Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

burden to himself and his readers. I be now read by those who have the paSpeaking bluntly, indeed, we admit that tience. lying is a vice, and that Pope was in a The problem may be suggested to small way one of the most consummate casuists how far the iniquity of a lie liars that ever lived. He speaks, himself, should be measured by its immediate of "equivocating pretty genteelly” in re- purpose, or how far it is aggravated by gard to one of his peccadilloes. But the enormous mass of superincumbent Pope's equivocation is, to the equivoca- falsehoods which it inevitably brings in tion of ordinary men, what a tropical fern its train. We cannot condemn very is to the stunted representatives of the seriously the affected coyness which tries same species in England. It grows un- to conceal a desire for publication under til the fowls of the air can rest on its an apparent yielding to extortion ; but branches. His disposition, in short, we must certainly admit that the stomach amounts to a monomania. That a man of any other human being of whom a with intensely irritable nerves, and so record has been preserved would have fragile in constitution that his life might, revolted at the thought of wading through without exaggeration, be called a “long such a waste of mud to secure so paltry disease,” should defend himself by the an end. Moreover, this is only one innatural weapons of the weak, equivoca- stance, and by no means the worst intion and subterfuge, when exposed to the stance, of Pope's regular practice in such brutal horseplay common in that day, is matters. Almost every publication of indeed not surprising. But Pope's de- his life was attended with some sort of light in artifice was something phenome- mystification passing into downright nal. He could hardly“ drink tea without falsehood, and, at times, injurious to the a stratagem,” or, as Lady Bolingbroke character of his dearest friends. Add to put it, was 'a politician about cabbages this all the cases in which Pope attacked and turnips; and certainly he did not his enemies under feigned names and despise the arts known to politicians on then disavowed his attacks; the unfounda larger stage. Never, surely, did all the ed suspicions which led him to malign so arts of the most skilful diplomacy give pure a character as Addison ; and, worst rise to a series of intrigues more complex of all, the fact — only too probable — of than those which attended the publica- his extorting 1,000l. from the Duchess of tion of the “P. T. letters.” An ordinary Marlborough for the suppression of a man says that he is obliged to publish by satirical passage. request of friends, and we regard the The insincerity which degraded Pope's transparent device as, at most, a venial life detracts from our pleasure in his offence. But in Pope's hands this simple poetry. Take, for example, the Epistle to trick becomes a complex apparatus of Dr. Arbuthnot, which is amongst his plots within plots, which have only been most perfect works. Some of the boasts unravelled by the persevering labours of in it, as we shall presently remark, are most industrious literary detectives. The apparently quite justified by the facts. whole story is given for the first time at But what are we to say to such a passage full length in Mr. Elwin's edition of Pope, as this? and the revelation borders upon the incredible. How Pope became for a time I was not born for courts or great affairs ; two men ; how in one character he worked I pay my debts, believe, and say my prayers ;

Can 'sleep without a poem in my head, upon the wretched Curll through myste- Nor know if Dennis be alive or dead. rious emissaries until the practical bookseller undertook to publish the letters Admitting his independence, and not already privately printed by Pope him- inquiring too closely into his prayers, self; how Pope in his other character can we forget that the gentleman who protested vehemently against the publi- could sleep without a poem in his head cation and disavowed all complicity in called up a servant four times in one night the preparations; how he set the House of “the dreadful winter of Forty” to of Lords in motion to suppress the edi- supply him with paper, lest he should tion; and how, meanwhile, he took lose a thought? Or what is the value of ingenious precautions to frustrate the a professed indifference to Dennis from interference which he provoked; how in the man distinguished beyond all other the course of these manæuvres his gen- writers for the bitterness of his resentteel equivocation swelled into lying on ment against all small critics ; who disthe most stupendous scale — all this figured his best poems by his petty ven. story, with its various ins and outs, may'geance for old attacks; and who could

not refrain from sneering at poor Dennis, ment; he cast it roughly into form ; even in the Prologue which he conde- brooded over it; retouched it again and scended to write for the benefit of his again ; and when he had brought it to dying antagonist?

