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couragers. His regard was gained by the Pastorals, and from hiin Pope received the counsel by which he seems to have regulated bis studies. Walsh advised him to correctness, whielt, as he told him, the English poets had hitherto neglected, and which therefore was left to him as a basis of fame; and being delighted with rural poems, recoinmended to him to write a pastoral comedy, like those which are read so eagerly in Italy; a design which Pope probably did not approve, as he did not follow it.
(Pope had 210w declared hiunself a poet; and thinking himself entitled to poetical conversation, began at seventeen to frequent Will's, a collee-house on the north side of Russel-street, in Cuvent-garden, where the wits of that time used to assemble, and where Dryden hard, when he lived, been accustomed to preside)
During this period of his life he was indefatigably diligent, and insatiably curious; wanting health for violent, and money for expensive pleasures, and having excited in himself very strong desires of intellectual eminence, he spent much of his time over his books; but he read only to store his mind with facts and images, seizing ail that his authors presented with undistinguishing voracity, and with an appetite for knowledge too eager to be nice. In a mind like his, however, all the faculties were at once involuntarily improving. Judgment is forevd upon us by experience. He that reads many books must compare one opinion or one style with another; and, when he compares, must necessarily distinguish, reject, and prefer. But the account giren by liimself of his studies was, that from fourteen to twenty lie read only for ainusement, from twenty to twenty-seven for improvement and instruction; that in the first part of his time lie desired only to know, and in die second he endeavoured to judge.
The pastorals, which had been for some time handed about among poets and critics, were at last printed (1709) in Tonson's Miscellany, in a rolure which began with the Pastorals of Philips, and ended with those of Popie.
The same year was written the Essay on Criticism; a work which displays such extent of comprehension, such nicety of distinction, such acquaintance with mankind, and such knowledge both of ancient and modern learning, as are not often attained by the maturest age and longest experience. It was published about two years afterwards; and, being praised by Addison in the Spectators witl: solicient liberality, met with so much favour as enraged Dennis,“ who,” he says, “ found himself attacked, without any manner of provocation on his side, and attacked in his person, instead of his writings, by one who was wholly a stranger to him, at a time when all the world knew he was persecuted by fortune; and not only saw tlrat this was attempted in a clandestine manner, with the utmost falsehood and calumny, but found that all this was done by a little allected hypocrite, who had nothing in his mouth at the saine time but truth, candour, friendship, goodnature, humanity, and magnanimity."
How the attack was clandestine is not easily perceived, nor how his person is depreciated; but he seems to have hnown something of Pope's character, in whom may be discovered an appetite to talk too frequently of his own virtues.
The painphlet is such as rage might be expected to dictate. He supposes himself
No. 253. But, according to Dr. Warton, Pope was displeased at one passage, in which Anda dison.censures the admission of " some strokes of ill-nature." C.
to be asked two questions; whether the essay will succeed, and who or what is the author.
Its success he admits to be secured by the false opinions then prevalent; the author he concludes to be “ young and raw.”
“ First, because he discovers a sufficiency beyond his little ability, and hath rashly undertaken a task infinitely above his force. Secondly, while this little author struts, and affects the dictatorian air, he plainly shows, that at the same time he is under the rod, and, while he pretends to give laws to others, is a pedantic slave to authority and opinion. Thirdly, he hath, like school-boys, borrowed both from living and dead. Fourthly, he knows not his own mind, and frequently contradicts himself. Fifthly, he is almost perpetually in the wrong."
All these positions he attempts to prove by quotations and remarks; but his desire to do mischief is greater than his power. He has, however, justly criticised some passages in these lines.
There are whom Heaven has bless'd with store of wit,
It is apparent that wit has two meanings, and that what is wanted, though called wit, is truly judgment. So far Dennis is undoubtedly right; but not content with argument, he will have a little mirth, and triumphs over the first couplet in terms loo elegant to be forgotten. By the way, what rare numbers are here! Would not one swear that this youngster had espoused some antiquated Muse, who had sued out a divorce on account of impotence from some superannuated sinner; and, having been p-xed by her former spouse, has got the gout in her decrepit age, which makes her hobble so damnably?” This was the man who would reform a nation sinking into barbarity.
In another place Pope himself allowed that Dennis had detected one of those blunders which are called bulls. The first edition had this line,
What is this with
How," says the critic, can wit be scorn'd where it is not ? Is not this a figure frequently employed in Hibernian land? The person that wants this wit may indeed be scorned, but the scorn shows the honour which the contemner has for wit." Of this remark Pope made the proper use, by correcting the passage.
