. His
object was, as he said, partly to have documents ready in case of the
revival of scandals, and partly to preserve the memory of his
friendships. The next point was to get these letters stolen. For this
purpose he created a man of straw, a mysterious "P. T.," who could be
personated on occasion by some of the underlings employed in the
underground transactions connected with the Dunciad and the Grub-street
Journal. P. T. began by writing to Curll in 1733, and offering to sell
him a collection of Pope's letters. The negotiation went off for a time,
because P. T. insisted upon Curll's first committing himself by
publishing an advertisement, declaring himself to be already in
possession of the originals. Curll was too wary to commit himself to
such a statement, which would have made him responsible for the theft;
or, perhaps, have justified Pope in publishing the originals in
self-defence. The matter slept till March 1735, when Curll wrote to Pope
proposing a cessation of hostilities, and as a proof of goodwill sending
him the old P. T. advertisement. This step fell in so happily with
Pope's designs that it has been suggested that Curll was prompted in
some indirect manner by one of Pope's agents. Pope, at any rate, turned
it to account. He at once published an insulting advertisement. Curll
(he said in this manifesto) had pretended to have had the offer from P.
T. of a large collection of Pope's letters; Pope knew nothing of P. T.,
believed the letters to be forgeries, and would take no more trouble in
the matter. Whilst Curll was presumably smarting under this summary slap
on the face, the insidious P. T. stepped in once more. P. T. now said
that he was in possession of the printed sheets of the correspondence,
and the negotiation went on swimmingly. Curll put out the required
advertisement; a "short, squat" man, in a clergyman's gown and with
barrister's bands, calling himself Smythe, came to his house at night as
P. T.'s agent, and showed him some printed sheets and original letters;
the bargain was struck; 240 copies of the book were delivered, and it
was published on May 12th.

So far the plot had succeeded. Pope had printed his own correspondence,
and had tricked Curll into publishing the book piratically, whilst the
public was quite prepared to believe that Curll had performed a new
piratical feat. Pope, however, was now bound to shriek as loudly as he
could at the outrage under which he was suffering. He should have been
prepared also to answer an obvious question. Every one would naturally
inquire how Curll had procured the letters, which by Pope's own account
were safely deposited in Lord Oxford's library. Without, as it would
seem, properly weighing the difficulty of meeting this demand, Pope
called out loudly for vengeance. When the Dunciad appeared, he had
applied (as I have said) for an injunction in Chancery, and had at the
same time secured the failure of his application. The same device was
tried in a still more imposing fashion. The House of Lords had recently
decided that it was a breach of privilege to publish a peer's letters
without his consent. Pope availed himself of this rule to fire the most
sounding of blank shots across the path of the piratical Curll. He was
as anxious to allow the publication, as to demand its suppression in the
most emphatic manner. Accordingly he got his friend, Lord Ilay, to call
the attention of the peers to Curll's advertisement, which was so worded
as to imply that there were in the book letters from, as well as to,
peers. Pope himself attended the house "to stimulate the resentment of
his friends." The book was at once seized by a messenger, and Curll
ordered to attend the next day. But on examination it immediately turned
out that it contained no letters from peers, and the whole farce would
have ended at once but for a further trick. Lord Ilay said that a
certain letter to Jervas contained a reflection upon Lord Burlington.
Now the letter was found in a first batch of fifty copies sent to
Curll, and which had been sold before the appearance of the Lords'
messenger. But the letter had been suppressed in a second batch of 190
copies, which the messenger was just in time to seize. Pope had of
course foreseen and prepared this result.

The whole proceeding in the Lords was thus rendered abortive. The books
were restored to Curll, and the sale continued. But the device meanwhile
had recoiled upon its author; the very danger against which he should
have guarded himself had now occurred. How were the letters procured?
Not till Curll was coming up for examination does it seem to have
occurred to Pope that the Lords would inevitably ask the awkward
question. He then saw that Curll's answer might lead to a discovery. He
wrote a letter to Curll (in Smythe's name) intended to meet the
difficulty. He entreated Curll to take the whole of the responsibility
of procuring the letters upon himself, and by way of inducement held out
hopes of another volume of correspondence. In a second note he tried to
throw Curll off the scent of another significant little fact. The sheets
(as I have mentioned) were partly made up from the volume of Wycherley
correspondence;[15] this would give a clue to further inquiries; P. T.
therefore allowed Smythe to say (ostensibly to show his confidence in
Curll) that he (P. T.) had been employed in getting up the former
volume, and had had some additional sheets struck off for himself, to
which he had added letters subsequently obtained. The letter was a
signal blunder. Curll saw at once that it put the game in his hands. He
was not going to tell lies to please the slippery P. T., or the short
squat lawyer-clergyman. He had begun to see through the whole
manoeuvre. He went straight off to the Lords' committee, told the
whole story, and produced as a voucher the letters in which P. T. begged
for secrecy. Curll's word was good for little by itself, but his story
hung together and the letter confirmed it. And if, as now seemed clear,
Curll was speaking the truth, the question remained, who was P. T., and
how did he get the letters? The answer, as Pope must have felt, was only
too clear.

But Curll now took the offensive. In reply to another letter from
Smythe, complaining of his evidence, he went roundly to work; he said
that he should at once publish all the correspondence. P. T. had
prudently asked for the return of his letters; but Curll had kept
copies, and was prepared to swear to their fidelity. Accordingly he soon
advertised what was called the _Initial Correspondence_. Pope was now
caught in his own trap. He had tried to avert suspicion by publicly
offering a reward to Smythe and P. T., if they would "discover the whole
affair." The letters, as he admitted, must have been procured either
from his own library or from Lord Oxford's. The correspondence to be
published by Curll would help to identify the mysterious appropriators,
and whatever excuses could be made ought now to be forthcoming. Pope
adopted a singular plan. It was announced that the clergyman concerned
with P. T. and Curll had "discovered the whole transaction." A narrative
was forthwith published to anticipate Curll and to clear up the mystery.
If good for anything, it should have given, or helped to give, the key
to the great puzzle--the mode of obtaining the letters. There was
nothing else for Smythe or P. T. to "discover." Readers must have been
strangely disappointed on finding not a single word to throw light upon
this subject, and merely a long account of the negotiations between
Curll and P. T. The narrative might serve to distract attention from the
main point, which it clearly did nothing to elucidate. But Curll now
stated his own case. He reprinted the narrative with some pungent notes;
he gave in full some letters omitted by P. T., and he added a story
which was most unpleasantly significant. P. T. had spoken, as I have
said, of his connexion with the Wycherley volume. The object of this
statement was to get rid of an awkward bit of evidence. But Curll now
announced, on the authority of Gilliver, the publisher of the volume,
that Pope had himself bought up the remaining sheets. The inference was
clear. Unless the story could be contradicted, and it never was, Pope
was himself the thief. The sheets common to the two volumes had been
traced to his possession. Nor was there a word in the P. T. narrative to
diminish the force of these presumptions. Indeed it was curiously
inconsistent, for it vaguely accused Curll of stealing the letters
himself, whilst in the same breath it told how he had bought them from
P. T. In fact, P. T. was beginning to resolve himself into thin air,
like the phantom in the Dunciad. As he vanished, it required no great
acuteness to distinguish behind him the features of his ingenious
creator. It was already believed at the time that the whole affair was
an elaborate contrivance of Pope's, and subsequent revelations have
demonstrated the truth of the hypothesis. Even the go-between, Smythe,
was identified as one James Worsdale, a painter, actor, and author, of
the Bohemian variety.

Though Curll had fairly won the game, and Pope's intrigue was even at
the time sufficiently exposed, it seems to have given less scandal than
might have been expected. Probably it was suspected only in literary
circles, and perhaps it might be thought that, silly as was the
elaborate device, the disreputable Curll was fair game for his natural
enemy. Indeed, such is the irony of fate, Pope won credit with simple
people. The effect of the publication, as Johnson tells us, was to fill
the nation with praises of the admirable moral qualities revealed in
Pope's letters. Amongst the admirers was Ralph Allen, who had made a
large fortune by farming the cross-posts. His princely benevolence and
sterling worth were universally admitted, and have been immortalized by
the best contemporary judge of character. He was the original of
Fielding's Allworthy. Like that excellent person, he seems to have had
the common weakness of good men in taking others too easily at their own
valuation. Pope imposed upon him just as Blifil imposed upon his
representative. He was so much pleased with the correspondence, that he
sought Pope's acquaintance, and offered to publish a genuine edition at
his own expense. An authoritative edition appeared accordingly in 1737.
Pope preferred to publish by subscription, which does not seem to have
filled very rapidly, though the work ultimately made a fair profit.
Pope's underhand manoeuvres were abundantly illustrated in the history
of this new edition. It is impossible to give the details; but I may
briefly state that he was responsible for a nominally spurious edition
which appeared directly after, and was simply a reproduction of Curll's
publication. Although he complained of the garbling and interpolations
supposed to have been due to the wicked Curll or the phantom P. T., and
although he omitted in his avowed edition certain letters which had
given offence, he nevertheless substantially reproduced in it Curll's
version of the letters. As this differs from the originals which have
been preserved, Pope thus gave an additional proof that he was really
responsible for Curll's supposed garbling. This evidence was adduced
with conclusive force by Bowles in a later controversy, and would be
enough by itself to convict Pope of the imputed deception. Finally, it
may be added that Pope's delay in producing his own edition is explained
by the fact that it contained many falsifications of his correspondence
with Caryll, and that he delayed the acknowledgment of the genuine
character of the letters until Caryll's death removed the danger of

The whole of this elaborate machinery was devised in order that Pope
might avoid the ridicule of publishing his own correspondence. There had
been few examples of a similar publication of private letters; and
Pope's volume, according to Johnson, did not attract very much
attention. This is, perhaps, hardly consistent with Johnson's other
assertion that it filled the nation with praises of his virtue. In any
case it stimulated his appetite for such praises, and led him to a fresh
intrigue, more successful and also more disgraceful. The device
originally adopted in publishing the Dunciad apparently suggested part
of the new plot. The letters hitherto published did not include the most
interesting correspondence in which Pope had been engaged. He had been
in the habit of writing to Swift since their first acquaintance, and
Bolingbroke had occasionally joined him. These letters, which connected
Pope with two of his most famous contemporaries, would be far more
interesting than the letters to Cromwell or Wycherley, or even than the
letters addressed to Addison and Steele, which were mere stilted
fabrications. How could they be got before the world, and in such a way
as to conceal his own complicity?

Pope had told Swift (in 1730) that he had kept some of the letters in a
volume for his own secret satisfaction; and Swift had preserved all
Pope's letters along with those of other distinguished men. Here was an
attractive booty for such parties as the unprincipled Curll! In 1735
Curll had committed his wicked piracy, and Pope pressed Swift to return
his letters, in order to "secure him against that rascal printer." The
entreaties were often renewed, but Swift for some reason turned his deaf
ear to the suggestion. He promised, indeed (Sept. 3, 1735), that the
letters should be burnt--a most effectual security against
republication, but one not at all to Pope's taste. Pope then admitted
that, having been forced to publish some of his other letters, he should
like to make use of some of those to Swift, as none would be more
honourable to him. Nay, he says, he meant to erect such a minute
monument of their friendship as would put to shame all ancient memorials
of the same kind.[16] This avowal of his intention to publish did not
conciliate Swift. Curll next published in 1736 a couple of letters to
Swift, and Pope took advantage of this publication (perhaps he had
indirectly supplied Curll with copies) to urge upon Swift the insecurity
of the letters in his keeping. Swift ignored the request, and his
letters about this time began to show that his memory was failing and
his intellect growing weak.

