صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

son is equally unjust : how could Mr. Pope say, 'that one can only discover seeds, and the first productions of every kind in the Iliad ? Every beauty is there to such an amazing perfection, that the following ages could add nothing to those of any kind; and the ancients have always proposed Homer as the most per fect model in every kind of poetry.

“The third comparison is composed of the errors of the two former; Homer had certainly an incomparable fertility of invention, but his fertility is al. ways checked by that just sense which made him reject every superfluous thing which his vast imagination could offer, and to retain only what was necessary and useful. Judgment guided the hand of this admirable gardener, and was the pruning-hook he employ. ed to lop off every useless branch.”

Thus far Madam Dacier differs in her opinion from Mr. Pope concerning Homer; but these remarks, which we have just quoted, partake not at all of the nature of criticism; they are mere assertion. Pope had declared Homer to abound with irregular beauties. Dacier has contradicted him, and asserted, that all his beauties are regular, but no reason is assigned by either of these mighty geniuses in support of their opinions, and the reader is left in the dark as to the real truth. If he is to be guided by the authority of a name only, no doubt the argument will preponderate in favour of our countryman. The French lady then proceeds to answer some observations which Mr. Pope made upon her remarks upon the Iliad, which she performs with a warmth that generally attends writers of her sex. Mr. Pope, however, paid more regard to this fair antagonist than any other critic upon his works. He confessed that he had received great helps from her, and only thought she had (through a prodigious and almost superstitious fondness for Homer) endeavoured to make him appear without

any

fault or weakness, and stamp a perfecsion on his works which is no where to be found. He wrote her a very obliging letter, in which he consessed himself exceedingly sorry that he ever should have displeased so excellent a wit; and she, on the other hand, with a goodness and frankness peculiar to her protested to forgive it; so that there remained no animosities between those two great admirers and translators of Homer.

Mr. Pope, by his successful translation of the Iliad, as we have before remarked, drew upon him the envy and raillery of a whole tribe of writers. Thougla he did not esteem any particular man amongst his enemies of consequence enough to provoke an answer, yet, when they were considered collectively, they offered excellent materials for a general satire. This satire he planned and executed with so extraordinary a mastery, that it is by far the most complete poem of our Author's: it discovers more invention and a higher effort of genius, than any other production of his. The hint was taken from Mr. Dryden's Mac Flecknoe; but as it is more general, so it is more pleasing. The Dunciad is so universally read, that we reckon it superfluous to give any further account of it here ; and it would be an unpleasing task to trace all the provocations and resentments which were mutually discovered upon this occasion. Mr Pope was of opinion that, next to praising good wriers, there was a merit in exposing bad ones; though t does not hold infallibly true that each person stige matized as a dunce was genuinely so. Something must be allowed to personal resentment: Mr. Pope was a man of keen passions; he felt an injury strongly, retained a long remembrance of it, and could very pungently repay it. Some of the gentlemen, however, who had been more severely lashed than the rest, meditated a revenge which redounds but little to their honour. They either intended to chastise him coroorallv, or gave it out that they had really done so, 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 effectually 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, lo 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 Mr Pope's talents were not adapted for the drama, other. wise 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, not. withstanding his approbation, Thompson's friends were obliged to mutilate and shorten; and, after all, it proved a heavy play; though it was generally allowed 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 illus. trious 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 au. thority 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 yself, and indeed I ought, 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,
Deaf the prais'd ear, and mute the tuneful tongue,
E'en he whose soul now melts in mournful lays,
Shall shortly want the gen'rous tear he pays.

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 nearer

« السابقةمتابعة »