I have preserved, I think, all that is reasonable in Dennis's criticism; it remains that justice be done to his delicacy. “ For his acquaintance (says Dennis) he names Mr. Walsh, who had by no means the qualification which this author reckons absolutely necessary to a critic, it being very certain, that he was, like this essayer, a very indifferent poet; he loved to be well-dressed; and I remember a little young gentleman, whom Mr. Walsh used to take into his company, as a double foil to his person and capacity. Inquire, between Sunninghill and Oakingham, for a young, short, squab gentleman, the very bow of the god of love, and tell me whether he be a proper author to make personal reflections? --He may extol the ancients, but he has reason to thank the gods that he was born a modern; for had he been born of Grecian parents, and his father consequently had by law the absolute disposal
of him, his life had been no longer than that of one of his poems, the life of half a day.- Let the person of a gentleman of his parts be never so contemptible, his inward man is ten-times more ridiculous; it being impossible that his outward form, though it be that of downright monkey, should differ so much from human shape, as his unthinking, immaterial part does from human uuderstanding.” Thus began the hostility between Pope and Dennis, which, though it was suspended for a short time, never was appeased. Pope seems, at first, to have attacked him wantonly; but, though he always professed to despise him, he discovers, by mentioning him very often, that he felt his force or his venom.
Of this Essay, Pope declared, that he did not expect the sale to be quick, because " not one gentleman in sixty, even in liberal education, could understand it.” The gentlemen, and the education of that time, seem to have been of a lower character than they are of this. He mentioned a thousand copies as a numerous impression.
Dennis was not his only censurer: the zealous papists thought the monks treated with too much contempt, and Erasmus too studiously praised; but to these objections he had not much regard.
The Essay has been translated into French by Hamilton, author of the Comte de Grammont, whose version was never printed, by Robotham; secretary to the king for Hanover, and by Resnel; and commented by Dr. Warburton, who has discovered in it such order and connection as was not perceived by Addison, nor, as is said, intended by the author.
Almost every poem, consisting of precepts, is so far arbitrary and immethodical, that many of the paragraphs may change places with no apparent inconvenience; for of two or more positions, depending upon some remote and general principle, there is seldom any cogent reason why one should precede the other. But for the order in which they stand, whatever it be, a little ingenuity may easily give a reason. “ It is possible,” says Hooker, " that, by long circumduction, from any one truth all truth may be inferred.” Of all homogeneous truths, at least of all truths respecting the same general end, in whatever series they may be produced, a con. catenation by intermediate ideas may be forined, such as, when it is once shown, shall appear natural; but if this order be reversed, another mode of connection, equally specious, may be found or made. Aristotle is praised for naming Fortitude first of the cardinal virtues, as that without which no other virtue can steadily be practised; but he might, with equal propriety, have placed Prudence and Justice before it, since without Prudence, Fortitude is mad; without Justice, it is mischievous.
As the end of method is perspicuity, that series is sufficiently regular that avoids obscurity; and where there is no obscurity, it will not be difficult to discover method.
In the Spectator was published the Messiah, which he first submitted to the perusal of Steele, and corrected in compliance with his criticisms.
It is reasonable to infer, from his Letters, that the Verses on the Unfortunate Lady were written about the time when his Essay was published. The lady's name and adventures I have sought with fruitless inquiry.
I can therefore tell no more than I have learned from Mr. Ruffhead, who writes
See Gent. Mag. vol. LI. p. 314. N.
with the confidence of one who could trust his information. She was a woman of eminent rank and large fortune, the ward of an uncle, who, haring given her a proper education, expected, like other guardians, that she should make at least an equal match; and such he proposed to her, but found it rejected in favour of a young gentleman of inferior condition.
Having discovered the correspondence between the two lovers, and finding the young lady deterinined to abide by her own choice, he supposed that separation might do what can rarely be done by arguments, and sent her into a foreign country, where she was obliged to converse only with those from whom her uncle had nothing to fear.
Her lover took care to repeat his vows; but his letters were intercepted and carried to her guardian, who directed her to be watched with still greater vigilance, till of this restraint she grew so impatient, that she bribed a woman servant to procure hier a sword, which she directed to her heart.
From this account, given with evident intention to raise the lady's character, it does not appear that she had any claim to praise, nor much to compassion. She seems to have been impatient, violent, and ungovernable. Her uncle's power could not have lasted long; the hour of liberty and choice would have come in time. But her desires were too hot for delay, and she liked self-murder better than suspense.