Pope now applied to their common friend Lord Orrery. Orrery was the dull
member of a family eminent for its talents. His father had left a
valuable library to Christ Church, ostensibly because the son was not
capable of profiting by books, though a less creditable reason has been
assigned.[17] The son, eager to wipe off the imputation, specially
affected the society of wits, and was elaborately polite both to Swift
and Pope. Pope now got Orrery to intercede with Swift, urging that the
letters were no longer safe in the custody of a failing old man. Orrery
succeeded, and brought the letters in a sealed packet to Pope in the
summer of 1737. Swift, it must be added, had an impression that there
was a gap of six years in the collection; he became confused as to what
had or had not been sent, and had a vague belief in a "great collection"
of letters "placed in some very safe hand."[18] Pope, being thus in
possession of the whole correspondence, proceeded to perform a
manoeuvre resembling those already employed in the case of the Dunciad
and of the P. T. letters. He printed the correspondence clandestinely.
He then sent the printed volume to Swift, accompanied by an anonymous
letter. This letter purported to come from some persons who, from
admiration of Swift's private and public virtues, had resolved to
preserve letters so creditable to him, and had accordingly put them in
type. They suggested that the volume would be suppressed if it fell into
the hands of Bolingbroke and Pope (a most audacious suggestion!), and
intimated that Swift should himself publish it. No other copy, they
said, was in existence. Poor Swift fell at once into the trap. He
ought, of course, to have consulted Pope or Bolingbroke, and would
probably have done so had his mind been sound. Seeing, however, a volume
already printed, he might naturally suppose that, in spite of the
anonymous assurance, it was already too late to stop the publication. At
any rate, he at once sent it to his publisher, Faulkner, and desired him
to bring it out at once. Swift was in that most melancholy state in
which a man's friends perceive him to be incompetent to manage his
affairs, and are yet not able to use actual restraint. Mrs. Whiteway,
the sensible and affectionate cousin who took care of him at this time,
did her best to protest against the publication, but in vain. Swift
insisted. So far Pope's device was successful. The printed letters had
been placed in the hands of his bookseller by Swift himself, and
publication was apparently secured. But Pope had still the same problem
as in the previous case. Though he had talked of erecting a monument to
Swift and himself, he was anxious that the monument should apparently be
erected by some one else. His vanity could only be satisfied by the
appearance that the publication was forced upon him. He had, therefore,
to dissociate himself from the publication by some protest at once
emphatic and ineffectual; and, consequently, to explain the means by
which the letters had been surreptitiously obtained.

The first aim was unexpectedly difficult. Faulkner turned out to be an
honest bookseller. Instead of sharing Curll's rapacity, he consented, at
Mrs. Whiteway's request, to wait until Pope had an opportunity of
expressing his wishes. Pope, if he consented, could no longer complain;
if he dissented, Faulkner would suppress the letters. In this dilemma,
Pope first wrote to Faulkner to refuse permission, and at the same time
took care that his letter should be delayed for a month. He hoped that
Faulkner would lose patience, and publish. But Faulkner, with provoking
civility, stopped the press as soon as he heard of Pope's objection.
Pope hereupon discovered that the letters were certain to be published,
as they were already printed, and doubtless by some mysterious
"confederacy of people" in London. All he could wish was to revise them
before appearance. Meanwhile he begged Lord Orrery to inspect the book,
and say what he thought of it. "Guess in what a situation I must be,"
exclaimed this sincere and modest person, "not to be able to see what
all the world is to read as mine!" Orrery was quite as provoking as
Faulkner. He got the book from Faulkner, read it, and instead of begging
Pope not to deprive the world of so delightful a treat, said with dull
integrity, that he thought the collection "unworthy to be published."
Orrery, however, was innocent enough to accept Pope's suggestion, that
letters which had once got into such hands would certainly come out
sooner or later. After some more haggling, Pope ultimately decided to
take this ground. He would, he said, have nothing to do with the
letters; they would come out in any case; their appearance would please
the Dean, and he (Pope) would stand clear of all responsibility. He
tried, indeed, to get Faulkner to prefix a statement tending to fix the
whole transaction upon Swift; but the bookseller declined, and the
letters ultimately came out with a simple statement that they were a

Pope had thus virtually sanctioned the publication. He was not the less
emphatic in complaining of it to his friends. To Orrery, who knew the
facts, he represented the printed copy sent to Swift as a proof that
the letters were beyond his power; and to others, such as his friend
Allen, he kept silence as to this copy altogether; and gave them to
understand that poor Swift--or some member of Swift's family--was the
prime mover in the business. His mystification had, as before, driven
him into perplexities upon which he had never calculated. In fact, it
was still more difficult here than in the previous case to account for
the original misappropriation of the letters. Who could the thief have
been? Orrery, as we have seen, had himself taken a packet of letters to
Pope, which would be of course the letters from Pope to Swift. The
packet being sealed, Orrery did not know the contents, and Pope asserted
that he had burnt it almost as soon as received. It was, however, true
that Swift had been in the habit of showing the originals to his
friends, and some might possibly have been stolen or copied by designing
people. But this would not account for the publication of Swift's
letters to Pope, which had never been out of Pope's possession. As he
had certainly been in possession of the other letters, it was easiest,
even for himself, to suppose that some of his own servants were the
guilty persons; his own honour being, of course, beyond question.

To meet these difficulties, Pope made great use of some stray phrases
dropped by Swift in the decline of his memory, and set up a story of his
having himself returned some letters to Swift, of which important fact
all traces had disappeared. One characteristic device will be a
sufficient specimen. Swift wrote that a great collection of "_my_
letters to _you_" is somewhere "in a safe hand." He meant, of course, "a
collection of _your_ letters to _me_"--the only letters of which he
could know anything. Observing the slip of the pen, he altered the
phrase by writing the correct words above the line. It now stood--

     "your            me
       my letters to you."

Pope laid great stress upon this, interpreting it to mean that the
"great collection" included letters from each correspondent to the
other--the fact being that Swift had only the letters from Pope to
himself. The omission of an erasure (whether by Swift or Pope) caused
the whole meaning to be altered. As the great difficulty was to explain
the publication of Swift's letters to Pope, this change supplied a very
important link in the evidence. It implied that Swift had been at some
time in possession of the letters in question, and had trusted them to
some one supposed to be safe. The whole paragraph, meanwhile, appears,
from the unimpeachable evidence of Mrs. Whiteway, to have involved one
of the illusions of memory, for which he (Swift) apologizes in the
letter from which this is extracted. By insisting upon this passage, and
upon certain other letters dexterously confounded with those published,
Pope succeeded in raising dust enough to blind Lord Orrery's not very
piercing intelligence. The inference which he desired to suggest was
that some persons in Swift's family had obtained possession of the
letters. Mrs. Whiteway, indeed, met the suggestion so clearly, and gave
such good reasons for assigning Twickenham as the probable centre of the
plot, that she must have suspected the truth. Pope did not venture to
assail her publicly, though he continued to talk of treachery or evil

To accuse innocent people of a crime which you know yourself to have
committed is bad enough. It is, perhaps, even baser to lay a trap for a
friend, and reproach him for falling into it. Swift had denied the
publication of the letters, and Pope would have had some grounds of
complaint had he not been aware of the failure of Swift's mind, and had
he not been himself the tempter. His position, however, forced him to
blame his friend. It was a necessary part of his case to impute at least
a breach of confidence to his victim. He therefore took the attitude--it
must, one hopes, have cost him a blush--of one who is seriously
aggrieved, but who is generously anxious to shield a friend in
consideration of his known infirmity. He is forced, in sorrow, to admit
that Swift has erred, but he will not allow himself to be annoyed. The
most humiliating words ever written by a man not utterly vile, must have
been those which Pope set down in a letter to Nugent, after giving his
own version of the case: "I think I can make no reflections upon this
strange incident but what are truly melancholy, and humble the pride of
human nature. That the greatest of geniuses, though prudence may have
been the companion of wit (which is very rare) for their whole lives
past, may have nothing left them but their vanity. No decay of body is
half so miserable." The most audacious hypocrite of fiction pales beside
this. Pope, condescending to the meanest complication of lies to justify
a paltry vanity, taking advantage of his old friend's dotage to trick
him into complicity, then giving a false account of his error, and
finally moralizing, with all the airs of philosophic charity, and taking
credit for his generosity, is altogether a picture to set fiction at

I must add a remark not so edifying. Pope went down to his grave soon
afterwards, without exciting suspicion except among two or three people
intimately concerned. A whisper of doubt was soon hushed. Even the
biographers who were on the track of his former deception did not
suspect this similar iniquity. The last of them, Mr. Carruthers, writing
in 1857, observes upon the pain given to Pope by the treachery of
Swift--a treachery of course palliated by Swift's failure of mind. At
last Mr. Dilke discovered the truth, which has been placed beyond doubt
by the still later discovery of the letters to Orrery. The moral is,
apparently, that it is better to cheat a respectable man than a rogue;
for the respectable tacitly form a society for mutual support of
character, whilst the open rogue will be only too glad to show that you
are even such an one as himself.

It was not probable that letters thus published should be printed with
scrupulous accuracy. Pope, indeed, can scarcely have attempted to
conceal the fact that they had been a good deal altered. And so long as
the letters were regarded merely as literary compositions, the practice
was at least pardonable. But Pope went further; and the full extent of
his audacious changes was not seen until Mr. Dilke became possessed of
the Caryll correspondence. On comparing the copies preserved by Caryll
with the letters published by Pope, it became evident that Pope had
regarded these letters as so much raw material, which he might carve
into shape at pleasure, and with such alterations of date and address as
might be convenient, to the confusion of all biographers and editors
ignorant of his peculiar method of editing. The details of these very
disgraceful falsifications have been fully described by Mr. Elwin,[19]
but I turn gladly from this lamentable narrative to say something of the
literary value of the correspondence. Every critic has made the obvious
remark that Pope's letters are artificial and self-conscious. Pope
claimed the opposite merit. "It is many years," he says to Swift in
---4, "since I wrote as a wit." He smiles to think "how Curll would be
bit were our epistles to fall into his hands, and how gloriously they
would fall short of every ingenious reader's anticipations." Warburton
adds in a note that Pope used to "value himself upon this particular."
It is indeed true that Pope had dropped the boyish affectation of his
letters to Wycherley and Cromwell. But such a statement in the mouth of
a man who plotted to secure Curll's publication of his letters, with
devices elaborate enough to make the reputation of an unscrupulous
diplomatist, is of course only one more example of the superlative
degree of affectation, the affectation of being unaffected. We should be
indeed disappointed were we to expect in Pope's letters what we find in
the best specimens of the art: the charm which belongs to a simple
outpouring of friendly feeling in private intercourse; the sweet
playfulness of Cowper, or the grave humour of Gray, or even the sparkle
and brilliance of Walpole's admirable letters. Though Walpole had an eye
to posterity, and has his own mode of affectation, he is for the moment
intent on amusing, and is free from the most annoying blemish in Pope's
writing, the resolution to appear always in full dress, and to mount as
often as possible upon the stilts of moral self-approbation. All this is
obvious to the hasty reader; and yet I must confess my own conviction
that there is scarcely a more interesting volume in the language than
that which contains the correspondence of Swift, Bolingbroke, and Pope.
To enjoy it, indeed, we must not expect to be in sympathy with the
writers. Rather we must adopt the mental attitude of spectators of a
scene of high comedy--the comedy which is dashed with satire and has a
tragical side to it. We are behind the scenes in Vanity Fair, and
listening to the talk of three of its most famous performers, doubting
whether they most deceive each other or the public or themselves. The
secret is an open one for us, now that the illusion which perplexed
contemporaries has worn itself threadbare.

The most impressive letters are undoubtedly those of Swift--the stern
sad humourist, frowning upon the world which has rejected him, and
covering his wrath with an affectation, not of fine sentiment, but of
misanthropy. A soured man prefers to turn his worst side outwards. There
are phrases in his letters which brand themselves upon the memory like
those of no other man; and we are softened into pity as the strong mind
is seen gradually sinking into decay. The two other sharers in the
colloquy are in effective contrast. We see through Bolingbroke's
magnificent self-deceit; the flowing manners of the statesman who,
though the game is lost, is longing for a favourable turn of the card,
but still affects to solace himself with philosophy, and wraps himself
in dignified reflections upon the blessings of retirement, contrast with
Swift's downright avowal of indignant scorn for himself and mankind. And
yet we have a sense of the man's amazing cleverness, and regret that he
has no chance of trying one more fall with his antagonists in the open
arena. Pope's affectation is perhaps the most transparent and the most
gratuitous. His career had been pre-eminently successful; his talents
had found their natural outlet; and he had only to be what he apparently
persuaded himself that he was, to be happy in spite of illness. He is
constantly flourishing his admirable moral sense in our faces, dilating
upon his simplicity, modesty, fidelity to his friends, indifference to
the charms of fame, till we are almost convinced that he has imposed
upon himself. By some strange piece of legerdemain he must surely have
succeeded in regarding even his deliberate artifices, with the
astonishing masses of hypocritical falsehoods which they entailed, as in
some way legitimate weapons against a world full of piratical Curlls and
deep laid plots. And, indeed, with all his delinquencies, and with all
his affectations, there are moments in which we forget to preserve the
correct tone of moral indignation. Every now and then genuine feeling
seems to come to the surface. For a time the superincumbent masses of
hypocrisy vanish. In speaking of his mother or his pursuits he forgets
to wear his mask. He feels a genuine enthusiasm about his friends; he
believes with almost pathetic earnestness in the amazing talents of
Bolingbroke, and the patriotic devotion of the younger men who are
rising up to overthrow the corruptions of Walpole; he takes the
affectation of his friends as seriously as a simple-minded man who has
never fairly realized the possibility of deliberate hypocrisy; and he
utters sentiments about human life and its objects which, if a little
tainted with commonplace, have yet a certain ring of sincerity and, as
we may believe, were really sincere for the time. At such moments we
seem to see the man behind the veil--the really loveable nature which
could know as well as simulate feeling. And, indeed, it is this quality
which makes Pope endurable. He was--if we must speak bluntly--a liar and
a hypocrite; but the foundation of his character was not selfish or
grovelling. On the contrary, no man could be more warmly affectionate or
more exquisitely sensitive to many noble emotions. The misfortune was
that his constitutional infirmities, acted upon by unfavourable
conditions, developed his craving for applause and his fear of censure,
till certain morbid tendencies in him assumed proportions which,
compared to the same weaknesses in ordinary mankind, are as the growth
of plants in a tropical forest to their stunted representatives in the


[14] The evidence by which the statements in this chapter are supported
is fully set forth in Mr. Elwin's edition of Pope's Works, Vol. I., and
in the notes to the Orrery Correspondence in the third volume of

[15] This is proved by a note referring to "the present edition of the
posthumous works of Mr. Wycherley," which, by an oversight, was allowed
to remain in the Curll volume.

