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PRINCE of the Artificial school of English poetry stands the Roman Catholic poet, Alexander Pope, whose brilliant and versatile powers were best displayed in The Rape of the Lock and The Dunciad.
Pope's father was a well-to-do linen-draper in the Strand, who gave up business in disgust at the shadow which the Revolution had flung upon his Church, and, retiring to Binfield, on the skirts of Windsor Forest, locked up his fortune of £20,000 in a box, from which he took the needful guineas as often as his purse ran low. Banks were then in their infancy; and the seizure which Charles II. had made of the public funds was too fresh in remem
brance to make a government investment seem safe. His 1688 delicate boy, Alexander, born in 1688, passed under some
priestly tutors, but never enjoyed a college training.
Before he was twelve the little invalid wrote an Ode to Solitude, marked with a thoughtfulness beyond his years; and after loitering for four summers longer among the picturesque woodlands near his home-spending summer and winter alike in a constant round of studies, rambling but deep-he boldly embraced the perilous vocation of a poet, and at sixteen began to baunt the London coffee-houses in that character. Admiration of Dryden was the grand passion of his boyhood; and when the great monarch of letterdom, seated in his easy-chair at Will's, was
“THE RAPE OF THE LOCK.”
275 one day pointed out by a good-natured friend to the pale, wistful boy, who had already drunk deep into the old man's poetry, we can well imagine the occasion marked with bright red letters in the childish memory. From admiration to imitation, somebody or other says, is but a step. Pope's versification was moulded after Dryden's “long-resounding line.”
Wycherley, a battered old literary rake, was young Pope's first caresser;
but in the coffee-room at Will's or Button's-headquarters of the author-craft—the boyish writer of the Pastorals, which were as yet only handed about in manuscript, got many a kind shake of the hand and hearty slap on the shoulder from greater and better men than old Wycherley.
The poet soared to yet higher fame, when in 1711 his celebrated Essay on Criticism, begun two years earlier, issued from the press. This performance, wonderful for a youth 1711 of twenty-one, contains many fine passages. The wellknown lines, illustrating the agreement of sound with sense, afford a striking specimen of the ease with which Pope wields his native speech. Then followed a sacred poem, The Messiah, which appeared in No. 378 of the Spectator; and, not long after, came those pathetic verses, An Elegy on an Unfortunate Lady,—which, we are told, mourn the suicide of a rash girl, who had cherished a violent passion for the sickly poet.
The theft of a lady's ringlet by her lover produced the happiest effort of Pope's poetic skill. Lord Petre was the delinquent, and Miss Arabella Fermor the injured fair one. The silly trick having led to a coolness between the families, Pope set to work, inspired by the wish to reconcile the estranged frowners by a good hearty laugh. Thus came into being that epic in miniature, The Rape of the Lock, which presents the most brilliant speci- 1713 men of the mock-heroic style to be found in English verse. We may read the reign of Anne through in many books of history without receiving anything like so clear and vivid an impression of what was then fashionable life, as we derive from
• The two original cantos were written in 1711, but in 1718 the poem appeared in its pre sent shape
TRANSLATION OF HOMER.
the five cantos that tell the woes of Belinda. The machinery of the poem, as critics call the introduction of supernatural beings into the action of the plot, Pope took from the Rosicrucian doctrine, that the four elements are filled with sylphs, gnomes, nymphs, and salamanders. Most comically does this airy by-play come to act upon the progress of the story, reaching, perhaps, the climax of its humour in the exquisitely absurd idea of a poor sylph who was so eager to save the imperilled lock that she gets between the scissor blades and is snipped in two. After a fierce battle, in which Belinda, armed with a deadly bodkin, leads the van, the severed tless flies up to take its place among the golden stars.
In The Epistle of Eloisa to Abelard we find the poet wasting his pathos on an unhappy theme. The Temple of Fame, a fine piece of descriptive writing founded on Chaucer's “House of Fame," though written earlier, was published about this period of his life.