Nor is it discovered that the uncle, whoever he was, is with much justice delivered to posterity as “ á false guardian;" he seems to have done only that for which a guardian is appointed; he endeavoured to direct his niece till she should be able to direct herself. Poetry has not often been worse employed than in dignifying the amorous fury of a raving girl.
Not long after, he wrote the Rape of the Lock, the most airy, the most ingenious, and the most delightful of all bis compositions, occasioned by a frolic of gallantry, rather too familiar, in which Jord Petre cut off a lock of Mrs. Arabella Fermor's hair. This, whether stealth or violence, was so much resented, that the commerce of the two families, before very friendly, was interrupted. Mr. Caryl, a gentleman who, being secretary to king James's queen, had followed his mistress into France, and who, being the author of Sir Soloinen Single, a comedy, and some translations, was entitled to the notice of a wit, solicited Pope to endeavour a reconciliation by a ludicrous poem, which might bring both the parties to a better temper. In compliance with Caryl's request, though his name was for a long time marked only by the first and last letters, C-1, a poem of two cantos was written (1711) as is said, in a fortnight, and sent to the offended lady, who liked it well enough to show it; and, with the usual process of literary transactions, the author, dreading a surreptitious edition, was forced to publish it.
The event is said to have been such as was desired, the pacification and diversion of all to whom it related, except sir George Brown, who complained with some bitterness, that, in the character of sir Plume, he was made to talk nonsense. Whether all this be true, I have some doubt; for at Paris, a few years ago, a niece of Mrs. Fermor, who presided in an English convent, mentioned Pope's work with very little gratitude, rather as an insult than an honour; and she may be supposed to to have inherited the opinion of her family.
At its first appearance it was term’d by Addison" meram sal.” Pope, however,
saw that it was capable of improvement; and, having luckily contrived to borrow his machinery from the Rosicruciany, imparted the scheme with which his head was teening to Addison, who told him that his work, as it stood, was " a delicious little thing," and gave him no encouragement to retouch it.
This has been too hastiły considered as an instance of Addison's jealousy; for, as he could not guess the con luct of the new design, or the possibilities of pleasure comprised in a fiction of which there had been no examples, he might very reasonably and kindly persuade the author to acquiesce in his own prosperity, and fora bear an attempt which he considered as an unnecessary hazard.
Addison's counsel was happily rejected. Pope foresaw the future efflorescence of imagery then budding in his mind, and resolved 10 spare no art, or industry of cultivation. The soft luxuriance of his fancy was already shooting, and all the gay varieties of diction were ready at his hand to colour and embellish it.
His attempt was justified by its success. The Rape of the Lock stands forward, in the classes of literature, as the most exquisite example of ludicrous poetry. Berkeley congratulated him upon the display of powers more truly poetical thran he had shown before: with elegance of description and justness of precepts, he had now exbibited boundless fertility of invention.
He always considered the intermixture of the machinery with the action as his. most successful exertion of poetical art. He indeed could never afterwards produce any thing of such unexampled excellence. Those performances, which strike with wonder, are combinations of skilful genius with happy casualty; and it is not likely that any felicity, like the discovery of a new race of preternatural agents, should happen twice to the same man.
Of this poem the author was, I think, allowed to enjoy the praise for a long time without disturbance. Many years afterwards Dennis published some remarks upon it with very little force, and with no effect; for the opinion of the public was already settled, and it was no longer at the mercy of criticism.
About this time he published the Temple of Farne, which, as he tells Steele in their correspondence, he had written two years before; that is, when he was only twenty-two years old, an early time of life for so much learning and so much observation, as that work exhibits.
On this poem Dennis afterwards published some remarks, of which the most reaponable is, that some of the lines represent motion as exhibited by sculpture.
Of the epistle from Eloisa to Abelard, I do not know the date His first in clination to attempt a composition of that tender kind arose, as Mr. Savage told me, froin his perusal of Prior's Nut-brown Maid. How much he has surpassed Prior's work it is not necessary to mention, when perhaps it may be said with justice, that he has excelled every composition of the same kind. The mixture of religious hope and resignation gives an elevation and dignity to disappointed love, which images merely natural cannot bestow. The gloon of a convent strikes the imagination with far greater force than the solitude of a grove.
This piece was, however, not much his favourite in his latter years, though I never heard upon what principle he slighted it.
In the next year (1713) he publislied Windsor Forest; of which part was, as he relates, written at sixteen, about the same time as his Pastorals; and the latter part