[16] These expressions come from two letters of Pope to Lord Orrery in
March, 1737, and may not accurately reproduce his statements to Swift;
but they probably represent approximately what he had said.

[17] It is said that the son objected to allow his wife to meet his
father's mistress.

[18] See Elwin's edition of Pope's Correspondence, iii., 399, note.

[19] Pope's Works, vol. i. p. cxxi.



It is a relief to turn from this miserable record of Pope's petty or
malicious deceptions to the history of his legitimate career. I go back
to the period when he was still in full power. Having finished the
Dunciad, he was soon employed on a more ambitious task. Pope resembled
one of the inferior bodies of the solar system, whose orbit is dependent
upon that of some more massive planet; and having been a satellite of
Swift, he was now swept into the train of the more imposing Bolingbroke.
He had been originally introduced to Bolingbroke by Swift, but had
probably seen little of the brilliant minister who, in the first years
of their acquaintance, had too many occupations to give much time to the
rising poet. Bolingbroke, however, had been suffering a long eclipse,
whilst Pope was gathering fresh splendour. In his exile, Bolingbroke,
though never really weaned from political ambition, had amused himself
with superficial philosophical studies. In political life it was his
special glory to extemporize statesmanship without sacrificing pleasure.
He could be at once the most reckless of rakes and the leading spirit in
the Cabinet or the House of Commons. He seems to have thought that
philosophical eminence was obtainable in the same offhand fashion, and
that a brilliant style would justify a man in laying down the law to
metaphysicians as well as to diplomatists and politicians. His
philosophical writings are equally superficial and arrogant, though they
show here and there the practised debater's power of making a good point
against his antagonist without really grasping the real problems at

Bolingbroke received a pardon in 1723, and returned to England, crossing
Atterbury, who had just been convicted of treasonable practices. In 1725
Bolingbroke settled at Dawley, near Uxbridge, and for the next ten years
he was alternately amusing himself in playing the retired philosopher,
and endeavouring, with more serious purpose, to animate the opposition
to Walpole. Pope, who was his frequent guest, sympathized with his
schemes, and was completely dazzled by his eminence. He spoke of him
with bated breath, as a being almost superior to humanity. "It looks,"
said Pope once, "as if that great man had been placed here by mistake.
When the comet appeared a month or two ago," he added, "I sometimes
fancied that it might be come to carry him home, as a coach comes to
one's door for other visitors." Of all the graceful compliments in
Pope's poetry, none are more ardent or more obviously sincere than those
addressed to this "guide, philosopher, and friend." He delighted to bask
in the sunshine of the great man's presence. Writing to Swift in 1728,
he (Pope) says that he is holding the pen "for my Lord Bolingbroke," who
is reading your letter between two haycocks, with his attention
occasionally distracted by a threatening shower. Bolingbroke is acting
the temperate recluse, having nothing for dinner but mutton-broth, beans
and bacon, and a barndoor fowl. Whilst his lordship is running after a
cart, Pope snatches a moment to tell how the day before this noble
farmer had engaged a painter for 200_l._ to give the correct
agricultural air to his country hall by ornamenting it with trophies of
spades, rakes, and prongs. Pope saw that the zeal for retirement was not
free from affectation, but he sat at the teacher's feet with profound
belief in the value of the lessons which flowed from his lips.

The connexion was to bear remarkable fruit. Under the direction of
Bolingbroke, Pope resolved to compose a great philosophical poem. "Does
Pope talk to you," says Bolingbroke to Swift in 1731, "of the noble work
which, at my instigation, he has begun in such a manner that he must be
convinced by this time I judged better of his talents than he did?" And
Bolingbroke proceeds to describe the Essay on Man, of which it seems
that three (out of four) epistles were now finished. The first of these
epistles appeared in 1733. Pope, being apparently nervous on his first
appearance as a philosopher, withheld his name. The other parts followed
in the course of 1733 and 1734, and the authorship was soon avowed. The
Essay on Man is Pope's most ambitious performance, and the one by which
he was best known beyond his own country. It has been frequently
translated, it was imitated both in France and Germany, and provoked a
controversy, not like others in Pope's history of the purely personal

The Essay on Man professes to be a theodicy. Pope, with an echo of the
Miltonic phrase, proposes to

     Vindicate the ways of God to man.

He is thus attempting the greatest task to which poet or philosopher can
devote himself--the exhibition of an organic and harmonious view of the
universe. In a time when men's minds are dominated by a definite
religious creed, the poet may hope to achieve success in such an
undertaking without departing from his legitimate method. His vision
pierces to the world hidden from our senses, and realizes in the
transitory present a scene in the slow development of a divine drama. To
make us share his vision is to give his justification of Providence.
When Milton told the story of the war in heaven and the fall of man, he
gave implicitly his theory of the true relations of man to his Creator,
but the abstract doctrine was clothed in the flesh and blood of a
concrete mythology.

In Pope's day the traditional belief had lost its hold upon men's minds
too completely to be used for imaginative purposes. The story of Adam
and Eve would itself require to be justified or to be rationalized into
thin allegory. Nothing was left possessed of any vitality but a bare
skeleton of abstract theology, dependent upon argument instead of
tradition, and which might use or might dispense with a Christian
phraseology. Its deity was not a historical personage, but the name of a
metaphysical conception. For a revelation was substituted a
demonstration. To vindicate Providence meant no longer to stimulate
imagination by pure and sublime rendering of accepted truths, but to
solve certain philosophical problems, and especially the grand
difficulty of reconciling the existence of evil with divine omnipotence
and benevolence.

Pope might conceivably have written a really great poem on these terms,
though deprived of the concrete imagery of a Dante or a Milton. If he
had fairly grasped some definite conception of the universe, whether
pantheistic or atheistic, optimist or pessimist, proclaiming a solution
of the mystery, or declaring all solutions to be impossible, he might
have given forcible expression to the corresponding emotions. He might
have uttered the melancholy resignation and the confident hope incited
in different minds by a contemplation of the mysterious world. He might
again conceivably have written an interesting work, though it would
hardly have been a poem--if he had versified the arguments by which a
coherent theory might be supported. Unluckily, he was quite unqualified
for either undertaking, and, at the same time, he more or less aimed at
both. Anything like sustained reasoning was beyond his reach. Pope felt
and thought by shocks and electric flashes. He could only obtain a
continuous effect when working clearly upon lines already provided for
him, or simulate one by fitting together fragments struck out at
intervals. The defect was aggravated or caused by the physical
infirmities which put sustained intellectual labour out of the question.
The laborious and patient meditation which brings a converging series of
arguments to bear upon a single point, was to him as impossible as the
power of devising an elaborate strategical combination to a dashing
Prince Rupert. The reasonings in the Essay are confused, contradictory,
and often childish. He was equally far from having assimilated any
definite system of thought. Brought up as a Catholic, he had gradually
swung into vague deistic belief. But he had never studied any philosophy
or theology whatever, and he accepts in perfect unconsciousness
fragments of the most heterogeneous systems.

Swift, in verses from which I have already quoted, describes his method
of composition, which is characteristic of Pope's habits of work.

     Now backs of letters, though design'd
       For those who more will need 'em,
     Are fill'd with hints and interlined,
       Himself can scarcely read 'em.

     Each atom by some other struck
       All turns and motions tries;
     Till in a lump together stuck
       Behold a poem rise!

It was strange enough that any poem should arise by such means; but it
would have been miraculous if a poem so constructed had been at once a
demonstration and an exposition of a harmonious philosophical system.
The confession which he made to Warburton will be a sufficient
indication of his qualifications as a student. He says (in 1739) that he
never in his life read a line of Leibnitz, nor knew, till he found it in
a confutation of his Essay, that there was such a term as
pre-established harmony. That is almost as if a modern reconciler of
faith and science were to say that he had never read a line of Mr.
Darwin, or heard of such a phrase as the struggle for existence. It was
to pronounce himself absolutely disqualified to speak as a philosopher.

How, then, could Pope obtain even an appearance of success? The problem
should puzzle no one at the present day. Every smart essayist knows how
to settle the most abstruse metaphysical puzzles after studies limited
to the pages of a monthly magazine; and Pope was much in the state of
mind of such extemporizing philosophers. He had dipped into the books
which everybody read; Locke's Essay, and Shaftesbury's Characteristics,
and Wollaston's Religion of Nature, and Clarke on the Attributes, and
Archbishop King on the Origin of Evil, had probably amused his spare
moments. They were all, we may suppose, in Bolingbroke's library; and if
that passing shower commemorated in Pope's letter drove them back to the
house, Bolingbroke might discourse from the page which happened to be
open, and Pope would try to versify it on the back of an envelope.[20]
Nor must we forget, like some of his commentators, that after all Pope
was an exceedingly clever man. His rapidly perceptive mind was fully
qualified to imbibe the crude versions of philosophic theories which
float upon the surface of ordinary talk, and are not always so inferior
to their prototypes in philosophic qualities, as philosophers would have
us believe. He could by snatches seize with admirable quickness the
general spirit of a doctrine, though unable to sustain himself at a high
intellectual level for any length of time. He was ready with abundance
of poetical illustrations, not, perhaps, very closely adapted to the
logic, but capable of being elaborated into effective passages; and,
finally, Pope had always a certain number of more or less appropriate
commonplaces or renderings into verse of some passages which had struck
him in Pascal, or Rochefoucauld, or Bacon, all of them favourite
authors, and which could be wrought into the structure at a slight cost
of coherence. By such means he could put together a poem, which was
certainly not an organic whole, but which might contain many striking
sayings and passages of great rhetorical effect.

The logical framework was, we may guess, supplied mainly by Bolingbroke.
Bathurst told Warton that Bolingbroke had given Pope the essay in prose,
and that Pope had only turned it into verse; and Mallet--a friend of
both--is said to have seen the very manuscript from which Pope worked.
Johnson, on hearing this from Boswell, remarked that it must be an
overstatement. Pope might have had from Bolingbroke the "philosophical
stamina" of the essay, but he must, at least, have contributed the
"poetical imagery," and have had more independent power than the story
implied. It is, indeed, impossible accurately to fix the relations of
the teacher and his disciple. Pope acknowledged in the strongest
possible terms his dependence upon Bolingbroke, and Bolingbroke claims
with equal distinctness the position of instigator and inspirer. His
more elaborate philosophical works are in the form of letters to Pope,
and profess to be a redaction of the conversations which they had had
together. These were not written till after the Essay on Man; but a
series of fragments appear to represent what he actually set down for
Pope's guidance. They are professedly addressed to Pope. "I write," he
says (fragment 65), "to you and for you, and you would think yourself
little obliged to me if I took the pains of explaining in prose what you
would not think it necessary to explain in verse,"--that is, the
free-will puzzle. The manuscripts seen by Mallet may probably have been
a commonplace book in which Bolingbroke had set down some of these
fragments, by way of instructing Pope, and preparing for his own more
systematic work. No reader of the fragments can, I think, doubt as to
the immediate source of Pope's inspiration. Most of the ideas expressed
were the common property of many contemporary writers, but Pope accepts
the particular modification presented by Bolingbroke.[21] Pope's
manipulation of these materials causes much of the Essay on Man to
resemble (as Mr. Pattison puts it) an exquisite mosaic work. A detailed
examination of his mode of transmutation would be a curious study in the
technical secrets of literary execution. A specimen or two will
sufficiently indicate the general character of Pope's method of
constructing his essay.

The forty-third fragment of Bolingbroke is virtually a prose version of
much of Pope's poetry. A few phrases will exhibit the relation:--

     Through worlds unnumber'd though the God be known,
     'Tis ours to _trace Him only in our own_.
     He who through vast immensity can pierce,
     See worlds on worlds _compose one universe_,
     Observe how _system into system runs_,
     What other planets circle other suns,
     What varied being peoples every star,
     May tell why Heaven has made us what we are.
     But of this frame the bearings and _the ties_,
     The strong _connexions_, nice _dependencies_,
     _Gradations_ just, has thy pervading soul
     Looked through, or can a part contain the whole?