At twenty-four Pope undertook his most extensive, most profitable, yet assuredly not his greatest work. “It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope; but you must not call it Homer," was the terse and true remark of the great scholar Bentley upon the volumes sent him by the poet. Many hundred verses were written on backs of letters and chance scraps of paper, sometimes at the rate of fifty lines a day. Begun in 1712 and finished in 1725, the Iliad and the Odyssey together, after deducting the cost of some help which he got in the notes and the translation of the latter, brought the poet a handsome fortune. Not sixty years before, a blind old man in the same great city had sold the greatest epic of modern days for £18. Pope, whose poetic fame grows pale before the splendour of Milton's genius, as the stars die out before the sun, pocketed more than £8000 for a clever translation. Like Dryden translating Virgil, Pope did little more than reproduce the sense of Homer's verse in smooth and neatly balanced English couplets, leaving the spirit behind in the glorious rough old Greek, that tumbles on the ear like the roar of a winter sea.
With the money thus obtained Pope had the good sense to buy a villa at Twickenham, standing on five acres of land. The hours
QUARREL WITH ADDISON.
which were not given to his desk, were spent in laying out his flower-beds, and adorning his famous grotto with such things as red spar, Cornwall diamonds, Spanish silver, and lava from Vesuvius. Here, by the gentle Thames, his later years were spent; here Swift, Bolingbroke, Gay, Arbuthnot, and a host of the most brilliant men of the day, paid him frequent visits; and it is, at least, one tender trait in the character of a poet who has not had very many kind sayings lavished on him, that here his old mother found a warm welcome and a well-cushioned chair in her declining days.
Pope's love-making was as artificial as his verse, bát not so successful. His professed passion for Lady Mary Montagu, of letter-writing renown, suddenly changed its hue, rosy lote turning into pallid rage. So bitter, indeed, did the little man's remarks grow after his repulse, that the lady used to call her quondam swain “The wicked wasp of Twickenham.”
Of course, Pope and Addison often met. When the poet first came to town, a boy and little known, he danced attendance for a good while
upon the great Oxford scholar. He wrote an admirable prologue for the tragedy of “ Cato." But gradually a coolness arose between these celebrated men. Some think that Addison was jealous of Pope's brightening fame; others think that Pope's peevish temper, often the accompaniment of a sickly frame, took offence at some slight censures passed upon his “ Essay on Criticism." Whatever may have been its cause, the estrangement grew to a crisis, when Pope issued a spiteful pamphlet against old John Dennis, who had published certain “Remarks on the Tragedy of Cato." Addison, vexed at the tone of the reply, although the lance was broken in his own quarrel, hastily said, that if he answered the “Remarks” at all, he would do it as a gentleman should. This Pope never forgave; and the gulf grew wider when Tickell, Addison's close friend, began a translation of Homer, which seemed to the suspicious eyes of Pope a wilful rivalry of his great work, secretly done by Addison, but put out for appearance' sake under Tickell's
The Odyssey and the editing of Shakspere occupied the pen of
Pope for some years after his removal to Twickenham in 1718. His weakly frame could not stand the wear and tear of city life, as authors then lived. Thoroughly sick of spending night after night till two or three o'clock over punch and Burgundy, in rooms choking with tobacco smoke, the poet wisely separated himself from the hard-living set, to which he had at first belonged, and gave up his spare hours to the pure enjoyments of his garden and his grotto.
The publication of his Miscellanies (1727-8), in which Swift also took a share, brought round the heads of the offending authors an angry swarm of scribblers, buzzing like wasps whose nest has been rashly invaded. Then the real power of the crippled poet flashed out in full lustre. Seizing each wretched insect with the firm yet delicate hold of a skilful entomologist, he ruthlessly pinned
it, in the full gaze of the world's scorn, on the sheets of 1729 the immortal Dunciad. There the unfortunate creatures
still hang and wriggle; and there, while English books
are read, they shall remain. This epic of “Dunces" (hence its name) celebrates the accession of a king-at first Shaksperian Theobald, but in a later edition dramatic Cibber—to the vacant throne of Dulness, and describes the sports of authors, booksellers, and critics, before the newly crowned monarch. The fourth and last book is terribly severe upon the trifling education of the day, the “ black blockade” of college dons suffering not a little from the satiric lash. The literary profession did not recover for many a day from the onslaught of this bitter pen. To starve in a Grub Street garret became, in the opinion of the public, the sure destiny of every man who took to letters for a livelihood; and even now, when poets sometimes get their guinea a line, the name has not altogether lost, in the minds of many an honest merchant or yeoman, its old associations with threadbare coats, a tendency to drink, and a general lack of half-crowns.
The “ Dunciad,” first published in 1728, was enlarged in the following year; and in 1742 was completed by the addition of the fourth book. The dethronement of Theobald, to make room for Cibber, proved a great blunder; for the satiric lines, which