the very highest polish of which his art Thus we are always pursued, in read- was capable, placed it in a pigeon-hole ing Pope, by disagreeable misgivings. to be fitted, when the opportunity offered, We don't know what comes from the into an appropriate corner of his mosaicheart, and what from the lips ; when the work. We can see him at work, for exreal man is speaking, and when we are ample, in the passage about Addison and only listening to old commonplaces skil- the celebrated concluding couplet. The fully vamped. There is always, if we epigrams in which his poetry abounds please, a bad interpretation to be placed have obviously been composed in the upon his finest sentiments. His indigna- same fashion ; for that “masterpiece of tion against the vicious is confused with man,” as South is made to call it in the his hatred of personal enemies; he pro-Dunciad, is only produced in perfection tests most loudly that he is honest when when the labour which would have made an he is "equivocating most genteelly;" ode has been concentrated upon a couple his independence may be called selfish- of lines. There is a celebrated recipe ness or avarice; his toleration simple for dressing a lark, if we remember rightindifference; and even his affection for ly, in which the lark is placed inside a his friends a decorous picture which will snipe, and the snipe in a woodcock, and never lead him to the slightest sacrifice so on till you come to a turkey, or if proof his own vanity or comfort. A critic curable, to an ostrich; then, the mass of the highest order is provided with an having been properly stewed, the superIthuriel spear, which discriminates the incumbent envelopes are all thrown sham sentiments from the true. As a away, and the essences of the whole are banker's clerk can tell a bad coin by its supposed to be embodied in the original ring, on the counter, without need of a nucleus. So the perfect epigram, at testing apparatus, the true critic can which Pope is constantly aiming, should instinctively estimate the amount of bul- be the quintessence of a whole volume lion in Pope's epigrammatic tinsel. But of reflection. Such literary cookery imcriticism of this kind, as Pope truly says, plies not only labour, but a certain vividis as rare as poetical genius. Humbler ness of thought and feeling. The poet writers must be content to take their must put his soul into the work as well weights and measures, or, in other words, as his artistic power. Thus, if we may to test their first impressions, by such take Pope's most vigorous expressions external evidence as is available. They as an indication of his strongest convicmust proceed cautiously in these delicate tions, and check their conclusions by matters, and instead of leaping to the his personal history and by the general truth by a rapid intuition, patiently in- tendency of his writings, we might sucquire what light is thrown upon Pope's ceed in putting together something like sincerity by the recorded events of his a satisfactory statement of the moral syslife, and a careful cross-examination of tem which he expressed forcibly because the various witnesses to his character. he believed in it sincerely. They must, indeed, keep in mind Mr. Without, however, following the proofs Ruskin's excellent canon,- that good in detail, let us endeavour to give some fruit, even in moralizing, can only be statement of the result. What, in fact, borne by a good tree. Where Pope has did Pope learn by his study of man, such succeeded in casting into enduring form as it was ? What does he tell us about some valuable moral sentiment, we may the character of human beings and their therefore give him credit for having at positions in the universe which is either least felt it sincerely. If he did not al- original or marked by the freshness of ways act upon it, the weakness is not pe- independent thought ? Perhaps the culiar to Pope. Time, indeed, has partly most characteristic vein of reflection is done the work for us. In Pope, more that which is embodied in his greatest than in almost any other writer, the grain work, the Dunciad. There, at least, we has sifted itself from the chaff. The lave Pope speaking energetically and jewels have remained after the flimsy em- sincerely. He really detests, abjures, broidery in which they were fixed has and abominates as impious and heretical, fallen into decay. Such a result was the worship of the great goddess Dulnatural from his mode of composition. ness, without a trace of mental reservaHe caught at some inspiration of the mo- tion. His style bursts its usual fetters.