"The universe," I quote only a few phrases from Bolingbroke, "is an
immense aggregate of systems. Every one of these, _if we may judge by
our own_, contains several, and every one of these again, _if we may
judge by our own_, is made up of a multitude of different modes of
being, animated and inanimated, thinking and unthinking ... but all
concurring in one common system.... Just so it is with respect to the
various systems and _systems of systems that compose the universe_. As
distant as they are, and as different as we may imagine them to be, they
are all _tied_ together by relations and _connexions_, _gradations_, and
_dependencies_." The verbal coincidence is here as marked as the
coincidence in argument. Warton refers to an eloquent passage in
Shaftesbury, which contains a similar thought; but one can hardly doubt
that Bolingbroke was in this case the immediate source. A quaint
passage a little farther on, in which Pope represents man as complaining
because he has not "the strength of bulls or the fur of bears," may be
traced with equal plausibility to Shaftesbury or to Sir Thomas Browne;
but I have not noticed it in Bolingbroke.

One more passage will be sufficient. Pope asks whether we are to demand
the suspension of laws of nature whenever they might produce a
mischievous result? Is Etna to cease an eruption to spare a sage, or
should "new motions be impressed upon sea and air" for the advantage of
blameless Bethel?

     When the loose mountain trembles from on high
     Shall gravitation cease, if you go by?
     Or some old temple, nodding to its fall,
     For Chartres' head reserve the hanging-wall?

Chartres is Pope's typical villain. This is a terse version, with
concrete cases, of Bolingbroke's vaguer generalities. "The laws of
gravitation," he says, "must sometimes be suspended (if special
Providence be admitted), and sometimes their effect must be
precipitated. The tottering edifice must be kept miraculously from
falling, whilst innocent men lived in it or passed under it, and the
fall of it must be as miraculously determined to crush the guilty
inhabitant or passenger." Here, again, we have the alternative of
Wollaston, who uses a similar illustration, and in one phrase comes
nearer to Pope. He speaks of "new motions being impressed upon the
atmosphere." We may suppose that the two friends had been dipping into
Wollaston together. Elsewhere Pope seems to have stolen for himself. In
the beginning of the second epistle, Pope, in describing man as "the
glory, jest, and riddle of the world," is simply versifying Pascal; and
a little farther on, when he speaks of reason as the wind and passion
as the gale on life's vast ocean, he is adapting his comparison from
Locke's treatise on government.

If all such cases were adduced, we should have nearly picked the
argumentative part of the essay to pieces; but Bolingbroke supplies
throughout the most characteristic element. The fragments cohere by
external cement, not by an internal unity of thought; and Pope too often
descends to the level of mere satire, or indulges in a quaint conceit or
palpable sophistry. Yet it would be very unjust to ignore the high
qualities which are to be found in this incongruous whole. The style is
often admirable. When Pope is at his best every word tells. His
precision and firmness of touch enables him to get the greatest possible
meaning into a narrow compass. He uses only one epithet, but it is the
right one, and never boggles and patches or, in his own phrase,
"blunders round about a meaning." Warton gives, as a specimen of this
power, the lines:--

     But errs not nature from this gracious end,
     From burning suns when livid deaths descend,
     When earthquakes swallow or when tempests sweep
     Towns to one grave, whole nations to the deep?

And Mr. Pattison reinforces the criticism by quoting Voltaire's feeble

     Quand des vents du midi les funestes haleines
     De semence de mort ont inondé nos plaines,
     Direz-vous que jamais le ciel en son courroux
     Ne laissa la santé séjourner parmi nous?

It is true that in the effort to be compressed, Pope has here and there
cut to the quick and suppressed essential parts of speech, till the
lines can only be construed by our independent knowledge of their
meaning. The famous line--

     Man never is but always to be blest,

is an example of defective construction, though his language is often
tortured by more elliptical phrases.[22] This power of charging lines
with great fulness of meaning enables Pope to soar for brief periods
into genuine and impressive poetry. Whatever his philosophical weakness
and his moral obliquity, he is often moved by genuine emotion. He has a
vein of generous sympathy for human sufferings and of righteous
indignation against bigots, and if he only half understands his own
optimism, that "whatever is is right," the vision, rather poetical than
philosophical, of a harmonious universe lifts him at times into a region
loftier than that of frigid and pedantic platitude. The most popular
passages were certain purple patches, not arising very spontaneously or
with much relevance, but also showing something more than the practised
rhetorician. The "poor Indian" in one of the most highly-polished

     Who thinks, admitted to that equal sky,
     His faithful dog shall bear him company,

intrudes rather at the expense of logic, and is a decidedly conventional
person. But this passage has a certain glow of fine humanity and is
touched with real pathos. A further passage or two may sufficiently
indicate his higher qualities. In the end of the third epistle Pope is
discussing the origin of government and the state of nature, and
discussing them in such a way as to show conclusively that he does not
in the least understand the theories in question or their application.
His state of Nature is a sham reproduction of the golden age of poets,
made to do duty in a scientific speculation. A flimsy hypothesis learnt
from Bolingbroke is not improved when overlaid with Pope's conventional
ornamentation. The imaginary history proceeds to relate the growth of
superstition, which destroys the primeval innocence; but why or when
does not very clearly appear; yet, though the general theory is
incoherent, he catches a distinct view of one aspect of the question and
expresses a tolerably trite view of the question with singular
terseness. Who, he asks,--

         First taught souls enslaved and realms undone,
     The enormous faith of many made for one?

He replies,--

     Force first made conquest and that conquest law;
     Till Superstition taught the tyrant awe,
     Then shared the tyranny, then lent it aid,
     And gods of conquerors, slaves of subjects made;
     She, 'mid the lightning's blaze and thunder's sound,
     When rock'd the mountains and when groan'd the ground--
     She taught the weak to trust, the proud to pray
     To Power unseen and mightier far than they;
     She from the rending earth and bursting skies
     Saw gods descend and fiends infernal rise;
     There fix'd the dreadful, there the blest abodes;
     Fear made her devils, and weak hope her gods;
     Gods partial, changeful, passionate, unjust,
     Whose attributes were rage, revenge, or lust;
     Such as the souls of cowards might conceive,
     And, framed like tyrants, tyrants would believe.

If the test of poetry were the power of expressing a theory more closely
and pointedly than prose, such writing would take a very high place.
Some popular philosophers would make a sounding chapter out of those
sixteen lines.

The Essay on Man brought Pope into difficulties. The central thesis,
"whatever is is right," might be understood in various senses, and in
some sense it would be accepted by every theist. But, in Bolingbroke's
teaching, it received a heterodox application, and in Pope's imperfect
version of Bolingbroke the taint was not removed. The logical outcome of
the rationalistic theory of the time was some form of pantheism, and the
tendency is still more marked in a poetical statement, where it was
difficult to state the refined distinctions by which the conclusion is
averted. When theology is regarded as demonstrable by reason, the need
of a revelation ceases to be obvious. The optimistic view which sees the
proof of divine order in the vast harmony of the whole visible world,
throws into the background the darker side of the universe reflected in
the theological doctrines of human corruption, and the consequent need
of a future judgment in separation of good from evil. I need not inquire
whether any optimistic theory is really tenable; but the popular version
of the creed involved the attempt to ignore the evils under which all
creation groans, and produced in different minds the powerful retort of
Butler's Analogy, and the biting sarcasm of Voltaire's Candide. Pope,
accepting the doctrine without any perception of these difficulties,
unintentionally fell into sheer pantheism. He was not yielding to the
logical instinct which carries out a theory to its legitimate
development; but obeying the imaginative impulse which cannot stop to
listen to the usual qualifications and safeguards of the orthodox
reasoner. The best passages in the essay are those in which he is
frankly pantheistic, and is swept, like Shaftesbury, into enthusiastic
assertion of the universal harmony of things.

     All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
     Whose body nature is, and God the soul;
     That changed thro' all and yet in all the same,
     Great in the earth as in the ethereal frame;
     Warms in the sun, refreshes in the breeze,
     Glows in the stars, and blossoms in the trees;
     Lives thro' all life, extends thro' all extent,
     Spreads undivided, operates unspent;
     Breathes in our soul, informs our mortal part,
     As full, as perfect, in a hair as heart;
     As full, as perfect, in vile man that mourns,
     As the rapt seraph that adores and burns;
     To him, no high, no low, no great, no small,
     He fills, he bounds, connects, and equals all.

In spite of some awkward phrases (hair and heart is a vile antithesis!),
the passage is eloquent but can hardly be called orthodox. And it was
still worse when Pope undertook to show that even evil passions and
vices were part of the harmony; that "a Borgia and a Cataline" were as
much a part of the divine order as a plague or an earthquake, and that
self-love and lust were essential to social welfare.

Pope's own religious position is characteristic and easily definable. If
it is not quite defensible on the strictest principles of plain
speaking, it is also certain that we could not condemn him without
condemning many of the best and most catholic-spirited of men. The
dogmatic system in which he had presumably been educated had softened
under the influence of the cultivated thought of the day. Pope, as the
member of a persecuted sect, had learnt to share that righteous hatred
of bigotry which is the honourable characteristic of his best
contemporaries. He considered the persecuting spirit of his own church
to be its worst fault.[23] In the early Essay on Criticism he offended
some of his own sect by a vigorous denunciation of the doctrine which
promotes persecution by limiting salvation to a particular creed. His
charitable conviction that a divine element is to be found in all
creeds, from that of the "poor Indian" upwards, animates the highest
passages in his works. But though he sympathizes with a generous
toleration, and the specific dogmas of his creed sat very loosely on his
mind, he did not consider that an open secession was necessary or even
honourable. He called himself a true Catholic, though rather as
respectfully sympathizing with the spirit of Fénelon than as holding to
any dogmatic system. The most dignified letter that he ever wrote was in
answer to a suggestion from Atterbury (1717), that he might change his
religion upon the death of his father. Pope replies that his worldly
interests would be promoted by such a step; and, in fact, it cannot be
doubted that Pope might have had a share in the good things then
obtainable by successful writers, if he had qualified by taking the
oaths. But he adds, that such a change would hurt his mother's feelings,
and that he was more certain of his duty to promote her happiness than
of any speculative tenet whatever. He was sure that he could mean as
well in the religion he now professed as in any other; and that being
so, he thought that a change even to an equally good religion could not
be justified. A similar statement appears in a letter to Swift, in 1729.
"I am of the religion of Erasmus, a Catholic. So I live, so shall I die,
and hope one day to meet you, Bishop Atterbury, the younger Craggs, Dr.
Garth, Dean Berkeley, and Mr. Hutchison in that place to which God of
his infinite mercy bring us and everybody." To these Protestants he
would doubtless have joined the freethinking Bolingbroke. At a later
period he told Warburton, in less elevated language, that the change of
his creed would bring him many enemies and do no good to any one.

Pope could feel nobly and act honourably when his morbid vanity did not
expose him to some temptation; and I think that in this matter his
attitude was in every way creditable. He showed, indeed, the prejudice
entertained by many of the rationalist divines for the freethinkers who
were a little more outspoken than himself. The deist whose creed was
varnished with Christian phrases, was often bitter against the deist who
rejected the varnish; and Pope put Toland and Tindal into the Dunciad as
scandalous assailants of all religion. From his point of view it was as
wicked to attack any creed as to regard any creed as exclusively true;
and certainly Pope was not disposed to join any party which was hated
and maligned by the mass of the respectable world. For it must be
remembered that, in spite of much that has been said to the contrary,
and in spite of the true tendency of much so-called orthodoxy, the
profession of open dissent from Christian doctrine was then regarded
with extreme disapproval. It might be a fashion, as Butler and others
declare, to talk infidelity in cultivated circles; but a public
promulgation of unbelief was condemned as criminal, and worthy only of
the Grub-street faction. Pope, therefore, was terribly shocked when he
found himself accused of heterodoxy. His poem was at once translated,
and, we are told, spread rapidly in France, where Voltaire and many
inferior writers were introducing the contagion of English freethinking.
A solid Swiss pastor and professor of philosophy, Jean Pierre Crousaz
(1663-1750), undertook the task of refutation, and published an
examination of Pope's philosophy in 1737 and 1738. A serious examination
of this bundle of half-digested opinions was in itself absurd. Some
years afterwards (1751) Pope came under a more powerful critic. The
Berlin Academy of Sciences offered a prize for a similar essay, and
Lessing published a short tract called _Pope ein Metaphysiker_! If any
one cares to see a demonstration that Pope did not understand the system
of Leibnitz, and that the bubble blown by a great philosopher has more
apparent cohesion than that of a half-read poet, he may find a
sufficient statement of the case in Lessing. But Lessing sensibly
protests from the start against the intrusion of such a work into
serious discussion; and that is the only ground which is worth taking in
the matter.

