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in order to bring shame upon Mr. Pope, which, if true, could only bring shame upon themselves.
While Mr. Pope enjoyed any leisure from severe applications to study, his friends were continually soliciting him to turn his thoughts towards something that might be of lasting use to the world, and engage no more in a war with dunces, who were now eilectually humbled. Our great dramatic poet Shak. speare had passed through several hands, some of whom were very reasonably judged not to have understood any part of him tolerably, much less were capable to correct or revise him.
The friends of Mr. Pope, therefore, strongly importuned him to undertake the whole of Shakspeare's plays, and, if possible, by comparing all the different copies now to be procured, restore him to his ancient purity: to which our poet made this modest reply, That, not having attempted any thing in the drama, it might in him be deemed too much presumption. To which he was answered, That this did not require great knowledge of the foundation and disposition of the drama, as that must stand as it was, and Shakspeare himself had not always paid strict regard to the rules of it; but this was to clear the scenes from the rubbish with which ignorant editors had filled them.
His proper business in this work was to render the text so clear as to be generally understood, to free it from obscurities, and sometimes gross absurdities, which now seem to appear in it, and to explain doubt. ful and difficult passages, of which there are great numbers. This, however, was an arduous province, and how Mr. Pope has acquitted himself in it has been differently determined: it is certain he never valued himself upon that performance, nor was it a task in the least adapted to his genius : for it seldom happens that a man of lively parts can undergo the servile drudgery of collecting passages in which more
industry and labour are necessary than persons of quick penetration generally have to bestow.
It has been the opinion of some critics that Mi Pope's talents were not adapted for the drama, otherwise we cannot well account for his neglecting the most gainful way of writing which poetry affords, especially as his reputation was so high that, without much ceremony or mortification, he might have had any piece of his brought upon the stage. Mr. Pope was attentive to his own interest, and if he had not either been conscious of his inability in that province, or too timid to risk the popular approbation, he would certainly have attempted the drama. Neither was he esteemed a very competent judge of what plays were proper or improper for representation. He wrote several letters to the manager of Drury-lane theatre, in favour of Thompson's Agamemnon, which, notwithstanding his approbation, Thompson's friends were obliged to mutilate and shorten; and, after all, it proved a heavy play; though it was generally al. lowed to have been one of the best acted plays that had appeared for some years.
He was certainly concerned in the comedy which was published in Mr. Gay's name, called Three Hours after Marriage, as well as Dr. Arbuthnot. This illustrious triumvirate, though men of the most various parts, and extensive understanding, yet were not able, it seems, to please the people, though the principal parts were supported by the best actors in that way on the stage. Dr. Arbuthnot and Mr. Pope were, no doubt, solicitous to conceal their concern in it ; but by a letter which Mr. Gay wrote to Pope, published in Ayre's Memoirs, it appears evident (if Ayre's authority may be depended on) that they both assisted in the composition.
“Dear Pope. “Too late I see and confess myself mistaken in relation to the comedy; yet I do not think had I fol
lowed your advice, and only introduced the mummy that the absence of the crocodile had saved it. can't help laughing myself (though the vulgar do no consider it was designed to look riaiculous) to think how the poor monster and mummy were dashed at their reception, and, when the cry was loudest, I thought that, if the thing had been written by another, I should have deemed the town in some measure mistaken ; and as to your apprehension that this may do us future injury, do not think of it; the Doctor has a more valuabe name than can be hurt by any thing of this nature, and yours is doubly safe; I will, if any shame there be, take it all to myself, and indeed I Cought, the motion being first mine, and never heartily approved by you.”
Of all our poet's writings, none were read with more general approbation than his Ethic Epistles, or multiplied into more editions. Mr. Pope, who was a perfect economist, secured to himself the profits arising from his own works; he was never subjected to necessity, and therefore was not to be imposed upon by the art or fraud of publishers.
But now approaches the period in which, as he himself expressed it, he stood in need of the generous tear he paid;
Poets themselves must fall like those they sung,
Mr. Pope, who had been always subjected to a variety of bodily infirmities, finding his strength give way, began to think that his days, which had been prolonged past his expectation, were drawing towards a conclusion. However, he visited the Hotwells at Bristol, where for some time, there were small hopes of his recovery; but making too free with purges, he grew worse and seemed desirous to draw nerer
home. A dropsy in the breast at last put a period to his life, at the age of fifty-six, on the 30th of May, 1744, at his house at Twickenham, where he was in. terred in the same grave with his father and mother.
Mr. Pope's behaviour in his last illness has been variously represented to the world : some have affirm. ed that it was timid and peevish; that having been fixed in no particular system of faith, his mind was wavering, and his temper broken and disturbed. Others have asserted that he was all cheerfulness and resignation to the Divine will: which ofthese opinions is true we cannot now determine ; but if the former, it must be regretted that he who had taught philosophy to others, should himself be destitute of its assigtance in the most critical moments of his life.
The bulk of his fortune he bequeathed to Mrs. Blount, with whom he lived in the strictest friendship, and for vhom he is said to have entertained the warmest affection. His works, which are in the hands of every person of true taste, and will last as long as our language will be understood, render unnecessary all further remarks on his writings. He was equally admired for the dignity and sublimity of his moral and philosophical works, the vivacity of his satirical, the clearness and propriety of his didactic, the richness ind variety of his descriptive, and the elegance of all, dded to a harmony of versification and correctness of sentiment and language unknown to our former pets, and of which he has set an example, which will be an example or a reproach to his successors. His prose style is as perfect in its kind as his poetic, and has all the beauties proper for it, joined to an uncom. mon force and perspicuity.
Under the profession of the Roman Catholic religion, to which he adhered to the last, he maintained all the moderation and charity becoming the most thorough and consistent protestant. His conversa. tion was natural, easy, and agreeable, without any
affectation of displaying his wit, or obtruding his own judgment, even upon subjects of which he was so eminently a master.
The moral character of our author, as it did not escape the lash of his calumniators in his life, so have there been attempts since his death to diminish his reputation. Lord Bolingbroke, whom Mr. Pope esteemed to almost an enthusiastic degree of admiration, was the first to make this attack. Not many years ago the public were entertained with this controversy, immediately upon the publication of his Lordship’s Letters on the Spirit of Patriotism, and the Idea of a Patriot King. Different opinions have been offered, some to extenuate the fault of Mr. Pope for printing and mutilating those letters without his Lordship's knowledge, others to blame him for it as the highest breach of friendship, and the greatest mark of dishonour; but it would exceed o!!r proposed bounds to enter into the merits of this controversy.
This great man is allowed to have been one of the first rank amongst the poets of our nation, and to acknowledge the superiority of none but Shakspeare, Milton, and Dryden. With the two former it is unnatural to compare him, as their province in writing is so very different. Pope has never attempted the drama, nor published an epic poem, in which these two geniuses have so wonderfully succeeded. Though Pope's genius was great, it was yet of so different a cast from Shakspeare's and Milton's, that no comparison can be justly formed. But if this said of the former two, it will by no means hold with respect to the latter ; for between him and Dryden there is a great similarity of writing, and a very striking coincidence of genius. It will not, perhaps, be unpleasing to our readers if we pursue this comparison, and endeavour to discover to whom the superiority is justly to be attributed, and to which of them poetry Owes the highest obligations.