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there were the works of those noble lords, Lord Sheffield, Lord Roscommon, Lord Granville, and the Duke of Buckingham. Pope, who loved a brief, read all these books greedily, and with an amazing quick eye for points. His orderly brain and brilliant wit re-arranged and rendered resplendent the ill-placed and ill-set thoughts of other men.
The same thing is noticeable in the most laboured production of his later life, the celebrated Essay on Man. For this he was coached by Lord Bolingbroke.
Pope was accustomed to talk with much solemnity of his ethical system, of which the Essay on Man is but a fragment, but we need not trouble ourselves about it. Dr. Johnson said about Clarissa Harlowe that the man who read it for the story might hang himself; so we may say about the poetry of Pope : the man who reads it for its critical or ethical philosophy may hang himself. We read Pope for pleasure, but a bit of his philosophy may be given
Presumptuous man ! the reason wouldst thou find,
Why formed no weaker, blinder, and no less ?
Why Jove's satellites are less than Jove!' To this latter interrogatory presumptuous science, speaking through the mouth of Voltaire, was ready with an answer. If Jupiter were less than his satellites they would n't go round him. Pope can make no claim to be a philosopher, and had he been one, Verse would have been a most improper vehicle to convey his speculations. No one willingly fights in handcuffs or wrestles to music. For a man with novel truths to promulgate, or grave moral laws to expound, to postpone doing so until he had hitched them into rhyme would be to insult his mission. Pope's gifts were his wit, his swift-working mind, added to all the cunning of the craft and mystery of composition. He could say things better than other men, and hence it comes that, be he a great poet or a small one, he is a great writer, an English classic. What is it that constitutes a great writer ? A bold question, certainly, but whenever anyone asks himself a question in public you
may be certain he has provided himself with an answer. I find mine in the writings of a distinguished neighbour of yours, himself, though living, an English classic - Cardinal Newman. He says : *
'I do not claim for a great author, as such, any great depth of thought, or breadth of view, or philosophy, or sagacity, or knowledge of human nature, or experience of human life — though these additional gifts he may have, and the more he has of them the greater he is, — but I ascribe to him, as his characteristic gift, in a large sense, the faculty of expression. He is master of the two-fold lóyos, the thought and the word, distinct but inseparable from each other. . . . He always has the right word for the right idea, and never a word too much. If he is brief it is because few words suffice ; if he is lavish of them, still each word has its mark, and aids, not embarrasses, the vigorous march of his elocution. He expresses what all feel, but all cannot say, and his sayings pass into proverbs amongst his people, and
* Lectures and Essays on University Subjects : Lecture on Literature.
his phrases become household words and idioms of their daily speech, which is tesselated with the rich fragments of his language, as we see in foreign lands the marbles of Roman grandeur worked into the walls and pavements of modern palaces.' Pope satisfies this definition. He has been dead one hundred and forty-two years; yet, next to Shakspeare, who has been dead two hundred and seventy years, and who was nearer to Pope than Pope is to us, he is the most quoted of English poets, the one who has most enriched our common speech. Horace used, but has long ceased to be, the poet of Parliament; for the late Prime Minister, who, more than any other, has kept alive in Parliament the scholarly traditions of the past, has never been very Horatian, preferring, whenever the dignity of the occasion seemed to demand Latin, the long roll of the hexameter, something out of Virgil or Lucretius. The new generation of honourable members might not unprofitably turn their attention to Pope. Think how, at all events, the labour members would applaud, not with a 'sad civility,' but with
downright cheers, a quotation they actually understood.
Pope is seen at his best in his satires and epistles, and in the mock-heroic. To say that the Rape of the Lock is the best mock-heroic poem in the language is to say nothing; to say that it is the best in the world is to say more than my reading warrants; but to say that it and Paradise Regained are the only two faultless poems, of any length, in English is to say enough.
The satires are savage — perhaps satires should be; but Pope's satires are sometimes what satires should never be — shrill. Dr. Johnson is more to my mind as a sheer satirist than Pope, for in satire character tells more than in any other form of verse. We want a personality behind — a strong, gloomy, brooding personality ; soured and savage if you will — nay, as soured and savage as you like, but spiteful never.
Pope became rather by the backing of his friends than from any other cause a party man. Party feeling ran high during the first Georges, and embraced things now outside its ambit — the theatre, for example, and the opera. You remember