The most remarkable result of the Essay on Man, it may be
parenthetically noticed, was its effect upon Voltaire. In 1751 Voltaire
wrote a poem on Natural Law, which is a comparatively feeble application
of Pope's principles. It is addressed to Frederick instead of
Bolingbroke, and contains a warm eulogy of Pope's philosophy. But a few
years later the earthquake at Lisbon suggested certain doubts to
Voltaire as to the completeness of the optimist theory; and, in some of
the most impressive verses of the century, he issued an energetic
protest against the platitudes applied by Pope and his followers to
deaden our sense of the miseries under which the race suffers. Verbally,
indeed, Voltaire still makes his bow to the optimist theory, and the two
poems appeared together in 1756; but his noble outcry against the empty
and complacent deductions which it covers, led to his famous controversy
with Rousseau. The history of this conflict falls beyond my subject,
and I must be content with this brief reference, which proves, amongst
other things, the interest created by Pope's advocacy of the most
characteristic doctrines of his time on the minds of the greatest
leaders of the revolutionary movement.

Meanwhile, however, Crousaz was translated into English, and Pope was
terribly alarmed. His "guide, philosopher, and friend" had returned to
the Continent (in 1735), disgusted with his political failure, but was
again in England from June, 1738, to May, 1739. We know not what comfort
he may have given to his unlucky disciple, but an unexpected champion
suddenly arose. William Warburton (born 1698) was gradually pushing his
way to success. He had been an attorney's clerk, and had not received a
university education; but his multifarious reading was making him
conspicuous, helped by great energy, and by a quality which gave some
plausibility to the title bestowed on him by Mallet, "The most impudent
man living." In his humble days he had been intimate with Pope's
enemies, Concanen and Theobald, and had spoken scornfully of Pope,
saying, amongst other things, that he "borrowed for want of genius," as
Addison borrowed from modesty and Milton from pride. In 1736 he had
published his first important work, the Alliance between Church and
State, and in 1738 followed the first instalment of his principal
performance, the Divine Legation. During the following years he was the
most conspicuous theologian of the day, dreaded and hated by his
opponents, whom he unsparingly bullied, and dominating a small clique of
abject admirers. He is said to have condemned the Essay on Man when it
first appeared. He called it a collection of the worst passages of the
worst authors, and declared that it taught rank atheism. The appearance
of Crousaz's book suddenly induced him to make a complete change of
front. He declared that Pope spoke "truth uniformly throughout," and
complimented him on his strong and delicate reasoning.

It is idle to seek motives for this proceeding. Warburton loved
paradoxes, and delighted in brandishing them in the most offensive
terms. He enjoyed the exercise of his own ingenuity, and therefore his
ponderous writings, though amusing by their audacity and width of
reading, are absolutely valueless for their ostensible purpose. The
exposition of Pope (the first part of which appeared in December, 1738)
is one of his most tiresome performances; nor need any human being at
the present day study the painful wire-drawings and sophistries by which
he tries to give logical cohesion and orthodox intention to the Essay on

If Warburton was simply practising his dialectical skill, the result was
a failure. But if he had an eye to certain lower ends, his success
surpassed his expectations. Pope was in ecstasies. He fell upon
Warburton's neck--or rather at his feet--and overwhelmed him with
professions of gratitude. He invited him to Twickenham; met him with
compliments which astonished a bystander, and wrote to him in terms of
surprising humility. "You understand me," he exclaims in his first
letter, "as well as I do myself; but you express me much better than I
could express myself." For the rest of his life Pope adopted the same
tone. He sheltered himself behind this burly defender, and could never
praise him enough. He declared Mr. Warburton to be the greatest general
critic he ever knew, and was glad to instal him in the position of
champion in ordinary. Warburton was consulted about new editions;
annotated Pope's poems; stood sponsor to the last Dunciad, and was
assured by his admiring friend that the comment would prolong the life
of the poetry. Pope left all his copyrights to this friend, whilst his
MSS. were given to Bolingbroke.

When the University of Oxford proposed to confer an honorary degree upon
Pope, he declined to receive the compliment, because the proposal to
confer a smaller honour upon Warburton had been at the same time thrown
out by the University. In fact, Pope looked up to Warburton with a
reverence almost equal to that which he felt for Bolingbroke. If such
admiration for such an idol was rather humiliating, we must remember
that Pope was unable to detect the charlatan in the pretentious but
really vigorous writer; and we may perhaps admit that there is something
pathetic in Pope's constant eagerness to be supported by some sturdier
arm. We find the same tendency throughout his life. The weak and
morbidly sensitive nature may be forgiven if its dependence leads to
excessive veneration.

Warburton derived advantages from the connexion, the prospect of which,
we may hope, was not the motive of his first advocacy. To be recognized
by the most eminent man of letters of the day was to receive a kind of
certificate of excellence, valuable to a man who had not the regular
university hall-mark. More definite results followed. Pope introduced
Warburton to Allen, and to Murray, afterwards Lord Mansfield. Through
Murray he was appointed preacher at Lincoln's Inn, and from Allen he
derived greater benefits--the hand of his niece and heiress, and an
introduction to Pitt, which gained for him the bishopric of Gloucester.

Pope's allegiance to Bolingbroke was not weakened by this new alliance.
He sought to bring the two together, when Bolingbroke again visited
England in 1743. The only result was an angry explosion, as, indeed,
might have been foreseen; for Bolingbroke was not likely to be
well-disposed to the clever parson whose dexterous sleight-of-hand had
transferred Pope to the orthodox camp; nor was it natural that
Warburton, the most combative and insulting of controversialists, should
talk on friendly terms to one of his natural antagonists--an antagonist,
moreover, who was not likely to have bishoprics in his gift. The
quarrel, as we shall see, broke out fiercely over Pope's grave.


[20] "No letter with an envelope could give him more delight," says

[21] It would be out of place to discuss this in detail; but I may say
that Pope's crude theory of the state of nature, his psychology as to
reason and instinct, and self-love, and his doctrine of the scale of
beings, all seem to have the specific Bolingbroke stamp.

[22] Perhaps the most curious example, too long for quotation, is a
passage near the end of the last epistle, in which he sums up his moral
system by a series of predicates for which it is impossible to find any
subject. One couplet runs--

Never elated whilst one man's depress'd, Never dejected whilst another's

It is impressive, but it is quite impossible to discover by the rules of
grammatical construction who is to be never elated and depressed.

[23] Spence, p. 364.



Pope had tried a considerable number of poetical experiments when the
Dunciad appeared, but he had not yet discovered in what direction his
talents could be most efficiently exerted. Bystanders are sometimes
acuter in detecting a man's true forte than the performer himself. In
1722 Atterbury had seen Pope's lines upon Addison, and reported that no
piece of his writing was ever so much sought after. "Since you now
know," he added, "in what direction your strength lies, I hope you will
not suffer that talent to be unemployed." Atterbury seems to have been
rather fond of giving advice to Pope, and puts on a decidedly pedagogic
air when writing to him. The present suggestion was more likely to fall
on willing ears than another made shortly before their final separation.
Atterbury then presented Pope with a Bible, and recommended him to study
its pages. If Pope had taken to heart some of St. Paul's exhortations to
Christian charity, he would scarcely have published his lines upon
Addison, and English literature would have lost some of its most
brilliant pages.

Satire of the kind represented by those lines was so obviously adapted
to Pope's peculiar talent, that we rather wonder at his having taken to
it seriously at a comparatively late period, and even then having
drifted into it by accident rather than by deliberate adoption. He had
aimed, as has been said, at being a philosophic and didactic poet. The
Essay on Man formed part of a much larger plan, of which two or three
fragmentary sketches are given by Spence.[24] Bolingbroke and Pope wrote
to Swift in November, 1729, about a scheme then in course of execution.
Bolingbroke declares that Pope is now exerting what was eminently and
peculiarly his talents, above all writers, living or dead, without
excepting Horace; whilst Pope explained that this was a "system of
ethics in the Horatian way." The language seems to apply best to the
poems afterwards called the Ethic Epistles, though, at this time, Pope,
perhaps, had not a very clear plan in his head, and was working at
different parts simultaneously. The Essay on Man, his most distinct
scheme, was to form the opening book of his poem. Three others were to
treat of knowledge and its limits, of government--ecclesiastical and
civil--and of morality. The last book itself involved an elaborate plan.
There were to be three epistles about each cardinal virtue--one, for
example, upon avarice; another on the contrary extreme of prodigality;
and a third, upon the judicious mean of a moderate use of riches. Pope
told Spence that he had dropped the plan chiefly because his third book
would have provoked every Church on the face of the earth, and he did
not care for always being in boiling water. The scheme, however, was far
too wide and too systematic for Pope's powers. His spasmodic energy
enabled him only to fill up corners of the canvas, and from what he did,
it is sufficiently evident that his classification would have been
incoherent and his philosophy unequal to the task. Part of his work was
used for the fourth book of the Dunciad, and the remainder corresponds
to what are now called the Ethic Epistles. These, as they now stand,
include five poems. One of these has no real connexion with the others.
It is a poem addressed to Addison, "occasioned by his dialogue on
medals," written (according to Pope) in 1715, and first published in
Tickell's edition of Addison's works in 1721. The epistle to Burlington
on taste was afterwards called the Use of Riches, and appended to
another with the same title, thus filling a place in the ethical scheme,
though devoted to a very subsidiary branch of the subject. It appeared
in 1731. The epistle "of the use of riches" appeared in 1732, that of
the knowledge and characters of men in 1733, and that of the characters
of women in 1735. The last three are all that would seem to belong to
the wider treatise contemplated; but Pope composed so much in fragments
that it is difficult to say what bits he might have originally intended
for any given purpose.

Another distraction seems to have done more than his fear of boiling
water to arrest the progress of the elaborate plan. Bolingbroke coming
one day into his room, took up a Horace, and observed that the first
satire of the second book would suit Pope's style. Pope translated it in
a morning or two, and sent it to press almost immediately (1733). The
poem had a brilliant success. It contained, amongst other things, the
couplet which provoked his war with Lady Mary and Lord Hervey. This,
again, led to his putting together the epistle to Arbuthnot, which
includes the bitter attack upon Hervey, as part of a general _apologia
pro vita sua_. It was afterwards called the Prologue to the Satires. Of
his other imitations of Horace, one appeared in 1734 (the second satire
of the second book), and four more (the first and sixth epistles of the
first book and the first and second of the second book) in 1738.
Finally, in 1737, he published two dialogues, first called "1738" and
afterwards "The Epilogue to the Satires," which are in the same vein as
the epistle to Arbuthnot. These epistles and imitations of Horace, with
the so-called prologue and epilogue, took up the greatest part of Pope's
energy during the years in which his intellect was at its best, and show
his finest technical qualities. The Essay on Man was on hand during the
early part of this period, the epistles and satires representing a
ramification from the same inquiry. But the essay shows the weak side of
Pope, whilst his most remarkable qualities are best represented by these
subsidiary writings. The reason will be sufficiently apparent after a
brief examination, which will also give occasion for saying what still
remains to be said in regard to Pope as a literary artist.