We have little of that rocking-horse ver-'established rights, and pandering to the sification which wearies our ears in such worst passions of ignorant readers ; no a couplet as this, for example:

writer who could be fitly called, like Con

canen, Of systems possible, if 'tis confest

That wisdom infinite must form the best, A cold, long-winded native of the deep, where the second line exactly echoes 'and fitly sentenced to dive where Fleet the cadence of the first in tiresome mo- Ditch notony. The Dunciad often flows in a Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to Thames; continuous stream of eloquence, instead of dribbling out in little jets of epigram. and most certainly we must deny the If their are fewer points, there are more present applicability of the note upon frequent gushes of sustained rhetoric. ** Magazines,” compiled by Pope, or Even when Pope condescends — and he rather by Warburton, for the episcopal condescends much too often to pelt bludgeon is perceptible in the prose dehis antagonists with mere filth, he does scription. They are not at present “ the it with a certain boisterous vigour. He eruption of every miserable scribbler, laughs out. He catches something from the scum of every dirty, newspaper, or his patron Swift when he

fragments of fragments picked up from Laughs and shakes in Rabelais's easy chair. every dirty dunghill . . . equally the disHis lungs seem to be fuller and his voice grace of human wit, morality, decency,

and common sense." But if the transto lose for the time its tricks of mincing lator of the Dunciad into modern phraseaffectation. Here, indeed, there can be ology would have some difficulty in findno question of insincerity. Pope's scorn ing á head for every cap, there are perof folly is to be condemned only so far haps some satirical stings which have not as it was connected with too bitter a ha: quite lost their point. The legitimate tred of fools. He has suffered, as Swift

drama, so theatrical critics tell us, has foretold, by the insignificance of the ene not quite shaken off the rivalry of sensamies against whom he rages with super- tional scenery and idiotic 'burlesque, fluous vehemence. But for Pope, no though possibly we do not produce abone in this generation would have heard surdities equal to that which, as Pope of Arnall and Moore, and Breval and Be; tells us, was actually introduced by Thezaleel Morris, and fifty more ephemeral obald, in which denizens of Grub Street. The fault is, indeed, inherent in the plan. It is in Hell rises, Heaven descends, and dance on some degree creditable to Pope that his earth satire was on the whole justified, so far as Gods, imps, and monsters, music, rage, and it could be justified, by the correctness of

mirth, his judgment. The only great man whom A fire, a jig, a battle and a ball,

Till one wide conflagration swallows all. he has seriously assaulted is Bentley ; and to Pope, Bentley was of necessity There is still facetiousness which reminds not the greatest of classical critics, but us too forcibly that the tasteless mutilator of Milton. The

Gentle dulness ever loves a joke, misfortune is that the more just his satire, the more perishable is its interest; and even sermons, for which we may and if we regard the Dunciad simply as apologise on the ground that an assault upon the vermin who then in

Dulness is sacred in a sound divine. fested literature, we must consider him as a man who should use a steam-hammer Here and there, too, if we may trust certo crack a fea. Unluckily for ourselves, tain stern reviewers, there are writers however, it cannot be admitted so easily who have learnt the principle that that Curll and Dennis and the rest had

Index learning turns no student pale, a merely temporary interest. Regarded

Yet holds the eel of Science by the tail. as types of literary nuisances

and Pope does not condescend in his

poetry,

And the first four lines, at least, of the though the want is partly supplied in the great prophecy at the conclusion of the notes, to indulge in much personal detail third book is thought by the enemies of

they may be said by cynics to have a muscular Christianity to be possibly apmore enduring vitality. Of course there proaching its fulfilment: is at the present day no such bookseller Proceed, great days ! till learning fly the shore, as Curll, living by piratical invasions of Till birch shall blúsh with noble blood no more,

Till Thames see Eton's sons forever play, alive, would find an ample occupation for Till Westminster's whole year be holiday, his talents in a worthy filling out of Till Isis' elders reel, their pupils sport, Pope's incomplete sketch. But though I And Alma Mater lies dissolved in Port !

feel, I must endeavour to resist, the tempNo! So far as we can see, it is still true tation of indicating some of the probable that

objects of his antipathy.

