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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 wit
“How," says the critic, can wit be scorned where it is not? Is not this a figure frequently employed in Hibernian land? The person that wants tbis wit may indeed be scorned, but the scorn shews 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 Sunningbill 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 bad he been born of Grecian parents, and his father consequently had by law had 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 understanding.” 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 of 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 Grammoht, 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 discover 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 concatenation by intermediate ideas may be formed, such as, when it is once shewn, 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 virtuo 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. Ruff head, who writes 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, having 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 determined 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 her 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 ancle's power could not have lasted long; the hour of liberty and choice would havo come in time. But bcr desires
a false guar
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 dian;" 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 his compositions, occasioned by a frolic of gallantry, rather too familiar, in which lord 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 Solomon Single, a comedy, and some trar.slations, 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 letter, C-, 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 shew 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 have inherited the opinion of her family.
At its first appearance it was termed by Addison merum
sal. Pope, however, saw that it was capable of improvement; and, having luckily contrived to borrow his machinery from the Rosicrucians, imparted the scheme with which his head was teeming 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 hastily considered as an instance of Addison's jealousy; for, as he could not guess the conduct of the new design, or the possibilities of pleasure comprised in a fiction in which there had been no examples, he might very reasonably and kindly persuade the author to acquiesce in his own prosperity, and forbear 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 to 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 than he had shewn before; with elegance of description and justness of precepts, he had now exhibited 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.