The weakness already conspicuous in the Essay on Man mars the effect of
the Ethic Epistles. His work tends to be rather an aggregation than an
organic whole. He was (if I may borrow a phrase from the philologists)
an agglutinative writer, and composed by sticking together independent
fragments. His mode of composition was natural to a mind incapable of
sustained and continuous thought. In the epistles, he professes to be
working on a plan. The first expounds his favourite theory (also treated
in the essay) of a "ruling passion." Each man has such a passion, if
only you can find it, which explains the apparent inconsistency of his
conduct. This theory, which has exposed him to a charge of fatalism
(especially from people who did not very well know what fatalism
means), is sufficiently striking for his purpose; but it rather turns up
at intervals than really binds the epistle into a whole. But the
arrangement of his portrait gallery is really unsystematic; the
affectation of system is rather in the way. The most striking characters
in the essay on women were inserted (whenever composed) some time after
its first appearance, and the construction is too loose to make any
interruption of the argument perceptible. The poems contain some of
Pope's most brilliant bits, but we can scarcely remember them as a
whole. The characters of Wharton and Villiers, of Atossa, of the Man of
Ross, and Sir Balaam, stand out as brilliant passages which would do
almost as well in any other setting. In the imitations of Horace he is,
of course, guided by lines already laid down for him; and he has shown
admirable skill in translating the substance as well as the words of his
author by the nearest equivalents. This peculiar mode of imitation had
been tried by other writers, but in Pope's hands it succeeded beyond all
precedent. There is so much congeniality between Horace and Pope, and
the social orders of which they were the spokesmen, that he can
represent his original without giving us any sense of constraint. Yet
even here he sometimes obscures the thread of connexion, and we feel
more or less clearly that the order of thought is not that which would
have spontaneously arisen in his own mind. So, for example, in the
imitation of Horace's first epistle of the first book, the references to
the Stoical and Epicurean morals imply a connexion of ideas to which
nothing corresponds in Pope's reproduction. Horace is describing a
genuine experience, while Pope is only putting together a string of
commonplaces. The most interesting part of these imitations are those in
which Pope takes advantage of the suggestions in Horace to be
thoroughly autobiographical. He manages to run his own experience and
feelings into the moulds provided for him by his predecessor. One of the
happiest passages is that in which he turns the serious panegyric on
Augustus into a bitter irony against the other Augustus, whose name was
George, and who, according to Lord Hervey, was so contrasted with his
prototype, that whereas personal courage was the one weak point of the
emperor, it was the one strong point of the English king. As soon as
Pope has a chance of expressing his personal antipathies or (to do him
bare justice) his personal attachments, his lines begin to glow. When he
is trying to preach, to be ethical and philosophical, he is apt to fall
into mouthing and to lose his place; but when he can forget his stilts,
or point his morality by some concrete and personal instance, every word
is alive. And it is this which makes the epilogues, and more especially
the prologue to the satires, his most impressive performances. The unity
which is very ill-supplied by some ostensible philosophical thesis, or
even by the leading strings of Horace, is given by his own intense
interest in himself. The best way of learning to enjoy Pope is to get by
heart the epistle to Arbuthnot. That epistle is, as I have said, his
Apologia. In its some 400 lines, he has managed to compress more of his
feelings and thoughts than would fill an ordinary autobiography. It is
true that the epistle requires a commentator. It wants some familiarity
with the events of Pope's life, and many lines convey only a part of
their meaning unless we are familiar not only with the events, but with
the characters of the persons mentioned. Passages over which we pass
carelessly at the first reading then come out with wonderful freshness,
and single phrases throw a sudden light upon hidden depths of feeling.
It is also true, unluckily, that parts of it must be read by the rule of
contraries. They tell us not what Pope really was, but what he wished
others to think him, and what he probably endeavoured to persuade
himself that he was. How far he succeeded in imposing upon himself is
indeed a very curious question which can never be fully answered. There
is the strangest mixture of honesty and hypocrisy. Let me, he says, live
my own and die so too--

     (To live and die is all I have to do)
     Maintain a poet's dignity and ease,
     And see what friends and read what books I please!

Well, he was independent in his fashion, and we can at least believe
that he so far believed in himself. But when he goes on to say that he
"can sleep without a poem in his head,

     Nor know if Dennis be alive or dead,"

we remember his calling up the maid four times a night in the dreadful
winter of 1740 to save a thought, and the features writhing in anguish
as he read a hostile pamphlet. Presently he informs us that "he thinks a
lie in prose or verse the same"--only too much the same! and that "if he
pleased, he pleased by manly ways." Alas! for the manliness. And yet
again when he speaks of his parents,

     Unspotted names and venerable long
     If there be force in virtue or in song,

can we doubt that he is speaking from the heart? We should perhaps like
to forget that the really exquisite and touching lines in which he
speaks of his mother had been so carefully elaborated.

     Me let the tender office long engage
     To rock the cradle of declining age,
     With lenient acts extend a mother's breath,
     Make languor smile and smooth the bed of death,
     Explore the thought, explain the asking eye,
     And keep awhile one parent from the sky!

If there are more tender and exquisitely expressed lines in the
language, I know not where to find them; and yet again I should be glad
not to be reminded by a cruel commentator that poor Mrs. Pope had been
dead for two years when they were published, and that even this touching
effusion has therefore a taint of dramatic affectation.

To me, I confess, it seems most probable, though at first sight
incredible, that these utterances were thoroughly sincere for the
moment. I fancy that under Pope's elaborate masks of hypocrisy and
mystification there was a heart always abnormally sensitive.
Unfortunately it was as capable of bitter resentment as of warm
affection, and was always liable to be misled by the suggestions of his
strangely irritable vanity. And this seems to me to give the true key to
Pope's poetical as well as to his personal characteristics.

To explain either, we must remember that he was a man of impulses; at
one instant a mere incarnate thrill of gratitude or generosity, and in
the next of spite or jealousy. A spasm of wounded vanity would make him
for the time as mean and selfish as other men are made by a frenzy of
bodily fear. He would instinctively snatch at a lie even when a moment's
reflection would have shown that the plain truth would be more
convenient, and therefore he had to accumulate lie upon lie, each
intended to patch up some previous blunder. Though nominally the poet of
reason, he was the very antithesis of the man who is reasonable in the
highest sense: who is truthful in word and deed because his conduct is
regulated by harmonious and invariable principles. Pope was governed by
the instantaneous feeling. His emotion came in sudden jets and gushes,
instead of a continuous stream. The same peculiarity deprives his poetry
of continuous harmony or profound unity of conception. His lively sense
of form and proportion enables him indeed to fill up a simple framework
(generally of borrowed design) with an eye to general effect, as in the
Rape of the Lock or the first Dunciad. But even there his flight is
short; and when a poem should be governed by the evolution of some
profound principle or complex mood of sentiment, he becomes incoherent
and perplexed. But on the other hand he can perceive admirably all that
can be seen at a glance from a single point of view. Though he could not
be continuous, he could return again and again to the same point; he
could polish, correct, eliminate superfluities, and compress his meaning
more and more closely, till he has constructed short passages of
imperishable excellence. This microscopic attention to fragments
sometimes injures the connexion, and often involves a mutilation of
construction. He corrects and prunes too closely. He could, he says, in
reference to the Essay on Man, put things more briefly in verse than in
prose; one reason being that he could take liberties of this kind not
permitted in prose writing. But the injury is compensated by the
singular terseness and vivacity of his best style. Scarcely any one, as
is often remarked, has left so large a proportion of quotable
phrases,[25] and, indeed, to the present he survives chiefly by the
current coinage of that kind which bears his image and superscription.

This familiar remark may help us to solve the old problem whether Pope
was, or rather in what sense he was, a poet. Much of his work may be
fairly described as rhymed prose, differing from prose not in substance
or tone of feeling, but only in the form of expression. Every poet has
an invisible audience, as an orator has a visible one, who deserve a
great part of the merit of his works. Some men may write for the
religious or philosophic recluse, and therefore utter the emotions which
come to ordinary mortals in the rare moments when the music of the
spheres, generally drowned by the din of the commonplace world, becomes
audible to their dull senses. Pope, on the other hand, writes for the
wits who never listen to such strains, and moreover writes for their
ordinary moods. He aims at giving us the refined and doubly distilled
essence of the conversation of the statesmen and courtiers of his time.
The standard of good writing always implicitly present to his mind is
the fitness of his poetry to pass muster when shown by Gay to his
duchess, or read after dinner to a party composed of Swift, Bolingbroke,
and Congreve. That imaginary audience is always looking over his
shoulder, applauding a good hit, chuckling over allusions to the last
bit of scandal, and ridiculing any extravagance tending to romance or

The limitations imposed by such a condition are obvious. As men of
taste, Pope's friends would make their bow to the recognized
authorities. They would praise _Paradise Lost_, but a new Milton would
be as much out of place with them as the real Milton at the court of
Charles II. They would really prefer to have his verses tagged by
Dryden, or the Samson polished by Pope. They would have ridiculed
Wordsworth's mysticism or Shelley's idealism, as they laughed at the
religious "enthusiasm" of Law or Wesley, or the metaphysical subtleties
of Berkeley and Hume. They preferred the philosophy of the Essay on Man,
which might be appropriated by a common-sense preacher, or the rhetoric
of _Eloisa and Abelard_, bits of which might be used to excellent effect
(as indeed Pope himself used the peroration) by a fine gentleman
addressing his gallantry to a contemporary Sappho. It is only too easy
to expose their shallowness, and therefore to overlook what was genuine
in their feelings. After all, Pope's eminent friends were no mere
tailor's blocks for the display of laced coats. Swift and Bolingbroke
were not enthusiasts nor philosophers, but certainly they were no fools.
They liked in the first place thorough polish. They could appreciate a
perfectly turned phrase, an epigram which concentrated into a couplet a
volume of quick observations, a smart saying from Rochefoucauld or La
Bruyère, which gave an edge to worldly wisdom; a really brilliant
utterance of one of those maxims, half true and not over profound, but
still presenting one aspect of life as they saw it, which have since
grown rather threadbare. This sort of moralizing, which is the staple of
Pope's epistles upon the ruling passion or upon avarice, strikes us now
as unpleasantly obvious. We have got beyond it and want some more
refined analysis and more complex psychology. Take, for example, Pope's
epistle to Bathurst, which was in hand for two years, and is just 400
lines in length. The simplicity of the remarks is almost comic. Nobody
wants to be told now that bribery is facilitated by modern system of

     Blest paper-credit! last and best supply
     That lends corruption lighter wings to fly!

This triteness blinds us to the singular felicity with which the
observations have been verified, a felicity which makes many of the
phrases still proverbial. The mark is so plain that we do scant justice
to the accuracy and precision with which it is hit. Yet when we notice
how every epithet tells, and how perfectly the writer does what he tries
to do, we may understand why Pope extorted contemporary admiration. We
may, for example, read once more the familiar passage about Buckingham.
The picture, such as it is, could not be drawn more strikingly with
fewer lines.

     In the worst inn's worst room, with mat half-hung,
     The floors of plaister and the walls of dung,
     On once a flock-bed but repair'd with straw,
     With tape-ty'd curtains never meant to draw,
     The George and Garter dangling from that bed,
     Where tawdry yellow strove with dirty red,
     Great Villiers lies! alas, how changed from him,
     That life of pleasure and that soul of whim!
     Gallant and gay in Cliveden's proud alcove,
     The bower of wanton Shrewsbury and love;
     As great as gay, at council in a ring
     Of mimick'd statesmen, and their merry king.
     No wit to flatter left of all his store!
     No fool to laugh at, which he valued more.
     Thus, victor of his health, of fortune, friends,
     And fame, the lord of useless thousands ends.

It is as graphic as a page of Dickens, and has the advantage of being
less grotesque, if the sentiment is equally obvious. When Pope has made
his hit, he does not blur the effect by trying to repeat it.

In these epistles, it must be owned that the sentiment is not only
obvious but prosaic. The moral maxims are delivered like advice offered
by one sensible man to another, not with the impassioned fervour of a
prophet. Nor can Pope often rise to that level at which alone satire is
transmuted into the higher class of poetry. To accomplish that feat, if,
indeed, it be possible, the poet must not simply ridicule the fantastic
tricks of poor mortals, but show how they appear to the angels who weep
over them. The petty figures must be projected against a background of
the infinite, and we must feel the relations of our tiny eddies of life
to the oceanic currents of human history. Pope can never rise above the
crowd. He is looking at his equals, not contemplating them from the
height which reveals their insignificance. The element, which may fairly
be called poetical, is derived from an inferior source; but sometimes
has passion enough in it to lift him above mere prose.

In one of his most animated passages, Pope relates his desire to--

     Brand the bold front of shameless guilty men,
     Dash the proud gamester in his gilded car,
     Bare the mean heart that lurks beneath a star.

For the moment he takes himself seriously; and, indeed, he seems to have
persuaded both himself and his friends that he was really a great
defender of virtue. Arbuthnot begged him, almost with his dying breath,
to continue his "noble disdain and abhorrence of vice," and, with a due
regard to his own safety, to try rather to reform than chastise; and
Pope accepts the office ostentatiously. His provocation is "the strong
antipathy of good to bad," and he exclaims,--

     Yes! I am proud--I must be proud to see
     Men not afraid of God, afraid of me.
     Safe from the bar, the pulpit, and the throne,
     Yet touch'd and shamed by ridicule alone.