Pope's gallant assault on the common Born a goddess, Dulness never dies.

enemy indicates, meanwhile, his characMen, we know it on high authority, are teristic attitude. Pope is the incarnation still mostly fools. If Pope be in error, of the literary spirit. He is the most it is not so much that his adversary is be- complete representative in our language neath him, but that she is unassailable of the intellectual instincts which find by wit or poetry. Weapons of the most their natural expression in pure literieihereal temper spend their keenness in ture. The complete antithesis to that vain against the “anarch old” whose spirit is the evil principle which Pope atpower lies in utter insensibility. It is tacks as dulness. This false goddess is fighting with a mist, and firing cannon- the literary Ahriman; and Pope's natural balls into a mudheap. As well rave antipathies, somewhat exaggerated by his against the force of gravitation, or com- personal passions and weaknesses to explain that our gross bodies must be travagant proportions, express themselves nourished by solid food. If, however, fully in his great mock epic. His theory we should be rather grateful than other- may be expressed in a parody of Nelson's wise to a man who is sanguine enough to immortal advice to his midshipmen: - Be believe that satire can be successful an honest man and hate dulness as you against stupidity, and that Grub Street, if do the devil.” Dulness generates the it cannot be exterminated, can at least be asphyxiating atmosphere in which no true lashed into humility, we might perhaps literature can thrive. It oppresses the complain that Pope has taken rather too lungs and irritates the nerves of men limited a view of the subject. Dulness whose keen brilliant intellects mark them has other avatars besides the literary. as the natural servants of literature. In the last and finest book, Pope attempts Seen from this point of view, there is to complete his plan by exhibiting the an honourable completeness in Pope's influence of dulness upon theology and career. Possibly a modern subject of science. The huge torpedo benumbs literature may, without paradox, express every faculty of the human mind, and a certain gratitude to Pope for a virtue paralyzes all the Muses, except “mad which he would certainly be glad to iiiMathesis,” which, indeed, does not carry tate. Pope was the first man who made on so internecine a war with the general an independence by literature. First and enemy. The design is commendable, last, he seems to have received over and executed, so far as Pope was on a 8,000l. for his translation of Homer, a level with his task, with infinite spirit; sum then amply sufficient to enable him but, however excellent the poetry, the to live in comfort. No sum at all comlogic is defective, and the description of parable to this was ever received by a the evil inadequate. Pope has but a poet or novelist until the era of Scot and vague conception of the mode in which Byron. Now, without challenging admidulness might become the leading force ration for Pope on the simple ground that in politics, lower religion till it became a he made his fortune, it is impossible to mere cloak for selfishness, and make exaggerate the importance of this feat at learning nothing but laborious and the time. A contemporary who, whatpedantic trifling. Had his powers been ever his faults, was a still more brilliant equal to his goodwill

, we might have had example than Pope of the purely literary a satire far more elevated than anything qualities, suggests a curious parallel. which he has attempted ; for a man must Voltaire, as he tells us, was so weary of be indeed a dull student of history who the humiliations that dishonour letters, does not recognize the vast influence of that to stay his disgust he resolved to dulness-worship on the whole period make "what scoundrels call a great forwhich has intervened between Pope and tune." Some of Voltaire's means of ourselves. Nay, it may be feared that it reaching this end appear to have been will be yet some time before education more questionable than Pope's. But bills and societies for the teaching of both of these men of genius early secured women will have begun to dissipate the 'their independence by raising themselves evil. A modern satirist, were satire still permanently above the need of writing

for money:

The use, too, which Pope ning to waste in desperate attempts to made of his fortune was thoroughly hon-, win money at the cost of worthier fame. ourable. We scarcely give due credit, as Pope's merit, indeed, has been lowered a rule, to the man who has the rare merit' on a ground which, to our thinking, is in of distinctly recognizing his true vocation his favour. As a Roman Catholic, and in life, and adhering to it with unflinch- as the adherent of a defeated party, he ing pertinacity. Probably the fact that had put himself out of the race for pecunsuch virtue generally brings a sufficient iary reward. But then Pope's loyal personal reward in this world seems to 'adherence to his friends, though, like all dispense with the necessity of additional his virtues, subject to some deduction, is praise. But call it a virtuous or merely a really a touching feature in his character, useful quality, we must at least admit His Catholicism was of the most nominal that it is the necessary ground-work of a kind. He adhered in name to a dethoroughly satisfactory career. Pope, pressed church chiefly because he could who, from his infancy had

not bear to give pain to the parents whom Lisped in numbers, for the numbers came,

he loved with an exquisite tenderness.

Granting that he would not have had gained by bis later numbers a secure much chance of winning tangible rewards position, and used his position to go on by the baseness of a desertion, he at rhyming to the end of his life. He never least recognized his true position; and failed to do his very best. He regarded instead of being soured by his exclusion the wealth which he had earned as a from the general competition, or wasting retaining fee, not as a discharge from his his life in frivolous regrets, he preserved duties. Comparing him with his contem- a spirit of tolerance and independence, poraries, we see how vast was the advan, and had a full right to the boasts in tage. Elevated above Grubstreet, he had which he possibly indulged a little too no temptation to manufacture rubbish or freely:descend to actual meanness like poor De Foe. Independent of patronage, he Not Fortune's worshipper, nor Fashion's fool, was not forced to become a “tame cat” Not Lucre's madman, nor Ambition's tool, in the house of a duchess, like his friend Not proud, nor servile — be one poet's praise Gay. Standing apart from politics, he That

, if he pleased, he pleased by manly ways ;

That flattery, even to kings, he held a shame, was free from those disappointed pangs And thought a lie in prose or verse the same. which contributed to the embitterment of the later years of Swift, dying like a Admitting that the last line suggests a poisoned rat'in a hole ;" he had not, like slight qualm, the portrait suggested in Bolingbroke, to affect a philosophical the rest is about as faithful as one can contempt for the game in which he could expect a man to paint from himself. no longer take a part; nor was he even, Is this guardian of virtue quite immaclike Addison and Steele, induced to ulate, and the morality which he preaches “give up to party what was meant for quite of the most elevated kind ? We mankind.” He was not a better man must admit, of course, that he does not than some of these, and certainly not sound the depths, or soar to the heights, better than Goldsmith and Johnson in the in which men of loftier genius are at succeeding generation. Yet, when we home. He is not a mystic, but a man of think of the amount of good intellect that the world. He never, as we have already ran to waste in the purlieus of Grub Street, said, quits the sphere of ordinary and or in hunting for pensions in ministerial rather obvious maxims about the daily ante-chambers, we feel a certain grati- life of society, or quits it at his peril. tude to the one literary magnate of the His independence is not like Milton's, century, whose devotion, it is true, had a that of an ancient prophet, consoling very tangible reward, but whose devotion himself by celestial visions for a world was yet continuous, and free from any given over to baseness and frivolity; nor distractions but those of a constitutional like Shelley's, that of a vehement revoirritability. Nay, if we compare Pope lutionist, who has declared open war to some of the later writers who have against the existing order; it is the indewrung still princelier rewards from for- pendence of a modern gentleman, with a tune, the result is not unfavourable. If competent fortune, enjoying a time of poor Scott had been as true to his calling, political and religious calm. And therehis life, so far superior to Pope's in most fore his morality is in the main the exother respects, would not have presented | pression of the conclusions reached by the melancholy contrast of genius run-'supreme good sense, or, as he puts it,

« ElőzőTovább »