If the sentiment provokes a slight incredulity, it is yet worth while
to understand its real meaning; and the explanation is not very far to

Pope's best writing, I have said, is the essence of conversation. It has
the quick movement, the boldness and brilliance, which we suppose to be
the attributes of the best talk. Of course the apparent facility is due
to conscientious labour. In the Prologue and Epilogue and the best parts
of the imitations of Horace, he shows such consummate mastery of his
peculiar style, that we forget the monotonous metre. The opening
passage, for example, of the Prologue is written apparently with the
perfect freedom of real dialogue; in fact, it is of course far more
pointed and compressed than any dialogue could ever be. The dramatic
vivacity with which the whole scene is given, shows that he could use
metre as the most skilful performer could command a musical instrument.
Pope, indeed, shows in the Essay on Criticism, that his view about the
uniformity of sound and sense were crude enough; they are analogous to
the tricks by which a musician might decently imitate the cries of
animals or the murmurs of a crowd; and his art excludes any attempt at
rivalling the melody of the great poets who aim at producing a harmony
quite independent of the direct meaning of their words. I am only
speaking of the felicity with which he can move in metre, without the
slightest appearance of restraint, so as to give a kind of idealized
representation of the tone of animated verbal intercourse. Whatever
comes within this province he can produce with admirable fidelity. Now
in such talks as we imagine with Swift and Bolingbroke, we may be quite
sure that there would be some very forcible denunciation of
corruption--corruption being of course regarded as due to the diabolical
agency of Walpole. During his later years, Pope became a friend of all
the Opposition clique, which was undermining the power of the great
minister. In his last letters to Swift, Pope speaks of the new circle of
promising patriots who were rising round him, and from whom he
entertained hopes of the regeneration of this corrupt country.
Sentiments of this kind were the staple talk of the circles in which he
moved; and all the young men of promise believed, or persuaded
themselves to fancy, that a political millennium would follow the
downfall of Walpole. Pope, susceptible as always to the influences of
his social surroundings, took in all this, and delighted in figuring
himself as the prophet of the new era and the denouncer of wickedness in
high places. He sees "old England's genius" dragged in the dust, hears
the black trumpet of vice proclaiming that "not to be corrupted is the
shame," and declares that he will draw the last pen for freedom, and use
his "sacred weapon" in truth's defence.

To imagine Pope at his best, we must place ourselves in Twickenham on
some fine day, when the long disease has relaxed its grasp for a moment;
when he has taken a turn through his garden, and comforted his poor
frame with potted lampreys and a glass or two from his frugal pint.
Suppose two or three friends to be sitting with him, the stately
Bolingbroke or the mercurial Bathurst, with one of the patriotic hopes
of mankind, Marchmont or Lyttelton, to stimulate his ardour, and the
amiable Spence, or Mrs. Patty Blount to listen reverentially to his
morality. Let the conversation kindle into vivacity, and host and guests
fall into a friendly rivalry, whetting each other's wits by lively
repartee, and airing the little fragments of worldly wisdom which pass
muster for profound observation at Court; for a time they talk
platitudes, though striking out now and then brilliant flashes, as from
the collision of polished rapiers; they diverge, perhaps, into
literature, and Pope shines in discussing the secrets of the art to
which his whole life has been devoted with untiring fidelity. Suddenly
the mention of some noted name provokes a startling outburst of personal
invective from Pope; his friends judiciously divert the current of wrath
into a new channel, and he becomes for the moment a generous patriot
declaiming against the growth of luxury; the mention of some
sympathizing friend brings out a compliment, so exquisitely turned, as
to be a permanent title of honour, conferred by genius instead of power;
or the thought of his parents makes his voice tremble, and his eyes
shine with pathetic softness; and you forgive the occasional affectation
which you can never quite forget, or even the occasional grossness or
harshness of sentiment which contrasts so strongly with the superficial
polish. A genuine report of even the best conversation would be
intolerably prosy and unimaginative. But imagine the very pith and
essence of such talk brought to a focus, concentrated into the smallest
possible space with the infinite dexterity of a thoroughly trained hand,
and you have the kind of writing in which Pope is unrivalled; polished
prose with occasional gleams of genuine poetry--the epistle to Arbuthnot
and the epilogue to the Satires.

One point remains to be briefly noticed. The virtue on which Pope prided
himself was correctness; and I have interpreted this to mean the quality
which is gained by incessant labour, guided by quick feeling, and always
under the strict supervision of common sense. The next literary
revolution led to a depreciation of this quality. Warton (like Macaulay
long afterwards) argued that in a higher sense, the Elizabethan poets
were really as correct as Pope. Their poetry embodied a higher and more
complex law, though it neglected the narrow cut-and-dried precepts
recognized in the Queen Anne period. The new school came to express too
undiscriminating a contempt for the whole theory and practice of Pope
and his followers. Pope, said Cowper, and a thousand critics have echoed
his words,--

               Made poetry a mere mechanic art
     And every warbler had his tune by heart.

Without discussing the wider question, I may here briefly remark that
this judgment, taken absolutely, gives a very false impression of Pope's
artistic quality. Pope is undoubtedly monotonous. Except in one or two
lyrics, such as the Ode on St. Cecilia's Day, which must be reckoned
amongst his utter failures, he invariably employed the same metre. The
discontinuity of his style, and the strict rules which he adopted, tend
to disintegrate his poems. They are a series of brilliant passages,
often of brilliant couplets, stuck together in a conglomerate; and as
the inferior connecting matter decays, the interstices open and allow
the whole to fall into ruin. To read a series of such couplets, each
complete in itself, and each so constructed as to allow of a very small
variety of form, is naturally to receive an impression of monotony.
Pope's antitheses fall into a few common forms, which are repeated over
and over again, and seem copy to each other. And, in a sense, such work
can be very easily imitated. A very inferior artist can obtain most of
his efforts, and all the external qualities of his style. One
ten-syllabled rhyming couplet, with the whole sense strictly confined
within its limits, and allowing only of such variety as follows from
changing the pauses, is undoubtedly very much like another. And
accordingly one may read in any collection of British poets innumerable
pages of versification which--if you do not look too close--are exactly
like Pope. All poets who have any marked style are more or less
imitable; in the present age of revivals, a clever versifier is capable
of adopting the manners of his leading contemporaries, or that of any
poet from Spenser to Shelley or Keats. The quantity of work scarcely
distinguishable from that of the worst passages in Mr. Tennyson, Mr.
Browning, and Mr. Swinburne, seems to be limited only by the supply of
stationery at the disposal of practised performers. That which makes the
imitations of Pope prominent is partly the extent of his sovereignty;
the vast number of writers who confined themselves exclusively to his
style; and partly the fact that what is easily imitable in him is so
conspicuous an element of the whole. The rigid framework which he
adopted is easily definable with mathematical precision. The difference
between the best work of Pope and the ordinary work of his followers is
confined within narrow limits, and not easily perceived at a glance. The
difference between blank verse in the hands of its few masters and in
the hands of a third-rate imitator strikes the ear in every line. Far
more is left to the individual idiosyncrasy. But it does not at all
follow, and in fact it is quite untrue that the distinction which turns
on an apparently insignificant element is therefore unimportant. The
value of all good work ultimately depends on touches so fine as to elude
the sight. And the proof is that although Pope was so constantly
imitated, no later and contemporary writer succeeded in approaching his
excellence. Young, of the _Night Thoughts_, was an extraordinarily
clever writer and talker, even if he did not (as one of his hearers
asserts) eclipse Voltaire by the brilliance of his conversation.
Young's satires show abundance of wit, and one may not be able to say at
a glance in what they are inferior to Pope. Yet they have hopelessly
perished, whilst Pope's work remains classical. Of all the crowd of
eighteenth-century writers in Pope's manner, only two made an approach
to him worth notice. Johnson's _Vanity of Human Wishes_ surpasses Pope
in general sense of power, and Goldsmith's two poems in the same style
have phrases of a higher order than Pope's. But even these poems have
not made so deep a mark. In the last generation, Gifford's _Baviad and
Mæviad_, and Byron's _English Bards and Scotch Reviewers_, were clever
reproductions of the manner; but Gifford is already unreadable, and
Byron is pale beside his original; and, therefore, making full allowance
for Pope's monotony, and the tiresome prominence of certain mechanical
effects, we must, I think, admit that he has after all succeeded in
doing with unsurpassable excellence what innumerable rivals have failed
to do as well. The explanation is--if the phrase explains anything--that
he was a man of genius, or that he brought to a task, not of the highest
class, a keenness of sensibility, a conscientious desire to do his very
best, and a capacity for taking pains with his work, which enabled him
to be as indisputably the first in his own peculiar line, as our
greatest men have been in far more lofty undertakings.

The man who could not publish Pastorals without getting into quarrels,
was hardly likely to become a professed satirist without giving offence.
Besides numerous stabs administered to old enemies, Pope opened some
fresh animosities by passages in these poems. Some pointed ridicule was
aimed at Montagu, Earl of Halifax, in the Prologue; for there can be no
doubt that Halifax[26] was pointed out in the character of Bufo. Pope
told a story in later days of an introduction to Halifax, the great
patron of the early years of the century, who wished to hear him read
his Homer. After the reading Halifax suggested that one passage should
be improved. Pope retired rather puzzled by his vague remarks, but, by
Garth's advice, returned some time afterwards, and read the same passage
without alteration. "Ay, now Mr. Pope," said Halifax, "they are
perfectly right; nothing can be better!" This little incident perhaps
suggested to Pope that Halifax was a humbug, and there seems, as already
noticed, to have been some difficulty about the desired dedication of
the Iliad. Though Halifax had been dead for twenty years when the
Prologue appeared, Pope may have been in the right in satirizing the
pompous would-be patron, from whom he had received nothing, and whose
pretences he had seen through. But the bitterness of the attack is
disagreeable when we add that Pope paid Halifax high compliments in the
preface to the Iliad, and boasted of his friendship, shortly after the
satire, in the Epilogue to the Satires. A more disagreeable affair at
the moment was the description, in the Epistle on Taste, of Canons, the
splendid seat of the Duke of Chandos. Chandos, being still alive,
resented the attack, and Pope had not the courage to avow his meaning,
which might in that case have been justifiable. He declared to
Burlington (to whom the epistle was addressed), and to Chandos, that he
had not intended Canons, and tried to make peace by saying in another
epistle that "gracious Chandos is beloved at sight." This exculpation,
says Johnson, was received by the duke "with great magnanimity, as by a
man who accepted his excuse, without believing his professions." Nobody,
in fact, believed, and even Warburton let out the secret by a comic
oversight. Pope had prophesied in his poem that another age would see
the destruction of "Timon's Villa," when laughing Ceres would reassume
the land. Had he lived three years longer, said Warburton in a note,
Pope would have seen his prophecy fulfilled, namely, by the destruction
of Canons. The note was corrected, but the admission that Canons
belonged to Timon had been made.

To such accusations Pope had a general answer. He described the type,
not the individual. The fault was with the public, who chose to fit the
cap. His friend remonstrates in the Epilogue against his personal
satire. "Come on, then, Satire, general, unconfined," exclaims the poet,

          Spread thy broad wing and souse on all the kind

                 *       *       *       *       *

            Ye reverend atheists. (Friend) Scandal! name them! who?
     (Pope) Why, that's the thing you bade me not to do.
            Who starved a sister, who forswore a debt,
            I never named; the town's inquiring yet.
            The pois'ning dame-- (F.) You mean-- (P.) I don't. (F.) You
       (P.) See, now, I keep the secret, and not you!

It must in fact be admitted that from the purely artistic point of view,
Pope is right. Prosaic commentators are always asking, Who is meant by a
poet, as though a poem were a legal document. It may be interesting, for
various purposes, to know who was in the writer's mind, or what fact
suggested the general picture. But we have no right to look outside the
poem itself, or to infer anything not within the four corners of the
statement. It matters not for such purposes whether there was, or was
not, any real person corresponding to Sir Balaam, to whom his wife said,
when he was enriched by Cornish wreckers, "live like yourself,"

     When lo! two puddings smoked upon the board,

in place of the previous one on Sabbath days. Nor does it even matter
whether Atticus meant Addison, or Sappho Lady Mary. The satire is
equally good, whether its objects are mere names or realities.

But the moral question is quite distinct. In that case we must ask
whether Pope used words calculated or intended to fix an imputation upon
particular people. Whether he did it in prose or verse, the offence was
the same. In many cases he gives real names, and in many others gives
unmistakable indications, which must have fixed his satire to particular
people. If he had written Addison for Atticus (as he did at first), or
Lady Mary for Sappho, or Halifax for Bufo, the insinuation could not
have been clearer. His attempt to evade his responsibility was a mere
equivocation--a device which he seems to have preferred to direct lying.
The character of Bufo might be equally suitable to others; but no
reasonable man could doubt that every one would fix it upon Halifax. In
some cases--possibly in that of Chandos--he may have thought that his
language was too general to apply, and occasionally it seems that he
sometimes tried to evade consequences by adding some inconsistent
characteristic to his portraits.

I say this, because I am here forced to notice the worst of all the
imputations upon Pope's character. The epistle on the characters of
women now includes the famous lines on Atossa, which did not appear till
after Pope's death.[27] They were (in 1746) at once applied to the
famous Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough; and a story immediately became
current that the duchess had paid Pope 1000_l._ to suppress them, but
that he preserved them, with a view to their ultimate publication. This
story was repeated by Warton and by Walpole; it has been accepted by Mr.
Carruthers, who suggests, by way of palliation, that Pope was desirous
at the time of providing for Martha Blount, and probably took the sum in
order to buy an annuity for her. Now, if the story were proved, it must
be admitted that it would reveal a baseness in Pope which would be
worthy only of the lowest and most venal literary marauders. No more
disgraceful imputation could have been made upon Curll, or Curll's
miserable dependents. A man who could so prostitute his talents must
have been utterly vile. Pope has sins enough to answer for; but his
other meannesses were either sacrifices to his morbid vanity, or (like
his offence against Swift, or his lies to Aaron Hill and Chandos)
collateral results of spasmodic attempts to escape from humiliation. In
money-matters he seems to have been generally independent. He refused
gifts from his rich friends, and confuted the rather similar calumny
that he had received 500_l._ from the Duke of Chandos. If the account
rested upon mere contemporary scandal, we might reject it on the ground
of its inconsistency with his known character, and its likeness to other
fabrications of his enemies. There is, however, further evidence. It is
such evidence as would, at most, justify a verdict of "not proven" in a
court of justice. But the critic is not bound by legal rules, and has to
say what is the most probable solution, without fear or favour.

I cannot here go into the minute details. This much, however, may be
taken as established. Pope was printing a new edition of his works at
the time of his death. He had just distributed to his friends some
copies of the Ethic Epistles, and in those copies the Atossa appeared.
Bolingbroke, to whom Pope had left his unpublished papers, discovered
it, and immediately identified it with the duchess, who (it must be
noticed) was still alive. He wrote to Marchmont, one of Pope's
executors, that there could be "no excuse for Pope's design of
publishing it after the favour you and I know." This is further
explained by a note added in pencil by Marchmont's executor, "1000_l._;"
and the son of this executor, who published the Marchmont papers, says
that this was the favour received by Pope from the duchess. This,
however, is far from proving a direct bribe. It is, in fact, hardly
conceivable that the duchess and Pope should have made such a bargain in
direct black and white, and equally inconceivable that two men like
Bolingbroke and Marchmont should have been privy to such a transaction,
and spoken of it in such terms. Bolingbroke thinks that the favour
received laid Pope under an obligation, but evidently does not think
that it implied a contract. Mr. Dilke has further pointed out that there
are many touches in the character which distinctly apply to the Duchess
of Buckingham, with whom Pope had certainly quarrelled, and which will
not apply to the Duchess of Marlborough, who had undoubtedly made
friends with him during the last years of his life. Walpole again tells
a story, partly confirmed by Warton, that Pope had shown the character
to each duchess (Warton says only to Marlborough), saying that it was
meant for the other. The Duchess of Buckingham, he says, believed him;
the other had more sense and paid him 1000_l._ to suppress it. Walpole
is no trustworthy authority; but the coincidence implies at least that
such a story was soon current.

The most probable solution must conform to these data. Pope's Atossa was
a portrait which would fit either lady, though it would be naturally
applied to the most famous. It seems certain also that Pope had received
some favours (possibly the 1000_l._ on some occasion unknown) from the
Duchess of Marlborough, which was felt by his friends to make any attack
upon her unjustifiable. We can scarcely believe that there should have
been a direct compact of the kind described. If Pope had been a person
of duly sensitive conscience he would have suppressed his work. But to
suppress anything that he had written, and especially a passage so
carefully laboured, was always agony to him. He preferred, as we may
perhaps conjecture, to settle in his own mind that it would fit the
Duchess of Buckingham, and possibly introduced some of the touches to
which Mr. Dilke refers. He thought it sufficiently disguised to be
willing to publish it whilst the person with whom it was naturally
identified was still alive. Had she complained, he would have relied
upon those touches, and have equivocated as he equivocated to Hill and
Chandos. He always seems to have fancied that he could conceal himself
by very thin disguises. But he ought to have known, and perhaps did
know, that it would be immediately applied to the person who had
conferred an obligation. From that guilt no hypothesis can relieve him;
but it is certainly not proved, and seems, on the whole, improbable that
he was so base as the concessions of his biographers would indicate.


[24] Spence, pp. 16, 48, 137, 315.

[25] To take an obviously uncertain test, I find that in Bartlett's
dictionary of familiar quotations, Shakspeare fills 70 pages; Milton,
23; Pope, 18; Wordsworth, 16; and Byron, 15. The rest are nowhere.

[26] Roscoe's attempt at a denial was conclusively answered by Bowles in
one of his pamphlets.

[27] On this subject Mr. Dilke's _Papers of a Critic_.



The last satires were published in 1738. Six years of life still
remained to Pope; his intellectual powers were still vigorous, and his
pleasure in their exercise had not ceased. The only fruit, however, of
his labours during this period was the fourth book of the Dunciad. He
spent much time upon bringing out new editions of his works, and upon
the various intrigues connected with the Swift correspondence. But his
health was beginning to fail. The ricketty framework was giving way, and
failing to answer the demands of the fretful and excitable brain. In the
spring of 1744 the poet was visibly breaking up; he suffered from
dropsical asthma, and seems to have made matters worse by putting
himself in the hands of a notorious quack--a Dr. Thomson. The end was
evidently near as he completed his fifty-sixth year. Friends, old and
new, were often in attendance. Above all, Bolingbroke, the venerated
friend of thirty years' standing; Patty Blount, the woman whom he loved
best; and the excellent Spence, who preserved some of the last words of
the dying man. The scene, as he saw it, was pathetic; perhaps it is not
less pathetic to us, for whom it has another side as of grim tragic

Three weeks before his death Pope was sending off copies of the Ethic
Epistles--apparently with the Atossa lines--to his friends. "Here I am,
like Socrates," he said, "dispensing my morality amongst my friends just
as I am dying." Spence watched him as anxiously as his disciples watched
Socrates. He was still sensible to kindness. Whenever Miss Blount came
in, the failing spirits rallied for a moment. He was always saying
something kindly of his friends, "as if his humanity had outlasted his
understanding." Bolingbroke, when Spence made the remark, said that he
had never known a man with so tender a heart for his own friends or for
mankind. "I have known him," he added, "these thirty years, and value
myself more for that man's love than--" and his voice was lost in tears.
At moments Pope could still be playful. "Here I am, dying of a hundred
good symptoms," he replied to some flattering report, but his mind was
beginning to wander. He complained of seeing things as through a
curtain. "What's that?" he said, pointing to the air, and then, with a
smile of great pleasure, added softly, "'twas a vision." His religious
sentiments still edified his hearers. "I am so certain," he said, "of
the soul's being immortal, that I seem to feel it within me, as it were
by intuition;" and early one morning he rose from bed and tried to begin
an essay upon immortality, apparently in a state of semi-delirium. On
his last day he sacrificed, as Chesterfield rather cynically observes,
his cock to Æsculapius. Hooke, a zealous Catholic friend, asked him
whether he would not send for a priest. "I do not suppose that it is
essential," said Pope, "but it will look right, and I heartily thank you
for putting me in mind of it." A priest was brought, and Pope received
the last sacraments with great fervour and resignation. Next day, on May
30th, 1744, he died so peacefully that his friends could not determine
the exact moment of death.

It was a soft and touching end; and yet we must once more look at the
other side. Warburton and Bolingbroke both appear to have been at the
side of the dying man, and before very long they were to be quarrelling
over his grave. Pope's will showed at once that his quarrels were hardly
to end with his death. He had quarrelled, though the quarrel had been
made up, with the generous Allen, for some cause not ascertainable,
except that it arose from the mutual displeasure of Mrs. Allen and Miss
Blount. It is pleasant to notice that, in the course of the quarrel,
Pope mentioned Warburton, in a letter to Miss Blount, as a sneaking
parson; but Warburton was not aware of the flash of sarcasm. Pope, as
Johnson puts it, "polluted his will with female resentment." He left a
legacy of 150_l._ to Allen, being, as he added, the amount received from
his friend--for himself or for charitable purposes; and requested Allen,
if he should refuse the legacy for himself, to pay it to the Bath
Hospital. Allen adopted this suggestion, saying quietly that Pope had
always been a bad accountant, and would have come nearer the truth if he
had added a cypher to the figures.

Another fact came to light, which produced a fiercer outburst. Pope, it
was found, had printed a whole edition (1500 copies) of the _Patriot
King_, Bolingbroke's most polished work. The motive could have been
nothing but a desire to preserve to posterity what Pope considered to be
a monument worthy of the highest genius, and was so far complimentary to
Bolingbroke. Bolingbroke, however, considered it as an act of gross
treachery. Pope had received the work on condition of keeping it
strictly private, and showing it to only a few friends. Moreover, he
had corrected it, arranged it, and altered or omitted passages according
to his own taste, which naturally did not suit the author's. In 1749
Bolingbroke gave a copy to Mallet for publication, and prefixed an angry
statement to expose the breach of trust of "a man on whom the author
thought he could entirely depend." Warburton rushed to the defence of
Pope and the demolition of Bolingbroke. A savage controversy followed,
which survives only in the title of one of Bolingbroke's pamphlets, A
Familiar Epistle to the most Impudent Man living--a transparent
paraphrase for Warburton. Pope's behaviour is too much of a piece with
previous underhand transactions, but scarcely deserves further

A single touch remains. Pope was buried, by his own directions, in a
vault in Twickenham church, near the monument erected to his parents. It
contained a simple inscription ending with the words "_Parentibus bene
merentibus filius fecit._" To this, as he directed in his will, was to
be added simply "_et sibi_." This was done; but seventeen years
afterwards the clumsy Warburton erected in the same church another
monument to Pope himself, with this stupid inscription. _Poeta

     _For one who would not lie buried in Westminster Abbey._

     Heroes and kings, your distance keep!
     In peace let one poor poet sleep
     Who never flatter'd folks like you;
     Let Horace blush and Virgil too.

Most of us can tell from experience how grievously our posthumous
ceremonials often jar upon the tenderest feelings of survivors. Pope's
valued friends seem to have done their best to surround the last scene
of his life with painful associations; and Pope, alas! was an
unconscious accomplice. To us of a later generation it is impossible to
close this strange history without a singular mixture of feelings.
Admiration for the extraordinary literary talents, respect for the
energy which, under all disadvantages of health and position, turned
these talents to the best account; love of the real tender-heartedness
which formed the basis of the man's character; pity for the many
sufferings to which his morbid sensitiveness exposed him; contempt for
the meannesses into which he was hurried; ridicule for the insatiable
vanity which prompted his most degrading subterfuges; horror for the
bitter animosities which must have tortured the man who cherished them
even more than his victims--are suggested simultaneously by the name of
Pope. As we look at him in one or other aspect, each feeling may come
uppermost in turn. The most abiding sentiment--when we think of him as a
literary phenomenon--is admiration for the exquisite skill which enabled
him to discharge a function, not of the highest kind, with a perfection
rare in any department of literature. It is more difficult to say what
will be the final element in our feeling about the man. Let us hope that
it may be the pity which, after a certain lapse of years, we may be
excused for conceding to the victim of moral as well as physical



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Variant spellings of William Shakspeare's name have been standardized in
the text, but not in the advertisements at the end of the book.

The following words use an oe ligature in the original:


The following corrections have been made to the text:

     page 6: Like so many other poets, he took[original has comma]
     infinite delight in

     page 14: his companions could practice[original has practise]
     with comparative impunity

     page 17: we have already[original has aleady] reached

     page 25: refine as the reasoning faculties develop[original
     has develope]

     page 50: Addison gave to Lady M. W. Montagu[original has

     page 51: _Ib._, March[original has comma] 25

     page 54: when dying in distress[original has distres]

     page 55: Addison recognizes[original has recognises] his true

     page 66: philologists and antiquarians in the
     background[original has back-ground]

     page 73: He allows Teucer to call Hector a dog, but
     apologizes[original has apologises] in a note.

     page 84: for his neglect of Popish superstition[original has

     page 86: he was familiar[original has familar] with Bridgeman
     and Kent

     page 125: what the authors would have suppressed[original has

     page 125: he was like a civilised[original has civilized]

     page 126: either to shirk responsibility[original has

     page 127: and how successive[original has sucessive] editions

     page 135: installed Cibber in[original has in in] his place

     page 146: was simply a reproduction of[original has comma]
     Curll's publication

     page 156: ---4[original has 3 spaces preceding the numeral]

     page 166: manuscripts seen by Mallet may probably[original has
     probable] have been a commonplace book

     page 169: But errs not nature from this gracious end,[original
     is missing comma]

     page 175: more outspoken than himself[original has himseif]

     page 192: And fame, the lord of useless thousands
     ends.[original is missing period]

     page 193: Brand the bold front of shameless guilty men,[comma
     missing in original]

     page 198: any collection of British poets innumerable pages of
     versification[original has verification]

     page 199: by the brilliance of his conversation.[original has

     Footnote 19: Pope's Works, vol. i. p.[period missing in
     original] cxxi.

     Advertising at end of the book:

     HUME. By Professor[original has Pofessor] HUXLEY

     Burns' [original has Burn's] poetry

     SOUTHEY. By Professor[original has Pofessor] DOWDEN.

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